All Writings
September 19, 2004

A Pyramid Of Disastrous Illusions

For the past eighteen months this administration has lied to the American people about the rationale for war in Iraq, and it has compounded these lies by providing misleading information to justify its actions, topping all this by disseminating the disastrous illusion of a rosy future for Iraq. By now everybody knows there was no plan for how to govern the country once major combat was over, no strategy on how to secure Iraq in the post-Saddam era, and no consideration of the potential for armed resistence. Now the administration finds itself forced to settle for tactical military moves in its desperate efforts to stabilize the situation before the planned January election in Iraq, with the possibility of a civil war engulfing the whole country looming larger than ever. Whatever it takes to get out of the current morass, the Bush administration must first acknowledge the bitter reality of Iraq today and then turn to the United Nations for real help.

We were first told that the Iraqi people would greet American soldiers as liberators with roses and cheers; instead the Iraqis responded with bullets and boos. The growing insurgency, administration officials then said, will subside once Saddam Hussein is captured or killed; to which, we replied, the insurgency will intensify, and it did. But wait, they insisted, once the United States transfers power to an Iraqi civilian government on June 30, which the insurgents are desperate to disrupt, this will suck out the last breath of resistence, to which we said , no, the resistence will only escalate, and it has. Now the administration is telling us with a straight face that the insurgents are fighting for their lives in order to prevent the Iraqi people from participating in democratic elections to be held in January 2005. We say, with or without such elections, and regardless of the their results, violence in Iraq will continue to escalate unless the dynamic of how the United States is handling the situation in Iraq changes dramatically, and one of these changes must in any case be the departure of American troops.

Yet in the face of these realities, the administration stubbornly clings to the notion that once we pass the next dismal stage, Iraq will be on its way to normalcy, freedom, and democracy. No administration official seems to ever grasp that in the post-Saddam era, with its social, economic, political, religious, cultural, and demographic discords and diversity compounded by the chaos created in the wake of the American invasion, Iraq is simply not governable until the major grievances and concerns of its main religious/cultural sects are addressed. Remember the former "emperor" of Iraq, Paul Bremer, who summarily discharged what remained of the Iraqi military and disbanded the bureaucracy in the name of ridding the country of Ba'athist influences? Has he or anyone else in the administration thought for a moment how a country of 25 million accustomed to regular handouts was going to run without security forces in place or a bureaucracy to provide basic social services? By the time the administration recognized that the majority of the people they dismissed were Ba'athist in name only, a million more of jobless professionals and their several million more dependents, mostly Sunnis, had become sworn enemies of the United States, not just because of their loss of power but because they also lost their livelihood. These are the people who are at the core of the insurgency, not the foreign fighters the administration would like us to believe make it up. No less disastrous mistakes were made in dealing with Shiite groups, especially Muktadah Sadr and his followers. From the day Mr. Bremer, in his wisdom, closed Sadr's newspaper, through the days of intense violent confrontation around Nejaf that ended in a sort of truce, to the present day marked by continuing clashes in many Shiite communities, millions of Shiites have been further alienated from America. The vast majority of Iraqis mistrust America and denounce the occupation. They do not trust anyone or any institution connected with the United States, especially the members of the Allawi government whom they view as American puppets. Furthermore, the Iraqi people will not trust any government whether elected under the present chaotic conditions or stable conditions. They insist that as long as Iraq is under military occupation, honest elections are impossible. This explains why a significant number of Sunni communities are planning to boycott the elections; if they do, this could paralyze the newly-elected parliament and set the stage for more violence. This pessimistic analysis concerning the prospects for achieving real stability and peace any time soon has recently been confirmed by the National Intelligence Council, which presented to the President a highly-classified National Intelligence Estimate. The document offered three possible scenarios; tenuous stability at best, increased extremism and fragmentation of Iraqi society, or civil war among the three main populations–the Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds.

What are the real options available to the next administration that can get America out of this mess? Four come to mind: First, there are those who suggest that the only way to end the insurgency is for the United States to establish a date for the withdrawal of its forces from Iraq. This suggestion may be desirable for the insurgents but it's impractical, because any date established for the foreseeable future–say 3 to 5 years–is arbitrary at best, and no one can predict what the situation will be on the ground at that time, including how the general geopolitical situation in the Middle East might evolve. Experience has shown in Bosnia and Kosovo and numerous other places that many things, especially some sort of functioning internal security along with a stable political system, must be in place before it is possible to seriously consider any troop withdrawal.

The second option, favored by Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry, is to get United States' major allies in Europe to contribute both troops and money and give them a stake in the outcome. Senator Kerry also suggests training many more Iraqis security forces, with a focus on reconstruction, to provide more and better social services and stabilize internal security. Together, these will give the United States the opportunity to withdraw with dignity. This option sounds good on paper, but there is absolutely no certainty that countries like France or Germany would want to step into the Iraqi morass, even if Mr.Kerry is elected President. And it should be noted that the insurgents have no greater love for Europeans than they do for Americans.

The third option, if it is an option, is what this administration is basically doing. This consists of trying to contain violence, quell outbreaks from all pockets of resistence and strongholds of insurgents in order to make the scheduled election in January 2005 appear more legitimate, and in the process spend funds earmarked for reconstruction on internal security, a shift that in itself could jeopardize the ability of the United States to influence the direction of Iraq. (As of this writing, $3.5 billion is actually already being diverted from reconstruction to security.) Generally, so far Iraqis have been reluctant to fight other Iraqis, and there is no guarantee that more money poured into security will make Iraq more secure. But contrary to these realties, Mr. Bush continues to proclaim that the United States is making tremendous progress and continues to promise to deliver, a so-called democratic government to Iraq. The President insists that U.S. troops will not stay a day longer than necessary. But it is far more likely that getting out of the present chaos may require U.S. forces to stay at current levels through 2010, especially if Iraq, as Mr. Bush asserts, constitutes the forefront of the war on terrorism. For their part, the insurgents know that this administration is not in any hurry to leave because the neoconservatives have not given up yet on "transforming" the Middle East, especially if the President is reelected.

The fourth option, to turn to the United Nations for real help, though not perfect, is the most viable. Iraq should become a UN protectorate, with the UN totally in charge of a civil administration whose goal is to help provide an Iraqi solution to Iraqi problems, while the United States and its allies work with Iraqi security forces to protect and safeguard the people. A new Security Council resolution authorizing the UN under chapter 7 to take over the administration of Iraq would open the door for many other countries, especially those that are Arab and Muslim such as Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, and Pakistan along with other important countries like India, to participate in a legitimate activity and so become more willing to send troops to Iraq, thereby changing the face and the make up of the occupation. The UN, which is already involved in the preparation for the Iraqi elections, would determine the time frame for its administrative control and create a time line for the occupation forces to leave Iraq. In its expanded role, the UN would oversee the establishment and the development of democratic institutions, creating the basis for a sustainable democratic form of government. Of course, turning to the UN at this stage, is tantamount to an admission of failure, but then again, President Bush, if reelected, will avoid the much worse failure of Iraq plunging into civil war under his watch.

Unfortunately, there is no easy option or smooth path to follow. One thing remains clear, however: this country cannot continue to stumble and fall in Iraq without paying a dear price far exceeding the 200 billion already spent and over 1000 casualties. The Bush administration has already alienated much of the international community, the hatred for America in the Muslim and the Arab world has reached a new zenith, violent conflicts are spreading, and the United States is not any closer to stemming the tide of international terrorism than it was before September 11. A new strategy for Iraq is needed, not a new pyramid built on disastrous illusions.