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Politics

Iraq-Bush Revisited

THE ARTICLE BELOW IS AN UPDATED VERSION OF THE ONE SENT OUT ON 28 OCTOBER, FOR THE BENEFIT OF PAPERS THAT DID NOT USE THE ORIGINAL AFTER LAST WEEK’S BOMBINGS IN BAGHDAD.

3 November 2003

The Iraqi Quagmire and the US Election

By Gwynne Dyer

Sixteen US soldiers killed by the Iraqi resistance in September, thirty-three killed in October — and eighteen killed in the first two days of November. More and more American casualties in the north of Iraq around Mosul, an area that was relatively free of anti-US attacks until last month. And as the situation in Iraq spins out of control, the disarray in the occupying forces grows more acute.

“Certainly these attacks seem to have been the operations of foreign fighters,” said Brigadier-General Mark Hertling, deputy commander of the 1st Armored Division, after four suicide bombs in one day in Baghdad left dozens dead and hundreds injured. Not at all, said Major-General Raymond Odierno, commander of the 4th Infantry Division: “My initial feeling is, this is former regime loyalists doing this with maybe minor coordination with a few people that might not be from Iraq originally.”

Meanwhile, back in Washington, US President George W. Bush explains why Iraqis and/or foreign fighters are resisting the US occupation of Iraq in terms that any child could understand: “[They] can’t stand the thought of a free society. They hate freedom. They love terror. They love to try to create fear and chaos.” Trouble is, grown-ups find this sort of explanation…well, childish. Does Mr Bush really believe that people (weird Muslim people) go around thinking to themselves: “I hate freedom. I love terror”?

It’s a mess that’s going from bad to worse — and yet, we are constantly told, it would be even worse if the United States pulled out of Iraq now. All the American and British pundits say so, even the relatively sensible ones like John Pike of GlobalSecurity.org: “The problem at the moment is that if they turn the country over to the Iraqi Governing Council…some guy with a moustache is going to come in and shoot them and say he’s in charge.”

The message is clear. Whatever we may have thought about the idea of invading Iraq in the first place, we must now support the US occupation for two or three or five years or however long it takes, because the only alternative is the return of Saddam Hussein or somebody very like him.

But is that really true? Imagine that George W. Bush and his chief political strategist Karl Rove called in some independent advisers – not the current policy-makers, who are shackled to the commitments and strategies they advocated in the past, but genuine outsiders — and asked them how to manage policy and perceptions in the twelve months left until next year’s presidential election. It’s a safe bet that they would identify the Iraq quagmire as the biggest obstacle to Mr Bush’s re-election.

If they were worth their salt, they would then recommend that he pull US forces out of Iraq now: announce that America’s mission in Iraq has been accomplished with the destruction of the Baathist regime, and ask United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan to take over the task of building a civil society and a decent government in the country. ‘Declare a victory and leave,’ as they used to say in the Vietnam era.

The United Nations would still need troops to maintain order in Iraq, of course, but large numbers of blue-helmeted soldiers from other countries — mostly Muslim countries that have no direct border with Iraq, like Pakistan, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Egypt, and Algeria — would almost certainly become available if US troops were all pulled out. It is suspicion about US motives and unwillingness to work under US command that currently keeps those countries away.

Would that stop all the bombs and ambushes? Probably not, but it would eliminate the mistrust of American motives among ordinary Iraqis that currently gives the resistance fighters a friendly and supportive environment to operate it. It would get US troops out of the firing line. And it would NOT necessarily end with some ‘guy in a moustache’ walking in and taking over.

To argue that this is the only alternative to a continued American occupation reveals a deep contempt for the aspirations and abilities of Iraqis. The Iraqi Governing Council, purged of obvious Pentagon carpet-baggers like Ahmed Chalabi, would represent most of the more powerful groups in Iraqi society. If it got real power and credibility under a UN administration, it might well succeed in holding free national elections within six months or so. Iraqis are not fools, and most want to see their country reach a safe, democratic harbour.

So why doesn’t the Bush administration grasp this lifeline? Perhaps because it would require the wholesale replacement of all the powerful people in the administration who advocated the Iraq adventure in the first place, and probably also the cancellation of all the lucrative contracts and oil concessions that Mr Bush’s business cronies and campaign contributors think are coming their way. That may be more than he can handle — but what else can he be thinking might come along to ease his path to a second term in November, 2004?

Another terrorist attack on American soil would be more likely to drive panicked voters back into Mr Bush’s arms than to turn them against his administration, and al-Qaeda will certainly provide that if it possibly can, for its leaders understand that Mr Bush is their best recruiting agent. If the terrorists can’t get it together, then what Mr Bush needs is another short, victorious war against an alleged ‘terrorist state’ next spring or summer to distract the voters’ attention from the mess in Iraq. Syria would do just fine.

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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 3 and 5. (“Meanwhile…terror”;and “The message…him”)