Its time to bring our sojourn in Iraq back into some focus. And a few recent events and news stories should help us on our way.
First, there was the recent story by Walter Pincus in The Washington Post, in which it was revealed that two of the Army intelligence analysts most responsible for the notorious aluminum-tube snafu have been given performance commendations in each of the past three years. It would be one thing if this were just a close call that someone got wrong because of incomplete evidence. But every report and investigation into this blunder shows that the mistake resulted, at a minimum, from seriously flawed tradecraft.
And yet here we find that pretty much over exactly the period in which the poor performance of these two analysts has become more and more evident, theyve been getting commendation after commendation the institutional equivalent of pats on the back for a job poorly done.
Not long before that, there were the revelations of the secret British government memorandum in which the head of British foreign intelligence, a year before the invasion began, told Prime Minister Tony Blair that in Washington intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy of going to war.
A few months before that revelation, a related but much less noted event took place.
Last year, youll remember, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, under the leadership of Sen. Pat Roberts (R) of Kansas, prepared an elaborate report on just what went wrong in our prewar assessments of Iraqs phantom weapons of mass destruction. To the relief of Republicans and the consternation of many Democrats, the upshot of the report was that the intelligence community just didnt do its job and gave bad information to the decisionmakers who had to make the tough decisions in the lead-up to war.
Of course, committee Republicans had insisted and their Democratic colleagues foolishly agreed to limit the inquiry to the actions of the intelligence community itself and not to look into the political pressures the administration may have exerted to get the information it wanted from the community. That part of the story was supposed to be investigated after the November elections.
But then this spring, Roberts blithely announced that the committee had more pressing matters to deal with and that the second phase of the investigation would probably never occur.
And then there was Vice President Cheneys appearance on Larry King Live the other evening. The big press came in response to his improbable claim that the Iraqi insurgency was in its last throes. But that wasnt his most telling remark. Cheney told King that he was confident the Iraqi insurgency would be quelled before President Bushs term of office expires or, in other words, before January 2009.
A year or two ago, such a remark would have been roundly decried as the worst sort of defeatism if uttered by one of the presidents critics. And now its something the vice president says, seemingly to reassure people.
If the Iraqi insurgency is finally quelled at the end of 2008, that will mean that the war went on for almost six years.
I know these probably seem like disparate and not wholly related events. But they all add up to a picture so obvious that it scarcely needs stating but about which the country seems in an odd and eerie sort of collective denial.
The United States is now fighting a long and bloody guerrilla insurgency in one of the most conflict-ridden and dangerous parts of the world. Our military is stretched thin. Recruitment is becoming more and more difficult. And the more we find out about how we got to this point the more it becomes clear that the entire effort was premised on a fraud.
Not everyone was acting in bad faith, perhaps not even most. But the upshot of what happened is that the American people were led into a costly and horribly bloody war for reasons that were pretty much entirely bogus.
Thats a national scandal of immense proportions one that should transcend partisan politics, especially since the presidential election is now over and the repercussions for both parties are not as immediate and tangible as they were last fall.
Talk about the admirable successes or at least the continuance of the new Iraqi government is important but beside the point on this basic question of just what happened to this country during the lead-up to war in Iraq. Eventually, its something well all have to reckon with. For now, weve hardly even started. Joshua Micah Marshall writes for The Hill and TalkingPointsMemo.com.