When American families gathered to give thanks last week, all of us should have said prayers for the young men and women who are putting their lives at risk in Iraq and Afghanistan, who are serving in Bosnia and hundreds of other bases across the world.
They are of all races and creeds. Some come from proud military families with generations of service. Some are new Americans, whose families have only recently come to this country. In Iraq and Afghanistan, their duty is hazardous and difficult. They deserve our thanks and respect.
They have served with courage and honor, but have been deeply misled by their leaders. Despite their bravery and unparalleled skill, they are stuck in a catastrophic occupation in Iraq. Even the political generals like General John Abizaid, who have learned to trim their views to fit the White House's needs, now say we have but "four to six months" before the civil war already under way spins out of control.
And in the midst of this disaster, its architects are abandoning ship. The very neo-conservative ideologues who lobbied for this war of choice even before Bush came to office, who wanted to invade Iraq even before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, are bailing out.
These are the zealots who eagerly promoted exiles like Ahmed Chalabi to propagate lies about Saddham Hussein's nuclear weapons programs. These are the pundits who filled the op-ed pages and radio and TV shows with lies about Hussein's connections with al Qaeda.
They were so intent on launching this war of their own choosing that they were prepared to prey on American fears and mislead the country into war. It would be, as Kenneth Adelman said, a "cakewalk." We would be greeted as liberators. Democracy would break out in what they painted as a secular Iraq and then sweep the region.
Now they rush to disavow any responsibility. Adelman is shocked to see that "there are lots of lives that are lost." He now blames the leaders of the administration that he once adored: "This didn't have to be managed this bad. It's just awful." Richard Perle, a leader of the Chalabi lobby, now says that he didn't realize that the invasion would lead to an occupation. The occupation, he says, "was a foolish thing to do." He apparently thought the troops could just overthrow a dictator and democracy would follow as dawn follows the night.
It's a problem of execution, Joshua Muravchik, the neo-con publicist says, and our "woes in Iraq" may be "traced to the conduct of the war rather than the decision to undertake it."
They lobbied the nation into what is likely its worst foreign policy catastrophe ever — and they have learned nothing. If we'd just had more troops, or different strategy, or given control over to their champion Chalabi — despite the fact that he hadn't been in the country since he was a teenager — all would have been solved. They still advocate aggressive war. They still believe democracy can be spread at the burst of a laser-guided bomb.
Now the American people have begun to understand the scope of the fiasco. Bush has dismissed Rumsfeld, leader of the neo-con ship of fools, and brought in the pros — James Baker, Bob Gates — from his father's administration.
So the neo-cons are abandoning ship. They are disavowing any responsibility for the lives and limbs that have been lost. They are positioning themselves to blame the mess on those left to clean it up. America will have squandered priceless lives and, in the end, over $1 trillion on their folly. But they will learn nothing. They will lose nothing. The only question is whether the rest of us will know better the next time.
Our soldiers are still at risk. Many believe in their cause. Many understand the situation is out of control. They follow their orders; they put their lives on the line. They deserve our deepest thanks for their heroism. To honor them, we must not fail to hold accountable those that misled them — and us — into this catastrophe.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson is founder of the RainbowPUSH Coalition and a long-time civil rights leader.