A Proud Nation Should Be Sorry

By Norah Vincent, Norah Vincent, a columnist based in Yardley, Pa., is a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

On Memorial Day, a grateful nation is meant to give thanks to all the servicemen and -women who have risked and lost their lives fighting on behalf of the United States. This last Monday in May will be no different.

We will and should say thank you a million times over to our veterans, as well as to those now serving overseas.

But in light of recent disasters like the one currently devolving in Iraq — a country that, all the experts agree, is teetering on the brink either of all-out anarchy or civil war — instead of just expressing the usual perfunctory gratitude, maybe we should also be saying we're sorry. It seems the least we can do. So here goes.

To all the servicemen and -women, alive, dead or injured in Iraq, we send out the following apology: We're sorry that you planned and executed your military strategy so remarkably well, only to find that the barnacles in Washington hadn't quite perfected their post-bellum game plan.

We're sorry that our airlifted bureaucrats dropped the ball in the end zone after you endured blinding sandstorms, infernal heat, gaptoothed supply lines, the cowardly tactics of the enemy and the loquacious menace of embedded journalists — and after you made such remarkably quick work of Saddam Hussein's chimeric Republican Guard and craven regular army.

We're sorry they hustled you into peacekeeping in an impossibly chaotic capital roiling with more than two decades' worth of repressed rage and sectarian hate — a mission that you were neither trained nor empowered to perform, but for which they nonetheless held you responsible even while they arrogantly denied you the proffered assistance of the United Nations and our erstwhile Security Council opponents France and Germany.

We're sorry that they declared an end to the hostilities in absentia, while you were still taking sniper fire, and sent half your fellow soldiers home just when you needed them most. What did they know about what was really happening on the ground?

We're sorry they didn't tell you to arrest or shoot looters on sight until after the locals had carted away irreplaceable ancient artifacts from the Iraq Museum, pillaged hospitals and palaces and swiped everything of value from under your noses while you were left to watch, impotent and idle atop your idling tanks.

We're doubly sorry they allowed the bed-lice correspondents to film the scene of your humiliation in detail, zooming in on all those brazen, smiling thieves waving at the camera and winking at you. We should have changed the channel when the insatiable 24-hour news networks broadcast that farcical footage ad nauseam around the world as evidence of Tommy Franks', or Donald Rumsfeld's, or Jay Garner's or somebody else's bungled command.

We're sorry they made you exhibit A of their incompetence. You did your job. Those in Washington didn't. And you took the bullet for it.

In short, we're sorry, as our hokey president himself might have put it, that you rushed to Baghdad only to be left holding the bag.

We're sorry that our hardy-har commander in chief dropped like the dopiest of deus ex machinas onto the deck of an aircraft carrier and used you for the cheapest of all cheap photo ops. The sign over his head read "Mission Accomplished," but you knew better, didn't you? His mission was accomplished, sure. He'd had his slick victory and come out clean, even if you were left stuck in the mud — or is "quagmire" at long last le mot juste?

Yes, regrettably, as it turns out, your buddies had to die in combat not in order to make the situation better in Iraq but, it seems, to make it worse and, of course, to get the president reelected. We're really, really, really sorry about that.

But, then, I guess when it comes right down to it, sorry just doesn't cut it now, does it?

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