Steve Chapman

The Plame leak is not the biggest of the administration's detours from its promises. During the campaign, Bush said Clinton's cardinal mistake was "to launch today's new causes with little thought of tomorrow's consequences." You could ponder for days and not come up with a better description of how we went wrong in Iraq.

Conditions in Iraq are not entirely within the U.S. government's control. But conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center can't be blamed on Sunni insurgents or al Qaeda terrorists. They can only be ascribed to the people in charge, who didn't make a priority of assuring that those wounded in battle would be treated in a manner commensurate with their sacrifice.

Bush once promised to do right by our men and women in uniform. During the campaign, he fumed that many of them had paltry incomes and poor housing. "This is not the way a great nation should reward courage and idealism," he announced, "It is ungrateful, it is unwise, and it is unacceptable."

So what words would serve to describe a military hospital where injured soldiers were subjected to filth, neglect and bureaucratic incompetence? This week, Bush pronounced the situation "unacceptable." What he didn't say is that until now, those conditions, though not acceptable, were somehow accepted.

The biggest surprise was that, unlike in past debacles, someone in a high position got fired for the failure. Maybe this time, Bush woke up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, suddenly recalling what he said in 2000: "An era of tarnished ideals is giving way to a responsibility era."

Tarnished ideals we've got. Responsibility we're still waiting for.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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