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What The Hell Happened?

As the Bush administration scrambles to lower expectations for their dysfunctional little war-child, Iraqi leaders continue to bicker over their new constitution in a manner reminiscent of that scene in “Lawrence of Arabia”. How did glorious visions of a pro-US, free-market, model liberal democracy in Iraq devolve into acceptance of a balkanized, Islamic fundamentalist regime and terrorist training ground, with strong ties to Iran?

Many people are going to blame the Iraqis themselves, arguing that they're too violent/despotic/ignorant to take advantage of the historic opportunity we handed them. That's just wrong. Some will say you can't install democracy at the point of a gun. The Japanese will tell you it's possible, if you do it right.

No, the Iraqi occupation's root cause of failure lies at the feet of President Bush, who time and again put domestic political concerns ahead of victory in Iraq.

After the fall of Baghdad, our old-European allies all offered to send peacekeeping troops to Iraq - including the military police and civil affairs officers necessary to keep order and maintain infrastructure - in exchange for United Nations management of the occupation. In a fit of hubris, President Bush turned them down,

The Bush administration has abandoned the idea of giving the United Nations more of a role in the occupation of Iraq as sought by France, India and other countries as a condition for their participation in peacekeeping there, administration officials say.

"The administration is not willing to confront going to the Security Council and saying, 'We really need to make Iraq an international operation,'" an administration official said. "You can make a case that it would be better to do that, but, right now, the situation in Iraq is not that dire."

Then, embarrassed by an unforeseen insurgency and eager for an election-year victory, president Bush discarded plans to reform Iraq and accelerated plans to hand over the government to Iraqis,

The United States has backed away from several of its more ambitious initiatives to transform Iraq's economy, political system and security forces as attacks on U.S. troops have escalated and the timetable for ending the civil occupation has accelerated.

"There's no question that many of the big-picture items have been pushed down the list or erased completely," said a senior U.S. official involved in Iraq's reconstruction, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "Right now, everyone's attention is focused [on] doing what we need to do to hand over sovereignty by next summer."

To meet the new artificial deadline (which just happened to coincide with the beginning of the Democratic Party's convention in Boston), the Bush administration gave up on plans to privatize Iraq's socialist economy, abandoned a secular, liberal constitution, decreased the number of Iraqi security forces being trained, and backed away from disarming the factional militias which keep Iraq perpetually on the verge of civil war.

If the plan was to give the Republican Party an edge going into the 2004 elections, then "mission accomplished". But handing over sovereignty at that point sure didn't help Iraq or America.

Then came the Iraqi elections. Despite warnings that they'd be meaningless - even detrimental - without the willing participation of Sunnis, President Bush insisted on holding elections because any delay might be seen as failure of his Iraq policy. All concerns were brushed aside, and now Sunnis are underrepresented in the government, leaving them even more bitter and disaffected.

Oh, and don't forget the terrorists who've used Iraq as a live-fire training ground for more than two years now. From the start, the biggest concern has been that there just aren't enough troops on the ground to secure the country. This is so obvious that one wonders why the Pentagon generals who insist otherwise aren't being sacked.

But they're only doing as the administration signaled they should. Time and again, the Bush administration told us there is no need for additional troops, and shrugged off requests by L. Paul Bremmer at the CPA, and military commanders on the scene because a sustained military commitment of the size necessary to crush the insurgency and secure the borders would send President Bush's poll numbers spiraling even lower.

Instead, the Bush administration is lowering expectations for victory in Iraq, as its leaders quibble over whether medieval Islamic Shariah law should be "the" main source, or merely "a" main source of Iraqi law; over whether women should have no rights, or some rights (except where they conflict with the Koran); over how large an armed militia each religious and tribal faction can retain; and over how little power a central government can have, and still constitute a coherent state.

The failure in Iraq was not inevitable. It was the result of decisions made, one after the other, on the basis of what was good for the Bush administration and the Republican Party, rather than what was good for Iraq and - most importantly - for America.

Posted by American Pundit at August 23, 2005 10:04 AM