CHICAGO - As the world united against our invasion of Iraq last fall and winter, American hawks were not the least bit worried. Victory, they said, would solve a host of problems.
By squashing Saddam Hussein once and for all, we would silence the critics, create a vast new store of good will toward the United States, open the way to a glorious new era in Iraq and throughout the Middle East and deal a devastating blow to the global terrorist network.
A full month after our great triumph, the critics are as critical as ever, the United States is still isolated and Iraq has turned into a seething pit of chaos and resentment. Instead of being cornered and cowed, al-Qaida is on the offensive, deploying suicide bombers to slaughter Americans. And has anyone noticed that Afghanistan has slid back into anarchy?
Toppling Mr. Hussein was supposed to start a stampede of foreign governments onto the U.S. bandwagon. But the other day, the British Cabinet official in charge of her country's reconstruction efforts in Iraq resigned in anger over the Bush administration's handling of the occupation. The United States, said Clare Short, is in the "shameful" position of "trying to bully the Security Council" and "creating a risk of instability, bitterness and growing terrorism that will threaten the future for all of us." And the British, you may recall, were on our side.
Prime Minister Tony Blair is still on board, at least as long as he can contain opposition at home. But Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, smarting from Ms. Short's fierce farewell speech, had to agree with her that "the situation in Baghdad is unsatisfactory."
In the month since Mr. Hussein's regime was demolished, we've managed to disillusion a lot of people. Among them are plenty of Iraqis, who apparently don't enjoy civil disorder, unreliable electricity and water, or garbage in the streets. When a spontaneous protest erupted in Baghdad the other day, locals immediately took up a chant: "Down! Down! USA!" How long before they start feeling nostalgic for Mr. Hussein?
It was predicted in some quarters that Iraqis would eventually grow hostile toward their occupiers, but they apparently figured there was no need to wait.
It's not hard to understand their frustration. The administration that planned the war so well was at a loss what to do once the statues of Mr. Hussein had been pulled down. Barbara Bodine, who was put in charge of reconstruction efforts in Baghdad, acknowledged recently, "We didn't know what we were walking into."
She said that on her way out the exit, having been relieved of her duties after less than a month in Iraq.
Also getting the hook was Jay Garner, who was supposed to be the answer to Iraq's postwar needs. But if Mr. Garner failed to impose order and restore basic services, is that his fault? He wasn't the guy who chose to put only 150,000 troops into a shattered country with a history of internal strife.
When the Army's top general, Eric K. Shinseki, said before the war that "several hundred thousand" soldiers might be needed for the occupation, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld ridiculed his estimate as "far off the mark." It doesn't look so far off now. The general commanding U.S. ground forces says there is no way to secure a country the size of Iraq with the force he has.
But it may be impossible to devote more resources to that task when we have so many others to worry about. The White House assured Americans that it could take out Mr. Hussein while keeping the pressure on terrorists in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Just last week, the administration was bragging about having the terrorists "on the run."
While we were busy in Iraq, though, al-Qaida's killers apparently were busy right next door in Saudi Arabia. This week, we found we couldn't stop them from carrying out the biggest terrorist attack on an American target since Sept. 11, 2001.
Afghanistan, once an American success, is now an American migraine.
"Nearly every day," said a recent report in The New York Times, "there are killings, explosions, shootings and targeted attacks on foreign aid workers, Afghan officials, and American forces, as well as continuing feuding between warlords in the regions."
Who said victory is sweet?
Steve Chapman is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune, a Tribune Publishing newspaper. His column appears Tuesdays and Fridays in The Sun.
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