President Bush has been bonked on the head by so many facts that refute his rhetoric in recent days, he must feel like he’s been caught in a West Texas hailstorm. But don’t worry about him. He’s a hardheaded man. I haven’t seen a fact yet that can get past his hair.
Even as the president has been putting a dent in the aviation-fuel inventory by flying around to tell Americans that they are safer because of the war in Iraq, out comes a National Intelligence Estimate and a couple of generals who say, "No, you’re not."
As a number of people pointed out, even before the Iraq invasions in 2003, sending the Army to Iraq was the biggest favor Bush could possibly have granted to old Osama bin Laden. Invading a Muslim country, and killing and abusing its people, has been a great recruiting tool. There are now more insurgents than there were two years ago. There are now more attacks than there were two years ago.
A much-annoyed president ordered parts of the NIE to be declassified (part of it had been leaked). Actually, the NIE should never be classified in the first place. The American people and Congress have a right to know about the work product of our $40 billion-a-year intelligence industry. It’s mostly bureaucratic heifer dust anyway.
The only legitimate reason to classify anything is to prevent an enemy from learning in advance of troop movements or to protect a valuable source. Neither applies to the NIE.
But the prez wanted it declassified to get to one of those if-then scenarios so well loved in the Washington skunk works. The NIE says that if the jihadists (apparently we have gone from Islamic extremists to Islamic fascists to, finally, an official designation as "jihadists") are defeated in Iraq, then they might become discouraged and lose popularity.
This, of course, is a pair of suppositions without any supporting evidence. If we have not defeated the jihadists in three years at a cost of a quarter of a trillion dollars, what evidence is there to support the belief that we can defeat them in the future? And if we did defeat them, what evidence is there to support the supposition that they would become discouraged?
The Palestinians have been struggling with Israel and losing for nearly a century, and they haven’t given up. We fought the "insurgents" in Vietnam for 10 years, dropping more high explosives on them than we used in World War II, and they didn’t get discouraged and give up. As a matter of fact, we got discouraged and gave up.
Use your noodle. Who do you think is more likely to get discouraged and give up? The insurgents, who are at home and whose supply line stretches around the corner, or the U.S., which has 147,000 troops at the end of a 7,000-mile supply line? It costs us far more to buy milk and bottled water for our troops than it does to make improvised explosives, since the bunglers in the Pentagon left Iraq littered with thousands of artillery shells. There were not enough troops to police them all up — though, of course, the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, insisted we had all the troops we needed.
Already a slight majority of Americans don’t believe the war is worth it, and as the dollars keep pouring out and the bodies keep coming back, that figure will surely grow. On the other hand, nobody gets to vote as to whether the insurgents should continue to fight.
As my fictional hero, Gus McCrae of "Lonesome Dove" fame, would say, Congress has always been too leaky a bucket to put much faith in. It was Congress that pulled the plug on our troops in Vietnam and on the South Vietnamese government. It will eventually do the same in Iraq and Afghanistan.
As much as the windbags in Washington aspire to be an empire, they just don’t have the staying power of the Roman legions. President Bush, however, will leave office convinced he never made a single mistake in eight years. I’ve known sociopaths who feel the same way.
Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.