Americans deserve Bush's profound apology

February 01, 2004|By G. Jefferson Price III | G. Jefferson Price III,PERSPECTIVE EDITOR

Imagine that you are the parent, or the brother or sister, or the wife, husband or child of a young man or woman killed in Iraq - one of the 138 who died in the march on Baghdad, or one of the 384 who have died there since May 1, when major combat was pronounced over.

Imagine, for that matter, that your loved one is among the almost 3,000 men and women who have been wounded in Iraq since the war began - many of whom will forever bear their horrible injuries as a reminder of where they were and why.

The why of it was torn apart last week.

Now, imagine how appalled the friends and the beloved of Iraq's casualties must have been last week to hear David Kay, the recently retired chief U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq tell the world, "It turns out we were all wrong."

Or to hear President Bush - who ordered the war in Iraq on the basis of "wrong" intelligence - changing his story, saying now that it was still a justified war because Saddam Hussein was such a bad guy and just the sort who would have developed and used weapons of mass destruction as only he could have.

Or Sen. John W. Warner of Virginia, the Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, badgering Kay into acknowledging the very remote possibility that some day, somewhere, someone just may find evidence that Iraq had some sort of weapons program to justify the invasion and the cost in American lives and resources.

Or Vice President Dick Cheney still handing out the baloney about some trailers found in Iraq being tied to production of weapons of mass destruction even though Kay and all others have said it isn't so.

Imagine how the loved ones of the dead may feel as they watch the spectacle of political jockeying over who should take the blame for a war being started on the basis of flawed intelligence, over whether there will be an investigation, and over the effect the timing of such an investigation may have on Bush's campaign to get himself re-elected.

If I were such a parent, or spouse, or child, or wounded soldier, I expect my fury would be visceral and overwhelming. I would not let these men forget what they had done to my family. Blood is on their hands.

Beyond those Americans who have lost - and continue to lose - relatives and friends in the war in Iraq, the rest of America should be appalled. For what the architects of the war in Iraq have done to individual families, they also have done to the whole American family, diminishing the nation's dignity and stature, and its safety.

Bush occasionally refers to the integrity of one of his Democratic predecessors, Harry S. Truman. Now is a good time for Bush to think of the sign in Truman's office reminding the president "The buck stops here."

This administration was hellbent on taking out Saddam Hussein when it came to power, even before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks against the United States. Those attacks provided a specious cover for the invasion of Iraq. When added to the false intelligence on Hussein's WMD, Bush and the men in his administration who wanted to make over the Middle East had their cause for war.

Plenty of voices were raised against going to war - including from the intelligence community. Plenty of voices - including some high-ranking Iraqis ---said there were no WMD anymore. United Nations inspectors in Iraq thought Hussein might be hiding something, but they wanted more time to find out for sure. Many, many voices were raised against the notion of a tie between Hussein and al-Qaida.

But these voices were ignored - even ridiculed - in the Bush administration's gathering momentum for war. The U.N. inspectors - ironically a chief source of U. S. intelligence on what weapons Hussein still might have - were withdrawn. There was no more time as far as Bush was concerned.

The facts as presented to them were conclusive and could not be doubted. Bush and his people could not wait to bring it on.

And bring it on they did. They surged all the way to Baghdad without encountering a single milligram of poison gas, anthrax or any other element of the vile stash Hussein was supposed to have. And they still haven't found any. The brutal dictator's statue was hauled down in the center of Baghdad. The president of the United States stood in his flyboy suit beneath a sign proclaiming "Mission Accomplished," and basked in the glory of it all.

But America was now trapped in Iraq, unprepared for the war's aftermath. It is a complex and deadly trap. The war on terrorism, meanwhile, was emphatically not over. Underlying the mess was the ugly suspicion that the only people to get any lasting benefit from the war will be Bush's friends with multibillion dollar contracts.

No wonder there is rage in America. That rage won't die down just because Howard Dean, its chief spokesman, is failing in the polls.

It will abide as long as the truth keeps coming out about how flawed America's security and intelligence apparatus is, and how Bush liked what he was hearing because it suited his own and his political coterie's ambitions. So not only did they not question what they heard; they encouraged it and emphasized it.

The most enraged Americans must be the families and friends of the men and women who have died in Iraq because of this huge error. Bush owes then a profound apology and a persuasive reassurance than it won't ever happen again - with or without him.

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