All Writings
December 12, 2004

The War In Iraq – A Year Later

Not much to show for nearly 600 American soldiers killed, thousands more injured, and over $150 billion spent. As the first anniversary of the Iraq war approaches, the Bush administration will doubtless boast about our great achievement in liberating the Iraqi people from Saddam Hussein and striking a blow for democracy in the Middle East, while making America a more secure place. Administration officials will talk about a free Iraq, the absence of institutionalized oppression, the restoration of basic services, the reopening of schools with new text books free of Saddam's propaganda, the improved health care, and above all the passage of an interim constitution with a bill of rights.

But while some improvements in basic services have been made, the challenges of establishing internal security remain daunting at best. Crime is on the rise, unemployment is at 50 percent in many parts of the country, and most Iraqis want us to leave sooner rather than later. Meanwhile, our standing in the Middle East is at an all-time low. The administration of course dismisses these realities, arguing that ultimately Iraq will join the family of free nations and that our decision to wage war to oust Saddam in time will prove to have been a prudent one. Not so fast: Nothing that has happened, is happening, or is likely to happen in Iraq warrants such an optimistic conclusion, and here's why. Although we were flying spy planes and satellites over Iraqi skies since the first Gulf war with impunity, had first-hand intelligence from our own weapons' inspectors within the U. N. team, and received information from many Iraqi defectors, we were unable to gather accurate data about Iraq. In fact, as the world now knows, we failed miserably on this score, leading the administration to either draw the wrong conclusions or use select information to suit its preconceived notions about Iraq under Saddam Hussein and to justify an invasion. As a result, we tragically missed the mark on several key points:

Contrary to the administration's repeated assertions that Iraq had massive quantities of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), no such weapons have been found during the last year, even though we have been able to search any place at any time. Nor has the administration proven that Iraq posed any imminent danger to the United States. Similarly, it has been unable to establish any link between Iraq and Al Qaeda, which, according to the administration, were supposed to use Iraqi WMD against us. Our intelligence also failed for the past twelve months to accurately identify the nations or organizations behind the insurgency, how deep and extensive its roots are, and hence what to do about it. To think, as some administration officials do, that once power is handed over to an all-Iraqi authority and democracy sets in that this will bring an end to violence, is designed more for our own domestic consumption than as an honest assessment of the Iraq reality.

While we have expanded our war on terrorism to encompass scores of countries, and even though we inflicted a severe setback to Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, the invasion of Iraq has not to any measurable degree advanced our war on terrorism. International terrorism inside and outside Iraq actually has increased throughout the year, as evidenced by the recent attacks in the Iraqi cities of Nejaf and Karbalah which killed over 200 Shiites and injured hundreds mor, and the bombs in Madrid, Spain, that killed 200 and injured more than 1500. Bin Laden continued to elude us this past year and his capture will do nothing to stem the tide of terrorist attacks because we still stubbornly ignore the causes and the sources of terrorism of which we and our allies are the prime target.

The administration has also woefully underestimated the intensity of the sectarian schisms in Iraqi society, naively believing that once liberated, the various factions will forget their past grievances and work together to create a new and united nation. Last years' ethnic and religious conflict and the squabble over the writing of the interim constitution (which the grand Ayatollah Sestani characterized as non-binding) offers only a glimpse of what is to come. The Shiites will not rest until they "correct" their nearly century-long suppression at the hands of the Sunnis, and the Kurds will go to war to safeguard their autonomy, for which they have sacrificed so much, especially under Saddam Hussein.

Our assessment of the sorry state of Iraq's infrastructure seems no more accurate than our knowledge about everything else about Iraq. We went to war a year ago to remove a danger that did not exist only to find ourselves having to cope with a ruined infrastructure, dysfunctional oil industry, shattered social services, and debilitated educational institutions. Even though some improvements have been made in these areas since the end of the war, tens of billions will still be needed for reconstruction.

This brings us to the administration's other terrible miscalculation of the war, its insistence that oil-rich Iraq could finance its own reconstruction. Here too administration officials have been engaged in wishful thinking. Iraq is far from earning enough revenue from its oil exports to finance the necessary post-Saddam reconstruction, and this does not even include the money needed to fund the building of internal security and military forces, which will require billions for salaries, training, equipment and housing.

The war in Iraq and its consequences has thus far dimmed rather than brightened the prospects for democratizing the Arab world. In fact, fearing the war's possible ripple effect, the governments of most of the Arab states including Syria and Saudi Arabia have tightened their grip on power, using emergency laws to clamp down on any group or individual suspected of anti-government activity or leanings. And democracy itself suffered setbacks in Jordan and Kuwait, with reform-minded parliamentarians losing to Islamists in recent elections.

Finally, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which was supposed to be made easier to resolve because of the fall of Saddam, is nowhere near a solution. This past year witnessed the death of Mr Bush's so-called road map for peace, in effect leaving the Israelis and Palestinians to their own devices. Suicide bombing continued to ravage the Israelis and, to defend itself, Israel accelerated the building of the wall that will stand as a monument to shattered dreams and the tragic failure of the Bush policy.

As July 1st rolls around, and we transfer authority to the Iraqis in whatever configuration might be politically convenient for the administration at the time, President Bush will surely not talk about the additional tens of billion needed for reconstruction in Iraq when we are already experiencing $1/2 trillion deficit in this and next years' budget. Nor will he probably speak about the hundreds of soldiers, young men and women who have died in Iraq, nor about the thousands more injured for at best a dubious cause. And he certainly will not mention that we are no closer to winning the war on terrorism than we were in March 20th 2003, or that the Arab and Islamic world trusts us less and hates us more than they did the day we invaded Iraq.

Alas, what else is new? Perhaps the worst thing that has befallen us since the beginning of the Iraq war is that we have grown numb to the administration's mass public deception about the war and its consequences. Now we are left to ponder what will happen during the remaining months of this administration with heightened anxiety mingled with deep cynicism and disdain.