To the Bush administration’s relief, world media attention has focused intensely on whether the fractious Iraqis will meet the now extended deadline to create a constitution that can be put to a national referendum on October 15. As in U.S. election campaigns, the media are focusing on the short-term “horse race”that is, how the process is goingrather than on the long-term ramifications of the issues decided.
The media’s focus on whether the Bush administration’s forced timetable is met, rather than on the quality and likely impact of the resulting constitution, serves the administration’s purpose of creating the illusion of progress. Thus, victory can be declared and American troops can begin coming home. After all, the congressional elections are next year, and by then, the Democrats will be feisty over a war that is getting ever less popular here at home.
And an illusion it is. Earlier this summer, Brig. Gen. Donald Alston, the top U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, made the astounding admission that the war in Iraq was lost militarily when he said: “[T]his insurgency is not going to be settled, the terrorists and the terrorism in Iraq is not going to be settled, through military options or military operations.” He then pointed his finger to the political process for a solution.
Yet, artificially forcing the Iraqis to reach a definitive agreement on fundamental issuessuch as autonomy for Kurdish and Shi’ite areas (federalism), the role of Islam and women in Iraqi society, and the fate of the oil-rich city of Kirkukwill likely make any Iraqi Constitution as irrelevant as those of neighboring Arab states. On paper, many Arab states have liberal constitutions, but they do not have the political culture or institutions to sustain an open political system. If Iraq doesn’t descend into civil war quickly, perhaps the administration can pull off this façade and exit Iraq with some dignity.
Whether Iraq gets a freshly minted constitution or not, however, it is regrettably most likely on a trajectory toward all-out civil war. Although the issue of federalism has been on the table in Iraqi constitutional deliberations, it has long been decided on the ground. The United States never seized the abundant weapons possessed by Iraq’s numerous ethnic militias, who are ready to go after each other over all of the issues being debated by the Iraqi constitutional commission. The question is whether U.S. troops will be caught in the middle of that internecine conflict or whether President Bush will tacitly admit his mistake and save them from further futile and dangerous duty amid the escalating mayhem.
Although the president’s intentions are currently murky, the upcoming congressional elections, pressure from his own military to exit Iraq to avoid breaking the force, and his strange rush to adhere to an unrealistic timetable to build a viable Iraqi constitution and government seem to indicate that he may be headed down the latter path. The desire to keep new military bases near the Persian Gulf oilfields may have been tempered by the realization that continued chaos in their host country dramatically lessens their viability.
Politicians rarely admit making a blunder, and this president’s nature makes him even less likely to do so than most. Although it will be tough for some Democratic activists to swallow, allowing the administration to save face, declare victory, and begin leaving the Iraqi quagmire would be the best situation for all concernedespecially for the American soldiers who are being sacrificed in the unnecessary and pointless invasion and occupation of this sovereign country. Believe it or not, the best alternative now is admitting defeat, without publicly acknowledging it, and withdrawing American troops from Iraq before the civil war begins.
History will be the ultimate judge of President Bush’s invasion of Iraq. Perhaps it will be seen in the same light as Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1991, although with less looting and brutality by the invading force and more by the invaded country’s own citizens. For now, let’s allow the president to save face and begin bringing to a close this sorry chapter in the history of the great American republic.
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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