Foreign Policy

Whose Fault?

Accountability According to the GOP

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American combat deaths in Iraq have climbed over 1000. The biggest barrier to President George W. Bush's reelection is the unnecessary war and botched occupation in Iraq. No convention acceptance speech, however eloquent, can change that reality.

Yet the President and his supporters have never accepted his responsibility. Rather, their mantra states, "It's the media's fault."

For instance, columnist David Limbaugh complains that " Democrats and the media have successfully created the perception that Iraq has been a disaster." Which, naturally, is the reason popular backing for the war is waning.

Move America Forward, created by former California Assemblyman Howard Kaloogian, is seeking to counter criticism of Bush. In an email fund-raising solicitation, Move America Forward's vice-chairwoman Melanie Morgan declared: "Recent national polls show that only 37%-42% of Americans now support the War in Iraq. It's not hard to figure out why. Every day we are bombarded with negatively biased reports from the news media."

Indeed, for more than a year Bush acolytes have circulated emails reporting "the good news that you aren't hearing" about Iraq, which cited the dredging of harbors, creation of regulatory agencies, and opening of schools. Never mind the deaths of one or more Americans every day; there were more important things happening over there, explained Rep. George Nethercutt (R-WA).

The failure to understand why the American people have turned against the war demonstrates that the administration and its allies are simultaneously arrogant and tone-deaf. While conservatives routinely denounced President Bill Clinton for failing to accept responsibility for his actions, the GOP now is taking the cult of the victim to new heights.

Why does the majority of Americans, many of them conservative in temperament and tending to vote Republican, now criticize the war? Start with the fact the war was based on a falsehood.

It was not a media creation that the administration painted Saddam Hussein as a modern Hitler, ready and able to devastate the U.S. Officials from the President on down spoke of mushroom clouds, millions at risk from bioterrorism, unmanned aerial vehicles that could hit America, and so on. "If we know that Saddam Hussein has dangerous weapons today—and we do," then we shouldn't wait to attack, stated the President.

None of those charges were true. The administration's failure to back up its lurid claims was not due to the media.

Despite the most disastrous intelligence failure in decades, the President took no action: he accepted no responsibility, held no official accountable, announced no review of intelligence procedures. Instead, Vice President Richard Cheney continued to suggest that Hussein was involved in 9/11, a charge for which there never was any evidence.

Once having conquered Iraq, the administration proceeded to bungle virtually every major decision. It was not the media's fault that officials falsely promised that Iraqis would shower U.S. troops with rose petals, the occupation would pay for itself, the garrison would fall to 30,000 by last summer, and the allies would fall over themselves to join the victorious bandwagon.

"Once we have victory in Baghdad, all the critics will look like fools," said Cheney. Not quite. And don't blame the media.

Journalists understandably concentrated on how Iraq's problems affected the U.S. There was positive news, of course. But far more important was the negative fact that a majority of Iraqis disliked Washington, wanted Americans to go home, and even justified attacks on U.S. forces.

It would be nice if Iraqis were grateful to America for their liberation. But the majority aren't. And that's not a media creation.

Nor can journalists be blamed for the fact that the administration's optimistic predictions of future progress always went unfulfilled. First the death of Hussein's sons would be the turning point.

Once he was captured all would be well, we were told. Then economic progress would change things. Finally, it would be the transfer in sovereignty.

Yet more American troops died in July after the turnover than in June. August was even worse, as the U.S. fought Shiites in Najaf. In just three days in early September 14 Americans died.

The story just gets worse. There's the administration's reliance on Iraqi exile Ahmed Chalabi, whose Iraqi National Congress helped lie America into war. Which was followed by Administration's abandonment of Chalabi in the midst of charges that he spied for Iran. That bizarre somersault wasn't the media's fault.

Despite the administration's eloquent rhetoric about democracy, the government of Iyad Allawi looks more authoritarian than liberal, like a house-broken Saddam Hussein. Ken Dilanian of the Philadelphia Inquirer once wrote of the understated good news. In early August he admitted that the situation was deteriorating badly: "Large swaths of the country that once were safe are now considered danger zones." Indeed, the U.S. military has largely abandoned entire cities within the so-called Sunni Triangle.

Christians are being brutalized and Christian churches are being bombed; 40,000 Christians have fled to Syria, an ugly anti- American dictatorship. Journalists aren't to blame for these problems.

Finally, after a year of building fantasies in the sky, the administration has become more circumspect. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice says Americans should "be more patient" and "less critical of every twist and turn." After all, she acknowledged, "not everything has gone as we would have liked it to." To put it very, very mildly. The administration's record of hysterically high hopes and tragically poor performance is not a media creation.

The failure is not only in Iraq. By shifting attention and resources to Iraq, the administration also short-changed operations in Afganistan, which now appears to be deteriorating daily. The war in Iraq has spurred recruiting for local terrorist groups around the globe.

Even al-Qaeda, badly damaged by America's assault, appears to be rebounding, say some intelligence officials. Thus the recent alert involving financial institutions and the Pentagon's abortive plan to close down its child care operation for safety reasons. The resilience of America's terrorist enemies is not a fault of the media.

Journalists trend left, but that's hardly news. Nor does it explain declining popular support for the administration's Iraq policy.

For instance, The New Republic and The Washington Post editorial page pushed for war. Media critic Howard Kurtz reviewed the Post's pre-war news coverage and found that it downplayed doubts about administration claims.

Moreover, critical coverage of ongoing violence in Iraq dropped off after the formal transfer in sovereignty. Matt Labash of the hawkish Weekly Standard admitted to the NY Press that "if the war's not going quite as you'd like it to go that doesn't mean that the liberal media is thumbing the scale."

It's the media's fault, intone Bush supporters about the public's increasing war doubts. But the media have done nothing more than report on administration policies.

It is the President who is at fault.

He shouldn't have gone to war. His administration bungled the peace. His officials eschewed all responsibility for the resulting mess.

If President Bush wants to convince Americans to support him for a second term, he must own up to his own failures. Otherwise, why would anyone want to grant him an encore performance?