Given that this weekend’s talk shows were on the eve of the fourth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq there was only one topic on people’s minds, Iraq.
We might start by remembering what President Bush said four years ago, when he announced the war to the American public. He said:
Our nation enters this conflict reluctantly — yet, our purpose is sure. The people of the United States and our friends and allies will not live at the mercy of an outlaw regime that threatens the peace with weapons of mass murder. We will meet that threat now, with our Army, Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard and Marines, so that we do not have to meet it later with armies of fire fighters and police and doctors on the streets of our cities.
Well, we’ve long since realized there were no weapons of mass destruction. So what now? Well, on Face The Nation Secretary Gates confirmed that yet another Bush administration rationale for staying in Iraq is false.
SCHIEFFER: Let me just challenge the conventional wisdom here. The president said that if we leave, they’re going to follow us here. And this appears to me to be a civil war. Why would they stop fighting each other, which is what they seem to be doing now? Why would they take a break in that and decide to try to challenge America somewhere down the line if we leave?
GATES: Well, I think — first of all, I think that they are not going to follow our troops into Kuwait. The notion that al Qaeda is going to follow our troops is probably not right.
And then there was this truly touching Hallmark card type admission:
SCHIEFFER: All right. Let me ask you one other thing. I read that you now are writing personal letters to every family who has lost someone in Iraq. Why did you decide to do that? It must be a very difficult thing.
GATES: This is what I do, unfortunately, virtually every evening. And I guess it’s because I feel a personal responsibility for each one of these men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. And it’s a small gesture to the families that I personally am involved and that I personally very much care and have great sorrow over the sacrifice that their son or daughter or husband or wife has made.
SCHIEFFER: These are hand-written.
GATES: The bulk of the letter is a typed letter, but I always add three or four lines of hand-written, personal feelings at the end.
Meanwhile, over on THIS WEEK ON ABC National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley dutifully regurgitated the carefully scripted and by now fairly irrelevant Administration talking points:
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: As American troops begin a fifth year in Iraq, there is some evidence that the surge is bringing down violence in Baghdad. But the total cost of this war is far higher than anyone predicted four years ago. More than 3,200 U.S. military dead, at least 24,000, about 60,000 Iraqis killed, and by the end of this year U.S. taxpayers will have spend more than 500 billion dollars on the war.
Here to discuss this today, one of the men who’s been on the president’s team since the beginning as National Security Advisor, Stephen Hadley. Mr. Hadley, those numbers are sobering and a solid majority of Americans now looking at that cost say the war was a mistake. It wasn’t worth it. Would President Bush have started this war four years ago if he knew the costs would be this high?
STEPHEN HADLEY [National Security Advisor]: I think he would. You have to go back to where we were four years ago, the point of this war was to make the United States safer and the American people safer. And what we faced with Saddam Hussein, a man who had used weapons of mass destruction against his own people, against his neighbor, had invaded two of his neighbors, who was a state supporter of terror, oppressed his own people, the international community had been trying to deal with this man for about 15 years and finally it came to the point whether the will of the international community was going to be enforced or not. That was phase one.
What we then saw was al Qaeda coming into Iraq, using it as a base of operations, trying to establish it as a base of operations against the neighbors —
STEPHANOPOULOS: But the point was to prevent that, wasn’t it?
HADLEY: Well, the point, of course, was to get rid of Saddam Hussein, who for a 20-year period had shown himself to be a threat to peace and that was achieved. We had al Qaeda in Iraq before Saddam Hussein was toppled. You have to remind people that Zarqawi was in Iraq, had plans up in the northeast part of the country.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But he wasn’t working with Saddam Hussein. The intelligence has been pretty clear on that.
And over on FOX NEWS SUNDAY Senator John Kerry took advantage of a rare opportunity on the unfair, unbalanced, network to set the record straight:
WALLACE: Senator, as you just pointed out, Congress, the Senate voted this week and rejected a plan in part authored by you, by a vote of 48 to 50 to call, to begin the pullout of troops, and eventually to set a goal of pulling them all out within a year, when you are still, and you needed not —
KERRY: No, Chris, that’s wrong. Can I interrupt you there? I’m going to interrupt you there?
The Civil Rights Act didn’t pass immediately. The important pieces of legislation take time. We will change this policy over time. The reason I wanted to interrupt you there is because you and others in the media, and particularly on the Republican side of the aisle, continually characterize the plan we put forward as a complete withdrawal of all the troops, and as a precipitous withdrawal. It is not a complete withdrawal. It specifically allows the president the discretion to leave troops there, to complete the task of training the Iraqis, and that is fundamentally all we ought to be there for.. It allows the president to leave troops there to chase al Qaeda, and prosecute the war on terror. And it allows him to leave troops to protect American facilities and forces. Now, six years into the war, really what more could you want for our troops to be doing? This has got to — this debate has to be real, not a straw man debate where you set up a phony deal which is precipitous and complete withdrawal. It is a responsible plan that allows us —
WALLACE: Senator —
KERRY: To stay positioned against Iran, and do what we need to protect American interests.
WALLACE: Let me just say for the record, I never said it was a complete withdrawal, or a precipitous —
KERRY: Yes, you did. You go back and look at the transcript, you said all the troops out.
And, over on MEET THE PRESS we saw, for a refreshing change, at least one Democratic congressman brave enough to point out Republican obfuscation:
TIM RUSSERT: Congressman DeLay, is the war in Iraq worth the cost in life and treasure?
TOM DELAY [Former Representative, R-TX]: Well, you said it yourself, Tim. It’s been four years since America has been attacked by these terrorists. We seem to forget that we are at war, and when you are at war, you’ve got to fight that war to win rather than fight the war for political posturing.
We have been fighting that war — sure, it’s been tough. We’ve had to write a complete new war manual on how to fight terrorists that want to kill women and children. If you compared that note to, say, the Vietnam War in the same period of time, you’re talking about much more in casualties and relative spending.
RUSSERT: Congressman Andrews — worth the cost in life and treasure?
REP. TOM ANDREWS [D-ME]: You know, Tim, it’s incredible to me to hear Mr. DeLay start his answer with your question by saying that we were attacked on 9/11 in answer to a question about Iraq. Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, we know that for a fact, despite what the administration said, despite what their supporters said in Congress. They had nothing to do with it.
As a matter of fact, because we took our eye off the ball of those who actually were responsible for 9/11, according to the bipartisan Iraq study group, we are now emboldening them, strengthening them in Afghanistan and in the Pakistani border where Osama bin Laden happens to be. They are strengthening precisely because we have diverted our attention and our resources away from Afghanistan, away from the war on terror on Iraq.
And then there was this from the predictably self-serving Richard Perle who, it should be remembered, was one of the strongest supporters of a U.S. war against Iraq:
RUSSERT: Mr. Perle, is the war in Iraq worth the price we pay?
RICHARD PERLE: Forgive me for saying it, but I think it’s the wrong question. It’s a bit academic, for one thing, but the question is what is in our national interest now? What is going to make Americans safer?
I disagree with what we’ve just heard — a defeat in Iraq brought about, in the worse instance, by a precipitous withdrawal would have terrorists around the world celebrating. It is the idea that the United States can be defeated that motivates terrorists, and we have Osama bin Laden himself saying that and saying it repeatedly.
So the question the country faces now is not — is this a reason — is this a bargain — is it a reasonable price? The question is what do we do? And I think we have to win this war, and I hope that the new strategy that’s been adopted will enable us to do that.
Finally, on CNN’s LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER Stephen Hadley confirms the escalating numbers in the troop surge to Iraq:
BLITZER: Originally when the president announced the additional troops that had to go to Iraq, he spoke about 21,000 or so. But now that number has gone up to 28,000 and getting closer to 30,000.
If the commander, General Petraeus, wants additional troops, do you see that number even increasing behind this approximately 30,000 level?
HADLEY: Let’s be clear what the president said. The president talked in his speech about additional combat forces. And he talked about five brigades going to Baghdad and about 4,000 troops as a net plus up in al-Anbar province to deal with al Qaida.
He talked about combat forces. As everybody knows, when you have combat forces, there is a combat support tail that follows. Bob Gates talked about that with — the secretary of defense talked about that with General Pace here two weeks ago and said there would be an increment of combat support, probably 10 to 15 percent.
In addition, General Petraeus told the Senate when he was confirmed that if he need more forces, he would ask for them. And he asked for two additional increments, one to deal with detainees and one to deal with an aviation brigade, to give him greater helicopter capability.
BLITZER: And that brings the number closer to 30,000.
HADLEY: That brings it about to 30,000. At this point in time, there are no pending requests from General Petraeus. This is his assessment at this point in time of what he needs to do the job.
BLITZER: And so you’ll wait to hear if he needs more.
Just for the record approximately 30,00 troops means there has been about a 40 percent increase in the number of troops since the original announcement of 21,500 troops for the surge.