President Bush says one thing when it comes to medical malpractice, but does something completely different when it comes to his administration’s Iraq policy malpractice. He promised four years ago to restore integrity to the White House, but as he prepares for his second inauguration, he doesn’t believe that accountability is part of the bargain.
To the extent that lawsuits have affected the availability and affordability of health care in many parts of the country, the president’s prescription is to weed out bad doctors and cap damages. However, the president, who refuses to admit his own mistakes, also refuses to hold anyone responsible for the “slam dunk” invasion turned air ball. The president, who believes in capping damages that negatively affect corporations, does not believe in capping damages that negatively affect our security.
Three men – Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz – vowed to the American people that Saddam had nuclear weapons; that we knew where they were; that the invasion could be accomplished with fewer troops than the Army recommended; and that the mission could be accomplished at an acceptable level of cost. The tragic reality is something dramatically different. The Iraq Survey Group has finished its work and concluded that Saddam did not have any weapons of mass destruction. The invasion force was agile, but it did not have sufficient forces to secure Saddam’s weapon sites before looters or insurgents took whatever was there. Saddam’s residual capability is now in Syria, Iran or somewhere else on the black market. The administration will soon submit another supplemental request for up to $100 billion, which will push total commitment as high as $244 billion. This is not an operation that is paying for itself. It is eating a hole in the military’s current and future force readiness.
When President Bush delivered his first inauguration address, it’s doubtful that he was focused in any serious way on Saddam Hussein. However, these three so-called Vulcans – Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz – undoubtedly were. Cheney and Wolfowitz, who botched the end of the first Gulf War, returned to government determined to finish the job they started and finish off Saddam. Sept. 11 provided them the opportunity.
However, the three primary architects of our Iraq policy, men responsible for misleading the president and the American people, are still on the job. When asked why no one has been fired or demoted for misjudgments related to Iraq, President Bush cited his election mandate, even though the majority of Americans who voted believe Iraq was a mistake that has actually made us less safe.
“Well, we had an accountability moment, and that’s called the 2004 election,” said the president, “�??on a complicated matter such as removing a dictator from power and trying to help achieve democracy, sometimes the unexpected will happen, both good and bad.”
But the chaos that followed Saddam’s overthrow was expected. Central Command had game-planned the invasion years before and determined that roughly 350,000 troops would be necessary to not only defeat Saddam but also stabilize the country afterward. Gen. Franks, under heavy pressure from Secretary Rumsfeld, only employed 200,000 U.S. troops. He planned to use remnants of Saddam’s regular Army to secure the country long enough for us to install an ex-patriot like Ahmed Chalabi as interim leader and then leave. The president’s declaration of an end to combat operations under the “Mission Accomplished” banner on board the USS Abraham Lincoln was a step in that process.
Paul Bremer’s approach was radically different, a curious fact given that Franks and Bremer both worked for Rumsfeld. Rather than reconstitute an Army that had largely melted away, he disbanded it, cut its troops from the payroll and started over. There is little doubt that a number of these former Iraqi soldiers subsequently joined the insurgency. Between Gen. Franks and Paul Bremer, our well-intentioned but ultimately negligent attending physicians in Iraq, one or both committed serious mistakes that now threaten the entire operation. After his “accountability moment,” the president, not a man for detail, awarded both of them the Medal of Freedom before we even know if the patient, Iraq, will survive to see democracy.
The president said two years ago that we invaded Iraq preemptively because our security was at stake – Saddam had weapons of mass destruction that threatened the United States. Now he says we are staying in Iraq because Iraq’s security is at stake, a circumstance we largely created.
“American troops will be leaving as quickly as possible, but they won’t be leaving until we have completed our mission,” the president said of a task that is very different than the one he described two years ago. “�??[S]uccess in Iraq will depend upon the Iraqis defeating the enemy.”
Iraq is not Vietnam, but there is an echo from 33 years ago. The United States goes to war in the name of a global existential struggle, but instead finds itself stuck in a civil war that is no longer about its security; confronting a stubborn, resilient insurgency that it underestimated; its fate linked to a local government of questionable legitimacy; a divisive president following a contentious election who stubbornly stays the course while the majority of Americans doubt its wisdom and look for an exit strategy.
P.J. Crowley is a senior fellow and director for national defense & homeland security at the Center for American Progress. He is a retired Air Force colonel and served in senior positions at the White House and Department of Defense during the Clinton administration.