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Issue Date:  September 8, 2006

We've seen this movie before

Will someone please tell Donald Rumsfeld that we’ve already seen this movie: the detached defense secretary, convinced beyond all reason and evidence that the war is going well, that we must stay the course and that all of civilization depends on the United States winning.

It ends badly, and it has nothing at all to do with World War II, noble intentions or, in this case, the fight against terrorism.

It has everything to do with hubris, deception, incompetence and a willingness to sacrifice countless thousands of Iraqi innocents and increasing numbers of young Americans to a cause that, more than three years into the grueling battle, remains unclear.

Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney, cohorts in advocating and designing the invasion of Iraq, were engaged as advance men for the president in a national spin tour in the run-up to the fifth anniversary of 9/11. They have been shameless in their attempts to justify the ill-advised war in Iraq in light of that tragic day.

Cheney, who tends toward the overwrought and the cataclysmic, drew a direct line between withdrawing from Iraq and the possibility of terrorist attacks in the United States. It was done with the same breathless urgency and certitude with which he once spoke of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. “We have only two options on Iraq -- victory or defeat -- and this nation will not pursue a policy of retreat,” he said. He said terrorists are interested in obtaining chemical, biological and nuclear weapons with which to “destroy Israel, to intimidate all Western countries and to cause mass death in the United States.”

That may be the case, however extreme the vision, but that scenario and the war in Iraq are related only insofar as the vice president chooses to put them in the same paragraph. Whatever the point of the war in Iraq today -- and extricating the United States from that battlefield is likely to be a long and complex undertaking -- Islamic terrorism was simply nowhere in play as a cause of U.S. involvement in any phase of hostilities against Iraq going back 15 years.

For Bush and Cheney to continue to draw that association as if it were fact is a fatuous manipulation of reality and cynical use of the goodwill of the populace.

Even more cynical is Rumsfeld’s attempts to compare critics of the war in Iraq with those who sought to “appease” Hitler and the Nazis. There is a new brand of fascism on the loose, Rumsfeld says, and the only way to deal with it is to confront it. In addition to wrapping today’s terrorist threat in the specter of Nazism, Rumsfeld also drew a direct link between 9/11 and other deadly terrorist bombings to his defense of the war in Iraq. There seems to be no limit to his capacity to twist history and history’s associations into unrecognizable shapes to serve his own political ends.

Such persistent mendacity is, on one level, not surprising. What else could they say? We lied to you about intelligence? We miscalculated the number of troops necessary? We gave little consideration to the various cultures and animosities involved? We had no idea what to do after the statue of Saddam Hussein was toppled? We have miscalculated the costs in treasury and human life at every turn and now have no idea how we are going to get out of Iraq without ushering in a vicious civil war that would probably end with terrorists gaining control of the country’s oil supply?

Of course not. In lieu of the truth we will get spin, and the spin has to be worthy of the costs of all the mistakes that went before and all that will occur before this futile and bloody battle comes to an end.

The additional tragedy, of course, is that the real problem of terrorism is not being considered. It is only being made worse. The debacle in Iraq has provided a seedbed for new terrorists where once there was none. It has provided the kind of chaos in which terrorism thrives. It has provided new and renewed reasons for hatred that will keep terrorists motivated long after we once again declare “mission accomplished.”

It is time to stop talking in triumphal tones of this wild dream gone bad and to begin a realistic assessment of how the United States can disengage.

National Catholic Reporter, September 8, 2006

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