Rather than look at the military prospects
realistically, Bush and his advisers pursued a consistent policy of
wishful thinking, deceiving the American public about the war’s cost in
both money and blood, and ultimately deluding even themselves.
From the expected flower-strewn Iraq welcome in
March 2003 to the cheery predictions after the Shiite election win in
January 2005, the war has suffered from a macabre “Peter Pan” syndrome,
that happy thoughts and some pixie dust of propaganda could lift the
U.S. to victory – when instead it has sent tens of thousands of people
to unnecessary deaths, including almost 1,700 American soldiers.
Reality was banished not only from the pre-war WMD
justifications, it’s been barred from mid-war assessments, too. But the
hard truth – recognized from the start by many military experts – was
that U.S. chances for prevailing in Iraq were never very good and
certainly would come at a high price.
As for the practicality of Bush’s impeachment over
the Iraq debacle, the Republican control of Congress may make the debate
more theoretical than realistic. But two interrelated arguments could
reasonably create a foundation for impeachment: the lies that led the
nation into the quagmire and the military negligence that left an
American army bleeding in this death trap.
The argument for negligence goes directly to the
question of why Bush embraced wishful thinking over cautionary military
advice in his rush to war – and whether Bush’s level of incompetence
meets the constitutional standard of “high crimes and misdemeanors.”
From the start, Bush dismissed skeptics from his
imperial presence, as he did with Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, who
warned about the difficulty of war in Iraq, and Army Gen. Eric Shinseki,
who said hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops would be needed to pacify
Iraq after an invasion.
Even Bush’s loyal British allies were dismayed by
Bush’s lack of a coherent plan for the post-invasion period. A newly
disclosed British briefing paper told Prime Minister Tony Blair eight
months before the Iraq War that the Bush administration was giving
short-shrift to planning for what the British knew would be a
“protracted and costly” occupation of Iraq.
The eight-page briefing paper was written two days
in advance of the July 23, 2002, meeting whose minutes have become known
as the Downing Street Memo. The July 21 briefing paper said U.S.
“military planning for action against Iraq is proceeding apace,” but
“little thought” has been given to “the aftermath and how to shape it.”
[Washington Post, June 12, 2005, based on documents obtained by the
London Sunday Times.]
Yet, rather than listen to skeptics, Bush only
heeded advice that matched his preconceptions, especially the opinions
of neoconservative aides who saw U.S. military might at the start of the
Third Millennium not only as preeminent, but nearly limitless.
At the invasion’s outset in March 2003, some
military experts close to the Bush administration told me they had
counseled against attacking Iraq and especially protested rushing to war
without more troops.
These experts feared that American forces – lacking
Arabic language skills and knowledge of this ancient culture – would be
ill-prepared to control Iraq, which is as big as California and could be
as rebellious as the Gaza Strip.
Based on those interviews, even as the U.S.
military was marching to Baghdad, I wrote an article entitled “Bay
of Pigs Meets Black Hawk Down.” The article said Bush had mixed the
wishful thinking from the Bay of Pigs disaster in Cuba in 1961 with the
lack of cultural savvy evident in the bloody “Black Hawk Down” raid in
Somalia in 1993.
Later, in 2003, I spoke with a member of the Senate
Armed Services Committee who had visited U.S. troops in Iraq. I was
stunned when the senator predicted that the United States would be in
Iraq for 30 years.
I assumed I had misheard him and asked, “Do you
mean three years?”
“Thirty years,” the senator repeated. “It will
take a generation.”
That assessment seems less incredible now than it
did in 2003. Instead of looking for ways to extricate U.S. forces, the
Bush administration insists that the American troops will remain in Iraq
until stability is restored.
“We don’t have an exit
strategy,” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld boasted during a trip to
Iraq on April 12, 2005. “We have a victory strategy.”
Despite these upbeat declarations, recent
battlefield reports continue to point toward more trouble ahead. For
instance, when Washington Post reporters spent time with Iraqi
government soldiers in one U.S.-trained unit, the troops expressed
admiration of the insurgents and sang odes to former dictator Saddam
Hussein while slouching off to battle.
“We have lived in humiliation since you left,” a
soldier of the Iraqi army’s Charlie Company sang about Hussein while out
of earshot of American advisers.
A U.S. adviser to the unit told the Post that he
keeps the Iraqi government soldiers in the dark about their missions.
“We can’t tell these guys about a lot of this stuff, because we’re not
really sure who’s good and who isn’t,” said Rick McGovern, a platoon
sergeant who heads the training of Charlie Company. [Washington Post,
June 10, 2005]
Normally, these and similar reports about an army
that sympathizes with the “enemy” and mostly is motivated by a paycheck
would be treated as warning signs. But Bush continues to hail the
supposed progress in assembling this Iraqi force that is being counted
on to defeat the insurgency and allow U.S. troops to leave.
Looking back over the past three years, from the
start of the war hysteria in 2002 to the present, the Bush
administration seems to have been caught up in several dangerous
The first delusion dates back to the U.S. defeat in
Vietnam when the Right blamed the loss on the “liberal” news media,
cowardly congressmen and treasonous war protestors. This myth of a
Vietnam betrayal became a touchstone for conservative politics over the
next three decades.
But this right-wing viewpoint lacks historical
support. Even U.S. Army historians have concluded, for instance, that
the press coverage of the Vietnam War had little to do with the U.S.
“Most of the public affairs problems that
confronted the United States in South Vietnam stemmed from the
contradictions implicit in Lyndon Johnson’s strategy for the war,” wrote
U.S. Army historian William M. Hammond in The Military and the Media:
1962-1968. “What alienated the American public, in both the Korean
and Vietnam Wars, was not news coverage but casualties.”
But the Vietnam betrayal myth – combined with the
Right’s anger over Richard Nixon’s Watergate resignation – propelled the
conservative movement toward a chip-on-the-shoulder attitude and the
building of a sophisticated right-wing media infrastructure.
Another lesson that conservatives learned from
Vietnam was the need to keep the American people in line. Popular
opposition could never again be permitted to interfere with government
actions around the world as the Vietnam War protests did.
So, in the 1980s, CIA Director William J. Casey and
senior Reagan-Bush officials developed a program of domestic “public
diplomacy,” also known as “perception management.” This strategy
targeted the American people with a combination of CIA-style agit-propaganda
and sophisticated Madison Avenue advertising techniques.
The immediate goal was to manage how the American
people perceived events in Central America and other international hot
spots, so the White House would have maximum flexibility in addressing
these crises. [For details on “perception management,” see Robert
Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq
Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press &Project Truth.]
Neoconservative policymakers, who rose to
prominence during the Reagan-Bush years, viewed their success in
controlling public perceptions of the Central American wars – or at
least defusing public opposition – as an important lesson for the
Plus, Reagan-Bush operatives saw how the expanding
conservative media infrastructure enabled them to blunt the Iran-Contra
scandal of the late 1980s in a way that Nixon and his backers couldn’t
do in trying to contain the Watergate scandal a little more than a
Militarily, the recent past also showed that in any
conventional conflict, U.S. armed forces could overwhelm an enemy, as
happened in Grenada in 1983, Panama in 1989, Kuwait in 1991, Yugoslavia
in 1999 and Afghanistan in 2001.
So, Bush and his team put themselves on two
parallel tracks of over-optimism: they were confident they could whip
the American people into line behind another war and felt sure that the
U.S. military’s “shock and awe” could break the will of any nation.
That would leave the only remaining jobs to be
sweeping rose petals from the streets of Iraq and brushing confetti off
shiny new medals at victory parades back home. By 2003, Bush and his
team were sure they could say whatever they wanted and be believed, and
attack any enemy and expect victory.
In the United States, with an intimidating
conservative media at his disposal and an intimidated mainstream press
at his feet, Bush saw little reason to show restraint. But Bush ignored
a fundamental lesson of military leaders throughout history – that while
you can hope for the best, you must prepare for the worst.
Another lesson that Bush didn't learn is that, in
the end, reality counts. An ironic twist, as the bloody Iraq War grinds
on, is that Bush and the neoconservatives appear to have become captives
of their own propaganda. Having succeeded so well in managing the
perceptions of the American public, Bush and his advisers now find it
easier to shield themselves from the harsh reality of a disastrous war
than face the facts.
To maintain their happy thoughts – and hear how
well the war is going – all they have to do is tune in Fox News, read
the Washington Times or listen to Rush Limbaugh.
Yet, while Bush and his advisers may enjoy the
notion that they can fly among the stars and transcend the facts on the
ground, the ultimate victims of this mass delusion are the nearly 1,700
U.S. soldiers and the tens of thousands of Iraqis who have died – plus
the thousands more wounded and many more who are certain to die in the