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     Oct 3, 2006
Bush and Barney's path to Waterloo
By Ehsan Ahrari

The Vietnam War and the ongoing Iraq war will go down in the history of the United States as events of great significance affecting America's resolve to get embroiled in foreign conflicts. After Vietnam, the US vowed not to get involved in foreign wars until there was plenty of domestic support for such an involvement.

Not only was the Iraq war a war of choice, it has become a kind of make-believe war comprising fictitious rationales. The United

States lost Vietnam because the will of the American people to remain engaged in that unjust war fizzled out. The lone superpower appears to be heading toward a similar defeat in Iraq, but the effects of denial are driving that war, despite its low popularity among American people.

That is the essence of Bob Woodward's new book, State of Denial. [1] The bottom-line conclusion of this book, as can be ascertained from published excerpts, is that the administration of President George W Bush is not telling the truth to the American people about this war. But that is also a well-known truth by now.

What has caught the current government by storm is that Woodward bases his views on interviews with a number of major officials from the administration of the current president's father and even some of the closest advisers and confidants of president George H W Bush. What also is causing a brouhaha is the fact that Woodward's current book is being issued at a time when there are very few people left in the United States who believe the Iraq war can be won.

But those whose decisions about this war really matter - Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld - remain as convinced as ever that the US will win this war.

The entire adventure of the Bush administration in Iraq was based on a series of denials, one after another. Before invading Iraq, the administration denied United Nations inspectors ample time to search weapons sites in Iraq thoroughly to compile conclusive evidence whether president Saddam Hussein really had continued his programs for weapons of mass destruction.

Then, the administration believed that American invaders would be welcomed by the Iraqis with open arms, and that the post-invasion governance of Iraq would be a cakewalk. When the State Department presented arguments to the contrary, the Department of Defense, Cheney and his cohorts inside and outside of the administration indulged in another series of denials.

Cheney, Rumsfeld and the latter's then-deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, relied on Iraqi expatriates - most of them with very little first-hand knowledge of their country but a lot of ambition about replacing Saddam's tyranny with a kleptocracy of their own - to provide the proofs needed to get the United States to invade Iraq. These "proofs" were not regarded as credible by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) or the Department of State.

Another example of this state of denial was the dissolution of the Iraqi army and the Ba'ath Party, despite recommendations to the contrary. The occupying authority in Iraq was so inebriated with military success that it came to the conclusion that there was no fight left among the Iraqis, and that there was no need to rely on the services of a "pro-Saddam" army and the civilian Ba'athist bureaucrats.

Iraq's governance was assigned to those who had no knowledge either of Iraq or of Arab culture. The hubris stemming from the military victory also resulted in a frame of mind among the US civilian administrators that only they could define the kind of government the Iraqis should have. Only no one was willing to show their contempt through blatant statements.

But the very audacity of thinking that the security of Iraq could be easily carried out by the US forces virtually alone - when the security apparatus of Iraq during the Saddam era was dissolved with the stroke of the pen by Paul Bremer - was evidence of that disdain.

When the insurgency started to grow in Iraq, Rumsfeld led the pack of critics who dismissed that development as a limited challenge and depicted the insurgents as a small group of "dead-enders". At first, the US government's line was that once Saddam's sons, Uday and Qusay, were captured or killed the insurgency would melt away.

When that did not happen, the line of explanation quickly shifted. The next line was that the insurgency would be dealt a severe blow once Saddam was captured. But that also turned out to be nothing but another example of make-believe.

Bush invaded Iraq by buying lock, stock and barrel the fictitious argument that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and that the Iraqi dictator had ties with al-Qaeda. Then he switched to believing that he could install secular democracy in Iraq and use that as a "beacon" to pull the rest of the Middle East out of the darkness of autocratic rule.

The Vietnam War became the late president Lyndon Johnson's war - his malignant obsession that could only be ended by removing him from power. Johnson's decision not to run for re-election in 1968 turned out to be a major step toward the undoing of that obsession.

The Iraq war has become a malignant obsession of George W Bush. Unfortunately for the American people, however, he will stay in office until 2008. He has already mentioned to his close associates that he will not withdraw from Iraq even if only his wife Laura and his dog Barney remain on his side.

That is a very powerful manifestation of resolve. The potential loss of both legislative chambers to the Democrats in next month's elections would not affect the presidency. Evidently nothing, no evidence, no statistical data, will change his mind.

In the final analysis, a Democratic-controlled Congress would have to pass binding resolutions for withdrawal, or it would have to try to alter Bush's resolve by refusing to pass appropriations for the continued stay of US troops in Iraq.

However, such a development is likely to divide the US from within. It seems that the United States is heading toward its own version of "sectarian" conflict: the Republican versus the Democrats, and the conservatives versus the liberals.

Now we are told that Henry Kissinger, the chief architect of the Vietnam negotiations during the administration of the late president Richard Nixon, is advising Bush on Iraq. Kissinger's conclusion - which may at best be a partially correct rehashing of history - is that the US lost the war in Vietnam because it lost the political will to continue the fight and win.

He is reportedly advising Bush not to give up. He is quoted as telling Bush that the US cannot afford to lose in Iraq and that "victory over the insurgency" is the only meaningful way out. In other words, Kissinger is still fighting the Vietnam War.

He is providing Bush the kind of wrong-headed advice that is setting the United States on the course to disaster. The only meaningful way out of Iraq is the emergence of a credible Iraqi security force. That reality will not develop any time soon, especially with the continued terrorist attacks on those forces, and the confusing double role of a portion of those forces also to act as Shi'ite or Sunni militias.

Even General John Abizaid, Bush's top commander in the Middle East, is reported to have developed gross misgivings about America's prospects of victory in Iraq. As Woodward's book has created a major news event of its own, the Bush administration has decided to intensify its state of denial.

Bush was already attacking the Democrats as "the party of cut and run". The desperation to win the November election has made things even worse. The government seems to be in a state of siege. There are increasing calls for Rumsfeld's resignation. But Bush will hear none of it. The Department of Defense is reportedly divided from within and suffering from shaky morale.

Most of the top defense officials have a clear memory of how Vietnam was "lost" when the support for that war disappeared from the US domestic arena. A number of those officials are reading the evolution of similar trends inside the US today regarding Iraq. Even by assigning the best possible intention to the decision of George W Bush to invade Iraq, the fact of the matter is that Iraq will become his Waterloo.

If the United States does not find an honorable way out, it seems that it is steadily edging toward another humiliating exit, a la Vietnam, notwithstanding the Bush administration's endless denial that Iraq is not Vietnam.

1. State of Denial by Bob Woodward. Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group, September 2006. ISBN: 0743272234. Price US$21, 560 pages.

Ehsan Ahrari is the CEO of Strategic Paradigms, an Alexandria, Virginia-based defense consultancy. He can be reached at [email protected] or [email protected] His columns appear regularly in Asia Times Online. His website: www.ehsanahrari.com.

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Iraq: Republic of fear (Sep 30, '06)

Dumbed-down intelligence (Sep 29, '06)

An alternative way forward for the US (Sep 29, '06)


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