So there was Hillary Rodham Clinton grandstanding for the television cameras last week, giving Donald Rumsfeld a carefully scripted chewing out for his role in the Bush administration’s lunatic war in Iraq.
Casual viewers could have been forgiven for not realizing that Senator Clinton has long been a supporter of this war, and that even now, with the number of pointless American deaths moving toward 2,600, her primary goal apparently is not to find an end game, but to figure out the most expedient political position to adopt — the one that will do the least damage to her presidential ambitions.
Mrs. Clinton is trying to have it both ways. A couple of months ago, she told a gathering in Washington: “I do not think it is a smart strategy either for the president to continue with his open-ended commitment, which I think does not put enough pressure on the new Iraqi government.” She then added, “Nor do I think it is smart strategy to set a date certain.”
Slick Willie has morphed into Slick Hilly, as the carnival of death in Iraq goes on.
Mrs. Clinton is just one of the many supporters of the war who should have known better from the beginning, and who are now (with the wheels falling off the Iraqi cart and public support for the war plummeting) engaged in the tricky ritual of rationalization.
The favored “it’s not my fault” explanation is that the war was always a grand idea, but the Bush gang was so dopey it fouled up a good thing. If only they’d sent in more troops. If only they hadn’t disbanded Saddam’s army. If only they’d turned right instead of left, or left instead of right, Iraq would be an oil-rich, free-market, democratic paradise, even as we speak.
I’m not trying to give a pass to Mr. Rumsfeld, President Bush, Dick Cheney or any of the rest of the war-loving, high-strutting, muscle-flexing men and women in this most dreadful of administrations. These are the individuals who drove us into the flames of Iraq that so far have consumed scores of thousands of lives. But they could have — and should have — been stopped by wiser heads.
This was a war that never should have happened. There was a legitimate war for the United States to fight in Afghanistan, but that was not enough for the administration. The Bush gang wanted a war with Iraq, and less-than-courageous politicians like Mrs. Clinton and many others lined up as enablers to help make that war happen.
Many of the Democrats in Congress supported the war only because they remembered the price paid by party members who stood against the first gulf war, a stand that became an embarrassment when the war was easily won and was therefore popular.
Despite the rationalizations now suddenly on the lips of so many, the problem with the current war in Iraq is not the way it was conducted, but the fact of the war itself. It was launched amid blinding, billowing clouds of deceit. There was never any legitimate reason for the war. Iraq had not attacked the U.S. and there was no imminent threat of attack.
The U.S. went in with guns blazing (“shock and awe”) like Matt Dillon shooting up the dusty streets of Dodge City. Only this was the real world, and the result has been unending tragedy.
The American occupation of Iraq was guaranteed, sooner or later, to provoke a sustained and bloody resistance, and it was inevitable that terror would be the resistance’s most effective tool. It was also certain that if the Shiites were empowered, there would be widespread retaliation for their many years of suffering under Saddam, and then the inevitable counterreaction of the suddenly disempowered Sunnis, and so on.
None of this was a secret. The warnings came from around the world before the first shot was ever fired.
Mrs. Clinton, other Democrats and whatever sensible Republicans may still be out there should be getting together to work out a plan for an orderly withdrawal of American forces from Iraq. This was not a war we were ever going to win. It’s time we brought our involvement to an end.
Americans no longer support this war, and there are few things more empty of meaning than dying in a war that one’s fellow citizens — safe at home — have already given up on.
We went into Iraq with bombs falling and guns blazing, insisting all the while that we were bringing the Iraqis the gifts of freedom and democracy. Instead, we gave them terror, chaos and civil war — in other words, a whole new generation of misery and mass death.
Shock and awe, indeed.
© 2006 New York Times