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Winning in Iraq: Realities and Fictions

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It may be true that the consequences of "losing" Iraq will be very grave.

To "lose" Iraq means getting out while the country is in chaos, in a multi-sided civil war, in the grip of theological gangs and criminal gangs and armed clans and anybody else who can carry a gun. Including Al Qaeda and as yet unknown anti-Western terrorist groups. It means devolving into three - or more - separate nations. Each will engage in ethnic cleansing and have ongoing armed skirmishes with their neighbors.

Some of them may, as George Bush promises, be 'breeding grounds' for terrorists who will attack the United States or American targets outside the country.

Iraq can - in theory - be won.

Winning in Iraq now means establishing stability and order and then creating a government that will be a fair and open democracy that will be able to make that stability and order self-sustaining.

That was not, of course, the original stated goal.

The original stated goal was to disarm Iraq. Before the war actually started, we discovered that Iraq was already disarmed. The United States never admitted that, but it did change its stated goal. The second stated goal was the removal of Saddam Hussein and regime change.

The administration apparently presumed that Iraq would immediately turn into friendly Western European country. Like France or Switzerland, but with lower taxes, a wide open business climate and much more limited social services. (That would, incidentally, reform and reformat the entire Middle East. Struck starry-eyed and smitten, the people in dictatorships and theocracies would throw of their shackles and insist on becoming just like the New Iraq. And they would get along with Israel, while they were at it. Also be friendly to the U.S. and sell oil at a reasonable price.)

When Iraq fell apart and turned into chaos, the administration sort of realized that creating a stable, Western friendly democracy was their actual aim. That then became the third - and current - stated goal.

Some of us might quibble with the business plan, but democracy and stability and order seem like good ideas. Certainly better than civil war, chaos, a new Saddam, or a theocratic dictatorship.

Three things are required.

The first is to take physical control. Absolute physical control and impose order. The standard formula to occupy a country and impose order is 40:1. Iraq has about 26 million people. That works out at 650,000 troops.

They will have to be there for several years. Four? Eight? Ten? How long did American troops stay in German, Japan and Korea?

Back when the invasion was first planned some of the generals asked for 300,000. I expect that's because that's the most the American military could come up with. Maybe they could have gotten away with that number in the first flush of victory. But only if they were prepared to take the second step.

The second part is to build a country. Direct traffic. Supply potable water. Deliver electricity. Run a police and justice system. Insure food supplies and distribution. Regulate business. Settle disputes. This requires a dedicated civilian or military cadres that are knowledgeable, dedicated to the mission and relatively incorruptable.

The third is to enlist the rest of the world. Especially Islamic nations.

The person who most wants to "win" in Iraq is George Bush. Yet the person least able to accomplish those things is George Bush. Here's why:

The number of troops required to do the military part of the job requires a draft. The American people understand quite well - by now - that Iraq did not attack us and never could attack us and that this war was Bush's screw-up. They won't accept a draft to fix his mistakes.

Furthermore, there are a fair number of people of draft age who will not accept being drafted into an army that has George W. Bush as its commander-in-chief. Nor will their parents. By the way, the Good News is that congress has to vote for conscription. The commander-in-chief can't do it by himself.

Rebuilding a country requires this entire administration to be 'born again' in ways even more profound and basic than a religious conversion. The Bush administration, as it is presently constituted and the way it currently thinks can't rebuild anything. Look at New Orleans. That's an American city. It's right there. You can drive to it. They haven't even picked up the trash yet. It's probably the most dangerous and chaotic city in the world, after Baghdad.

Bush is asking for, in addition to the surge, a billion dollars for jobs for Iraqis. Let us remember that the CPA and subsequent American authorities blew through about forty billion dollars and no one knows where it went. A variety of major corporations and many unnamed individuals have done very well from that money, but neither Iraq or America has anything to show for it.

This is not an accident. It is the inevitable result of theological economics, the belief that there is an invisible hand that will guide unmitigated greed to produce the maximum possible good, the more unmitigated the greed, the greater the good. So if you hand out suitcases full of hundred dollar bills - as Paul Bremer's Coalition Provisional Authority did - it's best not to ask for receipts, or accounting, or try to track the results of all that largess.

This new billion will go the same place the old billions went. Wherever that was.

In the unlikely event that we accomplished the first two then we would likely be able to enlist international co-operation.

The Democrats have a different strategy: blame Iraq.

Dick Durbin, in the official response, said, " we have given the Iraqis so much. We have deposed their dictator. We dug him out of a hole in the ground and forced him to face the courts of his own people. We've given the Iraqi people a chance to draft their own constitution, hold their own free elections and establish their own government. We Americans and a few allies have protected Iraq when no one else would."

Someone may have focus grouped that and tested it as sound domestic politics, but it is as dishonest and misleading as anything coming from the administration.

The first thing we "gave" Iraq was support for Saddam, support for his WMD programs - the ones that produced the gas that he used on "his own people," - and support for his long, disastrous and bloody war with Iran. Then we gave them sanctions. Then we gave them Shock and Awe. In the early days of Gulf War II, we gave them tens of thousands dead, mostly civilians, and unknown numbers wounded. We destroyed much of their infrastructure.

Then, in a post war environment, we took away their government, army and police all at once. When rioting, looting, theft on a massive scale, murder and the formation of gangs and militias began, we refused to take action to prevent the chaos. We also left warehouses full of arms around the country, unprotected and unguarded, so that the terrorists, gangsters, militias and faction fighters could arm themselves. We removed their civilian infrastructure and promised them that we would take it over and deliver what a society needs to survive. We failed in that as well. Saddam's trial, like everything else in this production, was also disastrously mismanaged.
To say that we 'protected' Iraq is astonishing. From anyone except a politician.

It is almost axiomatic that if the Iraqis could wake up tomorrow morning, end the killing, disarm themselves, build and administer an honest and trustworthy police force, go back to work, educate their children, socialize in a normal manner, rebuild their medical infrastructure, and form a government that they liked and were willing to obey, they would do so. It is insane to say they want to live in chaos. That they want members of their families kidnapped, tortured and murdered. That they like having their wives, sisters, daughters and mothers raped.

People will not move from disorder to the first available order just for the sake of order. In a state of disorder people with the will to fight for what they believe in will fight for a form of order that they think is the best for them. Actually, they will imagine that it is the best for the world, because that's the way people think.

Order can only flow from order. That is to say, if we had established order at the onset, an orderly government could have been built out of that.

The idea that Bush seems to believe in and that the Democrats espouse (whether they believe it or not) that moderates and parliamentarians can somehow stand up to organized groups of men with guns and bombs who are willing to kill and die to get their way is like walking up to a forest fire and explaining to the forest that there is a healthier way to clear out its underbrush and it would really be better off if it stopped burning.

Bush's plan - inadequate and incompetent - and the Democrats approach - a denial of reality - will have the same result. War, and the last man standing wins. Those with the greatest will to kill and to die will emerge as the new rulers of their segments of Iraq.

Both should be rejected. They should be rejected in no uncertain terms. Not merely because they will both fail. But for an even more important reason. They both deny reality. It was the triumph of fantasy that brought us here. The astonishing thing about the administration's lies was not that they lied, but that they could have been believed. Part of the reason that got away with it was that "reality" has no spokespeople. It has no lobbyists. It has no party.

Actually, the Democrats got elected as an impulse to return to reality, but at the moment they seem to be rejecting the role.

The Iraq Study Group's report is worth returning to.

The Iraq Study Group's plan will not bring the glorious result that Bush dreamed of when he was smoking whatever they smoke in Bible-study group.

But it should be followed.

First and foremost, because it is a very realistic document. And reality is what we need.

No matter what happens in Iraq, most of its recommendations are worthwhile for their own sake. These include: engage in diplomacy, especially with Iran and Syria; involve the UN; return to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process; form and work with a pan-Islamic conference toward peace in Iraq; support Afghanistan before it becomes Iraq or Taliban Central; put an inspector general back in our reconstruction efforts; put the cost of the war in the budget; improve intelligence gathering and analysis; hire people who speak and read foreign languages, especially Arabic; become competent in rebuilding countries.

If we follow it, at least we can say we tried. That we tried the most thoughtful and realistic and thorough approach we could think of.

Of course, we can't follow it.

Why not? Because - except for the budget recommendations - they are all executive functions. And George W. Bush is the president. Every armchair analyst in the country has tried to figure out why he's the disaster that he is. Some of us may even be right. But nobody knows how to fix him, so it doesn't matter.

But it is still a better foundation for opposing him than Dick Durbin's ridiculous fictions.