Inept at the top

November 04, 2005

A lot of Americans are unhappy about the way things are in Iraq, and how they got that way. The polls tell us this number has now passed the 50 percent mark - gone beyond the tipping point, in other words. But the unhappiness has several distinct causes, and the unhappy people fall into several distinct, if overlapping, groups. What unites them is the shared and growing understanding of incompetence at the White House. The burden is on the president to do something about it.

Some are angry about the buildup to the war. It's fairly clear that the Bush administration was motivated by a desire to remake the Middle East, but fastened onto the threat of weapons of mass destruction as an immediate cause for war. Even a pretext, though, should have some basis in fact - and in this case, there were too many false assumptions and misrepresentations and just not enough facts. It's not surprising that some Americans now think they were snookered. Their anger was stoked by the indictment last week of Dick Cheney's chief of staff on a directly related issue, and it contributed to the Democrats' decision to plunge the Senate into a closed session Tuesday.

Another group, heavily represented in think tanks, believed in the goal of a remade Mideast, and supported the war back in 2003, but has recoiled at the way the administration botched its execution.

A third group believed from the beginning that fostering the transformation of the Middle East was a worthy objective but that a military invasion of Iraq was one of the worst possible ways to go about it, because the tangible benefits that would flow from such a move would inevitably be outweighed by the costs to American interests, both in the Middle East and around the globe. This page subscribed to that view.

Americans will shake their heads for years over the phantom weapons of mass destruction, but the real debate in the coming decades will be whether the second group or the third group was right. Was the catastrophe of the American war in Iraq a consequence of incompetent execution - or incompetent vision? There's no doubt that a more competent administration could have avoided some of the blunders in Iraq that have cost the United States so dearly, but a truly competent administration might have seen the folly of the invasion in the first place.

In either case, though, the operative word is competence, and there's something that can be done about that right away. The most patriotic course President Bush could follow at this trying time would be to clean house thoroughly, removing the architects and administrators of the war from the White House and the Pentagon, sending the vice president off to as many funerals and ribbon-cuttings as can be found, and then bringing in a new team with the experience and wisdom and judgment to bring this terrible chapter to a close.

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