Joe Conason's Journal

More U.S. troops have died in Iraq since President Bush declared victory than during the war. And -- finally -- critics from the left and right are beginning to sound off.

By Salon Staff

Published September 2, 2003 3:33PM (EDT)

Mirages, quagmires and "Iraqification"
There was, understandably, no showbiz-style announcement from the White House last week of this new benchmark number: More American soldiers have been killed in Iraq since the president's dramatic May 1 speech on the deck of the USS Lincoln than during the war that preceded his declaration of victory. The daily toll of U.S. casualties is a grim, steady drumbeat now, punctuated by massive atrocities, acts of terror and sabotage. It turns out that Iraq was no cakewalk after all -- and now criticism of Bush's war is coming from the center and right as well as the left.

Last Thursday, former Navy Secretary James Webb raked the president and his policies at an event in Norfolk, Va. Invited to deliver a lecture by the Naval War College Foundation and the Hampton Roads Naval Museum, the Marine veteran and conservative Republican told an audience of Navy officers and veterans that Bush had taken the nation to war under false pretenses, according to the daily Norfolk Virginian-Pilot.

"I am very troubled by the fact that we went into Iraq and very troubled about how we're going to get out of Iraq," he said, adding that the U.S. should substitute United Nations authority there as swiftly as possible. "We need to get out of there before the mistake we made gets worse," he said. He is worried because U.S. troops in Iraq are "facing combat experiences similar to those he saw as a platoon leader and company commander in Vietnam," the Virginian-Pilot reported.

That unsettling analogy is becoming common currency among independent analysts, as Joe Klein reports in Time: "Indeed, a depressing array of defense and foreign policy experts, including members of the uniformed military, have quietly concluded that postwar Iraq is the most vexing theater of operations the American military has faced since Vietnam." As we bog down with no exit in sight, no weapons of mass destruction found, no sign of Saddam, and a potential cost in the hundreds of billions, Klein describes a quagmire without using that forbidden cliché. But he does provide an eerie echo of that earlier disaster when he reports that the new goal of the Bushies is "Iraqification" of the conflict. Fareed Zakaria strains for optimism in Newsweek, but the best he can manage is that the incompetent Bush team won't turn Iraq into an utter disaster.

No doubt we will soon learn, via the usual right-wing Web sites, that the grotesque mess in Baghdad is all Bill Clinton's fault. Isn't everything? That's what the wingers are still telling us about Sept. 11 -- as if there were any certainty that an earlier attack on Osama bin Laden would have succeeded, or that a Republican Congress and media obsessed with the president's genitalia would have supported a war against al-Qaida. (Click here and scroll down for a very amusing look at Drudge's weekend "exclusive" on the latest anti-Clinton propaganda tome.) Trying to blame Clinton certainly serves the conservative agenda better than dwelling on the Bush administration's failure to find him during the past two years.
[8:36 a.m. PDT, Sept. 2, 2003]

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