Thursday, June 30, 2005

Iraq: A massive blunder, a more sober America?

Check out Timothy Garton Ash's review of Bush's Fort Bragg speech in today's L.A. Times. There's so much bluster coming from all sides on Iraq, but Ash brings a welcome perspective with his detached, non-partisan moderation:

Bush's speech once again presented Iraq as part of the Global War on Terror -- the GWOT. He mentioned the Sept. 11 attacks six times; weapons of mass destruction, not once. We have to defeat the terrorists abroad, he said, before they attack us at home. As freedom spreads, the terrorists will lose support. Then he made this extraordinary statement: "We will prevent Al Qaeda and other foreign terrorists from turning Iraq into what Afghanistan was under the Taliban -- a safe haven from which they could launch attacks on America and our friends."

Consider. Three years ago, when Bush started ramping up for war in Iraq, Afghanistan had recently been liberated from both the Taliban and the Al Qaeda terrorists who had attacked the U.S. Iraq, meanwhile, was a hideous dictatorship under Saddam Hussein.

But, as the 9/11 commission concluded, Hussein's regime had no connection with the 2001 attacks. Iraq was not then a recruiting sergeant or training ground for jihadist terrorists. Now it is. The U.S.-led invasion and occupation has made it so. Retired Gen. Wesley Clark put it plainly: "We are creating enemies."

And the president says: Our great achievement will be to prevent Iraq becoming another Taliban-style, Al Qaeda-harboring Afghanistan! This is like a man who shoots himself in the foot and then says, "We must prevent it turning gangrenous, then you'll understand why I was right to shoot myself in the foot."

Whether or not the invasion was a crime, it's now clear that -- at least in the form in which it was executed -- it was a massive blunder. And the American people are beginning to see this. Before Bush spoke at Ft. Bragg, 53% of those asked in a CNN/Gallup poll said it was a mistake to go into Iraq...

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is right. It would be suicidally dumb for any European to think, in relation to Iraq, "the worse the better." Jihadists now cutting their teeth in Iraq will make no fine distinctions between Washington and London, Berlin or Madrid. Any European tempted to luxuriate schadenfreudishly in the prospect of a Vietnam-style U.S. evacuation from Baghdad may be awoken from that reverie by the blast from a
bomb, planted in Charing Cross tube station by an Iraq-hardened terrorist.

But it is a fair and justified historical observation that U.S. policy has gotten better -- more sober, more realistic -- at least partly because things in Iraq have gone so badly. This is the cunning of history.

Maybe. Although I supported the war, at first, I certainly acknowledge that, all in all, it has become "a massive blunder," not least because Bush didn't plan at all effectively enough for the war's aftermath: the rise of the insurgency, the training of Iraqi police/military forces, the support and cooperation of the international community, the development and long-term viability of liberalization/democratization, declining popular support at home, etc. It will take sustained sobriety to fix that multi-pronged blunder, but, thus far, I have seen nothing to suggest that Bush is sober enough to pull off such a feat.

Ash rightly points to signs of a turn to realism as a replacement for neoconservative idealism, but the recent performances of Cheney and Rumsfeld, not to mention Bush's speech at Fort Bragg, indicate that the powers-that-be at the White House and the Pentagon are still either unable or unwilling to take responsibility for their own mistakes and to follow through with a comprehensive approach to Iraq that could, if properly executed, reverse what seems more and more to be a continuing downward trend, if not an out-of-control spiral, into irreversible failure.

The status quo clearly isn't working, but a full-scale, Vietnam-style withdrawal would only signal defeat, cowardice, and irresponsibility, leading to anarchy and a haven for jihadists bent on taking the war directly to America. No, the U.S. must be accountable, and it must finish the job it started. Which is why, all other issues aside, Bush never should have been re-elected last year. He's just not the right man to fix his own mess. He doesn't even seem to know where to begin.

America may indeed be a more sober place with respect to Iraq, and to the world in general, but its leaders are still drunk on idealism and self-delusion.

How do we deal with that problem?

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