Barring the capture of Saddam Hussein, President Bush has exactly two options in Iraq. Both are terrible.
He can keep our exhausted troops in Iraq for the long haul, exposing them to daily attack and carnage. Or he can bite the bullet himself and arrange a phased withdrawal, leaving the country in the hands of selected Iraqis and a still to be determined international force.
For now, leaving Iraq is completely off the table. With Hussein still at large, supported by scores of armed loyalists, foreign fighters and thousands of Republican Guards sitting at home any exit of U.S. military firepower would almost certainly be followed by a return of Saddam’s regime – no matter what governing contingent was left in place.
Putting aside the immense political fallout, a resurgent Saddam would enjoy a far greater position than before the war. Why? U.N. trade sanctions are no longer in place on Iraq. And there is very little chance the Security Council would re–impose them since the country seems devoid of banned weapons.
Free to buy modern, conventional arms on the world market again, Hussein and his still-existing army would quickly solidify their position in Iraq and again stand tall over the Persian Gulf.
This undesirable scenario is made even worse now that the White House has announced its commitment to reduce the American “footprint” in the Gulf region. Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and several other countries will soon see a dramatic reduction of U.S. troop presence and military equipment. Without proof of banned Iraqi arms or other tangible threat, there is no guarantee these states would allow us to redeploy to their territory.
Simply stated, any withdrawal of American forces that opened the way for a return of Saddam would be unmitigated disaster for the President – both on the home front and in the region.
But in choosing to stay the course in Iraq Bush is exposing himself to serious domestic pressure because of Hussein’s continuing campaign of agitation in Iraq.
Before going underground Saddam’s regime folded up almost every aspect of the Iraqi government, opening the way for looting, destruction and disorder on an unprecedented scale. Since then they have shifted their energies to disrupting our stabilization effort through rumor spreading, intimidation of friendly Iraqis, and direct sabotage of vital infrastructure components.
And they continue to pick off our servicemen with near impunity.
In the panicked pursuit for those responsible, our troops are bursting into homes at all hours, frightening women and children, and instilling a deep sense of humiliation among Iraqi men.
Such resentments, combined with frustrations about inadequate services and security, are producing overt anger among many Iraqis who might otherwise welcome a new era in their country. It is only a matter of time until they have had enough and begin gravitating in large numbers towards the most obvious figure of defiance – Saddam Hussein.
Increasingly, it appears that Saddam and company have created a no-win situation for the U.S. in Iraq. The more disorder they foment the more pressure we will apply, leading to broader resentment and additional sympathizers willing to take action. Additional violence is the likely result, kicking off yet more pressure from our side.
The escalating debacle has already claimed General Jay Garner, our first civilian administrator and, apparently, General Eric K. Shinseki, who abruptly retired as Army Chief last month after lodging veiled complaints about the Iraq operation.
Tommy Franks, our overall commander for Iraq and the Middle East, also appears to have had enough. Three weeks ago he resigned as head of CENTCOM and has announced he will end his military career completely.
The one remaining hope for the White House? Track down Saddam Hussein himself. Only by capturing and displaying the Iraqi strongman for all his countrymen to see will we scatter the resistance, break the cycle of subversion, and give our weary servicemen a reasonable chance at success.
This promises to be no easy task, however, as Hussein, mindful of his symbolic importance to the resistance, has almost certainly set up an elaborate security network to keep his whereabouts hidden for the long term.