On every level, the Iraq war is hurting America

Bush's folly in Iraq is taxing US armed forces, the economy, and democracy.

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The conventional wisdom says that President Bush's recent campaigning has brought on a tilt toward Republican congressional candidates in fall elections. But all the other indicators point the other way.

The latest National Intelligence Estimate of the war on terror reports that "anti-US sentiment ... is on the rise and fueling other radical ideologies." One reason is the lack of success in stabilizing and pacifying Iraq. The implication is that the US is losing the war in Iraq.

In one sense, the Army is plainly losing the war. It is shorter of manpower and equipment now than when it invaded Iraq in 2003. The 3rd Infantry Division, which led the invasion of Baghdad and which has already served two tours in Iraq, has been alerted to prepare for a third tour. (It has also been told to prepare to go to the Korean peninsula if another conflict breaks out there.) But there is no equipment with which to train. What was not destroyed or worn out in Iraq was left there for the replacements.

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Besides the equipment shortage, the division's 2nd Brigade has only about half of the roughly 3,500 soldiers it is supposed to have. Fort Stewart, Ga., where the 3rd Infantry Division is based, has been receiving about 1,000 soldiers a month, of whom 400 are just out of basic training. This is the result of an intensified recruiting drive, but it will be a year, perhaps longer, before they are combat ready.

The Bush administration wanted to fight the war on the cheap. It did not want to ask the public for sacrifices, such as paying higher taxes. On the contrary, it fought in Congress to keep taxes low, thereby making the richest 1 percent of the population even richer. There was no talk of rationing. And there was certainly no talk of a draft to provide more manpower for the Army.

Mr. Bush has said that if the generals in charge in Iraq ask him for more troops, he will provide them. But authorizing more troops is different from having them on the ground well trained and well equipped.

Not only is the Bush policy weakening the Army, it is also weakening the economy. Most traditional economic indicators are favorable: the stock market is up, inflation is reasonably under control, employment is good, and retailers are expecting a good Christmas season. But the national debt is sky-high, as is the deficit in foreign trade and the international balance of payments. It should not be forgotten that what ended the cold war, leaving America the winner, was the collapse of the Soviet Union, largely brought on by excessive spending, mainly on missile defense.

Vice President Cheney said in a television interview last month that critics of the war in Iraq are encouraging terrorists. President Johnson said a similar thing about the war in Vietnam.

In the same interview, Mr. Cheney said that even if the Bush administration had known before the war that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, it would have "done exactly the same thing."

The implication is that the weapons of mass destruction did not matter. If that is so, then why did the administration make such a fuss about them? Why did it damage the credibility of its secretary of state by sending him to mislead the Security Council so grievously? Was the whole purpose of this war to get rid of Saddam Hussein? And are we going to be told at some time in the future that it did not matter if Iran had nuclear weapons; what mattered was getting rid of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?

Bush has repeated as though it were a mantra that the world is better off without Mr. Hussein. To say his presence or absence affected the world is to vastly overestimate the influence of this tinhorn dictator. To say Iraq is better off is getting closer to what can reasonably be argued. But even with respect to Iraq, given what has happened since the US invasion, it would not be surprising if many Iraqis soon believe that they were better off under Hussein.

Indeed, just 61 percent of Iraqis now say that ousting Hussein was worth the hardships they might have suffered, according to a survey conducted last month by WorldPublicOpinion.org.

Another question follows: Will this war leave the United States stronger or weaker, with greater or lesser international prestige, than it had before 9/11? Bush talks about spreading democracy. But in fact, through his assault on the Bill of Rights in our own Constitution, he is weakening democracy.

Pat M. Holt is former chief of staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

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