Listening to President Bush’s address last night, which–despite a single line of contrition–was clear proof that the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld strategy in Iraq has been a fiasco, I was stumped trying to locate a policy disaster of similar scale in recent American history with which to compare it.
Certainly the Vietnam War offers some parallels, built as it was on similar hubris and lying to the public. But Vietnam was a disaster that was at least five presidents in the making, beginning with President Truman’s morally reprehensible decision to endorse a return of French colonial authority in Indochina following the end of World War II, and ending with President Nixon’s criminal expansion of the war into Cambodia and Laos. This disaster in Iraq is wholly of the Bush Administration’s making.
No, to locate parallels on a scale equal to this historic idiocy one has to look beyond the U.S. In terms of foolishness and failure, the French Maginot Line strategy during the years before World War II, or perhaps the Great Wall of China, could compare. But of course while in the end these two costly failed strategies, by diverting policy makers and resources from sounder approaches, proved disastrous to the survival of those two nations, neither began as an act of belligerence. Rather they were ill-conceived defensive measures.
That said, the current Iraq policy–which Bush and his handlers have disingenuously tried to present as a kind of offensive defense (we act pre-emptively to destroy an alleged threat)–resembles those two infamous failed policies in one way. Like them, the consigning of over half the U.S. military’s available manpower to Iraq, where they are now tied down indefinitely, and the down payment of an already admitted $166 billion (a figure that only runs through October 2004, and which will surely prove too low), on a winless war and occupation, effectively guts American defenses and makes it impossible to finance alternative defensive strategies, from strengthening port security and domestic fire and emergency rescue services, to bolstering the economy.
The administration clearly knows it has screwed up badly. Hence last night’s televised speech.
The president, during his delivery, was a far cry from the strutting cock of the Abraham Lincoln V-I Day photo-op. He looked rather as if someone had just given him a wedgie on his way into the Cabinet Room, and stumbled nervously several times while reading his allegedly “vetted and revetted” speech on the teleprompter.
The president’s efforts to dredge up that now grizzled canard, those infamous and apparently non-existent “weapons of mass destruction,” were less than half-hearted. Even his efforts to link the Saddam Hussein regime to Al Qaida seemed dispirited and perfunctory. Instead, Bush and his speech- writers tried, vainly I suspect, to bolster support for this war by claiming that even if those links can’t be proven, Iraq is now a “central front” in the war on terror. Putting aside for a moment the question of whether or not that is true, the obvious question is: Why is Iraq, which previously was not in any way linked to global terror or Al Qaida, now a “terrorism magnet?”
The answer–that the U.S. invasion and occupation, by destroying a central government and by antagonizing Arab nationalists and Muslim fundamentalists everywhere–has made it a cause, is not something that the Bush team wants Americans to think too hard about.
If last night’s speech is the best this administration can do to make its case for the War in Iraq, it is in deep trouble. To me, this was the Bush version of President Carter’s disastrous “malaise” speech.
Polls show Bush’s popularity is plummeting, with his approval rating now down to pre-9/11 levels–a time when he was being talked of widely as a one-term president. The flags aren’t waving on the TV screen during news reports any more. Martial music doesn’t introduce the president on the news. And even the timid corporate news media are taking cracks at this president following what was supposed to be a rousing new call to arms to support U.S. policy. (CNN’s reporter in Baghdad even went so far as to debunk the claim that the invasion had been to fight terror, saying that this part of the president’s speech was sure to anger Iraqis, who say their country was never in support of global terrorism.) After cheerleading the invasion of Iraq, the theme of CNN’s post-address report this time around was that the president would face tough questioning in Congress, and that had not spelled out an exit strategy for American involvement and American troops
And indeed he didn’t do that, because for him, there is no exit.
Of course, Bush could in practice simply declare victory, turn over the reigns of power to the Iraqi people, and bring the troops home tomorrow, but if that were done, Iraq would dissolve quickly into civil war and chaos, and he would have to admit to defeat–and answer for all of America’s lost blood and treasure. For the Bush administration, then, the only course is continuation of a clearly doomed strategy that will mean more slaughter and misery in Iraq, more American’s in body bags or crippled and maimed, and a budget deficit that defies description.
Eventually, Americans will get around to assigning blame for this unprecedented screw up. When they do–and it’s looking increasingly as if that day will come in November, 2004– it could be a political earthquake.
DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. A collection of Lindorff’s stories can be found here: http://www.nwuphilly.org/dave.html