The Bush administration's acute anxiety about Iraq was demonstrated by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's visit to that country on Sunday, as it was during Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's earlier Iraq trip.
Once again the administration's illusions have betrayed it. The Bush ideology says that everyone is a natural democrat. When you remove the obstacle to democracy, such as a dictator, and call an election, democratic government will spring forth. Never mind that Iraq is a society dominated by complex religious, tribal and family traditions, allegiances and obligations.
Rumsfeld went to Iraq to urge the new leaders to get on with Sunni appointments to the cabinet. Rice told them that more of the 17 Sunni members of parliament must be named to the parliamentary group supposed to write the country's new constitution.
She also indicated to journalists she understood that a political rather than military solution had to be found for the insurrection. But as the resistance has shown no clear evidence of being an organized and disciplined affair with specific demands, no one knows what political solution can be found - other than American retreat. No one knows whether even that would end the fighting, which is inspired by nationalism, but has sectarian aspects as well.
There are now Sunni defense and industry ministers, as Rumsfeld wanted. Americans suggest that the constitution-writing problem might be solved with Sunni appointments to subcommittees drafting portions of the constitution. Rice also asked for a halt on excluding ex-Baathists from government office.
Washington originally intended to keep hands off the new parliament and government, but was forced to intervene; the new Baghdad government is Washington's last hope for getting out of Iraq on acceptable terms. If it could take over the struggle with the insurgents, Washington could leave. The outlook for that is not good.
In Iraq, and also in Afghanistan - supposedly mostly pacified - resistance to the American presence has flared. There were an average of 30 daily attacks in Iraq before the new government was formed. Now there are 75, and more than 500 have been killed in the last two weeks.
This column has insisted since the uprising began that it was a nationalist reaction against the American presence, and would only end after American troops left. It might not end even then, given the disorder, hatred and violence sown in Iraq's society by the invasion and occupation, and by the terrorist acts of the resistance.
Last year, to say that was a matter of common sense, based on acquaintance with the power of nationalism. Now there is objective evidence.
The nonpartisan Project on Defense Alternatives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Washington, D.C., has just issued a report on the insurgency that, on the basis of interviews and the public opinion findings available in Iraq, concludes that the occupation and the insurgency are locked in a circular conflict from which there is no logical escape.
The insurgents are fighting because of the occupation, and the occupation forces are fighting because there is resistance.
U.S. military operations meant to quell or defeat the resistance actually provoke it, according to the study. Its author, Carl Conetta, says U.S. forces have tactical successes, "but insurgent activity remains four or five times as great as it was in early summer 2003."
A fifth of all Iraqi families have "suffered serious effects of violence since the war began." Thirty thousand Iraqis are believed to have been killed by U.S. troops or by terrorist attacks since March 2003 (when the invasion began). Another 30,000 are estimated to have died as an indirect result of the war.
Strong majorities among both Sunnis and Shiites oppose the occupation, and significant minorities in both groups support attacks on U.S. troops. The factors driving these attitudes "are nationalism, the coercive practices of the occupation, and the collateral effects of military operations."
Polls taken last year said the main reasons for this negative Iraqi opinion have been, in order, the Abu Ghraib prison scandals, the American attack on Fallujah, "bad" or violent behavior by American troops (58 percent of the Iraqis polled say the troops behave badly), and the failure of the occupation to provide security.
Opinion differs according to communities. The Kurds support the occupation. (This is nationalism again; the Kurds think the invasion and occupation promote their ambition to have an independent Kurdistan.) The Sunnis are most against the American presence. The Shiites favored the election (since they are the national majority), but are against the occupation.
A large overall majority wants the United States out. Does the Bush administration want to get out? Yes and no. It wants an exit, but won't accept defeat. It wants permanent bases in Iraq, and enough control over the country's oil industry to influence the international oil price. No fully independent Iraq government is likely to agree to either.
What should Washington do? Last year it could have announced a timetable for complete withdrawal. Now it could still promise to leave by the new year, when a new parliament is supposed to be elected - but the insurrection might wreck that timetable. American public opinion already disapproves of the war. One way or another, the United States has to leave. But leaving is much more complicated, and perhaps more dangerous, than it was getting in.
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