Thursday, March 16, 2006

Nothing a Good Panel Can't Fix

March 19, 2003 will represent the three year anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. 2311 American military personnel have died, along with 17004 wounded, since the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom. What started off as an optimistic endeavor, bolstered by patriotic fervor, has turned out to be a disaster with no particular exit strategy. To rectify this situation congress has unveiled an independent panel assigned to study the war and make policy recommendations for Capitol Hill and the White House.

Leading the bipartisan group will be former Secretary of State James Baker and former 9/11 Commission member Lee Hamilton. The goal is to get a “second opinion” on the war in Iraq, and to ascertain if the war is going well or poorly, and to decide what the consequences for failure would be.

The group includes five Republicans and five Democrats, including Rudy Giuliani and Leon Panetta. Rumor also has it that retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor may also join the group—perhaps as a swing vote. Yes, that's how desperate things have gotten: We may call a former Supreme Court Justice out of the bullpen. Deploy the Bat Symbol immediately and hold my calls.

I’m heartened that a group has been formed to attempt to assess the state of the war in Iraq. Personally, I don’t put much stock when the Secretary of Defense or the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff says that the war is going well. What would you say if you were in their shoes? I also have to laugh when congressmen go to Iraq and speak to soldiers and ask them for their honest opinion. Their “honest opinion” is whatever makes their superiors look good, so they can be left alone.

But I am also a little dismayed that it has taken three years, a large body count, and public outcry for this panel to be formed. Isn’t this the kind of thing that should be investigated before invasion? The issue was never whether or not we would be strong enough to defeat Iraq and topple Saddam. The issue has always been what do we do once that has happened?

Just read Bob Woodward’s book “Plan of Attack” which describes in detail inside meetings between administration officials. It’s all there, even endorsed by the President. While people like Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condi Rice, and President Bush all had a fever over removing Saddam, Colin Powell thought of possible consequences, Pottery Barn rules: If you break it, you own it. And now we do own it.

It’s a powerful example of how, in life, if you want something bad enough you will become delusional in the pursuit. The administration wanted Saddam out, and they had the power (the U.S. Military), and the leverage (fear of terrorism) to get it done. The aftermath was not as important as doing the deed and removing the dictator.

And that’s unfortunate, isn’t it, that our leaders did not exercise more prudent judgment. Had the idea of an independent panel to discuss the feasibility of an Iraq war been presented three years ago the idea would have been totally dismissed. Panels? We don’t need no stinking panels! But now that we’ve already done the deed, we’re there and we own it, panels are welcome. We live in a country that shoots first and forms panels later, and it’s disappointing.

And, perhaps, that’s why people like President Bush resonate with so many Americans. We don’t want to evaluate. We don’t want to be cautious. We’re Americans! And, as such, it is our right to own a giant house, and an overpriced car, and to surround ourselves with junk. Credit card debt can be paid off tomorrow.

And so, rather than exercising a little more foresight, which is what leaders are supposed to do, we are introduced to another posthumous panel.

The 9/11 Commission revealed breakdowns in security and the inability for key intelligence agencies to communicate with each other.

The Katrina Panel found that authorities failed to move quickly to save people even when faced with warnings days ahead of time.

And now the Iraq Panel will attempt to discern what the best course of action is in Iraq.

How about a panel to see if forming panels after the disaster actually prevents similar disasters the second time around. That can’t possibly be true. Didn’t we already fight an unwinable war with no concise plan for victory for a vague cause? Top minds studied how we went to Vietnam and how we could avoid making the same mistake twice. And three years ago we entered Iraq.

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