A strange and troubling war

Three years after President Bush declared "mission accomplished" in Iraq, this strange and troubling war just got even stranger and more troubling. Strange, because it was fought from the beginning without an understanding of the country we were invading, without a strategic plan, and because, to this date, there has been no accountability or acknowledgment of failure. Troubling, because the deadly consequences of this debacle are growing and becoming more dangerous with each passing day.

Works by two journalists and a rare public spat between two Bush Administration officials brought all of this into sharp relief in recent weeks.

First, the spat. 

In an effort to deflect anti-war protests that greeted her visit to the UK, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice admitted that the Administration had made "tactical errors, thousands of them" in Iraq. Further, suggesting that only those who were "brain dead" didn't recognize errors and work to correct them, Rice went on to say that history would be the final judge as to whether or not the war was, in fact, strategically right.

A week later, Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense, questioned about Rice's remarks said, "I don't know what she was talking about" and went on to suggest that those who said mistakes were made "lack understanding...of what warfare of about."

As George Packer (author of "The Assassin's Gate: American in Iraq") suggests in his recent article in The New Yorker, both Rice and Rumsfeld are wrong-though Rumsfeld more so. The tactical mistakes of this war are many, but all of these sprung from the war's "original sin"-that it was based on a deeply flawed ideological vision, with no grounding in reality.

I have long referred to the "infantile fantasy" that guided the war's architects-"shock and awe," "a cake walk," "flowers in the streets," "Iraq as a beacon for Middle East democracy," etc.

Directed by this vision the Pentagon's civilian leadership discounted and ridiculed calls for caution and greater troop strength, proceeded with a flawed "deba'athification" program, failed to provide services and security for Iraq's civilian population, discounted the emergence of an indigenous insurgency, etc.

Packer contrasts the recent successful, though short-lived, performance of US forces in Tel Afar with the broader conduct of the war and concludes that it was too little, too late. 

Though the Administration remains in denial (fearful of parallels with Vietnam and rejecting warnings of imminent civil war), Iraq is spinning out of control. Caught between domestic pressures to "draw down" and equally compelling pressures to "save face," they are floundering.

The path the Administration appears to be pursuing is to "dumb down" the definition of victory and find a way to reduce US exposure-all the while maintaining a reduced military presence and a long-term political commitment to Iraq-sounding more like a "Vietnam-like" debacle in the making.

While Packer makes no bones about the failures of the civilian leadership at the Pentagon and suggests that even the uniformed military's top brass bear some responsibility for not being more challenging of this misguided effort, veteran journalist Helen Thomas points an accusing finger in another direction.

In a recent article in The Nation, "Lap Dogs of the Press," Thomas says that her colleagues in the media share blame for the war in Iraq. They did not challenge the Administration's reasons for the war and instead joined in beating the war drums acting as a "gullible," "complicit," and "unquestioning" echo chamber for the Administration's pronouncements. 

Thomas concludes her piece saying, "if reporters had put the spotlight on the flaws in the Bush Administration's war policies, they could have saved the country the heartache and the losses of American and Iraqi lives.

"It is past time for reporters to forget the party line, ask the tough questions and let the chips fall where they may."

And so here we are, three years after "mission accomplished," many dead and injured later, Iraq imploding, the US floundering, the public turning against the war they once supported, and fingers pointing all around.

All the while, Democrats, the opposition party, remain torn between their anti-war base and some opportunistic leaders who either believe the better course is to remain silent while the Administration stews in its own broth or fearful to provide a direct challenge, not wanting to be accused of being weak on defense issues.

As a result, the debate over this war is not as sharply focused as it should be, given its costs and consequences. But as Packer and Thomas suggest, an accounting for the strange and troubling war is coming.

Dr. James J. Zogby is the President of Arab American Institute and can be reached at [email protected]

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Older Comments:
I think it is bad idea, Madame Secretary, to assume historians will have the final say in whether Americans did the right thing by invading Iraq. That is of course unless you were referring to Iraqi historians.

Also it seems inappropriate for a diplomat to apparently try putting the blame for strategic, civilian, executive-level blunders on military tacticians. In addition to seeming likely to be demoralizing.
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Romesh Chander,try your insults on your own ..nation,no need for you to criticize something you hate and are biased toward.Reason for that is the fact that you lose credibility and honour.For an old man that's a tremendous setback.In Iraq and at Abu Ghraib the US army was the one that humiliated herself in the same way as the Nazis did with the Jews.

The meaning of this war is the security of Israel;not the security of the American people as the neo-cons tried to fool the un-informed public.Contrariwise the security of USA is so much compromised that travel in and out USA resembles that of formerly notorious USSR.USA has great combat capabilities but they are exhaustable.It seems that the economic and psychological impact of this war reached a crisis in this administration.Fighting Iraq and Afghanistan with unbalanced weaponry allowed the false image of an invincible America to arise. The Iraq circus will not end soon,nay,there will be always the risk of things getting too dangerous and ready to develop into something terrible as long as Israel is allowed to have unilateral decisions concerning the Palestinian problem.For USA to start another front with Iran would be political suicide.All the Shia element in Iraq would join their Iranian brothers in fighting what would be perceived as a common enamy.Coming back to Iraq,there is no resolution and the money burnt there by this administration is in the trillions.Staying in Iraq is costive and extremely dangerous,getting out is the same dangerous and it would be like letting a forest fire unattended.I can understand Bush and his clique's dilemma about the catastrophic development in the war,but as it seems they will need to declare defeat in the end and allow the Islamists take over as the Communists took over Viet Nam.It is the single way.US cannot defeat the Islamists;she could befriend them by putting a leash and a muzzle on Israel,but as it seems US is not quite ready for this change of hearts
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There is nothing strange about this war in Iraq. The neo-con intention was to humiliate the Arabs and they have succeeded in that. The greatest example of humiliation was Abu-Ghraib -- no protest from the Arab (and even from other muslim governments). Not one Arab government came to the aid of Iraq; not one single Arab government broke diplomatic relations with US/UK (and that I think includes Syria). Not one PetroSheikhdom stopped the oil flow; rather they all have been making money from this war, especially Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and UAE. No demonstrations against the war in muslim countries; most of the demonstrations were in the crusading world and by the crusaders.

The Arabs are divided and powerless. That is the real meaning of the war.
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