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Blaming the Iraqis for the Iraq Disaster

By Ivan Eland
February 22, 2007

Editor's Note: Ever since 1984 when Jeane Kirkpatrick famously dubbed any American who criticized U.S. foreign policy as a "blame America firster," U.S. politicians have been loathe to speak critically of American wrongdoing abroad. Instead politicians -- and many journalists -- triangulate their way to positions that somehow dump the blame on a third party.

In this guest essay, Independent Institute's Ivan Eland says that in the context of the disastrous Iraq War, U.S. politicians from both the Democratic and Republican parties have decided that the someone is the Iraqi people:

As President Bush continues his Nixonesque policy of “exiting” Iraq by escalation and intimidation, both Republican and Democratic politicians are also imitating the Vietnam-era rhetoric of blaming the citizens of the chaotic country and their neighbors for the mess.

In fact, the politicians are blaming everyone but themselves for this monumental policy failure.

As Nixon fingered Laos and Cambodia for acting as communist havens for the destabilization of South Vietnam and expanded the U.S. war into them, Bush is raising troop levels in Iraq and blaming Iran for Iraq’s problems.

The Bush administration tried to get away with accusing the Iranian political leadership of providing armor-penetrating explosives to Shi’ite militias in Iraq, but when Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he saw no evidence of such leadership involvement, the administration quickly backpedaled.

Of course, if the Iranian leaders aren’t providing such materials and training to Shi’ite militias in Iraq, one should wonder why not. One might forgive even the despotic tyrants in Iran for being a little nervous.

Troops from the hostile government of the United States have invaded and occupied countries on both sides of Iran—Afghanistan and Iraq. If a hegemonic foreign power had invaded Mexico, who would doubt that the United States would aid Mexican resistance? Yet, contrary to the findings of the U.S. intelligence community, the administration is now trying to foist the blame for the Iraqi sectarian civil war on Iran.

The situation is so bad in Iraq that U.S. politicians of all political stripes are looking for someone—anyone—else to blame. In the debate in the U.S. House of Representatives on the congressional resolution disapproving of President Bush’s escalation of the war, Republican Ric Keller, who opposed the escalation, blamed the Iraqis for their troubles:

"Imagine your next-door neighbor refuses to mow his lawn and the weeds are all the way up to his waist, so you decide you’re going to mow his lawn for him every single week. The neighbor never says thank you, he hates you and sometimes he takes out a gun and shoots you. Under these circumstances, do you keep mowing his lawn forever?

"Do you send even more of your family members over to mow his lawn? Or do you say to that neighbor, you better step it up and mow your own lawn or there’s going to be serious consequences for you?"

Although Mr. Keller’s opposition to the President’s escalation should be praised, the arrogance implicit in this statement also runs through similar statements by Democratic war opponents. Because they want to get re-elected, politicians can’t “blame America” for the problems in Iraq so they have to blame the Iraqis.

One should ask even Mr. Keller and many other escalation opponents why a homeowner should be presumptuous enough to trespass on a neighbor’s property to mow their lawn in the first place?

Also, Mr. Keller should realize that his analogy is imperfect. In fact, what the United States did in Iraq was akin to running a car over the neighbor’s lawn mower (invading the country, ruining Iraqi social cohesion, and then dismantling the Iraqi security forces), then expecting him to mow his lawn, and blaming him when he can’t. Finally, the Iraqis, like the neighbor, know that the threat of coming “consequences”—whether civil war or long grass—is already a fact on the ground.

Hillary Clinton, however, would prefer to blame President Bush entirely for the war and take no responsibility for her own vote in favor of going to war.

Her position to date has been a cop-out: knowing what she knows now about the absence of weapons of mass destruction, etc., she wouldn’t have voted for the war. Instead of saying that her vote was a mistake—a colossal one given that the invasion would not have been justified even if Saddam Hussein had had such weapons—and apologizing, she is now saying that if voters want to hear an apology, they can just go vote for someone else for president.

She doesn’t know it, but this stance is the kiss of death for her presidential bid. She is trying to not be dragged too far to the left during the Democratic primaries in an attempt to win the general election by retaining moderate votes.

But even after the utter repudiation of the war in the election of November 2006, Republicans and Democrats have been slow to realize that Bush’s post-election escalation will cause opposition to the conflict to be a “tsunami” in 2008. After digging in her heels about the apology, Hillary will not even be able to get the Democratic nomination.

Anti-war Barack Obama, or more likely, John Edwards—who has apologized for his war vote—will be the Democratic nominee and the next President.

Because Bush’s escalation flies in the face of public opinion—in both the United States and Iraq—he has sunk the chances of the Republican Party in the 2008 election. All the major Republican candidates—John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, and Mitt Romney—have been forced to endorse the escalation.

Only the courageous Chuck Hagel has criticized the President’s policy, but regrettably he will not survive the Republican primaries because of that stance.

Although the finger-pointing will continue throughout the 2008 election campaign, ironically the Iraqis—aggrieved but the butt of blame for their plight—will have had a powerful influence on who is the next leader of the free world.

Ivan Eland is Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute and Assistant Editor of The Independent Review. Dr. Eland has been Director of Defense Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office, Evaluator-in-Charge (national security and intelligence) for the U.S. General Accounting Office, and Investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

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