Editor's Note: Prior to the invasion of Iraq, I was pretty gung-ho about it. I thought it might be one of the few good moves W would make during his presidency. I guess I have to admit I was wrong. Evidently, I didn’t think it through any further than the Bush team did. Unfortunately, they were in the position to make that decision, and they made what has turned out to be a big mistake. Now that we’ve taken over the place, we seem to be stuck with it. I don't know whether we can just bail out and allow it to become a home for terrorists, but, like Vietnam, it may turn out to be an unwinnable war from which we may end up having to cut and run. The guy I feel sorry for in all this is Colin Powell, an honorable man who seemed to be right idea to begin with. However, as he must have learned when he became a Republican, when you lie down with dogs, you get fleas.
Last year, I called invading Iraq the Bush administration’s second smart move (the first being toppling the Taliban). Almost everyone called me an idiot. They were right; I was wrong.
A poll conducted for the occupation authority showed 80% of Iraqis lack confidence in the Coalition Provisional Authority, while 82% disapprove of the U.S. military presence. The Associated Press reports that 10% of Iraq’s security forces sided with the insurgents in recent uprisings, and another 40% just walked off the job.
Nonetheless, our president insists we’ll hand the country’s government over to the Iraqis on June 30th. This sounds like the first step in a Vietnam deja vu — destroy the country in order to save it, declare victory, then go home.
Despite the soaring costs and the proliferation of coffins and photos of atrocities, Mr. Bush maintains this war was a good idea. But Iraq wasn’t an al-Qaida haven before, and it’s now devolving into what Afghanistan became during the Soviet occupation — the nexus of Jihad for international Islamic militants.
Our commander in chief has said of the terrorists pouring in, “Bring ’em on.” Those of us with no combat experience should be careful what we wish for — rampant anti-Americanism may be breeding more terrorists than we can handle. And with U.S. troops acting as targets, there’s no reason to expect a slowdown in the flow of suicidal killers from hostile neighbors such as Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia.
We should have learned something from the Israelis’ experience occupying Arab territory. If Einstein, Christ and Moses served on the Knesset, I doubt if they could negotiate a detente with such evil, implacable fanatics as Hamas, Hezbollah and the PLO. Crazed Islamicists are like nothing we’ve ever faced, so it’s no surprise a president with no foreign policy experience would find nation building in Iraq a daunting task.
Our faltering progress in the war on terror follows a difficult learning curve, involving events and enemies too alien and malevolent to easily comprehend. If our leaders have made some mistakes, it’s understandable. Would the situation be significantly improved if Al Gore were president? I doubt it. It’s unlikely we’d be in Iraq, but we’d probably be screwing up somewhere else.
Many Americans will vote to “stay the course” with the Bush administration because of the experience it’s gained since 9/11. However, experience only matters if you learn from your errors, and the president’s only recent press conference made it disturbingly clear that he doesn’t believe he’s made any mistakes, despite his abject failure as a post-Mission Accomplished planner.
According to Bob Woodward, Mr. Bush chose not to consult with his father prior to deposing Saddam, choosing instead to appeal to a “higher father.” In 1991, Bush Senior knew enough to heed Colin Powell’s pragmatic doctrine — “If you break it, you bought it.” Now, owning a broken Iraq doesn’t seem so divinely inspired. But, when you’re getting your orders from the Big Guy upstairs, it’s hard to accept they could have been so wrong.
Mr. Bush’s attitude is typical of overly devout Crusaders with a pipeline to God — if you’re doing the Lord’s work, how can you be wrong? Unfortunately, our enemies are decidedly more fanatical, and with a vision of God plugged into the Dark Side of the Force.
Religious zealots who know “The Truth” always have trouble admitting error. In 1624, Galileo pointed his telescope at the moons of Jupiter to prove the earth wasn’t the center of the universe. But even when the facts were unmistakable, Pope Urban VIII refused to accept them and demanded that Galileo recant. The pontiff adjusted his rationale, mandating a distinction between objective reality and geocentricism, which became an article of faith.
Similarly, our rationale for regime change has morphed from elusive WMDs and imminent danger to creating a Muslim democracy in Iraq. (Given Islamic history, I’ll believe that’s feasible when I see it.)
Meanwhile, a new article of faith has been ordained — the doctrine, shared by both presidential candidates, that “failure isn’t an option.” True or not, this isn’t a strategy — it’s a slogan ... and a prayer.
For this prayer to be answered, our leaders will need popular support at home, as even those few allies we haven’t already alienated begin to walk away. If Mr. Bush expects us to stay the course alone, he’ll need to be more honest and less cocksure with the American people, 54% of whom now believe the war has increased the long-term risk of terrorism.
I was wrong about this war. Like our president and vice president, I was too busy avoiding the draft to learn the lessons of Vietnam. Nowadays, Senator Kerry, a Vietnam war hero, is being attacked by the "chicken hawks" for changing his mind about that misguided conflict. Republicans call it "waffling," but sometimes you have to admit your mistakes and concede your marching orders didn’t come from God.
Sometimes, you even have to change horses in midstream.
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