From Richmond to Baghdad

Another week, another letter to the editors of the Oregonian that I expect will never see the light of day. Which is a shame, because today — Day 1,458: three days before the fourth anniversary of the invasion — is the day that the war in Iraq reaches yet another milestone: it’s lasted as long as the American Civil War.

The American Civil War had origins dating back to before the establishment of the United States, but the war itself is generally acknowledged as having begun with the attack on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861. The Confederacy formally surrendered almost exactly four years later, when Generals Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee met at Appomattox Courthouse on April 9, 1865.

March 16, 2007 marks the day when the war in Iraq has lasted as long as the American Civil War.

To win the Civil War, the Union Army not only had to protect the nation’s capitol — just across the Potomac from Confederate Virginia — but it had to attack and control a territory four times the size of Iraq. Technologically, the two forces were virtually evenly matched: cannons, rifles, wagons, horses.

The outcome of the war was no foregone conclusion. The Union army suffered massive defeats in the early years and incredible losses even in its victories. President Lincoln took his responsibility seriously. He knew that if the war was to be won, it had to be won expeditiously, and he removed a string of commanders he felt moved too slowly before finding Grant.

Aside from their fictions about why it was necessary to invade Iraq, the Bush administration has never shown the same willingness to commit to their own supposed goal. From the failure to send enough troops to keep the peace after the initial invasion to the lack of equipment to the recent revelations about conditions for wounded soldiers, the entire affair has been run in a lackadaisical manner. Those who advocated the war in both political parties never contemplated that they needed to do anything beyond sending some soldiers to Iraq and dropping some bombs. They’ve wanted to run the war on the cheap because then not as many people get upset about all of the dead soldiers or the rationing, or the conscription. Instead, we get tax cuts for the rich and obscene profits for private firms doing what military conscripts used to do, like heavy construction and running mess halls.

In four years, a much smaller United States of America was able to defeat the Confederate States of America. In an even shorter period of time, the United States built hundreds of ships, thousands of tanks and planes, and sent troops to the Pacific, North Africa, Asia, and Europe to help defeat the Axis powers in World War II.

The administration has had four years of failure in Iraq. It’s time for the American people to realize that the administration simply had no idea what they were getting into and no idea of what they are now doing.