Friday, March 19, 2004 | 5:35 a.m.
March 20 - 21, 2004
"The fastest way home is through Baghdad" is what many soldiers of the U.S. Army Third Infantry Division were saying a year ago as they fought their way north toward the Iraqi capital. Three weeks later, when the division's First and Second Brigades captured both the city and its airport, reality settled in. No one had foreseen it, but they and the other ground troops would be in Iraq for a long time after Baghdad fell, more than a year for most of them.
As the troops came to the grim realization about their length of duty, America was coming to a grim realization as well. Most of the country supported President George W. Bush and his administration as they laid out the reasons for putting our troops in harm's way. We, too, supported the invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Clearly, it was a country in the grips of a criminal regime that routinely killed and tortured innocent masses of its own people.
And listening to the president and the members of his Cabinet, we believed the country had to act quickly, with or without support from the United Nations. With great urgency, the president and his top staff members persuaded us that Saddam still possessed weapons of mass destruction and that there was a grave threat that he might use them. Along with the rest of the country, we have since found out that we were misled by the Bush administration on this point.
Without qualification, we support our troops in Iraq and commend the job they have done and are continuing to do. The quick defeat of the murderous Baathist regime and the capture of Saddam on Dec. 13 were accomplishments that benefited the whole world. Their ongoing missions and sacrifices reflect honor on themselves and our country.
That's not altogether true for their civilian bosses in the Bush administration, however. Here's why:
We are glad Saddam is out of power and in custody, but in retrospect it's clear the attack on his regime was premature. We cannot, of course, leave Iraq now in its current unstable condition. We can, as a country, however, acknowledge the valid criticisms and work with as many of the world's major countries as possible in bringing a democratic and lasting new government to Iraq. The Bush administration paints its Iraq critics as appeasers who are soft on terrorism. The administration would be doing Iraq, America and the world a great service by abandoning such rhetoric and embracing policies that will actually bring about a safer world.