In April 2003, American-led forces toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein less than a month after invading the desert country.
A month later, President Bush infamously declared “Mission accomplished.”
In reality, the mission was just kicking into gear. And three years after the invasion, not only is the mission yet to be accomplished, but a Gallup Poll released Thursday showed support for keeping U.S. troops in Iraq at its lowest point since the invasion.
“The administration is paying the price for setting high expectations,” said CSU political science professor John Straayer.
Days before the 2003 invasion, Vice President Dick Cheney said he believed U.S. troops would be “greeted as liberators.” And in some places, for some time, they were.
But since then, at least 2,300 Americans have died in the war. Bush recently estimated that 30,000 Iraqis have lost their lives. Some place the number far to be greater.
The Iraq war has cost up to $250 billion so far, according to official estimates.
Bill Chaloupka, political science chair, called the president’s tanking Iraq approval ratings more the result of “death by a thousand cuts” than any one failure.
“No single event stands out, but there has been a stream of bad news for the president and his administration,” he said.
Bad news – the Jack Abramoff scandal, Hurricane Katrina, wiretapping American citizens, Abu Ghraib, etc. – along with a more critical eye by high-profile journalists has contributed to Americans’ perceptions of the Iraq war, he said.
According to a Pew Research Center report released last week, the single word respondents most associated with Bush was “incompetent,” whereas a year ago it was “honest.”
Following closely on the list were “idiot” and “liar.”
Straayer said the president clearly misled the public about the premises of the war, but he doesn’t know whether it was deliberate.
“We all exaggerate a little bit,” he said. “We’ve all caught really big fish, even on days we didn’t go fishing.”
But CSU student Eric Bergstrom disagrees. The junior computer science major said that although the intelligence turned out to be wrong; “everyone” believed it to be accurate at the time.
“I feel we should stay the course,” he said. “We really need to stay there.”
Even students who strongly opposed the war from the start said despite their original opposition, pulling out now would be a disaster.
“Now that we’re there, we’re kind of obligated to stay,” said Kent Walker, an environmental engineering graduate student. “If we do pull out, we alienate a bunch of people who will try to retaliate against us.”
The president’s problem, Straayer said, is a severe credibility gap. The professor even compared the Iraq war to the war in Vietnam, in that both conflicts made the public weary of trusting government.
“There’s a public perception that there’s a significant gap between rhetoric and reality,” he said. “(In Vietnam) the public came to understand that the information they were fed by the administration didn’t match reality.”
But even if the original justifications for going to war – Hussein’s possession or pursuit of banned weapons, and his ties to terrorist group al-Qaeda – didn’t hold water, some steadfastly believe in the morality of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
“The war is a right cause,” said Billy Barker, an Arkansas State University student who is in Fort Collins to do mission work with a church from Loveland. “If the war never would have happened, I feel there would be more attacks (on American soil).”
Vimal Patel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org