The “new approach” in and to Iraq, specifically, and public policy, generally, proposed by President Bush brings to mind two aphorisms. The first, from Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1841: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen. . .”; the second attributed to Albert Einstein, “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.
No one has ever doubted that this president is consistent or steadfast in his resolve to continue to take the same steps and follow the same principles, secure in his belief that, this time, things will work out for the better.
In spite of all evidence to the contrary, Mr. Bush believes he can achieve “victory” in Iraq and against world-wide terrorism through brute force of arms. The president has, indeed, shifted and restated his rationale from invading Iraq. Originally, we commenced war against the Iraqi regime in retaliation for the attacks on the United States in September, 2001. The assertion was made (and still is made by the Vice-President) that Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda were confederates of Saddam Hussein, in spite of the history of hostility between the leader of Iraq and the bin Laden. The latter had been an enemy of Suddan’s regime due to its secular aspects and, in addition, to the close ties that Hussein had had with Bush (41).
Next, aggression was justified by the “weapons of mass destruction” held by the Iraqi dictator. This expression came to be such a cliché that the words themselves lost meaning; they became a bumper-sticker slogan. Among these weapons, which have yet to be discovered, were said to be vast depositories of nerve gas agents. From did Hussein originally acquire these weapons, including nerve gas and other toxins? In the Reagan and first Bush presidencies, the United States and its allies willingly armed Saddam; he was “our guy” because he was at war with Iran. (Iran, by the way, under the Shaw was our friend until that despotic leader was overthrown. Oh what a web we weave…)
Next rationale for invasion and aggressive war against a country that posed no immediate threat to the United States was the issue of “yellow cake” from Niger from which enriched uranium could be extracted and, thereafter be made into a nuclear weapon. This, too, has been disclosed to have been a “Oops, sorry”.
Finally, the stated justification was that Saddam was an evil person who had committed atrocities against his own countrymen and, therefore, needed to be removed. None of this is untrue, but the United States has a long history of doing business and maintaining friendly, if cool, relations with some very bad people: Augusto Pinochet in Chile, Manuel Noriega in Panama, Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia and the Saudi ruling family, the country that spawned bin Laden, the home land of the terrorists who destroyed the World Twin Towers, who finance Islamic fanatics and, oh yes, the rulers who control a whole bunch of oil.
On May 1, 2003, President Bush made a dramatic landing on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, flight suit, swagger and white helmet held high. At that time, Mr. Bush proudly spoke in front of a banner, “Mission Accomplished” and said,
“Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed. And now our coalition is engaged in securing and reconstructing that country. “
It has now been over three years since the “mission” was “accomplished”. Saddam has been captured and executed in a display of utter vengeance. The president says that success in Iraq is now only a new surge of troops away.
Perhaps, but we have gone the “surge” route before. Last year Operation Together Forward introduced an influx of American forces in order to stabilize Iraq, control the “insurgents” and bring peace to the country. It was an utter failure, the new troops were additional targets; the Iraqi forces, so creatively touted by the Administration, failed to “show up”.
Now the president urges the deployment of 20,000 additional troops to secure Baghdad and, at the same time, perform additional training for the Iraqi National Police and army. With all due respect to the president’s office, there seems to be a consensus of opinion that the latest surge will not succeed, that we will be faced with the same issues of stay/withdraw six or eight months from now, but with hundreds of more dead servicemen and women and, perhaps, thousands of additional young Americans without arms or legs.
It is fine that many backers of the president have come to acknowledge the disastrous reality in Iraq. For too long, the president and his supporters insisted that things were better than news reports portrayed, and they defended a “stay the course” strategy. At the very least, both sides of the debate on Iraq now share one view: The current situation is a disaster that is only getting worse. The question is: What do you do about it?
The essence of the president’s plan is to send an additional 22,000 troops to Baghdad and Anbar Province, primarily to protect the non-combatant populace. This is simply not going to work. Our presence is a magnet for violence. U.S. soldiers and Marines patrolling on foot or holed up in neighborhood outposts will be bombarded with attacks from anti-occupation insurgents. To protect themselves, U.S. forces will have to respond, relying on their massive firepower to fight off attacks, putting Iraqi civilians in the crossfire and only making the security situation worse.
Moreover, it is doubtful that United States military can cool down the internal conflicts that are fueling the Iraqi civil war (because that’s what it is, now) and stabilize Iraq. It certainly cannot be done with an additional 22,000 troops, and that is true even if our servicemen and women all spoke Arabic and could distinguish Shia from Sunni from Kurd. In 1972, the British had 43,000 troops in Northern Ireland (equivalent to the United States having 750,000 troops in Iraq) to mediate the emerging conflict between Catholics and Protestants. Yet, despite knowing the culture and speaking the language, the British were ultimately unsuccessful in solving the British-Irish conflict through military means alone., and their presence resulted in an increase in violence.
It seems clear that the “surge” offered by the president will not succeed in “winning the war” whatever “winning” means. And even more frightening is the apparent glances by the president toward Iran and Syria as potential evil regimes that must be addressed/attacked. The president was candid:
“Iran is providing material support for attacks on American troops. We will disrupt the attacks on our forces. We will interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria.”
So we have a tactic that will not succeed, a threat to other nations in the region that invasion is possible and a president and administration that is clearly out of touch with reality. Fred Kaplan of Slate Magazine spoke for many of us:
“All we can muster for Iraq is a paltry 20,000 extra troops; even they will accomplish little without massive infusions from a dubious Iraqi military and miraculous political breakthroughs from a faltering Iraqi government – and President Bush, at such a desperate moment, talks about expanding the war to Iran and Syria?”
America should be frightened!