The U.S. intelligence agencies have now officially recognized what every independent observer has long known: The war in Iraq is generating terrorist recruits across the world. It is making us less — not more — safe.
And Americans are now beginning to understand what the administration has long covered up: This administration is crippled by incompetence, arrogance and internal division. The invasion and occupation of Iraq — a war of the president's choice in a critical region of the world — was the commitment that not only would determine the reputation of this administration, but would have fundamental impact on our own security and the conflict with al-Qaeda.
Yet, in that vital mission, the White House invaded without a plan for the occupation. It staffed the occupation not with experts, but with cronies and loyalists. It preferred true believers to those who came from what one White House aide famously scorned as the "reality-based" world.
Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld scorned military advisers who said the occupation would require a much bigger force than planned. He elbowed the State Department out of the planning and staffing for the occupation — but then scorned the mission himself.
The result is that the troops went in with neither the strategy nor the forces nor the training nor the equipment to deal with the insurgency that follows. "Stuff happens," Rumsfeld said, dismissing the looting that marked the beginning of the fiasco.
To limit the forces there, the administration privatized the war to an unprecedented degree. Halliburton Corp. and other crony companies hauled in literally billions in sole-source, no-bid, cost-plus contracts. The result — as depicted in an extraordinary documentary by Robert Greenwald called "Iraq for Sale" — was not simply billions wasted, but lives sacrificed while the U.S. occupation was crippled.
Vice President Dick Cheney knows none of this — not one word — can ever be admitted. That's why Rumsfeld is still on the job, despite a virtual revolt in the military whose leaders he bullies. Cheney, according to the new insider account by Bob Woodward, opposed internal efforts to get rid of Rumsfeld, because any change would be an admission of doubt, of trouble that could not be admitted.
The conservative majority that controls both Houses of Congress simply punted on its constitutional duty to hold the administration accountable. No serious oversight hearings were held on the catastrophic occupation, not even on the crippling waste, fraud and abuse. The legislators opted for Cheney's strategy — no doubts could be admitted, no accountability enforced. The president would say jump, and they would simply ask how high.
Now we deal with this fiasco. Americans do not want to admit that we've lost our way, that the sacrifice of $300 billion and the lives of nearly 3,000 U.S. soldiers with 10 times as many wounded was in vain. The president says, "Stay the course," and the conservative chorus echoes the refrain.
But the course, as the intelligence agencies are telling us, is making us less safe. We are squandering lives and resources while strengthening our adversaries. Mr. Bush and the Republican leaders promise to stay the course for the rest of his years in office. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice — who apparently has a hard time getting Rumsfeld even to return her calls — said we might be there a decade or longer. And the Pentagon is building permanent bases in Iraq, not temporary ones.
Democrats oppose this course — but struggle to offer an alternative. Without a president in office, they speak with many voices (even with a Democratic president in office, Democrats speak with many voices.) But as the debate in the House made clear, even the most conservative, pro-military legislators — like Jack Murtha and Ike Skelton — now support changing course.
There is one thing on which a broad majority of Iraqis, according to a recent State Department poll — and a majority of U.S. soldiers — agree: The United States should begin bringing its troops home. The administration remains in a state of denial, but Iraq is now in the midst of a civil war, with ethnic and sectarian murders outstripping the casualties caused by al-Qaeda's operatives in Iraq.
Our soldiers have no business in that conflict. The majority Shiites are consolidating their hold on the south, with religious zealots beginning to curtail women's rights and enforce religious law. The Kurdish nationalists have taken hold of what they call Kurdistan in the North, now outlawing the display of the Iraqi flag.
The Sunnis have the greatest stake in keeping the country together and are the most opposed to the U.S. occupation. Even the so-called unity government that Mr. Bush touts and that our soldiers and billions of dollars prop up has signed a mutual defense pact with the Iranian regime that the administration calls part of the "axis of evil."
Victory is no longer possible, but getting out is far harder than getting in. One thing is clear: The crowd that got us into this mess is not capable of getting us out. It is time for a change.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. is founder and president of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition.