WASHINGTON -- The president did it again this week. He talked for quite a long while about Iraqis and freedom. Now they know "freedom," he told his American audience, with a strange look of otherworldliness. And with the visit to the United Nations of the U.S.-appointed Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, the Iraqis are governing themselves -- in "freedom," of course.
Now, this is not two months after the war, which began in the spring of 2003, when President Bush, standing grandiosely on an American ship, declared "victory" (another favored word). This is not a year ago when American analysts and journalists were beginning to have serious doubts about America's strange adventure into historic Mesopotamia.
This is today, September 2004, with American elections only six weeks away, with Iraq breaking down into covens of Islamic fanatics cutting off infidels' heads, with entire regions of the country under insurgent rule, with even friendly journalists barely allowed near the Iraqi prime minister, with elections in January up in the air, with the United Nations declaring the whole war illegal, and with every respected analytical institution saying the situation is headed toward civil war by 2005.
In fact, I have heard at a number of early fall meetings in Washington, from serious and concerned people, that Iraq is already IN a civil war. American troops, who now control only the outskirts of many of the major cities and are more hated every day, will be driven back until they are besieged by insurgents all around them. The "insurgents" or "militants" or "terrorists" -- you can give them as many names as they have backgrounds and intentions -- are already working together instead of at loggerheads, as before. If Iraq disintegrates, its neighbors will begin fighting for their pieces of their ethnic enclaves within Iraq, leaving the entire Middle East in anarchy.
Relying on distant, advanced and destructive weaponry, and eschewing taking losses, Americans bomb normal houses, then say 47 were killed, or 20, or l4 -- now they are not even saying they're all terrorists. The human rights groups put the figure of Iraqis killed, by all groups but mainly by us, at between 30,000 and 45,000. That's where the Iraqi "hearts and minds" really go.
The Bush administration, besides assuring us that the Iraqi people are gaining their "freedom," further insists that the training of the new Iraqi police, national guard and army will solve all this.
But this week, even the Pentagon, in one of its occasional bursts of honesty, said the insurgents were gaining in numbers and that the Iraqi forces were far from ready to take over. My Arab sources point out that these forces are heavily infiltrated by groups who hate America -- and why wouldn't they infiltrate in order to destroy us from within our supposed sanctums? Citizens of the Near East learn deception and duplicity with their mothers' milk -- just to survive.
And no one seems to want to answer the most simple question: Why would an Iraqi want to fight for a foreign power, whose metropole is already involved in deep discussions about pulling out of his country, against his own neighbors, family, clan, tribe, religion and history?
In the last few weeks leading up to George W.'s "freedom" speech and Prime Minister Allawi's trip to Washington and the U.N., many institutions (the Center for Strategic and International Studies here, the Royal Institute in London, even the president's own CIA intelligence estimate) have warned we are headed toward civil war, with few ways out for American troops. At the same time, the U.S. has desperately shifted about a fifth of the $18.4 billion tagged for reconstruction into boosting Iraq's stumbling and terrified security forces.
Even The Wall Street Journal, whose editorial page is inadaptable and pro-war neocon but whose news columns remain superb, wrote recently on the front page: "The persistence of the insurgency has raised new doubts about how effectively the new government can carry off elections planned for early next year."
This week, Arnaud de Borchgrave, editor at large for United Press International, returned from meetings with Europe's principal intelligence services. All agreed on deeply disturbing points: The plan to train Iraqi forces was "stillborn," the insurgency has mushroomed from 5,000 to 20,000 today, the U.S. would require 10 times the rebel strength, or some 200,000 at a bare minimum, even to avoid a defeat like the French in the Algerian civil war (1954-'62), Iraq was an American diversion from the war on terrorism and in fact has "greatly facilitated transnational terrorism," and the obsession about building a "model Arab democracy" in Iraq now has the "potential of a Vietnam-type quagmire."
My friend William Lind, of the Free Congress Foundation and the author of the Marine Corps' asymmetric warfare manual, goes further: Already, "Iraq does not exist. We've passed the tipping point where the principal opponents were the Baathists trying to restore the state. Now we are in a war with people who have nothing to do with the state. Is this a classic denouement for a guerrilla war? Yes, the American military is trying to fight a classic war, but this time they're not leaving behind triumphant guerrillas like Vietnam and Algeria; they'll be leaving behind a destroyed state, and we can no longer create a new Iraqi state.
"We've handed Osama bin Laden a new home ground; we've handed him Mesopotamia. This is both classic and entirely new."
But watch and wait. The White House's answer is to wage a huge offensive against the now-unified insurgents in Fallujah and other cities by the end of the year. Supposedly elections can be held in January, a reasonably popular Iraqi government can be set up, and the insurgents, bombs and suicide bombers will gradually disappear. Good luck.
Meanwhile, President Bush, while he has modified his formerly obsessive pictures of himself and placed some professional moderates in key positions (John Negroponte as ambassador in Iraq, for instance), still BELIEVES. No matter what, he believes that Iraqis now are "free" -- he believes they must be because we are so good. And that is the scariest thing of all.
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