Now that so many supporters of the Iraq war have moved beyond denial, anger, bargaining and depression, and accepted the fact that the war is being lost, the elaborate dance preceding the withdrawal of American troops has begun.
In just the past few days, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner has signaled that in another “two or three months” it will be time to consider whether we need a fundamental change of course in Iraq, while longtime Bush family adviser James Baker has indicated that the Iraq Study Group he co-chairs will declare the president’s “stay the course” strategy untenable.
Meanwhile, prominent hawk Fareed Zakaria has declared in Newsweek that “it is time to call an end to the tests, the six-month trials, the waiting and the watching, and to recognize that the Iraqi government has failed. It is also time to face the terrible reality that America’s mission in Iraq has substantially failed.”
Unfortunately, President Bush is likely to be the last man in America to recognize this. Thus we are stuck in a terrible situation: While there are rational arguments in favor of escalating the Iraq war and withdrawing altogether from it, the one course that almost every expert on the question agrees makes no sense — maintaining enough of a military presence to inspire both the insurgency and sectarian violence, but not enough to effectively curtail either — is the course on which we seem destined to remain.
Indeed, Bush is quoted in Bob Woodward’s new book, State of Denial, as telling top Republicans at a White House meeting that he will not withdraw from Iraq, even if his wife and his dog are the only ones still supporting him.
Escalating the war is probably a political impossibility, and will remain so, even if Republicans manage to hang onto a slim majority in Congress. And withdrawal is psychologically out of the question for the president. So the next two years are likely to feature a pointless parade of expert commissions, congressional hearings, earnest opinion columns, and so on, making recommendations that have no chance of being adopted before January 2009.
All of which means it will become increasingly clear that American troops are being killed and wounded in Iraq for no good reason. And, as in Vietnam, hard-core hawks will be hunting for scapegoats to blame for this fiasco. Some likely candidates include:
— Liberal Democratic politicians, who betrayed their country by failing to give their wholehearted support to the nation’s president in a time of war.
— The liberal media, which stabbed our soldiers in the back by failing to support the war effort, thereby sapping morale both on the battlefield and on the home front.
— The liberal Hollywood elite, who failed to use their talents to highlight how America was fighting to liberate an entire region of the world from tyranny, and instead spent their time making films attacking traditional family values.
— Liberal university professors, who poisoned the minds of our youth by always blaming America first, often at taxpayer expense.
— The Jews, who got America into this war because they thought it would be good for Israel.
— Something about Bill Clinton, preferably having to do with his sex life.
The truth is that the only people to blame for the Iraq catastrophe are the political leaders who planned this war, launched it and are now losing it, through a combination of arrogance, ignorance, incompetence and mendacity.
History will note that George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and their enablers throughout the government and the media lost the Iraq war, while doing incalculable damage to America, squandering the lives of thousands of our troops and those of countless Iraqis, and wasting hundreds of billions of dollars in the process.
That is the only mission they accomplished.
(Paul C. Campos is a law professor at the University of Colorado and can be reached at Paul.Campos(at)Colorado.edu.)