The third anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq has unleashed an avalanche of criticism of the US administration with calls for high level resignations and a reappraisal of objectives.
Some of the bleakest assessments of events in Iraq have come from independent analysts who generally support the US effort, reflecting a mood of deepening disillusion.
The most dramatic came from a retired army general who was in charge of training Iraqi security forces in 2003 and 2004.
Retired major general Paul Eaton laid the blame for failures in Iraq on Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, portraying him as a bullying micromanager who alienated allies and ignored military advice.
"In sum, he has shown himself incompetent strategically, operationally and tactically, and is far more than anyone else responsible for what has happened to our important mission in Iraq," wrote in the New York Times Sunday.
"Mr. Rumsfeld must step down," Eaton declared.
Rumsfeld and President George W. Bush administration have come under mounting fire before for their handling of the Iraq war, but the criticism occasioned by the anniversary has been especially biting.
A "scorecard" drawn up by Anthony Cordesman, a repected military analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, lists seven major strategic objectives of the war. Cordesman argued that all have proved illusory.
The major objective -- getting rid of the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction threat -- was "pointless," he said.
Liberate Iraq? Cordesman said the Iraqis are now worse off than under Saddam -- but free to vote for sectarian and ethnic divisions. "We essentially used a bull to liberate a china shop," he said.
End the terrorist threat in Iraq? "There was no meaningful threat in the first place. Salafi (fundamentalist) terrorism now dominates the insurgency and is a far worse threat," he wrote.
The Gulf and Middle East are more unstable than before, oil exports are down from pre-war levels, and Arabs view Iraq not as a model for democratic reform but with fear and suspicion, Cordesman wrote.
US efforts to modernize Iraq's economy "have largely been a wasteful, and highly ideological and bureaucratic, failure," he added.
"We may salvage the Iraq War to the degree we defeat the insurgency and give the Iraqis something approaching a unified and pluralistic government, although the odds are at best even," he said.
"There is little or no chance of salvaging the war in terms of our broader strategic objectives," Cordesman concluded.
Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was national security adviser under President Jimmy Carter and had a reputation as a hawk in a Democratic administration, delivered a scathing assessment of the war in a speech Friday.
"The war has proven to be prohibitively costly. American leadership, in all of its dimensions, has been damaged," he said.
"American morality has been stained -- in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. American legitimacy has been undermined -- by unilateral decisions. American credibility -- particularly the case for the war -- has been shattered," he said.
Brzezinski said the US occupation of Iraq failed "as a consequence of a decision-making process that compounds errors, that involves a very narrow group of true believers, and that evades responsibility and accountability - for errors and even crimes."
"No one responsible for wrong judgments has been fired. No one responsible for setting in motion a chain of events that produced extraordinarily embarrassing crimes has been put on trial," he said.
Brzezinski said the United States should ask Iraqi leaders to ask the United States to withdraw its forces from Iraq.
The pessimism about US prospects in Iraq increasingly extends across party lines.
William Buckley, a leading American conservative commentator, expressed the exasperation of some Republicans in a recent column.
"In four years we marched from Pearl Harbor to the heart of what was left of Tokyo and Berlin. In three years we can't yet take a cab from Baghdad to its airport without an armed guard," he wrote.
"Mr. Bush is entitled to maintain, doggedly and persuasively, that he took the right steps -- up through the overthrow of Saddam and the exposure of an armory without weapons of mass destruction. From that point on, the challenge required more than his deployable resources," he wrote.
"His political reputation will rest on his success in making that point and ceding realistically to realities we are not going to cope with, and ought not to attempt to cope with," Buckley said.
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