Maybe we should think of Iraq as a test war. You know, a test of whether we can win a war with leaks, lawyers and litigation.
The Bush administration didn't plan on any of these problems in Iraq, of course. George W. Bush's idea was that we'd win with a lightning military strike in 2003, declare "Mission Accomplished" and then move on to Syria and Iran. To W., the key ingredients for success were moral clarity and advanced technology; everything else would take care of itself.
But instead, the fighting has dragged on -- literally in Iraq, metaphorically everywhere else. In addition to warriors and materiel, America shipped lawyers and bureaucrats to Iraq. It's nice to have an organizational structure for an ongoing enterprise, but such structures have a way of leaking sensitive data, including embarrassing photographs of abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison, as well as more serious allegations about U.S. soldiers' atrocities against Iraqi civilians.
On the home front, a different kind of war has raged -- a war not only against the Bush administration, but against the tools that this president, or any president, would find useful in the larger war on terror, transcending Iraq. The New York Times, for example, eagerly printed details about the National Security Agency's wiretapping programs last December; amid the backlash against those disclosures, the journalistic establishment rallied 'round the Times, awarding it a Pulitzer Prize for its report. For good measure, The Washington Post won a Pulitzer, too, for its report on the CIA's secret prisons in Europe.
And just last month, the Times, and other newspapers, did it again -- printing information about the U.S. government's effort to trace terrorists' financial networks. The papers said, in effect, that "everybody knew" about the effort, although one might ask: If there was no real news in the stories, why did they end up on the front page?
In fact, probably 99 percent of the world's people had never heard of the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication before the disclosures. Now we all know that it is headquartered in Brussels; moreover, from now on, any time anyone, including an al-Qaida operative, happens to see the acronym SWIFT on a computer screen, he or she will be reminded that some sort of monitoring might be in the works. Killers can be careless, even dumb -- but is it really wise to keep tutoring them about what to look out for?
Working closely with the media on the anti-war cause, of course, are litigators and law professors. Reporters seem to think that law schools, instilling liberalism and proceduralism, are the proper gateway to public service. That's why Jane Mayer, writing in the July 3 New Yorker, expressed dismay that so few top officials in the Bush administration are lawyers -- in stark and unhappy contrast to the Clinton administration.
The leaks 'n' lawyers crowd scored yet another victory over Bush last week, when the Supreme Court ruled against military tribunals for Guantánamo inmates. Reporters and editorialists cheered, but is it really good news that Congress and the country will be tied up on this issue for years to come? Let's put it another way: Does this ruling increase the likelihood that more al-Qaida terrorists will come spilling out of Gitmo? And where will they go, and what will they do?
In Monday's Washington Post, former president Jimmy Carter sprang forth with another idea to bolster the Leaker Industrial Complex: Expand the Freedom of Information Act, so that still more federal government secrets can come tumbling out.
Folks, we couldn't have won World War II like this. In Vietnam, we sort of fought this way, and we know what happened there. And now, Iraq.
Yet after Iraq, there still will be the challenge of defending the homeland. And because that's a war we can't afford to lose, we might be thinking now about how to fight it differently.