Is this all the thanks we get, Mr President?
By Iain Martin
There are only 512 days until George Bush leaves the White House and his departure cannot come quickly enough. The last months of a presidency are often a tragic affair but not usually on this scale.
Bush's failure is now widely acknowledged, if too often misunderstood. And still it is hard for some on this side of the Atlantic to admit how damaging the consequences of his period in office have been.
It should be especially shaming for those of us in that dwindling band prepared to admit that we were enthusiastic supporters of the Iraq war (I plead guilty), and even worse for those of us persuaded as far back as the tail end of the last century that this man had the attributes and inclinations which would make him a successful president (guilty again).
However, that realisation in the comfort of an office in London is pathetically small beer when placed alongside the avoidable terrors unleashed in Iraq.
They occurred principally because the forces driving the administration abandoned reason by failing completely to prepare for the aftermath; because the President was too weak a figure to balance the radicals in his team with powerful voices of caution, as Ronald Reagan did; and because those of us who supported the war, especially Tony Blair, failed to ask the right questions.
In light of that the sustained attacks on our brave forces by senior advisers to a failed President are even more offensive; his arrogance and incompetence is compounded by rudeness.
What began with comments by General Keane, in a candid interview with The Sunday Telegraph last weekend, picked up pace throughout the week and has been given a new intensity today by the intervention of Frederick Kagan.
An architect of the US surge in Iraq, he has some fairly choice things to say about the "Brits" in southern Iraq: our troops have done too little to stabilise Basra, their withdrawal will cause resentment on the part of US troops, and as a nation we misunderstand al-Qaeda's threat.
It is the failure by Americans to appreciate the sacrifice made by Britain, in terms of lives, material and political capital, which boils the blood. We have lost 168 in Iraq and 73 in Afghanistan, and at home a Prime Minister tarnished his office by trusting too much in the wisdom and might of American power.
The sniping is licensed by the increasingly friendless White House, and may have begun as a mistaken attempt to persuade the British to stay. The switch to a "time-table" for withdrawal by early next summer was triggered by Ministry of Defence planners in June and Gordon Brown has done nothing to stop our forces sticking to it. If anything, he should accelerate it.
The case for Britain staying any longer in the south is gone. Our troops are boxed in. When they leave their bases they are attacked by militias which are often indivisible from the local forces of law and disorder.
The Americans will have to accept our departure, send troops to secure their supply routes through the south and be grateful Britain tolerated it for so long after the failure to find WMD.
Elsewhere, the Bush administration has need of our continued patience and tolerance. The three Britons killed in Afghanistan on Thursday were hit by an American bomb, a horrendous accident no doubt arising from some small but deadly human error in the heat of war.
However, the President is lucky we British have enough experience of the vagaries of war that we do not join the dots between bad manners in Iraq and the carelessness of US pilots over Helmand and arrive in anger at the wrong conclusion.
The Bush White House criticisms of Britain are prompted by the bitterness which flows from its increasing isolation.
The President now appears a haunted figure. Jean-David Lavitte, the former French Ambassador to Washington and now Nicolas Sarkozy's security adviser, put it well in advice to the new French President: "You will find him [Bush] strong and welcoming but behind the facade you will find a man in a state of distress."
Quite. Behind the facade of wisecracks that never quite work (his staff clearly laugh too much at his baffling "jokes") is a man who may be coming apart. To have gambled a Presidency on his gut instincts, the whole time invoking the spirits of Churchill, Roosevelt, Reagan and Thatcher, and then botched it is bad enough.
Now he rather insanely invokes Vietnam, as he did in a speech to US veterans last week, as proof he is right to stand against cutting and running from this contemporary quagmire.
Were America to withdraw, it would compound earlier errors by precipitating regional meltdown. But a new President is required before the fight against Islamic fundamentalist terrorism can be recalibrated.
Bush is too identified with failure to even attempt to write the next chapter in the story of a conflict that threatens to last generations.
We have been somewhere like this before. President Truman was faster than his apparently more sophisticated rivals to identify the global Communist threat after 1945, but was punished by the American public for his faltering military response.
America had to endure the setbacks of Vietnam, the collapse of the Johnson presidency and an existential crisis of confidence before it won the Cold War in the 1980s, with our not inconsiderable assistance.
Bush should be seen in that context: he identified the challenge and bungled his response. We have to hope Hillary Clinton or Rudy Giuliani will study his failures and learn how this struggle can be waged more effectively.
The danger in Britain is that we confuse Bush's failure with Western defeat. If so, we could retreat to a pre-Falklands view of our place in the world.
Just as Suez in 1956 marked our decline, 1982 was the rebirth of a British spirit of confidence. We should ensure that, after Basra, we do not conclude we can only accept what comes our way rather than help shape events.
It would benefit true British Atlanticists if American politicians and generals treated us with some respect and remembered the following.
Although we owe their wonderful country a considerable historical debt, we should never get it out of proportion or forget the many times we have given our cousins cause to be grateful to Great Britain.
The special relationship should, of course, be a two-way street and it can be rebuilt - but not for at least another 512 days.
America in all its Glory
What a gorgeous shot of Mabry Mill in the Blue Ridge Mountains (Virginia). Such a peaceful, serene setting.
Sitting on the edge of the water. Taking a worm and baiting it on the hook of a line that is attached to a long, thin tree branch. Gently "cast" the line into the water. Now to sit quietly, watching the dragonflies skip across the surface of the calm water. Listening to the frogs calling to one another. All the thoughts of your daily life are no longer with you - all you are thinking about at this moment is the beauty of the trees, where they simply meld into the banks of the water.
Who cares if you ever get a nibble on your line. Just to enjoy this moment that you will never live again. That is life!
Every crime committed by an illegal immigrant should never have happened!!!
Read my posting under Illegal Immigrants.
A quote from President Theodore Roosevelt addressed on immigration in 1907:
"In the first place, we should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an American and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace, or origin. But this is predicated upon the person's becoming in every facet an American, and nothing but an American ... There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an American, but something else also, isn't an American at all. We have room for but one flag, the American flag ... We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language ... and we have room for but one sole loyalty, and that is a loyalty to the American people."