The Most Important Resolution for 2006

The Iraq war currently enjoys all the popularity of the voracious eagle in "March of the Penguins." Just as the predator in that film picked on our unsuspecting, plodding friends, the war in Iraq has swallowed up tens of thousands of innocent lives and spitted out many more with crippling injuries. The daily grind of casualties, combined with the war's seemingly aimless, winless and boundless nature, has produced a profound turnaround in America's political climate, giving rise to a new majority of Americans who have come to oppose the war, an emboldened media ready to call its progress into question, and a number of high-profile politicians willing to criticize the war and call for a scaling-back or redeployment.

And yet, despite the sea change in sentiment about the war, those who have assertively put forth the single demand that would bring the quagmire to an end -- withdraw the troops now -- have been met with a reception far colder than anything the penguins had to cope with down south. The prevailing feeling has been that, while the war may not be going well -- and, indeed, may even be ruinous -- there is no real alternative to it. This idea can be broken down into two main elements: One, fighting terrorists in Iraq prevents them from striking America again, making Iraq a kind of flytrap for our own security; two, now that the war is underway, we must "finish the job" and fix the mess we created by invading in the first place.

Both of these arguments, however, are predicated upon false and pernicious assumptions, ones which are not only shared by the presiding regime, but were used to bait most of us into supporting this disastrous venture in the first place.

Consider first the notion that our continued presence in Iraq will prevent terrorists from attacking the United States. This idea has been peddled by the president in many of his speeches, and well exploits the fears and anxieties of the public in the aftermath of Sept. 11. But is it really true that fighting in the streets of Baghdad will preclude ambulances from having to race down the streets of New York once again? Not according to the State Department.

In an April 2005, the department decided to hide statistics on international terrorism from Congress. The reason soon became clear: There was a "dramatic up-tick" in terrorist incidents compared to the previous year, according to those congressmen who were briefed privately by the State Department after complaining about the ruse. Larry C. Johnson, the former senior State Department official who first exposed the agency's decision to conceal the data said, "Last year was bad. This year is worse. They are deliberately trying to withhold data because it shows that as far as the war on terrorism internationally, we're losing."

Of course, this should come as no surprise. If the world, America included, is supposed to be safer because all the terrorists are "trapped" in Iraq, one would be hard-pressed to explain why the streets of Madrid, London, and Bali were recently bathed in innocent blood after the war in Iraq was well under way. As is well-known from the public propaganda of Islamist terrorists, American bloodletting in Iraq was, in fact, a prime motivator for conducting these attacks around the world, not an impediment. And meanwhile, most of the fighters operating in Iraq, Islamist or otherwise, are Iraqi natives; according to U.S. intelligence, foreigners comprise only four percent to ten percent of their ranks.

The idea that terrorists are being baited and trapped in Iraq, thanks to the war, is rendered even more absurd by another stark reality: More than 2,100 American soldiers have been killed there, most of them long after the president declared, "Mission accomplished." Clearly then, it is the soldiers who have been trapped and baited -- deployed thousands of miles away from home to fight a war based on pretexts we now know were lies, and ill-equipped for a counterinsurgency their commanders never even imaged would take root. Indeed, the toll on the troops has been so severe that, according to a July 2004 survey conducted by the New England Journal of Medicine, 15 percent to 17 percent of returning troops suffer from "major depression, generalized anxiety or PTSD."

Let us sum up the result: The idea that the Iraq war was some brilliant, coherent plan to contain terrorism is utter nonsense. Instead, it was an ex-post facto rationalization invented after the actual reasons for going to war blew up in the administration's face, a cheap trick intended to play on our emotions. When one stops to think about it, it was all in all a rather sinister ploy: Launch a war that spawns terrorists, then claim that the war is successful in fighting terrorists who never would have existed there in the first place.

To reach this understanding, it is, of course, necessary to realize that there is no fixed or frozen number of terrorists in the world, that terrorizing an entire nation with "shock and awe" will reflexively produce resistance, some of which will also be terrorism. Such a concept is anathema to the America's right-wing punditry, which is loathe to admit that any American policy could possibly be related to terrorism, since, in their view, terrorists are evil-doers because Islam and Arab culture promotes evil-doing.

But it turns out that such pseudo-intellectual diarrhea, often found swirling in the toilet bowl of Fox News, does not even reflect the viewpoint of those ensconced in the commanding heights of American power.

In September 2004, a report was issued by the Pentagon's Defense Science Board, which is made up of "the chairmen of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Policy, Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, and Defense Intelligence Agency advisory committees," according to the organization's website. The report notes that "U.S. policies on Israeli-Palestinian issues and Iraq in 2003-2004 have damaged America's credibility and power to persuade," and that "today, political struggles are about the creation and destruction of credibility." The report continues, "Thus the critical problem in American public diplomacy directed toward the Muslim World is not one of the 'dissemination of information,' or even one of crafting and delivering the 'right' message. Rather, it is a fundamental problem of credibility. Simply, there is none (italics in original)." In other words, our policies do have results, and in this case, rather negative ones.

The other branch of ambivalence concerning immediate withdrawal is based on a kind of "common-sense" approach, alternately known as the "pottery barn" approach: If you break it, you must fix it. The problem with this concept is that applying vague, childlike analogies to specific, concrete and complex situations usually doesn't work. In the case of Iraq, for example, one must first ask: Who is the "we" that is going to fix anything?

If a person walks into a barn and breaks something, he may or may not be able to fix it. But why should anyone trust that person with the opportunity to fix it if he entered that barn on the basis of lies, exaggerations, false pretenses and greedy motives? This is the question to keep foremost in mind when observing certain liberal pundits and politicians, who, without a hint of shame, severely blast the administration on every level and then exhort that same administration to take this or that measure to make everything better.

Again, we are faced with a kind of sinister logic: The government has created an absolute disaster and killed tens of thousands of innocent people in Iraq -- that much is clear. But following the "common sense" argument, the very fact that the government has committed these horrendous acts somehow qualifies it to take control of the reconstruction process necessary to atone for the crimes. This is akin to locking in a rape victim with the rapist, or an assault victim with the assaulter, and then letting the criminal decide and carry out the healing process.

Analogies aside, the reality is that the United States is neither willing nor capable of carrying out reconstruction in Iraq. That it is not willing is transparently clear from a Feb. 7, 2005, document issued by the RAND Corporation, which has close ties to the Pentagon. The document, prefaced with a letter to Secretary Rumsfeld that begins, "Dear Don," is an assessment of U.S. military performance in Iraq. It reveals that the United States government prepared absolutely zero planning for any reconstruction operation whatsoever.

One section titled "Planning and Resourcing Post Conflict Activities" states, "Post-conflict stabilization and reconstruction were addressed only very generally, largely because of the prevailing view that the task would not be difficult. What emerged was a general set of tasks that were not prioritized or resourced." In a following section titled "Stability Operations and the Role of the Military," the first paragraph reads: "No planning was undertaken to provide for the security of the Iraqi people in the post-conflict environment."

These are excerpts that should be photocopied in the thousands and distributed to every pro-war hack who extols America's purported concern and great care in helping the Iraqi people. First, we learn that the government thought that rebuilding a country it had just smashed to pieces with a previous war, suffocating sanctions, and a "shock and awe" campaign would quite simply "not be difficult." Then we learn that there was never any plan in place to provide safety for any Iraqis, even as the world as they had known it for the past several decades came crashing down around them. No serious, thinking person could claim that this is the policy, outlook or behavior of a country that is willing to help the nation it had just destroyed.

One man who came to learn this rather quickly through experience is Larry Diamond, who served as a senior adviser to the Coalition Provision Authority (C.P.A.) in Baghdad and has made something of a name for himself in his increasingly bold but always concrete criticisms of the U.S. reconstruction effort. More than a year ago he wrote in Foreign Affairs, "the Bush administration was never willing to commit the resources necessary to secure the country and did not make the most of the resources it had. U.S. officials did get a number of things right, but they never understood -- or even listened to -- the country they were seeking to rebuild."

Even Diamond's assessment was probably too rosy. Though he credits the C.P.A., the first organization tasked with overseeing Iraq after the war, with having "worked hard" to create a stable framework under Bremer, the reality is that the C.P.A. lost track of at least $8.8 billion during its reign, according to an audit conducted by the agency's own inspector general. The report cited padding of payrolls with fake employees and wanton distribution of funds as among the more serious offenses.

Abuse aside, what proves even more illuminating about the crucial, initial American efforts in reconstruction is whose money was spent. In July 2004, the press reported that the government had spent only two percent of an $18.4 billion package Congress authorized more than eight months ago. Meanwhile, in the same time frame, the Americans gleefully spent all of the budget money drawn from Iraq's own oil fields to the tune of $20 billion.

Little has changed since then. A General Accounting Office report from June 2005 illustrates that there has been a decrease in the quality of spending from the $18.4 billion budget Congress allotted. "Security and justice," an amusing euphemism for military operations, sucked up a full 34 percent of the budget as of April 2005; it used 23 percent in July 2004. Proportional spending on water had also decreased from 23 percent to 12 percent, and spending on electricity declined from 30 percent to 23 percent. Oil remains constant at 9 percent.

The most revealing aspect of the allocation, however, is the area labeled "Other." This has increased from 15 percent to 22 percent, but there is no way to tell what has actually increased. Included in this category are: democracy, education, governance, agriculture, transportation, telecommunications, health, employment, privatization and administrative costs. It is most telling that the U.S. government has taken virtually all the key indices of any civilized society and simply bunched them together (along with some vague, unquantifiable terms like administrative costs, democracy and privatization).

It is hard not to conclude that this has been done deliberately to conceal what has actually been spent on each subcategory, but at any rate, the ruse fools no one: Averaged out, the proportion spent on health, employment, education, agriculture, transportation and telecommunications does not exceed more than 3 percent each.

By now the picture is clear. The rebuilding effort has been conducted with the same integrity applied to the effort to destroy everything that now needs rebuilding -- namely, very little. It is bad enough to let someone into the pottery barn when their entry is based on false motives. It is even worse, however, to let that person continue their stay when they only keep breaking one thing after another.

As evidenced, the rationales employed to continue and deepen the quagmire in Iraq do not withstand serious scrutiny. They are merely branches growing off the same poisoned tree trunk of war, appearing ever more tortuous and flimsy as they twist and turn their way farther and farther from the reality of ongoing lies, destruction, death and failure.

The only way to end the suffering produced by the war is to end the war that has produced the suffering. Until America realizes this, it will continue to hang itself from one of the many branches of deception that will doubtlessly continue to sprout as events drag on and more people needlessly die.

It is precisely because the stakes are so high that the following point must also be emphasized: Leaving Iraq will not "cause" chaos and bloodshed. That has already been set into motion, thanks to the U.S. invasion and occupation. The only question now is whether we will continue to help boost the ranks of the more ruthless elements of the insurgency by letting them use our presence as an excuse for their tactics and larger agenda. The act of withdrawing, on our part, will at least deprive extremist elements of their bogeyman, thus forcing them to adopt a more coherent political program besides killing people in order to remain relevant to the Iraqi -- I emphasize Iraqi -- political process. There is, of course, no guarantee that an Iraqi solution for Iraq will result in a picture-perfect outcome, but as illustrated above, there is an absolute guarantee that further interference on our part will result only in further disaster.


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