Wednesday, March 08, 2006
Iraq is not 'going very, very well'
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From the RoundTable blog
Depending on whom you listen to, the situation in Iraq is either "going very, very well, from everything you look at," or it is "a Pandora's Box of ethnic and sectarian tension that could engulf the region in war and disrupt the global economy."
The first, optimistic assessment comes from Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The less sunny assessment is from the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, who warned about the consequences of a premature withdrawal of American troops.
Personally, I share the irritation of U.S. Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., who responded to Pace by saying, "The rhetoric is so frustrating -- when they keep making statements which are very optimistic, and then it turns out to be the opposite. ... And the public has caught on to that, and they're very pessimistic about the outcome."
Even Khalilzad's more frank portrait of the situation is enraging. Yes, the United States has opened a Pandora's Box in Iraq. That potential should have been obvious to administration officials before the first American tank crossed the Iraqi border. But it is obvious that administration officials failed to realize the depth of sectarian hatred in Iraq.
Here is what the opening of Pandora's Box has wrought: According to an article in last week's Washington Post, Shiites are being expelled from their homes in predominantly Sunni villages. One Shiite laborer said he was warned by a man with a rocket launcher to be gone by the next day. "If we find you here, we will kill you," the man said.
In other areas, Sunnis are being dragged from their homes by Shiite militias. The Sunday Times of London writes of two Sunnis who were abducted by uniformed police. Their bodies were found later, bearing horrible wounds and signs of torture by electric drills.
In the face of such atrocities, Ambassador Khalilzad's prescription for "an effort to build bridges across these communities" rings enormously hollow.
In the meantime, the U.S. military has come to the belated conclusion that, as The New York Times reported Tuesday, there is a "possibility that it has been arming one side in a prospective civil war."
The Iraqi police force trained and armed by the United States is, it turns out, overwhelmingly Shiite. "When we stood them up, we didn't ask, 'Are you Sunni or are you Shia,'" Maj. Gen. Joseph F. Peterson, told The Times. "They ended up being 99 percent Shia."
Reports of uniformed death squads operating in Iraq are growing.
The military is making an effort to increase the number of Sunnis in the police force, but that just leads to the fear that the United States will end up training both sides in a prospective civil war.
All this makes it very hard to listen to assurances that things in Iraq are going "very, very well."
Even die-hard conservative supporters of the war in Iraq are having second thoughts. William F. Buckley Jr., elder statesman of the modern conservative movement, put it succintly in a recent National Review essay: "One can't doubt that the American objective in Iraq has failed. ... Our mission has failed because Iraqi animosities have proved uncontainable by an invading army of 130,000 Americans. The great human reserves that call for civil life haven't proved strong enough."
Francis Fukuyama, another architect of the neoconservative agenda that demanded the invasion of Iraq (under a rationale, it should be noted, that predated 9/11 by a decade or more), has abandoned the movement.
In a new book, Fukuyama writes, "it seems very unlikely that history will judge either the intervention [in Iraq] itself or the ideas animating it kindly."
Americans are beating history to that conclusion, according to recent polls. Eighty percent of Americans in a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll said they thought a civil war was likely in Iraq. More than half believe the U.S. should start withdrawing troops.
A poll by Zogby International shows those troops may share the civilian population's sentiment.
Only 23 percent of the randomly polled troops favored staying "as long as they are needed." Nearly a third wanted the U.S. to pull out immediately. Most felt troops should go home within the next year, at the latest.
The most disturbing thing about the Zogby poll, though, was the number of troops -- 85 percent -- who said the United States was in Iraq to "retaliate for Saddam Hussein's role in the 9/11 attacks."
Saddam, as even President Bush eventually admitted, played no role in the 9/11 attacks.
Are troops in Iraq really fighting -- and dying -- over a misconception cynically fostered by the Bush administration in its efforts to sell this disastrous war?
There is no point in rehashing all the arguments against the war -- most of which turned out to be quite prescient. There is no point in tabulating the numerous mistakes and missteps by the Bush administration that made a bad situation worse.
The focus now must be on finding the best -- or least bad, anyway -- resolution possible.
That can only happen, though, if responsible people like Gen. Pace put away the rose-colored glasses and examine the conditions in Iraq realistically.