Quagmire Alert
Published on Wednesday, July 2, 2003 by WorkingforChange.com
Quagmire Alert
Road-Map to Iraqi Freedom and Democracy is Littered with Death, Destruction and Bush Administration Dissembling
by Bill Berkowitz

I say M-I
Mire Mire Mire Mire

I Say Q-U


-- Kudos and apologies to songwriters Deacon Anderson and Johnnie Lee Will, who wrote the 1950s hit, "Rag Mop." To sing along, click here.

"There are so many cartoons where people, press people, are saying, 'Is it Vietnam yet?' hoping it is and wondering if it is. And it isn't. It's a different time. It's a different era. It's a different place." -Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Pentagon Briefing June 30, 2003

On May 1, President Bush declared major combat operations over in Iraq. It's those minor operations, however, that have resulted in at least 63 dead U.S. soldiers since the president's much ballyhooed declaration aboard the Abraham Lincoln. On June 26, in yet another grim report reflecting the everyday reality in Iraq, the Associated Press reported that bomb and grenade ambushes resulted in the deaths of one American soldier and two Iraqi civilians. Two other American soldiers were reported missing. The day before, a U.S. Marine was killed "while responding to an ambush in which three other Americans were wounded."

On June 28, the missing soldiers turned up dead.

With American casualties growing daily; the streets of Baghdad snarled by unrest, chaos and confusion; the rest of the country in a gosh-awful mess; oil pipelines being blown up regularly; and US officials -- including Paul Bremer, the head of U.S. reconstruction efforts -- appearing to be improvising rather than acting from a well written script, all sorts of critics are starting to point fingers at the administration's lackluster post-war performance in Iraq. Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld's protestations to the contrary, despite this being "a different time" and "a different era" and "a different place," an old-fashioned Vietnam-style quagmire appears to be brewing.

Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee in late June, Lieutenant General John Abizaid, President Bush's nominee to replace General Tommy R. Franks as head of U.S. Central Command, said that while it was "perplexing" that weapons of mass destruction had not yet been found in Iraq, he expected that they will soon be discovered.

On the issue of U.S. troops in the country, General Abizaid said that there may be a troop reduction from the 145,000 still in Iraq, but that ''for the foreseeable future, we will require a large number of troops for Iraq.'' General Abizaid, who speaks Arabic fluently and is a Middle East expert, warned that U.S. and British troops would continue to be the targets of three primary groups: foreign fighters, remnants of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party and common criminals.

Several members of Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on a late-June fact-finding trip to Iraq, urged President Bush "to be more forthcoming about the breadth of the U.S. commitment and the cost of rebuilding Iraq," Reuters reported.

"I think we're going to be there in a big way with forces and economic input for a minimum of three to five years," Sen. Joseph Biden, the committee's ranking Democrat, told reporters in Baghdad. Republican Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, the committee's chairman and fellow panel Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska "agreed that five years was a realistic figure."

At home, both the Senate Armed Services and Senate Intelligence committees were taking up the issue of "the accuracy of prewar intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction," the Associated Press reported. However, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff recently told NPR's Terry Gross that he wasn't expecting very much to come out of these investigations: "Given whose leading them… they're unlikely to be really aggressive… and it's not going to be as thorough as it should."

And then there's that messy business in Afghanistan where the situation has atrophied into permanent chaos: President Hamid Karzai is basically a captive in Kabul while warlords and their well-armed militias control much of the countryside; intermittent U.S. patrols net a Taliban remnant here and there as well as an occasional American casualty; aide money is scarce and no one is clear on how it's being spent; and U.S. cluster bomblets continue to scatter the body parts of Afghan civilians around the landscape. (For more on this, see "Strange bedfellows: Afghanistan quagmire triggers confab between US & Pakistani intelligence officials and the Taliban")

Come clean on Iraq

The Senators visiting Iraq weren't the only folks counselling the president on the mess in Iraq. Perhaps the weirdest bit of advice came from John Lott Jr., the now-discredited resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. Lott, who believes the American people would be safer if we all are armed, suggested that trying to force Iraqis to turn in their guns was a mistake. Lott asks: "Is it really clear that our soldiers are better off by attempting to disarm Iraqi citizens? ... If guns are banned, who would turn them in? Presumably the most law-abiding citizens -- not the terrorists and Ba'ath Party members whom our troops should be concerned about." Guns don't kill U.S. soldiers, bad Iraqis do.

"There is no longer any way to tap dance around the responsibility of the administration for what more and more looks like a monumental bog up," Thomas Houlahan told United Press International in late June. Houlahan is a former paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division and staff officer with the 18th Airborne Corps, and is currently the Washington-based director of a military assessment program for James Madison University.

For serious advice, you can turn to the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) -- the prestigious establishment foreign policy outfit -- which recently cranked out a policy paper suggesting ways to reverse the current downward spiral in Iraq.

Candidly admitting that the administration's post-war policy for Iraq has been a disappointment, former UN Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering and former Defense and Energy Secretary James R. Schlesinger, the co-chairs of CFR's Independent Task Force on post-war Iraq, recommend that President Bush give a "major address" to the nation and outline the U.S.'s long-term goals and objectives in Iraq.

The president needs to explain to the American people "the importance of seeing the task through, as well as the costs and risks of U.S. engagement in postwar Iraq," they write.

"So much of the future effectiveness of U.S. foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East, will turn on whether we can help Iraqis to a better future and whether others around the world see this is happening," Pickering and Schlesinger write in a paper called "Chair's Update," which is an addendum to the Task Force's March report, "Iraq: the Day After."

Pickering and Schlesinger synthesize and update a series of recommendations that came from a late May meeting of the Task Force. They focus on a broad range of policy areas are being either overlooked, mishandled or insufficiently dealt with by the administration. Included in their analysis are suggestions that the US: "Develop a clearer political vision and strategy"; "Employ a wiser approach to communicating with the Iraqi people"; "Promote security and the rule of law"; "Improve management and operations in the oil industry"; "Share the burden with international partners"; and "Prepare for the next peace stabilization and reconstruction challenge after Iraq."

In light of Bush's glaring post-war policy failures, the fact that Pickering and Schlesinger suggest that the US needs to get on the right track so that it will not jeopardize or inhibit the preparation "for the next peace stabilization and reconstruction challenge," is chilling. That these folks are still thinking about future interventions and invasions might be the most startling part of their entire report.

And in a move that is guaranteed to stir up more discontent: On June 28, the Washington Post reported that "U.S. military commanders have ordered a halt to local elections and self-rule in provincial cities and towns across Iraq, choosing instead to install their own handpicked mayors and administrators, many of whom are former Iraqi military leaders."

(For more on the U.S. use of cluster bombs in Afghanistan see "Above the Law and Below Morality".)

Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His WorkingForChange column Conservative Watch documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the American Right.

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