When asked why the United States should not invade Iraq and overthrow Saddam Hussein, a prescient critic said, “Once you’ve got Baghdad, it’s not clear what you do with it. It’s not clear what kind of government you would put in place of the one that’s currently there…. How much credibility is that government going to have if it’s set up by the United States military when it’s there?… I think to have American military forces engaged in a civil war inside Iraq would fit the definition of quagmire, and we have absolutely no desire to get bogged down in that fashion.” The critic was none other than Dick Cheney, who made these comments as Defense Secretary in 1991, explaining the first Bush Administration’s decision to end the Gulf War after Iraq had been expelled from Kuwait.
Now that he’s climbed onto the neoconservative bandwagon in the second Bush Administration, Cheney seems to have forgotten his own wise counsel. As many predicted before the current war, the invasion and occupation have released explosive tensions and caused growing anti-US feeling. With the uprising of Muqtada al-Sadr’s militia in at least seven cities, the unrest has spread from the Sunni minority to the Shiite population. The resistance calls into question the Administration’s characterization of the war.
Before the invasion, the White House and its supporters promised that US troops would be greeted with flowers and candy. Instead, resistance was often fierce among the Sunnis, even though the bulk of Saddam Hussein’s army abandoned the field. Then, as an insurgency took hold in the Sunni Triangle, a new explanation was concocted: Resistance was only from Baathist “dead-enders,” or sometimes Islamist extremists from other countries. In fact, resentment of the occupation was never limited to Saddamists, or even to the Sunni population.
We have reached a critical turning point in the Administration’s Iraq misadventure. The US Army, like most occupation forces, has generated a nationalist insurgency. Each act to suppress resistance–house-to-house searches, the shutting of an opposition newspaper and, the latest, the bombing of a mosque–has only fueled deeper resentment, even among Iraqis who welcomed the overthrow of Saddam. And the spurious promise to turn over sovereignty by June 30 is not taken seriously by Iraqis, who can see that Washington has no plans to end the military occupation or its control over the significant levers of power.
This turning point in Iraq calls for a change of direction in Washington, but both parties in Congress are demanding that we “stay the course,” no matter the cost, even as the Pentagon announces an increase in troops. There are notable exceptions: Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich had the courage to point out that “this war and this occupation are a disaster.” Senator Ted Kennedy thundered that “Iraq is George Bush’s Vietnam,” while Senator Robert Byrd said that a troop increase “will only suck us deeper into the maelstrom of violence.”
Thirty-three years ago, John Kerry appeared before the Senate and asked, “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?” He–all of us–should be asking similar questions now, as the number of US dead passes 600, with perhaps 10,000 Iraqis killed and no end in sight. Why does this Administration have no coherent exit strategy from a country where opposition to our presence is rapidly growing, and where increasing numbers are taking up arms to throw us out? Where is the accountability for an Administration that has led us into this quagmire?