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Voters share blame for Iraq


By Leonard Pitts

March 20, 2008


And five years later, here we are.

There were no weapons of mass destruction. We were not greeted as liberators. The war did not pay for itself. The smoking gun was not a mushroom cloud. There was no connection to 9/11. The course we stayed led over a cliff.

Worse, Iraq has become a recruiting station for Islamic terrorists. One presidential candidate foresees a 100-year occupation. Electricity is still a sometime thing in Baghdad. The war that was supposed to pay for itself was recently projected to cost us $3 trillion -- that's trillion, with a "t," that's a three followed by 12 zeroes, that's "3 million millions." And American forces have sustained more than 33,000 casualties, including 4,000 dead and 13,000 wounded too severely to return to action.

Pundits and politicians will spend a lot of time debating the war in Iraq on this, its fifth anniversary. They will analyze what we have achieved, pontificate on where we should go from here. I will leave those arguments to them.

Not that those are not worthy issues. But I cannot get beyond what is, for me, the one overriding truth of this war.

It should never have been fought.

Yes, I know: The point is moot. The war was fought, and there is nothing we can do about it. But I submit, there is, in fact, at least one thing we must do. Learn from it.

Much has been made of the culpability of the Bush administration, of the arrogance and incompetence that midwifed this mess. Less has been made, however, of the culpability of Bush's accomplices, the enablers and facilitators who made this misadventure possible. By which I mean you and me, the American electorate.

Granted, many of us have been screaming "no" as loudly as we could from the very beginning or shortly thereafter. But many more refused to own what we knew, refused to accept the evidence of our own eyes and call this administration to account. We were scared beyond the ability to reason and wanted to feel safe, we were too heavily invested in lies to be turned aside by truth, we needed with a desperation to believe what we were being told, to buy what we were being sold.

Excuses. At some point, you have to stand up and be brave. Stand up like American women and men.

This, we have largely failed to do. Three months after the war began, when it was becoming clear there were no weapons of mass destruction, 56 percent of us told Gallup it didn't matter, said the invasion was justified regardless. Play that back again: The primary rationale for the war was disintegrating like a sandcastle in the waves, yet a majority of us shrugged and said, "Whatever." Like our president, we were impervious to truths we did not want to know.

That majority is a memory, but it lasted long past the point it should've, lasted long enough to enable this disaster, to send George W. Bush back to office claiming a mandate, to dig us in so deep the sun feels like a rumor, to create legions of new terrorists, to run up a bill we will be generations paying off, to take the lives of 4,000 Americans and Lord only knows how many Iraqis.

So, yes, we should at the very least learn from this, commit it to communal memory, so that maybe next time a fear-mongering leader tries to stampede us into precipitate and unwise action, we will have the guts to stop and reason and own what we know. And to realize that the electorate has a role to play in the life of a free nation and it is not mindless cheerleader.

One can only hope. In the meantime, here we are, five years later. The electorate has largely moved on, more concerned about the price of gasoline than the price of war.

But the war grinds on. Indeed, it has ground the President's approval rating down to the low 30s.

Maybe you think that's accountability at last. Me, I'm surprised it's still that high.

Leonard Pitts is a columnist for the Miami Herald. His e-mail is

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