Three years later, 'progress' replaces 'victory'

If either president Bush had foreseen the outcomes, would each have invaded Iraq?

"There's evidence of real progress," says President Bush.

"We continue to make great progress," echoes Gen. George Casey.

"We are in a civil war," says former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.

Three years after the launching of the Iraq invasion, you can play it upbeat or downbeat, depending on whether you consider 2,300 American lives and some 35,000 Iraqi lives as necessary losses on the road to democracy - never mind the multibillion-dollar financial cost.

I think of this as not only a three-year anniversary, but also a 15-year anniversary in a father-and-son war. And I wonder what both President Bushes might have done differently had they been given the gift of advance hindsight.

Once Kuwait was liberated, would President Bush the elder have continued the pursuit of Saddam Hussein's army all the way to Baghdad, instead of calling the forces home for victory parades?

Having called on Iraq's people to rise up against the dictator, would the president then have abandoned the Kurds and Shiites to Mr. Hussein's fury, exercised with attack helicopters that the victorious coalition allowed him to keep? In the end, the president was forced by public opinion to declare no-fly zones to save Kurds and Shiites from being massacred.

Would Mr. Bush the elder have endorsed a United Nations oil-for-food program had he known that Hussein would misuse it to strengthen his regime, laying the foundation for another war with another President Bush?

And, when it came time for President Bush the younger to mount the stage, would he have acted as though he had to finish a job that his father had left incomplete?

Would he have embraced as gospel the notion that Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, possibly nuclear, had he known that the dictator was spreading word of imaginary arms as a form of psychological warfare?

And, once the war had started three years ago, would he have revelled in the swift advance to Baghdad, proclaiming victory, had he known that the invaders were leaving behind them the makings of a sanguinary insurrection?

And, if he had known that he underestimated the number of troops needed to pacify Iraq, would Mr. Bush the younger have rebuked Gen. Eric Shinseki for testifying before Congress that several hundred thousand troops were needed?

But we are not given the miracle of retroactive hindsight. So now, three years later, the president does not proclaim victory in the war he inherited from his father.

The best he can proclaim is "progress."

Daniel Schorr is a senior news analyst at National Public Radio.

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