President George W. Bush poses a curious contradiction: He admits his decision to attack Iraq was based on faulty intelligence, but he insists that it was the right step to take.
"My decision to remove Saddam Hussein was the right decision," he told an audience at the Woodrow Wilson International Center on Dec. 14.
Well, let's think about that: 2,161 Americans killed in action; thousands maimed for life; 30,000 Iraqis, "more or less," as Bush put it, have been killed and thousands more wounded.
Iraqi cities have been battered by U.S. bombing, car bombings, kidnappings and religious strife. Don't forget the billions in U.S. tax dollars spent every month on the war.
Top American officials can only sneak into Iraq, unannounced or undercover and heavily protected in armored vehicles -- not exactly as conquering heroes.
Was this war worth it, and for whom? For the families who will never see their sons and daughters again? For the children who may never climb on their fathers' knees again?
How about the Iraqis who were subjected to a "shock and awe" unprovoked attack that has left parts of their country destroyed and a colonial-style takeover by the U.S.?
Was it worth it for the thousands of anonymous detainees -- neither charged, tried nor convicted -- in U.S.-run prisons in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; Baghdad, and Bagram, Afghanistan, some subjected to torture and some who died in the hands of their captors?
In the same speech last week to the Woodrow Wilson International Center, Bush tried to justify his attack on Iraq because there was a threat which he now admits was based on phony intelligence.
"We removed Saddam Hussein from power because he was a threat to our security, pursued and used weapons of mass destruction," Bush said. "He sponsored terrorists."
But, Bush granted, "much of the intelligence turned out to be wrong."
The president has hesitantly come to grips with a fundamental truth that has been long established by independent commissions and congressional committees.
The president continued: "Yet it was right to remove Saddam Hussein from power."
In his own world, Bush apparently doesn't see any clash between those statements. I'm suffering whiplash.
The truth is Saddam did many terrible things, but he did not sponsor terrorism, much as Bush tries to link him to al-Qaida. He was secular and kept his distance from Osama bin Laden, a religious fanatic.
The president ignores the fact that American and U.N. weapons inspectors never found those weapons of mass destruction, even though U.S. forces have occupied the country for more than two years.
Bush should stop twisting the facts.
Why at this stage do Americans still have to speculate about the real reasons Bush was so eager to go to war against Iraq? His latest explanation is that his grand plan for spreading democracy throughout the Middle East was behind the attack.
The speculation for his reasons to go to war have centered on the U.S. need to secure Iraq's oil -- the second-largest reserves in the Middle East -- the desire to protect Israel from hostile neighbors and the drive to settle a personal vendetta against Saddam, who tried to assassinate his father.
There also is the episode recounted by writer Mickey Herskowitz, who had interviewed then-Gov. Bush extensively for a campaign autobiography he was ghost-writing for Bush. Herskowitz said Bush was thinking of invading Iraq in 1999 and told him that a successful leader needs to be seen as a commander in chief, indicating that presidents need a war to gain political clout.
That's a scary thought.
Back to his Woodrow Wilson comments:
"I know that some of my decisions have led to terrible loss -- and not one of those decisions has been taken lightly," Bush declared. "I know this war is controversial -- yet being your president requires doing what I believe is right and accepting the consequences."
He added he has "never been more certain that America's actions in Iraq are essential to the security of our citizens."
It is good that he has taken the blame, relieving the historians of making that decision -- not that it would have been a tough call for them.
But Bush will never be able to admit that the invasion was a mistake. How could he look into the faces of parents of a killed GI and tell them that their son or daughter died because of his mistake?
Helen Thomas is a columnist for Hearst Newspapers. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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