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President Bush Is Endangering Our Lives: 9. Who Lost Iraq?

01/24/2006 05:57 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

"Iraq will serve as a model for freedom in the broader Middle East ... In 2006, on the political side, we will help Iraqis build a lasting free society. On the security side, we will strengthen Iraqi security forces so (they) can lead in the fight. And on the economic side, we will continue reconstruction efforts." -- President Bush, describing his "National Strategy for Victory" to the Veterans For Foreign Wars, 1/10/06

"People are doing the same as [in] Saddam's time and worse ... (If nothing is done) the disease infecting [the Ministry of the Interior] will become contagious and spread to all ministries and structures of Iraq's government." -- Former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, "Abuse Worse Than Under Saddam, Says Iraqi Leader," The Observer, 11/27/05

"The United States' 'Marshall Plan' to rebuild this war-torn country is drawing to a close this year with much of its promise unmet and no plans to extend its funding." -- "'Marshall Plan' for Iraq Fades," L.A. Times, 1/15/06

Those who lived among the people during the Indochina war learned one basic lesson: U.S. policy-makers may wage war from the top down but its outcome is determined from the ground up. Even Mr. Bush's harshest critics should hope that Shiite and Kurdish leaders who comprise 80% of the new parliament will give real power to the Sunnis to avoid a disastrous civil war. On the ground, however, most trends are moving in the opposite direction. In the rarefied air of Washington, Mr. Bush can receive enthusiastic applause from the VFW or Congress for promising that Iraq will be a "model for freedom," and that "victory will come when the Iraqi security forces can provide for the safety of their own citizens."

Reports on what is occurring down on the hard, tough, ground of Iraq, however, make Mr. Bush's talk of creating a "model for freedom" sound insane.

Mr. Bush clearly defined what he meant by "victory" in his January 10 speech: "victory will come when Iraq is not a safe haven for terrorists to plot new attacks on our nation." This was, of course, the case before he invaded Iraq. Since he invaded Iraq, insurgents have actually increased their strength -- from zero in March 2003 to 5,000 in November 2003 to 15-20,000 today (Brookings Institution, "Iraqi Index Archive"). Their attacks grew 29% last year, from 26,496 in 2004 to 34,131 in 2005. ("Attacks in Iraq jumped in 2005," USA Today, 1/23/06). By Mr. Bush's own definition of victory therefore, he is being defeated.

To understand how thoroughly Mr. Bush has failed as Commander-in-Chief in Iraq, let us consider each component of his stated strategy as it is being played out on the ground.

"On The Political Side"

Mr. Bush declared that "Iraqis have shown that they can come together for the sake of national unity." Ten days earlier an LAT story, headlined "Iraqi Civil War? Some Experts Say It's Arrived," reported that Stanford counter-insurgency expert James Fearon "believes that Iraq's civil war began almost as soon as Hussein was ousted ... 'The kind of war emerging in Iraq, characterized by guerrilla attacks, kidnappings, assassinations and "ethnic cleansing," is typical of modern civil conflicts,' Fearon said."

Iraqi political scientist Kanan Makiya implored Shiite and Kurdish political leaders to change the constitution which will lead to autonomous Shiite and Kurdish regions controlling much of Iraq's oil, and thus likely provoke the Sunnis into civil war, writing: "the 79 percent of people who voted in favor of a constitution that promotes ethnic and sectarian divisions are unwittingly paving the way for a civil war that will cost hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives. Nothing is worth that."

The Shiites rejected Makiya's plea, reneging on their pre-election promise to allow amendments giving more power to the Sunnis: "Abdul Aziz Hakim, the leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the most powerful Shiite party in the ruling coalition, appeared to back away from the constitutional compromise Wednesday." (WP, 1/12/06)

An ABC News December 2005 poll showed that the Shiites and Kurds feel better off than under Saddam, leading the Administration and its boosters like Senator Lieberman to say that "two-thirds say they are better off than they were under Saddam" (WSJ, 11/29/05). But Lieberman and the Administration have dishonestly failed to note that the same poll reported that "the number of Iraqis who say things are going well in their country overall is just 44 percent" and "nearly six in 10 disapprove of how the United States has operated in Iraq since the war."

They also fail to note that "just 27 percent in Sunni areas approve of the constitution," "11 percent in predominantly Sunni provinces feel safe in their neighborhood," "a mere 9 percent of those in mostly Sunni provinces say the country as a whole is doing well," and that only "56 percent in Shiite provinces ... want a unified Iraq." On the ground, such sentiments -- especially if the Sunnis feel deprived of what they regard as a fair share of oil revenues -- are a recipe for civil war.

But until now, rather than heeding Mr. Bush's call for Sunni inclusion, Mr. Hakim has "renewed his call to merge half of Iraq's 18 provinces into a federal region in the oil-rich, heavily Shiite south." (WP, 11/27/05) He has also made no secret of his top priority: "Hakim ... has called on the United States to let Iraqi fighters take a more aggressive role against insurgents, saying his country will only be able to defeat the insurgency when the United States lets Iraqis get tough." (ibid.) This amounts to murdering and torturing more Sunnis on the ground, which will hardly build national concord at the top.

And not only do the Shiites make no secret of their anti-secular and anti-woman views, but theocracy is already spreading on the ground throughout Mr. Bush's "model for freedom," as the N.Y. Times reported on July 7, 2005: "The once libertine oil port of Basra, 350 miles south of the capital and far from the insurgency raging in much of Iraq, is steadily being transformed into a mini-theocracy under Shiite rule. There is perhaps no better indication of the possible flash points in a Shiite-dominated Iraq, because the political parties that hold sway here also wield significant influence in the central government in Baghdad and are backed by the country's top clerics."

"On The Security Side"

As noted above, even the U.S. military is losing ground to the insurgents. What are the prospects that the Iraqi military and police will be able to do what the U.S. cannot? After surveying U.S. efforts to train the Iraqi army, James Fallows has reported that "measured against what it would take to leave Iraqis fully in charge of their own security, the United States and the Iraqi government are losing ground. Absent a dramatic change--in the insurgency, in American efforts, in resolving political differences in Iraq-- America's options will grow worse, not better, as time goes on." ("Why Is There No Iraqi Army?," The Atlantic, December 2005.)

A U.S. Army which has not itself been trained for counter-insurgency can hardly train an Iraq army to conduct it. Second, as Mr. Fallows notes, to effectively train the Iraqi army the Americans would need to speak Arabic and change the U.S. military culture to place a higher priority on training than combat. Neither Secretary Rumsfeld nor the JCS have shown any real interest in doing so. Thirdly, as Fallows also notes, to fight the insurgents the Iraqi army would need an enormous logistical supply line which it does not -- and will not -- have. And fourthly, and most importantly, Iraqi soldiers would need to be motivated to fight and die for their country, rather than clan or tribe. They are not.

Mr. Bush rightly sees an efficient police force as critical to a successful Iraq. But the N.Y. Times has reported that "American commanders have complained that armed militia have infiltrated the police department in Basra, Iraq's third-largest city ... Last month, Lt. Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the top overall American trainer in Iraq, acknowledged that hundreds of militia gunmen had joined police departments around the country, while still retaining loyalties to their militia commanders." (1/16/06)

"On The Economic Side"

It took just five days for Mr. Bush's January 10, 2006, claim that "we will continue reconstruction efforts" to be exposed as one more empty promise. The L.A. Times reported on January 15 that Mr. Bremer's pledge of a Marshall Plan for Iraq had failed, and that "U.S. officials are promoting a tough-love vision of reconstruction that puts the burden on the Iraqi people ... even if that causes short-term suffering for Iraq's people. "No pain, no gain," Andy Wylegala, whose job at the embassy is to help Americans do business in Iraq, said at the same briefing... 'when I look from my side, I see it as a long-term, very favorable development.'" (1/15/06)

On January 2nd, the Washington Post reported that "oil production stands at roughly 2 million barrels a day, compared with 2.6 million before U.S. troops entered Iraq in March 2003, according to U.S. government statistics," and that "the national electrical grid has an average daily output of 4,000 megawatts, about 400 megawatts less than its prewar level." Bush spent less on education programs ($99 million) than on exhuming 5 mass graves to aid his botched prosecution of Saddam Hussein ($128 million), and "the United States will spend $437 million on border fortresses and guards, about $100 million more than the amount dedicated to roads, bridges and public buildings, including schools." ("U.S. Has End in Sight on Iraq Rebuilding," WP, 1/02/06)

Yes, as Bush boosters say, "per capita income" grew 60% from 2003 to 2004. But "much of this rise can be attributed to rising oil production and higher world oil prices," according to the UK Government's Department for International Development. Most of this income is going to the Iraqi rich who are mostly living abroad and to the powerful since, as the Iraqi anti-corruption commission reported, "there is massive corruption in most Iraqi government ministries as a legacy of Saddam Hussein's era." (BBC, 1/22/06).

Down on the ground, where the people live, there is a 27-40% unemployment rate; people in much of Iraq swelter in the summer and freeze in the winter since they have only 2-8 hours of electricity a day; and drivers wait for hours or days to pay 5-6 times as much for scarce gasoline as they did under Saddam.

Mr. Bush's strategy is not only failing. Although we can all hope for miracles, most signs on the ground suggest that he will only make things worse if he is allowed to continue his "post-defeat war."

And we need not ask "who lost Iraq?" Since distorting intelligence data to mislead the nation into war in 2003, Mr. Bush has been entirely free to misuse his already excessive Executive Power in Iraq. Neither Congress nor the public have placed any effective restraints upon him. His failure is his alone, despite his inexcusable attempt to switch the blame to his critics.

His refusal to take responsibility for his failures not only reveals a lack of character. It is an important dimension of Mr. Bush's ineffectiveness as Commander-in-Chief. At a time when America most needs a real leader who can unite our society to effectively face real threats, Mr. Bush is dividing us in a cheap attempt to gain partisan advantage in the upcoming 2006 elections.