In response to the news that coordinated suicide bombs in Baghdad had killed several dozen people and wounded 200, George W. Bush pointed to the attacks as a sign of success. “There are terrorists in Iraq who are willing to kill anybody in order to stop our progress,” he told White House reporters. “The more successful we are on the ground, the more these killers will react.” A glib response might be, Then let’s hope for a little less success. More serious–much more serious–is that Bush is contributing to a growing credibility gap. As Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld noted in his famously leaked memo, “Today, we lack the metrics to know if we are winning or losing the global war on terror.” But that has not prevented the President from proclaiming that he’s “rolling back the terrorist threat.”
From the beginning, Bush has not been straight with the public–not just about the reasons for war and occupation but about the challenges and the reality on the ground. As Bush was hailing “progress” in Iraq, Doctors Without Borders and the Red Cross were cutting staff in Iraq because of the increase in violence. And when a reporter asked Bush, “What do you know about who is behind these attacks?” he replied with a specious syllogism: “The best way to describe the people who are conducting these attacks are cold-blooded killers, terrorists. That’s all they are. They’re terrorists.” Another reporter inquired whether the security problems in Iraq were impeding the hunt for weapons of mass destruction. Bush replied, “Again, I will repeat myself, that the more progress we make on the ground…the more desperate these killers become.” He did not refer to the supposed ongoing search for the weapons of mass destruction he once claimed were there.
Comparing Iraq to Vietnam, though tempting, is not always a useful analogy. But GOP Senator John McCain has noted a similarity that is instructive: The Administration is dishing out explanations and spin that are out of sync with the situation. As America figures out how to handle the massive task Bush has created for it in Iraq, the last thing we need is a credibility gap. But that’s what Bush offers the troops, who are in danger, and the American people, who must bear the mounting costs of Bush’s war.