Whether or not you agree with the stated reasons for launching the Second Iraq War, how the war has been managed, or George W. Bush's plan to send an additional 21,500 U.S. soldiers to Iraq, one thing is abundantly clear: the conflict has done tremendous damage to the United States. It's also clear that that damage has occurred on multiple levels, and there's only one person to blame for this mess: George W. Bush. The three most obvious examples of Bush's bungling involve America's moral, financial, and military standing.
Moral. The late John Boyd, America's greatest military theoretician, said there are three levels of warfare: the moral, the mental, and the physical. Of those, the moral level is the strongest and the most important. And that is where Bush has caused the greatest damage. Whether it's the torture at Abu Ghraib, the alleged slaughter of innocents at Haditha by U.S. Marines, the kidnapping (or as the CIA politely calls it, "rendition") of suspected terrorists from locations throughout the world, or the indefinite incarceration of suspected terrorists without charge at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Bush's regime has casually discarded the rule of law - and in doing so, has squandered America's moral standing in the world. By losing the moral high ground, Bush has degraded our ability to confront Islamic extremists and advance America's long-term interests in the Middle East and elsewhere.
Immediately after September 11, 2001, the U.S. had the sympathy of nearly every country on the planet. But by declaring an elective war, by using faulty evidence to justify that war, and by using a myriad of suspect legal claims to justify his actions, Bush lost the chance to expand America's soft power and increase the country's moral authority at a time when terrorists, thugs, and thieves are proliferating.
Financial. According to Comptroller General David Walker, the U.S. is facing a "fiscal challenge unprecedented in American history." In an October speech, Walker said that the country's "fiscal burden has soared from about $20 trillion in 2000 to about $46 trillion in 2005. This burden is growing at the rate of at least $2 trillion to $3 trillion each year." While Bush can attempt to blame America's deficit spending on the war on terror, the truth is that he's done nothing to counter the fiscal recklessness of six years of a Republican-led Congress. America's unrestrained borrowing means that the interest accruing on that debt is soaring. In 2005 alone, those interest costs totaled $327 billion. The result of this mismanagement: future political leaders will be hamstrung when it comes to funding other urgent needs, including infrastructure, health care, and retirement benefits. Meanwhile, Bush's war on terror continues - at a cost of $9.5 billion per month.
Military. Colin Powell said it best when he declared that America's military is "almost broken." I agree, except I'd omit the word "almost." The Second Iraq War has exposed the U.S. military's weaknesses, and those vulnerabilities are on display for every crackpot mullah and tinpot dictator to see. The U.S. should be worried about what's happening in Latin America as Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales continue to escalate their rhetoric. But America has no military options to counter Chavez's growing influence. That's not to say the U.S. should mount a military assault on Chavez. Rather, it's to agree with former U.S. Secretary of State James A. Baker III, who says that the most effective way to negotiate with potential foes is with one hand extended in friendship while keeping the other one in what he calls a "mailed fist."Â That is, the threat of military power is almost always more effective than the actual use of that power.
I don't say any of this as a partisan. I'm a member of the Disgusted Party. And it's enormously frustrating to see that neither the Republicans nor the Democrats have any strong leaders who are willing to tackle the hard issues facing the U.S., particularly the fiscal and military challenges.
Bush will, thank God, leave office in less than two years. But the damage he has wrought will last for generations. The only questions to be answered: who will Bush's successor be? and what steps can he (or she) take to undo some of the damage?