Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Let’s Try That Again

Back during the run-up to the war in Iraq, the Bush administration was coming up with a lot of reasons for the war: WMD’s, aluminum tubes, prisoner torture, revenge for a plot against the first President Bush, hatred of Saddam’s mustache, and the dubious attempt to link Iraq to 9/11. The one comparison that the generals and the administration avoided, though, was between this war and World War II. Back then we were fighting countries; the Germans, the Italians, and the Japanese were states with armies and leaders and borders and things; the war on terrorism was nothing like that.

Well, guess what.

Defending a conflict that critics liken to Vietnam, President Bush said Tuesday that the war in Iraq was more like World War II.

Speaking to a crowd of sailors and Marines near San Diego, Bush described the Iraq war and World War II as crucial tests of American resolve in the face of evil. He also painted a grim picture of the consequences of failure, warning that Iraq could turn into an oil-rich haven for international terrorists.


The outlook in Iraq and public attitudes toward the war have changed dramatically since Bush’s last visit to the San Diego-area naval facility. He came to the base in May 2003 for a short flight to the USS Abraham Lincoln, an aircraft carrier that was about 30 miles offshore.

Standing on the flight deck beneath a banner that declared “Mission Accomplished,” the president proclaimed the end of major combat in Iraq. More than two years later, American troops are struggling against a deadly insurgency.

Bush didn’t mention his previous visit as he praised sailors and Marines for their service Tuesday. He said they were carrying on the legacy of the World War II generation.

“Now, as then, our enemies have made their fight a test of American credibility and resolve. Now, as then, they are trying to intimidate free people and break our will. And now, as then, they will fail,” he said. “We will never let the new enemies of a new century destroy with cowardice what these Americans built with courage.”

He also used the World War II experience to explain his optimism about Iraq’s political future.

The comparison with World War II would be valid if, in response to the attack on Pearl Harbor by Japan, the United States had invaded Italy.

I agree with my friend Bob: the president has really jumped the shark on this one. It’s an insult to the veterans of World War II to compare this CF to that conflict. In the first place, the president at the time, Franklin D. Roosevelt, asked us all to sacrifice something for the war effort — gas rationing, higher taxes, and the draft. The war effort meant the soldiers lacked for nothing in their material; we went to war with the army we wanted, not the army we had.

The World War II comparison would have worked, ironically, if we had not invaded Iraq. The Taliban regime in Afghanistan and their harboring of Osama bin Laden was just as odious and anti-democratic as any 1930’s Fascist or Nazi regime, and after the attacks on 9/11 we had the world with us. The invasion and occupation of Afghanistan in the months that followed was a worthwhile effort and the government that we helped put in place was on the road to democracy. But we trashed it all with the war in Iraq. All the good will of the other nations, including many Islamic ones, was wiped away. All our honest justifications for a global war on terror and stopping the spread of it were shitcanned, and done so with what now proves to be a series of deliberate deceits. We have ignored Afghanistan, which is now reverting to its previous state of government by warlords and druglords.

The legacy of World War II was that nations that forced their will on others must not be allowed to flourish. It’s a lesson we taught well. But did we learn it?