A year ago, the President of the United States harkened back to his days as an aviator for the Texas Air National Guard to deliver a dramatic, made-for-television speech. Eager to experience the thrill of a carrier landing, the President donned a flight suit, strapped into a jet, and rocketed off into the wild blue yonder for a 30-mile journey.
This flight of fancy concluded with the dramatic landing of that speeding plane onto the deck of an aircraft carrier, the USS Abraham Lincoln so named for the stoic leader who guided our country through one of its most troubling times.
Such was the scene on May 1, 2003, under the warming rays of the California sun. The President delivered to the sailors on that ship a welcome and long overdue message: he commended the men and women on their outstanding service to our country during the trials of the war in Iraq, and welcomed them back to the United States of America.
While the President delivered those words of appreciation, every television viewer in the country and, indeed, the world could see in the background a banner with the words "Mission Accomplished" superimposed upon the Stars and Stripes.
In contrast to the simple humility of President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, President Bush’s speech was designed from the outset to be remembered right up until November 2, 2004.
The President announced unequivocally that "major combat operations in Iraq have ended," and that "in the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed." Now, one year later, combat deaths are more than five times that of a year ago when our President celebrated "mission accomplished."
Since that time, Iraq has become a veritable shooting gallery. This April has been the bloodiest month of the entire war, with more than 120 Americans killed. Young lives cut short in a pointless conflict and all the President can say is that it "has been a tough couple of weeks." A tough couple of weeks, indeed.
Plans have obviously gone tragically awry. But the President has, so far, only managed to mutter that we must "stay the course." But what course is there to keep when our ship of state is being tossed like a dinghy in a storm of Middle East politics? If the course is to end in the liberation of Iraq and bring a definitive end to the war against Saddam Hussein, one must conclude, mission not accomplished, Mr. President.
The White House argues time and again that Iraq is the "central front" on the war on terrorism. But instead of keeping murderous al Qaeda terrorists on the run, the invasion of Iraq has stoked the fires of terrorism against the United States and our allies. Najaf is smoldering. Fallujah is burning. And there is no exit in sight. What has been accomplished, Mr. President?
Al Qaeda has morphed into a hydra-headed beast, no longer dependent on Osama bin Laden. The Administration has flippantly claimed that it is better to tie down terrorists in Iraq than to battle them in our homeland. Mr. President, with hundreds of thousands of American troops in Iraq for the foreseeable future, and a worldwide campaign of terrorism gathering steam, who is tying down whom?
Indeed, our attack on Iraq has given Islamic militants a common cause and has fertilized the field for new recruits. The failures by the United States to secure the peace in Iraq has virtually guaranteed al Qaeda a fertile field of new recruits ready to sacrifice their lives to fight the American infidels. These extremists openly call for "jihad," swear allegiance to bin Laden, and refer to the September 11 murderers as the "magnificent 19." According to intelligence sources, hundreds of young Muslims are answering terror recruitment calls with a resounding "yes."
Amidst all this, the American people are asking themselves one central question: Have we been made more safe by the President’s war in Iraq? Do we sleep more soundly in our beds now that Saddam Hussein is captured? Or, instead, are we starting to fully comprehend and regret the fury which has been unleashed by the unprovoked attack on Iraq?
Deaths and casualties of Iraqi civilians are in the thousands, but an actual number cannot be obtained. Is it any wonder that Iraqis see us, not as liberators, but as crusaders and conquerors? A growing number of Iraqis see us as we would see foreign troops on the streets of Chicago, New York, Washington, or any small town in America. Surely one can understand the hatred brewing in Iraq when we see the agony of an Iraqi family that has lost a loved one due to an errant bomb or bullet.
One year after President Bush proclaimed the conclusion of major combat operations in Iraq, is the world any safer from terrorism? Iraq has become a breeding ground for terrorists of all stripes. The Middle East seethes in deepening violence and the culture of revenge. Our war on terror appears to many as a war against Islam. A one-sided policy on the Arab-Israeli conflict drives both sides away from the peace table, and hundreds of millions more to hatred of our country. No, the world is not safer.
One year after the "mission accomplished" speech, is America safer? We have not secured our homeland from terrifying threats of destruction. This President has sown divisions in our long-standing alliances. He has squandered our treasure in Iraq and put us deep in debt. Our brave soldiers are pinned down in Iraq while our enemies see the invincible American armor as penetrable by the sword of urban guerrilla warfare. No, America is not safer.
One year ago, the President announced an end to major combat operations in Iraq. Yet, our troops are having their deployments extended in Iraq while our lines are stretched thin everywhere else. Billions upon billions of taxpayer dollars are being poured into Iraq. Seven hundred and twenty-two American lives have been lost. Unknown thousands of Iraqis are dead. Claims of WMD and death-dealing drones are discredited. And bin Laden is still on the loose.
I stand behind no one in supporting our troops through the dangers they face every day. I grieve along with the families that have lost loved ones. The failures of post-war Iraq lay squarely on the Bush Administration for recklessly sending this country to war. A war that should not have been fought. A war in the wrong place, at the wrong time, for the wrong reasons.
Mission accomplished? The mission in Iraq, as laid out by President Bush and Vice President Cheney, has failed. Even more disturbing, the disdain for international law, and the military bombast of this cocky, reckless Administration have tarnished the beacon of hope and freedom which the United States of America once offered to the world.
How long will America continue to pay the price in blood and treasure of this President’s war? How long must the best of our nation’s military men and women be taken from their homes to fight this unnecessary war in Iraq? How long must our National Guardsmen be taken from their communities to fight and die in the hot sands in Iraq? How long must the fathers and mothers see their sons and daughters die in a far away land because of President Bush’s doctrine of preemptive attack? How long must little children across our land go to sleep at night crying for a daddy or mother far away who may never come home?
President Bush typified the Happy Warrior when he strutted across the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln a year ago this coming Saturday. He was in his glory that day. But on this May 1, we will remember the widows and the orphans that have been made by his fateful decision to attack Iraq; we will be aware of the tears that have been shed for his glory.