Columns » Warwick Sabin

Empty stands

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“There are some who feel like that the conditions are such that they can attack us there. My answer is bring them on. We’ve got the force necessary to deal with the security situation.” President George W. Bush, July 2, 2003.

I’ve spent a lot of lonely fourth quarters in Razorback Stadium, many times on cold, wet November afternoons.

The Hogs could be down by several touchdowns, with no hope of winning the game. Still, I always stay to the bitter end. To leave early would be to give up on the team, which seems disloyal to me.

Do I feel morally superior to the fans who head for the exits when it’s clear that Arkansas will lose? Sure, sometimes I do.

And that’s what got me thinking about those lonely moments in Fayetteville. I was trying to empathize with those who want to stay the course in Iraq despite the worsening situation there.

They accuse anyone who acknowledges the unfortunate reality of our military operation of wanting to “cut and run,” being unpatriotic, demoralizing our troops and giving comfort to the enemy.

But our soldiers already decisively won the war they were sent to fight. They skillfully executed their plan and toppled Saddam Hussein. Remember “Mission Accomplished”?

Since then, however, the U.S. forces have been left in limbo without a defined strategy or goal. They are in a reactive posture, vastly outnumbered as they try to referee a sectarian civil war.

“The level of activity that we see today from a military standpoint, I think, will clearly decline. I think they’re in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency.” Vice President Dick Cheney, June 20, 2005.

Meanwhile, President George W. Bush seized on the recently foiled terror plot in Britain to say “This nation is at war with Islamic Fascists who will use any means to destroy those of us who love freedom …to hurt our nation.”

If that’s true, then at the very least our mission in Iraq is not serving its purpose, since it didn’t stop the British terrorists from almost killing American citizens close to home. And at the very worst, our presence in Iraq is diverting resources that would be better used for more pressing national security needs.

For instance, the war already has cost over $1 trillion, but the Bush Administration recently fought a $6 million appropriation to develop explosives detection technology that could prevent the kind of attack planned in Britain. Furthermore, border and port security improvements remain underfunded and underprioritized, leaving Americans truly vulnerable to the threats Bush says we face.

In fact, being in Iraq makes us weaker in almost every possible way, from stretching our financial resources and military capabilities to undermining our diplomatic position and global prestige. It emboldened Iran and North Korea to announce their nuclear intentions and created a new breeding ground for international terrorism — our biggest direct threat.

So in exchange for enduring those losses, there should be a goal we are working toward to make it all worthwhile, just as defeating Germany and Japan justified the nation’s sacrifices during World War II.

But we still don’t know exactly what will define victory in Iraq or our strategy for achieving it. On Monday, after more than three years of fighting there, reporters were pressing President Bush for an answer.

“The strategy is to help the Iraqi people achieve the objectives and dreams which is a democratic society. That’s the strategy. The tactics — now — either you say yes it’s important we stay there and get it done or we leave. We’re not leaving so long as I’m the president.” President George W. Bush, August 21, 2006.

In other words, we can expect more of the same through January 2009: No clear benchmark for success, nothing for the military to advance toward, and no battle plan. At this point, Bush isn’t even attempting to explain how overall U.S. national security will be improved by our presence there.

But as their earlier quotes indicate, Bush and Cheney either never fully understood the reality in Iraq or could never fully accept it. The situation demands better leadership — not more cheerleading.

And while a sports analogy seems inappropriate for such a serious subject, their concept of patriotism is as irrational as my fan martyrdom. I sat in empty stands; their policy stands are intellectually empty. I thought ignoring the score made me a better fan; they think ignoring uncomfortable facts makes them better Americans.

Yet America suffers most from their stubborn pride and delusions.


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