How I Lost the War in Iraq

Okay, okay. I admit it. It’s my fault. Lord knows, I’ve tried to pretend that I’m not to blame. After all, I opposed the invasion. I spent years assailing the Bush administration — you know, the people who chose the war. I’ve even spent thousands of dollars in taxes paying for our soldiers in Baghdad and Falluja. How could I be responsible for the mess over there? I finally faced the cruel truth when President Bush and Vice President Cheney recently lifted their noses from the grindstone — what hours of hard work they put in keeping us safe! — and tackled this question head-on. With customary Kantian rigor, they pointed out something that had never once occurred to me. It is my skepticism, defeatism and invidious “realism” — put simply, my bad attitude — that have been undermining our nation’s mission in Iraq. As you can imagine, their words sobered me up. And I began a thorough and searching moral inventory of the political mistakes I’ve made over the past three years, misjudgments that — let’s be brutally frank — have given aid and comfort to every pro-fascist murderer who straps on a bomb to blow up a mosque or a market.The list of my blunders could hardly be more damning: 1. Although Saddam was a despicable tyrant, I opposed toppling him because I thought the war would prove bloody and hugely expensive, and would probably leave the world more chaotic and dangerous than before.2. I insisted that the White House was inflating its claims about Iraq being an imminent threat.3. I doubted that Saddam had anything to do with 9/11.4. I believed that Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld would botch the reconstruction of Iraq.5. I was shocked and appalled by Abu Ghraib.6. I worried that the war would turn the world against us.7. I scoffed every time we captured or killed the insurgents’ number-two man.8. I . . . You get the point. Blaming the war’s failures on those who actively opposed it and predicted, often with scary accuracy, just how it would go wrong, reminds me of the time in high school when our football coach blamed the team’s lousy performance on our lack of school spirit during a pep rally. Knowing that the public has soured on the war, the administration has itself been staging pep rallies for both Bush and his “vice president for torture,” as former CIA head Stansfield Turner recently dubbed Dick Cheney. With the righteous self-pity that defines modern conservatism, the administration has been blaming its problems on everybody to the left of Bill O’Reilly. No matter that the right controls the White House, the Congress, the Supreme Court and most corporate boardrooms. No matter that Iraq was the Bush administration’s war of choice. Somebody else is to blame.And so, to the cheers of their flying monkeys in the blogosphere, Bush and Cheney spent the past fortnight practicing their usual tricks — slandering critics’ patriotism, implying that dissent is an attack on our troops, and dishonestly claiming that a bipartisan Senate commission cleared them of misrepresenting prewar intelligence when, of course, it did no such thing. True sore winners, they bristled with outrage at being judged for their results, not their professed intentions.While I always enjoy the rare appearances of the incomparable Cheney, who emerged from his spider-hole wearing his cummerbund as high as a doo-rag, true connoisseurs of flop-sweat have relished watching Bush grow more rabbity with each passing day. Talk about your ironies of history. Dubya doubtless thought Vietnam was finally behind him when Dan Rather got zapped, yet here he is hunkering down in full Lyndon Johnson mode. Just as LBJ spent his final time in office speaking only to uniformed personnel who wouldn’t dare diss their commander in chief, so Bush has been spending an eerie amount of time on military bases talking to captive audiences. (He likes being seen with American soldiers — as long as they’re not dead or wounded.) You have to admire his stern claims that he won’t “cut and run” from Iraq, when everybody knows members of his administration are busy figuring out how, before next November’s elections, they’ll be able to cut and jog.The real cutters and runners are in the GOP — they’re suddenly worried about getting re-elected. Whether it’s Pennsylvania’s reactionary senator Rick “Dead Fetus Hugger” Santorum ducking the chance to appear with the president at a Veterans Day speech, or Representative J.D. Hayworth saying he’d prefer that Bush not campaign with him in his home state of Arizona, Republicans are now scurrying to make sure that they aren’t harmed by the increasing unpopularity of what’s happening in Iraq. Like the White House, they know that their real problem isn’t Americans who opposed the war all along — they didn’t vote Republican anyway. It’s the millions of Americans who trusted in Bush’s judgment, supported the war, and now see the whole thing as a debacle.The right’s political jockeying finds an echo in the bad-faith fiesta thrown by liberal hawks who must deal with the fact that they promoted an invasion that’s turned out badly. None has been more egregious than smug, gee-whizish New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who always seems like the sort of high school history teacher who couldn’t finish his doctorate but wows 16-year-olds by calling Brazil “” Although he served as the war’s most prominent liberal fig leaf, he’s still trying to have it both ways, taking credit for his visionary ideals in supporting democracy and a remade Middle East, then faulting other people for their incompetence in executing the master plan. What did he think he’d get from George Bush and Dick Cheney? They didn’t exactly turn Afghanistan into the Switzerland of Central Asia (with opiates instead of chocolates); in fact, they mocked the idea of nation-building during the 2000 campaign, and, in the run-up to war, kept claiming that the whole Iraq operation would be a piece of cake.Democratic politicians have been just as bad. As Rosa Brooks noted in her Los Angeles Times column, November has become “Repudiate Your Iraq Vote Month” — which is obviously linked to the war’s poll numbers. Years after it might have made a difference, Bill Clinton called the war a mistake, a declaration that was immediately viewed through the prism of his wife’s presidential ambitions. Was this Willie’s slick way of signaling to liberal voters that, despite all Hillary’s hawkish talk, she didn’t believe in the war?Meanwhile, both members of last year’s Democratic ticket publicly said that they’d been wrong in okaying the war. While John Edwards did this the canny way — identifying himself with all the ordinary Americans who put their faith in the president to do the right thing — John Kerry displayed his customary tin ear. He blamed the administration for misleading him into approving an invasion. (Didn’t he learn anything in Vietnam?) “Knowing what we know now,” he brayed, “I would not have gone to war in Iraq.” Now that’s leadership. I imagine he also feels strongly that it was a mistake to have booked steerage on the Titanic, failed to defend Pearl Harbor or traded Shaq to Miami.While one could only laugh at Kerry’s political ineptitude, I found myself admiring the gutbucket integrity of Pennsylvania Congressman John Murtha, a veteran of the Korean and Vietnam wars, who’s known as a sentimental tough guy — he visits soldiers in military hospitals and grows teary at their suffering. Murtha had been solidly behind the war in Iraq, so when this great friend of the military called for an immediate withdrawal, you knew that the war was over in the American people’s heads, if not yet on the streets of Baghdad.Predictably, the White House dragged out its familiar playbook, The Chickenhawk’s Guide to Smearing War Heroes, and tried to besmirch Murtha’s good name. Looking like he was battling a severe case of flatulence, beleaguered Scott McClellan compared the beefy old congressman to, of all people, Michael Moore. Well, I guess they both could shed a few pounds.It’s unlikely that such attacks will work this time. Indeed, watching Murtha on Meet the Press, one saw a decent, profoundly sincere man who, though a Democrat, was conservative in the old-fashioned sense of the word. You didn’t have to agree with his call for immediate withdrawal to grasp that he was articulating a feeling now shared by the majority of Americans.“In hindsight,” Tim Russert asked him, “do you believe your vote in Iraq was a mistake?”“Obviously, it was a mistake,” Murtha replied. And hearing this doughty old Marine say such words, you knew that the question was no longer, “Should we have gone to war in Iraq?” but “How do we get our asses out of there?”


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