Can something be achieved that is worthy of the sacrifice? Are there things not known to anyone other than the President and his advisers? That would justify the sacrifice? And how much more sacrifice can be justified? For us to turn Iraq over to civil war would be hard to take. What is best for America and Iraq? What is reality on the ground in Iraq? What is possible to achieve?
Can Kerry and a team of his choosing do it? It is a great leap of faith. And most of the time none of this matters to me. I want my son. My son. The home front of the first two years of the Iraq war was not like that of the Second World War, and it was not like that of Vietnam.
War, In Their Own Words
September 11th did that, but not Iraq. There were no war bonds, no collection drives, no universal call-up, no national mobilization, no dollar-a-year men. Nor did the war tear the country apart. Almost as soon as it began, the American antiwar movement quietly capitulated. On the first and second anniversaries of the invasion, there were large demonstrations in Europe and parts of the Middle East and Asia, but in this country organized opposition was muted by the imperative to support the troops. Candlelight vigils like the one in Des Moines, which displayed the photographs of fallen Iowans, strived for a tone of respectful dissent.
In the media, Iraq generated words as bitter as any event in modern American history. Iraq was a strangely distant war. Iraq provided a blank screen onto which Americans projected anything they wanted, in part because so few Americans had anything directly at stake there. The exceptions were the soldiers and their families, who carried almost the entire weight of the war.
Whereas the street fights of the late nineteen-sixties were the consequence of Vietnam, the word fights of this decade were not the consequence of Iraq—if anything, it was the other way around. It was the first blogged war, and the characteristic features of the form—instant response, ad-hominem attack, remoteness from life, the echo chamber of friends and enemies—helped define the tone of the debate about Iraq. Nothing remains to be said right now.
The men and women in our armed forces did the hardest work. They deserve our immeasurable thanks. But we all played our part. Similarly, as the insurgency sent Iraq into tumult most antiwar pundits and politicians, in spite of the enormous stakes and the awful alternatives, showed no interest in helping Iraq become a stable democracy. Iraq was too complicated for the simple answers each political side offered. The American invasion brought death, chaos, and occupation to Iraq; it also ended a terrible tyranny and ushered in the possibility of hope.
War, In Their Own Words · United Service Organizations
American forces achieved local successes in rebuilding infrastructure and setting up new institutions of government; they also lost ground every day in the estimation of Iraqis. The war had something to do with national security, something to do with oil, and something to do with democracy. Few Iraqis I met felt compelled to rifle through the contradictions and settle on one story line; many of them acknowledged that America, while ridding them of Saddam, had acted out of its own self-interest.
But in America there were comparatively few people who could handle the kind of cognitive dissonance with which Iraqis lived every day. Some journalists visited Iraq simply to reinforce their preconceptions. The following March, with the long short war showing signs of turning into a short long war, Fred Barnes, the executive editor of the strenuously pro-war Weekly Standard , parachuted into the Green Zone and discovered that the only thing wrong with Operation Iraqi Freedom was Iraqis.
America had become too politically partisan, divided, and small-minded to manage something as vast and difficult as Iraq.
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Condoleezza Rice and other leading officials liked to compare Iraq with postwar Germany. But there was a great gulf between the tremendously thoughtful effort of the best minds that had gone into defeating Fascism and rebuilding Germany and Japan, and the peevish, self-serving attention paid to Iraq. In the aftermath of September 11th, President Bush was granted what few Presidents ever get: national unity and the good will of both parties.
In the days that followed the terror attacks, something like a popular self-mobilization emerged.
Yet President Bush did nothing to harness the surge of civic energy, or to frame the new war against Islamist radicalism as a national struggle. The war on terror should have been the job not only of experts in the intelligence agencies and Special Forces but also of ordinary American citizens.
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And the war demanded more than a military campaign—it required intellectual, diplomatic, economic, political, and cultural efforts as well. If this is such a great cause, let us see one of the Bush daughters in uniform. That would send a powerful message. His other political agendas, such as tax cuts and energy policy, stirred bitter fights and disrupted the clarity and unity of September 11th.
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Whatever national cohesion that remained by mid came undone in the buildup to the invasion of Iraq. The White House forced a congressional vote on a war resolution one month before the midterm elections, in an atmosphere of partisan invective; Republicans on the floor of the House and Senate accused their dissenting Democratic colleagues of Chamberlain-like appeasement of Saddam. The White House maneuvered to block the Biden-Lugar bill and got its own passed, on a more partisan vote. But the Administration left behind an embittered Democratic minority and an increasingly divided electorate, just as it was preparing to take the country into a major land war.
Such a policy, however, would have required the Administration to operate with flexibility and openness. The evidence on unconventional weapons would have had to be laid out without exaggeration or deception. The work of U. Testimony to Congress would have had to be candid, not slippery. Administration officials who offered dissenting views or pessimistic forecasts would have had to be heard rather than silenced or fired. After the invasion, European allies would have had to be coaxed into joining an effort that desperately needed their help. American contractors close to the Pentagon would have had to be subjected to extraordinary scrutiny, to avoid even the appearance of corruption.
The U. The top American civilian in Iraq might even have had to be a Democrat, or a moderate Republican such as the retired general Anthony Zinni, whom a senior Administration official privately described as the best-qualified person for the job. It would have had to put the interests of Iraqi society ahead of the White House agenda.
And when no weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq the Administration would have had to admit it. Officials and generals who were responsible for scandal and failure would have had to be fired, not praised or promoted. When reporters asked the President to name one mistake he had made in Iraq, he would have had to name five, while assuring the country that they were being corrected.
He would have had to summon all his rhetorical skill to explain to the country why, in spite of the failure to find weapons, ending tyranny in Iraq and helping it to become a pioneering democracy in the Middle East was morally correct, important for American security, and worthy of a generational effort. In fact, he would have had to explain this before the war, when the inspectors were turning up no sign of weapons, and thus allow the country to have a real debate about the real reason for the war, so that when the war came it would not come amid rampant suspicions and surprises, and America would not be alone in Iraq.
Linked to Al Qaeda? After that? But democracy in Iraq? What prevented open and serious debate about the reasons for war was, above all, the character of the President. He always conveyed the impression that Iraq was a personal test. Every time a suicide bomber detonated himself, he was trying to shake George W. If Bush remained steadfast, how could America fail? He liked to call himself a wartime President, and he kept a bust of his hero Winston Churchill in the Oval Office.
But Churchill led a government of national unity and offered his countrymen nothing but blood, toil, tears, and sweat.
Bush relentlessly pursued a partisan Republican agenda while fighting the war, and what he offered was optimistic forecasts, permanent tax cuts, and his own stirring resolve. I asked Richard Perle, the former chairman of the Defense Policy Board and a leading war proponent, whether top Administration officials ever suffered doubts about the Iraq War. That would be fatal.
Gulf War Coverage
I thought it would be over in three weeks, with very few people killed. Now, who was right? Leslie Gelb worked in the Pentagon during the last years of the Johnson Presidency, and he directed the writing of the Pentagon Papers, the secret history of the Vietnam War which had been commissioned by Robert McNamara, the Defense Secretary, before leaving office. This is not. He was driven by the imperative not to lose the war.
A soldier’s father wrestles with the ambiguities of Iraq.
Bush is Johnson squared, because he thinks he can win. Bush is the one true believer, a man essentially cut off from all information except the official line. The strategy of projecting confidence served the President well in domestic politics. Steadfastness in wartime is an essential quality, and after the election no one could reasonably doubt his ability as a politician.
For him, the result also proved his critics wrong. When Bush spoke—as he did in his acceptance speech at the Republican Convention in September, , and again in his inaugural address in January, —about the power of freedom to change the world, he sounded deep notes in the American psyche. War is less tolerant of untruth than domestic politics is. The conversation lasted forty-five minutes, he told me, with Vice-President Dick Cheney and Rice sitting in for the second half, and yet the President did not take the chance to ask Garner what it was really like in Iraq, to find out what problems lay ahead.
When Garner had come back from northern Iraq in , after leading the effort to save Kurdish refugees following the Gulf War, he had answered questions for four or five days.