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[casi] Iraq: Who takes the blame?

Jul 17, 2003

Iraq: Who takes the blame?

By Jim Lobe

WASHINGTON - Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld has become distinctly testy,
while Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz seems almost to have
disappeared from public view, and Vice President Dick Cheney hasn't been
heard from in weeks.

Outgoing White House spokesman Ari Fleischer has been reduced to barnyard
epithets when asked about how a reference to forged documents about alleged
Iraqi purchases of African uranium made it into President George W Bush's
State of the Union address in January, while the headline in the USA Today
on Monday says "CIA director [George Tenet] nudged toward the plank".

Bush's standing in the polls is declining rapidly. Indeed, a Washington Post
poll published on the weekend says his overall job-approval rating, while
still a majority, dropped nine points in the previous 18 days - as did
public support for the Iraq deployment. The same poll found that 52 percent
believe US casualties have reached an "unacceptable" level.

Meanwhile, yet another US soldier was killed and six others wounded in a
multiple rocket-propelled-grenade attack on their patrol in Baghdad on
Monday, and two more on Wednesday, bringing to 34 the total number of US
soldiers killed in combat since Bush declared the war over on May 1 after
his celebrated flight to the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, from
where he made the announcement.

Retired army generals are grumbling ever more loudly that the 148,000 US and
12,000 foreign troops in Iraq now are not enough to ensure stability, and
even Rumsfeld was forced to admit publicly two days after predicting that
the US occupation of Iraq will cost almost US$4 billion a month - twice as
much as predicted before the war - that more troops may be required.

The realization that the US did not prepare even remotely adequately for its
occupation of Iraq and now appears to be drifting toward serious trouble has
definitely dawned in Washington. Even Democratic presidential candidates
smell blood and are baring their teeth.

"It's important that we not lose sight of the bigger picture, which is the
enormous failure that is looming in Iraq today," Senator John Edwards of
North Carolina, among the mildest of Democratic aspirants and a supporter of
Bush's war, told the New York Times after tearing into Bush for the loss of
credibility he has suffered over the uranium report and the failure to find
weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

This is clearly a critical moment in the imperial trajectory on which the
Bush administration's hawks, centered primarily in the Pentagon and Cheney's
office, set US foreign policy after September 11, 2001.

Their dreams of global supremacy based on the unilateral use of US military
power are clearly foundering in Iraq as they come up against the very real
limits of US manpower and their contempt for the interests of other nations.

Increasingly, analysts in Washington agree that the only way the
administration can get out its present situation with its power, treasury
and credibility intact is if it hands over control of Iraq to a multilateral
institution - the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), if not the
United Nations - capable of enlisting sufficient support from the
international community, in the form of peacekeepers, aid and investment, to
stabilize Iraq and launch it on the path to reconstruction.

"The administration faces a classic tradeoff between keeping control and
getting outside participation," James Dobbins, a former top US diplomat who
helped run reconstruction and peacekeeping operations in Kosovo, Haiti,
Afghanistan and elsewhere, told the Times. "This administration does not
want to lose control, but they'll have to take another look at that

Even Republican lawmakers are beginning to see the necessity of such an
approach. On Friday, just one day after Rumsfeld admitted that occupation
costs were twice what the Pentagon had predicted, the Senate approved a
non-binding resolution urging the administration to reach out to NATO and
the UN for assistance.

"I don't want every kid that is blown up at a checkpoint being an American
soldier," said Senator Joseph Biden, a co-author of the resolution and
ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee. "This is the
world's problem, not just ours. I want to give the French ... the honor and
the opportunity to do the same thing as our young men do," he said.

But such a course of action is anathema to unilateralist hawks such as
Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld and Cheney, who had confidently predicted before the war
that only between 50,000 and 75,000 US troops would be necessary to police
Iraq after the war, and now find themselves agreeing that at least 150,000
will be necessary for the foreseeable future.

Rumsfeld said last week that Washington had approached "70, 80, 90"
countries for police or troops to help out, but lawmakers mocked the
seriousness of some of those requests and warned that very few countries
would be inclined to respond given the Washington's insistence on overall

That point was underlined on Monday when India, which the Pentagon had been
counting to provide as many as 20,000 peacekeepers for Iraq, announced that
it would not provide any in the absence of an "explicit UN mandate". The
State Department expressed "regret" over the announcement, although
Secretary of State Colin Powell has privately long warned that Washington
was unlikely to get even aspiring strategic allies like India behind it
without giving up more control.

The announcement was seen as a major blow to the Pentagon, which has been
telling Congress that Indian troops would constitute at least half of the
foreign recruits. "This is chickens coming home to roost," one
administration official told Inter Press Service. "One would hope the hawks
would understand by now that their arrogance and unilateralism have serious
costs, but that's probably too optimistic."

He pointed to reports that NATO, if asked, may itself not have many troops
to spare, given its current commitments in Afghanistan and the Balkans.
France and Germany have indicated that their participation would require a
UN mandate in any event.

Indeed, there appears to be a growing consensus among military experts that
the United States will itself have to send more of its own troops sooner or
later. Dobbins, echoing predictions (mocked by Wolfowitz as "wildly off the
mark") by the former army chief of staff, General Eric Shinseki, before the
war, told the Times that he thinks the 160,000 troops there now will
eventually have to be doubled.

Most military experts believe that the deployment of even 100,000 US
troops - let alone as many as 300,000 - will put such a burden on the army
that Congress will face pressure to increase its size, adding billions of
dollars to a defense budget that this year will exceed $400 billion, roughly
equal to the anticipated federal budget deficit.

Such assessments help explain a growing sense that, while Tenet's job may be
on the line most immediately, top Pentagon officials, including Rumsfeld and
Wolfowitz, may soon find themselves facing calls to resign for so badly
misjudging postwar requirements. Indeed, H D S Greenway, a mainstream
columnist in the Boston Globe, called Saturday for both to be "given the
boot" for their "fatal combination of hubris and incompetence".

"The damage done is incalculable and not just in material terms," he wrote.
"The political damage has been far worse and will be far more lasting in its

(Inter Press Service)

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