On the American Film Institute‘s (AFI) list of the 100 best American movies, Casablanca has twice (in 1998 and 2007) been the runner-up to the Orson Welles classic Citizen Kane (Casablanca was voted the number one love story by AFI in 2002). On AFI’s list of top 100 movie quotes, Casablanca had six, more than any other film. But one of my favorite quotes from Casablanca didn’t make the list. After being ordered to close down Rick’s Café Américain by the Nazis, Captain Renault (Claude Rains) is confronted by Rick (Humphrey Bogart):
Rick: "How can you close me up? On what grounds?"
Captain Renault: "I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!"
[A croupier hands Renault a pile of money.]
Croupier: "Your winnings, sir."
Captain Renault: [sotto voce] "Oh, thank you very much."
In September 2007, President Bush announced on a nationally televised address that "it will soon be possible to bring home an Army combat brigade, for a total force reduction of 5,700 troops by Christmas" and that "by July, we will be able to reduce our troop levels in Iraq from 20 combat brigades to 15." So when the president announced while in Bahrain earlier this month that he was willing to slow down or stop the pace of planned U.S. troop withdrawals from Iraq, I was shocked, shocked.
After meeting with Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Baghdad, Bush remarked: "My attitude is, if he [Petraeus] didn’t want to continue the drawdown, that’s fine with me, in order to make sure we succeed, see. I said to the general, ‘If you want to slow her down, fine. It’s up to you.’" Once upon a time in what seems like a galaxy far, far away then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had plans to have only 40,000 U.S. troops in Iraq by fall 2003. From almost the moment U.S. troops set foot in Iraq the Bush administration has been making promises that the number of boots on the ground would be reduced. But they have all been empty promises. For example, in December 2005 then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Peter Pace proclaimed, "If things go the way we expect them to, as more Iraqi units stand up, we’ll be able to bring our troops down and turn over that territory to the Iraqis." Yet again, just a few weeks after Secretary of Defense Robert Gates indicated that five brigade combat teams (BCTs) could be withdrawn from Iraq by the middle of 2008 and another five BCTs in the second half of the year, leaving 100,000 U.S. troops in Iraq at the end of this year, it seems that the promise will be broken.
President Bush’s benchmark continues to be the constantly moving goal posts of "victory." Indeed, the United States has had many opportunities to declare victory and give Iraq back to its rightful owners the Iraqis:
- In May 2003, after three weeks of military operations, President Bush declared "major combat operations in Iraq have ended" while standing in front of a "mission accomplished" banner aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln.
- In December 2003, Saddam Hussein the former dictator of Iraq was captured.
- In October 2004, the Iraq Survey Group reported that there were no stockpiles of WMD in Iraq.
- In January 2005, Iraqis had their first general elections to choose representatives for the interim 275-member Iraqi National Assembly tasked with drafting a constitution.
- In October 2005, the Iraqi constitution was ratified.
- In December 2005, a 275-member Iraqi Council of Representatives was elected marking the formation of a permanent, sovereign Iraqi government.
- In June 2006, the most wanted man in Iraq Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq and believed to be responsible for most of the suicide bombings in Iraq, as well as the execution of American Nicholas Berg was killed.
But instead of using these opportunities to craft a much needed (and now much wanted, as far as the American public is concerned) exit from Iraq, the president continues to cling to the fantasy of democracy on the Tigris and Euphrates. Ironically, Bush recently issued another clarion call for democracy in the Middle East while in the United Arab Emirates, a U.S. ally but also an extremely undemocratic country where a royal elite makes virtually all the decisions. But democracy in foreign lands is not a prerequisite for U.S. security, nor is it the antidote to the terrorist threat confronting America.
Now, although Bush claims the surge is a success, in the next breath he declares that success in Iraq will "require active U.S. engagement that will outlast my presidency." I’m shocked, shocked.