Monday, May 19, 2008
5 Years - Mission NOT Accomplished
Mission Still Not Accomplished
It has been five years since the United States invaded Iraq and the world watched in horror as what seemed like a swift victory by modern soldiers and 21st-century weapons became a nightmare of spiraling violence, sectarian warfare, insurgency, roadside bombings and ghastly executions. Iraq’s economy was destroyed, and America’s reputation was shredded in the torture rooms of Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and the Central Intelligence Agency’s secret prisons.
These were hard and very costly lessons for a country that had emerged from the cold war as the world’s sole remaining superpower. Shockingly, President Bush seems to have learned none of them.
In a speech on Wednesday, the start of the war’s sixth year, Mr. Bush was stuck in the Neverland of his “Mission Accomplished” speech. In his mind’s eye, the invasion was a “remarkable display of military effectiveness” that will be studied for generations. The war has placed the nation on the brink of a great “strategic victory” in Iraq and against terrorists the world over.
Even now, Mr. Bush talks of Iraqi troops who “took off their uniforms and faded into the countryside to fight the emergence of a free Iraq” — when everyone knows that the American pro-consul, L. Paul Bremer III, overrode Mr. Bush’s national security team and, with the president’s blessing, made the catastrophically bad decision to disband the Iraqi Army and police force.
Mr. Bush wants Americans to believe that Iraq was on the verge of “full-blown sectarian warfare” when he boldly ordered an escalation of forces around Baghdad last year. In fact, sectarian warfare was raging for months while Mr. Bush refused to listen to the generals, who wanted a new military approach, or to the vast majority of Americans, who just wanted him to end the war.
All evidence to the contrary, Mr. Bush is still trying to make it seem as if Al Qaeda in Iraq was connected to the Al Qaeda that attacked America on Sept. 11, 2001. He tried to justify an unjustifiable war by ticking off benefits of deposing Saddam Hussein, but he somehow managed to forget the nonexistent weapons of mass destruction.
Vice President Dick Cheney was equally deep in denial on Monday when he declared at a news conference in Baghdad that it has all been “well worth the effort.”
Tell that to the families of nearly 4,000 Americans who have been killed — far too many of them because Mr. Bush and his arrogantly incompetent secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, failed to plan for an insurgency that many others saw coming. Thousands more Americans have been wounded and deprived of adequate post-conflict care while Iraqis have died by the tens of thousands. More than five million have been driven from their homes.
Add in a cost to the United States that some say could exceed $3 trillion, the new political opening created for Iran, the incalculable damage to America’s reputation and the havoc wreaked on Iraqi society. Few lament Saddam Hussein’s passing, but the war has left Iraq a broken country, made the United States more vulnerable, not safer, and stretched the American military to a point that compromises its ability to fight elsewhere.
The increase in American forces last year initially produced a steep decline in insurgent attacks. But the conflict has drifted into a stalemate with the levels of violence remaining constant, and unacceptably high, from November 2007 through early 2008, according to a Government Accountability Office report. As Mr. Cheney visited Iraq, a bombing killed 43 people.
One of the cruelest ironies is that Iraqis have not taken advantage of the American troop surge, which was intended to create space for them to resolve their political differences. After much foot-dragging, they passed a 2008 budget and a law granting amnesty to thousands of Sunnis and others in Iraqi jails. But a law on sharing oil wealth is stalled and one aimed at allowing former Baathist Party members back into government may actually drive many out. Another bill, mandating provincial elections by October, was passed by Parliament, then vetoed by the Presidency Council of Iraq’s top leaders. Only after pressure from Mr. Cheney was it suddenly revived.
The plight of Iraqis uprooted by violence is further proof of how broken the country is. Some 2.7 million Iraqis are displaced internally and another 2.4 million have fled as refugees, mostly to Syria and Jordan. That’s nearly 20 percent of Iraq’s prewar population — the kind of inconvenient truth the Bush administration would rather ignore.
Although thousands of refugees returned to Iraq last year, most ended up leaving again because they did not feel secure. American, Iraqi and international aid to Iraqi refugees is insufficient, and many refugees, their savings depleted and barred from most jobs, are despairing, aid workers say. No one knows when — or if — they can ever return. Syria and Jordan generously allowed Iraqis in, but the huge numbers could destabilize both countries and fuel anti-America resentment.
The United States agreed to admit a paltry 12,000 Iraqi refugees in fiscal year 2008; so far, only 2,000 have been processed.
Brighter spots — Iraq’s economy is projected to grow 7 percent this year — are offset by problems: millions of Iraqis still don’t have clean water and medical care, thousands are jobless and the Iraqi Army, while improving, cannot defend the country on its own.
Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney refuse to let these facts interfere with their benighted notion of keeping troops in Iraq indefinitely and insisting that Iraq — not Afghanistan and Pakistan where Al Qaeda and the Taliban have gained ground — must remain America’s top priority.
It was clear long ago that Mr. Bush had no plan for victory, only a plan for handing this mess to his successor. Americans need to choose a president with the vision to end this war as cleanly as possible.
Correction: March 21, 2008
An editorial on Thursday about the war in
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