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Inside Politics
Mark Shields is a nationally known columnist and commentator.

Time for apologies

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WASHINGTON (Creators Syndicate) -- Do you remember when Saddam Hussein -- who at the time was dividing his time between a hole in the ground and a shed piled with dirty clothes and was obviously not commanding any organized opposition -- was captured last December 14?

Former Vermont Governor and then-Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean actually dared to spread the ugly truth that, while a very good thing, "the capture of Saddam has not made America safer."

Such candor brought down the wrath of Dean opponent Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Connecticut, who fumed, "Howard Dean has climbed into his own spider hole if he believes the capture of Saddam has not made America safer."

Lieberman looks like the soul of restraint compared to Wall Street Journal opinion columnist James Taranto, who wrote: "It's not easy to cram so much idiocy, mendacity and arrogance into nine words. ... Dean's assertion is impossible to support rationally."

As more young Americans daily make their last, long trip home from Iraq -- in body bags -- how many of their families and neighbors feel safer because Saddam Hussein is today in custody?

Do you think any one of the 40,000 or so foreign policy-national security gurus who ridiculed and condemned Howard Dean, last December, has for so much as a microsecond thought about apologizing or had even a flash of self-doubt?

Everyone, of course, is entitled to her own opinion, but not to his own facts. In a democracy, the informed consent of the governed depends upon their free access to the truth.

Americans were urged and encouraged by the nation's leaders to make the most serious of all judgments -- the awesome decision to go to war -- because of the weapons of mass destruction the despot controlled and would not hesitate to use against the United States.

None of that was true.

But because Saddam Hussein is out of power, the United States' pre-emptive war against Iraq -- which continues to cost a billion dollars a month, the loss of friends and trust around the globe, the enmity of millions, and more young widows and orphans -- becomes somehow retroactively the " right" thing.

The lies continue. President George W. Bush boasts of the nation's all-volunteer armed forces: "We have seen the great advantages of a military in which all serve by their own decision."

The truth is that as of last month, no fewer than 44,500 American soldiers who had fulfilled their contractual obligations, completed their enlistments and made plans to return to civilian life or retirement were frozen -- by an arbitrary "stop-loss" order -- on active duty.

A survey by the military's Mental Health Advisory Team found the suicide rate among GI's stationed in Iraq to be 35 percent higher than among Army troops wordwide.

We do not have an all-volunteer service today. The reality is that we now have a limited military draft. But the only Americans who are subjected to the current "draft" are those who have already demonstrated their patriotism by volunteering to serve in the military and have then served honorably.

There is a class difference, too, in proudly classless America. All the sacrifice of this war is being borne by the minority of our population who overwhelmingly do not go onto college. While nearly 50 percent of the U.S. adult population has some college, barely six percent of our military recruits have any college.

One of the "advantages" of the all-volunteer military the president chooses not to mention is that under the draft, which was in effect until 1973, fewer than 10 percent of the draftees failed to complete their obligation.

In the vaunted all-volunteer military, more than one out of three of today's soldiers fails to complete his initial enlistment. Among white male recruits, the failure to complete their enlistment rate is 35 percent, and among white female recruits, it is 55 percent.

The official duplicity and deception that characterized American policy in Vietnam must have taught us all that the credibility of every American leader is fragile and perishable.

The leader who misleads his countrymen reaps the whirlwind. The leader's punishment is the mistrust of his fellow citizens. Mistrust is the father of cynicism, and cynicism breeds alienation -- which will wound the nation more profoundly than Saddam Hussein in or out of custody.

Click here for more from Creators Syndicate.

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