Bush's War, Five Years On

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Monday, March 17, 2008; 1:30 PM

Unless the economy disintegrates entirely, President Bush's chief legacy will almost certainly be the war in Iraq -- or, more accurately, the violent occupation of Iraq -- that enters its sixth year later this week.

John F. Burns writes in the New York Times: "At the fifth anniversary, the conflict's staggering burden is a rebuke to any who hoped [Saddam] Hussein's removal might be accomplished at acceptable cost. Back in 2003, only the most prescient could have guessed that the current 'surge' would raise the American troop commitment above 160,000, the highest level since the invasion, in the war's fifth year, or that the toll would include tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians killed, as well nearly 4,000 American troops; or that America's financial costs, by some recent estimates, would rise above $650 billion by 2008, on their way to perhaps $2 trillion if the commitment continues for another five years. Beyond that, there are a million or more Iraqis living as refugees in neighboring Arab countries, and the pitiful toll of fear and deprivation on Iraqi streets."

Warren P. Strobel writes for McClatchy Newspapers: "Thanks in part to the Iraq war, the next U.S. president -- Republican or Democrat, black or white, man or woman -- will take office with America's power, prestige and popularity in decline, according to bipartisan reports, polls and foreign observers.

"'The winner of the 2008 elections will command U.S. forces still at war in Iraq, Afghanistan and against elusive terrorists with a deadly reach. The U.S. economy will remain burdened. . . . America's moral leadership and decision-making competence will continue to be questioned,' begins a study of foreign-policy choices for the next president, which a Georgetown University task force released last month.

"'Restored respect will come only with fresh demonstrations of competence,' the study said.

"The numbers don't inspire confidence: Oil prices are at an all-time high, the dollar at new lows against the euro. Surveys find the United States' popularity and respect slipping in every part of the globe except Africa. A poll of 3,400 active and retired U.S. military officers by Foreign Policy magazine found that 88 percent agreed with the statement that 'The war in Iraq has stretched the U.S. military dangerously thin.'"

Christopher Dickey writes for Newsweek: "To put the best face on the new Middle East, you'd have to use a magic mirror that would hide the oceans of blood spilled and the vast mountains of money spent by this administration. You'd have to ignore that old talk about making Iraq a beacon of hope and democracy for the region. You would need to forget the false premises presented to the public as justification for the invasion: that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and that he was in league with Al Qaeda. . . .

"In the real world of the present, however, things are not so neat. U.S. military power is spread thin, and much of the hugely expensive American arsenal is irrelevant to modern warfare. Our economic power has been greatly weakened, our diplomacy is in disarray, and our loose ideology -- what President Bush used to call his 'freedom agenda' -- has been disrespected by authoritarian allies like Egypt and discredited by Washington's refusal to recognize the elected Hamas government in the Palestinian territories."

Alison Smale writes in the New York Times: "Bernard Kouchner, the foreign minister of France and a longtime humanitarian, diplomatic and political activist, said this week that whoever succeeds President Bush might restore something of the United States' battered image and standing overseas but that 'the magic is over.' . . .

"Asked whether the United States could repair the damage it had suffered to its reputation during the Bush presidency and especially since the 2003 American-led invasion of Iraq, Mr. Kouchner replied, 'It will never be as it was before.'"

As for Life in Iraq

Hannah Allam writes for McClatchy Newspapers that to Iraqis, "the real crime is that five years after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, they still swelter in the summer and freeze in the winter because of a lack of electricity. Government rations are inevitably late, incomplete or expired. Garbage piles up for days, sometimes weeks, emanating toxic fumes.

"The list goes on: black-market fuel, phone bills for land lines that haven't worked in years, education and health-care systems degraded by the flight of thousands of Iraq's best teachers and doctors."

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