"Recent polls showing a waning of support for the war are a sign to the President that he needs to level with the American people. When troops are dying, the commander-in-chief cannot be coy, vague, or secretive."
If you think that's a quote from Russ Feingold, you're wrong. It was actually Mel Laird, a former Republican congressman and Secretary of Defense under Nixon. It seems these days that everyone except George W. Bush thinks that the war isn't going well.
First, Bush exaggerated - and in some cases simply fabricated - the threat posed by Saddam. He and civilian leaders - Don Rumsfeld in particular - selectively used intelligence to make a case for war.
Second, Bush conflated Saddam and Osama - with disastrous results. We took our eyes off the people who were behind 9/11. Iraq war planning began in October of 2001 while our troops were conducting missions to hunt down Taliban and al Qaeda leaders. We had an opportunity to catch bin Laden at Tora Bora but let him slip away while Bush and Rumsfeld planned for "shock and awe." Funds for the Afghanistan operation were diverted and we let Osama slip away.
Third, Congress failed in its oversight - asking few questions and serving as a rubber stamp for Bush's policies.
Fourth, the administration's assumptions were wrong. Vice President Cheney claimed that American troops would be greeted as liberators. When we weren't, civilian leaders were too slow to react. These early errors have created long term consequences because the Department of Defense refused to use the planning done by the State Department. The failure is both due to Rumsfeld's disregard for facts and to Bush's self-imposed insulation from dissenting voices. Now we're stuck figuring out how to encourage the formation of a functioning Iraqi government given deep and violent sectarian divides.
Fifth, military requests for additional troops were continuously rejected. Colin Powell has said that he told General Franks, Rumsfeld, and Bush that more troops would be needed. Paul Bremer told Rumsfeld that more troops were needed. Gen. Eric Shinseki told Congress that more troops were needed. Still, Rumsfeld and General Franks rejected requests for additional troops in an attempt to prove that we could get more done with fewer troops and more technology. They were right about the initial invasion. They were disastrously wrong about stabilizing the country in its aftermath. As much as anything, the revolt of the retired generals is about this issue - and they're right to be outraged.
Sixth, the military wasn't prepared to protect its soldiers and our troops have suffered as a result. There simply wasn't enough adequate body armor. In some cases, the armor distributed to soldiers was Vietnam-era flak jackets that were ineffective against weapons like AK-47s or Kalashnikovs. A recent Marine Corps study concluded that up to 80% of casualties from upper body wounds could have been prevented with modern body armor.
That's a sad commentary on how well we've supported our troops.
Finally, Bush and Rumsfeld never took the training of Iraqi military and police seriously. (See James Fallows' recent article in the Atlantic for a more detail - http://www.theatlantic.com/....) Bush has repeatedly stated that "When the Iraqis stand up, we'll stand down." Unfortunately, there's been little attempt to ensure that the Iraqis can stand up.
In sum, this war has been conducted with a breathtaking casualness and recklessness.
So where do we go from here?
I called for Don Rumsfeld to resign more than six months ago. And I was glad to see seven retired generals reach the same conclusion in recent months.
More fundamentally, it's time for us to withdraw our troops. They have performed valiantly, but we've done everything we can in Iraq militarily. The country is in a civil war, and we're caught in the middle while our military bleeds. I fear we're in the worst of all situations at the moment - we don't have the troops to stabilize the country, and our presence there makes it easier for the Iraqis to avoid the only thing that can - a political deal that brings all parties to the table. Only the Iraqis can settle this. It's time for us to bring the troops home now.
Ultimately the buck stops with the commander-in-chief. But we can push him in the right direction. That's why I'm running for Congress.