Tuesday, November 21, 2006

We're in Iraq to Liberate the Iraqis. Or Are We?

There may have been a time in the beginning when average Iraqis saw us as liberators. It's a given that most Iraqis were glad to see Saddam Hussein go. But it's a fact that to this day we still don't know what the war was about. All the reasons Bush offered fell apart eventually, though a handful of conservatives will argue it indeed was about oil and American dominance, with perhaps democracy thrown in as a bone. Even the Iraqis were never really sure why we were there, and events like the revelations about Abu Ghraib created enormous ill will (and it should be noted that stories of Abu Ghraib were reaching Iraqis long before Americans learned about the photos).

Most of the major blunders of the last four years are easily traceable at this point to the inner circle of Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld; Republicans in Congress played their part for four years by rubber stamping everything the president and his inner circle wanted. Rumsfeld is now gone and there'll be a new party in control of Congress this January. But we still don't know whether Bush will finally confront the fiasco he has created or give us more of the same.

But this is no longer 2003 when we first arrived; it is almost 2007 and the hour is late. We know Bush does not have a mandate at home. Here's a poll that suggests that George W. Bush does not have a mandate in Iraq (via Editor & Publisher):
Past surveys have hinted at this result, but a new poll in Iraq makes it more stark than ever: the Iraqi people want the U.S. to exit their country. And most Iraqis now approve of attacks on U.S. forces, even though 94% express disapproval of al-Qaeda.

At one time, this was primarily a call by the Sunni minority, but now the Shiites have also come around to this view. The survey by much-respected World Public Opinion (WPO), taken in September, found that 74% of Shiites and 91% of Sunnis in Iraq want us to leave within a year. The number of Shiites making this call in Baghdad, where the U.S. may send more troops to bring order, is even higher (80%). In contrast, earlier this year, 57% of this same group backed an "open-ended" U.S. stay.

By a wide margin, both groups believe U.S. forces are provoking more violence than they're preventing -- and that day-to-day security would improve if we left.

We've known for some time that the Sunnis would like us to leave, but now 74% of Shiites, who make up about 60% of Iraq, also want us to leave. The poll goes on to note that increasing number of Iraqis approve of attacks on Americans. The question stands: are we still seen as liberators or have we become occupiers in a foreign land with a president deluding himself about what he's trying to accomplish, if anything, at this point?

There are options if we begin to wind down. We're still seen favorably in the northern areas of Iraq where the Kurdish live. If we stay away from their urban areas, we can leave a sizable garrison to keep things from getting completely out of control; we can then perhaps leave more troops in Kuwait as a protective force, if needed for the south. But it's time to draw down.

If Bush plays double or nothing with Iraq and Iran in his final two years, he will do enormous damage to the United States. Let's hope his Republicans friends and others can prevail on him to begin repairing his failing presidency and begin undoing the damage he has done. But the signs of a turnaround are not particularly good and the American people are going to have to be patient until the checks and balances of our government can slow the damage and begin holding Bush and his reckless administration accountable. I don't favor impeachment because of the wrenching divisiveness it can cause and the essential fact that the votes don't exist in the Senate for conviction. But even the normal means of turning our government around may take two years; if that's the case, the American voters will have to finish the job in 2008—that's the reality we face.


Anonymous S.W. Anderson said...

"Rumsfeld is now gone and there'll be a new party in control of Congress this January. But we still don't know whether Bush will finally confront the fiasco he has created or give us more of the same."

Cheney still V.P.?


Rove still the White House/GOP political oberfeldmarshall?


Bush will give us more of the same until some big, bad external entity or force makes him do otherwise.

8:37 PM  
Anonymous S.W. Anderson said...

More seriously, I'm seeing mention of Bush calling on Syria and Iran to help bail the U.S. out in Iraq. This seems absurd, but then . . .

This holds interesting possibilities for an under-the-table deal wherein Bush is allowed to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq months ahead of the '08 elections in at least arguably favorable cicrumstances. The violence is tamped way down. Iraq's government is allowed to make like it's functional for awhile. Some reconstruction actually takes place.

Meanwhile, the U.S. turns a blind eye to whatever the Iranians are doing with nuclear development, and with calling the shots in Iraq, for that matter. I'm less certain what would be in it for the Syrians, but I'm sure something could be arranged.

8:46 PM  
Anonymous Craig said...

S.W., good comments. I keep thinking along the lines that even when we know what the other guy is likely to do, it's just good business to always put the burden of proof on him. Pay out some slack so no one has any doubt. But I suspect you're right about Bush.

Nevertheless, I have a hunch: watch. There is a major effort from many quarters to carefully and slowly box Bush in. The Democrats have allies and there are Republicans trying to salvage their party. And there's still a few people waking up who may have the clout to lend a hand.

The situation with Iran and Syria is complex but Bush has no choice but to talk. Bush could have gotten a far better bargain four years ago than the one he is likely to get now. And yet, despite whatever deals are made, the many problems that Syria and Iran have will continue irrespective of the outside world.

Then again, if Bush really wanted to slow down the Iranian nuclear program and do something useful besides, all he would have to do is launch a true energy conservation program at home with the cooperation of a few dozen industrialized countries. But I doubt he's that imaginative. And his Saudi friends would kick him out of their rich man's club (or maybe not; in the long run, the Saudis would be smarter to start limiting production a few percentage points to stretch out the era of their wealth).

As for Iraq, no one should have any illusions. When we leave, it is very likely that there will be a major convulsion of violence beyond what we've seen that will last three to eighteen months and it won't matter whether we leave in six months or six years and even if the current violence drops at some point before we leave, that convulsion will come. Bush has done a real number on Iraq.

1:27 AM  
Anonymous S.W. Anderson said...

Craig, the scenario I offered as a possibility is based in part on several notions.

Iran fought a protracted and hugely costly war with Saddam's Iraq when Iraq was whole, hale, hardy and benefiting from U.S. assistance. Given that Iraq is now a maddened, bleeding basket case, while Iran is stronger than ever, it seems logical Iran could make short work of Iraq if the need arises. I'm sure various factions in Iraq are aware of this.

Shiite Iran could no doubt get Iraqi Shiites to behave, at least for awhile, with a few drop-in visits to people like Muqtada al Sadr.

However, I don't mean to suggest an era of good feeling would overtake the Iraqis. My positing covers the time it would take for the U.S. to depart and perhaps a few days or weeks following. Then, a violent convulsion is quite likely. But I suspect it would be heavily weighted in Shiites taking out real and potential Sunni troublemakers, with Iran backing and possibly even coordinating the effort. A worst-case scenario would be wholesale ethnic cleansing.

Remember, during Saddam's rule Shiites got the short end of the stick for a long time, and so surely have scores to settle. All the more of those because of Sunni terrorist activities during the occupation.

Stepping away from all that, let me wish you a happy Thanksgiving.

11:06 PM  
Anonymous Craig said...

S.W., I appreciate the analysis and you definitely give things to think about. The last thing Bush wanted to do was make Iran stronger and I suppose it was the last thing even the Iranians expected.

One thing that worries me is that there aren't any good negotiaters at the highest levels on the Bush side (bullies like Bolton aren't that effective, for example) and unless some better people are brought in, the blunders may in fact continue even if there's a change of course. There's certainly several scenarios, good and bad, that can play out in the next two or three years.

Have a good Thanksgiving and I'll look forward to your comments in a few days.

12:42 AM  

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