Many liberals have been of the view that we didn't want this war in
the first place, but having invaded, we have no choice but to make a
success of the occupation. I've been one. I'm starting to doubt.
Consider this account
of, among other things, the reaction of a Baghdad cabdriver to the UN
bombing some time ago now:
- "They hit the U.N., they've hit the U.N. They must get
out, they must get out." He was an older man who looked to be in his
60s, well-spoken but overly excited; he could not restrain himself.
It was immediately clear to me who he was referring
to. When he said, "They must get out, they must get out," he wasn't
talking about Saddam loyalists or Arab fighters who have supposedly
crossed into Iraq. He was speaking of the Americans. It was the United
States, he said, that was responsible for the anarchy that now
characterizes Baghdad; not because the U.S. military and the CPA have
failed to provide security but because their very presence is
destabilizing. His perspective -- which I heard repeated a number
of times by many different types of people -- stands the traditional
thinking on its head. From this perspective, it was not a question of
more soldiers, different types of forces (military police instead of
regular army), or different countries such as India, Turkey or
Pakistan contributing troops. Unless the United States leaves Iraq, he
was saying, Iraq will not experience stability.
The guy who got this lecture -- Samer Shehata, a professor at the
School of Foreign Service at Georgetown -- doesn't detail the argument
much more than that, but even having it stated does raise the
question: just what are the Americans doing there, anyway?
One answer would be in Centcom briefings, which recount Americans
doing things like painting schoolhouses to improve the lives of
Iraqis. I seem to have a different reaction to these stories than
what Centcom intends. I want to know why that American soldier has
been dragged away from his family, halfway around the world, to take a
job away from some now-unemployed Iraqi who would be at least as
capable of wielding a paintbrush. A complaint which extends to our
larger reconstruction efforts as well, as in the
case of an Iraqi cement plant, now running after being fixed up by
the workers for a quarter million dollars, over the objections of
occupation authorities, who wanted to do the Iraqis a favor with a
gold-plated repair proposal that would have taken a year and $23
million, leaving the Iraqis themselves completely idle in the
So, Americans are not providing sound business practice or
know-how; they are not providing security (not even for their own
allied agencies, which are rapidly being chased out by bombings, much
less for the Iraqi population at large), but they are very clearly
serving as a magnet for terrorists from all over. ("Flypaper",
anyone?) And their presence also raises unrealistic expectations, as
in this interview
with a Shiite from Baghdad who is waiting anxiously for his ayatollah
to declare jihad, but you'll never guess why. Try it.
Here's the reason:
- He believes that jihad against soldiers here will force
the American government to pay attention. Force them to act more
decisively in fixing the mess they created. Change will only come if
enough Americans go home in body bags.
He believes that we can clean up the mess, and that the only reason
we haven't, is because we don't know they're upset. And that killing
a few soldiers is the best way to tell us. In fact, of course, what
it's likely to provoke is even more confrontational behavior on the
part of American troops -- the American army's top priority has been
to protect itself, and as Trent Lott mused
a few weeks ago, the logical conclusion of that policy is to just "mow
the whole place down".
So, let's remember again why we started this. There was the WMD
case, but that threat never seems to have existed, and it's certainly
gone now. And then there was the Tom Friedman case -- that the WMD
threat was overblown at best, but that this "optional war" provided an
opportunity to clean up the country, to demonstrate the benefits of
Western ways of doing things, and to show that we are not the barbaric
conquerors portrayed by bin Laden et al. But "mow[ing] the whole
place down" would demonstrate that we are exactly that, whether or not
we're willing to admit it to ourselves.
It didn't have to be like this. The State department had detailed
plans which might have worked much better, but they fell prey to
internecine battles in Washington, which is how we wound up with an
occupation authority in which almost no one speaks Arabic. We could
try dusting those off, but some participants in that planning process
recently wound up an interview by saying
it's too late now. Internationalization might have brought in
expertise from overseas if the neocon clique had been willing to
listen, but they view France as even more of a threat than Foggy
Bottom, and it would be hard to persuade anyone else at this point to
take over peacekeeping in what has clearly become a war zone. That
seems to leave us with the current occupation authority, which is
badly botching the job, or nothing. And if no one in Washington has a
better idea of what to do now, or how to bring in someone who could do
the job better, then our choices boil down to this: to continue the occupation,
which is doing active damage to both the Iraqis and to us, or to withdraw. Given those choices, it would indeed be better to withdraw.
Late edit: if you think of "Iraqification" as an alternative, you might want to consider the views of Professor Shehata, who got a good look at it in his brief stay in Baghdad:
Throughout the two-day course the U.S. soldiers made the Iraqi recruits repeatedly yell the word "professional"-- in English and in a loud, booming military voice -- as if somehow this would transform the recruits into well-trained, competent security guards. If the CPA believes that this type of training will help address Iraq's security dilemma, that repeatedly yelling "professional" will help hold fear at bay in Baghdad, they are delusional -- and Iraq has a very serious problem.
Yet more: Here's another call to destroy Iraq in order to "save" it:
There are no innocents in the Sunni Triangle. No longer can we afford such fine distinctions. The people we are dealing with have forsaken any claim to humanity. Three hundred thousand Iraqis, lying in mass graves, bear mute and terrible testimony. Not that it should be required.
So, first we kill them all, and then we can liberate the corpses. Brilliant! Of course, this Solon also believes that the whole Iraq thing is somehow revenge for 9/11 -- even though Dubya's crew has avoided stating outright that there was any direct connection, for lack of evidence.
If you prefer to read sane people, you might be better served reading Riverbend's scathing analysis of the Iraqi governing council -- half local thugs and half pampered dilletantes...