Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Washington's Iraq Chimeras

by John Brown and Ray McGovern

"The war in Iraq began as a war based largely on illusions. But now most Americans realize that the always-illusory option of “staying the course” in Iraq will never work. This was the main message of the recent Congressional elections. Still, there is a great danger that we will fall victim to additional Iraq-related illusions—illusions fostered by the administration, Congress, the Pentagon and the mainstream media.
Three persistent illusions—which, intentionally or not, serve to cover up or minimize the mess President George W. Bush has created in Iraq—stand out:

The Baker/Hamilton Commission is our way out. The possibility afforded by the James Baker/Lee Hamilton-led Iraq Study Group (ISG) for a new approach has been met with knee-jerk optimism in the media. This is especially true of newspapers like The Washington Post whose editorial pages present apologias, rather than the mea culpas more appropriate to the paper’s three-year varsity cheerleading for the war.

Training Iraqis will save the day. Training Iraqi troops to replace American ones has long been touted by the administration and the Pentagon as key to success in Iraq, a view reiterated last week by General John Abizaid in his testimony before Congress. On the surface, U.S. training of Iraqi soldiers and police seems like a viable option: It takes Americans out of the line of fire, it “softens” the impact of the U.S. occupation, making American soldiers appear to be instructors rather than aggressors, and, most importantly, it ideally gives Iraqis themselves responsibility for safety and order in their own country.

We Will Keep Some Kind of Control No Matter What. There is a deeply ingrained belief, perhaps rooted in eternal American optimism, that the U.S.still has the ability to control developments in Iraq to a greater or lesser degree. Advocates for different policies—augmenting U.S. troops or withdrawing them—seldom consider the possibility that local conditions could turn out to be so chaotic that we could not do what we want to do once we have decided to do it. This Green-Zone naiveté may be psychologically soothing, but it is dangerously divorced from reality in Baghdad, which is becoming more violent and fragile each day.

In sum, at a time when the American public has said “no” to what passes for administration policy on Iraq, we must be on the alert for shimmering chimeras—illusions about what the U.S. can still accomplish in that troubled country. Only then can we safely sort out and choose among the best approaches—ranging from talking with “enemies” like Syria, Iran and the “insurgents” themselves, to international conferences.

Our aim must be the quickest possible withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, letting Iraqis themselves decide the fate of their country. The urgency of achieving this becomes even more acute in light of the heavy-handed demagoguery already in evidence from prospective presidential candidates in 2008. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., for example, has chosen to play fast and loose with the lives of Americans and Iraqis alike, in calling for sending substantially more troops to Iraq."

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