By Bernard Weiner, The Crisis Papers
Here are five predictions for the short-term in Iraq. After that, some context and explanations.
1. Maliki will be gone shortly. Not only is he an ineffective Iraqi Prime Minister, but he had the temerity to stiff Bush at the summit’s first meeting. Bad move! Dubya has no tolerance for that kind of push-back. Bush did a Brown/Rumsfeld on the Iraqi Prime Minister (“heckuva job, Maliki-man”), which in Bushworld is the kiss of death. Expect him to be forced out, or a coup to topple him.
2. I think we can anticipate Iraq’s “Tet Offensive”: There may soon be a major, frontal assault by the insurgents against and perhaps even inside the Green Zone in Baghdad, along with coordinated major attacks all around the country. This assault will serve as a clear demonstration of how vulnerable and untenable the U.S. position is in Iraq. That will be the beginning of the end of the U.S. Occupation.
3. Events on the ground (large ethnic population shifts inside, mass emigration outside) will lead to de facto recognition that Iraq is splitting into three relatively autonomous zones: Sh’ia, Sunni, Kurd. Whether there will be a weak central organizing authority is unclear, though that is likely, at least in the beginning, to parcel out the oil revenues.
4. The Bush Administration will seek to negotiate with whoever is in charge in Iraq to maintain control of its large military bases in that country. Eventually, even those “permanent” bases will be abandoned as a result of violent Iraqi opposition to their existence.
5. Bush will seek, through one delaying tactic after another, to postpone the inevitable U.S. retreat from Iraq. His aim is to make it through January 2009, so that America’s acknowledged defeat in Iraq does not happen on his watch. If a Republican cannot be inauguarated that month as the new President, all the better for Bush: the defeat in Iraq will happen under the Democrats. But it is highly unlikely that Bush will make it to 2009, maybe not even through 2007.
IN SEARCH OF SCAPEGOATS
For most Americans, as the recent midterm elections made clear, the issue is how do we get our young men and women out of Iraq as quickly and safely as possible. For the Administration, it would appear that the issue is how to avoid blame for the catastrophe of Bush’s war and occupation.
In Iraq, it looks like the scapegoats are going to be the Maliki government specifically and the Iraqi people in general.
Domestically, the scapegoats being targeted are the Democrats, activist peace groups, liberal bloggers, and the American people as a whole who didn’t have the patience to wait for Bush’s certain “victory” in Iraq. (The Republicans will conveniently omit mention of the huge number of traditional conservatives and military leaders who abandoned Bush’s senseless war.)
In all of this maneuvering to locate the appropriate blame-patsies, there will be no acknowledgement by the Bush Administration that its policies might have had the slightest thing to do with the chaotic horror that is Iraq today. However, the American electorate was not so addicted to reality-avoidance: At the midterm elections, the citizens, in no uncertain terms, correctly fingered the Bush Administration as the progenitors of this unconscionable, unnecessary war.
HOW IRAQ FELL APART
Bush has been a loser all his life. He determined from the outset of his residency in the White House to reverse that syndrome in the post-9/11 era by engaging in an amazingly ambitious imperial adventure that, in his simplistic mind, was bound to succeed: unleashing America’s enormous military might on a country ill-equipped to respond in kind, and with no Superpower that could stop the U.S.
The idea was that the “coalition” forces would quickly topple the Saddam regime, establish a friendly government in its place (originally with puppet Chalabi as the new Iraqi leader), build hardened military bases there, and set about re-shaping the geopolitical face of the Middle East. The Bush legacy as an effective, heroic “winner” would follow.
Everything was going swimmingly. Iraq fell easily, Saddam was captured, there was little resistance. Two months after the invasion. Bush proudly proclaimed that the U.S. had “prevailed” in the war — “Mission Accomplished.”
Domestically, Bush acted as a virtual dictator: choosing what laws to ignore, authorizing clandestine eavesdropping on American citizens, moving suspects around the world for torture, arresting U.S. citizens and popping them into secret prisons on military bases, neutering the Democratic opposition in Congress, effectively controlling the mass-media, etc.
In Iraq, there was no Plan B for winning the peace, therefore the post-“Mission Accomplished” honeymoon didn’t last very long. The Iraqi populace realized it was at the mercy of an Occupation regime. The leftover Iraqi Army remnants quickly figured out that the U.S. had no Plan B, offerred little if any employment scheme other than serving the U.S. master as police, and had left all the armament dumps unguarded. Bingo! The “insurgency,” at first mainly Sunni in nature, began operating big time.
A number of Occupation administrations came and went, leaving incompetency and massive corruption in their wake. Young GOP political appointees, there for patronage reasons rather than out of any expertise in nation-building, just added fuel to the fire of a bungling colonialist mentality. The widespread torture and abuse of Iraqi citizens by the U.S. and its client-state police forces added fuel to this speading fire of resentment and anger, at times even melding the Sh’ia and Sunni hatred of America.
Perhaps if the Occupation authorities could have provided enough jobs and electricity and clean running water, the Iraqi population might have hung in there with the Americans. But, almost from the beginning, it was clear that wasn’t going to happen and that the Iraqi civilian population was in for hard, dangerous times, in significant ways worse than what they had to endure under the dictator Saddam. Various polls indicate that the number of Iraqis who want the U.S. to leave is now in the 70-90% range. The Iraqi people clearly believe that the American presence only makes the situation worse.
BUMBLING INTO LATE RESPONSES
Domestically, there was no major problem for the Administration as long as the illegalities and power-grabbing remained secret. But more and more traditional conservatives inside the administration, especially in the higher reaches of the Pentagon and intelligence agencies, began leaking data about a wide range of White House horrors and Iraqi corruptions. These conservatives were appalled at the extremists who had taken over the GOP and Administration and, perhaps even moreso, at the wholesale greed and incompetence that were doing great damage to the military, the intel profession, and America’s reputation abroad.
Having no real post-war strategic planning to rely on when the military and political situations started to fall apart in Iraq, the U.S. was always late in responding to changing conditions on the ground. It took the Bushies several years to admit that they were engaging a “guerrilla” enemy, for example, and even to this day they still refuse to concede that the situation has deteriorated into a Sunni/Sh’ia civil war.
And the ultimate “whoops-we’re-late sign”: After not encouraging or permitting a full-scale debate on the war in the Congress, and denigrating and insulting those who pointed out how bad the situation had deteriorated on Bush’s watch, now, at least four years late, the “wise men” were assembled by the White House to think long and hard about the war and what can be done at this late stage.
The recommendations of that Baker-Hamilton Commission, based on preliminary leaks, amount to a tepid bi-partisan compromise that remains mostly unattached to the realities on the ground. Even so, Bush seems destined to refuse any of their major recommendations. Were he to accept them, he would be implicitly conceding he’d made mistakes.
THE DANGEROUS ILLUSION OF CONTROL
The Bush Administration and the Baker-Hamilton commission are proceeding under the assumption that the United States these days still has great leverage in Iraq; indeed, their likely strategies seem to rest on the dangerously incorrect premise that the U.S. can pretty much control the situation through its will and political/military power. But so badly has the war been bungled by CheneyRumsfeld and their lackeys that the U.S. is faced not with a number of viable options but with choosing among a small number of terrible alternatives.
1. Bush and the neocons undergirding him, especially those in the rightwing mass-media, continue to behave as if a miracle will occur and Bush will get his “victory”; it’s stay-the-course with hope for godly intervention. The “gods” might even include asking arch-enemies Syria and Iran to help out the U.S.! Yeah, sure.
This option rests on the belief that the Maliki government will suddenly produce several hundred thousand dedicated, well-trained soldiers loyal to the central government and willing to fight and die for it. The truth is that the fledgling Iraqi army is thoroughly infiltrated with insurgent agents and militia brigades, and their first loyalty is not to the weak central government.
(Late flash: Apparently, judging from this weekend’s leaked memo, ( http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/03/world/middleeast/03mtext.html ) even Rumsfeld had great qualms about continuing the Administration’s stale, ineffective Iraq policies. I am suspicious of the timing of the Rumsfeld-memo leak; it could be CYA for Rummy and/or a planted memo to demonstrate that the impetus of major policy change in Iraq is really coming from inside the Administration, rather than being forced on them by outsiders.)
2. Another bad option is to put another 20,000 or 30,000 U.S. troops into the Baghdad mix to stop the military/political hemorrhaging, at the least buying some time to figure out something better down the line.
3. The third option, of course, is for the U.S. to pack up and leave, either starting to withdraw (“re-deploy”) ASAP and complete the process over a period of months, and/or to give a date-certain when the bulk of their forces will be gone.
PLAYING THE DELAY-GAME
As suggested above, the Bush Administration might better spend its limited energies by coming up with realistic solutions — none of them good, but some preferable to others — for how to exit as gracefully as possible from Iraq. But instead, Bush is content to play the delay-and-blame game, in a last desperate effort to avoid responsibility for the chaos and deaths his arrogant stupidity and stubbornness have caused.
In short, we’re going to be treated to the tragic spectacle of one of the world’s great military train wrecks right before our eyes, as the events on the ground in Iraq take down Bush and Cheney and Hadley and Rice (and Rumsfeld/Gates) and the rest of the crew down in the White House bunker.
Unfortunately, unless something can stop them, that selfish, power-mad crew’s death throes are going to take down an enormous number of young American troops, and innocent Iraqi civilians, with them. And possibly our beloved Constitution as well.
The Democrats, once installed in charge in the House and Senate, have the power to force Bush’s hands. But they’ve given scant evidence that, when push comes to shove, they will actually do anything significant, such as authorizing funds for the Iraq war only to bring the troops home or beginning the initial phases of an impeachment hearing or scrapping HAVA and coming up with true electoral reform to take the vote-counting out of the hands of private companies allied with one party or the other.
Instead we can expect the Democratic Congress to nibble away at the edges of Bush&Co. power, even as investigations by the Dem bulldogs (Conyers, Leahy, Waxman, et al.) will be revealing even more corruption, malfeasance and potential war crimes.
COMING: A CONSTITUTIONAL CRISIS
The next six months most likely will highlight a monumental confrontation, probably leading to a constitutional crisis, between the Democratic-controlled Congreee and the bunker crew in the White House, raising their political middle-finger to the Dems whenever a sensitive issue is being investigated. The Administration may well refuse demands for documents, ignore subpoenas, go into court to keep Congress from digging too deeply, veto even more bills and/or attach more “signing statements” to passed legislation, etc.
Will the Democrats permit Bush&Co. to continue rolling them, or will they put up a stiff, principled fight on Iraq, torture, domestic spying, taxes, the environment, civil liberties, defense of the Constitution, campaign-financing reform, voting-integrity changes, etc.?
Ultimately, how the Democrats respond will help determine whether the 2008 election will be between just a Democratic and Republican, or whether enough Democrats and traditional conservative Republicans will have deserted their dessicated parties to found a new, viable third party. Stay tuned. #
Bernard Weiner, Ph.D. in government & international relations, has taught at universities in California and Washington, worked as a writer/editor with the San Francisco Chronicle, and currenty co-edits The Crisis Papers (www.crisispapers.org). For comment: email@example.com .
First published by The Crisis Papers 12/05/06.
Copyright 2006 by Bernard Weiner.