Posted on Wednesday, July 27, 2005
Sooner or later, somebody’s going to have to be irresponsible enough to suggest a sane way out of Iraq. The futility of expecting the Bush administration to acknowledge its epic bungling is obvious. The president speaks in tired formulas that no longer even seem calculated to persuade. "The only way our enemies can succeed," George W. Bush said recently, "is if we forget the lessons of Sept. 11—if we abandon the Iraqi people to men like [Abu Musab al-] Zarqawi." Most Americans now understand that occupying Iraq has made the U.S. more vulnerable to terrorism, sapping U.S. military strength while sowing fanatics like dragon’s teeth. Polls show that 66 percent believe, correctly, that Bush has no realistic plan to extricate U.S. troops.
Name-brand Washington Democrats aren’t much better. Ever since Bush bum-rushed Congress into writing him a blank check before the 2002 congressional elections, the "responsible" (i. e., safest) position on Iraq has been to appear on TV yakfests prating about America’s commitment, sacrifice, determination, etc. Some even emulate GOP faculty lounge toughs, accusing skeptics of Bush’s noble plan to turn Mesopotamia into Iowa of lacking patriotism or failing to comprehend that terrorists are evil.
These lofty sentiments are made more acceptable because, apart from the uniformed military, nobody’s sacrificing a damn thing. (I’m a fan of "Operation Yellow Elephant," a tongue-in-cheek effort to get Young Republicans to enlist. Maybe they should try some Democratic Leadership Council keyboard warriors, too.) They disguise the reality that America’s first pre-emptive war has turned into a political and strategic disaster, and that the longer American and British troops remain in Iraq, the worse things are apt to get.
Since everybody’s so fond of World War II analogies, here’s mine: Iraq is Dunkirk. If we want to win the greater war, we need to pull out ASAP. We’re overextended, overexposed and surrounded. The U.S. never sent enough troops to begin with and reinforcements aren’t coming.
Strategically, the greatest beneficiary of Iraq’s "regime change" has been neighboring Iran. The winners in January’s elections were two Shiite religious parties and Kurdish nationalists. The Kurds have long been allied with Iran, with its large Kurdish minority.
Both Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari’s Dawa Party and SCIRI—the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq—seek a religious state much like Iran’s. The two countries have exchanged recent high-level state visits. The Iraqis apologized for Saddam Hussein’s brutal 1980s aggression against Iran, vowed that nobody (guess who) would be allowed to attack Iran from its territory and promised reparations. The Iranians pledged oil pipelines and refineries.
These actions have driven the Sunni Arab insurgency to new levels of barbarity. Sunni fundamentalists hate Persian Shiites even more than Americans, who will be leaving some day, after all, while the Iranians remain. "We are capturing or killing a lot of insurgents," a senior Army intelligence officer recently told The New York Times. "But they’re being replaced quicker than we can interdict their operations. There is always another insurgent ready to step up and take charge."
Apart from understanding that it’s a bizarre mixture of Islamic fundamentalists and Baathist militarists, American officers privately admit they know no more about the insurgency than they did the day Saddam’s government fell. By slaughtering Shiite civilians (and turncoat Sunnis), the insurgents are clearly trying to start a civil war and prevent an Iraqi constitution formalizing their hereditary enemy’s power over them. After all, Sunnis have run Iraq since the days of the Ottoman Turks.
Should a three-way civil war get under way—Sunni insurgents fighting against Iranian-trained Shiite militias, with Kurdish peshmerga troops retreating to defend their own territory—hardly anybody thinks coalition troops can prevent sheer bloody chaos from overrunning the country.
Last week, veteran New York Times correspondent John F. Burns filed a somewhat tardy analysis suggesting that civil war has already begun—tardy, because Burns now tells us that when Ambassador John Negroponte arrived in Iraq last year (he’s returned to Washington to become intelligence "czar"), his team" called the departing Americans ‘the illusionists,’ for their conviction that America could create a Jeffersonian democracy on the ruins of Saddam Hussein’s medieval brutalism. "Needless to say, that wasn’t the official line at the time. Now, Burns writes, senior American officers privately admit that all this brave talk about training an Iraqi army —" As Iraqis stand up, we will stand down" was Bush’s cinematic line—may consist largely of equipping rival tribes and factions for a slaughter. Furthermore, if we’re going to be bloody-minded about it—and it’s about damn time somebody was—the only outcome bad for American security would be an al-Qa’ida friendly government in Baghdad. That outcome seems unlikely now, but more likely the more Iraqis we kill. Remember that tough-talkers telling you differently predicted a "cakewalk" and insisted that Iraq had no history of ethnic violence.
–––––—Free-lance columnist Gene Lyons is a Little Rock author and recipient of the National Magazine Award.
FEEDBACK: Something to say about this topic? Submit a Letter to the Editor online