Monday, November 28, 2005

The Iraq Mess II: We Broke It, We Must Fix It

One of the not-so-surprising revelations emerging from the current rush to the exits on Iraq is that the Bush Administration's overly rosy post-Saddam scenario has left us swamped in a country that, promising developments on the democratic front notwithstanding, has no unity, protecting a regime that cannot defend itself against an insurgency that will not go away until it regains power. We do not have the manpower to crush the insurgency, nor is the Iraqi army anywhere near ready to even take it down a notch.

This makes an American exit a highly tempting solution to a difficult problem. Unfortunately, pace Rep. Murtha, it's the wrong solution for the near term.

Our departure from Iraq right now will result in a victorious Sunni insurgency and a nation split in three. It will give the Iranian mullahs a chance to expand and solidify their own brand of reactionary militant Islamism--hardly a prospect we relish. And it will produce the very thing the Administration said would be the result of our not intervening in the first place: a country that can serve as a base for militant Islamists ready to attack the West.

If anything, for the next few months, we need more troops, not fewer. These troops would have as their main job getting the Iraqi army into fighting shape so that it can restore and maintain internal order after we depart. Only when the Iraqi security forces are up to the task of taking on the insurgents can we say it's safe for us to go.

Unfortunately, it may be too late for us to get those additional troops over there, so badly has the Bush Administration bungled the aftermath of its misguided second response to 9/11.

The Iraq Mess I: Live by the Spin, Die by the Spin

So the hounds of the press are now chewing over the rotting carcass of the Bush Administration's war policy in Iraq, now that a Democrat with impeccable pro-military credentials has made it safe to do so. What's more, they are doing so with impunity, after a Bush effort to tar Rep. John Murtha (D-Johnstown, Pa.) with the lefty brush misfired badly.

What the reporters need to be dissecting is just how much the Bush Administration relied on public relations spin to get us into this mess, and the ways that reality invariably points out the limits of spin.

Let me start by giving the administration the benefit of the doubt and letting it off the hook for lying its way into war with Iraq. Let me also put the invasion in the most charitable light by suggesting that an influential cadre within the White House--maybe even including the President himself, but most certainly excluding former Secretary of State Colin Powell--believed that a global conflict between the West and radical Islam was inevitable, and that the best course for the West to follow would be to take the fight to the enemy.

It did not follow that Iraq was the right enemy. Saddam Hussein's ostensibly secularist Baathist ideology made it a poor candidate for the role the Bush cabal cast it in, that of sponsor of worldwide Islamist terror. (Ally Saudi Arabia is a far better candidate, unfortunately for our political and business leaders.) And--as we all now know--there was little evidence that the Hussein regime was in any position to be much of a threat to anyone other than its own citizens and perhaps its neighbors.

But--or so we were told after the public didn't warn to the original story line, which was "Why wait until the threat is iminent? Let's take him out now"--the Bush administration hawks and their amen corner on Fox News kept repeating that Hussein represented a threat to world peace that would eventually rank with Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia. Not only that, the Bush PR team told us that (1) Hussein would fall quickly, (2) the grateful Iraqis would throw rose petals at our feet, and (3) we'd have a model democracy up and running in no time, with only a small number of American troops required for the task.

Now, more than a year and a half after the President declared that we had achieved our mission in Iraq, we are slowly waking up to the fact that of those three predictions, only (1) came true. Neither the rationale nor the aftermath have worked out as the Bush Administration spun them. And after Murtha called it as he saw it, the Bush war party has discovered that there are some things you just can't spin your way out of.

I'm fond of saying, when public perception of some event shifts radically for no good reason other than a message being drilled into the collective consciousness, "It's all PR." Maybe the Bush Administration's current politico-military predicament will teach it the lesson that no, it's not always all PR. Sometimes you need to be honest about the difficulties and complexities of a situation. More likely, though, the present occupants of the White House will continue spinning, all the way into their political graves.