There are times when I wonder if our president has taken up the bottle again. There has to be some explanation for why on Monday President Bush publicly told his embattled Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, “You are doing a superb job.” It’s either the bottle or Bush took some dubious advice from his political adviser Karl Rove. Rove doubtless has been reading the latest poll numbers. While a recent Gallup poll found Bush’s approval rating at a historical low of 46%, Americans seem to be cutting Don Rumsfeld some wholly unearned slack, probably because they don’t read beyond the newspaper fold. An ABC News-Washington Post poll reported that 69 percent of Americans thought Rumsfeld should not resign over the prisoner abuse issue. But the same poll also showed that a majority of Americans claimed to be upset about the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by American forces. Perhaps Bush is hoping to ride on Rummy’s coattails? If so I predict it will be a short ride.
So Rumsfeld is doing a superb job. Apparently then incompetence is seen as commendable. It makes me wonder what sort of egregious acts it would take to get anyone in this administration fired. It is clear that Rumsfeld, along with Vice President Dick Cheney and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz were the architects behind our disastrous invasion of Iraq. They convinced Bush there was a bogus connection between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. But that was only just the start. They got an apparently very gullible President Bush to believe that Iraq harbored weapons of mass destruction that did not exist. They convinced Bush, to use his own words that Iraq was a “grave and gathering threat” against our national security. It was Rummy among others who told Bush to lift his middle finger to the United Nations and Europe, to put multiple asterisks next to our participation the human rights conventions and to disclaim some altogether. Human rights? There’s a war on they argued. We’ll do what we think we need to do to get the information we want and worry about the detritus later. So suspects get to hang out indefinitely in our prisons and detention camps, never get charged with a crime and apparently sometimes subject to abuses the Red Cross calls “tantamount to torture.”
Having sold Bush on the war they then went out of their way to screw it up badly. The good stuff came rather quickly. Saddam Hussein’s government collapsed in a few weeks. This was no surprise since his army was pretty much a shell anyhow. Although we have lost over 700 service men and women this number is rather low from a historical perspective. And eventually we found and captured Saddam Hussein, although it had no effect on bringing peace to this tortured country.
The rest of it has been thoroughly botched. It was Rummy and Wolfowitz who put together their own “Office of Special Plans”. Its mission was to find intelligence linking Saddam to al Qaeda that wasn’t there, so they substituted innuendo from flakes for facts. As for special planning, they came up with a special plan all right: perhaps the most incompetent war plan ever put together. Their generals said 250,000 to 300,000 troops were needed to properly occupy the country: they gave them 130,000. As for post war plans they had none other than the rosiest of scenarios: we’d be greeted as liberators and democracy would instantly flourish. It was a war that was to be run on the cheap. Initial cost estimates were that the United States would only have to contribute $2B-$3B toward reconstruction. Iraq’s oil revenues would pay for the rest.
So here it is 14 months later and Iraq is in anarchy. Basic services for Iraqis are worse than they were before the invasion. Our soldiers die needlessly every day because they have lightweight armor vehicles and lack bulletproof kevlar. We pay inflated prices for contractors of dubious worth who it turns out are not subject to U.S. law. We create a “Governing Council” that doesn’t govern but includes flakes like Ahmad Chalabi who hadn’t lived in Iraq in thirty years and is wanted in Jordan for embezzlement. Instead of tearing down the infamous Abu Ghraib prison, we stock it full of suspects. Many of these people are innocent and were taken out of their homes and from the arms of their screaming families in the middle of the night. Then we perpetrate on these victims abuses that prove we are at best a milder version of Saddam Hussein.
Elements of al Qaeda, which were not in Iraq before the war, are now in the country, helping the insurrection and beheading innocent American civilians. Meanwhile over in Afghanistan, our attempt to stabilize the country flounder. The Taliban is resurgent and is taking over provinces again. Other warlords are getting uppity again and refuse to recognize Ahmed Karzi as the leader of the country. Osama bin Laden seems to have migrated to our erstwhile ally Pakistan, which won’t give us permission to send in our troops to search and destroy him. While Pakistan continues to teeter on the very of its own anarchy and civil war, its forces deploy in Northwest Pakistan to try to battle al Qaeda then give up.
Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz should be fired. They should have been fired long ago. The way out of this debacle is not clear but new management is sorely needed. There aren’t many people that would win the respect of our soldiers at this point. But perhaps if Colin Powell became Secretary of Defense a strong message would be sent that a real grown up is in charge of the Department of Defense.