Expensive Favor

One question Americans should be asking the Bush administration is why it wishes to do such an expensive favor for the Iraqi people.

I cannot think of any instance in which the federal government has been willing to spend $1 billion a week and 1,700 lives just to improve conditions in any one of the 50 states. Yet that is exactly what it is doing in Iraq, presumably for no other reason than to bring the blessings of liberty to a people we have bombed, starved, impoverished and vilified for 14 years.

Naturally, the democracy bit is a fallback excuse after the original justification for launching a pre-emptive war was proven false. There were no weapons of mass destruction. There was no nuclear program. There were no ties to al-Qaida. There was no threat to the United States, imminent or otherwise.

These undisputed facts leave the American people with two choices. One, they can give President George Bush the benefit of the doubt and believe that he believed there actually were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. In that case, he is guilty of the most expensive blunder in the history of the United States. When such blunders are discovered, the normal course of events is to fire the people responsible. No such firings have occurred in the Bush administration. In fact, the Bush administration refuses to admit it made a mistake, however obvious the truth.

The second choice is to conclude that the president deliberately misled the American people and was intent on attacking Iraq without regard for the facts. There is accumulating evidence that this is the case. As a recently unearthed British memorandum reveals, Bush had decided to go to war, and the facts were to be “fixed” to justify it. This explains the lack of firings. The intelligence bureaucrats didn’t err; they did exactly what the Bush cabal instructed them to do: fix the facts to justify a war.

Whichever it is — colossal blunder or deliberate deception — President Bush has gotten away with it. Neither the voters, the Congress nor the press has held him accountable.

That leaves the present mess. We are now once again hearing the old rhetoric of the Vietnam War. “We can’t cut and run”; “To pull out now would be a catastrophe”; etc. and so forth.

This is a false argument. A planned withdrawal after the completion of the mission is not “cutting and running.” No group — most of all the insurgents — believes it has the power to drive us out of Iraq. After the interim government drafts a constitution and elects a permanent government, there will be no justification for us to remain. If we do, we will be seen as propping up a phony government the Iraqi people don’t support.

Furthermore, we as outsiders cannot defeat an insurgency, because our very presence fuels its recruiting drives. Only the Iraqis can defeat the insurgency, and only after we have left.

President Bush, in my opinion, doesn’t intend to leave Iraq ever. He is looking for a permanent U.S. military presence in that country. The American people and the Congress, however, can force him to withdraw. If the people put enough pressure on Congress, the legislative branch can cut off the funds and thus force a U.S. withdrawal. Unfortunately, I fear that more Americans will die before the pressure builds to that point.

Trying to create democracy at the point of a foreign bayonet was a fool’s errand from the beginning. It can’t be done. My guess is the Iraqis will eventually choose another strongman to give them what they most want, which is security, functioning utilities and jobs. What we have done with our invasion and error-riddled occupation is create the perfect conditions for a new dictator.

In the meantime, the American people should be concerned that their federal government worries more about the Iraqis than it does the Americans. We could find far better uses for both the money and the lives than to squander them on the hard, bloody soil of the Middle East.

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.