Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.

Our Destructive Delusion About Iraq

James Skillen


July 20, 2007

Last week at his news conference, President Bush once again articulated his view of the recent history of Iraq (New York Times, 7/13/07): first, America liberated Iraq from Saddam Hussein; second, we returned sovereignty to the Iraqi people; third, sectarian violence tragically increased; and now, in the fourth phase, we are "deploying reinforcements and launching new operations to help Iraqis bring security to their people."

Critics of the president do not really challenge that interpretation of history. They merely object that after the U.S. military took out Saddam's government, it botched the follow-up and used the wrong military tactics, and now the president has waited too long for the Iraqi government to pick up the pieces. Thus, it is time to withdraw or draw down our troops.

All of this is delusional. U.S. forces did not liberate Iraq; they wiped out its government, and the Bush administration then failed to exercise American responsibility to govern the country so it could be rebuilt and eventually governed by Iraqis themselves. We opened the floodgates to chaos, civil war, the death or flight of tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians, and a continuing influx of terrorists whom our "war" was supposed to destroy. That is not liberation.

We did not return sovereignty to the Iraqi people. We engineered a quick drafting of an unworkable constitution. We helped organize an election that fronted a government unable to govern on the basis of that incomplete constitution. And we continue to control the most important military operations in a country that is not at war with an external enemy but, instead, needs police forces that will take orders from a sound government, neither of which exist.

The "tragic escalation of sectarian violence" to which the president refers, arose precisely because of our first two failures, and the violence has, from the beginning, called for a response that we have not delivered. Now, in what the president calls the fourth phase, the numbers of troops he has deployed are not enough, and are not even the right instrument, "to help Iraqis bring security to their people."

If the president, his superficial critics, and the American people had anything like an adequate awareness of the tragic destruction to which we have contributed—and failed to stop—in Iraq, he would be proposing and we would be demanding an all-out effort to remedy our failures by doing everything necessary to bring real government to Iraq. We would pay any price, on a national emergency basis, and negotiate on an international emergency basis, to establish security and advance state building in Iraq. Waiting till September for General Petraeus to report on "progress" is irrelevant, given the current destruction taking place. Setting dates for an American military withdrawal while blaming the nearly powerless Iraqi government for not climbing out fast enough from the hole we dug for it is as immoral as continuing on the present course.

If the president really believes that a failure to win the "war" we started in Iraq will mean more 9/11s here at home, how can he possibly imagine that a "surge" of only 21,000+ troops for only a few months in Iraq could deliver security to Iraqis and keep us safe at home? If the sky will fall if we don't "win" in Iraq, why does the president even hint that he might be willing to begin drawing down troop levels if General Petraeus gives him a bad report?

A failed state in Iraq is either monumentally dangerous or it is not; both can't be true. Doing as little as we are now doing about the situation there suggests that we hoped a relatively quick and inexpensive military invasion would bring us great benefit, but since it hasn't, we'll have to look for other preventive ways to try to secure our global interests. One can sense that some are already preparing to console themselves—and the American people—that we tried our best in Iraq; it's just too bad the Iraqis failed to do what we expected of them after we "liberated" them from Saddam.

—James W. Skillen, President
    Center for Public Justice

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