Three years ago in the Washington Post Ken Adelman, formerly an assistant to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, promised us “Cakewalk In Iraq.” I wonder how Mr. Adelman feels about his promise today.
In his article Adelman disparaged Brookings Institution military analysts and the redoubtable Edward Luttwak for “fear-mongering.” Adelman dismissed concerns about US casualties and unilateral action as misguided worries that inspire inaction when it was perfectly clear, to Adleman at least, that Iraq’s Saddam “Hussein constitutes the number one threat against American security and civilization.”
As for concerns about going it alone, “President Bush does not need to amass rinky-dink nations as ‘coalition partners’ to convince the Washington establishment that we’re right.”
The Washington establishment must be wondering today how it was convinced into making such a fatal mistake. Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction. Saddam Hussein had no terrorist links or involvement in the September 11 terror attack. US casualties (dead and wounded) now stand at 10 percent of the US invasion force. A few thousand lightly armed insurgents have tied down eight US divisions. Iraq’s infrastructure lies in ruins. Fallujah, once a city of 300,000, has been destroyed. The US has lost control of the roads, and most of the US fighting force is confined to protecting supply lines and its own bases. The US military is cracking under the strain of prolonged service in the field. The cost of the war mounts, putting more pressure on a collapsing US dollar. The US occupation has recruited thousands of new terrorists for Osama bin Laden and provided a training ground. Torture and torture memos have destroyed America’s moral reputation. Civil war looms as neither Sunnis, Shiites, nor Kurds are willing to support a government they do not control. Anti-American feelings throughout the Middle East threaten to undermine the secular puppets that the US keeps afloat in Pakistan, Egypt and Jordan. There is no light at the end of the tunnel. Generals speak of staying another 3, 5, 7, and 10 years in order “to get the job done.”
If this is a cakewalk, what is a failed invasion and a lost war?
Where Mr. Adelman, the neoconservatives, the Pentagon, the White House, the flag-wavers, and the media went wrong was in thinking the outcome would be settled by a set piece battle between massed Iraqi and US forces. They thought this because they knew nothing whatsoever about Iraq.
The Sunni-controlled Iraqi military chose insurgency as the strategy. Suck the invader in, and make him unsafe on every street and in every building. Blow him up in his own fortified bases.
Their strategy has worked. Ours has failed.
The question is: are Americans smart enough to realize this? Our government is not smart enough. The occupant of the Oval Office is drowning in hubris and delusion. The neoconservatives are still in charge of the Bush administration, and they are still talking fantasies about taking out Iran and Syria and imposing our will on the Middle East. This is extraordinary delusion when we have conclusively demonstrated that we cannot even impose our will on Fallujah, not even after leveling the city to the ground. We cannot even impose our will on the road from Bhagdad to the airport.
The promised Iraqi election, if held, will settle nothing. If it is not a total disaster, it might provide cover for US withdrawal, not piecemeal but all at once. If 150,000 US troops are in jeopardy, piecemeal withdrawal will place remaining troops in more jeopardy.
Americans must ask themselves where lies our biggest problem? Is it the Iraqi insurgency, or is it President Bush who will not admit a mistake?
How long will we bleed in Iraq? How many war crimes will we commit in frustration with an invisible enemy? How intense will Muslim hatred of Americans become? At what point will this hatred unseat our puppets and deliver the Middle East to Osama bin Laden or his equivalent? Three more years? Five more years? We certainly cannot get away with it for seven or ten more years.
The US invasion of Iraq was a strategic blunder. It has greatly damaged US credibility, while greatly enhancing Osama bin Laden’s credibility.
Who will provide the desperately needed leadership that will rescue America from this self-inflicted catastrophe?
PAUL CRAIG ROBERTS was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration. He was Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal editorial page and Contributing Editor of National Review. He is coauthor of The Tyranny of Good Intentions.