The closeness of this presidential election is the best measure of how thoroughly George Bush has screwed up his term in office (despite his own inability to recall a single thing he might have done wrong). He should be on his way to winning re-election by a landslide for the simple reason that Americans don't switch presidents in wartime. Yet this president stands a good chance of being thrown out of office next week by a Democratic opponent who could have been this year's Michael Dukakis if Bush had done even a modestly competent job.
In a post this morning, blogger Jeff Jarvis boils it down to two critical mistakes:
1. He should have called Iraq a one-year war (at least), not a one-week war.
He should have known that this would not be as simple as overpowering Saddam's limp military. He should have known that only when we had installed democracy in Iraq could we declare victory. He should have put in sufficient resources to do that while better securing the lives of Iraqis and our soldiers. He should have managed our expectations and should not have declared victory.
2. He should have served the center.
Hey, if Bush can become an interventionist and nation-builder, it's not so damned far-fetched that he could have become a centrist, or at least played one on TV.
Jarvis's points are overarching formulations that encapsulate the administration's myriad miscues abroad and at home. But those screwups continue to gather, and their cumulative weight may get Kerry elected.
We find now, for example, that we didn't bother to guard 380 tons of the most potent conventional explosives made, RDX and HMX. The storage facility, which had been sealed by UN weapons inspectors, was looted and, according to sources for this New York Times story (free site registration may be required) probably are being used by insurgents in Iraq to kill U.S. troops and Iraqis.
A little perspective here: 380 tons is 760,000 pounds. A little less than one pound of RDX was used to blow apart that Pan Am 747 over Lockerbie, Scotland.
Further, these explosives were of particular interest to the UN weapons inspectors because when machined into precise arrangements they are used as the detonators for nuclear weapons.
USA Today, in another reprise of information that was readily available to the White House, reports that an Iraqi insurgency was predicted in intelligence reports – and was encountered directly by U.S. troops just three days into the war:
• Military and civilian intelligence agencies repeatedly warned prior to the invasion that Iraqi insurgent forces were preparing to fight and that their ranks would grow as other Iraqis came to resent the U.S. occupation and organize guerrilla attacks.
• The war plan put together by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Army Gen. Tommy Franks discounted these warnings. Rumsfeld and Franks anticipated surrender by Iraqi ground forces and a warm welcome from civilians.
• The insurgency began not after the end of major combat in May 2003 but at the beginning of the war, yet Pentagon officials were slow to identify the enemy and to grasp how serious a threat the guerrilla attacks posed.
Well, now we know.