Tragedy struck the small town of Clinton Missouri last night. An aging three story building downtown that housed the local Elks Lodge collapsed during a dinner and initiation ceremony. Most people were on the second story eating at the time of the catastrophe. Amazingly, all were eventually pulled out alive and only three with serious injuries, although it took most of the night. Rescuers took extra precautions for fear the building would topple further. "This must be done in a step-by-step manner," explained a policeman at the scene. "We're not in a hurry."
The single fatality and last to be removed from the rubble was the Elks Club leader, who had been alone on the third floor practicing a speech at the time of the collapse.
The lesson was plain. When trapped in a crumbling infrastructure, the best hope of getting out alive is staying with the crowd and exiting slowly.
President Bush met with General George Casey, the top U.S. general in Iraq, last Friday and the two reviewed various scenarios that Casey had developed. One of them called for the removal of two combat brigades – representing about seven thousand troops – in September of this year.
The White House has stressed this was only one option outlined by Casey and Bush insisted, as always, that he would do nothing without the recommendation of his commanders in the field and authorization by the new Iraqi government. The plan is far from being "engraved in stone," Press Secretary Tony Snow told reporters.
Yet it seems hard to believe the President would stubbornly push away such a political godsend. Casey has already recommended it as a possible option and the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is unlikely to say "no" when it has already had to soften down calls for date-driven U.S. withdrawals from its own reconciliation plan. The timing is perfect for the 2006 Congressional midterm elections and the reduction is largely symbolic in comparison to the one hundred twenty-seven total U.S. troops in Iraq at the moment.
Perhaps the real question is why Casey is offering Bush such a gift at present? Military insiders say that Casey is generally resistant to troop cuts. Like Clinton Missouri police, cautious about pulling out survivors from a shaky construction, Casey worries that withdrawing U.S. forces too quickly could undermine the fledgling Iraqi government and overburden it too soon.
Still, Casey may be astute enough himself or under sufficient pressure from Bush officials to realize this caution must be balanced against growing public sentiment to do something regarding Iraq. The latest Washington Post–ABC News poll finds recent negative gaps suffered by Republicans in past months are predictably closing as Election Day draws nearer.
Except in one area. The numbers now show forty-seven percent of voters favor a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq. That is up eight points from December and growing. Indeed, discontent is growing so fast and is so deep-rooted that it may be less and less an anti-Republican issue and more an anti-government one. About two-thirds of poll respondents see Bush and the GOP with no clear strategy to end the war as compared to about three-quarters who say the same about Democrats.
However, Democratic voter support for firm timetables is running ahead of support for the same by Democratic lawmakers. Casey, faced with a choice between evils, may desire to throw in his fortunes with the Party likely to grant him the greatest flexibility possible in managing troop numbers.
Congressional Democrats seem to understand which way the wind is blowing. They have angrily denounced the Casey proposal as partisan Republican politics and accuse Republicans of embracing the very policies they recently decried as "cut and run" when proposed by Dems.
If the Bush Administration and the Pentagon did not hatch the Iraq War in concert, they have certainly conducted it as such. People are now hearing timbers crashing around them and running in panic, screaming. The would-be architects have tried shouting above the din to trust them but to no avail. They have argued it is unethical to suggest the building is rotten while it is full of people; also to no avail. So now they are trying to huddle together and leave very, very slowly as a group and hope only the right – or, in this case, the center – bystanders will notice. At least until December or later.
filed under: BotF | The_Bell | Iraq | War | Politics