Hubris ... President George Bush delivers his victory speech on board the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln in May 2003. Photo: Reuters
WASHINGTON: The mood of Americans seems to back President Barack Obama's decision to be abroad for the 10th anniversary of the US-led invasion of Iraq, notwithstanding that he is a guest of one of the most vocal supporters of yet another Middle East war – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
In Congress, there was little mention of a war in which almost 4500 Americans died and 34,000 more were injured, and which, depending on who is counting, slapped as much as $3 trillion on Washington's credit card.
Instead of the cloying solemnity that often is a hallmark of national occasions in the US, Obama cracked jokes with reporters.
Press mentions of the anniversary on the day and in the week preceding were only a third of those in the corresponding period for the 10th anniversary in 2011 of the September 11 attacks; and just three-quarters of mentions in 2007 of the 10th anniversary of the death of Princess Diana.
Public opinion seemed to be behind that low-key approach. If anything, there has been a swing away from the view that it was a mistake to send troops to fight in Iraq – now at 53 per cent in a Gallop poll, compared with 63 per cent recorded on the fifth anniversary in April 2008.
Before flying out, Obama acknowledged the anniversary in a brief statement, in which he paid tribute to the "courage and sacrifice" of 1.5 million Americans who served in Iraq.
"On this solemn anniversary, we draw strength and inspiration from these American patriots who exemplify the values of courage, selflessness and teamwork that define our armed forces and keep our nation great," he said in just two paragraphs, making no mention of the estimated 130,000-plus Iraqi civilians who died in the conflict or of the 50-plus who died in a wave of bomb and gun attacks in the hours before its release.
Instead of the cloying solemnity that often is a hallmark of national occasions in the US, Obama cracked jokes with reporters about the green tie he wore for St Patrick's Day and Congress busied itself debating whether the White House Easter egg hunt could survive the latest spending cuts.
The anniversary was not without its awkward moments. The White House needed to champion Obama's long-standing opposition to the Iraq war, but he also felt obliged to be optimistic about Iraq's future.
"Ridding the world of Saddam Hussein was a welcome development for the world and for Iraq," his spokesman Jay Carney told reporters. And if that sounded like an endorsement of Obama's predecessor, it was.
Asked if the perceived betterment was a result of the decision to invade, Carney agreed, adding: "And to the extent that credit is due, credit is due to [George W Bush] for that."
Bush kept his own counsel, but former vice-president Dick Cheney told an interviewer: "If I had to do it over again, I'd do it in a minute." The former defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld invited ridicule on social media for a self-congratulatory tweet on a conflict he had predicted at the time "could last six days, six months". His message read: "10yrs ago began the long, difficult work of liberating 25 mil Iraqis. All who played a role in history deserve out respect & appreciation."
Those who supported the war were mocked in opinion pieces by having their hubris revisited – not just the usual suspects such as Cheney, Rumsfeld and former deputy defence secretary Paul Wolfowitz.
Writing in Mother Jones, David Corn recalled passing the late columnist Christopher Hitchens in the lobby of the Fox News Studios in New York in August 2003 – just five months after the invasion. "'Don't worry about this war,' he was kind enough to tell me.
'Wolfowitz has the rats on the run – it'll all be over soon.'"