Iraq War, Round Two
TomPaine.com April 24, 2006
By Robert Dreyfuss
Robert Dreyfuss is the author of Devil's Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam (Henry Holt/Metropolitan Books, 2005). Dreyfuss is a freelance writer based in Alexandria, Va., who specializes in politics and national security issues. He is a contributing editor at The Nation, a contributing writer at Mother Jones, a senior correspondent for The American Prospect, and a frequent contributor to Rolling Stone.He can be reached through his website: www.robertdreyfuss.com
Missing from the discussion over Iraq in the United States is the growing likelihood that the Bush administration will escalate, not de-escalate, the war. If they do, their goal will be to employ another round of "shock and awe" - namely, massive U.S. military air and ground - in a desperate effort to tip the balance in Iraq in America?s favor in advance of the 2006 elections. The failed war in Iraq is overwhelmingly the key factor driving down poll numbers for the president, vice president and the Republican Party in general.
It's by no means clear that Democrats will capture either or both houses of Congress in November, but if they do it will open the floodgates for a never-ending series of partisan investigations by congressional committees, not only into Iraq but the myriad other scandals plaguing the administration. That's a terrifying prospect for the Bush-Cheney team, and one they cannot allow at any cost.
The so-called "doves" in the Bush administration - who sometimes like to call themselves "realists" - have apparently settled on the idea of a slow drawdown of U.S. forces in Iraq, combined with the stepped-up effort to cobble together a shaky government of national unity in Iraq that could take the lead in fighting the Sunni-led resistance. The idea behind that strategy is to convince American voters in advance of November, 2006, that Iraq is stabilizing, that the war is being won and that American troops are coming home. The fact that American troops will probably be in Iraq for a decade at least, if not far longer, is an ugly reality that the administration?s doves hope will dawn on Americans after the election.
The same goes for the fact that Iraq is already engulfed in a civil war that no "national unity" regime can put an end to - particularly a regime made up of the same gaggle of exile leaders and warlords who, in succession, led the Iraqi Governing Council in 2003, the interim and transitional governments of 2004-2005 and the so-called "permanent" government of 2006.
Problem is, the Bush administration's hawks have a different idea, and there is no reason to think that they are not in control. As in 2003, the hawks are led by Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and the staffs of the office of the secretary of defense and the office of the vice president. And, as in 2003, President George W. Bush - stubborn to the point of being pig-headed and obsessed with the goal of "winning" the Global War on Terror - is likely to go along, no matter how strong the opposition from the realists. In 2003, the war in Iraq was opposed by virtually the entire professional class at the State Department, the CIA and the U.S. military, yet Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld launched their illegal, unilateral war anyway.
Against a backdrop of editorials from the Weekly Standard, the National Review, The Wall Street Journal and Commentary, along with predictable emanations from such thinktanks as the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation all calling for the Bush to resist calls to reverse course in Iraq, there are at least two recent calls for a sweeping new U.S. offensive in Iraq to complete the objectives of the invasion of 2003.
The first comes from AEI's Reuel Marc Gerecht, writing in The Wall Street Journal on April 3. Gerecht, a former CIA officer who in 2003 was among the strongest advocates for the shock-and-awe notion that force is the only language that Middle Easterners can understand, suggested in a lengthy opinion piece that U.S. tactics in 2006 must become far more bloody-minded than they have been so far - including a sweeping effort to retake the Iraqi capital. Gerecht wrote:
The Bush administration would be wise not to postpone any longer what it should have already undertaken - securing Baghdad. Pacifying Baghdad will be politically convulsive and provide horrific film footage and skyrocketing body counts. But Iraq cannot heal itself so long as Baghdad remains a deadly place.?
If anything, Gerecht understates the mayhem that a U.S. offensive to re-conquer Baghdad would involve, including house-to-house street fighting in both Sunni strongholds and in the Shiite slums of eastern Baghdad controlled now by the gangs of the Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr.
On April 16, the Times of London elevated Gerecht's April 3 prescription to a major U.S. policy option, in an article entitled: "U.S. Plots 'New Liberation of Baghdad.'" Said the Times:
The American military is planning a "second liberation of Baghdad" to be carried out with the Iraqi army when a new government is installed. Pacifying the lawless capital is regarded as essential to establishing the authority of the incoming government and preparing for a significant withdrawal of American troops. Strategic and tactical plans are being laid by US commanders in Iraq and at the US army base in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, under Lieutenant-General David Petraeus. Sources close to the Pentagon said Iraqi forces would take the lead, supported by American air power, special operations, intelligence, embedded officers and back-up troops.
The Times report rings true. It signifies that Bush and Cheney are planning one last, all-out effort to crush Iraq's civil war, break all resistance to U.S. dominance in Baghdad, and impose the peace of the dead on central Iraq. Initially, it might take more (not less) U.S. troops, but in recent months the Pentagon has stated officially that a significant increase in American troops levels in Iraq is not out of the question if the situation warrants it. That it not to say that such a U.S. offensive would be successful. The 2006 Second War in Iraq would not be any easier than the 2003 First War in Iraq. But it does seem congruent with the Bush administration's dominant notion that Americans will support the war if and only if they see that the administration has a clear plan to win it.
The latest breakdown in Iraqi government negotiations, announced on Sunday, forced yet another postponement of plans to convene Iraq's parliament. So far, more than four months after the December 15, 2005, elections, the parliament has met for a total of 30 minutes and there is no government. More and more observers say that Iraq has tumbled into outright civil war.
"The definition of civil war is that the people (of a country) are fighting each other," said Foreign Minister Saud Al Faisal of Saudi Arabia. "I don't know what we can call (what is happening) in Iraq except a civil war." According to Egypt's President Husni Mubarak, who impolitely noted that many Arab Shiites are loyal to Persian Iran, civil war has already begun. "It's not on the threshold of civil war," he said. "It's pretty much started." That, too, is the assessment of many Iraqis, including the CIA's own Iyad Allawi, the secular Shiite who commands an important swing bloc in Iraq's parliament-to-be. And a recent internal staff report by the U.S. embassy in Iraq, leaked to the New York Times, noted that only three of Iraq's 18 provinces might be called "stable."
On the ground in Iraq, there is only ethnic cleansing, political assassinations, rule by militias and paramilitary forces, terrorism and torture-murders overseen by rogue elements of the Interior Ministry. Even if a prime minister were named, Iraq still needs a president, a Cabinet, an army, a revamped ministry of interior, a reliable police force and then a new constitution stripped of the divisive provisions stuffed into the October 2005 version. And none of that is likely to staunch the growing Sunni insurgency, which has resumed killing Americans on patrol at a steady pace.
For that reason, a new round of U.S. shock-and-awe in the Second War in Iraq must look awfully tempting to the Bush administration. It might even win the plaudits of many of the generals who've started calling for Rumsfeld's head. Some of them, such as Lt. Gen. Greg Newbold, say that the war itself was a tragic mistake, wrong from the beginning and pushed by "zealots." But many of them, including some of those most favored by the Democratic Party's hawks, differ only on tactics. This latter group insists only that the war was launched with too few troops. Sadly, the Bush administration may be taking that pernicious advice to heart.