On Native Ground
WAIST-DEEP IN IRAQ MESS, USE PRESSES ON
by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- It's tough to definitively designate the single stupidest statement ever uttered by President Bush, but his recent ill-advised challenge to the Iraqis who have been attacking U.S. forces - "Bring them on!" - would certainly be near the top of the list.
Between accidents and attacks, troops are dying in Iraq at the rate of a soldier a day. Some - like Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld - may think this casualty rate is relatively benign.
A few weeks ago, Rumsfeld compared the violence against U.S. forces in Iraq to an average day of mayhem in Washington, D.C. Unfortunately, Rumsfeld failed to point out that cops in our nation's capital are not getting fired upon with mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns.
No matter how the Bush administration spins it, things don't look good in Iraq. The current U.S. viceroy in Iraq, Paul Bremer, recently said that the U.S. "is going to fight them and impose our will on them" until "we have imposed law and order on this country."
That may take another 10 years and $360 billion to do. That's what the House Armed Services Committee recently estimated could be the timeframe and the monetary expense for the occupation of Iraq - an estimate the Defense Department isn't disputing. If the current U.S. military casualty rate remains the same, the human cost would be more than 3,500 dead and thousands more maimed.
I doubt that many of Gulf War II's supporters would still back the U.S. occupation of Iraq if the price tag for the Bush administration's adventure is clearly laid out for them. That would explain why the administration has been so coy about how long the occupation will last and how much of our blood and treasure will be expended to carry it out.
Few believed that the aftermath of the war would go smoothly, especially given the now-evident lack of planning for the postwar transition by the Bush team.
There are now about 150,000 soldiers and support personnel in Iraq. The so-called "Coalition of the Willing" that supported Gulf War II has contributed 12,000 troops, most of them British. There's talk of other nations sending in troops, but even in a best case scenario, it would amount to another 20,000 - far short of the 60,000 that the Pentagon is looking for.
Here's where Presidenty Bush's go-it-alone strategy has come back to haunt him. After bullying and alienating most of its allies, the U.S. is having a hard time finding volunteers to help clean up the mess that the rest of the world knew would result from an invasion of Iraq.
There is talk about getting NATO in charge of the occupation as a way of reducing the U.S. commitment. This begs the question of whether the nations who opposed Gulf War II and saw their honest concerns belittled and ridiculed by the Bush administration now want to save the skins of the people who wrote them off back in March.
We know the answer to that question. There is no way that France and Germany will want to send their troops to be cannon fodder for the imperial ambitions of the Bush administration. There is also no way that administration will admit their former allies were perhaps correct when they warned of the chaos that would come from a unilateral invasion of Iraq.
Nearly three months after the fall of Baghdad, electricity and water service is still sporadic at best. With the average daytime temperature hovering around 115 F., Iraqis are justifiably hot, miserable and angry at the U.S. for not restoring basic services.
So what is the U.S. doing in Iraq? Other than making sure that American corporations get first crack at the potential riches from the biggest privatization project ever undertaken in the Middle East, the answer would be not much.
Iraq isn't safer. Most of the top dogs in Saddam Hussein's regime are still unaccounted for. The people who were supposedly going to joyously welcome their American liberators are growing more resentful and restless with each passing day. And U.S. soldiers keep dying on behalf of an administration that boldly and repeatedly lied to convince the American people that an invasion of Iraq was necessary.
Our allies warned us this was going to happen if we invaded Iraq. Our unfinished war in Afghanistan - a war that's costing $1.5 billion a month to wage - also provided a warning of what might happen.
The U.S. Army is a formidable fighting force. It is not quite as formidable when it is drawn into guerrilla warfare, especially in a urban setting. In Iraq, U.S. troops are dealing with a well-armed and hostile population who are justifiably angry at what they see as an occupation force that may be around for years to come.
"They're getting tired of us," Spec. James McNeely of the D.C. Army National Guard told The Washington Post recently. "Wouldn't you be mad if they invaded your country?"
The U.S. troops in Iraq are restive. The steady drip, drip, drip of attacks and deaths has eaten away at their morale. You can't blame them for feeling that way.
"They will vent to anyone who will listen," one Army officer recently told The Christian Science Monitor. "They write letters, they cry, they yell. Many of them walk around looking visibly tired and depressed. ... We feel like pawns in a game that we have no voice (in)."
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books).