Opinion

Bush, Cheney thought they could unite Iraq while dividing U.S.

If you want to know why we are losing in Iraq, reread a recent front page story in The Times that began:

"Two years ago, Robin C. Ashton, a seasoned criminal prosecutor at the Department of Justice, learned from her boss that a promised promotion was no longer hers. 'You have a Monica problem,' Ashton was told. Referring to Monica M. Goodling, a 31-year-old, relatively inexperienced lawyer who had only recently arrived in the office, the boss added, 'She believes you're a Democrat and doesn't feel you can be trusted.' Ashton's ouster - she left for another Justice Department post two weeks later - was a critical early step in a plan that would later culminate in the ouster of nine U.S. attorneys last year.

"Ms. Goodling would soon be quizzing applicants for civil service jobs at Justice Department headquarters with questions that several U.S. attorneys said were inappropriate, like who was their favorite president and Supreme Court justice. One department official said an applicant was even asked, 'Have you ever cheated on your wife?' Goodling also moved to block the hiring of prosecutors with resumes that suggested they might be Democrats, even though they were seeking posts that were supposed to be nonpartisan."

What does this have to do with Iraq? A lot. One benchmark the Bush team has been urging the Iraqi government to meet is to rescind its broad "de-Baathification" program - the wholesale purging of Baathists after the fall of Saddam - which has alienated many Sunnis and hampered national reconciliation.

But while the Bush team has been lecturing the Iraqi Shiites to limit de-Baathification in Baghdad, it was carrying out its own de-Democratization in the Justice Department in Washington, D.C. We would feel that we had failed in Iraq if we read that Sunnis were being purged from Iraq's Ministry of Justice by Shiite hard-liners loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr - but the moral equivalent of that is exactly what the Bush administration was doing here. What kind of example does that set for Iraqis?

Only a united America could have the patience and fortitude to heal a divided Iraq - and we simply don't have that today. Why? Because George Bush and Dick Cheney asked everyone to check their politics at the door when it came to Iraq, because victory there was so important - everyone but themselves. They argued that the war in Iraq was the central front of the central struggle of our age - an unusual war, a war against terrorism and the pathologies that produce it - but then they indulged in the most rancid politics as usual at home.

They actually thought they could unite Iraq, while dividing America.

Whenever Bush and Cheney had a choice between seeking political advantage at home or acting in a bipartisan fashion to buy more unity, time and space to do all the heavy lifting needed in Iraq, they opted for political advantage.

The Bush-Cheney team summoned us to D-Day and then treated it like it was just another political wedge issue, whenever it suited them.

Democrats need to be careful, though, that they don't let their rage with the hypocrisy of Bush make them totally crazy, and blind them to the fact that they - we - still need a credible plan to deal with the very real threat to open societies posed by Islamist terrorism. But I understand that rage. After all, who can ask more soldiers to sacrifice their lives in Iraq for an administration that wouldn't even sacrifice its politics?

Thomas L. Friedman, a columnist for the New York Times, can be reached at New York Times, editorial department, 229 W. 43rd St., New York, NY 10036.

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