Originally Published: September 29, 2004 1 a.m.
WASHINGTON – Coming back to the war capital after a long summer has something of a Rip Van Winkle feel. They should put a sign up near the White House or Capitol Hill saying: "Welcome to the only former world's only superpower!"
Congress came back to town last week to begin hearings on President George W. Bush's plan to use $3.5 billion originally allocated for rebuilding invasion-damaged Iraq to pay for training Iraqi policemen and soldiers. One of the facts that came out during testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was that, so far, not a single Iraqi has completed a full training program. Yes, 32,000 Iraqis have begun police training, but they were put out in the line of fire before they finished the program.
"Exasperating," said Sen. Richard Lugar, the mild-mannered Republican chairman of the committee, because only $1 billion of $18.5 billion earmarked for reconstruction has been spent – the money is there but we can't get it into the local economy because of ongoing insurgency. Another Republican, Chuck Hagel, was more direct: "It's not a pretty picture. ... It's beyond pitiful, it's beyond embarrassing; it is now in the zone of dangerous. .... We are in deep trouble."
Actually, it is worse than that. Our staggering ignorance and incompetence in trying to rebuild a conquered Iraq has blown away the myth of American superpower.
What do we have to show for the almost $200 billion that we are spending on this war of choice? We found Saddam Hussein, but seem to have lost the man we should have been looking for, Osama bin Laden. The war on Iraq – as opposed to the war on terrorism – has drained our treasure, killed our young, smashed our old alliances, and shown us and the world the limits of superpower.
We have shown the world that we do not have enough soldiers to secure what we have conquered, much less fight anyplace else at the same time. We have, more or less, given up on Afghanistan, the haven of the people who did us so much damage on Sept. 11, 2001. We can huff and puff about Iran and North Korea, but our military options in those places are pretty much limited to air strikes and assassinations. (I am assuming that we have no intention of using our shiny nuclear weapons to prevent them from developing or using their own weapons of mass destruction.)
"What a mess," as Hagel said last Wednesday. The younger President Bush may be a war president, but he's not a good one.