Stop Staying the Course in Iraq

President Bush is not able to recognize and respond to the worsening situation in Iraq. Reporting in a Washington Post story, headlined Old Forecasts Come Back to Haunt Bush, analyzes the mysterious phenomenon of the President and his associates making claims about the Iraq War, those claims being proven wrong, and the officials who made them refusing to acknowledge and adjust to these realities.

Before I get into the nitty gritty, let me say that I never believed the Iraq War was a good idea. I did not think it was pragmatic to invade a country when the struggle seemed likely to be costly and dangerous, and when we had weapons inspections operating in the region. Nevertheless, once the War began, I hoped that it would have a positive outcome. Three years (and counting) after the fact, whatever one’s position on the decision to invade, it is clear that some decisions were wrong. Good leaders learn from successes and failures alike. The President, the Vice President, and many officials have shown that they are not prepared to learn from their mistakes. This is a problem. I expect the leaders of our nation to hold themselves to a higher standard of accountability.

From the article:

Other statements were proved wrong. The weapons of mass destruction the administration said Saddam Hussein possessed before the war have never been found — and many experts believe never existed. White House officials hammered then-chief economic adviser Lawrence B. Lindsey for claiming the war could cost as little as $100 billion, saying the estimate was too high. The actual tally is fast approaching four times that amount, according to the Congressional Research Service, which estimates a $360 billion price tag to date.

The President underestimated the cost of the War. This in itself is one thing, War being a complex and hard to budget thing. He has, however, never acknowledged the mistake, and the administration continues to budget for the War in special add-on funding packages that hide the cost by keeping it out of the main budget. This is nonsense. The President should be frank with us about the War’s costs.

I won’t go into the WMD thing, except to say that I cannot believe that the President was so serene about abandoning his original rationale for War as soon as it turned out to be false. The correct thing to do would have been to acknowledge the error, and then make the case to stay based on the facts. Instead he began parroting new talking points.

Rep. Heather A. Wilson (R-N.M.) said in an interview that Cheney was wrong about the insurgency being in its last throes and that she sent word to the White House recently to level with the American people about the challenges. “We need to assume that things are going to be very hard because when you do, you plan accordingly,” said Wilson. “I am always cautious about always seeing things in the best light because war is not like that” and the public knows it.

Exactly. I probably do not agree with Ms. Wilson on many issues, she being, after all, a Republican. On this point, though, we are like peas in a pod: Plan for the worst, and hope for the best. In a matter as grave as War, with such far-reaching consequences for the nation, our leaders should be planning based on all the facts they can find. Instead, they appear locked into a pattern of asserting their own infallibility.

The Nation’s grim take on the situation sums up some of the consequences of this approach:

Over the past three years, the Administration has offered us a succession of reasons we must “stay the course” to match the succession of rationales for the war itself. An American withdrawal, we were told, would embolden the insurgency, make Iraq a safe haven for terrorists and foreign jihadis and lead to civil war. One by one each of these predictions has come true. Not, of course, because we withdrew or even announced a timetable for withdrawal or redeployment but because we could not control the forces the war and the occupation unleashed or created.

The editorial is concise and blistering, and as is usual for The Nation, it is strongly worded. The piece does do a better job of engaging with the facts as they exist than the President does, and that fact should make us all reconsider blindly staying the course for another year (or more).