It has been almost ten years (January, 1998 to be exact) since a neo-con contingent wrote then President Clinton urging him to take military action against Saddam Hussein. Eventual claims by the Bush administration that it had explored all avenues, gathered all pertinent intelligence and sought U.N. approval before invading Iraq are dubious at best, given the mindset of the signatories to this letter, many of whom were welcomed into the administration and given a voice in framing its policy.
Curiously, the letter opens by stating that “…we may soon face a threat in the Middle East more serious than any we have known since the Cold War.” That this has come to pass precisely because of actions the Bush administration undertook in Iraq as well as its intransigence in dealing with long-standing problems in the region is an ironic turn of events that seems lost on these entrenched armchair militants. And the bombast in the letter rests on the shaky ground of premises based on maybes and what-ifs.
Declaring that “if” Saddam were to “…acquire the capability to deliver weapons of mass destruction” it would constitute a threat to friends “…like Israel and moderate Arab states” as well as put “…a significant portion of the world’s supply of oil…at hazard.” And the letter continues: “The only acceptable strategy is one that eliminates the possibility that Iraq will be able to use or threaten to use (emphasis mine) weapons of mass destruction. In the near term, this means a willingness to undertake military action…In the long term, it means removing Saddam Hussein and his regime from power. That now needs to become the aim of American foreign policy.” What a perfect rendering of a pre-emptive policy that had nothing to do with imminent threats and everything to do with a pre-conceived policy of a dominant role for the U. S. in the Middle East.
Not surprisingly, among the signers were Elliot Abrams, John Bolton, Richard Armitage, Donald Rumsfeld, William Kristol, Paul Woflowitz, Richard Perle and Kalmay Khalilzad. What chance was there that, when President Bush came to power, he would re-think U.S. foreign policy objectives in the light of real-time events, seeking the advice of experts and experienced strategists rather than relying on a covey of ideologues? Apparently, no chance whatsoever, and 9/11 provided the impetus to carry out an agenda that had been percolating for some time.
Now, as the president seems to be leaning toward what is being called a “surge” of additional troops to tamp down the violence in Baghdad, most knowledgeable observers suggest that such an option holds no chance of solving the intractable nature of the issues motivating warring factions there. Aside from sectarian brutality that creates a savage social climate, life for many Iraqis lacks any sense of personal security, few amenities and little hope for the future. As a result hundreds of thousands of Iraqis with the wherewithal to do so have left Iraq and may not return, creating a Diaspora of the very people who might best create a positive direction for their country.
It might be a better use of additional troops if they were to provide security at electrical grids and at other sites so that the Iraqi people could have more reliable sources of electricity, clean water, and sewage disposal. The cycle of daily violence and the fear it engenders coupled with the lack of those basic services that define a civil society are a source of growing hopelessness and anger. A fighting force without a mission that would affect the daily lives of the general Iraqi population seems doomed to failure especially since ‘the enemy’ is elusive and not clearly defined.
One of the most dispiriting commentaries on the current situation is an article in Thursday’s NY Times (12/28) by an embedded reporter. Accompanying photographs of a garbage-strewn roadside and the discovery of two murder victims in amongst the garbage are gruesome reminders of the ongoing savagery. The Iraqi military leader sharing duties with American forces identifies a victim as a Shiite. When asked how he knows this he replies, “This is a Sunni Sector.” Does our government and, in turn, our military have a strategy capable of confronting the fact of life so matter-of-factly conveyed in this assessment of on-the-ground reality?
I suppose being killed in a foreign land on Christmas Day is no worse than being killed anywhere on any other day; it just seems doubly hurtful somehow. As the president ponders his next course of action in the New Year one can only hope that policies shaped by a skewed neo-con vision can be re-configured into a plan for salvaging Iraq and ensuring that our troops won’t have to spend any more endangered holidays away from their friends and family.

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