by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
October 13, 2006
IRAQ, IRAN AND THE FOLLY OF FAITH-BASED FOREIGN POLICY
CHESTER, Vt. -- The latest New York Times/CBS News poll has President George W. Bush's approval rating down to 34 percent. More telling, though, is that 83 percent of those who responded to the poll say Bush is either "hiding something or mostly lying" about how things are going in Iraq.
This is the logical conclusion of what former Ambassador Peter Galbraith called the Bush Administration's "substitution of ideology for national security strategy, of wishful thinking for reality."
Galbraith appeared with former United Nations weapons inspector Scott Ritter here on Oct. 7. They delivered brutally frank assessments of the ongoing U.S. occupation in Iraq and the possibility of a U.S. attack on Iran during a two-hour joint presentation.
Both men have just come out with pertinent books on the current situation in the Middle East.
Galbraith, who was the first U.S. ambassador to Croatia and who helped negotiate an end to the war in that country in 1995, says his new book, "The End of Iraq," is partly a memoir of his two decades of involvement in Iraq, partly a critique of U.S. policy since 2003 and partly "a prescription for what I think should happen next (in Iraq)."
Ritter, a former Marine Corps intelligence officer who was the top UN weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991 to 1998, has written extensively on Iraq over the past four years. But in his latest book, "Target Iran," Ritter switches his focus to the Bush Administration's plans for that country.
Neither man was particularly optimistic about the future of Iraq, and that lack of optimism can be traced back to the aftermath of the U.S. invasion and how it was handled. The looting and chaos following the fall of Baghdad in April 2003, Galbraith said, set the tone for what followed.
"The Pentagon failed to do even the most elementary planning for the postwar period," said Galbraith. "To the Iraqis, the perception was that we were either so incompetent that we could not secure their country or so evil that we allowed the chaos to happen."
The outcome, Galbraith said, was a classic example of "the first victim of propaganda is the propagandist. ... They wanted to transform Iraq by making it a democratic state and, in the process, transform the Middle East. This was their vision, an incredibly radical thing to do."
Galbraith described this thinking as "faith-based military strategy," and said it was a disaster waiting to happen. He said the Bush Administration now cannot win this war, "if winning is defined as creating a stable and democratic Iraq. If we're not going to build a unified, democratic Iraq, then we should change the mission to fit the resources and realities."
Some of those realities include the formation of a separate Kurdish republic, something that is now all but official in Iraq. As the most stable, pro-U.S. part of Iraq, Galbraith believes it is the most logical place to withdraw U.S. troops to.
As it stands now, Galbraith believes the current U.S. force is powerless to intervene in the ongoing civil war without substantially increasing troop strength and taking over more of the responsibility for security - something that would greatly increase the risk of heavy U.S. causalities.
"Events in Iraq are happening beyond our power to influence them," said Galbraith. "Civil wars have their own dynamic and once they get started; they empower the extremists on both sides."
Ritter was even more blunt about the situation in Iraq.
"We're losing," he said. "We're getting our butts handed to us."
But even more frustrating to Ritter is what he believes is a general lack of understanding by most Americans about what war is really about.
"The burden is on us," he said. "We are responsible for the debate about whether the sacrifices we are asking our young people make are worthy of their sacrifice."
The U.S. casualty totals in Iraq - nearly 2,800 dead and more than 20,000 wounded - "is the true cost of our ignorance (of war)," Ritter said.
While the general sentiment of the more than 150 people who attended the lecture was against the war in Iraq, Ritter said that they shouldn't be fooled by opinion polls that say more than 60 percent of Americans are against the war.
"Sixty-five percent may be against the war in Iraq, but don't think this means that 65 percent are against war itself," he said. "If everything worked right in Iraq, we wouldn't be have this debate now. All this means is 65 percent of Americans are against losing."
Before the Iraq invasion, Ritter was one of the most prominent critics of the Bush Administration's claims that there were nuclear, chemical and biological weapons in Iraq.
Considering that most of what Ritter said about the lack of weapons in Iraq has been proven accurate, he said that he hoped that it wouldn't be as easy for the news media to belittle his views on Iran.
"I have the benefit of history," he said. "It won't be as easy to dismiss it."
Ritter says plans for a U.S. attack on suspected nuclear production sites in Iran have been made, despite the recent determination by the International Atomic Energy Agency that there isn't enough evidence that Iran is making components for a nuclear weapon.
"We have excellent intelligence on Iran," said Ritter, "but the truth is not conducive to achieving the (Bush Administration's) goal of regime change."
Ritter said that Iran is more concerned about a resurgent Iraq than about Israel. He also said that while he dislikes the regime in Iran, during his last visit there, in September, he was greeted warmly by ordinary Iranians.
"Iran is not black and white. It's not good against evil. It's gray. Very gray," said Ritter. "If you want to solve the problem [of Iran possibly building nuclear weapons], you need to talk about genuine diplomacy and we haven't even begun to do it."
Will there be an attack? Ritter said he hopes there won't, but if there is, he said that if Americans think what's happening in Iraq is bad, a war with Iran will be far worse.
"Congress has pretty much capitulated," said Ritter. "The public debate is over on Iran. Seventy percent of Americans says Iran is trying to get nuclear weapons, so the Bush Administration doesn't have to sell this war. We're in a very dangerous climate right now."
While Galbraith disagreed with Ritter's assessment, saying he has hope "there will be a different Congress soon," Ritter is convinced that an attack on Iran is imminent.
"The new National Intelligence Estimate reaffirms the Bush Administration's prerogative to intervene in any country it deems to be a threat, and the country that's named the most is Iran," said Ritter. "And if we use nuclear weapons in Iran, this game will not end until some Islamic group detonates a nuclear weapon in this country. Which city are we prepared to lose if that happens?"
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 25 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at email@example.com.