Gene Lyons::Bush’s false dualism
Rhetorically speaking, George W. Bush’s most seductive argument for invading Iraq is that it’s better to "fight the terrorists around the world so we do not have to face them here at home." That’s what he said during his disastrous first debate with Sen. John Kerry. You hear his supporters repeating the formula every day. For some, it’s like this: Arabs killed Americans, so fighting terror means killing Arabs. Unfortunately, like much of his scripted, action/adventure film dialogue, Bush’s false dualism has prevented people from grasping the nature of the terrorist enemy, the vastness of the Arab world and the limits of American power.
The obvious problem, as Kerry reminded Bush, is that Iraq didn’t attack the United States, al-Qa’ida did. Maybe some insurgents attacking American targets in Iraq are allied with Osama bin Laden, maybe not. It’s almost beside the point. Many didn’t exist until the U.S. took down Saddam Hussein, a glorified mob boss who tolerated no dissent. Now there are so many guerrilla groups that U.S. military planners can’t keep them straight. "Unlike a classical insurgency," Brig. Gen. Erwin Lessel told The New York Times, "these groups don’t offer anything. They’ve got differing goals, competing ideologies, and don’t offer anything positive." They agree about kicking foreign invaders out of Iraq, period. What’s more, Lessel’s only referring to Sunni insurgents.
Shiite rebels, like those loyal to so-called firebrand cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, currently negotiating with the government, have their own ideas. For now, al-Sadr’s making nice; six months out, who knows? Meanwhile, al-Qa’ida terrorists keep plotting their hellish schemes on their own mysterious schedule.
See, that’s the thing about the Iraq invasion even Kerry won’t say: It didn’t demonstrate American strength, it demonstrated our vulnerability. It didn’t teach our enemies to fear the awesome might of the U.S. killing machine. It showed exactly what bin Laden, a cunning propagandist, told them: Americans have no compunction about slaughtering Arabs from the air. But they lack the ruthlessness to occupy Islamic countries for long.
"[T] here is nothing bin Laden could have hoped for more than the American invasion and occupation of Iraq," writes CIA anti-terrorist expert "Anonymous" in his chilling book, "Imperial Hubris." Basically, he argues that the U.S. either needs to reduce friction with Muslims by helping settle the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, stop propping up dictators like former CIA client Saddam or prepare for total war across the entire region.
"Shock and awe," they called it, like a rock band on tour. Intent to prove their theories, White House and Pentagon philosophers of empire, most of whom had never been to war, ignored repeated warnings that 130,000 U.S. soldiers, most of them support troops, couldn’t possibly bring order to a nation as big as California. Recent press accounts of Bush administration "planning" sessions on Iraq read like "Catch-22." Knight-Ridder’s Warren P. Strobel and John Walcott write of a meeting between war planners and intelligence officials at a South Carolina air base days before the invasion. The Army lieutenant colonel giving the briefing showed a slide describing the Pentagon’s plan for rebuilding Iraq after the war. "To be provided," it read.
So here’s the new plan, literally as I write: According to the BBC, Bush now says an Islamic republic in Iraq would be OK if that’s what voters choose. "I will be disappointed," he said in an Air Force One interview. "But democracy is democracy." Is that the flip-flop of little Republican feet I hear? Is that what Bush meant by "Mission accomplished"?
Does he not grasp that" Islamic" and "republic" go together like all those People’s Democratic Republics they used to have in Eastern Europe? The mind reels. Would that be a Shiite Islamic Republic allied with Iran? A Sunni Islamic Republic holding tea parties for al-Qa’ida? With or without veiled women and mandatory beards? If that’s all the White House hoped to accomplish, U.S. troops could have torn down that statue of Saddam and pulled out the next morning. Iraq could have gotten its now inevitable civil war started and more than a thousand patriotic Americans would not have had to die there.
That said, letting the Iraqis impose a theocracy upon themselves may be the least bad outcome of the Bush administration’s folly and incompetence. For months, I’ve been directing angry rightwingers to a Mercator projection, pointing out that the "Arab world" stretches from Morocco to Pakistan. We simply cannot wage war upon the entire region; there aren’t enough of us. In terms even Bush might grasp, Iran alone, a non-Arab Islamic republic far more unified than Saddam’s fragmented kingdom, is roughly 2.5 times bigger than Texas, with much more difficult terrain. But never mind.
Fearing defeat in November, Bush has signaled that he’ll declare victory and bug out. Next question: Who gets the blame?
• Free-lance columnist Gene Lyons is a Little Rock author and recipient of the National Magazine Award. http://www.nwanews.com/story.php?paper=adg