The Haunting Aftermath Of The War
It is time for the Bush administration to admit that it has dreadfully miscalculated the aftermath of the war in Iraq. As the debacle over our intelligence concerning Iraq's weapons of mass destruction used as the rationale and the justification for war becomes clearer, a bigger problem has emerged: We are now bogged down in guerrilla warfare with no end in sight. It is time for this administration to develop an exit strategy and thus restore honor and dignity to our armed forces who are growing increasingly bewildered as to why they are in Iraq in the first place.
The rosy picture the administration was so eager to draw of post-war Iraq has come to haunt it. The administration has failed miserably to appreciate how fragmented, factional, tribal, and religiously and culturally diverse Iraqi society is. We thought we would liberate the Iraqi people, but they see our presence as an occupation and want to throw us out. They hated Saddam Hussein, but they hate us with even greater intensity. We ran a brilliant military campaign, albeit against a third-rate and largely demoralized military, but the aftermath showed how unprepared we were to run a country whose 23 million people have been accustomed to living under a heavy-handed bureaucracy. More than 40 percent unemployed and the loss of revenue for hundreds of thousands of government employees added to the frustration of millions of Iraqis who blame us for their dire economic plight. We made little preparation for internal security, had no real plan for fostering civil order, or practical measures to restore critical services, like electricity or provide drinking water. We allowed looters to ransack public places and bandits to roam Iraqi cities, making internal security a nightmare especially for Iraqi women. We were carried away by the euphoria of our military victory, believing that the mere liberation of the Iraqis would somehow make everything else fall into place. In his recent testimony before a Congressional committee retired General Jay Gardner, the man initially assigned to be the top administrator in Ira, only to be abruptly replaced by Paul Bremer, stated we simply were not prepared for what happened once the major combat ended. "It is increasingly clear there was really some underestimation of the number of people who would be required after the regime fell, and the length of time required to stay there," said Paul Saunders, a director of the Nixon center nonpartisan research organization. The administration flip flopped between various policy initiatives, trying to bring some semblance of normalcy to the country, but failed because it never understood that the Iraqis have their own minds and their own agenda and see us as intruders and exploiters rather than as liberators.
There is no basis for comparing the occupation of Germany and Japan to the occupation of Iraq as some administration officials would like us to believe. Unlike Iraq, both Germany and Japan are homogenous nations; they had constitutional governments and democratic institutions decades before the war. There were governments in place that accepted surrender which legitimized the occupation with the full support of the international community. Having lost millions during the war, both nations were eager to cooperate to build a new society. Moreover, the United States was fully prepared to deal with the aftermath of the war led by a liberal minded administration that was motivated by building long-term new alliances rather than for oil or other strategic gains. So the rosy picture the administration drew about Iraq before the war has quickly faded. Our troops are greeted with bullets instead of roses. Iraq is becoming the new killing field for our men in uniform, with no end in sight.
Outside Iraq, the administration's prediction that Saddam's fall would usher in a period of freedom and democracy throughout the region has, so far, been no less naive. In recent parliamentary elections in Kuwait, liberals who supported the war against Saddam were completely thrashed, losing 13 of 14 seats, while the Islamist groups gained one seat. And once again women were denied the right to vote or be elected to office. Meanwhile, in Jordan, the Islamists returned to parliament, also winning at the expense of more liberal-minded politicians. If anything, the hatred and the animosity toward the United States throughout the region has become even more rampant than before the war, but the administration continues to play in a field of dreams, dismissive of its critics and refusing to acknowledge that our Iraqi adventure has gone sour.
Those in the administration who think that the capture or death of Saddam Hussein will bring calm and end the guerilla warfare continue to indulge in illusions. There are literally thousands of Saddam Husseins waiting in line to pick up his mantle and so the relentless attacks against our forces will only increase. Many of these people will compete to replace him, attempting to out-stage each other by intensifying their violent attacks against our troops. The worsening situation compels us to rethink our Iraq strategy now.
First, this administration owes it to the public to come clean about the whole issue of WMD. This issue cannot simply be wished away, as the administration would like. Being arrogant and dismissive about the whole debacle will only deepen public suspicion and further erode trust in the administration, not a good prospect with elections coming up and the economy remaining sluggish.
Second, the American public must know for how much longer our troops will be stranded in a foreign land on a mission that does not promote our national security or, from their perspective, the welfare of the Iraqi people. Shot at daily, our troops already know they are undesirables, neither welcome nor seen as necessary. We must turn governing over to Iraq's newly elected council, let it get on with writing a constitution as long as we can insure that the three main factions, the Kurds in the North, the Sunnis in the center, and the Shiites in the South retain political power in the areas where each enjoys a popular majority.
Third, we must swallow our pride and turn to the Security Council for a new resolution that will allow other powers such as Germany, France, Russia, and India to participate in the peace keeping efforts and assist in Iraq's reconstruction under UN auspices. A Pentagon advisory panel that just returned from Iraq reported a pressing need for international assistance. Sooner rather than later the administration will have to admit that it can not go it alone. Other than the prohibitive costs of maintaining a force of over 160,000 soldiers–at a cost of $4 billion a month– there are the costs of reconstruction as well as other hidden expenses that we will inadvertently incur–all of these added on to a budget with a deficit estimated at $455 billion.
The only graceful way out is to turn to our friends and allies. The arrogance and unilateralism for which this administration has become famous should now give way to reason and collaboration. In the process we may find an opportunity to mend some fences, reduce the visibility of our troops and perhaps even learn a lesson in humility and the limits of our power.