Why did the Bush administration pick Iraq as a target for the war it needed and wanted? Why risk death to more than 2,000 Americans and more than 30,000 Iraqis? As part of his current public relations campaign, President Bush admits that much of the intelligence on which the Iraq war was based had been faulty. He assumes responsibility but blames the intelligence services. However, he goes on to say that the removal of Saddam Hussein was the "right" thing to do. Saddam is a bad man. He has killed his own people. He caused instability in that part of the world. He hates America. He was always a threat. We had to get rid of him.
Many Americans are willing even now to swallow such obfuscation even though it is a coverup for the phony rationale propounded two years ago.
The proper question is why, of all the bad people in the world, was Saddam targeted? The president's charges could be leveled against many of the sociopaths on the loose in Asia, Africa and South America.
Who but far-out liberals would object to an attack on Fidel Castro? Or Hugo Chavez? What about Kim Jong Il of Korea? Surely he is a greater threat to the United States than Saddam. Or the Muslim Arabs in Khartoum who have been practicing genocide against black Christians in southern Sudan and black Muslims in Darfur? Or the Shiite grand ayatollahs in Iran? Or the shifty Syrians who have been stirring up trouble for 30 years. Once we win "victory" in Iraq, who will be our next target? Not all these leaders, it might be said, are threats to the United States. But was Saddam a threat a couple of years ago? The president says he was, but where is the evidence that Iraqi terror was aimed at the United States? There is plenty of terror there now, but didn't our invasion and occupation create it?
With a wide selection of possible targets, why did the administration pick Iraq?
The first reason is that the administration needed a war as an excuse to enhance the wartime powers of the commander-in-chief. The United States had swept away the scruffy Taliban in short order. The "war" on terrorism needed another target. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was sure that Iraq would be a pushover. Shock and awe, some special forces, and a compact expeditionary force would wipe out Saddam and all his troops in short order. Had we not driven them out of Kuwait as one would swat an annoying mosquito? It would doubtless be an easier job than even "taking out" Castro.
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Moreover, the generally pro-Israel neo-conservative intellectuals assured the administration that a democratic Iraq would "reconfigure" the situation in the Middle East. The way to Jerusalem, they insisted, was through Baghdad. So Iraq was the obvious target for another "war on terrorism" even though the evidence that Iraq had cooperated in terror against the United States or was even planning on it was thin -- and we know now nonexistent.
Behind the administration's assumptions were two huge and costly errors. The first was that resistance in Iraq would collapse immediately. The president, the vice president and the secretary of defense were utterly unprepared for the insurgency and even now show no sign that they know what to do about it. The second was that Iraq was prepared for democracy. They assumed and still do that if you can organize a fair election and the majority wins, you have, ipso facto, a democracy.
What you are more likely to have is Shiite theocracy and a Sunni caliphate in civil war. There is no tradition in Iraq of a civil society in which the various factions would share power and abandon their historic propensity to kill one another -- a propensity recorded in all the history books about Mesopotamia that the neo-cons and the president had not read.
So the president's argument that America must "stay the course" in Iraq till "victory" is as worthless as his previous argument that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction. "Victory" will come only when Sunni and the Shia stop killing one another and that will not happen in the lifetime of any of us, a hopeless task as ought to be evident by now.
And, by the way, might one ask when the American bishops are going to follow the pope's good example and condemn torture, even when the victims are not American citizens?