We were rudely reminded the other day that President Bush is still in office.
While we were worrying about Barack Obama’s relationship with his strange preacher, Hillary Rodham Clinton’s strange misremembering about being under sniper fire in the Balkans when she clearly was not, and whether John McCain wants to bomb Iran, Bush was trying to figure out how to mark — celebrate? — the five-year anniversary of the Iraq War.
He went to the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio, the state that gave him the margin of victory in 2004, and said it is hard to believe that it was “only five years ago” that the United States toppled Saddam Hussein. World War II ended sooner than that.
As economists debate whether the war will cost one, two or three trillion dollars, the 4,000 U.S. soldiers who have died in Iraq have not died in vain, he insisted.
The reason they have not, and the reason why more Americans will die, is to show the world that freedom can flourish in Iraq, he said, although the level of democracy in Iraq is highly debatable.
Even as Bush was speaking of the great progress in Iraq, U.S. diplomats were told to take cover in Baghdad and not to leave reinforced structures because of insurgent rocket and mortar fire. A curfew was set for the coming weekend.
The surge of 30,000 troops to which Bush reluctantly agreed and now touts as a brilliant strategy has not worked as it was supposed to. It was done to permit time for national reconciliation in Iraq so the Iraqi government could meet specific benchmarks. That has not happened. Violence did decline but is again on the upswing.
As for the overwhelming culture of corruption in Iraq, Bush merely conceded that “corruption remains a challenge.”
Bush, who will have been at war for all but seven months of his eight years in office, barely even mentions Afghanistan any more. But the situation there — which Bush seems to keep forgetting still is patrolled by U.S. soldiers — is deteriorating as the Taliban regroups.
Osama bin Laden is still at large. Bush scarcely bothers to mention the top terrorist, who orchestrated 9/11 and continues to plot new ways to attack America from his hideaway in Pakistan.
Our stubborn president who cannot admit ever being wrong will be faulted by history for not asking the right questions as his team of neo-cons, including Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld, pushed relentlessly for war with Iraq with absolutely no planning for what would happen after the invasion.
Al Qaeda was not in Iraq before 9/11, but it is there now. Iraq had absolutely no connection with 9/11 and the White House knew that, but Bush did not care.
The fact that the world — including most Americans — opposes his idea of pre-emptive war, torturing prisoners and suspending civil liberties does not bother Bush.
Vice President Cheney responded sarcastically — “So?” — when reminded that most Americans oppose the war in Iraq.
Many Americans do not realize that Bush has mortgaged our children’s future by deferring the cost of the war. Whether it will be $1 trillion or $3 trillion, the war is being paid for on credit.
The argument that pulling out of Iraq would permit us to concentrate on more important national issues “makes no sense,” Bush said scornfully. He ridicules the idea of cutting our losses in Iraq by calling that notion “retreat.”
Bush has decided he will not substantially reduce the number of soldiers in Iraq. Yes, he will be gone in 10 months, turning the mess over to his successor. But the damage he has done will last for generations.
(Scripps Howard columnist Ann McFeatters has covered the White House and national politics since 1986. E-mail amcfeatters(at)nationalpress.com.)