Washington Stands Humbled in Iraq


The latest Washington Post-ABC News Poll which depicts the US President Bush leading against his Democratic opponent by five percent on security matters must bring little comfort to Bush on the Iraq front. He knows that the US troubles in Iraq are unending. The early war days Rumsfeld jubilance has been hijacked by caution, casualties and chaos. The end March gross but inevitable act by some in the Iraqi resistance of dragging the corpses of four US security men has reignited a seemingly unstoppable cycle of violence. Rumsfeld who until recently relished his men’s ‘containment skills’ after invading and occupying Iraq, has recognized their limits in Fallujah and in Najaf. US has asked for a cease-fire demanded that militias under varied leadership surrender their weapons. The going ahs got tough for the US. Its macabre war machine driven by a neo-con authored mess in Iraq is unable to ‘deliver’ a political victory.

Iraq, with or without Saddam Hussain, is poses the greatest post-Vietnam challenge to the US establishment. Endless occupation and continuing ground operations are no option for the US. Multiple factors are weakening the US position in Iraq. Trouble spots are plenty.

First its casualties are on the increase. Militarily the situation is deteriorating not improving. Over 800 US soldiers have already been killed. The resistance gets more united and tougher as an adversary. In April the first US call for a cease-fire was issued after it failed in combat with Al-Muqtada Sadr’s militia. Car bombs, ambush and guerilla attacks are on the increase across the country.

Second internationally the carefully crafted pro-US coalition has begun to unravel. Coalition desertions have begun. Spain is out and so is Honduras. Clearly Bush’s angered telephone conversation did not make the new Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero change his mind regarding withdrawal. The Dominican Republic, whose troops were attached with the Spanish unit, has announced it will withdraw its 302 troops from Iraq within "the next week". Poland too may depart come September and the Thai even earlier if military matters worsen. Fears of rapid reversals prompted the US Secretary of State Colin Powell to make over thirty phone calls to convince members to ‘stay the course.’ Only he is unable to provide the security guarantees that many may require.

Third inside the US there are Bush’s political opponents and area experts are regularly attacking Bush’s Iraq policy. Especially following the end March Fallujah and Najaf fighting flare-ups debacle, which left 40 dead in a mosque bombed by the United States forces, democrat candidate John Kerry has incessantly attacked Bush for taking his Iraq war. Kerry is hoping to prevent the ‘Vietnamization’ of Iraq by criticizing any move to send US more troops to Iraq. Addressing his supporters in New York on April 14 Kerry’s criticism was unsparing. He said “I think the approach of this administration has been consistent and stubborn in the way that it persists in this American occupation and in proceeding down its own road-¦ It has made that mistake from Day One, and it is costing us money and I think it is costing us lives.”

Significantly one of the most revealing notes on US’s Iraq blunder has come from a former U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Chas W. Freeman Jr, now president of the Middle East Policy Council. Rather caustically he wrote in his message to an Internet group that was quoted by a local daily that “arrogant daydreams that inspire military actions can become humiliation nightmares that produce political debacle.” Freeman who recently returned a Middle East tour from Iraq wrote that “military triumph does not necessarily equate to political victory.”

The former ambassador noted the obvious; the increasing unity among Iraqis against the United States. Not surprisingly Freeman also registered the growing unity amongst religious, secular and nationalist elements and “the emergence of new crop of home grown Iraqi Jihadis is, many fear forging anti American alliances with trans regional and possibly global reach . . . . ” The regional forecast within the region he maintains is an escalating guerilla war against United States forces and the gradual collapse of the U.S. propped regime. Ahmed Challabi and the Iraqi Governing Council is nicked name “Ahmed Challabi and the twenty thieves” for their opportunism.

However the foremost and consistent critic the former General Anthony Zinni of the U.S. Central Command has spoken again. In his April 16 interview with The San Diego Union-Tribune Zinni said "I think that some heads should roll over Iraq," Zinni said. "I think the president got some bad advice." Zinni who also served as special envoy to the Middle East under the Bush administration opposed the war arguing that “whoever believed that an Iraq war would help to solve the Palestinian problem must live on another planet. ” In his Tribune interview he said "I’ve been called a traitor and a turncoat for mentioning these things.. " Zinni said the United States must now rely on the U.N. to pull its "chestnuts out of the fire in Iraq." He added “"We’re betting on the U.N., who we blew off and ridiculed during the run-up to the war-¦Now we’re back with hat in hand. It would be funny if not for the lives lost."

Last September while being interviewed by NBC’s anchor Ted Koppel on NightLine Zinni was very critical of the Bush team’s ignorance on Iraq. Zinni was brutal, “"I’ve spent the last 15 years of my life in this part of the world. And I’ll tell you, every time I hear…one of the dilettantes back here speak about this region of the world, they don’t have a clue. They don’t understand what makes them tick. They don’t understand where they are in their own history. They don’t understand what our role is….” Predicting a strategic failure Zinni had said ” We are great at dealing with the tactical problems–the killing and the breaking. We are lousy at solving the strategic problems; having a strategic plan, understanding about regional and global security and what it takes to weld that and to shape it and to move forward." Zinni ahs been comparing Bush’s questionable assertion about Iraq possessing WMDs with the Gulf of Tonkin incident–an infamous episode in which President Lyndon Johnson misrepresented an attack on two U.S. Navy destroyers in order to win congressional approval of the war in Vietnam.

Fourth element that continues to pressure US policy in Iraq is the UN’s refusal to rubber stamp any political or military moves by the in Iraq. Technically on June 30 US will hand over ‘sovereignty the July the date for transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqi people. However before that by end April an Interim government has to be set up following an with the US on placement of troops, administrative arrangements and multinational forces. Growing troubles for the US, international consensus on UN’s involvement and the Iraqi demand that UN lead the process of transfer of sovereignty and of establishing security , United States has called for UN involvement. UN is clear it must have political independence to design a consensus-based Iraqi -“supported plan undertaking this task.

The cumulative effect of all these elements is a definite ‘no-win’ for the US in Iraq. Already its Iraq ‘coalition’ is unraveling and it is taken begging for UN involvement after having shunned the UN to opt for invasion instead of continued diplomatic engagement. The emergence in Iraq of an anti-US guerilla warfare has further complicated Bush’s highly controversial “war on terrorism.” The electoral dynamics at home, the media’s power to expose facts and the global dynamics of multiple, even if ‘lesser than the US’ power centers, will also prevent an endless prolonging of a disastrous US policy which is costing thousands of Iraqi and hundreds of US lives and is indeed perpetuating misery of millions.

In the blind pursuit of its grandiose plan of invading and occupying Iraq the US subverted whatever existed of an international system. The propaganda ‘discourse’ of regime change, democracy promotion and WMD destruction has failed to hide the reality of a field US policy. Iraq continues to be destroyed. The outcome of no dialogue with Saddam has been no different from the outcome of a no dialogue policy with the Soviets over Afghanistan when the former had proposed it in the late eighties. Like Afghanistan ,Iraq is being dragged into violence and blood-shed. Only unlike Afghanistan where the Afghans and the Pakistanis had to pay a price here the Americans too are paying a price in men, international stature and global goodwill. For its policies in Iraq Washington is widely condemned across the globe.

The only recourse left for Washington is to go back to the United Nations. But not to use it merely as a fig-leaf of multilateralism. UN engagement has already been prefaced by UN’s political engagement with leaders of all Iraqi groups under UN Secretary General’s envoy Lakdhar Brahimi’s leadership.

However, a test of US understanding and flexibility is in the offing as US occupation forces attempts to disentangle the military mess it finds itself in. Mere deployment of additional troops will mean digging a deeper hole for itself and for the people of the Middle East as well. UN will be required to play a role in the military disentanglement as well. For example Iraqi militias will require, as many ahve already stated, third party guarantees if cease-fires, disarmament and sovereignty-transfer plans are to be operationalized. US must proceed with a humbled mind-set, face-savers it can always manage via UN involvement, if prolonged Iraqi tragedy spilling into the entire Middle East has to be averted. For now its Iraq and Israel policies are earning it endless and destructive outrage of the peoples of the region.