The latest flap within the Bush administration illustrates better than nothing else what has gone wrong with our war in Iraq. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently understated the obvious – that the United States has made "thousands of tactical errors" in its management of that conflict. Compared with other statements made by this administration – which concede no errors, not one, in its Iraqi policy – Secretary Rice came off as paragon of honest candor.
Predictably, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, the man responsible for most of those thousands of errors – strategic and tactical – was having none of it. "I don't know what she was talking about, to be perfectly honest," Rumsfeld dishonestly declared to talk-show host Scott Hennen who asked him about Rice's admission. "If you had a static situation and you made a mistake in how you addressed the static situation, that would be one thing," he added. "What you have here is not a static situation, you have a dynamic situation with an enemy that thinks, uses their brain, constantly adjusts, and therefore our commanders have to constantly make tactical adjustments." He declared that Rice and other critics simply didn't understand war.
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Our reporters at Talk Radio News Service tell me that many American senior commanders in Iraq as well as the ones at home don't agree. Speaking off the record for obvious reasons, these commanders cite the Bush administration's disastrous approval of Paul Bremer's stupid decision to eliminate the Iraqi Army with the stroke of a pen – and thereby unemploy several hundred thousand Iraqi males of military age, arm them with a grievance, and render them a ripe recruiting pool for the Baathists who are killing our men and women with roadside bombs and small-arms ambushes.
The early decision, of which Bremer was the face, to divide the administration of post-invasion Iraq between military and civilian commanders – in effect, to divide command, a classic military blunder that's been on the books for several millennia – was another astoundingly stupid decision, the consequences of which are being paid in blood by our troops.
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It actually gets worse. Most of my readers know of Muqtada al Sadr, the man whose private militia challenged Coalition forces two years ago, which were attempting to arrest al Sadr for murder. It was a credit to our troops that al Sadr's militia was neutered – and a discredit to this administration that al Sadr was ultimately allowed to skate from justice in exchange for joining some fantasy called the "Iraqi political process."
Today, al Sadr has joined that process, while his rebuilt militia cheerfully volunteers for the anti-Sunni death squads that are a major reason why no Baghdad central government (that mainly exists in press releases issued from the International Zone) has yet been formed. Al Sadr's militia – and others, of course – remain a cancer on the "new" Iraq, and demonstrate that for all this administration's purported resolve, once our troops did the heavy lifting to arrive in Baghdad in 2003, Bush and his minions have demonstrated nothing but weakness. Once again, our uniformed men and women have picked up the check, with their lives, limbs and mental fortitude.
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There is an important lesson here about democracy and war. Long term, democracies tend to be more successful in waging war. The reason, I believe, is that traditionally, democratic leaders, when they level with the people, can count on their support against incredible odds. One thinks of Winston Churchill promising the British people nothing but "blood, sweat, toil and tears" – and the people then responded with bottomless loyalty despite disaster at Dieppe and V1 and V2 rockets that killed almost 100,000 Londoners. Can anyone imagine George Bush leveling with the American people in that way? Regularly confiding to them in "fireside chats" the broad outlines of strategy, asking for their help, admitting errors, but gathering strength as he forged ahead?
By failing to take the people into his confidence, Bush has left the field open to Democrats to do what an honest, secure, commander in chief has traditionally done – lead. Bush the pusillanimous administrator of Iraq then sits back and accuses the loyal opposition of a lack of patriotism because they fill the vacuum he has created through his own arrogance and incompetence.
How different the judgments of history are from what we mortals often believe at the time events unfold! One day, the history of this president will be written and the Iraq War fully assayed. I believe that he will be seen then as the great squanderer, a man whose bluster was reserved for "enemies" at home, while saving weakness for adversaries abroad – a man who refused to trust his own people enough to tell them some simple truths in a timely fashion.
Bush will be remembered as the Republican version of what many Americans think of Jimmy Carter.