National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  October 24, 2003

U.S. needs new vision to get out of Iraq morass

The Bush administration recently has taken to the airwaves and has visited conservative think tanks to declare, in what it openly described as a public relations campaign, that the press just wasn’t telling the good news about Iraq.

The media, that entity to which the aggrieved ascribe all manner of conspiratorial coordination, is focused on what’s going wrong and is out to discredit the administration.

We’ve received the same criticism from some of our readers -- that we are Bush-bashing and don’t appreciate how glad the rest of the world should be that Saddam Hussein is gone.

For the record, in our case the opposition to U.S. policy in Iraq goes back to the first Bush administration and the first Gulf War. The culmination of our coverage during that period was aptly described in the phrase, Military Victory, Moral Defeat, the title of a book published by then-editor Tom Fox, now publisher. The phrase would apply even more today. What was an unwise policy in 1991 remained so through the Clinton presidency and the opposition to it increased on these pages through that Democratic administration and into the current Bush administration. Today, the inadequacy of that policy is compounded by arrogance, cooked intelligence and the alienation of a good number of long-time allies.

Any progress occurs against a far more worrisome background of growing social unrest, increased activity by extremist groups and terrorists and a growing sense among the Iraqi population that the American occupation must end.

Bush and friends ought to be sending thank you notes to the mainstream press, especially television. For months the administration got not only a free pass but a free cheering section among the news bureaus of the major networks. Too often we heard, amid studio celebrations of weapons systems, that this was a good war. TV is beginning to figure out that the presumed happy ending to this great American enterprise is unraveling. It is past due for some tough questions to surface.

In recent days as staunch a Bush backer as conservative columnist George Will has suggested that given what we’ve uncovered in Iraq so far, there was no reason to go to war and that if the criteria for making war is dictators the likes of Saddam Hussein, then the U.S. military could indeed become very busy.

We may have reached a point at which leaving would be even more irresponsible than the damage of war. Still, saying yes to the money to remain in Iraq does not mean saying yes to the vision that got us there.

We will not find a way out of Iraq at the hands of those who led us deeper into the morass. Theirs is a discredited, if stubborn, vision of American power and its exercise in the rest of the world. They are too tied to that old vision and will be the last able to see a way to any new paradigm. And a new way of thinking -- about power, about America’s position in the post-Cold War world, about U.S. rights to the world’s resources and about how to join with the rest of the world to counter terrorist networks -- is essential if we are to get out of Iraq and avoid engaging further in open-ended and futile wars against hidden enemies.

National Catholic Reporter, October 24, 2003

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