Despite all of the death and mayhem in Iraq and counterproductive results in the war on terror, the ever-chipper President Bush soldiers on with upbeat assessments of those efforts in campaign appearances. And the ever-gullible American voter is apparently willing to believe him.
Just as it is “unpatriotic” these days to criticize the U.S. military during a war, it is equally politically incorrect to criticize the pitifully uninformed American public. To ingratiate themselves with voters, politicians usually crow about the “inherent wisdom of the American people.” But that wisdom is sorely lacking on national security issues.
Despite John Kerry’s criticism of Bush on such matters, a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll indicates that voters still trust Bush more than Kerry to deal with the war in Iraq by 53 percent to 37 percent. The same poll shows that they also have greater trust in Bush to prosecute the war on terrorism by an even bigger margin-57 percent to 35 percent. A USA Today/CNN Gallup Poll shows similar results: 54 percent to 41 percent on Iraq and 61 percent to 34 percent on the war on terrorism.
Granted, Kerry’s congressional vote in favor of the Iraq War and the Kerry campaign’s general incompetence have legitimately hindered his attempts to distinguish himself from Bush on such issues. But given the stark realities, one would expect the numbers to be reversed.
The Bush administration has been responsible for the deaths of more than 1,000 U.S. service personnel, the wounding of 7,000 more and the deaths of perhaps 10,000 Iraqis (a crude estimate because the Pentagon refuses to release figures) in an unneeded war that was sold on false pretenses. If a war is unnecessary, then the perpetrators must assume responsibility for even unintended casualties and destruction (what the U.S. military euphemistically calls “collateral damage”) and horrific excesses, such as the Abu Ghraib prison abuses, not directly authorized by the leader. (I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt here). Like the roadside bombs in Iraq, all of the administration’s justifications for the war have exploded in its face. A new report by Charles Duelfer, the administration’s new chief weapons inspector-who replaced David Kay, the old chief weapons inspector, who quit when no “weapons of mass destruction” were found-has recently confirmed what has been obvious: no super weapons will ever be found in Iraq. And despite the administration’s constant and brazen false innuendos to the contrary, the 9/11 Commission confirmed the views of most in the U.S. intelligence community: that no operational collaboration occurred between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. Yet the American people still seem to believe this charade. The fallback justification of bringing republican government to Iraq and the Middle East now looks ridiculously hollow. Even President Bush has been using the word “stability” more and “democracy” less in describing U.S. goals in Iraq.
But even stability is in question. A rash of new studies paint an ominous picture for Iraq’s future. For example, a National Intelligence Estimate done for the president listed tenuous stability as the best outcome of three possible scenarios. Even more dire, a study by the Chatham House, a prestigious British research institute, predicted that a fragmented Iraq was the “default scenario.”
These predictions are based on the realities on the ground, not the continued Pollyanna rhetoric of the Bush administration. Attacks on American forces alone-not to mention the much more frequent attacks on the bumbling Iraqi security forces-have skyrocketed from 15 per day in October 2003, to 30 in December 2003, 45 in June 2004, and almost 90 in August 2004. Security in Iraq’s cities is already more dicey than in Vietnamese cities during that war. Important Iraqi urban areas are under the control of the insurgents, and those still under U.S. control are not safe. Such realities will most likely make the scheduled January 2005 elections impossible.
Also, the administration did not use enough troops to close the porous borders to prevent guerrilla infiltration from neighboring countries. Furthermore, the administration pretends that the insurgents are exclusively criminals, foreign terrorists, or former Saddam loyalists, discounting the more likely and ominous possibility that many are normal Iraqis who are angered by a foreign invasion and occupation of their country.
As for the war on terrorism, the two top leaders of al Qaeda have escaped capture for three years, and the pace and lethality of the group’s post-9/11 attacks have exceeded those of its pre-9/11 strikes, according to the anonymous senior U.S intelligence officer who wrote the book Imperial Hubris. Although no catastrophic terrorist attack on U.S. soil has occurred since September 11, excessive optimism is misplaced because such events are rare and al Qaeda’s planning horizon is long. The respite that al Qaeda received from the diversion of U.S. Special Forces and intelligence assets to the invasion of Iraq helped the organization survive; the subsequent Mesopotamian mess has been a recruiting poster for radical Islamist terrorists worldwide that has enabled the group to thrive.
On November 2, whether voting for Bush or his opponent, voters should focus on the president’s actual record of undermining U.S. security rather than his duplicitous and sunshiny rhetoric.