Joe Conason's Journal

Political prediction: The Bush White House will succeed in leading Americans in uniform away from the Republican Party.

By Salon Staff

Published September 5, 2003 4:02PM (EDT)

It's worse than we know
At the risk of encouraging gloating or complacency (which would be far worse), Washington's neoconservatives are currently suffering an awful rout. Yesterday at noon, I spent a few minutes on CNN with Frank Gaffney, head of the Center for Security Policy and a longtime neocon insider. It was supposed to be a debate, but I thought he sounded rather subdued as we discussed the Bush administration's decision to seek multilateral assistance through the United Nations -- a sound if belated policy that he and his circle abhor, though one against which they no longer seem able to muster an energetic argument.

The problem facing the neocons, of course, is that their plans have gone terribly wrong. No doubt the troops and their commanders are doing the best they can under very bad circumstances, and achieving some successes amid all the chaos. Unfortunately, there isn't much that our soldiers can do to remedy the inherent dishonesty, arrogance and incompetence of the Bush administration's Iraq policy.

The neocons in the Pentagon and the White House invented an "imminent" threat from Saddam Hussein that didn't exist. They precipitated war at the risk of alienating our traditional allies and ruining our credibility at the United Nations. They invaded with insufficient force and planning. And now, when the costs of those policies are coming due, they have no plausible answers. When I challenged Gaffney to pose an alternative to U.N. intervention in Iraq, he didn't respond.

What have Cheney and Rumsfeld wrought? Vernon Loeb's column last Tuesday in the Washington Post suggests that we at home have little idea how dangerous the situation in Iraq actually is, and how rapidly it is deteriorating.

"Attacks on civilians and U.S. military personnel in Iraq have become so commonplace that a brazen assassination attempt last month on two military officers in civilian dress working for the Coalition Provisional Authority wasn't even reported at the time," writes Loeb, who quotes a report prepared by Centurion Risk Assessment Services, "a British firm staffed by former Royal Marine commandos and British Special Forces personnel that counsels journalists and businessmen on how to operate safely in dangerous environments." Centurion's Aug. 27 dispatch warned: "Many incidents are not making the headlines." The report continued, "Most of them are not being reported at all by the forces involved as they are possibly trying to minimize the threats and play down the overall threat to all involved in working in Iraq."

The Vietnam parallel was invoked again yesterday by retired Gen. Anthony Zinni, the president's former Mideast envoy, in a tough speech to members of the U.S. Naval Institute and the Marine Corps Association. "My contemporaries, our feelings and sensitivities were forged on the battlefields of Vietnam, where we heard the garbage and the lies, and we saw the sacrifice," said the former general, who suffered serious wounds as a young officer there. "I ask you, is it happening again?"

Saying that the administration's Iraq policy was in "danger of failing," he added: "We certainly blew past the U.N. Why, I don't know. Now we're going back hat in hand."

Zinni's comments were met with sustained applause from the veteran officers in attendance. Here's a prediction based on many such anecdotes and my own e-mail from active-duty and retired military officers: There will be a shift away from the Republicans by Americans in uniform next year.

[8:59 a.m. PDT, Sept. 5, 2003]

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