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MONDAY, MARCH 20, 2006
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EDITORIAL

Invasion’s 3rd anniversary: Are U.S., Iraq better off?

A little over three years ago in his State of the Union address, President Bush declared that "sending Americans into battle is the most profound decision a president can make. The technologies of war have changed. The risks and suffering of war have not."

That much, at least, he got right.

On the third anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, consensus continues to grow that the invasion was a mistake. The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press issued a report Friday on its polling of Americans, showing that now only about half — 49 percent — believe the U.S. will succeed in establishing a stable democratic government in Iraq. That's down from 60 percent in July 2005 and 57 percent in December 2005. Meanwhile, the percentage who believe that our nation will fail in Iraq has gone up: 33, 37 and 43 percent in July, December and March, respectively.

And these are the answers poll respondents used most often when asked to give a one-word impression of the Iraq situation: mess, bad, chaos, terrible, disaster. Others used such expressions as hopeless, pitiful, Vietnam, and out of control. Those who said going to war in Iraq was the right decision did not describe the situation with much positive enthusiasm. They said it was improving, hopeful or good. "However, even among people who approved of the decision to invade Iraq, negative attributes outweighed positive ones by 2 to 1," Pew reported.

The Iraq invasion came in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and was supposed to make the United States safer from terrorists. But more Americans than not — 44 percent vs. 38 percent — think the Iraq war has hurt, not helped, the war on terror.

You may say that people's opinions do not necessarily reflect the facts of what's happening in Iraq. But the Bush administration's actions suggest that it concedes the public's fears are justified. Ever since it became apparent that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction, the administration has been redefining its goals in Iraq. Recently it has been trying to lower Americans' expectations while searching for a face-saving way to reduce American involvement there.

The challenge is to do this without leaving the Iraqi people in worse condition than we found them. Bush will argue that in any event, they're better off than they were under Saddam. Maybe so, but it's looking as if life in Iraq was at least more orderly and predictable under Saddam. Now we have violence, death, and, many observers think, the beginnings of a civil war.

Support for our troops in Iraq does not equate to supporting this administration's mistakes. Let's hope that before another anniversary, we can bring significant numbers of our people home while giving the Iraqis some chance to get out of the mess we helped create, whatever our good intentions.

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