Back on the evening of March 7, 2003, when President Bush announced the imminent invasion of Iraq, he directed part of his remarks to the Iraqi citizenry. Americans are more likely to remember the words meant for them, that the power and ambitions of Iraq represented a dire threat to the survival of the United States.
If American disillusionment is now almost complete, imagine that of the Iraqis. Standing in the White House, Bush told them in a translated radio broadcast beamed around the jammers in Baghdad that “The day of your liberation is near.” The invasion, he said, would trigger greater prosperity for all and the beginning of a glorious era when there would be “no more executions of dissidents, no more torture chambers and rape rooms.”
Each of those promises has sounded hollower with each day’s news of rape, torture, slaughter and a daily life that has descended into primitivism. A confidential cable from the U.S. embassy in Iraq last month described the barbarity of daily life in the neighborhoods of Iraq more starkly than any liberal newspaper reporting.
More than Americans’ awakening, it is the reality of the Iraqis’ total disenchantment, if indeed many of them ever believed the promises, that demonstrates the utter hopelessness of Bush’s policy of permanent military presence in the country. It also demonstrates the futility of the Democrats’ dithering over finding a stance that does not make them look weak. The best thing the United States can do for the people of Iraq and the stability of the theocratic government that we have installed is to leave, the more rapidly the better.
Karl Rove may say that it is “cut and run,” but that is where American policy is headed and no one is weak for advocating now the course that is obvious to every serious student of world affairs.
It is not a new calculation that Americans would replace Saddam Hussein in the loathing of Iraqis or that heavy American presence, alongside sectarian hatreds, would be the chief deterrent to stability. That was the one standard warning before the war from diplomats, academics, the generals and even a few statesmen of the political variety. Gen. Wesley Clark said American occupation of Iraq would “supercharge recruiting for Al Qaeda.”
Gen. Anthony Zinni, former chief of the U.S. Central Command, suggested that the Bush administration did not understand the history and divisions of Iraq if it thought it could transform the society and governance by occupation.
“God help us if we think this transition will occur easily,” he warned. The remarks cost him his appointment as Bush’s special envoy to the Middle East. What the generals did not anticipate, or at least what they did not utter, was the deterioration of the fabric of the great American armed forces in the long occupation of a hostile people.
When Al Gore told the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco in September 2002 that the invasion and occupation would turn Iraq into a far more dangerous place than it was under Saddam Hussein he was attacked as “crazy” and “unhinged” by war advocates.
A few weeks before the invasion, 35 Japanese historians signed a statement condemning Bush’s comparison of an Iraqi conquest and occupation to the occupation of Japan after World War II. It would be a terrible historical mistake to invade that religiously driven country upon such a fallacy, they said.
American departure from Iraq, or fixing a timetable for it, would remove a large although admittedly not sole cause of the insurgency. The Bush administration and the neocons say it would leave the democratically elected government defenseless, but it is the best hope for survival the government has.
When the new Iraqi prime minister tendered an offer of reconciliation to Sunni insurgents last month, one group said it was interested if Americans committed resolutely to withdraw in two years. The government let it be known that this was a non-starter. But the government, facing a rising clamor from the citizenry, is demanding more accountability from the U.S. command for the atrocities against innocent civilians and for the torture in prisons.
Bush promises of massive reconstruction and redevelopment of the shattered economy, infrastructure and social order never materialized. The money seems to have gone instead into construction of permanent military complexes and, of course, the $600 million U. S. embassy in the heavily fortified green zone of Baghdad, which will be one of the grandest in the world. Eventually, we will have to leave all that behind.
But it will be the beginning of regeneration, perhaps for them, surely for us.