Two-and-a-half years ago at another “turning point” in the Iraq War, columnists at the Washington Post and other leading American newspapers were ecstatic over how the Iraqi national election was finally fulfilling the neoconservative dream of remaking the Muslim world.

Now, however, some of the same columnists who praised the Jan. 30, 2005, election are denouncing it as a failure that must be undone so George W. Bush’s newest “turning point” – the American troop “surge” – can achieve its fullest potential.

But remember back to those happy days in winter 2005 when Bush was the toast of Washington after his Second Inaugural Address that used the words “freedom” and “liberty” a staggering 42 times. Just 10 days later, U.S. commentators cheered themselves hoarse over the “purple-finger” election in Iraq.

“Could it be that the neocons were right and that the invasion of Iraq, the toppling of Hussein and the holding of elections will trigger a political chain reaction throughout the Arab world?” marveled Post columnist Richard Cohen. [Washington Post, March 1, 2005]

Another influential Post columnist, David Ignatius, was swept up in the excitement, too.

“The old system (in the Middle East) that had looked so stable is ripping apart, with each beam pulling another down as it falls,” Ignatius wrote. Crediting the U.S. invasion of Iraq for the “sudden stress” that started this collapse, Ignatius wrote, “It’s hard not to feel giddy, watching the dominoes fall.” [Washington Post, March 2, 2005]

Editorialists at the New York Times were no less enthusiastic.
Times foreign policy columnist Thomas L. Friedman hailed the Iraqi election as one of several “tipping points” foreshadowing “incredible” changes in the Middle East. [NYT, Feb. 27, 2005]

A lead editorial in the New York Times expanded on Friedman’s thesis. “The Bush administration is entitled to claim a healthy share of the credit for many of these advances,” the editorial said. [NYT, March 1, 2005]

On the Contrary

At Consortiumnews.com, however, we were among the few contrarian voices warning about the dangers ahead from Iraq’s sectarian voting patterns.

“There is a dark potential to those pleasing images of Iraqis voting in the face of violence,” I wrote on Feb. 3, 2005. “Rather than pointing toward an exit for the United States from Iraq, the election may be just another mirage leading U.S. troops deeper into Iraq’s long and bloody history of sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shiites.” [Consortiumnews.com’s “Sinking in Deeper.”]

At the time, about 1,500 American soldiers had been killed in the Iraq War, a number that has since more than doubled to over 3,700. The carnage among Iraqis has been far worse with some estimates of war-related deaths now approaching one million.

Meanwhile, Washington’s conventional wisdom is caught up in new excitement over the supposed success of Bush’s military escalation, or "surge." As part of this new conventional wisdom, some columnists who were head over heels about the January 2005 election are now urging that its results be overturned.

Post columnist Ignatius – the one who was “giddy” in winter 2005 – is now despondent because the Bush administration supposedly scuttled a covert operation that was designed to manipulate the outcome of that election.

“From President Bush on down, U.S. officials enthused about Iraqi democracy while pursuing a course of action that made it virtually certain that Iran and its proxies would emerge as the dominant political force,” Ignatius wrote in an article entitled “Bush’s Lost Iraqi Election” on Aug. 30, 2007.

Ignatius complained that “an unlikely coalition,” including then-House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, had closed down a $20 million-and-up CIA plan to finance friendly Iraqi politicians and to take other steps to ensure a satisfactory electoral outcome.

Without that aggressive plan for rigging the Iraqi election – and with many Sunnis boycotting the balloting – sectarian Shiite politicians predictably swept to victory. Then, after months of bickering, the Shiite-dominated parliament settled on Shiite hardliner Nouri al-Maliki as prime minister.

And, in another sign of how much the Washington’s tide has turned against that earlier turning point, some influential neoconservatives – along with prominent Democratic Senators Carl Levin and Hillary Clinton – are demanding Maliki’s ouster.

“Maliki is not just weak but unreliable,” wrote Charles Krauthammer, another neocon voice on the Washington Post op-ed page. “Time is short. We should have long ago … begun working to have this dysfunctional government replaced. …

“And then? Rather than seek a new coalition as a shaky substitute, the better alternative is new elections. And this time we must not repeat the mistake of election by party list, a system almost designed to produce warlord leadership and unstable coalitions.” [Washington Post, Aug. 31, 2007]

False Hope

In the Post’s perverse sense of journalistic balance, Krauthammer’s column is twinned with an article by former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson, who uses his op-ed space to mock anti-war Americans for failing in their summer campaign to persuade members of Congress to end the Iraq War.

“Undeniable progress on the security front has some practical implications,” Gerson wrote in praise of Bush’s surge. “Even if Democrats press a legislative timetable for withdrawal, it is unlikely that they will get the support of 17 Republicans in the Senate to override a presidential veto. … The president will have gotten an extended period of intensified military activity before his term ends. …

“The summer, at least, has brought rumors of hope.” [Washington Post, Aug. 31, 2007]

Or as comedian Lewis Black might say, “Keep false hope alive.”

Indeed, false hope has been one constant of the Iraq War, from expectations of a “cake walk” to the endless “turning points” – as one sign of “undeniable progress” takes the place of another, which is then forgotten, before the process repeats itself.

So, the now-admitted false hope of the Jan. 30, 2005, election is subsumed by the latest hope of the “surge” and by the future hope of Maliki’s ouster, which will be followed by the hope of a better-manipulated election that hopefully will produce a more compliant cast of Iraqi politicians who will finally implement the wished-for neocon agenda.

Of course, by the time all these hopes and dreams play out, the American and Iraqi death tolls will likely have doubled and tripled again. But the one certainty is that, by then, the neocons in Washington will have conjured up new hopes.

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth' are also available there.

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