barry rubin 88.
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President George W. Bush has been known to make mistakes, and now he is engaged in the biggest one of all, a profound misinterpretation of the situation in Iraq based on good intentions and bad analysis.
He would have been better off playing cynical politics instead of pursuing the sincere and idealistic path he is following. It would have been easy for him to say: "We've done what we set out to do in Iraq. Saddam has been overthrown; a democratic regime has been put into place. Now we can bring our forces home and let the Iraqis preserve their sovereignty themselves."
To do so would have been smart politics. The Republicans could have gone into the congressional elections of November 2006 with a claim of success and the prospect of disengagement. Bush would have stolen the Democrats' main policy proposal.
BY THE 2008 presidential elections Iraq might be an issue of some controversy, but not such as to wreck the Republican candidate. On an emotional and material level, the war in Iraq would have been old news.
Instead, Bush is doing what he thinks is the right thing: not "cutting and running" nor seeking partisan advantage, but instead "staying the course," "maintaining US credibility," and not "abandoning" the Iraqi people.
This may be a noble stance, but it is a mistaken one, a self-sacrificing choice that will end up costing Bush's reputation, maybe his party, and probably the popularity of his ideas.
It is impossible for the US and its allies to win the war in Iraq. It is also impossible for them to lose. There is no reason to believe that five years from now - and the US Department of Defense now says it expects to have US troops there in 2010 - anything is going to change in Iraq itself.
Meanwhile, in the US the war will become steadily more unpopular as no progress is visible. If the Democrats take the House of Representatives in November they will hold hearings grilling anyone connected to the issue. There will be little interest in a fair evaluation of what has happened; and even a fair evaluation would be highly critical.
WHY DOES the US remain in Iraq? The answer given is that it must stay until Iraq's government can preserve itself. It is a matter of training enough troops and security forces, a process which takes time.
The real problem, however, is not an insufficient number of soldier and police graduates, but Iraq's structure and political culture. The Sunni insurgents are not going to go away. They don't care how much of the country they wreck or how many people they kill - the more destruction the happier they are.
The insurgents don't have to worry about the Sunni community going over to the government because no matter how hard the regime might try to compromise, all the terrorists have to do is label anyone they oppose a "collaborator."
Nor will the insurgents' money dry up from Saudi Arabia, nor their logistical support from Syria, because nobody is going to force these countries to stop backing the violence.
On the other side, the government is beset by factional strife and multiple militias. There is no way it can become popular by providing services and higher living standards. The war makes that impossible - not to mention rampant corruption which provides patronage for all its groups and leaders.
THERE IS only one way for this war to end and for Iraq to achieve relative stability, and that is for the Shi'ites and Kurdish majority to win. But they will never be compelled to do so as long as the coalition forces fight the battles for them.
Two different issues must be kept in mind here. First, the more numerous Shi'ites are not going to let themselves be destroyed or massacred if they have any say in the matter. Only when they have no alternative but to depend on themselves will they devote the effort, mobilize their forces, and destroy their enemies. Forcing Shi'ites to sink or swim will show that they are Olympic contenders when it comes to fighting such a civil war.
The second problem, regrettably, is the method needed to achieve victory. The Shi'ites will fight Middle East-style, not obeying the niceties of American law, codes of conduct, or rules of engagement. This isn't a fight that can be won by adherence to the Marquis of Queensberry rules.
What are the great fears preventing a US withdrawal?
â€¢ that the insurgents would win. That's far less likely if the 80% majority is unleashed to defend itself.
â€¢ that Iran would dominate Iraq. Yet the Baghdad government would still need US help, and Teheran is far less likely to control those who have won victory in their own right.
â€¢ that US credibility would suffer from a pullout. This would not happen if the side it supports triumphs. Anyway, the terrorists and anti-American forces are claiming success by tying down US forces and killing American soldiers.
What Bush should have done - and it isn't too late, though he seems determined to compound his errors - is to set a timetable for withdrawal, without a detailed public commitment but with a clear message to Iraq's government that it must take responsibility for its own defense.
By failing to do so, he has doomed his administration and his own reputation.
The writer is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center.
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