On Native Ground
BUSH MUST CONFRONT HIS MESS IN IRAQ
by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. - Last year, we heard the gloating.
This year, the people who then bragged about what a success the U.S. invasion of Iraq had been are now not saying much.
Remember how they brushed off the post-victory looting and rioting as nothing serious? How they maintained the faith that we would find those much ballyhooed stockpiles of chemical and nuclear weapons? How they steadfastly believed that Iraq would soon be on the way to peace and prosperity and that the oil that would be gushing from Iraq's oilfields would more than cover the cost of the U.S. occupation?
Now, those thoughts seem as ridiculous as the day President Bush dressed up as a combat pilot and strutted on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln to give his speech saying that major combat operations in Iraq had ended. He said those words under a big sign that read "Mission Accomplished."
How fast the fictions of this whole adventure unraveled. U.S. forces swept into Baghdad because we secretly paid off the Iraqi commanders to take a dive. The stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction were not found because they had never existed in the advertised forms and quantities. America's handpicked leader for postwar Iraq, Ahmed Chalabi, not only had no support from Iraqis, but also fed the Bush administration and most of the Western media the lies about those phantom weapons of mass destruction - lies that became the main justification for the war.
The people that dreamed up and advocated invading Iraq envisioned an post-war occupation that would be similar to the nation-building in Germany and Japan after World War II. They never imagined that the Iraqi occupation would look more like the Israeli army's experience in the West Bank.
I take no pleasure in writing these words. I am thoroughly disgusted with the unfolding tragedy in Iraq - a tragedy that never had to happen.
There never was a compelling reason to invade Iraq. But the deed was done. I would love to see an admission from President Bush that perhaps it wasn't a good idea. But the words "accountability," "responsibility" and "apology" aren't in his vocabulary.
President Bush's April 13 news conference was a frightful thing to behold. I suppose it wasn't that shocking that he seemed totally oblivious to the reality that the ongoing chaos in Iraq was created by an ill-conceived war and a poorly planned occupation. But his total certitude that what his administration is doing is right should frighten people, especially his response to a question about whether the U.S. is caught in a Vietnam-style quagmire.
"That analogy is false," the President said. "I also happen to think that analogy sends the wrong message to our troops and it sends the wrong message to our enemies."
In other words, anyone who questions what is going on in Iraq is a traitor. Shut up, and get on the team.
But even that strategy, which worked so well in the run-up to the invasion to cow the opposition into silence, isn't working anymore. A recent Newsweek poll found nearly two-thirds of Americans now believe that Iraq could turn into another Vietnam.
While I agree with President Bush that, in his words, "the consequences of failure in Iraq are unthinkable," I believe that the Bush administration's stubborn refusal to adjust its strategies to the current realities will ensure that the unthinkable will happen.
These are the realities. Iraqis no longer want U.S. occupation forces on their soil. Instead of a civil war, we're seeing Sunnis and Shiites, traditional bitter foes, joining together to fight U.S. forces. It's not al-Qaida operatives killing American soldiers. Nor are they "Saddam remnants," "bitter-enders," "criminals and thugs" or any of the other epithets that have been thrown around. This is an Iraqi insurgency and the U.S. forces are the target.
For all the Bush administration talk about bringing democracy to Iraq, most Iraqis know that the June 30 handover of power to an interim government is a sham. The U.S. plans to maintain several large military bases in Iraq. There is no agreement on what an interim government will look like, but Iraqis know it will be one with U.S.-approved leaders that will carry out U.S.-approved policies. Iraqi sovereignty will be in name only, for the U.S. will continue to maintain military and economic control.
This is a policy that guarantees that the U.S. will be stuck in Iraq for years to come as occupiers fighting a colonial war against a population that wants them gone.
I believe it doesn't have to turn out this way. The Bush administration has to acknowledge that a lower U.S. profile is needed. The postwar stabilization and reconstruction of Iraq has to become an international effort - with the United Nations crafting a political solution and organizing elections in exchange for the U.S. ceding some political control. This would open the way for all the countries who refused to participate in the Iraq invasion - France, Germany and Russia chief among them - to offer economic and military assistance under UN auspices.
At this point, I don't care how doing this would affect the presidential election. Too many Americans and Iraqis have died already and more will continue to die it the Bush administration's current go-it-alone strategy is pursued.
Is it too much to ask for some common sense to prevail?
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.