No more rosy pictures

Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware again is cutting through the crap on Iraq.

Returning from a recent visit to the country, Biden said military officers told him a growing number of insurgents are foreign jihadis, many of them Saudis.

Biden, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s top Democrat, gave no specific numbers, for foreign fighters as a whole or for the percentage from Saudi Arabia. He said he was told repeatedly that the totals are going up and that Saudis are ”a disproportionate number.”
Part of the Bush administration strategy in Iraq is to improve living conditions and security for ordinary Iraqis and thereby reduce support for the homegrown insurgency. That calculation won’t work with foreign fighters, Biden said.

”If you turn on lights, get the air conditioning running and clean up the sewage, that ain’t going to have any impact on the jihadist coming across from Saudi Arabia with a bomb strapped on his stomach,” said Biden, who has made five trips to Iraq since U.S. forces overthrew Saddam Hussein a little more than two years ago.

Biden, to his great credit, has refused to join those calling for a timetable for withdrawal of US forces from Iraq. But he is sharply critical of the Bush administration’s refusal to face up to the difficulties there, and to be honest with the American people about them.

Biden said a U.S. troop pullout now would be disastrous, but he accused the Bush administration of glossing over the magnitude of the problems and underestimating the time it will take to fix them.

”There is a total disconnect from what I’ve seen … being on the ground and what I hear when I come back home,” Biden said.

Biden, a likely candidate for President in 2008, emphasized that point on Sunday:

Biden was asked on CBS’s “Face the Nation” if the administration has been telling Americans the truth about the situation in Iraq. He said, “No, they’re not telling the truth. … I think the American people know how tough this is going to be.”

“I think the American people, if you lay out a plan and tell them the truth about how hard it’s going to be, and why you think it’s important, they’ll stick,” said Biden…

“I think the administration figures they’ve got to paint a rosy picture in order to keep the American people in the game. And the exact opposite is happening,” said Biden…

Exactly right, and Bush’s sinking approval ratings in the polls reflect that. Meanwhile two Republicans (including the “freedom fries” guy) and two Democrats in Congress have introduced a resolution that would require the president to announce by the end of this year a plan for withdrawing troops and steps for following through on that plan. I don’t think it will go anywhere, but it reflects some genuine public frustration across party lines.

I think the administration’s original effort to fight the war “on the cheap”– combined with its unwillingness to ask for sacrifice from anyone other than soldiers and their families– is rebounding against it.

Much as it’s tempting to enjoy Bush’s political troubles, it’s a luxury pro-liberation liberals and leftists can’t afford. We have to oppose calls for precipitous withdrawal while demanding honesty and accountability from the administration. On many other issues, I’d be happy to see Bush go down in flames. But not on this one. Not with the future of 25 million Iraqis at stake.

Update: Here’s a pdf transcript of Senator Biden’s interview on “Face the Nation.”