Two Years Out

Well, here we are, two years out (as they say in Washington) from "mission accomplished," the president’s now-famous speech during the photo opportunity on an American carrier.

The American death toll in Iraq is now 1,594, and the wounded exceed 10,000. The cost is about $300 billion. Somewhere between 140,000 and 150,000 Americans remain in Iraq. A third interim government has been partially formed after three months of wrangling. The insurgency is still going strong. Iraq is now an excellent training ground for terrorists. All of the reasons cited for going to war have been proven false. There were no weapons of mass destruction. There were no ties between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida. The Iraqis had nothing to do with the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Has it been worth it? I don’t think so. The number of acts of terrorism has gone up, not down, which is no doubt why the Bush administration has decided to discontinue the annual reporting of such acts. Facts are nasty little buggers that play havoc with political rhetoric. It’s best to keep them under wraps.

Iraq was more stable under Saddam than it is today, and his wobbly regime never was a threat to the U.S., much less an imminent danger. The Pentagon has finally admitted that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have put such a strain on the U.S. military that any future actions will be longer, with higher casualties and higher collateral damage (that’s the killing of innocent civilians).

Iran and North Korea, well aware of the limits of American military power, are thumbing their noses at us, and the president’s "my way or the highway" approach to diplomacy has yielded nothing but a loss of American prestige.

In the meantime, the president is proposing the wrong solution to the wrong problem (his cockamamie scheme to gut Social Security) while he ignores the real problems: skyrocketing costs of medical care; the skyrocketing U.S. budget deficit; the skyrocketing U.S. trade deficit; illegal immigration; poor relations with the one country that could destroy us, Russia; a looming energy crisis; the dismantling of environmental protections; the bleeding of American jobs to overseas cheap labor; excessive secrecy and government propaganda; the weakness of the American dollar; the decline of education; and the usual corruption.

I think we are adrift in a sea of troubles, and our captain, like the infamous fictional Captain Queeg, is more concerned about who ate the strawberries than saving the ship. If you doubt that, take this little test. The next time the president holds a press conference or makes a speech, turn off the sound and study his face. I’m not saying he isn’t there. It’s we who are not there in whatever world he is occupying.

Yes, he can certainly simulate congeniality, and yes, he has some of the best mind-gamers in the world writing his speeches and planning his political strategy, but is he genuinely interested in solving the problems facing the American people and the nation? I don’t think so.

The job of president ages most men, but Bush seems as healthy and content as a Georgia mule in a lush pasture. He’s never admitted making a mistake. He has never held even one soul accountable for the intelligence failures or botching the Iraqi occupation. So far as he is concerned, he’s the perfect man in the perfect job in a perfect world, just like the television commercial. In the meantime, the rest of us are stuck with going to Walgreens.

I would feel better if he would just occasionally look worried. Unfortunately, he’s accomplished all he wanted to accomplish. He’s won two elections, he’s cut taxes for his rich friends, and he toppled Saddam Hussein. I don’t know why he had such a grudge against old Saddam, but it’s clear from books written by insiders than he was planning to go to war against Iraq almost from the day he took office. He seems to be the most self-satisfied president in history.

Well, we’ll just have to follow the advice they give drunks and accept what can’t be changed. He’s our captain, and we’re just the crew. Let’s hope we can avoid the rocks and shoals on the way to 2008.

Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years, reporting on everything from sports to politics. From 1969 to 1971, he worked as a campaign staffer for gubernatorial, senatorial and congressional races in several states. He was an editor, assistant to the publisher, and columnist for the Orlando Sentinel from 1971 to 2001. He now writes a syndicated column which is carried on Reese served two years active duty in the U.S. Army as a tank gunner. Write to Charley Reese at P.O. Box 2446, Orlando, FL 32802.