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[casi] iraq goes sour...all the wrong bets

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to all
 i am enclosing a lead editorial of the new york times, nov 16, that is
unusual in its length and its clear affirmation that the united states misadventure
in iraq has turned sour. its call for total united nations inclusion,
exclusively of the united states, is presented in a comparative statement that is
damning to the latter, as it speaks of the united nations as having "far more
international experience, credibility and reputation for neutrality in these
matters than the United States does. There is certainly no guarantee it can
succeed. There is only the certainty that the Bush administration, which has made
all the wrong bets so far, does not have any better options."
November 16, 2003
Iraq Goes Sour

he American involvement with Iraq appears to have turned a corner. The Bush
administration's old game plan — drafting a constitution, followed by
elections, followed by American withdrawal — has been replaced by a new timetable. It's
a bit cynical to say that the plan is to toss the whole hot potato to
whatever Iraqis are willing to grab it. But the White House thinking is veering close.
President Bush gambled vast amounts of American money, influence and American
and Iraqi lives on the theory that toppling Saddam Hussein would make the
world safer and make the Mideast a more stable and democratic region. Obviously,
the Iraqi people are better off without a vicious tyrant in power. But if the
American forces leave prematurely, the country will wind up vulnerable to
another dictator and possibly more of a threat to the world than it was before.
Yet the administration is giving the impression of having one foot out the door,
while doggedly refusing to take the only realistic next step — asking the
United Nations to take over the nation-building.
Blind Intelligence
It's useful, at this point, to look back and see how we got here. Most
Americans, polls told us, were eager to see Saddam Hussein deposed because they
believed he was somehow connected to Sept. 11. The president knew that was not the
case, as he acknowledged long after the invasion. But the White House, along
with many officials of the Clinton administration, did believe that Saddam
Hussein had massive supplies of biological and chemical weapons, and that he was
attempting to make Iraq a nuclear power. That was what created a sense of
urgency about the invasion.
How did they wind up at what now appears to be a totally incorrect conclusion
about Iraq's weapons programs? The Central Intelligence Agency, we now
realize, had no idea of what was going on inside Iraq. The country had been
virtually shut off since 1998, when President Clinton ordered renewed bombing and
weapons inspectors withdrew. The C.I.A.'s estimates were basically worst-case
scenarios of what the Hussein regime might have been up to in the interim. That
was apparently a mistake, if an understandable one.
But the assumptions Mr. Bush shared with the American people seem to have
been hyped further. That was at least in part because of pressure from the
Pentagon, where influential aides to Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had their own sources
of information, most notably Iraqi exiles. The best known was Ahmad Chalabi,
now a member of the Iraqi Governing Council. After the American forces were in
Iraq, Mr. Chalabi claimed for a while that their failure to find the weapons
was due to the refusal of American officials to heed his tips about where they
The Will to Invade
The people who believed that Iraq was armed to the teeth with illegal weapons
also based that opinion on simple logic. If Saddam Hussein did not have them,
surely he would have cooperated fully with weapons inspectors rather than
allow his country to be invaded. The very fact that he never backed down seemed
to be proof he had something terrible to hide. But the Bush administration knew
that as the countdown to invasion ticked away, Iraq had reached out through
middlemen with an offer to allow not just full inspections, but inspections by
American troops. It was an offer that might, in the end, have turned out to be
meaningless. But the fact that the administration chose not to pursue it is
one of the strongest pieces of evidence that the White House regarded the
run-up to the war not as a time for trying to avoid conflict, but as a time for
public relations moves meant to give the American people the impression that
there was no way out.
The Failure to Plan
Most experts, in and out of government, believed that the American military
could quickly defeat the Iraqis. But there were far fewer who thought that once
the Hussein government had been toppled it would be easy to make Iraq secure,
get the country back on its feet and establish a democratic successor. The
Bush administration had even less reason to make that conclusion, since the
State Department's own internal studies, done in preparation for the attack,
outlined the obvious pitfalls. Vice President Dick Cheney had listed some of the
same perils in 1991 when he defended the decision not to march on to Baghdad
during the first gulf war. (American troops, he opined, would find themselves in
a "quagmire.")
What, then, caused the administration to invade with so little preparation
for what would happen after the fighting, and so much confidence that the Iraqis
could quickly take the reins of power? Once again, it seems most likely that
the Defense Department and the president's security advisers believed the
reassurances of Mr. Chalabi and the other Iraqi exiles. The administration seems
to have placed its bets on information given by the very people who had the
most to gain from the invasion.
The Governing Council
Mr. Chalabi, who has lived outside Iraq for much of his life, is now a member
of the Governing Council, a group of leaders handpicked by the American
government. So far, the council has done little but squabble internally and
complain about American slights. It has made virtually no progress in preparing a new
Iraqi constitution. In a nation where the overriding danger for the future is
conflict among the Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds, it has failed to show any
aptitude for bridging those gaps even within its own ranks.
If the administration winds up turning Iraq over to the council in anything
like its current form, it seems wildly unlikely that the next government will
be able to survive for any period of time without civil war, or the same kind
of brutality that caused the world to recoil from Saddam Hussein. The Middle
East would wind up an even less stable place than it is now. The war on terror
would be far more difficult to fight. Iraq, which was probably not a major
haven for international terrorists before the invasion, could easily turn into one.
The Last, Best Hope
The only real chance for a peaceful future for Iraq lies in a government made
up of representatives of all the critical factions, working together to
resolve problems fairly and peacefully. The only way to get leaders with the skills
to accomplish that supremely difficult task is to train them. The best
training is the very process of writing the constitution that the Bush
administration now rejects as too time-consuming.
Iraqis are growing weary of American occupation and the White House argues
that they will not tolerate the current situation long enough for a constitution
to be prepared. That is the precise reason that the job should be turned over
to the United Nations. The United Nations has far more international
experience, credibility and reputation for neutrality in these matters than the United
States does. There is certainly no guarantee it can succeed. There is only
the certainty that the Bush administration, which has made all the wrong bets so
far, does not have any better options.

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