Gen. William Odom has called the Iraq War the greatest strategic blunder in the history of the United States. Final returns are not yet in, but he may not be far off.
In invading Iraq, we attacked and occupied a country of 25 million that had not attacked us, did not threaten us, did not want war with us—to strip it of weapons we now know it did not have.
Even if, as most believed, Saddam had chemical or biological weapons, there was no evidence he intended the suicidal use of such weapons on U.S. troops in Kuwait, or to hand them over to al-Qaida to use on America, risking massive retaliation. Saddam was never a suicide bomber. He was always a survivor.
After 9-11, we couldn’t take the chance, countered the War Party. Nonsense. We take the chance every day with Iran and North Korea, far more powerful nations, as we did every day of the Cold War against a nuclear-armed Russia and China. They had missiles and WMD. But, like Saddam, they were deterred.
Yet President Bush, prodded by a cabal of neoconservatives who, for their own motives, had been plotting war on Iraq for years, invaded. History will hold him accountable for the consequences.
On the credit side, he liberated the Iraqis from a murderous tyrant. But the cost is high and rising: 17,000 U.S. dead and wounded—i.e., the eradication of an entire American division — $200 billion, the diversion of priceless assets from the fight against al-Qaida, rampant anti-Americanism in the Islamic world, the shattering of our alliances, the division of our nation, and the prospect of a U.S. defeat by Iraqi insurgents and terrorists.
Another cost must be added after a week in which Harry Reid and Co. accused President Bush of lying us into war, Republicans accused Democrats of cutting and running, and Rep. John Murtha accused Bush and Cheney of being chicken-hawks who dodged the draft in Vietnam.
Our leaders are behaving like the leaders of the late and unlamented French Third Republic.
But if Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld are responsible for the war and its consequences, so, too, are the potential Democratic nominees: Kerry, Edwards, Clinton, Biden and Bayh. In October 2002, because the country was cheering a commander in chief beating a war drum, they voted Bush a blank check to take us to war. In the fall of 2005, with the people souring on the war, they voted for a timetable to get out.
We were deceived, we were misled, we were lied to, they wail. One only awaits their explanation that they were brainwashed by a C student. The Democratic Party is a poodle of public opinion, unfit to lead the nation.
But if we were stampeded into this war, we must not let ourselves be stampeded out of Iraq by a Democratic Party in panic, scrambling to get out in front of its base. For the cost of retreat and defeat may be far more calamitous than the costs of the present war.
There are at present four exit strategies:
A. The John McCain strategy of sending 10,000 more U.S. troops, taking as long as needed to train the Iraqi army and staying as long as necessary to achieve victory.
B. The Bush strategy of “Stay the Course,” with the present complement of forces staying as long as it takes to win.
C. The exit strategy envisioned in the bipartisan resolution in the Senate last week that passed with 79 votes, calling for Bush to give the Congress benchmarks of success, leading to withdrawal.
D. The Democratic option, supported by all but five Democratic senators, to set benchmarks and a timetable for getting out.
The McCain option is a non-starter, for it is non-credible. Adding 10,000 troops to the 160,000 there will not pacify a Sunni Triangle of 5 million. U.S. opposition to the war is near 60 percent. And if Bush refused to send the troops McCain has wanted for two years, he will not do so now that his support is evaporating. The failure to listen to Gen. Shinseki in 2002 was an irremediable blunder.
As for the Bush policy of “Stay the Course,” with support for the war crumbling in Congress and the country and no light at the end of the tunnel, it is unsustainable. On the other hand, a House resolution, engineered by Republicans, calling for immediate withdrawal was backed by only three members. Cut and run is not an option.
However, there exists a bipartisan consensus for Iraqification—the transfer of political authority in Baghdad and responsibility for the war to the Iraqis. All that remains in dispute is the timetable.
As for the ugliness and acrimony of Washington, it reflects the rage, resentment and shame of men who know they made a horrible mistake, thousands have suffered and died for it, and worse may be yet to come. The truth is both parties failed America. What the Greatest Generation won, the baby boomers are frittering away.