Iraq War: Still Shocking, Still Awful

This week marks the third anniversary of the Iraq war. On Monday, President George W. Bush warned that we will soon be “seeing more images of chaos and carnage.” He was correct. During the next two days, 87 corpses were discovered scattered around Baghdad, buried in shallow graves or dumped in trash heaps. Twenty-nine bodies were stuffed in the back of a pickup abandoned in a busy city intersection. During that time more than 200 Iraqi civilians were wounded, some by car bombs, some in drive-by shootings. At the Pentagon this Tuesday, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said, “The sacrifices of today will, over time, prove the worth of this cause.” Separately, the Department of Defense announced that Marine Lance Corporal Bunny Long, a 22-year-old from Modesto, California, died, bringing the number of United States servicemembers killed in this war to 2,301. In his speech Monday, President Bush promised, “We will not lose our nerve.” Brave words. But must we lose our common sense instead?

Whatever your opinion was at the beginning of the Iraq invasion — whether you thought the president was bold or reckless, or that a preemptive strike was brilliant or immoral — is now beside the point. The point now is that the Bush administration is incapable of formulating and implementing any plan that will lead Iraqis away from the precipice of civil war and provide the necessary security to get the electricity running, the schools opened, and the hospitals functioning. If we could help, we should stay. We agree with former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s cautionary admonition: If you break it, you buy it. Certainly, we’ve broken much of Iraq since our Shock and Awe invasion three years ago. But given the Bush administration’s record of ruthless incompetence, determined pigheadedness, and willful blindness, we have no faith we can fix anything. Instead, our presence serves only to make a terrible situation that much worse.

Put aside, if you can, the fact that there were no weapons of mass destruction, or that our troops were seldom greeted as liberating heroes. Instead, concentrate on Rumsfeld’s refusal to send the number of troops originally requested by the military. Or his refusal to listen to high-ranking field officers in the earliest days of the war, who warned during the blitz into Baghdad that the Saddam Fedayeen, a paramilitary force that was putting up strong resistance, would turn into a formidable insurgency force. And it did. And why was Secretary Rumsfeld so eager to get to Baghdad anyway? Neither he, the State Department, the Security Council, nor President Bush himself had any plan in place for running the country. Unless, of course, you call dismissing the 400,000 armed men who made up Iraq’s National Guard, as well as the technocrats who knew how to keep the lights on and the water running, a plan. Ask yourself what kind of secretary of defense cancels the deployment of the First Cavalry Division when rioters and looters are overrunning the countryside; or continues to send troops into battle without proper equipment. Is it possible that soldiers fighting in the greatest army in the history of the world have to ask their parents to buy them the boots, body armor, and night-vision goggles needed just to stay alive? The war has already cost us nearly $300 billion, and Mr. Rumsfeld is asking for $70 billion more. Compare those ungodly sums with the administration’s initial estimate of $65 billion. In addition to the dead, there are the 17,000 wounded men and women. Yet funding is being cut for veterans hospitals to accommodate yet another tax cut for our wealthiest 1 percent.

This brings us to our central question: Can President Bush and his executive team of former draft dodgers bring stability to Iraq during their last two-and-a-half years in power? Or can we expect more of the same? Saddam Hussein is captured. The Golden Mosque is blown to bits. The Shi’a and Sunnis are killing one another in what threatens to become an exceptionally bloody civil war. Some reports suggest the Iraqi military is beginning to perform well under fire. But the national police is fast becoming a terrorist organization, infiltrated by Shi’a militias intent on killing as many Sunnis as possible. Will the disparate tribal, religious, and political factions find it within their ability to make the compromises necessary to form a stable government? There’s little beyond wishful thinking to suggest this can happen.

The real problem is that little has changed at the top in Washington. Given the ideological rigidity of those in charge — coupled with their messianic worldview — there’s no reason to hope for any improvement. In the meantime, our government continues to hold thousands of prisoners without trial. It continues to tolerate and encourage torture. None of this honors the profound sacrifices made by our troops and their families. Instead, this conduct betrays the core values for which they and this nation stand.

President Bush has expressed shock at the photos taken in Abu Ghraib. Yet he has allowed the whole tragedy to be blamed on an undisciplined night crew. No officer of any rank has been charged, nor any of their civilian leaders reprimanded. Meanwhile our troops continue to be spread thin on the ground as the United States begins work on 14 new military bases, plus a new prison. These plans are not intended to help the Iraqi people. They certainly won’t help us.

During the next few days, there will be demonstrations to mark the third anniversary of our government’s unilateral and preemptive invasion of a nation that posed us no imminent threat. Meet at Vera Cruz Park in downtown Santa Barbara this Saturday at 11:30 a.m. Certainly there’s no reason to expect President Bush will pay any heed. But among the crumbling ranks of his Republican supporters — and those all-too-timid Democrats — your voice might just get through. It’s time to declare we won’t tolerate our government’s deceit and incompetence any longer. Bring the troops home and fire the people who put them in harm’s way.

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