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Iraq War's Two Constants

By Robert Parry
August 13, 2005

The Bush administration’s handling of the Iraq War has had two constants – deception and wishful thinking – a dangerous mix of falsehoods used to justify the conflict and unrealistic expectations about success.

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.

Trapped

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 Grimmer Vision."]

Democracy’s Flag

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 new president.

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.

Alternative Analysis

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 grievances.

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 Americans.

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.

Demanding Victory

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 Iraq.

“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 Parry’s 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 thinking.

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.


Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His new book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at Amazon.com, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth.'

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