"Victory"? Forget it
Bush is trying to keep Americans from abandoning his
disastrous war by claiming victory is at hand. But even his
own generals know that's a lie.
-- -- When new Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Kamel al-Maliki
unveiled his government last week, five months after his
country's elections, and was unable to appoint ministers of
defense and interior, President Bush hailed it as a "turning
point." And that was just one month after Maliki's mentor,
former Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jafaari, to whom he had been
loyal deputy, installed in the position through the support of
radical Shiite cleric
was forced to relinquish his office through U.S. pressure.
been proclaiming Iraq at a turning point for years. "Turning
point" is a frequent and recurring talking point, often taken up
by the full chorus of the president ("We've reached another
great turning point," Nov. 6, 2003; "A turning point will come
in less than two weeks," June 18, 2004), vice president ("I
think about when we look back and get some historical
perspective on this period, I'll believe that the period we were
in through 2005 was, in fact, a turning point," Feb. 7, 2006),
secretary of state and secretary of defense, and ringing down
the echo chamber.
latest "turning point" reveals an Iraqi state without a social
contract, a government without a center, a prime minister
without power and an American president without a strategy. Each
sectarian group maintains its own militia. Each leader's
influence rests on these armed bands, separate armies of tens of
thousands of men. The militias have infiltrated and taken over
key units of the Iraqi army and local police, using them as
death squads, protection rackets and deterrent forces against
enemies. Reliable statistics are impossible, but knowledgeable
reporters estimate there are about 40 assassinations a day in
Iraq. Ethnic cleansing is sweeping the country. From Kirkuk in
the north to Baghdad in the middle to Basra in the south, Kurds
are driving out Turkmen and Arabs, Shiites are killing Sunnis,
and the insurgency enjoys near unanimous support among Sunnis.
Contrary to Bush's blanket rhetoric about "terrorists" and
constant reference to the insurgency as "the enemy," "foreign
fighters are a small component of the insurgency," according to
Anthony H. Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and
Cockburn, one of the most accurate and intrepid journalists in
Iraq, wrote last week in the Independent of London that "the
overall security situation in Iraq is far worse than it was a
year ago. Baghdad and central Iraq, where Shia, Sunni and Kurd
are mixed, is in the grip of a civil war fought by assassins and
death squads. As in Bosnia in 1992, each community is pulling
back into enclaves where it is the overwhelming majority and
able to defend itself."
Prime Minister Maliki has declared his intention to enforce an
unused militia-demobilization decree proclaimed by the now
disbanded Coalition Provisional Authority in 2004, he has made
no gesture beyond his statement, and no Iraqi leader has
volunteered to be the first test case of demobilization. The New
York Times Wednesday cited an American official on the absence
of action on this front: "'They need to begin by setting
examples,' an American official in Baghdad said of the Iraqi
government. 'It is just very noticeable to me that they are not
making any examples.' 'None,' the official said. 'Zero.'"
inability to fill the posts of minister of defense and minister
of the interior reflects the control of the means of violence by
factions and sects unwilling to cede it to a central authority.
Inside the new government, ministries are being operated as
sectarian fiefdoms. The vacuum at the Defense and Interior
ministries represents a state of civil war in which no one can
be vested with power above all.
speech on Monday referring to another "turning point," President
Bush twice spoke of "victory." "Victory" is the constant theme
he has adopted since last summer, when he hired public opinion
specialist Peter Feaver for the National Security Council.
Feaver's research claims that the public will sustain military
casualties so long as it is persuaded that they will lead to
"victory." Bush clings to this P.R. formula to explain, at least
to himself, the decline of his political fortunes. "Because
we're at war, and war unsettles people," he said in an interview
with NBC News last week. To make sense of the disconcerting war,
he imposes his familiar framework of us vs. them, "the enemy"
who gets "on your TV screen by killing innocent people" against
Monday speech, Bush reverted yet again to citing Sept. 11, 2001,
as the ultimate justification for the Iraq war. Defiant in the
face of terrorists, he repeated whole paragraphs from his 2004
campaign stump speech. "That's just the lessons of September the
11th that I refuse to forget," he said. Stung by the dissent of
the former commanders of the U.S. Army in Iraq who have demanded
the firing of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Bush
reassured the audience that he listens to generals. "I make my
mind up based not upon politics or political opinion polls, but
based upon what the commanders on the ground tell me is going
on," he said.
currently serving U.S. military commanders have been explicitly
telling him for more than two years, and making public their
view, that there is no purely military solution in Iraq. For
example, Gen. John Abizaid, the U.S. commander, said on April
12, 2004: "There is not a purely U.S. military solution to any
of the particular problems that we're facing here in Iraq
this week that the U.S. military, in fact, is no longer pursuing
a strategy for "victory." "It is consolidating to several
'superbases' in hopes that its continued presence will prevent
Iraq from succumbing to full-flown civil war and turning into a
failed state. Pentagon strategists admit they have not figured
out how to move to superbases, as a way of reducing the pressure
-- and casualties -- inflicted on the U.S. Army, while at the
same time remaining embedded with Iraqi police and military
units. It is a circle no one has squared. But consolidation
plans are moving ahead as a default position, and U.S.
Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad has talked frankly about containing
the spillover from Iraq's chaos in the region."
continues to declare as his goal (with encouragement from his
polling expert on the NSC) the victory that the U.S. military
has given up on. And he continues to wave the banner of a
military solution against "the enemy," although this "enemy"
consists of a Sunni insurgency whose leadership must eventually
be conciliated and brought into a federal Iraqi government and
of which the criminal Abu Musab al-Zarqawi faction and foreign
fighters are a small part.
belief in a military solution, moreover, renders moot progress
on a political solution, which is the only potentially practical
approach. His war on the Sunnis simply agitates the process of
civil war. The entire burden of progress falls on the U.S.
ambassador, whose inherent situation as representative of the
occupying power inside the country limits his ability to engage
in the international diplomacy that might make his efforts to
bring factions together possible. Khalilzad's tentative outreach
to Iran, in any case, was shut down by Washington. Secretary of
State Condoleezza Rice, for her part, finds herself in Bulgaria,
instead of conducting shuttle diplomacy in Amman, Jordan;
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; Ankara, Turkey; and Tehran. The diplomatic
vacuum intensifies the power vacuum in Iraq, exciting Bush's
flights of magical thinking about victory: I speak, therefore it
doesn't know that he can't achieve victory. He doesn't know that
seeking victory worsens his prospects. He doesn't know that the
U.S. military has abandoned victory in the field, though it has
been reporting that to him for years. But the president has no
rhetoric beyond "victory."
chance for a quick victory in Iraq evaporated when the
neoconservative fantasy collapsed almost immediately after the
invasion. But the "make-believe" of "liberation" that failed to
provide basic security set in motion "fratricidal violence," as
Nir Rosen writes in his new book, "In the Belly of the Green
Bird: The Triumph of the Martyrs in Iraq," based on firsthand
observation of the developing insurgency in the vacuum created
by U.S. policy.
Bush's nominee for director of the CIA,
former director of the National Security Agency, in his
confirmation hearings, acknowledged the neoconservative
manipulation of intelligence to make the case for the Iraq war
and disdained it. Asked by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., about the
administration's efforts to tie Saddam Hussein to al-Qaida,
Hayden replied: "Sir, I -- as director of NSA, we did have a
series of inquiries about this potential connection between al
Qaeda and the Iraqi government. Yes, sir."
Now, prior to the war, the undersecretary of defense for policy,
Mr. [Douglas] Feith, established an intelligence analysis cell
within his policy office at the Defense Department. While the
intelligence community was consistently dubious about links
between Iraq and al Qaeda, Mr. Feith produced an alternative
analysis, asserting that there was a strong connection. Were you
comfortable with Mr. Feith's office's approach to intelligence
No, sir, I wasn't. I wasn't aware of a lot of the activity going
on, you know, when it was contemporaneous with running up to the
war. No, sir, I wasn't comfortable.
then explained at length the difference between working from the
facts and trying to cherry-pick data to support a hypothesis. He
made clear that the administration had engaged in the latter.
Levin asked: "Now, I believe that you actually placed a
disclaimer on NSA reporting relative to any links between al
Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. And it was apparently following the
repeated inquiries from the Feith office. Would you just tell us
what that disclaimer was?" Hayden answered: "Yes, sir. SIGINT
neither confirms nor denies -- and let me stop at that point in
the sentence so we can stay safely on the side of unclassified.
SIGINT neither confirms nor denies, and then we finished the
sentence based upon the question that was asked. And then we
provided the data, sir." In the language of the agency, in other
words, Hayden would not lend support to the Bush's
administration's twisting of intelligence.
On May 15,
Karl Rove, Bush's chief political advisor, gave a speech
revealing one of his ideas about politics. "I think," he said,
"there's also a great utility in looking at game changers. What
are the things that will allow us to fundamentally change
people's behavior in a different way?" Since Sept. 11, Rove has
made plain that terrorism and war are the great game changers
war may be the game changer for Bush's desire to put in place a
one-party state, forge a permanent Republican majority, redefine
the Constitution and the relationships of the branches of the
federal government, and concentrate power in the executive, Bush
has only the rhetoric of "victory." He has not stated what would
happen the day after "victory." Although a victory parade would
be his political nightmare, now the absence of victory is his
nightmare. With every proclaimed "turning point," "victory"
becomes ever more evanescent. He has no policy for victory and
no politics beyond victory.
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