Sunday, November 27, 2005

The "Misunderestimation" of Post War Iraq

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President Franklin D. Roosevelt: "I have seen war. I have seen war on land and sea. I have seen blood running from the wounded. I have seen men coughing out their gassed lungs. I have seen the dead in the mud. I have seen cities destroyed. I have seen 200 limping, exhausted men come out of line—the survivors of a regiment of 1,000 that went forward 48 hours before. I have seen children starving. I have seen the agony of mothers and wives. I hate war."

On March 20th, 2003, American missiles hit Baghdad signaling the start of the Iraq war. Since then we have all seen 2100 US forces and 100 UK forces killed. We have seen 15,000 US troops injured, maimed, and in some cases seriously and permanently disfigured. The estimates of Iraqi civilian deaths range from between 20,000 and 30,000.

Whether you supported or were against the Iraq War, on many levels you should hate what it entails. Beyond the sentimentality of victory and the fear of defeat... beyond the idealism of our quest to install a system of democracy... beyond our hope that the resulting ripples of freedom and liberty might spread throughout the region... the reality of what we have lost demands an earnest and honest appraisal of what we have truly earned.

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By any assessment, the operation to topple Saddam from power was one of the most expedient and bloodless military actions in the history of human warfare. Precision bombing and a massive ground troop invasion exposed the Republican Guard and Saddam's precarious grip on power. The expected WMD onslaught was nowhere to be seen. But, what now seems clear is that beneath the veil of the Pentagon's devastating and effective invasion strategy was a pitifully naive assessment of what the reconstruction of Iraq would actually entail:

From the Financial Times: "Undersecretary of Defense, Douglas Feith led a group in the Pentagon who all along felt that this was going to be not just a cakewalk, it was going to be 60–90 days, a flip-over and hand-off, a lateral or whatever to . . . the Iraqi National Congress. The Department of Defense could then wash its hands of the whole affair and depart quickly, smoothly and swiftly. And there would be a democratic Iraq that was amenable to our wishes and desires left in its wake. And that’s all there was to it."

From Lawrence Wilkerson, former Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell: "Here's what the plan was: The plan devised principally in Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith's office, and I have to believe, if Rumsfeld is the controller, the leader he says he is, that he was fully cognizant of this, and I don't think he would have been cognizant of it without the blessings of the vice president either. The plan was to put Jay Garner, General Jay Garner, in his organization, called ORHA, on the ground in Iraq for maybe 90 to 120 days, install Ahmed Chalabi and his INC colleagues, or some other look-alike, in control, and then leave, withdrawing most of the major military force in the process, if not all of it, in a very short period of time. This is ineptitude and incompetence of the first order."

In a post 9/11 world, it is astonishing to think that there was virtually no recognition of the political consequences of a United States occupation in the Middle East. They did not think that there would be a prolonged, sophisticated insurgency. They did not think that the Iraqi population would broadly resent US forces, in turn facilitating and strengthening militants interested in undermining the path to Democracy. When, in the lead up to war, General Shinseki stated that several hundred thousand troops would be required to guarantee stability in Iraq Paul Wolfowitz branded him "wildly off the mark." Such was the Administration's fervent belief in the power of freedom that they dogmatically construed US forces would be greeted as liberators. Upon that flawed premise they took everything else for granted.

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On September 19th, 2003, US Chief Administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer enacted Order 39 which announced that 200 Iraqi state companies would be privatized and that foreign firms could retain 100% ownership of Iraqi banks, mines and factories. It also allowed these firms to move 100% of their profits outside of Iraq.

By any measure of free market reforms these are some of the most instantaneously dramatic in the history of the civilized world. At a time when the stability of a divided nation emerging chaotically from the violent order of a brutal dictator was most prescient, and upon that stability rested the lives of US soldiers, UK soldiers, and innocent Iraqi civilians... a dramatic restructuring of Iraqi society was undertaken.

Even putting all altruistic notions to one side... even if all the Administration cared about was US corporations reaping billions and billions of dollars, how could they not have recognized that the security of Iraq was an essential prerequisite to its ability to function, let alone prosper?

The result of these reforms was a devastating 70% level of unemployment sparked by public sector layoffs and an Iraqi labor force in disarray, transitioning to an entirely new set of alien circumstances in which nothing, not even their most basic necessities, were guaranteed. In addition, Iraq's borders were suddenly opened for trade, putting even more pressure on the way in which Iraqi's had previously attempted to make money, acquire goods, and feed their families. In an effort to win hearts and minds, is it really the most sensible course of action to undertake reforms that make 70% of the population unemployed?

Contrary to popular belief, Iraq is not Afghanistan, it is a comparatively developed society. Do you think an unemployed factory worker would have wanted his nation's industries privatized to companies who can take all of the profits they reap elsewhere? Do we restructure Iraqi society on his behalf because we know better? Is that the democracy we seek? Will the government that is elected in December retain the power to kick out US companies, re-nationalize its industries, or invite investment from nations that the US has shut out like France and Germany? If not, what kind of credibility do we think that a picture like this...

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...sends to an unemployed Iraqi flirting with the insurgency, or a citizen in Iran, or Syria, from whom with admiring eyes democracy is supposed to spread.

The point is not whether these reforms work, the point is isolating exactly what our mandate in post war Iraq is. John Murtha accurately identified that US forces have become the primary focus of the insurgency. While insurgents seek to blow up civilians, and undermine the Democratic process, it all serves their primary political purpose of attacking their enemy - their "Imperial occupiers, masquerading as liberators." And while this pretense may be nothing more than clever political posturing, it still underpins their ability to flourish and strengthen with the wider support of the Iraqi people.

A secret poll undertaken for the British Ministry of Defense showed that 65 per cent of Iraqi citizens support attacks against Allied Forces and fewer than one per cent think Allied involvement is helping to improve security in their country. Just like the I.R.A. in N. Ireland, or Basque separatists in Spain, or Hamas in Palestine, perceived political oppression facilitates the notion of a political war... and unadulterated fascists like Zarqawi can emerge as freedom fighters and heroes to millions in Iraq and across the Arab world.

When we condone torture, when we laud democracy but reshape Iraqi society ourselves, when we put too few troops on the ground, and disband Iraq's only security infrastructure, the Republican National Guard... when we appoint an incompetent, politically inappropriate Chief Administrator, Jay Garner, and then need to replace him after only two months (Brown as head of FEMA and Miers as the most qualified SCOTUS nominee aren't isolated mistakes)... when we've planned to attack civilian journalists working for Al Jazeera in an indiscriminate bombing campaign... when we do these things we arm the insurgency with its most potent weapon... the widely held perception of US imperialism, and the abdication of our greatest strength... the nobility of our cause.

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Considering all the money that we have spent, and all the money that has been invested, it is difficult to comprehend that the conditions in Iraq were considered worse than under Saddam in a detailed survey conducted by the United Nations. When stability and security are at a premium, and our war against the insurgency is a battle for the hearts and minds of individual Iraqi's, I cannot believe the accessibility to basic provisions like water and electricity are still at such low levels (chart above).

We currently have a U.S. Administration that has no concept of accountability. Troubles at home or abroad are invariably a political calculation from which they must emerge... not troubles for individual Americans, or Iraqi's for which they must atone. They've decimated tax receipts with ineffectual tax cuts while allowing spending to grow at a faster pace than under any President since Lyndon Johnson. The deficit is out of control and the national debt is currently at 8 trillion dollars while still growing. The Administration has neither the stern, unwavering inclination to address this, nor a sincere concern for its after effects: The national debt will compromise future generations ability to pay back their loans and mortgages, it will hinder their ability to pay for social security or to weather the cost of another war or a disaster like Katrina... or even, god forbid, another terrorist attack.

And, yet the White House barely seems to possess the understanding, let alone the requisite backbone to adjust its course and correct its calamitous, singular and simplistic domestic agenda.

But, it is in Iraq, via military and civilian casualties, and vacuous preparation and planning failures that its incompetence has been most costly. The prosaic sentiments of President Bush and his "strategy for victory," and the notion that troop morale is harmed by public scrutiny, neither levels with the American people, nor demonstrates the capacity to meet this exacerbated challenge.

Alleged "lies" about WMD's remain conspiratorial speculation. Personally, I forgive George Bush's motives for emphasizing the worst case scenario in the build up to war. I still continue to believe Saddam Hussein had sophisticated weapons programs, and would never, under any circumstances, have fully co-operated with U.N. Inspectors. I also don't think you can call this an illegal war, and not say the same about the war in Kosovo undertaken by President Clinton when Russia performed the exact same obstructionist role on the UN security council as France, refusing, under any circumstances to sanction military action.

But, the decision to remove Saddam required a comprehensive plan to win the peace. In my opinion it is this Administration's incompetence, and not their malicious intent, and certainly not the scrutiny of the Main Stream Media or Democrats in Congress, that has really put the armed forces of the United States in harms way, in addition to thousands of UK forces too, deserving of mention that they rarely receive. Unfortunately, for the next three years, unless there are sizemic electoral shifts in the 2006 mid-terms next November I don't forsee things significantly changing. For now we must place our faith in the Iraqi people, and the power of Democracy as an ideal. Beyond the sluggish training of Iraqi forces that seems to be the extent of the Administration's post war reconstruction policy in Iraq.

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