After 5 years, a broken military, broken Constitution, broken laws and broken troops
By JOSEPH L. GALLOWAY
Wars are deceptively easy to get into, but harder than calculus to get out of, especially when things aren't going well.
President Bush is learning the truth of that the hard way this week as his war in Iraq enters its fifth year. Starting five years with $400 billion already spent foolishly, 3,200 soldiers and Marines killed, more than 50,000 wounded or injured and nothing in sight but more of the same.
Remember the fall of 2002 and the beginning of 2003? How fast and easy a cakewalk it would be? How Iraq oil revenues would pay most of the cost? How our troops would mostly be greeted as liberators with flowers and chocolates? How toppling Saddam Hussein's dictatorship would trigger a democratic wave that would sweep the Middle East?
President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney and, sadly, the then-Secretary of State Colin Powell all declared that invading Iraq was vital to our national security and national interests.
They all asserted that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction and was well along the road to developing the most fearful of all WMDs - an atomic bomb. George Tenet, the CIA director at the time, was certain that this was a slam dunk, even though many of his own analysts and others at the Defense Intelligence Agency, the State Department, the Energy Department and elsewhere were skeptical, and some were downright dissenters.
Across the Potomac in the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld ripped up the carefully thought out contingency plan for invading Iraq - a plan that called for 400,000 U.S. and coalition troops to seize and hold the country - in favor of the tactics that seemingly had worked so well in Afghanistan.
Rumsfeld dismissed his Republican predecessor Caspar Weinberger's doctrine, later embraced by Powell, as outmoded, rendered irrelevant by satellite-guided "smart" bombs, Predator drones and other high-priced products of the defense contractors. Surely a couple of divisions of soldiers and Marines would be sufficient to topple Saddam.
That done, the neo-conservatives around Rumsfeld and Cheney told Bush, all we'd have to do is hand the reins of power in Iraq to their buddy Ahmad Chalabi, whose resume didn't include sharing the suffering that Saddam visited on the Iraqi people. No matter. Chalabi would take over, and most American troops would pack up and head home no later than the summer of 2003.
There'd be no costly nation building, which Rumsfeld and Bush hated. There was no need to plan for post-war security operations beyond mopping up a few Baathist dead-enders. In fact, the generals who suggested that it might be wise to do a little planning in case things went wrong were ordered to shut up or be fired.
None of these notions turned out to be true, except one - a small invasion force was sufficient to overthrow the dictator - and now we're in the fifth year of a war that's lasted longer than World War II and has cost more than the Vietnam War.
A nation that approved the president's conduct of the war by nearly 70 percent now disapproves by almost the same percentage. That nation underlined its disapproval by handing control of Congress to the Democrats last fall.
The president can still swagger and smirk on occasion, but all he can promise now - with 150,000 American troops operating in the middle of a bloody civil war that our actions unleashed - is more of the same. More billions. More dead and wounded Americans. More slaughtered Iraqis. That, and as he told the nation: "There will be good days and bad days."
I can promise the president from Texas that this ill-begotten, poorly planned and mismanaged war will be his lasting legacy when, in 22 months, he packs his bags and heads home to the ranch in Crawford.
Iraq will hang around his neck - and those of Cheney and Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle and Douglas Feith - like a rotting albatross for all the days of their lives.
No doubt the contractors who are bloated like ticks on the billions they've sucked out of the public trough will write the checks to build George W. Bush a really fine presidential library on the campus of Southern Methodist University.
All of it will be a lie, just like the lies his administration told to beat the war drums five years ago.
How will the curators portray the broken military, the broken Constitution, the broken laws, the forever broken troops who came home missing limbs or eyes or pieces of their brains, the broken promises to cherish and care for the families of those who were killed and those very wounded veterans?
How will they portray the corruption, both real and spiritual, that this man and his accomplices have visited upon a nation and a people who once could be proud of their place in this world?
How and why did so many Americans, including so many in Congress and in the media, sit idly by while so much that was precious to us was bent and twisted and broken by men who had the power and the money to do the right things but chose to do the wrong things?