A Grim Milestone

I rarely comment on the Iraq debacle on this blog, but I feel that this week’s events require me to do so. Today or tomorrow, most likely, we will pass a very grim milestone: the total number of Americans killed in Iraq will reach 2,000.

This milestone will undoubtedly make some minor headlines, and serve as a reminder that American soldiers are being killed in Iraq at a rate of close to 1,000 per year.

But I hope that this milestone does more than serve as a brief reminder that Americans are dying in Iraq. Combined with this week’s likely indictments of senior Bush administration staff over their involvement in the aggressive p.r. campaign they waged to promote the invasion of Iraq, I hope that this country has a long-overdue public reexamination of the original rationale for the invasion in the first place.

Such a reexamination is irrelevant, some will argue; the fact is that the US did invade Iraq, the US is there now, and what matters is how best to move forward from here.

But this view of the situation is an unsubtle oversimplification. Yes, it is important to figure out how to best meet our objectives, given the situation that we are actually in. But it is impossible to do that without understanding what our objectives are in the first place. And in order to understand our objectives in Iraq, it is only logical to consider our government’s objectives when it first decided to invade. Have those original objectives been met? Have they changed? If so, what are our current objectives, and why were our original objectives not sufficient?

In addition, it is crucial that we understand to what degree the decision to invade Iraq was a purely optional judgment-call by Bush, rather than a decision that was reluctantly arrived at due to overwhelming evidence that indicated the necessity of such a course of action. The Fitzgerald investigation will probably shed considerable light on this question.

As I have argued extensively before, it is becoming more and more clear that Bush’s decision to invade Iraq was not the result of the careful deliberation of compelling evidence. Instead, it was the result of Bush’s choice to go with his own judgment, despite the evidence at the time that his gut feelings were wrong.

The decision-making process that lead to the Iraq debacle adds to more recent evidence that Bush’s gut instincts are a poor guide to presidential decision-making. As today’s NY Daily News reports:

Bush is so dismayed that “the only person escaping blame is the President himself,” said a sympathetic official, who delicately termed such self-exoneration “illogical.”

A second senior Bush loyalist disagreed, saying Bush knows “some of these things are self-inflicted,” like the Miers nomination, where Bush jettisoned contrary advice from his advisers and appointed his longtime personal lawyer.

“He must know that the way he did that, relying on his own judgment and instinct, was not good,” another key adviser said.

Since the Iraq decision, Bush has continued to make decisions based on instincts instead of evidence and good advice… with results that are just as bad as ever.

It is important that we understand that our president makes decisions based on his gut feelings, and that his gut feelings are generally poor guides to policy-making. Unfortunately, in the type of democracy that we have in the US it is almost impossible to remove a president from office for poor decision-making (unlike in a parliamentary system, where a head of government like Bush would probably have already been sacked and replaced this year). But if we understand that the president has relied on unscrupulous advisors for counsel, and his own bad instincts for guidance, then we can at least try to curb his power to inflict further harm on the country.

Finally, it is worth marking this week’s grim milestone for perhaps the most important reason of all – to simply recognize and honor the two thousand Americans that have now sacrificed their lives to help us achieve our goals in Iraq (murky though those goals may be), and to remind us that hundreds of thousands more will risk their lives in the same way in coming years.

For all of these reasons, I hope that this week’s milestone helps inspire some reflection, some debate, some questions, and that it does not passed unmarked.