American Imperialism Off the Rails
Published on Thursday, October 30, 2003 by the Toronto Star
American Imperialism Off the Rails
by Haroon Siddiqui

More people dead in Iraq proves that the American occupation of Iraq is working. That's what George W. Bush says.

"The more successful we are on the ground, the more the killers will react," he said following the latest terrorist attacks. "The killers can't stand the thought of a free society."

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz sounds the same note. The chief architect of the war on Iraq, who on Sunday barely escaped its terrorist aftermath in Baghdad, claimed that everything is just swell in his new duchy.

The bravado goes well beyond the need to say the right things about staying the course. Or the standard political practice of keeping your chin up when the chips are down. (Ernie Eves, watching his administration hit the skids: "The Tories are not toast." Barbara Hall, looking at sinking polls: "I always expected it to be tight.")

The Bush administration is taking its pre-war dishonesty to new heights. After manipulating intelligence, exaggerating the Iraqi threat, dishonestly tying it to Al Qaeda and ignoring its own internal pre-war warnings about post-war chaos, it is busy insisting that night is day.

Billboards across Baghdad proclaim, "The city is getting better." Iraqis are as incredulous as Muslims around the globe after being subjected over the last year to a $240 million State Department ad campaign soft-selling America.

Imperialism by sloganeering may be amusing. What is not is Washington's take on the terrorism now permeating the land where it didn't exist until the Americans took control of it.

Over the last six months, America has blamed the steadily rising resistance and terrorism in Iraq on a changing cast of characters:

The thousands of criminals released from jail by Saddam Hussein in his final days.

"Dead-enders," "bitter-enders" and "Ba'athist remnants." The assertion was duly augmented by breathless American media accounts from the "Sunni triangle," home of Saddam loyalists.

Troublesome Shiites, who were said to have the support of the even more troublesome Shiite Iran. Donald Rumsfeld even warned the Tehran mullahs not to intervene.

"Fedayeen," said to be an Iran-backed militia.

Guerrillas of Ansar al-Islam, a religious outfit battling the secular Kurds. But the Ansar were soon eliminated by American bombing.

Al Qaeda, said to be infiltrating from Iran, Syria or Saudi Arabia or all three.

They are said to number 1,000. Or 2,000. Or 3,000. Or maybe only "a very, very small percentage" of the resisters, according to Maj.-Gen. Raymond Odierno last week. "Iraqis do not like Iranians here. They don't like Syrians."

By last Saturday, however, another American commander, Brig.-Gen. Martin Dempsey, was saying that he had "not seen any infusion of foreign fighters in Baghdad."

But by Monday's blasts, Brig.-Gen. Mark Herling had this assessment: "We've not seen attacks we could attribute to foreign fighters before. We've seen those today."

On Tuesday, Bush cited both Saddam supporters and "foreign terrorists" of unnamed origins coming over from Iran and Syria (even as his biggest cheerleader, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, Britain's special envoy to Iraq, was saying that neither country had a hand in the terrorism).

Do the Americans, from the president down, know what they are talking about?

And does the memory of the American media ever stretch beyond yesterday?

Despite the presence of 130,000 U.S. troops, 22,000 other coalition troops, tens of thousands of newly trained Iraqi security forces, an unknown number of FBI agents and the endless interrogation of thousands of Iraqi detainees, there's no telling yet who the terrorists are.

Bush has ordered more barriers and barricades at susceptible sites in Iraq. That should help. What likely won't, is the $335 million high-tech spying gear blimps, drones, electronic jammers, etc. announced by Wolfowitz. Gizmos are not what America lacks but human intelligence, common sense and the right policies.

America is losing the war in Iraq despite having won it, so monumental has been its misrule.

Besides turning general Iraqi goodwill into outright hostility, it has managed to alienate even its handpicked Iraqi Governing Council on a range of issues, from delaying the long-promised elections, to inviting Turkish troops.

Getting foreign troops to relieve U.S. soldiers offers a perfect example of Bush's tin ear.

After failing to strong-arm Turkey into joining the war, he leaned on the new government there to ignore public opinion and agree to send peacekeepers. But, given the Ottoman occupation of Iraq and contemporary Turkish oppression of Kurds, Iraqis balked. The people of Turkey do not want their troops to go, nor do the people of Iraq want them to come. But Bush persists.

Pakistan was ready to dispatch a battalion, if paid for. India, miffed at Bush's post-9/11 tilt to arch-rival Pakistan, would have loved nothing more than winning U.S. gratitude. But both backed off due to domestic anti-Americanism engendered by his policies.

Bush is right to claim the situation in Iraq is improving. It is bound to, considering how bad it has been. But he remains mired in a quagmire.

Haroon Siddiqui is The Star's editorial page editor emeritus.

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