Results matter: War & competence |

Results matter: War & competence

Why am I writing about the presidential election – again?Well, let me put it this way:In 1846, writer/philosopher Henry David Thoreau refused to pay his taxes, as a protest against the Mexican War. He was jailed as a result.His friend and fellow philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson came to visit him and, seeing Thoreau behind bars, he exclaimed, “Henry! What are you doing in there?” And Thoreau immediately replied, “What are you doing out there?”In short, I’m writing about the election – again – because everyone with a voice ought to be speaking out. Right now.Those of you who have thought the invasion of Iraq was a mistake – a terrible mistake – right from the beginning are almost certainly going to vote for John Kerry. I’m not going to bother talking to you right now.I want to address this to the people who thought that invading Iraq was a great idea – or, if not a great idea, then a sad, but necessary step to protect the United States and bring freedom and democracy to the world.If I were one of the people who felt that way, I’d be so mad at George W. Bush that I’d probably sooner yank out one of my own teeth with a rusty pair of pliers than vote for him.Why?Because he’s blown it so badly, that’s why.Does anyone really believe that things in Iraq have gone well? That they are going well? Come on! We beat up the little guy – big surprise there – and now he’s coming back and chewing us to pieces.We know – from Gen. Tommy Franks, our supreme commander in Iraq – that, before the war began, Donald Rumsfeld, secretary of defense, was a fierce advocate for sending the smallest possible force.Franks made it clear in interviews while the fighting was still going on that, during planning for the war, Rumsfeld had argued – very forcefully – for a small, light, fast-moving invasion force.Now there seems to be very little doubt that Rumsfeld’s minimal invasion force was simply too small.Our Army was big enough to topple Saddam Hussein, but it was not big enough to conquer Iraq. There’s a difference.The chaos, looting and destruction of the days after Hussein’s fall were extremely serious.Iraqi belief in America was damaged so badly that it may never recover. The nation’s infrastructure was damaged so badly that we have been unable to get things working again. Unguarded weapons dumps were looted, arming the insurgents.It was a very serious error – and it could have been avoided if we had sent enough troops.Worse, it was an error that Rumsfeld and Bush refused to correct. Administration officials kept saying that if the generals wanted more troops, all they had to do was ask. But once the secretary of defense has made it clear that he absolutely wants the smallest possible army, if a general asks for more troops, it is an admission of failure – and a very sure way to short-circuit a career.Was that all? Of course not.We sent troops into battle without sufficient armor – for themselves or for their Humvees. Never mind how John Kerry voted on the supplemental appropriation for more armor after the war had been launched – it was the president’s decision to send those troops, when he sent them, with the armor they had at the time.More? Sure.Back in April, after four Americans were killed and their burned bodies dragged through the streets of Fallujah, we announced in no uncertain terms that we were going to “pacify” the city and punish those responsible. Then things got too tough and we retreated – and abandoned the city to the insurgents. Now we’re back, bombing and shelling the city again.This simply is not a well-run war.On July 2, 2003, George Bush taunted the insurgents, saying “Bring ’em on” – since then nearly 900 American troops have died in Iraq, nearly 700 of them in combat.Any way you look at it, this is a record of sheer incompetence.Regardless of how you feel about the war, the fact is, we had a chance – a brief chance – to get it right.Instead, we got it very, very wrong.How could anyone possibly vote for more of the same?Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His e-mail address is

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