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Thursday, January 12, 2006 | George W. Bush, who had as bad a year in 2005 as a president can have, last week invited a group of “notables” to the White House to hear a report on how well things are going in Iraq. The day he chose for the meeting, Thursday, Jan. 5, was unfortunate: it was the same day 130 Iraqis and 11 Americans were killed in Iraq. Since then, another 20 Americans have been killed and at least 50 Iraqis.

For confirmation of Albright’s point, read the recent statement of Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s leading writer: “These days the lies about the war in Iraq and the reports of secret CIA prisons have so damaged the West’s credibility in Turkey and other nations that it is more difficult for people like me to make the case for true Western democracy.”

The U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq is the biggest strategic blunder since Vietnam, and Bush and his entourage refuse to listen to anyone with ideas for changing policy, like, for example, setting a timetable to get out. Bush has destroyed Iraq and isolated America and instead of listening to former officials who might have some ideas, he gave them the bum’s rush. Henry Kissinger, Warren Christopher and Caspar Weinberger had the right idea: They sent their regrets.

Albright was right to speak out. In the face of the Iraq catastrophe, to attend such a meeting and remain silent (as Colin Powell did) is dereliction of duty.

The meeting was another example of how far our nation has moved under Bush from its democratic and bi-partisan foreign policy traditions. I’m reminded of a famous meeting called by Richard Nixon at the height of the Vietnam War, when the Mansfield Amendment – to bring U.S. armed forces home from Europe – was about to be voted in the Senate. Nixon invited to the White House a similar group of worthies, including Dean Acheson, George Ball, John McCloy, Cyrus Vance, Lucius Clay, Henry Cabot Lodge and Lauris Norstad, and won their agreement to oppose the amendment.

“We all had our fighting gloves on,” said Acheson afterward. Asked why the meeting went on so long, he replied, “because we are all old and we are all eloquent.”

The Mansfield Amendment, sponsored by the leader of the Democratically-controlled Senate, went down to defeat, 61-36.

The fatal flaw of this administration has long been clear: a partisan policy to divide and conquer, that in wartime is alien to our traditions and self-defeating. The bunker mentality that prompted Bush to invite in the notables last week was a showy attempt to win support at a time Iraq teeters on the edge of disintegration and Bush “strategy” has never looked worse. This week a study by Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz indicated the costs of Bush’s war will top $2 trillion.

The extent of the confusion is shown in Bush’s recent statements that the military will determine when U.S. troops can begin to be withdrawn from Iraq.

America’s problem in Iraq has never been military. It has been civilian and political since Bush launched the war over the objections of nearly every U.S. military man who could speak out and on the advice of a handful of misguided civilian advisers such as Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Lewis Libby and Douglas Feith, none of whom is still around. For Bush to leave the outcome in Iraq in the hands of war commander Gen. George Casey makes no more sense than it made for Lyndon Johnson to leave the outcome in Vietnam in the hands of war commander Gen. William Westmoreland.

At Thursday’s meeting, only four of the 13 invitees were Democrats, but among the nine Republicans were several who have not been strong supporters of Bush’s war, including James Baker, Larry Eagleburger, William Cohen and yes, Powell, whose reputation was destroyed by Iraq but could not find it in himself to speak a word at the meeting. I’d give more than a penny to know that man’s thoughts.

Bush, who shows more signs of Johnson’s bunker mentality each day, is not interested in listening to anyone. Like Johnson, Bush sticks to a failed policy because, like Johnson, he is more interested in how history judges his “manhood” than in the lives of those dying in this hopeless conflict. Johnson, too, was afraid history would condemn his “manhood” if he changed course, only to discover that history is more interested in results than in presidential reputations.

Surrounded by his worthy guests last week, Bush played the king among courtiers, but it did him no good in a nation where he continues to lose support, even in his own party, even in the latest military polls. The Republican Congress, deep in its own ethical morass because of crooks like Tom DeLay, Jack Abramoff and Duke Cunningham, makes every effort to keep its distance from a pariah president who defends torture, institutes illegal secret spying on Americans and pronounces DeLay “innocent” even as he is stripped of power in the House and goes to trial in Texas.

History will judge this administration’s failures as unprecedented. Searching for a presidency that combines greater failure in both foreign and domestic policy, one finds nothing that even comes close. The history of the Bush years is a history of stupidity, failure, corruption, favoritism, cronyism, debt and war.

Remember the one Bush domestic initiative that was supposed to divert attention from all his failures? It was called privatization of Social Security.

With corporate and government pension plans collapsing right and left, if Bush dared bring up that idea today he would deserve to be impeached.

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