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Catastrophe in Iraq 

by William Stimson

In the Sept. 27 issue of Newsweek, conservative columnist George Will, a supporter of President Bush, scoffs, "Who believes there are now fewer terrorists in the world than three years ago?" The answer is: President Bush, or at least he purports to. How could he claim to be "winning the war on terror" if terrorists are proliferating?

The columnist admitted, possibly by accident, something that would be very inconvenient for supporters of the Bush administration to discuss before Election Day. The United States faces two waves of terrorists. The first was the motley, fanatical group that attacked the World Trade Center. The second, much larger group is made up of the enemies created since 9/11 by the Bush administration's inept prosecution of the war.

The invasion of Iraq may have been, in retrospect, hasty, but it was understandable. There was a credible threat that Saddam Hussein was stockpiling horrendous weapons, and the U.S. had to do something about it. But in prosecuting that war, the Bush administration has made catastrophic blunders that will haunt the U.S. for decades. The U.S. is engaged in a major war with few allies and sympathizers in the world. In the Middle East, in particular, for all the lives and money spent, we are perceived more and more as predators. This is not the inevitable cost of defending ourselves; it is because of the ignorance and arrogance of the Bush administration.

The Abu Ghraib prison abuses, for example, were a godsend to our enemies; no doubt the ugly photos are now on every Web site and recruiting pamphlet of the terrorists, creating thousands of terrorists by themselves.

The absuses were dismissed by the Bush administration as the aberrant acts of a few soldiers. The independent commission assigned to explore the episode -- headed by Richard Nixon's former Secretary of Defense, James Schlesinger -- says otherwise. The commission found that a debate within the Bush administration about whether America even needs to observe Geneva Conventions spread uncertainty through the military about the rules of handling of prisoners. This confusion was accompanied by enormous pressure from Washington to get information -- for example, on those phantom weapons of mass destruction.

Most important, the prison had too few trained military police, while the headquarters supervising it had only a third of its normal contingent.

How did it happen that the most powerful army in the world ended up with too few troops to do the job? It was the conscious policy of the Bush administration. Before the war began, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Eric Shinseki, told Congress the occupation phase would require 200,000 troops. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who was determined to use the war as a chance to try his theory about smaller, lighter armies, ridiculed Shinseki's estimates and arbitrarily limited the troops in Iraq. He later relented -- after Abu Ghraib.

The Bush administration maintains it does not interfere in military operations. Last month, the three-star Marine General who commanded the military forces in western Iraq called a press conference soon after he turned over his command to a successor. In a highly unusual rebuke to civilian leaders, Lt. Gen. James T. Conway said he considered orders from Washington for an aggressive military assault on the city of Fallujah a mistake. He and his staff felt an attack was only likely to increase resentment and resistance. Under orders, he attacked. Then he was abruptly ordered to cease the attack -- a second mistake, he believed, signaling weakness and leaving the city as a safe haven to resistance fighters. Fallujah is now a resentful safe haven for resistance fighters.

The above complaints come not from political opponents of the Bush administration or opponents of the war, but from those who supported the war and expected it to succeed.

There is no stronger supporter of the war against Saddam Hussein than Kenneth Pollack, a former CIA analyst and specialist on the Middle East. Pollack's best-selling book, The Threatening Storm, was one of the most influential arguments persuading the nation to go to war.

Last year, Pollack returned to Iraq to survey the situation. He summarized what he saw in a blistering 85-page review of the Bush's policies there. (The paper is online at

Pollack says the Bush administration's "our way or the highway" attitude toward old allies has eliminated the possibility of international support in Iraq. Meanwhile, an "arbitrary decision" by the Bush administration to bar members of the Baath Party from official positions and to disband the army left these influential Iraqis with no means of support or hope. "Not surprisingly, many have gone home and either joined the insurgency or encouraged their sons and nephews to do so."

"The economic revival of Iraq has been stunted" by inept policies of the Bush administration, he wrote, and Bush's military policy in Iraq is "badly misguided."

Pollack believes the situation is salvageable, but only if American citizens will support "a strong American role" in Iraq, which he defines as an ongoing presence of 150,000 American troops and foreign aid of $18 billion per year for somewhere between five and 15 years.

Without that kind of effort, Iraq could fall into anarchy. "The chaos bred by a failed state can never be successfully contained," Pollack warns. "Chaos in Iraq would breed extremists and terrorists" and could topple the governments of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. The loss of oil production would have "unimaginable consequences for the global economy."

What has President Bush said of these possibilities? Nothing.

The re-election campaign of George Bush consists almost entirely of attacks on John Kerry, including the unprecedented tactic of denigrating the service of a wounded veteran for political advantage. The Republicans must build their campaign around a furious effort to diminish Bush's opponent because if voters were to focus on the real issue, the Bush record in Iraq, they would find it is indefensible.

Publication date: 10/07/04

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