- Jan 20, 2006
- Reaction score
- New Orleans, LA/Cambridge, MA
Continued...The Economist said:“NEMESIS” was the word The Economist printed on its front cover four years ago, when jubilant Iraqis, aided by American soldiers, hauled down the big statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad's Firdos Square. For a moment it looked as though all the fears that had accompanied the build-up to the American-led invasion had been groundless. The defeat of Iraq's army in three weeks turned out to be exactly the “cakewalk” that some of the war's boosters predicted. And in many places Iraqis did indeed greet the American soldiers as liberators, just as Ahmed Chalabi, Iraq's best-known politician-in-exile, had promised they would.
How different it looks four years on. The invasion has been George Bush's nemesis as well as Saddam's. The lightning conquest was followed by a guerrilla and then a civil war. Talk of victory has given way to talk about how to limit a disaster. The debacle has cut short the careers of Donald Rumsfeld and Tony Blair, poisoned the Bush presidency and greatly damaged the Republican Party (see article). More important, it has inflicted fear, misery and death on its intended beneficiaries. “It is hard to imagine any post-war dispensation that could leave Iraqis less free or more miserable than they were under Mr Hussein,” we said four years ago. Our imagination failed. One of the men who took a hammer to Saddam's statue told the world's media this week that although Saddam was like Stalin, the occupation is worse.
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What went wrong? The most popular answer of the American neoconservatives who argued loudest for the war is that it was a good idea badly executed. Kenneth Adelman, he of the “cakewalk”, has since called the Bush national-security team “among the most incompetent” of the post-war era. Others also blame the Iraqis for their inability to accept America's gift of freedom. “We have given the Iraqis a republic and they do not appear able to keep it,” lamented Charles Krauthammer, a columnist for the Washington Post.
That excuse is too convenient by half: it is what the apologists for communism said too. But there can be no denying that the project was bungled from the start. Western intelligence failed to discover that Saddam had destroyed all his weapons of mass destruction (WMD), the removal of which was the main rationale for the war. However, the incompetence went beyond this. The war was launched by a divided administration that had no settled notion of how to run Iraq after the conquest. The general who warned Congress that stabilising the country would require several hundred thousand troops was sacked for his prescience.
Mr Rumsfeld's one big idea seemed to be that it was not the job of the armed forces he was “transforming” to become policemen, social workers or nation- builders. As a result, he sent too few and they did nothing to prevent looters from picking clean all Iraq's public buildings the moment the regime collapsed. “Stuff happens,” was the defence secretary's comment, a phrase used later as the title of an anti-war play in London's West End.
America's plans for Iraq's political transition were also rudimentary, to the extent that they existed at all. The Pentagon wanted Mr Chalabi and his fellow exiles put swiftly in charge. The State Department thought an American administration would have to be installed. State had organised a pre-invasion Future of Iraq project, but the Pentagon declined to adopt its ideas. Several knowledgeable State Department Arabists were prevented from going to Iraq because they were deemed ideologically unsound. Jay Garner, an amiable general called in from retirement to manage the transition under an understaffed ad hoc body known as the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, received no intelligible instructions from Washington, and baffled the liberated Iraqis in his turn. “You're in charge,” he told a gathering of 300 or so mystified tribal leaders and exiles who attended a conference soon after his arrival, hoping to discover what the future held under Iraq's new rulers.
When the Americans discovered the obvious—that Iraqis could not take charge of a state whose institutions had collapsed—the amiable General Garner was called home and replaced by a viceroy. Paul Bremer set up his Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) inside one of Saddam's Baghdad palaces, at the heart of a fortified “green zone” cut off by tall blast walls from the life of the city. Unlike his predecessor he had firm views about what needed to be done, views which in short order produced big mistakes. He disbanded the Iraqi army and so put tens of thousands of resentful, jobless men with military training on the streets. And he turfed thousands of Baath Party members out of the bureaucracy, thereby depriving many ministries of their only trained staff.
In the end, the Americans did preside over a political transition of sorts. The CPA handed sovereignty to an interim government under Iyad Allawi, selected on the advice of the United Nations. Then, in 2005, came a year of elections. In January Iraqis voted in their first free election for a new National Assembly; they voted again in October in a referendum on a new constitution; and they voted in December to elect yet another new National Assembly under the new constitution's rules. If democratic politics were about nothing more than casting votes, Iraq would have the hang of it by now.
Unfortunately, few things are more useless than a government that cannot govern. And Iraq's government can't. For although Iraqis voted in high numbers, they voted along ethnic lines, and this produced an impasse. The outnumbered Sunnis feel locked out of a new Iraq dominated by Shias. The victorious Shia block, the United Iraqi Alliance, is itself so divided that it took its factions five months after the election of December 2005 to choose a prime minister. And his authority is limited. Nuri al-Maliki depends for a majority on members loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr, a radical anti-American Shia cleric, with a powerful militia at his disposal. The prime minister can deploy patronage, but this has made his administration into little more than a spoils system in which the individual parties, many with their own militias, use control of government ministries to extract resources for themselves.