Published on Friday, September 12, 2003 by the Minneapolis Star Tribune (Minnesota)
Iraq: Creating a Threat Where None Existed
Almost immediately following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Bush administration began building a case for taking down the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein. President Bush gave two principal justifications: Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD) that were a threat to the United States and the world, and had close links to Al-Qaida -- to which he might pass some of his WMD stores. It was a mantra repeated again and again, to the point that some polls now show 70 percent of the American people believing Iraq was linked to the Sept. 11 attacks.
That is false. There were no links between Iraq and those attacks, and no evidence has surfaced that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction. The inescapable conclusion is that at the time of the U.S.-British attack on Iraq, that country posed no terrorist threat to the United States and no threat of attack with WMD.
That was then; this is now: In an address on Sunday evening, President Bush asserted that Iraq is "the central front" in the war on terrorism. He may well be right. If so, it is a situation of his making. He confronted an Iraq that was no threat and succeeded in converting it into one. But look at the damage created along the way:
• By going into Iraq against the wishes of most U.N. Security Council members, Bush squandered the remainder of post-Sept. 11 international goodwill for the United States. Most of the world now regards the United States as an arrogant cowboy nation that believes its military and economic might gives it the right to behave as it desires anywhere.
• By going into Iraq almost alone, Bush guaranteed the United States would bear most of the burden in reconstructing Iraq. And that burden is proving huge, in lives and treasure.
Planning for the postwar phase in Iraq was woefully inadequate -- quite possibly because Bush put Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in charge rather than those with more accumulated skill at the tasks required -- say, Secretary of State Colin Powell or U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, setting aside for the moment what that would have required.
U.S. assessments of the state of the infrastructure in Iraq were inexcusably worthless, and the promise that Iraqi oil would finance reconstruction was a fantasy. The belief that American soldiers would be joyfully greeted as liberators has turned into a grim reality of being greeted by rocket propelled grenades and homemade bombs. An occupation that was predicted to last three to six months has morphed into tours of duty for American soldiers of at least a year.
In his Sunday address, Bush asked Congress for an additional $87 billion to finance the war on terrorism in the coming year (and some administration officials say that number leaves at least a $55 billion gap that still must be filled). Adding the $87 billion to the $480 billion deficit previously predicted for the next fiscal year yields a one-year deficit of $567 billion -- by far the largest ever. It equals about $2,300 in deficit spending for each human being in the country. By way of contrast, the $87 billion is more than double U.S. spending on homeland security next year. Against the $2,300 of deficit spending for each Minnesotan that will accrue in fiscal 2004, in fiscal 2003 the federal government provided Minnesota with homeland security grants in the amount of $7.47 per person.
A corollary notion behind the invasion of Iraq is that the United States would awe the Arab world with its military strength, contributing positively to chances of a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians, and setting off a wave of reform in the oppressive Arab world. But it hasn't worked out that way. Instead, the United States has given the world a fascinating glimpse at the limits of American power.
Belatedly, and half-heartedly, the United States has gone back to the United Nations -- but not hat in hand. The Bush administration can't seem to set aside its arrogant approach to the world body. As someone said, the Bush administration is now in the position of asking for rescue but insisting it will dictate the terms.
If anyone thinks that litany is recounted with glee, they're mistaken. The United States can't afford to lose in Iraq. It must stay there and finish the difficult job it has begun. And it must mend its relationship with the world community.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is now beating the abusive drum that criticism of the president is unpatriotic and undercuts the American effort. He couldn't be more mistaken. Americans owe it to their nation, and to the men and women who serve in its military, to ask the difficult questions. The most important questions are these: Wasn't there a better way? And what can we learn from the past two years that will help make Sept. 11, 2004, an anniversary of both remembrance and relief?
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