Saddam Hussein had a good week. In fact, Saddam has had a string of good weeks. American mismanagement and incompetence are making Saddam a hero. It is depressing but true.
The explanations and excuses for the Iraqi resistance change faster than prices on a stock exchange. Is it "regime remnants" we are facing? "Criminals?" "Outsiders?" "Loyalists?" This past week we even got a number: 5,000. 5,000? That is an extraordinary number. A handful of terrorists can create chaos. Five thousand adversaries can paralyze a nation.
Where was American intelligence when all of this was happening? We had 1,400 American intelligence agents out looking for nonexistent "weapons of mass destruction."
In 1962, an obscure Greek politician was assassinated by fascist elements within the Greek Army. Costas Lambrakis became a rallying point for young opponents. They wrote "Z." The letter "Z" in Greek also can represent the word "Zi," or "he lives." When the Greek Government was overthrown in 1967, the Greek colonels banned the latter "Z," prompting the 1969 thriller film by director Costa-Gavras, "Z." A similar sort of mistake took place in Baghdad.
One of the first things Americans did was to ban pictures of Saddam. Then they were forced to reverse course and reprint Iraqi money–with pictures of Saddam. It was all sort of silly. Saddam is alive. "Z." The reversals are continuing.
In April, Iraqis proposed an interim government. General Garner, the first American proconsul, agreed. No sooner did Paul Bremer take over, the interim government idea was dumped. Americans settled in for a long occupation. Bremer started sending his laundry to Kuwait, and taking long vacations, three months after he began his crisis management in a war zone. Bush may not have noticed, but the "remnants" did. No one was minding the store in Baghdad.
That is, until Saturday, November 15th, when Paul Bremer returned from "crisis" meetings in Washington and reversed course, agreeing to an interim government. Who was the big winner? Saddam. Why?
Because Saddam’s "loyalists" or whatever you call them can take credit and claim "force works." "We made the Americans change their policy by attacking and killing them," is a legitimate claim. Bush blinked. What we refused in April we agreed in November, because of violent Iraqi resistance. It is very bad.
Because, if force worked once, it will be tried again, and again, and again. Even nonviolent Iraqis will support force if they think it will influence the Americans to leave.
In fact, based on what I have been told from sources in the field, some intelligence agents expect current Iraqi Governing Council members to quietly begin extending "feelers" to Saddam’s "remnants" to forge a coalition in the future. After all, the Iraqi politicians sitting in the open in Baghdad have benefited greatly from the works of the resistance in the shadows.
Where is Saddam? You have probably heard the nonsense that he is in Tikrit. More bad intelligence. Why would he hide where he can only be visible, exposed, endangered? Saddam is in Baghdad. He was there in April, when I first arrived. I pinpointed his general location, but no one bothered to follow up. Nothing has happened to make me change my mind.
Last week also brought more bad military tactics. Another point in Saddam’s favor. There is an old expression, "to a man with a hammer, every problem is a nail." I have heard it often in Israel, where repressive tactics have galvanized the Palestinian population. What is the American military doing?
Applying an Operation "Iron Hammer" to the civilian population in Iraq. Who dreams up these names? And these schemes? Who is coaching the officers who brag about their "teeth" and "claws?" Who approved the plan to drop bombs on innocent civilians to "show them?" I thought we were supposed to be "liberators?"
Yes, America had a bad week last week in Iraq. And Saddam had a good week. The long-term damage is not even apparent yet. I don’t think President Bush is going to "cut and run." But the "regime remnants" in Washington show no signs of insight into the Middle East, into Iraq, into the Islamic religion. Into our exposed position.
Reacting to Iraqi force, changing policy in reaction to what we claim is Saddam’s force, will only prompt more force being used against our troops.
Bush thinks that he can "manage" the Iraqi occupation to maximize his political benefit. The "Mission Accomplished" gambit has already backfired, and ended up in TV commercials for Democrats. What’s next? Bush staffers are sugar coating the situation in Iraq, pretending their latest policy diversion will work. I am skeptical.
The latest maneuvering in Washington to rein in Paul Bremer won’t backfire immediately, although the violence will continue. Rather, we are going to see a gradual deterioration of the political situation in Iraq even as claims are made it is improving. Wasn’t it that great Fighting Illini, Abraham Lincoln, who said, "You can’t fool all the people all the time?" We are fooling ourselves if we believe we are winning in Iraq.
We underestimated Iraqis. We underestimated Saddam. And, frankly, we are still underestimating them. If Saddam keeps winning, and we keep losing, it is going to be a long, long campaign season. Fasten your seat belts. The worst is yet to come. "Z."