Two months into the surge, four things have happened in Iraq that illustrate both the certain doom and inhumanity of President Bush’s policy. More American but fewer Iraqi soldiers than before are dying, innocent Iraqi civilians are perishing in greater numbers, and the U.S.-backed government grows not stronger but weaker.
Three were not supposed to happen. The administration did say that U.S. combat deaths might worsen for a short time as U.S. and Iraqi soldiers clogged the Baghdad streets, but the government always gives itself cover for the bad news that will occur while its promises are fresh on people’s minds. The trouble with this war and this administration is that the bad news never ceases.
The surge was supposed to involve massive Iraqi forces as well as American, but GIs are now dying at a faster clip than Iraqis. Remember the mantra that U.S. forces would stand down as Iraqis stood up?
Civilian casualties were to go down, giving Iraqis greater confidence in the country’s stability and safety, and the surge would give the beleaguered government in Baghdad the mastery to work out its problems with the disaffected sectarian and ethnic groups. But the government instead is shedding much of its own religious base, and the Bush administration must prepare for the day when the Iraqi regime, even if it fears it might be writing its own death warrant, is forced to ask the United States to at least set a timetable for leaving. What would George Bush — make that Dick Cheney — do then?
He cannot leave even then, and that is the terrible, unprecedented inhumanity of the president’s policy. The only certitude about the Bush war is that with no prospect of winning he intends to hand the war off to another administration, whether Republican or Democrat, so that it and not he can “lose” Iraq. The cost in blood and treasure and American standing, whatever it turns out to be, is a tribute that has to be paid to see that history does not record his failure.
Bush will not be on hand to place a folded American flag in the trembling hands of the mother of the Arkansas private who died last week or any of the grieving mothers and widows of the other 1,500 or 3,000 who will perish before Jan. 20, 2009. He will not have to sign the computer-generated letters to the additional 15,000 or so wounded and discharged soldiers and Marines to tell them that their disability ratings have been reduced to below 20 percent to keep their veterans benefits and the price tag for the war at politically manageable levels.
The almost instant failure of the surge, except to minimally reduce violence in the Shiite precincts of Baghdad and push it outward into the suburbs and provinces, was predicted by every military and diplomatic authority except the men the president put in charge, and they circumscribed their forecasts with depressing skepticism. As the commanders put it, the surge would buy time for the government in Baghdad and for the Bush administration, which needs exactly 21 more months.
Is it wrong to presume such cynicism on the part of the country’s leaders, that they suspected even if they did not know that the plan would fail in everything but delaying the inevitable? If not, what moral canon says that a leader may sacrifice the lives and health of thousands of men and women in a vain effort to cop a plea with history?
Who in America no longer gets it? Every month gives up another insider book, each written in doomsday terms, about the incompetence and duplicity of Bush and Cheney. Washington is buzzing about the forthcoming book by former CIA Director George Tenet, who apparently was not bought off when Bush hung the Medal of Freedom around his neck.
Lee Iacocca, the gruff-talking corporate wizard who revived Chrysler in the 1980s, stumped for Bush in Michigan and Pennsylvania in 2000 and appeared in commercials asking voters to join him in voting for a tough leader for president. The scales fell off within a year.
“Am I the only guy in this country who’s fed up with what’s happening?” Iacocca writes in a new book, out this month. “Where the hell is our outrage? We should be screaming bloody murder. We’ve got a gang of clueless bozos steering our ship of state right over a cliff, we’ve got corporate gangsters stealing us blind, and we can’t even clean up after a hurricane much less build a hybrid car. But instead of getting mad, everyone sits around and nods their heads when the politicians say, ‘Stay the course.’”