As the Bush administration and our country sink ever deeper into the increasingly deadly quagmire of Iraq, Washington politicians are pointing fingers at each other and asking the inevitable question: Who lost Iraq?
This debate intensified recently with publication of "At the Center of the Storm," a self-serving memoir recounting the decisions leading up to the 2003 Iraqi invasion, by former CIA Director George Tenet, who was appointed to that sensitive position by former President Bill Clinton. Unsurprisingly, Tenet places much of the blame for the mess in Iraq on others. As Time magazine put it in a book review, "Tenet ... takes his share of the blame for the flawed prewar "intelligence" on Saddam Hussein's secret weapons program. He then turns and fires at neo-conservatives in President Bush's inner circle for taking the country to war without considering the consequences."
One of the neocons targeted by Tenet is former high-level White House adviser Richard Perle, an outspoken supporter of the Iraq war. According to the conservative Weekly Standard, "(Tenet) seems to have fabricated the story that frames his discussion of the war, an impossible meeting with Perle at the White House on Sept. 12, 2001 - impossible because Perle was in France on that date and remained there for three days."
Perle defended himself in a Washington Post column titled "How the CIA Failed America." In his column, Perle confirms that he was in France on the day in question and denies a quote attributed to him by Tenet: "Iraq has to pay a price for what happened yesterday (9/11). They bear responsibility." Tenet replied, "I may have been off on the day, but I'm not off on what he said and what he believed."
And that's just the beginning of the bitter debate over who lost Iraq. The Tenet-Perle clash is only the tip of a very dangerous political iceberg. In the final analysis, however, George W. Bush will be forever known as the president who lost Iraq. He had a lot of bad advice along the way - from Tenet, Perle, Vice President Cheney and many others - but ultimately, the buck stops at the president's desk in the Oval Office.
As the Inside-the-Beltway blame game has unfolded, almost no one emerges unscathed, except those who weren't in policy-making positions in the period leading up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Among those who were out of the policy loop at that time are promising presidential candidates on both sides of the aisle including Democrat Barack Obama and Republicans Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney.
Even though Tenet thought the question of whether Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction was a "slam dunk," the ex-CIA director attempted to explain his way out of that remark by arguing that his version of events - that Bush and the neocons blamed Iraq for the 9/11 terrorist attacks - was corroborated by a comment that Perle made to columnist Robert Novak. For his part, Perle denied that he had linked Iraq with 9/11 although he and others signed a statement saying that "any strategy aiming at the eradication of terrorism ... must include a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power."
Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, of Nevada, believes that the Iraq war is already "lost" and has joined with fellow Democrats and a few Republicans to demand a timetable for U.S. troop withdrawals from that war-torn country. At the same time, President Bush's national approval ratings are hovering around 30 percent as he seeks more time to determine whether his controversial "troop surge" is reducing sectarian violence. So far it hasn't and if it doesn't show some positive results within the next couple of months, we should begin withdrawing our troops without announcing a timetable, which would embolden our enemies.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a leading GOP presidential candidate, has tied himself to the troop surge and is fading in the polls. Even as he tries to justify his hard-line position, the Iraqi Parliament is considering its own timetable for U.S. troop withdrawals and debating whether to take a two-month summer vacation. Those moves don't convince anyone that the Iraqi leadership is serious about putting an end to armed clashes between Sunni and Shiite militias, representing the two main religious factions in that deeply divided country. And while these issues are being debated by politicians in Baghdad and Washington, American troops remain trapped in the midst of an increasingly violent civil war.
Although I don't yet agree with Sen. Reid that the Iraq War is "lost," I think it's rapidly moving in that direction and believe that we should definitely cut our losses if the troop surge doesn't produce positive results by mid-summer. As time goes on, Iraq looks more and more like Vietnam, and those of us old enough to remember that debacle know that wars cannot be sustained for long without majority support from Congress and the American people. As we learned during the Vietnam era, the best way to support our troops in an unwinnable war is to bring them home.
Max Baer Jr. has ginned-up his usual out-of-state letter-writing campaign in support of a plan to move his proposed Beverly Hillbillies Hotel-Casino from Carson City to Douglas County. I'm not shedding any tears over Baer's departure, however, because it gives Carson Development Director Joe McCarthy the opportunity to put a national retailer into the old Wal-Mart building at the south end of town. Good luck, Joe.
Guy W. Farmer, a semi-retired journalist and former U.S. diplomat, resides in Carson City