Deceptions and deaths stacking up

September 13, 2004|By Cynthia Tucker

ATLANTA - More than 1,000 U.S. troops have lost their lives to the misguided mission in Iraq, and with the insurgency once again intensifying, hundreds more will die in the coming months. That's an awful lot of sons and daughters, fathers and brothers who won't be coming home.

Some have died in those meaningless battles that yield not a square inch of territory nor a single bit of intelligence. After U.S. troops started a fierce assault on Fallujah in April, following the discovery of the mutilated and burned corpses of four American contractors, U.S. military officials decided to hand over "security" in the city to former Iraqi military officers. Fallujah is now an insurgents' stronghold.

Why was President Bush intent on deposing Saddam Hussein?

Was it so he could prove he is a better man than his father, who left Mr. Hussein in power in 1991? Armchair psychoanalysis is a dangerous thing, but 41 and 43 do seem to have a complicated and tangled relationship that plays itself out on a world stage.

Was it to secure U.S. access to the Middle East's oil fields? So far, with Iraqi pipelines proving to be popular targets of sabotage, we're hardly getting a bargain on that score.

But some Bush operatives believe the United States should give the House of Saud a little breathing room by withdrawing its forces from Saudi soil, so the Pentagon is planning to operate at least a dozen military bases inside Iraq. That will be the newest extension of the American empire.

Was it to set down a democratic government inside the Arab Middle East? The U.S. Marine Corps is likely to operate as a democracy before Iraq does. To secure peace between Palestinians and Israelis? Perhaps, in a century or so, we'll know whether the plan worked.

Why did Mr. Bush so recklessly sacrifice so many American lives?

It certainly wasn't because of any alliance between Osama bin Laden and Mr. Hussein, who had nothing to do with the terrorist atrocities of 9/11. No matter how many times Dick Cheney claims that Mr. Hussein and bin Laden were comrades in arms, it's still not true.

Surely Mr. Bush didn't go after Mr. Hussein because of an overriding fear that he would use his stockpile of chemical and biological weapons against the United States.

In February 2001, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell told reporters in Cairo that sanctions had worked to contain Mr. Hussein. "He has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction. He is unable to project conventional power against his neighbors," Mr. Powell said.

None of that had changed a few months later.

It took years for an America used to trusting its elected leaders to sour on Vietnam - years and tens of thousands of war dead. The invasion of Iraq, by contrast, rent the country from its start. Half of Americans now believe the war is not worth its costs.

The lies of Vietnam were peeled back slowly - by a continuing count of enemy dead that would have left much of Asia depopulated had it been accurate; by the courageous reports of American journalists who wrote of corrupt South Vietnamese officials and of a tiny, impoverished nation where civilians were too often caught in the crossfire; and by the release, finally, of the Pentagon Papers. The lies of Iraq, however, were apparent before the first bombs fell.

You would think Mr. Bush and his minions would be chastened by revelations of their distortions and fabrications. You'd think they'd at least acknowledge they were wrong when they suggested that the invasion would be a cakewalk, that the reconstruction would be paid for from Iraqi oil revenues or that Ahmad Chalabi was a trustworthy leader who could help build a democratic Iraq.

You'd be wrong. Being caught flat-footed in a lie just feeds their mendacity. They go on to more reckless falsehoods, more outrageous misrepresentations, more galling assertions.

And all the while, brave Americans are dying because of their deceit.

Cynthia Tucker is editorial page editor for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Her column appears Mondays in The Sun.

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