For 50 years, Iraq, and the Arab world generally, has seen only the status quo side of U.S. power: American power used to buttress the old authoritarian order. Iraqis and other Arabs are now being treated to something radically new: our ideas, the revolutionary side of American power. They still don't quite believe it.
Unfortunately, the same Bush Pentagon that had the audacity to undertake this revolutionary project in Iraq did not prepare either itself or the U.S. public for such a vast undertaking. I worry that we're not going to have the time, money or people to finish this job right � for several reasons.
First, there's a word I've heard here that I did not hear on two previous visits since the war: "humiliation." This is an occupation. It may have come with the best of intentions, but nobody likes to be occupied. I just watched a scene at the checkpoint at the July 14 Bridge, which leads to the huge U.S. compound in the heart of Baghdad. U.S. soldiers kept telling Iraqi women � who were coming to work for the U.S. forces! � that they could not enter because no female U.S. soldiers were available to search them. It is 120 degrees here. To wait in line for 30 minutes and then be told you have to go across the city to a different gate produces humiliation and rage, and eventually grenades tossed at Americans. I saw it in the eyes of those Iraqi women and their husbands as they drove away.
Second, America's real enemies in Iraq are exacerbating the situation by cutting electricity lines, which the U.S. does not have enough troops to protect, so many Iraqis today have less electricity (read: air-conditioning) than they had a month ago. The electricity cuts are disrupting oil production and refining, which leads to gasoline lines, soaring prices, more unemployment and more looting.
I was in a five-car convoy that was robbed in broad daylight on Monday morning just outside Baghdad. We were on the only highway linking Iraq to Jordan � the country's lifeline � when several BMW's with masked men, armed with AK-47's, ambushed us under a bridge. These "Ali Babas" blocked the road, pointed guns at our faces and demanded our cash (no credit cards!). They made off with thousands of dollars, which maybe they'll just keep, or maybe they'll use to pay people to kill U.S. soldiers. Who knows? I do know we drove for two more hours before we ran into the soldiers of a U.S. patrol and told them what had happened.
"Sorry," the sergeant said, "we just don't have enough people."
The Bush Administration cannot be trusted to do the needful. Their primary goal is politics and ideology, not getting the job done. Iraq may not be a quagmire but if Bush stays in power it will be something far worse - a new swamp:
But isn't the main fallacy that there isn't some finite number of "terrorists" out there whom we can draw to one place, kill or arrest, and then be done with it? I mean, let's be honest: Is there really any shortage of these dudes? Are they gonna run out?
Do you remember Afghanistan? Not this 'Afghanistan', but the last 'Afghanistan.' The US-Pakistan-backed jihad against the Soviets made Afghanistan into a sort of jihad Club-Med where young Saudis could go for a few weeks or months of firing guns and fighting for God. (Of course, some stayed on rather longer.)
The idea is supposed to be to drain the swamp, not create a new swamp and spend all your time swatting all the mosquitoes that come to hang out and breed.
Then again, the new Afghanistan is not going all that well either. The Taliban have recaptured a southeastern province:
"Taliban wrests control of Zabul"
Washington, Aug. 11. (UNI): The Taliban has wrested control of most of Zabul province in southeastern Afghanistan - for the first time recapturing a province since being ousted from power by the US military in November 2001 - geopolitical analytical firm Stratfor reported.
Stratfor said its sources have confirmed reports first published on a website maintained by Muslim jihadists, jihadunspun.com, that Taliban fighters, in concert with al-Qaeda forces, have wrested control of Zabul.
So, let's keep score. Osama: still on the loose. Al-Qaeda: still operational. Afghanistan: the Taliban returning. Iraq: guerilla war, creating a "swamp" for more jihadi activity. Saudi Arabia: protected by Bush (28 pages redacted) and gets to play the indignant victim card.