* The head of the picked-in-Washington Governing Council in Iraq was assassinated just outside the highly protected command center of the occupation six weeks before a new but yet to be named Iraqi government assumes sovereignty.
* The Baghdad home and compound of Ahmad Chalabi, whose Iraqi National Congress received $33 million in US taxpayer money for providing wrong and misleading (deliberately so) intelligence on WMDs and other matters, was raided by US troops and Iraqi police, pursuant to warrants issued by an Iraqi judge. The early indications are Chalabi’s gang may stand accused of a) corruption; b) impeding an investigation into possible corruption in the UN’s oil-for-food program in Iraq; c) fomenting a coup or otherwise trying to interfere in the transfer of sovereignty in Iraq; d) engaging in espionage by sharing sensitive information with Iran; or e) all of the above. The raid came two days after the Pentagon stopped funding the INC and four days after Secretary of State Colin Powell acknowledged he had made false assertions about Iraq possessing mobile biological weapons labs during his February 2003 presentation to the UN Security Council. That charge had been based on intelligence provided by an INC source. At Bush’s State of the Union speech in January, Chalabi was a guest of the president and sat right behind Laura Bush.
* An attack mounted by US forces near the Syrian border has led to charges that the American troops massacred a wedding party. The US military claims it struck a legitimate military target. Local Iraqi health officials maintain most of the victims were women and children.
* The prison abuse scandal rolls on, with more photos and more videotapes. Meanwhile, a soldier who worked for military intelligence at Abu Ghraib military has gone public with the accusation that guards at the prison were encouraged to abuse the prisoners. At higher levels, the US military and senior military officials have not been able to get their stories straight on who actually was in charge at Abu Ghraib and what interrogation practices were authorized (and by whom) regarding Iraqi detainees.
* The newspapers are filled with quotes from US officials working for the occupation authority who express despair and discouragement about the current situation and the road (or lack thereof) ahead.
* There are signs that security in Iraq is deteriorating further. Iraqis complain about kidnappings and lawlessness. American reporters, by and large, rarely venture beyond the Green Zone and their hotels. Earlier this week, a Time writer told me that the newsmagazine has only three people in Iraq. Much of the video footage shown on cable news stations has been shot by non-Americans hired by US media outlets. The war is too unsafe for Americans to cover. And reconstruction efforts are slowing down or stopping.
* Halliburton still cannot work up a legitimate bill for hundreds of millions of dollars in food services it has supplied in Iraq.
* Neocon Bill Kristol, one of the main promoters of the war, called George W. Bush’s handling of the war “incompetent.” Columnist George Will has accused the Bush administration of being unable to think clearly about Iraq. Senator Pat Roberts, the Republican chairman of the intelligence committee, has groused about “growing US messianic instincts.” In other words, some hawk-mice are abandoning the ship. (They’re not calling for withdrawal–the neocons, actually, are urging dramatically expanding the US military mission in Iraq–but they are distancing themselves from the commander-in-chief.)
* And remember how the war in Iraq was supposed to bolster the Middle East peace process? Tell that to the parents of the children recently killed in Gaza during a protest.
Can it get much worse? The sad answer is, yes. After the June 30 hand-off, the lines of authority could become less clear in Iraq. There will be a caretaker government supposedly composed of non-politicos. And the US military will have to coordinate its counterinsurgency operations with this group. Imagine the negotiations that will ensue, as the US military tries to mount operations against the various insurgencies. How much leeway will the new government provide the US forces? After the recent “wedding party” attack, will these Iraqi leaders permit the US to strike at will? It is not difficult to foresee US operations in Iraq turning into a collection of Falluja-like standoffs. And if the new Iraqi government is supposed to be representing the Iraqi people, how will it deal with Iraqi resentment against the US occupation and military operations? A few weeks ago, Gallup reported that 57 percent of Iraqis want US troops to leave immediately. If that’s an accurate reflection of popular will, how can the new sovereign government permit US forces to stay and have a free run of the country? How can the Bush administration claim it is fighting for democracy in Iraq, if it keeps troops there in defiance of Iraqi public opinion?
These are difficult questions. No wonder Bush’s handling of the war in Iraq wins the approval of only a third of the American public in recent polls. Yet there do remain the diehard Bush defenders. A few days ago, I was debating Jed Babbin, a contributor for National Review Online, and he declared–no ifs, ands, or buts–that “we’re winning the war in Iraq” and that the American people had full confidence in Bush. I asked for evidence of the latter proposition. He noted that he has been able to visit the heartland of America and suss out what “the people” are thinking. Bully for him. In another debate, George Neumayr, the managing editor of The American Spectator countered my pessimism by noting that Bush was doing a fine job and any criticism of him was both unfounded and counterproductive (read: of aid and comfort to the enemy). These and other traditional cons have yet to follow Captain Kristol off the reservation–though CNN’s Tucker Carlson has mea culpaed his prewar enthusiasm, blaming his hawkishness on an unnamed pal who persuaded him to ignore his own instincts and ride along to the sound of the guns.
In the midst of this recent slide, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz (of the Cheerleaders for Chalabi crowd) begrudgingly admitted the administration might have made one or two slight miscalculations. But the bigfoots–Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld–continue to duck responsibility for their misjudgments. Bush may still be taxing himself trying to come up with an answer to the question posed at his last press conference: can you think of any mistakes you have made as president? At the time, none came to mind. And he has not gotten back to us on this subject. As for Cheney, it would be encouraging to see him–the godfather of the administration’s neocon cabal–working hard to get back from Chalabi the $27 million the United States wasted on this neocon darling, was convicted in Jordan of massive bank fraud. Perhaps Cheney can ask US troops to seize Chalabi’s compound and assets and sell them off on eBay: “Item No. 23: Iranian tapestry rug, suitable for use in the office of a head of state.” (Chalabi pals at the neoconnish American Enterprise Institute appear to be standing by their man in Iraq. Danielle Pletka, AEI’s veep, dismissed the Chalabi raid as likely “political manipulation in order to disable somebody who has been a thorn in the side of the” occupation authorities. So it’s Paul Bremer’s fault. Catfight on the right!) And while Rumsfeld has expressed regret that half-a-dozen GIs turned Abu Ghraib into their own personal dungeon, he has yet to apologize for–or even acknowledge–the woefully inadequate planning that occurred for the post-invasion phase of Mission Iraq. A year ago no one, Rumsfeld said, could have predicted the troubles of today. But military and foreign policy experts back then foresaw precisely the problems that now confront the United States. But Rumsfeld thought he knew better–or perhaps he didn’t think. He should be accepting responsibility for that screw-up, not the sadistic antics captured on pixels.
The bad news about the bad news is that there is not much reason to expect a change in the trend. Forget the John Kerry plan–whatever it may be. If he is fortunate enough to win (and he ought to be careful what he wishes for), he won’t assume office until January 20. By then the first round of elections are scheduled to take place. But, no doubt, the situation in Iraq will have changed so much that whatever Kerry has to offer today could well be irrelevant by then. For now, it is Bush the Infallible who is stuck with the mess in Iraq, and the nation is stuck with him.
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