PUTTING IRAQ INTO HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE
While the situation in Iraq is worse than it need be and mostly for the Bush policy ennui that followed military operations against Saddam's regime, a few things ought to be recalled. Conditions in Germany and Japan after WWII were far worse than in Iraq today. Iraqis are not starving or in danger of freezing to death, Baghdad and Basra do not resemble Berlin and Nuremburg where piles of rubble remained heaped up in the streets for years. A major difference between today and back then is that the American public did not much care if the Germans starved and lived in ruins and today we expect - properly - that the Iraqis should be treated decently and helped to introduce democratic norms. We have unfortunately been quite slow to introduce the democratic reforms that held the best chance of allaying suspicions and winning popular support among Iraqis. Why this is in my view is that the major players in Washington - the Joint Chiefs, State, Rumsfeld and the DoD, the CIA, the Neocon policy advisers - were not forced prior to the invasion to implement one vision for occupied Iraq. Differences were sort of papered over when the president ought to have insisted on a decisive choice for American occupation policy. Consequently, each bureaucracy has felt free to pursue their own agendas in Iraq while eschewing responsibility for the resultant problems and lack of coordination ( case in point - the humiliation of Jay Garner whose utter lack of power and influence was bizarrely paraded before the Iraqis). The brass simply want to decamp and leave; State wants to further dilute authority and responsibility for occupation policy decisions by bringing the UN in some kind of amalgamated administration to achieve some kind of " fig-leaf legitimacy ". A gambit that has more to do with mollifying the cynical French and Germans and " controlling " the White House staff by limiting their room to manuver than achieving anything concrete on the ground in Iraq. The latest Neocon proposal to ship oil to Israel from Iraq via a pipeline, for whatever it's economic virtues in the long-term, was astounding.
Forgotten has been the promise of democracy. What American leader has directly addressed the Iraqi people as to our goals and intentions ? Paul Bremer is a bright guy but his policy has been to deal only with Iraq's traditional elites - and then at a distance - while leaving the average Iraqi completely in the dark. Offered nothing by vague assurances the common Iraqis stand on the periphery afraid to get involved but realizing that the Islamist-Baathist-Sunni nationalist lunatic fringe currently waging a terror and assassination campaign against Coalition troops will turn on them if the Americans suddenly cut and run.
The President is addressing the nation tonight. Hopefully he will offer a clear vision for our mission in Iraq and more importantly, force the recalcitrant bureaucracies to carry out his policy and not their own. The situation is still salvageable if for no other reason than our opponents in Iraq are loathsome and murderous and Iraqis cannot expect anything from them but dictatorship and cruelty. However if the sense of drift and weakness persist, if we do not make ourselves less hated and more feared then, Iraq will turn into a debacle. A great chance to renovate the poisonous political climate of the region will have been lost the way that Europe, once, without the Marshall Plan, might have been lost. We need more troops in Iraq and we need a larger military to prosecute the War on Terror. A peacetime force has accomplished great things in fighting this war since 9/11 but our resources are now at the breaking point. That means the President must level with the American people regarding the stakes, the costs and the price we will pay should we fail.
I hope he does.