In President Bush's recent, for the most part off-ranch, activities trying to shore up the levees intended to protect his administration from being washed away by the flood of American anti-war sentiment, he and other senior officials have managed to put forward two more ill-conceived arguments for what the United States is doing in Iraq.
One of them says that the United States has to stay in Iraq, losing more troops, to honor the 1,880 who have died and the 13,877 wounded there already. Put in the simplest of terms, that is to throw good money after bad, to throw more American lives down the rat hole that Iraq has become. That line of argument in 1975 would have kept U.S. forces in Vietnam long after it was clear that the war was over and lost.
That mindless approach also rules out the largest, most farsighted decision the Bush administration or any administration could take now: that is, that the United States has done as much as it is interested in doing in Iraq and is now going home, leaving the future of Iraq to the Iraqis to determine.
The second point put before the public by the Bush administration and its supporters recently is that we shouldn't worry about the fact that one result of our intervention there is the breakup of the Iraqi state into Kurdish, Shiite and Sunni pieces: according to this line of argument there never was an Iraqi state; Winston Churchill created Iraq. So, runs the argument, there is no reason to feel bad about the fact that one result of U.S. military intervention and political manipulation there has been a draft constitution and a situation that will almost inevitably result in bloody civil war among the Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis, likely ending with more than one state.
Another probable regional result of U.S. actions in Iraq will be greatly increased tensions among Turkey, Iran, Syria and "Iraq" -- whatever it will consist of. The Kurds in the north of Iraq will inevitably seek to constitute around themselves a Kurdish state, made up of the Kurdish minorities in neighboring Turkey, Iran and Syria.
It is also very likely that the Sunnis will go after the oil in the Shiite south as soon as they can manage it. The Shiites in Iraq have never been as adept at war as the Sunnis, so the Sunnis will begin to win, the Shiites will appeal to Iran, and, presto, there will be regional war -- Iranian Shiites fighting on the side of the Iraqi Shiite militia in the south.
It is certainly true historically that the British stuck modern Iraq together after World War I from parts of the Ottoman Empire. So it is true to say that there has not always been an Iraq with the borders it has now. What that argument attempts to leave out entirely, however, is that Iraq had existed for 71 years as the independent political entity that the United States ripped up in 2003.
Put aside how Iraq's various rulers across the years maintained it intact. It would be as if some country had tried to argue in 1860, on the eve of America's Civil War, that, well, America never was a country; it had just been stuck together from a collection of former British, French and Spanish territories, and so it is perfectly all right to see it broken up into pieces again now. That is the parallel for the "there never was an Iraq" argument for not holding the Bush administration responsible for taking the actions that are resulting now in Iraq's being broken into pieces.
So what happens next? The Sunnis will block the constitution. They will reject it in the Oct. 15 referendum in the provinces where they are a majority, thus killing it and requiring new elections in December, followed by more wrangling and drafting of another version of the document. Or they will sabotage the October vote through violence across the country, in spite of the new American troops who are being sent there to try to avoid that outcome.
The Sunnis will in any case maintain the drumfire of suicide bombings, improvised explosive devices and assassinations carried out against American and Iraqi provisional government forces and officials on a daily basis.
The United States will thus be obliged to continue to keep forces in Iraq, bleeding and dying, or to claim success and pull out, leaving the Iraqis to go after each other until they arrive at some new (or old) status quo. I strongly favor the latter course.
As Americans I think it is now pointless for us to continue to try to figure out why George W. Bush took us into this war. The various arguments he put forward, all of which turned out to be fatuous or just plain lies, included Iraq's having weapons of mass destruction; non-existent links between al-Qaida, the 9/11 attacks and Iraq; more oil for us; Iraq as a model of democracy in the Middle East; and the Iraqis welcoming Americans as liberators.
Added to those arguments were the more "vanity" ones of Saddam Hussein's having planned to kill Bush's father and the idea that the only way George W. could get the second term his father didn't get was by being a war president, for which he needed a war.
In the end, it wouldn't matter at all -- Bush could just ride his bicycle, clear brush and avoid Cindy Sheehan -- except for two key points. First, as commander in chief he has the authority to send Americans off to die in Iraq. An additional 2,000 soldiers are being sent to join the 138,000 there already to try to maintain order while the referendum on the constitution is held.
Second, it wouldn't matter what he did except that, like a successful identity thief he still has our credit card. The war continues to burn through an estimated $6 billion a week, come hurricane or sandstorm, steadily running up the budget deficit and the national debt.
How long will this go on? Unless the Congress grows a backbone, or the voters begin to take revenge on Iraq war supporters from both parties at the ballot box, it is hard to see when it might end, or when even it might get better. President Bush's numbers go lower, but he is in office until January 2009.
Dan Simpson is a retired U.S. ambassador.
© 2005 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette