Robert O. Boorstin
Robert O. Boorstin

One year has passed since George W. Bush donned a flightsuit, climbed into a Viking S-3B, and took the short flight out to the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln. And in that time, "Mission Accomplished" has earned its rightful place in the pantheon of American political blunders.

On this anniversary, television networks will replay the now laughable footage alongside the new, horrifying images of American soldiers and Iraqi insurgents.

Commentators will note that 586 servicemen and women have died in Iraq since the day when the president declared an end to "major combat operations" – and that the 126 who died in April alone outnumber the total killed in the invasion. The most observant will also mention the more than 3,800 wounded soldiers who have come home from Iraq, and the 354 dead and injured from the war in Afghanistan.

Commentators will also speak of our current troubles: uprisings in sacred cities, increasing anger among the populace, a seemingly intractable political situation, and the now-fractured "coalition of the willing."

And at its worst, the anniversary will be a day for the talking heads to exchange "I told you so's" and accusations of unpatriotic behavior.

But at its best, this May 1 can serve to remind us of words of the air carrier's namesake, President Lincoln. "In times like the present," Lincoln warned during another turbulent era, "men should utter nothing for which they would not willingly be responsible through time and in eternity."

Lincoln had a point. And it would be a waste if the lessons of "Mission Accomplished" do not go beyond ugly recriminations and the "Don't Do This Again" section of the White House advance team's handbook.

When history is written, President Bush's actions should go down as a critical lesson in the dangers of arrogance and certainty.

As we gaze at the Iraqi horizon today, there are few things we can say with any certainty about that nation's future. But we can say with great confidence that it is certainty that has brought us to our present dilemma.

Certainty that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction – or at least that the American people would believe their president.

Certainty that our soldiers would be met with open arms, not small arms fire.

Certainty that our former allies would fall into line when we entered Baghdad covered in glory and bathed in a shower of rose petals.

And certainty that the lure of democratic freedoms would trump the awesome power of nationalism, religion and culture.

There is an argument to be made, of course, that the architects of the Iraq war were cynical. That they were simply manipulating the image of Saddam tossing a nuclear bomb, that they didn't believe the "cakewalk" talk, and were just mouthing the platitudes of democracy.

But I don't buy that. I believe that these Vulcans – the name they chose for the inner circle – actually possess great intellectual candle power and are deeply patriotic=

The problem, as Iraq demonstrates so vividly, is that their world leaves no room for doubt, for uncertainty or for chance.

This cartel of ideologues believes that other countries will welcome America's help, whether they invite us in the front door or we knock it down with a precision-guided cruise missile. They also believe that, if our model and our example are rejected, we have the obligation to show those people the light.

Unlike the poor guys who strung the banner up on the carrier, these guys have the power to give the orders. And as we have learned in the past year, there are few things more dangerous in our world than an ideologue with a gun – or, in this case, a finger on the trigger of the world's mightiest military machine. Especially when he's convinced he's doing the right thing.

Looking back, and considering the experience and smarts the Vulcans brought to the table, the depth of the arrogance and ignorance should surprise us. But it is those very qualities that from the beginning formed the shaky foundation of the Bush doctrine of alienation and drove us into this "war of choice."

This May 1 there will be no landings, no banners, no talk of triumph. Instead we will remember the casualties of certainty.

Robert O. Boorstin is the senior vice president for national security at the Center for American Progress.

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