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By Edward F. Mitchell

SAN FRANCISCO, 26 August 2005—President Bush has shaken his entourage from the hammocks, left the Crawford ranch, and taken a repackaged case for his Iraq war on the road to reassure and invigorate his red-state majority.  First on Monday to the national convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City (he won 72% of the vote in Utah in 2004, highest among the states), and then on Wednesday (reportedly after a much-needed day of fishing and biking at a Lake Cascade resort) to a gathering of National Guardsmen in Donnelly, Idaho (Bush took 69% of the Idaho vote in 2004), the President talked over the heads of friendly military audiences to his political flock (or herd), getting out the message that the Islamic fundamentalist terrorists who are the backbone of the Iraqi insurgency are fighting on because they want to spread their "hateful ideology" and "dark vision" across the Middle East, setting up a string of Taliban-like regimes as they go.  "The enemy, the terrorists, are ruthless and brutal," the President told the VFW.  "Their goal is to drive nations into retreat so they can topple governments across the Middle East, establish Taliban-like regimes, and turn that region into a launching pad for more attacks against our people."  Then, back to the ranch.

As anyone who has been paying any attention knows, Iraq (an archaic geopolitical fiction imagined by the British and sustained over the years by the self-interested policies of various neighbors and world powers) is in a fledgling civil war because the Kurds are getting what they want (virtual independence), the Shiites are getting what they want (majority control of a new Islamic nation in which the rights of women and religious minorities, especially people "not of the book", are to be narrowly defined by an explicitly Islamic constitution and a clerical Supreme Court), and the Sunni are getting almost nothing but a decent-sized stretch of desert (with not much underneath) and a rather meager pro-rata share of oil revenues.

Although the politicization, neglect, and ultimate collapse of the American intelligence apparatus make reliable judgments impossible, most people with knowledge believe that the Iraqi insurgency is made up primarily (some believe almost entirely) of resentful Sunni Arabs who refuse to submit to the emerging regime of Shiites and Kurds that is George Bush's new Islamic Iraqi state. These insurgents are fighting for power and money, and if they succeeded in gaining power, which they will not, they would adopt a less sectarian charter and install a more secular government, less dominated by Islamic fundamentalists, than the "constitutional" Shiite-Kurd regime (the Iran-friendly pax al-Sistani) backed by the Bush Administration.

It is true that too many Sunni Arabs in Iraq are fanatical, but they are more fanatic about power, territory, and oil money than about universal civil adherence to religious jurisprudence or aggressive government enforcement of sectarian law, the hallmarks of the Taliban.  (In this respect, they are similar to many non-evangelical Republicans in the US.)  The President's message—that America is fighting fanatical fundamentalist Islamist terrorists who threaten to install an Iraqi Taliban in Baghdad and then replicate it across the region—is a pathological lie.  In a rear-guard action to create the illusion of a new Iraqi democracy which, in a  bait-and-switch, he has proffered as the substitute purpose of the second Iraq war (a war we now realize was commenced only because of the radically cynical Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz-Rice-Tenet deception of the electorate, and the Administration's Rove-designed neutralization of an uninformed, gullible, and shamefully unprincipled and gutless Democratic opposition), Bush himself is installing a new fundamentalist Islamist regime in Baghdad, over the violent protest of deposed Hussein loyalists and other Sunni Arab malcontents, who would pursue their project of disruption even if they were not assisted by Zarqawi and a new generation of Arab suicide bombers with mixed, vague, and largely unknown motivations, spawned, in part, by American Middle East policy.

Should the Administration's latest reformulation of the threat in Iraq be trusted?  It would be hard to make that case.  There is no longer much doubt, even in conservative Republican pockets of rationality, that the President and his team seriously misrepresented the threat to US  and world security posed by Hussein's Iraq; patched together a flimsy (and ultimately unsustainable) case that Iraq had ties to al Qaeda, and then exaggerated what little "evidence" they had; misrepresented the status, even the existence, of Iraq's nuclear weapons program; lied about knowing where Iraq's WMDs were stockpiled; misjudged and misrepresented how long the intervention would take (Cheney said days or weeks, certainly no more than 6 months); completely miscalculated Iraqi response to the US "liberation" (in Haight-Ashbury moments, Administration officials daydreamed in public that American soldiers would be greeted with flowers, not improvised grenades); failed and refused (despite in-house warnings, and relying on their false assumption that Iraqis were longing for a visit from American forces) to plan for and discharge post-invasion peacekeeping duties emanating from both strategic imperatives and international law; falsely represented that Iraq's oil revenue would pay the lion's share of America's war costs; wildly misjudged, perhaps by as much as 100%,  the number of Iraqi and American casualties; falsely claimed (in a camp, Coppola-inspired political happening staged at taxpayer expense) that Operation Iraqi Freedom already was over when it actually barely had begun; misjudged the number of troops required to operate safely in Iraq; mismanaged equipment and provisioning resulting in unnecessary casualties; claimed to champion the dignity and human rights of Iraqis brutalized by a barbaric dictator, and then created the conditions for the ritual humiliation and sexual abuse of Muslim captives; and ultimately misjudged and misrepresented the feasibility of a united, independent, democratic Iraq.  The President's concession, later reversed, that the war probably will not be won, taken together with the Administration's recent bid to manage expectations by conceding through anonymous senior officials that the project in Iraq will result neither in victory nor in the accomplishment of specific earlier-stated objectives, serve as fair warning, even to the faithful, that we should erase any impressions formed in reliance on past threat assessments or diplomatic and military judgments made by the neo-con vanguard and adopted by the Bush Administration.

No one, of course, is claiming that Iraq is free of fundamentalist Muslim terrorists and Taliban sympathizers but, as the Bush Administration frequently points out, there are Muslim terrorists across the globe, many more now than when the President conceived his global war on terror and decided to turn Iraq into its primary theatre.  There now are Muslim terrorists camped from London to Toronto, from Madrid to Kuala Lumpur.  There are concentrations in unknown numbers in Syria, Jordan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, in Pakistan, and in Africa.  They are all over the place, they do not face daily confrontation with uniformed American armed forces, and they are not the real reason that very young American men and women are dying, and killing, in Iraq.  The insurgency is, at its core, a nationalist Sunni Arab resistance to the US-backed Shiite-Kurd governing coalition the Bush Administration is trying disingenuously to impose on a polity hopelessly fractured by an unnecessary, and probably illegal, invasion.  The brutality of the Sunni rebels and their foreign comrades-in-arms is no more palatable than the cruelty of the Taliban, but it simply is not true that the insurgency in Iraq is constituted essentially of fundamentalist Muslim zealots who seek to install a string of Talibans across the Middle East from which to launch attacks on the United States.  The President's assertion that this is so reverberates with overtones of a "domino theory" born out of the same ignorance and paranoia that imagined China ready to colonize first Vietnam, then all Southeast Asia, eventually Australia and New Zealand.

If, as the Bush apostles who populate the Sunday morning talk shows like to say, America must "get it right in Iraq," shouldn’t it matter to the Administration who is fighting there, why, and for what?  If it is the considered judgment of so many responsible and knowledgeable adults (including many of the most informed members of the elder Bush’s Administration) that the Bush team dreamed up its Iraq adventure in a fever of adolescent ideology and impulses, and then fouled up its naively misconceived enterprise through ignorance and incompetence, is it not important to ask whether there still is time for the rest of America to "get it right" in Iraq?  And if it is too late to get it right, would it be so wrong to get out?

Edward F. Mitchell is an attorney practicing in San Francisco and is General Counsel to Euromedia Group Ltd. 

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