EDITORIAL>> Nervous about Iraq
Most Americans now believe the war was a mistake fought with dubious evidence against Saddam, a nasty dictator, to be sure, but not the most dangerous tyrant in the world. North Korea’s Kim Jong-Il, who does indeed possess nuclear weapons, remains in power, as do the Iranian mullahs, who are just a few years away from producing their own nuclear missiles.
As the U.S. death toll keeps climbing well above 1,700, support for the war and the president’s policies has inevitably fallen dramatically. An administration that once convinced most Americans it knew what it was doing in Iraq is now scrambling to shore up support for a guerrilla war that now has haunting similarities to Vietnam, as Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., himself a veteran of the earlier conflict, pointed out the other day.
After months of denial, the Pentagon is admitting for the first time that our occupation of Iraq will not end anytime soon as insurgents continue killing Americans and Iraqis every day.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, one of the architects of our Iraq adventure, conceded over the weekend that victory over the insurgents is not on the horizon. This is an astonishing admission, since Rumsfeld had confidently predicted easy victory before the war and never imagined that a resistance would develop after Saddam’s fall. The defense secretary had a simple strategy for victory in Iraq, or so he thought: 10-30-30, he called his winning formula — it would take 10 days to defeat Saddam Hussein, 30 days to install a new regime and 30 more days to move on to the next military target.
The 10-30-30 formula needs a little tweaking after Rumsfeld’s pessimistic prognosis. Historian Niall Ferguson pointed out recently, the formula should be restated in years, not days. Rumsfeld said as much on Sunday’s TV talk shows: The fighting in Iraq could well extend beyond a decade, which will inevitably lead to more U.S. casualties.
The professional soldiers who planned the invasion of Iraq knew it wouldn’t be easy occupying a huge country with several warring factions that would resent our presence there.
We were ill-prepared for a protracted battle in Iraq and did not send enough troops into battle. As Hagel pointed out, civilian planners in the Pentagon overruled the professionals who knew it would take several hundred thousand soldiers to pacify Iraq.
The U.S. could leave before the end of the decade, but our departure would mean another bloodbath like those that followed our departure from Vietnam and Cambodia and elsewhere. Veterans like Hagel see a frightening replay of an earlier debacle and what’s going on in Iraq today.
This is not the war that the American people supported more than two years ago as we backed the administration’s goal of toppling Saddam Husssein and getting rid of his weapons of mass destruction. Saddam is in prison, but now we know that the weapons of mass destruction were a figment of Saddam’s imagination (and ours).
Vice President Cheney is probably the only U.S. official who still thinks the rebellion is “in its last throes.” Rumsfeld and his generals know better, as do most Americans, especially the families of the fallen soldiers.