Saturday, March 18, 2006

Three years in Iraq

The very fact of a three year anniversary of the war in Iraq is an indictment of the appalling misjudgments of the Bush administration.

It was with gung-ho optimism that Bush, Cheyney and Rumsfelt sent the troops in to remove Saddam confident that the job could be done quickly with a small, efficient fighting force; that the people would come out into the streets greeting the Americans as their liberators hailing the dawn of freedom and democracy; that the commercial opportunities for wealth creation would be enormous; that a new stability would come to the Middle East as friendly Iraq became an alternative base for troops rather than the increasingly uncertain Saudi Arabia; and that abundant oil supplies would be ensured.

After the initial conquest of Baghdad President Bush declared Mission Accomplished. All that remained was to find the WMD and destroy them.

The judgments that formed the invasion policy were so hideously wrong that both Iraq and the USA are paying for it dearly with bombing, death, near civil war and the worst ever national debt. It is a nightmare scenario that the stupid, shortsighted neo-con naivete of Washington could not conceive.

Whatever rousing talk spews forth from the mouths of Bush and Runsfelt (Cheyney is almost silent) that the job must be completed and we must not cede the day to the enemy by running home - we must never cease to hold the White House responsible for their ghastly failure to understand the true nature of terrorism and the longstanding mistrust of American foreign policy and hatred of American cultural imperialism by most of the Islamic world.

Intellectual realists knew this to start with.

Hatred towards a perceived oppressor does not easily die. It took over 30 years in small Northern Ireland to get the IRA to abandon guns and bombs (and we're not sure they've done it yet). The Israel/Palestine question is no nearer to resolution than it has ever been. The Tamil Tigers never were defeated; the Mujahadeen drove the Soviets out of Afghanistan and the Viet Cong saw the US Army out of View Nam.

Terrorism survives because the seed bed in which it grows consists of ordinary people; families with women and children, who feel aggrieved by a cause that strikes at the very core of their beliefs and way of life. No propaganda changes their minds or hearts. Children learn to hate the enemies their fathers kill as soon as they are old enough to speak. There is no question that their cause is righteous and their tactics morally justifiable. Women tend the wounded and bury their sons because love for their men is a strong as the gunman's hatred of the oppressor.

You cannot eliminate these profound convictions - so different from ours, by rounding up suspects and incarcerating them in interrogation camps carefully positioned beyond the reach of law and inspection. Bombing does not change hearts, it hardens opposition; and that works both ways, from both sides. Only killing on such a scale that approximates to genocide or ethnic cleansing can eliminate this kind of opposition. This was been the solution of the Nazis, and miscellaneous African states including the Sudan. It was the policy of Saddam Hussein - although he was restrained from completing his ambitions. It is the philosophy of Hamas towards Israel.

Unless the United States is prepared (with its Iraqi friends) to kill all the family support systems that nurture the men we call terrorists, terrorism will remain alive and vicious. Since this is an impossible moral position for the United States to take it follows that the USA cannot defeat terrorism by engaging in armed struggle. Only dialogue and diplomacy stretched out over decades can bring a change.

The conservative mentality of the voters of the United States did not see this three years ago. They marched to the tune of "We must support the Commander in Chief in the hour of peril" and "We must never undermine our troops who are in harm's way." This veneer of loyalty only glossed over the widespread political immaturity of American voters. But three years on the veneer is wearing very thin. The President is widely unpopular (Hello - we tried to tell you he was not up to the job, but you didn't listen!). The war is now perceived as a mistake (Hello - we told you to start with, but you wouldn't listen!). The oil and other revenues that would have flowed from a clean take-over of Iraq have turned into bottomless pits of financial loss.

The President is now stomping the country again on a sort of one man crusade to turn the tide in favor of his mistakes. But he is no orator. Others write his speeches and lend some respectability to his arguments. But get him off his prepared rhetoric and he is incompetent and inarticulate; probably an embarrassment to his colleagues back in the White House. His Social Security reform program foundered as soon as his words died from his mouth. His Medicare reform has run into huge problems. His fine words of support for the post-Katrina recovery program have left millions of voters cynical that he exercises any moral leadership at all. Scandal and sleaze dogs his staff including the office of the Vice President. Let's face it - the hubbub over a semen stained dress was a picnic in the park compared with the dreadful mess this inept President has led us into.

Sure, there is no easy way out of Iraq. But talk about certain victory is a tactical and rhetorical mistake. There can be no victory. We can only look for the best possible solution; and an expensive and bloody one at that.

The Democrats need to come clean about their own political idiocy when the war began. They were trounced into supporting the President because it would have seemed fundamentally disloyal to America, at the time, not to have done so. They were in a bind. Based on the intelligence they had they gave reluctant support. It was very hard to crystallize a policy to oppose the invasion. Yet the warnings of a flawed basis for the invasion were all there.

Remember, Hans Blix and his team spent months following up on intelligence passed to them from the US on likely weapons locations or nuclear facilities. They consistently found none. Did nobody piece this together - US intelligence was consistently WRONG?! Iraqi scientists were being flown out of the country and questioned about Saddam's programs, and the UN team could not gather sufficient evidence to build a case for WMD.

But so convinced was Bush - egged on by Cheyney and his backdoor non-intelligence from Chalabi - that they were right that he brushed Blix aside like some irritating fly and plunged in to sort the matter out himself.

Democrats - that was all open to you at the time. But you lacked the political insight to make a stand on this. You therefore got dragged into the Bush invasion folly. There were other methods that could and should have been pursued. Unfortunately such methods as those proposed by the French were simply held up to ridicule and as a mark of American intellectual power we renamed French fries Freedom fries. Democrats should have been quicker off the mark to denounce Bush's freedom lies.

In time, the propaganda to the American people changed. So there were no WMD. No matter - the freedom of the Iraqi people is what mattered. Saddam needed to go anyway. The USA was now embarking on a great drive to deliver democracy to the world as the philosophical cure to terrorism. Well now - that is another story.

For now, we are marking the third anniversary of a war of such growing unpopularity that much as we feel for our troops fulfilling their Mission Impossible, we must take the opportunity to say again that the whole bloody mess is a direct consequence of the stupid and foolish judgments of an inept neo-con administration, and the sooner the people can vote next November to correct the folly they put in power by the last popular election, the better. Democracy at home might begin to win.