Georgie Anne Geyer, Universal Press Syndicate. Georgie Anne Geyer is a syndicated columnist based in Washington
May 23, 2003
Although little noticed by the American people since the Iraq war supposedly ended, a crucial change of power in Washington is redefining the real outcome of the war and, surely, the future positioning of the U.S. in the world.
To oversimplify, the State Department and CIA realists are now in control inside Iraq--and the Pentagon civilian hawks, who had such cynical plans for the entire Middle East, are at least momentarily in retreat. Most unfortunately for all the poor people who got caught in the hawks' avid talons, the outcome of this adventure now looks just as bad, or worse, than many of us critics feared.
Let's sum up where we are now, nearly three months after the war started and six weeks after we "won" such a great victory.
First, kiss goodbye the supposed reasons that we had to attack Iraq immediately. One after another of the Bush administration's reasons has, to use its language, "hit the dust."
The Al Qaeda connection to Baghdad? Never mentioned anymore (since it never did exist). Weapons of mass destruction? Weary American troops who had been assiduously searching for them in the desert sandstorms and brutal heat of the Iraqi summer announced last week that they had found none; in addition, our civilian planners managed to leave the Iraqi nuclear sites unprotected while we invaded so that, only this week, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency warned the United States for the third time that the looting permitted during the American invasion had probably released exactly the radioactive contamination we so feared.
The last reason given by administration hawks such as Rumsfeld advisers Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle and Douglas Feith for the invasion--that only a "peaceful" and "democratic" Iraq would allow for a Middle East settlement and that (repeated constantly) "the road to Jerusalem leads through Baghdad"? To the contrary, the war has further hardened the stand of the far-right Israeli administration, and the much-touted "road map" to peace looks more and more like a wrong turn.
Meanwhile, the prestigious International Institute for Strategic Studies on May 13 released a report announcing that the Al Qaeda network is "reconstituted and doing business in a somewhat different manner, but more insidious and just as dangerous as in its pre-11 September incarnation."
Now what you hear in Washington, just as among the exhausted and confused American officials in Iraq, is, "But we overthrew a horrible dictator!" That is both true and, in its own way, virtuous. But does that mean that we take on the Burmese junta, the Rwandan mass murderers, the Turkmenistan prisons-keepers, the Congolese militias, the Syrian and Iranian torturers, the ...? (Sorry, running out of space.)
Within Iraq, an even greater change was occurring in the American presence, and it culminated at the end of April with the sudden shift of power from the man who was supposed to be the Pentagon hawks' "new MacArthur," Gen. Jay Garner, to the State Department's and CIA's polished diplomat Paul Bremer.
Gen. Garner, an affable three-star with strong ties to Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon who had done admirable work with the Kurds in earlier years, had inexplicably blundered into Baghdad only days after the war ended. Whatever really happened, the record of his few "imperial" days was disastrous.
He and his group hunkered down and wandered confusedly around Saddam Hussein's 258-room Republican Palace on the banks of the Tigris River, isolated from the Iraqi people and the looting that took over every city; they had virtually no communications with the outside, no e-mail, no workable telephones. With no plans for the aftermath, Gen. Garner looked less like MacArthur in Japan than William Westmoreland in Vietnam.
Within days here, the State Department and CIA prevailed and had their diplomat there with, at least so far, a reasonably workable and sophisticated policy of rebuilding the country--not to speak of rescuing the record of a brilliant campaign run by the U.S. military from the humiliating lack of planning on the part of the Pentagon civilian zealots.
Exactly how this was engineered in Washington, with an ambitious president whose imagination had been captured by the grand ideas of the zealots, is still not clear, but one leading administration official explained it to me in these words: "The assumption was that the core of the Iraqi military would remain cohesive and we would work through them; thus we would need no United Nations, or NGOs [non-governmental organizations] or humanitarian organizations. But the Iraqi military collapsed, and suddenly the White House realized that it all wasn't working. With the bad news from Baghdad, it was not looking good here politically."
What happened, at least on the ground after the war, was the ultimate unraveling of the personal and political agendas and ideologies of the war zealots.
Diplomat Bremer immediately made changes and began to grasp the situation, but the original momentum from the war that could have been grasped had been lost. Now he has to try to make up for all the damage that the "expectations"--that civil society in Iraq would continue, that democracy would take root, that the entire Middle East would change--left him to cope with. He has to shuffle the deck between Iraqi Shiite radicalism, Iraqi exile mafias, a potentially resurgent Baathist Party, Kurdish nationalism and the poisonous spread of chaos.
How simple and heroic, now, the military part looks.
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