“Absolutely!” the President replied to Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly’s question of whether Bush, if he had it all to do again, would still swoop down on to the deck of the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln and give his speech beneath the infamous “Mission Accomplished” banner.
I have a word for that remark - Clueless.
This is not easy for me to write. In the run-up to war, I was a reluctant but resolute supporter of President Bush’s policy of getting tough with Saddam. There were anthrax and nukes, along with scuds and VX to deal with. And of course, we were told that Iraqi agents had helped with the September 11th attacks. I was sure that the President would ultimately do the right thing.
I bought the hype. It never occurred to me that the entire bill of goods about Saddam’s supposedly imminent sale of weapons of mass destruction to Osama Bin Laden and his buddies was based upon cherry-picked and dubious intelligence. How was I supposed to know that the “hard facts” in Colin Powell’s speech to the United Nations were as authentic as the make-believe anthrax spores in the little vile he held up to scare the world? Any voices that challenged these assertions were drowned out, silenced or ridiculed.
However, it puzzled me when the Administration claimed they had the United Nation’s approval to launch a pre-emptive strike on Iraq based upon resolution 1441. Our own UN representative, John Negroponte told the world “…. the [UN Security] council will have an opportunity to consider the matter before any other action [after 1441] is taken.” Yet I still trusted the President to do the right thing. (By the way, John Negroponte is now the US Ambassador to Iraq.)
When the trigger was pulled and our military performed brilliantly on their drive to Baghdad, I cheered our troops along with most of America. I mourned for our thankfully-few fallen soldiers and the civilian dead and wounded. The price had been high, but it was over. …Or so the President told America that day on the USS Lincoln when he declared an end to “major combat operations.”
By then, Iraq was delving into chaos. The lid had blown off the boiling kettle and mayhem ensued. Rioting and pillaging tore down much of what was left of Iraqi civil society. I was shocked to learn that the White House had been presented with almost exactly this scenario by the State Department but chose to ignore their recommendations. Instead they believed the Tinkerbell faction of the Pentagon who promised rose petals strewn before us and town squares named after President Bush.
Even amongst this ugly aftermath, I trusted that we would make things right. We had weapons to find and a Democracy to build.
A few weeks after the carrier landing, President Bush told Polish TV that, “We found the weapons of mass destruction” upon the discovery of two suspicious trailers. It turned out that they were mobile hydrogen plants for filling artillery-targeting balloons and were sold to Iraq by Britain. This would be only the first of many false WMD positives. All the while, US troops were fighting, dying and having their tours extended.
We were promised that - things would calm down after Saddam was captured, - the insurgents were primarily “foreign” fighters who poured in from other countries, - the new provisional Iraqi government would allow the Iraqis to handle their own security concerns, and many other tales that have not turned out.
It has been a year and a half since the wishful thinking of the USS Lincoln speech. We now know that - there were no weapons, - Saddam had nothing to do with Al Qaeda and 9/11, - over 1000 American troops have been killed so far in the ongoing war (900 since the speech!) as well as hundreds of Iraqi civilians deaths each month.
And now the President is asserting that, even with the benefit of hindsight, he would do it all exactly the same way again. It pains me to say that I no longer trust that our Commander in Chief has a clue about what to do in Iraq, let alone how to do it. So, if I am ever asked whether I regret my support for this misguided war, I will answer solemnly, “Absolutely.”