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Fog of war in Iraq can't hide catastrophe

By PHILIP GAILEY
Published July 30, 2006


I wonder if there is a Robert McNamara in the Bush War Cabinet? And if there is, how long will we have to wait for him to come clean about the war in Iraq? McNamara, a key architect of the Vietnam disaster, waited 25 years to unburden himself of a terrible secret - he knew at the time Vietnam was a lost cause but said nothing.

About the only thing we can be sure of is that if a truth teller eventually emerges from the Bush administration, it won't be Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld. Will it be Colin Powell, the former secretary of state who feels he was used by the White House to sell bogus intelligence on Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction to the public? Since leaving office Powell has given hints of opposition, but the loyal soldier in him makes it unlikely he would bare the mistakes of George W. Bush's war council. He prefers to be an anonymous source for the Washington Post's Bob Woodward.

McNamara, secretary of defense in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, finally told us his shameful secret in his 1995 memoirs, In Retrospect. He says the war was wrong, and he knew it at the time he and President Johnson were sending thousands of young Americans to Vietnam to fight and die. Despite his contrary assurances to Congress and the American people, McNamara says it became clear to him that the war could not be won but he could not bring himself to speak out or share his doubts with the president.

"I believe that would have been a violation of my responsibility to the president and my oath to uphold the Constitution," he wrote.

Even more unforgivable, McNamara kept his silence as President Nixon prolonged the war for almost five years. By the end of the Johnson presidency, the American people had turned against the war. They had already figured out the truth McNamara was hiding - that the war was unwinnable and not worth another drop of American blood.

McNamara could have made a difference by speaking out. He might have saved the lives of the 20,000 American soldiers and airmen Nixon sacrificed in pursuing an unpopular war that ended in chaos and American withdrawal in 1975.

Republican neocons get their bristles up if anyone suggests a parallel between Vietnam and Iraq, but it's becoming more difficult by the day for the Bush hawks to maintain the illusion that the eventual outcome in Iraq will be worth the cost in American blood and treasure.

I hope I am wrong, as I often am, but I don't think it matters any longer whether the United States cuts and runs or stays the course in Iraq. However long U.S. forces remain in Iraq, I can see no good ending to this immense human tragedy.

History is likely to judge George W. Bush harshly for this foreign policy catastrophe, and it should. This war, like the one in Vietnam, was started by blind and arrogant men who refused to listen to any general or diplomat who had the nerve to warn them about what they were getting into.

Last week, at a White House news conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Bush made a rare nod to the reality in Iraq. He admitted the security situation in Baghdad is "terrible" and announced that additional U.S. forces will be deployed to the city to quell the escalating cycle of revenge killings by Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias.

Iraq has held free elections, approved a new constitution and formed a government. That was, we were told, the beginning of a new Iraq. But Baghdad has never been a bloodier or more dangerous place. If Iraq's capital city can't be secured, then all will be lost to chaos, fear and savagery.

Last week, the Washington Post reported on how some U.S. soldiers who have been in Baghdad for six months trying to control the violence are becoming increasingly disillusioned about their mission and the war itself.

Army Spc. David Fulcher, 22, a medic from Lynchburg, Va., told the Post: "They say we're here and we've given them Iraqis freedom, but really, what is that? You've got kids here who can't go to school. You've got people here who don't have jobs anymore. You've got people here who don't have power. You know, so yeah, they got freedom now, but when they didn't have freedom, everybody had a job."

If only the White House could cut through the fog of war and see things as clearly as the soldiers on the ground in Iraq.

Philip Gailey's e-mail address is gailey@sptimes.com