Editorial: Five years later (Times Argus)

Five years later and where are we? True, the tyrant Saddam Hussein is gone, and while we'll shed no tears for him we need to remember that as evil as he may have been he had no connection to the events of 9/11 and that his humiliating capture and execution did nothing to help the United States track down the actual architect of that awful act, Osama bin Laden.

In fact, by shifting American resources from Afghanistan to Iraq, we apparently gave bin Laden breathing room and therefore he remains Public Enemy No. 1. What's worse, the struggle to nurture democracy in Afghanistan has become far more difficult in the past few months and there is no reason to believe that the capture of Bin Laden is imminent.

So, what achievements should Americans be proud of since the United States invaded Iraq in 2003? That we left entire arsenals unguarded so that insurgents found a ready source of weapons to use against our troops (nearly 4,000 have died since the invasion)? That we foolishly disbanded the Iraqi army, on the orders of a mediocre (but trusted) bureaucrat named Paul Bremmer? That we grossly mistreated our prisoners, to the point of torture (and punished only lower-level personnel while the military brass who oversaw the mistreatment got off Scot-free)?

Surely we're not proud that thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians have been killed, maimed and displaced and that essential services - water, sewer, electricity - are not yet back to pre-invasion levels. Or that our president, who seems increasingly unconnected to reality, has exploited our fear of further terrorist attacks to chip away at the freedoms guaranteed in our most precious national document, the Constitution of the United States, and accuses those who disagree with him of being "soft on terrorism."

Nor is it easy for Americans to understand the no-bid and lucrative contracts so generously handed out to well-connected private corporations that have reaped huge profits from their deals with the Pentagon and other federal agencies. And of course there's the continuing controversy over the level of medical care provided to American troops wounded in the Iraq war. It was left to reporters for The Washington Post to show us the scandalously bad conditions at Walter Reed military hospital.

What's particularly galling right now is that, in the middle of a presidential election campaign, the many questions surrounding the entire issue of Iraq have been relegated to the inside pages of our newspapers and given short shrift on both cable and network television. It's as if the administration's claims that the "surge" is working have persuaded all of us that Iraq's really not as important as it used to be.

But that's absurd. Even if right now the worrisome state of our economy demands the greatest attention, and even if military and political experts disagree over the net effects of the surge, Americans shouldn't disregard the fact that our men and women remain in harm's way, that Iraqi civilians are still being targeted by sectarian militias, and that al Qaida in Iraq, a group that didn't exist before the invasion, is a major threat. Moreover, does anyone really believe that Iraq's rival ethnic and religious factions will suddenly put aside their long-standing hatreds once American troops leave?

Bush, who by all accounts is serenely enjoying his presidency, insists history will validate his decision to invade Iraq.

The man is incapable of seeing things as they really are, which raises this question: Why do some people still support him?