Posted on Sep 21, 2010
|AP / Charles Dharapak|
By Scott Ritter
“The time has come to set aside childish things.” With these words, President Barack Obama, in his inaugural address on Jan. 20, 2009, pushed aside “the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas” which he claimed “far too long have strangled our politics.” This passing reference to the Scripture (1 Corinthians 13: 11) served as the vehicle with which Obama broke with the policies of his predecessor, George W. Bush. While the differences in policy between Obama and Bush were many, they were particularly stark on the issue of the war in Iraq. On the surface, Obama’s televised address on Sept. 7, 2010, in which he somberly announced “the end of our combat mission in Iraq,” brought closure to a conflict as unnecessary as it was elective, and fulfilled, however superficially, his pledge to do just that. Unfortunately, Obama has come face to face with the biblical line “But now we see through a glass, darkly,” which immediately follows the Scriptural verse he mentioned in his inaugural address. The president and the American people will all too soon come to recognize that the quagmire in Iraq is far from over. In fact, one might say it has only just begun.
In what passed for the “Iraq master plan” as set forth by the Bush administration, Iraq’s oil wealth was to create the foundation of economic viability, which would then pave the way for political stability and improve internal security to the extent that U.S. combat troops could be withdrawn from that war-torn land. In a perfect world, this plan had a certain irrefutable logic, and as such was for the most part endorsed by politicians from both major parties, the mainstream media and the majority of the American people, enamored as they were with the Colin Powell-esque ethic of the “Pottery Barn Rule” that held “if you broke it, you own it.” And there can be no doubt that, regardless of the abuses which had occurred during the rule of deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, America had, through the waging of two wars (1991 and 2003), the implementation of more than two decades of U.N.-backed economic sanctions and a disastrous occupation, “broke” Iraq.
To make amends for these actions, the American people have tolerated more than seven years of redefined missions (which ranged from disarming Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, to imposing democracy, to creating stability, and, finally, to creating the conditions for stability), all the while recoiling from the enormous cost in terms of human lives and treasure (American, allied and Iraqi). Compounding the problems associated with a fluid mission was the fact that the “enemy” in Iraq was similarly ill-defined—the Shiites were our friends, until Moqtada al-Sadr became our enemy; the Sunnis were our enemies, until the “Awakening” movement made them our allies; and “al-Qaida in Iraq” went from being composed almost exclusively of foreigners to being almost exclusively Iraqi, to being whatever the U.S. military chose to define it as. This lack of a discernable foe made any traditional military combat mission designed to close with and destroy the enemy through firepower and maneuver impossible to execute.
While the United States military can claim that it did not lose the war in Iraq, it will have a hard time backing up any claims of victory. America was denied its “Missouri moment” in Iraq—the Baathists of Saddam Hussein’s regime were never compelled to line up, as the Japanese had in Tokyo Bay in August 1945, and sign a surrender document. This lack of closure highlights the ever-present reality that while American forces may have defeated Saddam Hussein’s divisions, and ultimately captured or killed the Iraqi president and the majority of his senior officials, the fighting would last for years and continues today.
History has highlighted, and will continue to highlight, the failures inherent in the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq following the fall of Baghdad in April 2003. As liberation transformed into anarchy and the illusory “flowers and song” greeting turned into rancor and resistance, it became clear that the United States lacked a coherent plan and vision for rebuilding a post-Saddam Iraq. The dream of rapidly reconstituting a viable Iraqi nation was soon shattered by the reality of a land laid to waste by the combined effects of war and economic sanctions. This process was also hampered by an Iraqi people who lacked faith in one another, and were alienated by the ideology, incompetence and corruption of the American occupation of their country. Despite the prewar assurances and guarantees made by senior officials in the Bush administration, Iraq’s “oil miracle” never occurred, and as such any hopes of building a solid economic foundation upon which an indigenous framework of governance could be placed were quashed. With no anchor upon which to steady itself, Iraq’s drive toward democracy was instead cut adrift amid the treacherous currents of internal politics, regional insecurity and international greed.
In many ways, the American experience in Iraq has been defined more by the fantasy dreamed up in Washington, D.C., than by the reality on the ground. That fantasy has included the “purple finger revolution,” which came to symbolize Iraq’s first national election of the post-Saddam era (Iraq still lacks a viable, cohesive government); the much-hyped military “surge” of 2006-2007, which had all the real impact of punching air; and the farcical economic “success” of major oil companies bidding on Iraqi oil exploration rights (orchestrated by an Iraqi Oil Ministry lacking both a governmental structure and legal basis for issuing such bids, given the Iraqi Parliament’s inability to pass an oil law. American politicians, aided and abetted by a fawning mainstream media, have fabricated a fiction aimed at a largely ignorant American public that fails to address the real problems in Iraq. It is in this topsy-turvy world created by political hype and media spin that a president can, with a straight face, announce the withdrawal of American “combat troops” from Iraq, while leaving behind six combat brigades (renamed, but not reorganized) comprising some 50,000 troops to fight and die in “noncombat.”