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I Fear Things are Going Badly
Published on Monday, August 25, 2003 by the San Francisco Chronicle
I Fear Things are Going Badly
by Jon Carroll
 

I have to admit that I was wrong. The invasion of Iraq by the United States is not as bad an idea as I thought it was. It's worse.

I did not anticipate that Iraq would become a magnet for every Islamic terrorist group in the region. Here's a chance to fight the Great Satan without all those annoying airport security measures. Such a big border, so few people patrolling it.

Plus, racial profiling doesn't work in Iraq. You can't just throw suspicious-looking Arab people in jail, the way you can in the United States. They're all suspicious-looking Arab people.

They have a right to be suspicious. Recent history does not suggest that the United States has benign intentions in Iraq. What has the United States done since the end of World War II? Propped up brutal dictators (including, most famously, Saddam himself), turned a blind eye to human rights abuses, supported the oppression of the Palestinians and betrayed groups foolish enough to trust it. We've also taken a whole lot of oil and made a whole lot of profit. Not encouraging.

I did not anticipate that the United Nations would become a terrorist target. The United Nations is there, despite the ill-disguised U.S. contempt for that body, because it feels it can do some good in Iraq. It was doing good.

The attack on its headquarters was appalling -- but terrorism is an equal- opportunity murderer. When the peacekeepers become the victims, can anarchy be far behind?

Iraq: Liberia with oil.

Oh, and now we're asking the United Nations for a resolution of support, so maybe some more countries will send troops to help us out. Hey, we treated your opinions with disdain before, but now we're in a spot of difficulty. All in fun, right? No hard feelings.

We're in a classic bind: We're a large and powerful army fighting against small and mobile guerrilla forces. We can take territory and hold it, but we can't make the territory safe. If we mount a large campaign, the guerrilla forces evaporate. They can go on like that pretty much indefinitely -- but we can't.

What are our goals in Iraq? To stabilize the country and leave it with a democratic leadership in charge and infrastructure repaired. (Seems only fair; we destroyed it.) And how do we know when the government is stable? No answer. How to guarantee that the government will be stable once we leave? Again, no answer.

We conquered a nation, and now we don't know what to do with it. Maybe, how about this, it's the new Palestinian homeland. Looks like win-win to me.

And what is our short-term strategy? Commit more troops? Oops, there's an election coming up, and even the Bush loyalists are getting restive. The Pentagon has been very careful not to allow photographs of the body bags coming home, but we know they're there. We know that more American soldiers are dying, but we're not sure of the reasons. Except, of course: People are killing them.

And what is our exit strategy? When do we declare victory and head home? It can't be after we've defeated the guerrilla forces because guerrilla forces don't stay defeated. After Halliburton and Bechtel get all their money? After the Shiites and the Sunnis agree to disagree under the big tent of Islam? After the Turks agree to the idea of an independent Kurdistan?

The president doesn't have time to be specific about goals or manpower or strategy because he's too busy refereeing the grudge match between Rummy and Powell. George Bush's worst fear, I suspect, is not a withdrawal of troops from Iraq; it's that Powell quits before December and goes public with policy disputes.

Meanwhile, just by the way: suffering and dying, hunger, oppression of women, disease, infighting. And that's just in Afghanistan. What else can go wrong? Better question: What can go right? No answers here.

2003 SF Gate

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