As the Iraq War enters its fourth year, President Bush gave a speech today at the City Club of Cleveland. He told the story of a town in Iraq called Tal Afar. The story of Tal Afar is a positive one. Things have improved and the 3rd ACR and Iraqi forces have done good work there. But that is not the whole story. The truth is that coalition forces re-took the city in September because they lost control of it in 2004 due to inadequate Troop numbers (CBS story). And after the US forces retook the city, Al Qaeda fighters escaped Tal Afar and unleashed twelve suicide bombers in Baghdad - an attack they claimed publicly as revenge for Tal Afar. This illustrates perfectly why fighting the insurgency in Iraq has become like a game of Whack-a-Mole.
Tal Afar is a good story today, but who knows where it will be a year from now. And that is one of the biggest problems we face in Iraq right now. We can not hold the ground we take. In 2007, I might be writing about troops re-re-taking Tal Afar. The Tal Afar example highlights many of the greatest failures we've faced in Iraq, from inadequate troop numbers, to an insurgency we can't pin down, to the slow pace of growth of the Iraq Army - issues the President has never really admitted or addressed.
On this well-publicized day, the President of course neglected to talk about the plight of the returning Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan (remember that war? My Army buddies jokingly call it "Forgot-istan"). We need Americans to think about the struggles of the tens of thousands of Troops that have been wounded, and the hundreds of thousand Troops that will seek mental health care. The President said nothing today about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, long wait times at the VA, or the growing problem of homelessness among Iraq veterans.
The President's been staying the course for three years now. That is not working. Most Americans don't even know what the course is. We need an honest assessment of the war and a real plan for the future, not a public relations campaign.
And if you want to do something with your frustration this week, support Iraq Vet Tammy Duckworth. She is running for congress in Illinois and has a critical primary tomorrow. Tammy is not a professional politician. She was a decorated helicopter pilot in Iraq, and an advocate for veterans at home. Now she needs help from people all over the country (and from both parties). Send her money, tell a friend about her, write a letter to the editor. There is not one member of Congress who has served in this war. If she wins in November, Tammy would be one of the first. If you want to support the troops this week, help send one of them to Congress.