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[casi] Post-war Iraq: Quagmire or Master Plan?

Post-war Iraq: Quagmire or Master Plan?

By Jim Lobe, AlterNet
June 24, 2003

"We know where they are," declared Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld on March
30, assuring television viewers about the location of Iraqi weapons of mass
destruction (WMD), two weeks into the war in Iraq. "They are in the area
around Tikrit and Baghdad."

It was just the latest in string of blanket statements issued by the Bush
administration on the subject of Iraq. The neocons within the administration
were brimming with confidence, not only on Saddam's guilt but also the
outcome of the war. "I really do believe we will be greeted as liberators,"
said Vice President Dick Cheney as U.S. troops massed along the border
between Kuwait and Iraq on the eve of the war. "Wildly off the mark,"
blustered Rumsfeld's deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, in response to then-Army Chief
of Staff Eric Shinseki's estimate that more than 200,000 troops would be
needed as a post-war occupation force.

Yet here we are, nearly two months after President Bush declared "victory"
in dramatic fashion from the deck of an aircraft carrier, and the "Q-word" 
"quagmire"  is back in the headlines. As it becomes increasingly clear that
U.S. troops may be facing a guerrilla war, the reasons for the U.S. presence
are more uncertain than ever. Not only are the much-touted WMD still to be
found, but there is still no proof of ties between Iraq and al Qaeda or
Iraqi knowledge of or complicity in the Sept. 11 attacks.

If that were not embarrassing enough, Washington still has around 150,000
troops in Iraq  twice the number projected before the war  and is
desperately seeking as many as 30,000 more from its "coalition" partners,
with all expenses to be paid by the U.S. taxpayer. And events of this past
weekend  when unknown persons in a remote desert area blew up a key oil
pipeline that supplies Baghdad power plants  suggest that even the
additional troops may not be sufficient to do the job.

Some officers on the ground complained before television cameras this week
that they are far too thinly spread to impose order over such a large
country. It's no easy task especially when a significant number of Iraqis do
not appreciate the presence of U.S. troops, and a well-armed and tenacious
few are trying to kill them. What's more, they are succeeding, and at an
accelerating rate. In the last couple of weeks, they have killed an average
of about one U.S. soldier every two days and wounded several more.

As is apparent even in mainstream media coverage, news from Iraq isn't good.
The declining morale among the troops was evident in the Friday Washington
Post. "The war is supposed to be over, but every day we hear of another
soldier getting killed," a U.S. sergeant told the Post. "Saddam isn't in
power anymore. The locals want us to leave. Why are we still here?"

A recent comment on the all-military website, Defense and the National
Interest, gloomily noted, "The Army is getting bogged down in a morale-
numbing 4th Generation War in Iraq that is now taking on some appearances of
the Palestinian Intifada." Another predicted that the Pentagon's plans for
rotating new units into occupation duty could well "melt down" the Army's
personnel system within the year.

And then there was this little-noticed headline that appeared in USA Today
on Thursday: "U.S. Troops May Be In Iraq for 10 Years: Defense officials
reportedly seek up to 54 billion dollars a year." The same Wolfowitz who
ridiculed Shinseki's estimates had now testified before a Senate hearing
that a U.S. withdrawal was a remote prospect. He suggested instead that
permanent bases may have to be built to house troops  a notion unlikely to
go down well even with U.S.-backed exiles like Ahmed Chalabi. Chalabi,
touted as the heir apparent to Saddam by the neocons, has spent much of his
recent visit to the U.S. accusing the Paul Bremer-led administration of
essentially blowing it.

Meanwhile, a report released by the prestigious joint task force of the
Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and the Asia Society suggests that if the
United States does not sharply increase its commitment to peacekeeping and
reconstruction in Afghanistan, the country could quickly collapse back into
the political chaos that resulted in the rise of the Taliban.

So why are we in this handbasket? Is it the result of grave errors of
judgment or part of a neoconservative master plan?

Until now, most foreign-policy analysts in the U.S.  if not the regional
specialists  have been inclined to give Washington hawks the benefit of the
doubt. After all, no has ever accused Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz or Woolsey
of being just plain stupid. So how could they have brought the nation
headlong into the face of disaster?

One theory is that the neocons, like many in power before them, tend to
believe their own propaganda  the "war on terror" rhetoric they and their
supporters have been spouting even before the dust of the World Trade Center
towers settled over Lower Manhattan. The degree to which they helped twist
the intelligence about Iraq has become increasingly clear over the past few
weeks, as angry intelligence professionals have taken their complaints to
the press.

But hints of a second, not unrelated reason may be found in recent,
plain-speaking comments on the enormous budget deficits the administration
is running up, even as it continues its drive to cut taxes.

"The lunatics are now in charge of the asylum," declared a Financial Times
editorial last month. The sentiment was seconded by Harvard economist Paul
Krugman in his New York Times column. Krugman, like the Financial Times,
argues that the administration ideologues are deliberately creating a fiscal
crisis in order to achieve their goal of dismantling a social and economic
system that ensured domestic tranquility since the New Deal. "The people now
running America aren't conservatives: they're radicals," wrote Krugman. "How
can this be happening? Most people, even most liberals, are complacent. They
don't realize how dire the fiscal outlook really is, and they don't read
what the ideologues write."

The same can be said of U.S. foreign policy. Despite the radical trajectory
on which the neocons have taken U.S. foreign policy since Sept. 11, the
complacency, especially among Democrats, has been truly remarkable. Most
members of the "opposition" still aren't reading, or at least absorbing the
full import of, what the foreign policy ideologues behind Rumsfeld, Cheney,
and Wolfowitz write or say.

"This fourth World War, I think, will last considerably longer than either
World Wars I or II did for us," said former CIA chief and member of the
Defense Policy Board James Woolsey, during the third week of the war. "As we
move toward a new Middle East over the years, and, I think, over the decades
to come ... we will make a lot of people very nervous."

Unfortunately, this is one neocon statement that may be entirely true.

Jim Lobe writes on foreign policy for Alternet,, Foreign Policy
in Focus, and Inter Press Services.

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