| Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz just returned
from an extensive visit to Iraq to make two incredible suggestions: One
is that the "central battle in the War on Terrorism" is now in
Iraq. The other is that American families will tolerate the continuing
loss of their sons and daughters in Iraqi conflict, in effect, that the
United States will not be deterred by continuing deaths and injuries in
Iraq. Reaching farther into left field to justify continuing losses of
American lives and the constant killing of Iraqis is hard to imagine.|
In light of the growing doubts about the integrity of the Bush administration, precisely because of the way it led our country into the Iraq war, both Wolfowitz propositions need careful examination.
First, Bush stated two months ago that the war in Iraq was over, and now Wolfowitz asserts that Iraq is the "central battle in the War on Terrorism". How, suddenly, did that come about? When the administration tried to make the case that Saddam Hussein was collaborating with Osama bin Laden and al Qaida, they failed dismally. The administration tried to make the case that Iraq posed a clear and present danger to the United States because it possessed large quantities of chemical and biological weapons and was well on its way to acquiring nuclear weapons. None of that has been proven. Moreover, at no time did Hussein threaten the United States, despite constant threats and frequent "no fly zone" bombardments by the United States. We went into Iraq anyway.
The first shots of the war were attempted decapitation strikes against Hussein's hiding places. We still don't really know whether that succeeded or failed. The war itself was over quickly because the reported estimates of Republican Guard and other Iraqi force capabilities proved to be less than expected. Because the Iraqi military forces and equipment were shown to be incapable of any direct threat to the United States, the administration lost yet more credibility.
So far, evidence of an Iraqi terrorism infrastructure has been non-existent. To be sure, Iraq supported terrorist groups in the past, and one of the old timers, Abu Nidal, died in Iraq not long before the war, his group apparently dismantled. In the three months since the war ended, efforts to find terrorism connections, especially to al Qaida, have led nowhere. However, there are reports that terrorists from outside Iraq have been coming into the country to fight against our forces either with or separately from Iraqi guerrillas.
If such reports are true, the shift in focus of the War on Terrorism to Iraq has backfired, the likelihood that our troops will be coming home soon has been deferred without telling our troops or the public, and in addition to facing a growing Iraqi insurgency, US forces are now targets in Iraq for international terrorists. With Saddam Hussein gone and the country unsettled by an occupying army, international terrorist groups, including al Qaida, may find Iraq more fertile ground than it ever could have been during Saddam 's repressive years. As one writer put it, Iraq would become a "terrorist magnet."
Here one must listen carefully for verbal sleight of hand. Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz has stated that the central battle against terrorism is now Iraq. Iraq is where we are presently concentrating our forces, but the statistical truth is that neither the majority of international terrorists nor known major terrorist groups are there. It is verbal legerdemain to call the Iraqis who object to our occupation terrorists; they are trying to take back their country by whatever means they can. Even if our forces eliminate the visiting terrorists and effectively suppress Iraqi guerrilla warfare, the global terrorism threat will be virtually unchanged. The War will have to be fought again somewhere else, or we may just have to add Iraq to Afghanistan as places where the War on Terrorism goes nowhere.
Putting aside the issues of whether Bush was misled by neo-conservative hawks and personally misled us into war in Iraq, which is certainly the most likely interpretation of events, we are there, and our forces are in harm's way. To put the most favorable light on our situation, the immediate post-battle phase of any military takeover-basically what we have done no matter what we call it-is always the hardest. People on both sides have to be convinced that the battle is over, and in Iraq they are not. Iraqi resistance often makes our troops trigger happy, and the resultant mishaps only worsen the situation. People who might have gone along peacefully start fighting back when they lose families, friends, property, and livelihoods.
It is by no means given that American families will put up indefinitely with random killings of their sons and daughters in an engagement that has no foreseeable positive outcome. Rather, they might, and indeed should insist that the Iraq campaign be cut short, our forces be withdrawn, and Iraq's future be turned back to the Iraqis. A few more weeks or months of the present daily losses or injuries of US troops, and with no more than present indications that the war is going anywhere, will likely increase public pressure for an early end to the occupation.
The writer is a former Senior Foreign Service Officer of the US Department of State. He will welcome your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org