This pairing has brought the United States one of
the most unnecessary military disasters in its history. Yet the Bush
administration is sticking with the same tactics, more deceptions and
more wishful thinking – from claims that the Iraq War has reduced terror
threats worldwide to optimistic talk about upcoming troop withdrawals.
But a difference between now and earlier in the war
is that the spin is growing more obvious as Americans catch on to the
tricks that have led to the deaths of more than 1,850 U.S. soldiers and
tens of thousands of Iraqis.
It’s also become increasingly clear that the future
of the Iraq War may rest on whether U.S. citizens can devise some
creative way to challenge the administration’s course in Iraq and
enforce some accountability on those responsible for the catastrophe.
As the U.S. death toll in Iraq surges, America’s
138,000 soldiers find themselves trapped in a military dilemma with none
of the available options likely to bring success. Training of poorly
motivated Iraqi government troops has progressed slowly while the
resilient Iraqi insurgents have grown only more lethal.
This military dilemma traces back to George W.
Bush’s original decisions about launching the invasion in March 2003.
The self-described “war president” checked the decision box on force
levels that would require almost every wish to come true.
But the dream of a “cakewalk” didn’t materialize.
U.S. troops weren’t showered with rose petals. Instead, a surprising
number of Iraqis showed a readiness to fight, causing some U.S. military
experts immediately to sense that the invasion had the potential for
turning into a debacle. [For a real-time report on those early doubts,
see Consortiumnews.com “Bay
of Pigs Meets Black Hawk Down.”]
Bush got it wrong in two ways. He didn’t commit
enough troops to win using the conventional tactics of overwhelming
strength. But he sent in too many soldiers for effective special-forces
operations, which rely on highly trained units blending in with
indigenous troops and avoiding the appearance of an occupation army.
Since then, as the occupation has floundered, Bush
has proved incapable of adapting to the military challenges. He has come
up with few new ideas, except in the area of public relations where he
has glossed over the battlefield difficulties and relied on a new round
of emotional arguments to keep the American people in line.
Bush’s pro-war case, which once centered on false
claims about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and Saddam Hussein’s
ties to al-Qaeda, shifted to the assertion that Iraq had become the
front line in the war on terror – even though it wasn’t before – and
that any withdrawal now would embolden the enemy.
“Our troops are
fighting these terrorists in Iraq so you will not have to face them here
at home,” Bush explained in a radio address on June 18, 2005.
But Bush’s insistence that U.S. forces must fight
“terrorists” in Iraq to prevent them from carrying out attacks in the
United States and Europe never made any sense.
Not only could terrorists easily assign a few
operatives to attack targets outside Iraq, but Western intelligence
agencies agree that the U.S. occupation of Iraq and the civilian
casualties there have been recruiting boons for al-Qaeda. It appears,
for instance, that the mass-transit suicide bombings in London on July 7
resulted from a plot by local Muslims driven to extremism by watching
the bloodshed in Iraq. [See Consortiumnews.com's "Bush's
Bush also has argued that planting the flag of
democracy in Iraq will somehow inspire political moderation throughout
the Arab world.
“A free Iraq in the heart of the Middle East will
deliver a serious blow to their hateful ideology,” Bush said about
Islamic extremists during a press conference at his Crawford, Texas,
ranch on Aug. 11.
This theory linking democracy with political
restraint has become a staple of Washington’s conventional wisdom, but
it lacks real-world proof. Indeed, its fragile logic was shattered when
Iranian voters went to the polls in July and shocked Tehran’s political
establishment by electing a hard-liner, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as Iran’s
Iran’s vote demonstrated that elections don’t
always translate into moderation, a reality recognized more than two
centuries ago by America’s Founding Fathers. Throughout the history of
democracy – even dating back to the ancient Greeks – popular passions
often have prevailed over cool rationality.
In his revamped P.R. push, Bush also continues to
misrepresent the political realities inside Iraq. Bush argues that the
conflict pits Iraqis who want a Western-style democracy against enemies
of freedom who are obsessed by an ideology of hate that’s bent on world
domination – or as Bush has said, “they hate our freedoms.”
This black-and-white analysis sets up a framework
that offers little choice but to battle to the death in an apocalyptic
war between good “democrats” and evil “terrorists.” If Bush’s analysis
is correct, American troops will be fighting and dying in Iraq and
around the Islamic world for generations.
But there is a different – and less alarmist – way
to view Islamic extremism. It’s not that Muslims “hate our freedoms,”
it’s that many hate what the United States has done in the Middle East,
especially its support for corrupt dictatorships, like the Saudi royal
family. While terrorism is not justifiable, Muslims do have justifiable
As for the Iraq War, it makes more sense to view
the conflict as a civil war between competing ethnic and religious
groups with only an overlay of external Islamic terrorism.
In this analysis, the once-powerful Sunnis, who
thrived under Saddam Hussein and who have largely rejected the
U.S.-imposed political changes, are on one side. They are getting some
support from Islamic extremists infiltrating into Iraq to fight the
On the other side are the Shiite majority and its
Kurdish allies, groups that were persecuted under Hussein but now
dominate Iraq’s provisional government. They’re backed by the U.S.
military, which is bearing the brunt of their war against the Sunnis.
Under this analysis, a continued U.S. military
presence points toward two likely results: an increasingly brutal
repression of the Sunni minority whose cities, like Fallujah, will face
destruction from American firepower – and a continued influx of foreign
Islamic militants determined to kill Americans.
However, a U.S. military withdrawal might not
create the catastrophe that Bush and his supporters predict, if the less
alarmist analysis is true. Instead, the Shiites, Kurds and Sunnis might
be forced into practical negotiations for resolving their differences.
While it’s true that the sectarian violence still
might degenerate into a full-scale civil war, the conflict – without the
lethality of American military equipment and with less reason for
non-Iraqi fighters to join in – might avert some extremes of violence.
Once an independent Iraqi government does take
shape, it will have a strong self-interest in rooting out foreign
Islamic extremists, much as Hussein’s government did.
The departure of American troops also would
eliminate a chief recruiting pitch that terrorists have exploited to get
young Muslims to strap bombs on themselves. Without the American
presence – and assuming progress on other problems such as the
Israeli-Palestinian dispute – the appeal of Islamic extremism might fade
rather than grow.
Freed from the Iraq War, American special forces
also could refocus their attention on capturing or killing Osama bin
Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders.
Yet, it is a mark of the political crisis in the
United States that no major leader – Republican or Democrat – has dared
chart a course toward prompt American withdrawal from Iraq.
Bush, who has made refusal to admit error a
political trademark, shows neither the inclination nor the imagination
to make any significant changes in his Iraq policy. At his press
conference on Aug. 11, Bush responded with platitudes to a vigil outside
his Crawford ranch by Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a soldier killed in
“I grieve for every death,” Bush said. “It breaks
my heart to think of a family weeping over the loss of a loved one. I
understand the anguish that some feel about the death that takes place.”
Meanwhile, many leading Democrats have adopted as
their clever Iraq War mantra the slogan: “failure is not an option.” But
words demanding success don’t guarantee success. Throughout history,
political leaders have doomed many brave armies with orders of “no
retreat” or “fight to the last man.”
Indeed the phrase “failure is not an option” is
really just another way of expressing wishful thinking. The unspoken
part of the sentiment is that “If we say failure is not an option, then
we’ll succeed.” But tough talk is still no substitute for realism.
What to Do?
So what are the American people to do if they want
to force an end to this war?
Impeachment of Bush is widely regarded as
impossible given the Republican control of the House and Senate and the
strength of the conservative news media in newspapers, magazines, talk
radio, television and the Internet. But impeachment may be the only
political option left if the American people hope to force a U.S.
withdrawal before 2009.
Also by making Bush’s impeachment a focus of the
congressional campaigns in 2006, the American people would be given a
chance to impose some measure of accountability for the gross
mismanagement of the Iraq War.
Without some accountability, it’s also likely that
Bush’s neoconservative advisers will remain influential in Washington,
biding their time for a comeback. Bush may be leaving in
three-and-a-half years, but the neoconservatives who surround him have
no plans to surrender the influence they have accumulated in Washington
over the past 30 years.
In that period, the neocons have mastered how to
manipulate the American political process, using tactics such as
“perception management” and concentrating on the control of information
as it flows through the nation’s capital. [For details, see Robert
Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq.]
But as the Iraq War riles more Americans, even some
leading neocons are trying to shift the blame. For instance, Weekly
Standard editor Bill Kristol, who was a prominent advocate for the
invasion, has begun pointing the finger at inept military leaders.
Bush and the neocons appear to share the same
immediate goal. They are desperate to buy some more time by again
applying the two constants of the Iraq War – deception and wishful
So, as the U.S. death toll soars, Bush and his
advisers are back to their old tricks – spinning the facts and hoping
for the best.