For an administration that claims to place so value on "accountability," the Bush White House once again exempted itself and its allies. On Monday, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice announced that President Bush would rejectany Iraq funding bill that included benchmarks for the Al Maliki in government in Baghdad. As it turns out, that free pass for Al Maliki not only flies in the face the President's own words from January, but contradicts the "accountability" talking point comically present in virtually all of Bush's other rhetoric.
On January 10, 2007, President Bush took to the airwaves in a nationally televised address to unveil his supposed "surge" plan for Iraq. He was adamant that the plan's success hinged on the Iraqi government meeting key political, economic and security milestones:
"A successful strategy for Iraq goes beyond military operations. Ordinary Iraqi citizens must see that military operations are accompanied by visible improvements in their neighborhoods and communities. ." [emphasis mine]
As it turns out, not so much. Despite Rice's claim that same day that President Bush would not "stay married" to the surge strategy "not [live] up to their part of the obligation," the Secretary of State pronounced on Sunday that:
"To begin now to tie our own hands and to say 'We must do this if they don't do that' doesn't allow us the flexibility and creativity that we need to move this forward...That's the problem with having so-called consequences."
Predictably, both Rice and President Bush turn to the "handcuffing our generals" talking point in rejecting the inclusion of benchmarks in any compromise Iraq funding bill. On Sunday, Rice parroted the stale sound bite, "The problem is that if you try and make consequences about these benchmarks, you're tying the hands of General Petreaus." The President, of course, was singing from the same hymnal on Monday, announcing his planned veto by declaring "It also imposes the judgment of people in Washington on our military commanders and diplomats."
Evading accountability, of course, is more than a little ironic for a President who made accountability the rhetorical centerpiece of his public policy. For example, Bush's "No Child Left Behind" education program enshrines the principle that "those responsible are held accountable for producing results." Teachers, administrators and schools that fail to meet performance benchmarks face the loss of funding. Just last week, the President urged its renewal, claiming that "you should insist that the No Child Left Behind Act remain a strong accountability tool."
The list of the President's clarion calls for accountability go on and on. On national security, a tenet of the Bush doctrine istates that "we're holding regimes accountable for harboring and supporting terror." Bush, of course, famously argued in the run up to the invasion of Iraq, "I can't imagine people not seeing the threat and not holding Saddam Hussein accountable for what he said he would do, and we're going to do that." On the domestic front, the President has even insisted (cynically, of course) on accountability for port security and corporate fraud.
But given the unfolding disaster in Iraq, it's no wonder President Bush hopes to skirt responsibility and avoid the accountability requirement for Prime Minister Al Maliki. After all, the Washington Post reports that even some of his Republican colleagues, including Roy Blount (R-MO), John Boehner (R-OH) and Maine Senator Susan Collins, are getting restive and are looking at possible compromises on benchmarks. Meanwhile in Baghdad, Bush's erstwhile allies didn't help him any, with the Iraqi parliament announcing on Monday that it will commence a two month recess. On Tuesday, Sunni ministers threatened to quit the cabinet, an announced that came within days of the Al-Sadr block once again leaving the ruling coalition.
As for President Bush, he claims his own time of reckoning has already come and gone. "" We had an accountability moment," Bush said in January 2005, "and that's called the 2004 elections."
On this fourth anniversary of his declaration of "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq, he might want to check the polls. The American people clearly hold him accountable.