On Easter Sunday, the Christian day for forgiveness and resurrection, the Untied States noted almost in passing the death of the 4,000th service person in the endless war in Iraq. Of that number 97% were killed after President George Bush proclaimed on the carrier, “USS Abraham Lincoln” that the mission of those fighting forces was accomplished. But tragically, for all involved, the post war period was characterized by poor Pentagon planning and little executive leadership.
For one thing, no one seems to have given much thought to what happens after a dictatorial regime falls. Where is the day to day infrastructure that provides for law and order, keeps the buses running, guarantees electricity and water to millions of people? The US Ambassador, Paul Bremer, decided unwisely to totally gut the military and police forces of Iraq, calling it de-Bathification– that is, the uprooting of Saddam’s clan and party. But while one could eliminate the odious top layer, there were no arrangements made to transform the rank and file, so thousands of unemployed angry military men were simply dumped back in their cities and villages. Immediately, the forces of disruption looted and killed. It appears at times that the only ties that bind Iraqis together are their hatred of one another and their fierce loyalty to their particular version of Islam.
For months on end the Bush Administration denied that there was a civil war going on, as if speaking the obvious truth might cause the whole American reconstruction to collapse. And collapse it did. US forces were suddenly battling insurgents, Moslem extremists, Iranian supported military, and a now transplanted Al Qaeda. Under Saddam there was no Al Qaeda, since he tolerated no power centers but his own. The American triumph ironically helped resurrect that vicious brand of terrorism while at the same time it deflected US attention from Afghanistan where the Taliban had originally operated.
This mess was simply denied by Bush and his belligerent Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, until the off year Congressional elections showed that the American people had enough with the bumblings, both foreign and domestic.
Now we are in an endless war, a war that has lasted longer than the two theatre conflict during World War II in Europe and Asia. Bush’s response was simple—more troops, a surge, really an escalation of force structures. The reasoning of its major advocates, General Petraitis and Ambassador Crocker, was that more US personnel would buy the Iraqi political leaders time to get their house in order, solve their endless problems, and present a united front against the forces of disruption and division.
Since that surge, the US had indeed brought some more peace to the area, but the political leaders remain the same—intransigent, insolent, and parochial. Even General Petraitis seems disgusted by the lack of progress made by the civilian leadership, a lack of progress paid for with American blood. So Sunday we celebrated the 4,000th causality in this ill defined, poorly managed war.
After the surge, the Administration indicated that there would be a phased withdrawal of those new troops by the summer, but it appears that indeed Bush is content to leave this problem in the lap of his successor. If McCann is elected, he will insist on fighting to victory, whatever that means in Iraq. If the Democrats win, they will be accused of bugging out and bringing about whatever terrible consequences the Middle East will visit in the future. Bush will be living the good life back in beautiful Crawford with Barnie. McCain insists that the US should stay even if it takes a century, and McCain is not a person given to moderation or hyperbole. Hillary seems opposed to the war she voted for. But, under pressure for the nomination, she supported a withdrawal some time in the distant future. Obama seems more willing to start an immediate withdrawal.
Probably the only eventuality that may work to our advantage is if the Iraqis themselves ask us to leave, once and for all. We can then declare victory, put the troops on ships and take them to the next target of our adventurous foreign policy. It’ll be another foreign policy initiative that has not been thought out, that has not be planned for, that has not foreseen the relation between strategy and tactics. Somehow, such brave men and women deserve more than this from us and from our leaders.
Michael P. Riccards is Executive Director of the Hall Institute of Public Policy – New Jersey.