Vol. 9, No. 2,173 - The American Reporter - September 3, 2003

Happy Labor Day, America!

On Native Ground

by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
Dummerston, Vt.

DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Watching the Bush administration try to find a way out of the mess it created in Iraq reminds me of something former House Speaker Sam Rayburn once said: "A jackass can kick a barn down, but it takes a carpenter to build one."

There aren't many carpenters in the Bush administration. Instead, we've seen too many miscalculations and false assumptions by jackasses - something that may turn out to be worse than the lies that propelled the U.S. into invading Iraq.

Lets look at some of the biggest miscalculations:

  • The Iraqis would welcome U.S. troops as liberators. When the Bush administration anointed hacks like convicted embezzler Ahmed Chalabi as the leaders of post-Saddam Iraq, they instantly lost credibility with the Iraqi people. Given a choice, Iraqis would want a homegrown leader, preferably a Shiite.

  • The U.S. has put people in charge who have no experience in rebuilding a country. Paul Bremer, the U.S. proconsul in Iraq, is an anti-terrorism expert. Civil affairs is not his speciality, and it shows. After nearly five months of occupation, the U.S. remains unable to provide basic security and basic services to a majority of the population.

  • The U.S. has consistently sent the wrong signals to the Iraqi people. When U.S. troops protected the Iraqi oil ministry while allowing looters free reign to destroy Baghdad's other government offices as well as hospitals, libraries and museums, that spoke volumes about American priorities in Iraq.

  • There is no clear military strategy. U.S. forces in Iraq are dealing with, quite possibly, the best armed colonial population in history. There are millions of assault rifles, grenade launchers, mines and machine guns floating around Iraq and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi men with combat experience. Instead of fighting undisciplined irregulars, as was the case in Somalia, U.S. troops are going up against a well-trained, well-armed enemy.

  • There seems to be a total disregard for the intelligence of the Iraqi people, who aren't as dumb as many Americans think. Iraq is not a backward society. It is a country that is sophisticated, educated and has access to the same information sources that Americans do. The average Iraqi knows a lot more about the U.S. than the average American knows about Iraq.

Put these things together and you can see why things have not gone as planned for the Bush administration.

The deadly Aug. 19 bombing of the UN mission in Baghdad was perhaps the final proof that the U.S. approach so far in Iraq has not worked. If the UN, the folks that are traditionally treated as neutrals in a conflict, can't be safe in Iraq, who can?

The U.S. has gone to the United Nations, hat in hand, seeking assistance. It hopes that the scorn and abuse the Bush administration heaped upon that institution will be forgotten and that the UN's member states will happily send troops to Iraq. Unfortunately, the U.S. still insists on being in charge and is balking at conceding authority to the UN.

This may be the biggest mistake of all. As Philip Gordon, a senior fellow at The Brookings Institution, recently pointed out in the International Herald Tribune, the U.S. is currently deploying 90 percent of the troops in Iraq, is suffering 90 percent of the casualties and is paying 90 percent of the cost of the occupation.

Quite simply, this is a burden that the U.S. can't afford to sustain. Congress already appropriated $62.6 billion for the Iraq invasion and occupation in March. It may need to come up with as much as $60 billion more by October. And this figure doesn't include much of the costs of rebuilding Iraq, which will takes tens of billions of dollars more to do.

The human cost is becoming unsustainable. Two more U.S. Army divisions may needed to secure Iraq, something that an already stretched thin military force may be hard pressed to come up with. Nearly 300 troops have died in Iraq since March and more than 1,000 have been wounded.

Clearly, the time has come for the Bush administration to swallow its pride and admit that trying to go it alone in Iraq was a foolish thing to do. It's time for the Bush administration to seek a reconciliation with its now-estranged allies and the United Nations and ask for help.

This will be tough. Unless the U.S. is prepared to share information and authority equally with the rest of the international community, the international community isn't going to help. No nation will want to aid the U.S. if the U.S. insists on having all the power.

Given that the Bush administration bases every decision on whether it helps or hurts President Bush's political future, cooperation with the UN may be the only way to go.

The 2004 election is barely a year away and President Bush may find himself out of a job on the very issues he thought he owned - national security and the "war on terror."

Afghanistan remains an unstable mess. Iraq will get a lot worse before it gets better. The same neo-con hardliners that cooked up the invasion of Iraq desperately want to invade Iran. And the chance of seeing peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians seems about nil.

This is not exactly a record of foreign policy accomplishment, especially when balanced against the human and financial toll the "war on terror" has exacted in the Middle East and Central Asia. Without a substantial rethinking of what it is doing, the Bush administration will not succeed in bringing peace and security to the region.

Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books).

Copyright 2003 Joe Shea The American Reporter. All Rights Reserved.