After a rocket attack on the Rashid hotel in Baghdad landed only one floor away from a clearly shaken Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, Paul Bremer, the American viceroy for Iraq, stated the obviousthat the U.S. occupation forces had had a bad day. Both the Bush administration and the American people better get ready for many more.
Although the U.S. military maintains that Secretary Wolfowitz was not the target of the attack, that spin is doubtful. Officials base that conclusion on indications that the attack was planned some months ahead of time and that Wolfowitzs visit had not been announced. But, of course, the attackers could have staked out the hotel, where many occupation VIPs and visiting luminaries hang their hats, and waited in the weeds for high profile prey to arrive. Wolfowitz, the architect of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, would have been a lucrative target. Another indication that the attackers might have known about Wolfowitzs visit was the discovery of a roadside bomb on the secretarys planned motorcade route.
That spin by the U.S. military would not have been the first attempt to spin away bad news. Recently, the military admitted that a Blackhawk helicopter crashed, injuring its crew. But in an attempt to blunt the adverse initial impact of the news of the crash, the military claimed uncertainty about whether or not the helicopter was brought down by hostile enemy fire. No matter that the military knew, at the time, that Iraqi guerrillas had been firing potent weapons at the Blackhawk. Similarly, when asked about a recent Iraqi guerrilla attack that injured 13 service personnel, instead of admitting that the incident occurred, the military initially said that it was under investigation.
The American occupation authority would have every reason to deny that Wolfowitz had been targeted. The occupation authority realizes that if he had been, the Iraqi opposition forces must have had some very good intelligence on the authoritys planned activities. In addition, both the Iraqis and the world would likely conclude that the vaunted U.S. military could not even ensure the safety of an important civilian boss at one of the most protected sites in Iraq. Iraqis might reach the reasonable conclusion that if the U.S. military has trouble protecting such an important VIP, it cannot protect them either. That insecurity might cause many Iraqis to quit cooperating with the American occupation.
Whether or not Wolfowitz was specifically targeted, the overall situation in Iraq is not getting any better for the Bush administrationas the subsequent spate of coordinated suicide bombings shows. The administration insists that the American press is not focusing on the good news in Iraqfor example, that the schools have reopened and the streets are cleaner. Of course, the administration is assuming that most of the American press and people ever really cared about the Iraqis. Sadly, the invasion and occupation of Iraq has always been mainly about us. Many Americans delighted in seeing U.S. servicemen drape old glory, however briefly for the photo opportunity, over the statue of Saddam Hussein in downtown Baghdad. And for most of the war and its aftermath, the American press has concentrated on U.S. military casualtieswhat American viewers, listeners and readers are most interested inand ignored those of the Iraqis. As in Vietnamwhere the United States won every battle (the good news of that war) but high U.S. body counts eventually caused the American public to demand a withdrawalthe drip, drip, drip of bad news can kill the joy of a good foreign adventure.
And the trouble has just begun. Data shows that the attacks in Iraq are becoming more frequent, sophisticated and deadly. But the United States has not been successful in getting foreign nations to help out by sending their troops. And throwing more U.S. forces into the incipient quagmire would belie administration claims of improved security and, with an election coming up, could very well be political suicide. Thus, the administration seems to see an escalation of violence to root out the attackers as its only choice. Although keeping overall troop levels constant in Iraq, the military is rushing more forces to the most unstable Sunni Triangle area. The plan is to draw out the guerrillas and kill them. But to do so would kill many more Iraqi civilians. Increased civilian deaths could very well be the last straw for many Iraqis. Already, polls indicate that less than 15 percent of Iraqis regard U.S. forces as liberators, as opposed to 43 percent six months ago. The numbers are unlikely to go back up.
Even if Paul Bremers latest spin that the bad days in Iraq will be outnumbered by good days comes true, enough bad daysthat is, spectacular attacks on prominent sites or large numbers of occupation personnelcould sink the Bush administrations Iraqi excursion.
Ivan Eland is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute. Dr. Eland is a graduate of Iowa State University and received an M.B.A. in applied economics and Ph.D. in national security policy from George Washington University. He has been Director of Defense Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, and he spent 15 years working for Congress on national security issues, including stints as an investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office. He is author of the books Partitioning for Peace: An Exit Strategy for Iraq, and Recarving Rushmore.
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