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Iraq war anniversary

03/19/04 12:00AM By Jay Parini
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(Host) Commentator Jay Parini reflects on the one-year anniversary of the war in Iraq.

(Parini) This time last year, American troops had begun their long trek across the desert to Baghdad. Expectations were large: American soldiers would soon be "capturing nuclear weapons, rendering them useless," as Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld put it, boldly, on CNN. The president himself predicted that the world would soon - quote - "sleep easily, knowing that they would not be attacked by atomic weapons." The "mushroom clouds" conjured by Dick Cheney on "Meet the Press" would not be rising over New York City.

Like others who marched against the war, I did believe that Saddam Hussein possessed horrific weapons, but I thought containment a better option than attack. The containment approach had worked well against the former Soviet Union, and it has worked against North Korea for a long time. I was actually more disturbed by the nuclear weapons already up and running in Pakistan, an extremely volatile country, populated by certifiable extremists, unlike the Iraqis, who seemed disinclined to join the worldwide jihad. If anything, Saddam was a fairly secular leader who only used Islam when he thought it would benefit him.

Saddam was violent, yes, but no more so than dozens of other dictators around the world, whose countries we have not chosen to liberate. Over four million people, for example, have been killed in the Congo during the last few years. I have never heard a word from Washington hawks about liberating the Congo. But when they hear about the vast and untapped natural resources of that benighted African country, their ears may prick up.

Like millions around the world, I regretted our decision to attack Iraq, believing it would only lead to further disruption, to the creation of more terrorist cells in far-flung places, to the diminishment of U.S. credibility in a dangerous world, where we need every shred of credibility we can muster. Kofi Anan himself warned that a preemptive war against Iraq would distract the west from the pursuit of terrorism elsewhere.

Since the president declared "an end to major combat" in May of 2003, landing with great fanfare on the deck of an aircraft carrier, hundreds of American soldiers have died, and the attacks on them seem only to increase in sophistication every week. Tens of thousands of Iraqis have also died. I find it ironic that after we severely damaged crucial elements of Iraq's infrastructure - such as their communications system - these are now slowly being rebuilt with American taxpayer dollars.

The cost of this war will, according to OMB estimates, exceed $200 billion - a bill our grandchildren will still be paying years from now.

After a year of searching, it's beginning to look as if we can say unambiguously: there were no weapons of mass destruction. This means the president was either badly misinformed or even lied to about a matter of grave consequence to the American people.

In either case, the buck stops on the desk of the Oval Office.

Evil doers, as the Old Testament and George Bush inform us, must not flourish. But for that to happen, the truth tellers must.

This is Jay Parini, in Weybridge.

Jay Parini, a poet, novelist and biographer, teaches at Middlebury College.
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