President Bush tried to turn around falling public support for his invasion and occupation of Iraq in a speech before troops at Fort Bragg, N.C., on Tuesday, the very day that a U.S. Chinook helicopter with 17 crew members was reportedly shot down in Afghanistan, the original and primary base for Al Qaeda.
Had Bush remained focused on defeating terrorism in Afghanistan, instead of launching a war against Iraq, he would not have needed to plead his case, pressing Americans to believe that the sacrifices of war were worth it and claiming that military service was the highest calling for young people.
Furthermore, Bush would have kept his promise to capture or kill Osama bin Laden. Bush would not have turned Iraq into the new haven for terrorists. Bush would not have the nation spilling endlessly its blood and fortune in Iraq. Bush would not have fostered so much hatred against the U.S. around the world. Bush would not have created a new generation of terrorists.
The president’s leadership crisis is of his own making. He misled the country into a war to eliminate weapons of mass destruction and continues to misstate the depth of the problem in Iraq.
The president’s failure has profoundly negative consequences for Americans and Iraqis, especially Iraqi non-combatants who bear an enormous death and injury toll. Both are now bound together. Both governments are in an intractable position with no clear path forward toward peace and justice.
Rather than admit in his speech that real progress was limited, Bush overstated progress, much as he overstated more than two years ago on an aircraft carrier that the U.S. mission was accomplished.
Bush spoke repeatedly about progress in Iraq: “in the past year, we have made significant progress,” “the progress in the past year has been significant” and “we are prevailing.”
He should have acknowledged that crude oil production has not risen, electrical power is erratic, car bombings have increased dramatically and untold dollars have gone missing on undelivered construction projects.
He should have avoided overstating democratic developments in Iraq. After all, history is chock-full of examples from the colonial era when nations were granted independent democratic governments that descended into civil war and military dictatorships where many remain 40 years later. Iraq offers little evidence that it will be any different.
Rather than speak truthfully to America about his missteps into and mismanagement of the war, Bush lost yet another opportunity to begin restoring his trust within a public that now believes the war is a mistake and that the president has no clear plan for resolving the situation.
Americans have a wisdom about truth and a forgiving spirit about confessions of failure. Bush would have done well to recognize these traits in the American character.
Finding a way out of Iraq begins with an understanding that truth is the foundation for trust, the key ingredient in a democracy in wartime.
While we wait for the Bush administration to come to itself, the American Christian community could take its own steps toward preparing the way for peace, sooner rather than later.
Praying for peace is a biblical priority. Praying for the president and those in leadership is always a priority. Showing acts of kindness to military families comforts those who suffer. Asking elected officials to press for a resolution to the war is a necessity. Supporting relief efforts in Islamic nations creates goodwill.
Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.