It's 8:01 p.m. on a Tuesday, and my deadline passed hours ago. Production of this week's paper's a bit behind schedule, and that's the only reason you're not staring at an empty space. Here's the thing—I wrote 750 words marking the third anniversary of the invasion of Iraq and realized I'd written it all before, several times:
This many American servicemen and women have died. This is how many Iraqis have died. This is how much the war has cost the American taxpayers. This is all the chaos happening in Iraq. And these are all the lies I think President Bush and members of his administration told in order to sell us this awful war.
The only things that ever change in this terrible tale are the numbers—the death toll and the bill for it all. For the record, we're up to 2,319 U.S. servicemen and women killed (as of Tuesday morning) and an estimated 33,000 to 37,000 Iraqi civilians dead (according to the Iraqi Body Count Project), and the war has cost taxpayers roughly $250 billion.
I went back and read the speech Bush delivered to us on the evening of March 17, 2003, just a few days before the tanks started rumbling over the border from Kuwait into Iraq. He told us that the world had been waiting patiently for 12 years for Saddam Hussein to reveal his weapons of mass destruction and allow their destruction. “Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised,” Bush told us. No doubt, he said.
Bush said Hussein's regime had “aided, trained and harbored terrorists, including operatives of al Qaeda.” He said “the danger is clear: using chemical, biological or, one day, nuclear weapons, obtained with the help of Iraq, the terrorists could fulfill their stated ambitions and kill thousands or hundreds of thousands of innocent people in our country, or any other.”
He went on to say that Congress had authorized the use of force against Iraq and that past United Nations resolutions still in effect had provided all the international authority he required to march into Iraq and topple Hussein's regime. Sadly, he informed us, some members of the U.N. Security Council lacked the cajones to enforce their own resolutions. So screw 'em, he said (I'm paraphrasing)—we'll do it ourselves.
Then he spoke directly to the Iraqi people: “If we must begin a military campaign, it will be directed against the lawless men who rule your country and not against you. As our coalition takes away their power, we will deliver the food and medicine you need. We will tear down the apparatus of terror and we will help you to build a new Iraq that is prosperous and free.”
He said he had to invade because “in one year, or five years, the power of Iraq to inflict harm on all free nations would be multiplied many times over. With these capabilities, Saddam Hussein and his terrorist allies could choose the moment of deadly conflict when they are strongest. We choose to meet that threat now, where it arises, before it can appear suddenly in our skies and cities.”
He closed by saying a liberated Iraq would be a beacon of hope for a troubled region crying out for freedom. It would be an example of what could happen elsewhere.
Well, things haven't gone so smoothly. We now know that there were no weapons of mass destruction, and had we continued to work on getting weapons inspectors into Iraq's nooks and crannies, we might have found that out for ourselves. Of course, it's possible that the administration knew that there was indeed some doubt about the existence of weapons. Why would British officials—after a trip to Washington, D.C., in 2002—talk amongst themselves about how the Americans' plan was to “fix” intelligence around a policy of war? That's from the famous Downing Street Memo. Maybe “fix” doesn't mean what some of us think it does. But it sure does seem like cause enough to investigate.
The Senate Intelligence Committee was supposed to look into the administration's use of pre-war intelligence, but it just hasn't gotten around to it. And a Bush-appointed commission was told not to look at the use of intelligence. Weird.
The links to terrorists? Aside from exploratory meetings between Iraqi officials and certain people affiliated with terrorist groups, no meaningful links existed. The 9/11 Commission report told us that. There was no evidence whatsoever that Saddam and al Qaeda were in anything resembling cahoots.
As for the invasion, that worked pretty well, but the post-invasion work has hit a few snags. All but 140 of the 2,319 U.S. military men and women killed over there died after Bush—resplendent in fighter-pilot garb after a made-for-TV jet-fighter landing—stood on an aircraft carrier off the coast of San Diego and declared victory. Pentagon officials ignored warnings that hundreds of thousands of soldiers would be needed to keep the peace, and, lo and behold, the military has been unable to keep the peace. Soldiers were ill-equipped and ill-prepared by their leaders back home to fight an enemy that had to rely on surprise bomb attacks.
We held elections—which may or may not have been fraudulent—but the elected government, confined to a fortress known as the Green Zone, has made precious little progress amid political and sectarian strife. In the wake of a two-pronged resistance against the occupation—foreign militants on one prong and an underestimated insurgency among angry Iraqis on the other—the visiting Jihadists have fomented a sectarian clash between Shiites and Sunnis that has killed an estimated 1,000 civilians since a Feb. 22, 2006, bombing of a revered Shiite mosque in Samarra. Some call it a civil war, an outcome predicted by lots of invasion critics; some don't. Whatever you call it, the most powerful and most sophisticated fighting force in the world can't stop it, so the idea of handing security over to the Iraqis, which is the closest thing to a plan the Bush administration has, is a bit of a joke. Problem is, no one's laughing.
On Monday, Bush used the Iraqi city of Tall Afar as an example of the hidden successes of the war, claiming that since Iraqi and U.S. forces chased away the bad guys, normalcy has returned. But the Washington Post on Tuesday published a story that says the bad guys have returned and the residents no longer feel safe. So, the Post reports, “even the success stories seem to come with asterisks.”
What's my point? I don't know. I guess it's just that, as I reflect on the last three years—well, this whole thing sucks.