With the formal end of the war in Iraq this week, I post this column that I wrote after its first year.
Almost one year after President Bush stood on the deck of an aircraft carrier moored off the coast of California and triumphantly boasted, "Mission accomplished," and major U.S. combat operations in Iraq were over, the situation, to put it succinctly, is a bloody mess.
That presidential moment, preceded by a male testosterone-induced jet-landing stunt, has proven to be untimely because hundreds of Americans have died since then, not in the name of freedom or to counter Muslim terrorism, but to transform Iraq into a democracy.
Iraqis dancing in the streets last spring, rejoicing over the downfall of Saddam Hussein, has been replaced by frequent acts of random violence. Today, once jubilant Iraqis are, no doubt, as much concerned about what the future holds as are American families whose military sons' and daughters’ tours of duty were abruptly extended last week.
Indeed, the only thing that’s been accomplished in the last twelve months is to entangle this nation in a billion-dollar-a-week struggle that’s slowly paralleling the quagmire we endured for fourteen years in Vietnam.
This time, though, it’s starting off more lethal!
According to the Reuters news agency, Department of Defense data designates the start of the Vietnam War as December 11, 1961. In the first three years, nearly 400 Americans died in Southeast Asia. As we enter the second year in Iraq, the war borders on chaotic, while the number of American military casualties is fast approaching 700, including some 50 KIAs last week. There are more pockets of resistance now than following the "Shock and Awe" bombing campaign that preceded ground combat.
As the war drags on, the tragedy that precipitated it is being investigated by a commission, which is revealing staggering evidence about the incompetence of the nation’s domestic and international intelligence agencies and negligence of top government officials.
Mind you, this bipartisan, independent authority was adamantly opposed by the Bush Administration. It was authorized only after various family members of 9/11 victims persisted in their effort to obtain answers about the terrorist attacks that took almost 3,000 lives.
The commission’s report, scheduled to be issued by midsummer, will likely focus on the ineptitude of the FBI and CIA, particularly the rivalry that has traditionally led to keeping each other out of the loop when it comes to sharing vital information. If nothing else, there has to be a complete overhaul of how these agencies operate — and cooperate — from now on.
We know now that the critical report – the Presidential Daily Briefing of August 6, 2001, "Bin Laden Determined to Strike the U.S." — the administration grudgingly declassified last week, contained little new information, but still deserved attention because it pointed to something in the wind.
When former White House counterterrorist chief Richard Clarke, who served America’s last four presidents, recently testified before the commission, he claimed he tried on numerous occasions to warn the president and National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice about the Al Qaeda threat, but was always rebuffed since they seemed more obsessed with overthrowing the Iraqi dictator.
However sincere, Clarke’s testimony was a bit tainted by the fact he’d recently been promoting a book in which he denounced the Bush administration’s negligence in the months preceding 9/11. Clarke maintains that Bush was focused on ousting Saddam Hussein while Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda were afterthoughts.
When Rice appeared before the commission last week, she was unyielding, yet unconvincing and uninformative, in her defense about disregarding the Al Qaeda threat, but did support Clarke’s criticism of FBI and CIA bungling of information.
From the information gleaned thus far by the commission, it’s highly improbable anyone in the White House could have been prevented the 9/11 attacks, nevertheless, it is evident that the Bush administration was mindful of something in the air, yet failed to take appropriate action for what they judged to be vague "patterns of suspicious activity."
The altered process in reacting to suspicious terrorist chatter since 9/11 is agonizingly unmistakable every time the White House issues a terror alert upgrade based on any speck of evidence it collects.
If the Bush Administration were as vigilant to warnings of domestic terrorism as it was to foreign intelligence reports about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, perhaps they would not have to be on the defensive now.
If President George W. Bush hopes to earn a distinguished place in American history, and win a second term in November, he can start by taking responsibility for what happened on his watch — from intelligence breakdowns to the botched mission in Iraq — and restore the deteriorating confidence of the American public.
Once and for all, Mr. President, we need to hear the truth. We can handle it.