Tuesday, August 16, 2005

IRAQ, POLITICS, AND A HEALTHY SERVING OF HUMBLE PIE

In what has to be seen as a stunning reversal, the White House has sought to diminish expectations for what can be achieved in Iraq. With its sobering admission, the Bush administration has finally revealed that it will have to settle for much less than it had been hoping for, and touting.

Aims for a model democracy in the Middle East, a self-supporting oil industry, or a secure and economically stable society have essentially been dashed.

A senior official lamented, "What we expected to achieve was never realistic given the timetable or what unfolded on the ground. We are in a process of absorbing the factors of the situation we're in and shedding the unreality that dominated at the beginning."

"Shedding the unreality" seems to be a course of action that is long overdue.

It now appears that Islamic law, or Sharia, will take precedence over democracy in Iraq. There is the distinct possibility that women will not have equal rights in Iraq, but will instead face harsh restrictions.

After a Saddam/al Queada link was disproved, and in the absence of alleged WMD, the invasion of Iraq was then justified by the lofty goal of establishing a secular and united nation that would honor human rights as well as ethnic and religious differences. That now seems quite unrealistic.

"We set out to establish a democracy, but we're slowly realizing we will have some form of Islamic republic," one U.S. official said on the condition of anonymity.

The process of trying to create national unity through the drafting of an Iraqi constitution is essentially being abandoned.

"We are definitely cutting corners and lowering our ambitions in democracy building," said Stanford University's Larry Diamond, who helped the U.S. occupation government develop a strategy for democracy in Iraq.

The administration originally expected U.S. soldiers to be greeted as liberators. But the unpredicted intensity of the insurgency, and a surge of foreign fighters, has compelled officials to repeatedly lower their expectations of how long it would take to suppress the insurgency, as well as establish a well-trained and unified Iraqi force capable of handling security on their own.

If the security problem needs to be made any more clear, killings of Iraqi security forces have tripled since January and Islamic extremists, convinced that beards reflect religious piety, are attacking barber shops and killing barbers.

Judith S. Yaphe, a former CIA Iraq analyst at the National Defense University, says "There has been a realistic reassessment of what it is possible to achieve in the short term and fashion a partial exit strategy. This change is dictated not just by events on the ground but by unrealistic expectations at the start."

According to officials, the administration no longer expects to be able to defeat the insurgency before withdrawing, but instead to weaken it. The notion of handing over security responsibilities to an Iraqi military that doesn't meet the original U.S. expectations that they'd actually be prepared for the task is gaining momentum.

But the President is attempting to show resolve. In a weekend radio address he said, "Iraqis are taking control of their country, building a free nation that can govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself. And we're helping Iraqis succeed."

To that end, Iraqi forces appear to be growing in number. Army Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, charged with developing Iraqi security forces, says that more than 110 Iraqi police and army combat battalions - a total of 178,000 forces - have been trained and equipped since the fall of Saddam Hussein.

Petraeus said he believes that progress is being made and that "Iraqis will save Iraq," which is clearly the current White House position. However, in a recent assessment the Pentagon reported that only half of Iraqi police battalions were capable of carrying out operations against insurgents. Furthermore, the Defense and State Departments recently issued a joint report which revealed that, as a result of poor screening procedures by U.S. forces, Iraqi police ranks have been infiltrated by insurgents and other criminals.

US officials say that large scale military operations have resulted in hundreds of insurgents being killed, hundreds being captured, and many more being driven away. The problem is the majority of the insurgents eventually return.

One defense official said that that there are not enough troops — either American or Iraqi — to sweep, clear, and hold an area, and that they have to repeat the same operations again and again.

Roadside bomb attacks continue to be a primary concern. The use of improvised explosive devices has doubled over last the year, to about 30 a week. And since the beginning of the year, the total number of insurgent attacks has averaged about 60-65 a day. A recently returned soldier described the enemy as disciplined, professional, and constantly evolving. Lieut. Colonel Ernest Benner said, "This is a pro team of terorists we're facing in Iraq, and we're working everyday to beat them."

Seven more US soldiers were killed over the weekend in a roadside bombing and a shooting, bringing the death total for US soldiers to 1850. Nearly 14,000 US troops have been wounded in action.

The escalating death toll in Iraq has negatively affected President Bush's polling numbers.  The President's standing with the American public is now lower than that of the last two men who won re-election to the White House (Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton) at this point in their second terms.

Bush's job approval in recent polls ranges from the low- to mid-40s, and was 42 percent in the latest AP-Ipsos poll. His approval ratings are at all-time lows on everything from handling Iraq to the economy to Social Security and other domestic issues.

But the partisan divide is stunning; 80 percent of Democrats disapprove of the President's overall performance while nearly 90 percent of Republicans approve.

Congressional Republicans are already worried about the 2006 election. If Bush's approval ratings continue to slide, more of them may be unwilling to go along with his major initiatives for fear of losing voters. Next year's elections could very well initiate, and expedite, the US withdrawal from Iraq. War ambitions may suddenly take a back seat to domestic political ambitions.

How very fickle. And that's certainly not a description that most Americans have come to associate with President Bush.


Copyright © 2005 The Independent Report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

1 comment:

  1. lots of deaths for no reason. incompetent leadership from a C student who likes coke and vacations. a hegemony of greedy, frightened, un-endowed men. sad cynical times for america and the world.

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