"When America uses force in the world, the cause must be just, the goal must be clear, and the victory must be overwhelming,'' said George W. Bush in 2000, when accepting his party's nomination.
With 9/11 the cause was just … war on terrorism.
The response was to root out the Taliban and Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. But overwhelming victory remains elusive. The Taliban is still killing Americans, and Osama Bin Laden lives to plan another 9/11.
In Iraq, a new goal: eliminate weapons of mass destruction the administration insisted threatened America. But there were none.
Then the goals started shifting … get rid of Saddam. And then … something far harder, far fuzzier … bring democracy to Iraq.
"That looks highly uncertain, at best,'' said Jessica Tuchman Mathews, with the Carnegie Endowment For International Peace.
The price is being paid in blood - almost a thousand Americans dead, nearly 7,000 wounded.
Said Mr. Bush in 2000: "I would be very careful about using our troops as nation-builders."
But President Bush's first term in office will be remembered for just such an effort.
America promised to rebuild this country, but little has been done. That means Iraqis still live in the misery of destruction that awesome American firepower left behind. To the Iraqi people, it is a promise yet to be kept.
The one goal above all others -- winning the war against terrorism.
But Iraq may hinder, not help, winning that war. Once unified under an iron-fisted dictator, it is now a series of regions ruled by tribal or religious leaders – a breeding ground for terrorists from all across the Middle East.
Terrorists united by one cause, to strike Americans and America.
"You have to conclude that the war, so far, has made us substantially less safe,'' said Tuchman Mathews, with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Americans can be forgiven for doubting if the goals are still clear, and for worrying that overwhelming victory -- indeed, any victory -- is something we may never have.
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