Losing Iraq?

Losing Iraq?

Clarification: George W. Bush’s proclamation of Al Qaeda as “not a problem anymore” was a reference to top Al Qaeda operatives, not the entire organization. (06/04/03)


Is it too soon to ask, Who lost Iraq? War critics and skeptics should not be hurling I-told-you-so’s yet. But many of the serious questions they raised before the invasion (apart from why it was justified in the first place) have turned out to be questions for which the war planners of the Bush Administration–and we use the word “planners” hesitantly–had no answers.

They had no plan for providing security and countering the lawlessness and disorder that some Pentagon officials foresaw. They had no plan for managing a political transition that would entail more than directing the “dancing in the streets” Iraqis toward elections. They had no plan for insuring the supply of essential services. They had no plan for maintaining the health system (let alone guarding hospitals in addition to the oil ministry). They had no plan for restoring the economy and getting the oil industry up and running smoothly under Iraqi control. They had no comprehensive plan for quickly finding and securing the weapons of mass destruction they claimed were in Iraq or the nuclear material–of value to anyone looking to make a nuclear bomb or merely a dirty bomb–that was known to be present at various nuclear facilities. And they had no clue that Shiites would quickly develop a political force demanding power and a quick end to the US occupation–even though experts on the region warned that this would be likely.

There’s more. Team Bush–and its think-tank and op-ed colleagues–claimed that victory in Iraq would lead to democracy throughout the region, would pressure terrorists and would ease the path to resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Weeks ago, flush with military success in Iraq, Bush proclaimed Al Qaeda to be “on the run” and “not a problem anymore.” The early returns from Israel, Saudi Arabia and Morocco are not encouraging.

All this leads to a postwar question: What went wrong? Not in Iraq–which was, sadly, predictable–but in Washington. Why did Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice and others not prepare adequately for the challenges? Did they believe their own PR about “cakewalks” and celebrating Iraqis? Was Rumsfeld too obsessed with winning the war his way–with a lighter force that would be less able to police the country after the war? Did they not truly care about those WMDs (and the 5,000-year-old artifacts at the national museum)? Was the intelligence bad? Or did the policy-makers ignore intelligence and base life-and-death decisions on their own prejudices and wishful thinking?

These and other questions deserve responses. It might be too much to expect the Republicans who control Congress to inconvenience Bush the Conqueror with forceful hearings, though Republican Senators Pete Domenici and Richard Lugar have gently expressed concern. Democrats in and out of the 2004 contest have started to poke cautiously at the President, who, along with his war, continues to score high in the polls. Many in the news media have done well in reporting postwar problems. But there is the possibility that attention will fade (cf. Afghanistan).

Bush, no doubt, would like to move on. True patriots, though, should insist on accountability. In order to plot a future course, in Iraq and elsewhere, we have to understand fully what went wrong–and what is still going wrong–with Bush’s war.

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