Meanwhile, two years into the war, America’s all-volunteer military force was being drained. With ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, there were not enough boots on the ground. To replenish their forces, officials raised the age limit for enlistment from 34 to 40. Tours of duty for soldiers were extended repeatedly, leaving many of them feeling tricked and demoralized. In particular, the military relied on call-ups from the National Guard, many of whom were “weekend warriors,” middle-aged men wrenched away from their families and jobs, at great sacrifice.
And what about Osama bin Laden — the all-but-forgotten villain behind 9/11? “We’re on a constant hunt for bin Laden,” Bush reassured America. “We’re keeping the pressure on him, keeping him in hiding.”
But Bush’s promises were wearing thin. The administration’s practice of transferring prisoners from Guantánamo to other countries where they might be tortured was called into question. There were multiple reports of brutal treatment of detainees by the government. Likewise, attorneys for Guantánamo detainee Salim Ahmed Hamdan, who had been Osama bin Laden’s driver, argued in court that their client must be afforded the same legal protections that American citizens have. The numbers of wiretaps and secret searches soared.
By late spring of 2005, approximately $200 billion had been spent on the war in Iraq. Tens of thousands of people had been killed. Countless more were wounded or living as refugees. There were no WMDs. Iraq’s oil riches were being destroyed by saboteurs and stolen by terrorists. A report prepared for the UN Human Rights Commission showed that malnutrition rates in Iraqi children under five had nearly doubled since the US invasion.
Yet the administration continued to assert that victory was around the corner. “The level of activity that we see today, from a military standpoint, I think will clearly decline,” Cheney told Larry King in May 2005. “I think that they’re in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency.”
But by the end of June, more than 1700 Americans had been killed in Iraq. Baghdad’s mayor decried his city’s crumbling infrastructure. The Iraqi capital of more than six million people was now plagued by shortages of electricity and fuel, incessant bombings and suicide attacks, and did not even have adequate drinking water for its residents. With one revelation after another about the Bush administration’s secret rendition policies, detention of prisoners without rights at Guantánamo, and Abu Ghraib, America, rather than Saddam, had become known for torture and abuse.
Then, on July 7, 2005, four terrorist explosions rocked London’s transport system at the height of rush hour, killing at least 33 and wounding roughly a thousand others. A group calling itself the Secret Organization of the Al-Qaeda Jihad in Europe later claimed credit for the attacks, and asserted that the attacks were payback for Britain’s involvement in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The bombings sent a ripple of dread through Americans, especially New Yorkers. Many people could not help but wonder if the war in Iraq might induce such attacks on American soil rather than prevent them.