War scorecard shows anniversary is nothing to celebrate

March 22, 2004|By Jules Witcover

WASHINGTON - A year after President Bush's invasion of Iraq, here is the scorecard.

First, on the positive side:

Saddam Hussein has been captured and his country rid of the regime that brought death and misery to its people.

A national constitution has been written by a makeshift Governing Council that is to take political control of Iraq after June 30, with elections to follow sometime later.

Electric power, water and other essential utilities in many parts of Iraq have been or are being restored, as well as schools and other public facilities.

A large Iraqi police force has been assembled to take over much of the task of maintaining domestic order in the country.

The negative side:

Heavily armed insurgent elements continue to resist, increasingly imperiling not only U.S. troops but also American civilians undertaking various reconstruction tasks.

The military occupation by American and British forces and troops from a smattering of other countries continues, with the armed resistance forcing the Bush administration to acknowledge that U.S. troops will have to remain in Iraq indefinitely.

The war and occupation, according to the Pentagon, have come at the cost so far of 566 American soldiers dead and 3,254 wounded, not to mention countless Iraqi military and civilians in both categories.

The monetary costs of the war and the reconstruction of Iraq have skyrocketed, with the bulk of it borne by American taxpayers as U.S. deficits at home continue to soar.

Hard-pressed U.S. military manpower now has to be rotated in and out of Iraq and called-up National Guard units held in Iraq beyond their stated period of service, placing unanticipated separation and hardship on their families at home.

The U.S. contention that weapons of mass destruction in Iraqi hands justified the invasion and its timing has been obliterated by the failure to find them, leaving the pre-emptive war without the threat it was to have pre-empted.

As a result of the WMD fiasco, President Bush has now sent his ostensibly apolitical secretary of state, Colin L. Powell, and defense secretary, Donald H. Rumsfeld, onto the political battlefield to argue that invading Iraq was justified anyhow by eliminating the Hussein regime.

American credibility abroad has been severely undermined and U.S. diplomacy is in a shambles in its dealings with major allies and at the United Nations as a result of Mr. Bush's decision to invade without broader international backing.

The Bush Doctrine of unilateralism has seriously impaired the nation's adherence to decades of collective action through the United Nations and other international organizations.

The invasion made Iraq the centerpiece of the war on terrorism when even the Bush administration has acknowledged it found no credible link between Iraq and the al-Qaida perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks that triggered that wider war.

With the Iraq diversion drawing off huge resources that could have been used to combat global terrorism, that terrorism has continued, as witnessed in the rail attacks in Madrid.

Even Mr. Bush's so-called coalition of the willing is showing leakage, with the Spanish election ousting one of his staunchest partners and with Poland's leader charging the United States misled on its justification for the Iraq invasion.

Opposition to the Iraq war and particularly its chaotic aftermath, and to Mr. Bush personally, has united the Democratic Party at home to such a degree that polls now project a serious challenge to his re-election in November. This Democratic hostility has obliged the president to engage in the political campaign at home at an unusually early point, relying on voter patriotism to sustain him even in the face of his very mixed record, at best, as a wartime president.

All in all, this is not a very happy anniversary for George W. Bush, for his embattled presidency, or for a country bitterly divided over the war he launched under questionable circumstances one year ago.

Jules Witcover writes from The Sun's Washington bureau. His column appears Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

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