IN HIS commencement speech Wednesday to the Air Force Academy, President Bush all but declared Iraq to be World War III. He talked of Midway, Iwo Jima, Normandy, D-Day, Eisenhower, and the recent dedication of the World War II Memorial. He told the crowd that his war on terror "resembles the great clashes of the last century."
He said, "Like the Second World War, our present conflict began with a ruthless surprise attack on the United States." He said: "This is the great challenge of our time, the storm in which we fly."
Never mind that it was not Iraq or Saddam Hussein that attacked us on 9/11, nor did it have, by Bush's own grudging admission a few months back, any connection to 9/11. Never mind that Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction to make him an imminent threat to his neighbors let alone to us. Never mind that his military remained in sorry shape after it was creamed by the United States in 1991.
None of that stopped the president from once again justifying his lies and mistakes on Iraq by equating it with the monster that actually attacked us, Al Qaeda. Bush asked, "If America were not fighting terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere, what would these thousands of killers do, suddenly begin leading productive lives of service and charity?"
That line generated laughter. Bush followed that by mentioning the recent beheading of Nicholas Berg. This was despite the anger of Berg's father. Michael Berg blamed Bush as well as his son's killers, saying "Bush's ineffective leadership is a weapon of mass destruction." Berg wrote that Bush's invasion itself "allowed a chain reaction of events that lead to the unlawful detention of my son. That detention immersed my son in a world of escalated violence" and "were it not for his detention I would have had him in my arms again."
Bush, immersed in his own world of plummeting poll numbers, said, "Would the terrorists who beheaded an American on camera just be quiet, peaceful citizens if America had not liberated Iraq?"
To say that right after the laughter amounted to taunting the father. It was symbolic of a Bush who is so chained to an immoral conflict and so numb to its grief that he has no choice but to continue to spin Saddam into Hitler to justify war while omitting that he seduced us into battle by convincing us that victory would be swift, sure, and globally praised.
A year before the invasion, Ken Adelman, President Reagan's arms control director, said an invasion would be a "cakewalk." Three weeks before the invasion, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz said an estimate by the top Army general that several hundred thousand troops would be needed in a post-Saddam Iraq was "wildly off the mark."
Three days before the invasion, Vice President Dick Cheney said "we will be greeted as liberators." Before the war, both Cheney and Wolfowitz downplayed the financial impact to Americans, intimating that Iraqi oil would pay for it -- even as they also claimed that Iraq oil was for the Iraqi people. Asked on Capitol Hill about reports that the war and occupation would cost $60 billion to $95 billion, Wolfowitz said: "To assume that we're going to pay for it is just wrong." Asked about reports that the war and occupation would cost $100 billion for the first two years, Cheney said in a television interview, "I can't say that. . . . In Iraq you've got a nation that's got the second-largest oil reserves in the world."
What we can say now is that Congress has already appropriated $166 billion for the war, Bush recently asked for another $25 billion, and the House recently voted to approve $50 billion. No matter what, the war will cost more than $200 billion in its first two years. Domestic programs at home are on the chopping block if Bush is reelected.
A week and a half into the invasion, Rumsfeld boasted: "Our military capabilities are so devastating and precise that we can destroy an Iraqi tank under a bridge without damaging the bridge. We do not need to kill thousands of innocent Iraqis to remove Saddam Hussein from power." Human rights groups estimate that the number of civilians killed range from 4,000 to 11,000.
Thirteen months ago, Bush landed aboard an aircraft carrier with the banner "Mission Accomplished." Cheney said in January that the "undoing of Saddam's regime" would bring "greater security to the American people." But four out of five of the more than 800 US military deaths in Iraq occurred after Bush declared that "major combat operations are over."
Bush has said: "Decades of lies and intimidation could not make the Iraqi people love their oppressors or desire their own enslavement." That was true of Saddam. As the polls show, Americans are also finally waking up to the two years of lies and months of intimidation in prisons by the liberators. Bush says Iraq is part of the storm in which we fly. Bush is merely an aimless tornado ripping through villages in Iraq and domestic budgets in America, leaving a swath of destruction that will take decades to repair.
© Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.