When in doubt, its always September 11.
Its About Osama
When in doubt, its always September 11.
By Harold MeyersonSo lets try to get this straight. We invaded Iraq because Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, except he didnt, and because he was tied in to the attacks of September 11, except he wasnt. Were staying in Iraq, President Bush said Tuesday night, because terrorists with the same ideology as those behind 9-11 have congregated there since we arrived.
Web Exclusive: 06.29.05
Iraq is now the central front in the war on terrorism, the president said. And just how did it become that? Whatever the ghastly defects of Husseins Iraq, it was not a playground for terrorists. There was no terror in the old Iraq but Husseins own, which was a nightmare for his own citizenry, but not a threat to ours. Now, Bush argued, Iraq is in danger of becoming something it never was -- the equivalent of Afghanistan under the Taliban. But its Bushs war that transformed the country and created that threat, if we are to believe the president's own assessment of the danger that the Iraqi terrorists pose. And if we dont take on the terrorists there, he said, well have to take them on here.
But which ones? Surely not the bitter-enders from Husseins regime, or the Iraqi Sunni extremists; their fight is there. As to the Islamic militants who have arrived from other lands, they are a threat, but no more of one than the Islamic militants who are not in Iraq. Yet it is in Iraq where we have deployed the lions share of our forces, so much so that our ability to respond to the threat of a very different kind of terrorism -- from North Korea, say -- has clearly been diminished. Bush spoke as if we had the terrorists tied down in Iraq. One could plausibly argue that its the other way around.
On the other hand, one could also plausibly argue that we dont have, and never have had, enough forces in Iraq to secure the country or ensure domestic tranquility. Bush noted that no ground commander had ever told him that we needed to send in more troops, and I dont doubt that. Before the war even began, the one commander who did make that argument, Army Chief of Staff General Eric Shinseki, drew the audible ire of Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz. Shinseki did not have his term of duty renewed and was told to find employment in civilian life. A starker object lesson for ground commanders thinking about questioning the wisdom of Rumsfeld and the size of our force could scarcely be imagined.
And when will we go? In the latter years of the Vietnam War, the Nixon administration touted the "Vietnamization" solution: We were training the South Vietnamese army to do what our own troops had been doing; the South Vietnamese were always on the verge of being able to fight the war largely by themselves. In fact, they never got beyond the verge; in the climactic North Vietnamese attack, their army crumbled.
Now, Bush is talking "Iraqization" (which is no clunkier a neologism than Vietnamization once was). We should be wary of making too neat a parallel here. The new Iraqi government certainly has a greater claim on legitimacy and popular support than all those South Vietnamese governments ever did. But in much the manner of Richard Nixon, Bush has tied our departure to the readiness of the Iraqi soldiery. As the Iraqis stand up, he said, we will stand down.
But suppose the Iraqis dont stand up, or only make it as far as a crouch. Right now, Bush said, there are 160,000 Iraqi forces in the process of being trained. According to Delawares Joe Biden, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the number of them in freestanding units able to carry the fight to the enemy right now, without U.S. tactical guidance, is 2,500. In short, the administration has subjected us to a two-front recruitment war: The number of Iraqis willing to become real soldiers in this war, like the number of Americans willing to become real soldiers in this war, is currently woefully inadequate. Administration strategy, apparently, is to hope that their number grows faster than our number declines.
On our long-term policy toward Iraq -- whether, for instance, we intend to keep permanent bases there -- Bush remained mute. But our justification has turned back to 9-11. Rather than go after Osama bin Laden directly, we decided to overthrow Hussein to enable bin Ladens legions to relocate to Iraq and defeat them there. So much for straightforward strategy. This was cunning beyond belief -- indeed, beyond comprehension.
Harold Meyerson is the Prospect's editor-at-large.
Copyright © 2005 by The American Prospect, Inc. Preferred Citation: Harold Meyerson, "Its About Osama", The American Prospect Online, Jun 29, 2005. This article may not be resold, reprinted, or redistributed for compensation of any kind without prior written permission from the author. Direct questions about permissions to permissions@....
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