On May 1, off the coast of California, President George W. Bush landed in flying gear on the deck of the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln which sported a banner reading MISSION ACCOMPLISHED and said, "Major combat operations in Iraq have ended." The war, said Bush, had been carried out "with a combination of precision and speed and boldness the enemy did not expect, and the world had not seen before."
But the mission wasn't accomplished then, and it still is not. The reconstruction of Iraq has proved far more difficult than any official assumed it would be. Since May 1, 170 U.S. soldiers have died in Iraq, as sporadic guerrilla attacks have continued. Two potential leaders of the new Iraq Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim and Akila al-Hashimi, a member of the U.S.-appointed Governing Council in Iraq have been assassinated. Also dead is Sergio Vieira de Mello, the U.N. chief representative in Iraq, who was killed when a bomb exploded at U.N. headquarters last month. After a second bombing last week near the building, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan ordered a reduction in the size of the organization's mission already much smaller than it had once been for reasons of safety.
Over the long, hot Iraqi summer, frequent power cuts made life unbearable for millions, while the flow of oil, which the Administration had hoped would fund Iraq's reconstruction, was, on some days, less than half what it had been before the war. And despite five months of searching, the weapons of mass destruction (WMD), whose possession by Saddam Hussein had been the principal reason advanced by Bush for the war, are still nowhere to be found. "There are challenges greater than we anticipated," said a White House official last week, while insisting "In time, the benefits of our actions will be quite obvious."
The number of Americans to whom those benefits are obvious right now is in decline. In the latest Gallup poll, Bush's approval ratings dropped to 50%, the lowest since right before Sept. 11, 2001. Some critics of the Administration's hard-liners pull no punches. "It reminds me of Vietnam," says retired Marine General Anthony Zinni, who headed the U.S. Central Command from 1997 to 2000. "Here we have some strategic thinkers who have long wanted to invade Iraq. They saw an opportunity, and they used the imminence of the threat and the association with terrorism and the 9/11 emotions as a catalyst and justification. It's another Gulf of Tonkin."