The thought of looking into George W. Bush's mind is a scary prospect but I wonder if someone had been able to that in 2003 what they would have found: Would the president honestly have thought the war in Iraq would still be raging five years after it started? While even the biggest optimist couldn't have honestly expected a "quick and surgical" war, most of us probably hoped for something other than what we have: a "long and drawn out" one.
But yesterday Bush again declared victory, or rather, said the recent troop surge "opened the door" to victory. The door's open, but it seems to be jammed with a lot of corpses.
My own newspaper's editorial board has never quite abandoned its support for the war or its belief that Bush is doing the right thing, as in today's editorial. Contrast that with this editorial from the Guardian, the first sentence of which lets you know what it thinks: "The invasion of Iraq was a monumental miscalculation, whose dimensions are still coming into focus five years to the day after it began."
Both papers agree on one thing: We're presented with a lot of bad options and the trick now is to pick the least bad one. Of course, an anniversary is a time for looking back as much as for looking ahead. So what can we say about the last five years?
I'm reminded of an experience my father told my brother and me about when we were boys. He was a young Air Force pilot about to go TDY, which meant taking his plane on a cross-country trip. He and his navigator were going to a base in Nevada, putting them close to Las Vegas, whose casinos they planned to visit. Before they left, they hatched a "plan": They did a little homework on winning at blackjack and brought a modest stake. In my childhood imagination I see them parking their plane on the runway and heading straight to the casino still in their flightsuits, but I'm sure they changed before they went. However they were dressed, they headed to the blackjack table and quickly lost almost their entire wad. Chastened, they decided to regroup. They went to the craps table, hoped for the best and were quickly rewarded: With a few rolls of the dice they got back nearly all their original stake. At which point they went back to their blackjack "plan" and promptly lost all their money.
I don't know if my dad told us this as a cautionary tale about the dangers of gambling. It's more likely he just thought it was a good story and didn't mind coming off badly in it. The biggest impression it made on me, though, was to foster the belief that blindly sticking to a pre-conceived plan is sometimes the worst thing you can do.
Okay, at least Dad had a plan, which seems to be more than can be said of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and the others who prosecuted the invasion. I'm willing to believe they believed they were doing the right thing. It's just that they've botched it every step of the way since then that is inexcusable. And the worst thing of all is that some--Cheney mainly--still insist that the war in Iraq has something to do with 9/11 and the war on terror. (Afghanistan did, remember, and that war doesn't seem to be going any better.)
Reading all the Iraq war coverage can be fatiguing. And except for the fact that Americans--and Brits, and Iraqis (mainly Iraqis)--are still dying one would be tempted to just turn the page. But that would do a disservice to all those who have lost their lives there. I recommend this Iraq anniversary package from Reuters. The five-minute introductory movie is ostensibly about how dangerous it is for journalists working in Iraq (seven Reuters staffers have died there, the vast majority killed by U.S. troops) and yet how vital it is for them to be there. But the film also shows us the horrors of war, horrors that in their specificity don't often make it to our front pages. It's also a sobering reminder of the great toll taken on the Iraqi people. Broken by Saddam Hussein they may have been, but it's hard to see how the last five years has
helped them heal.
And what of the next five years? Blackjack or craps? Or just walk away from the table?