When the U.S. needed support from the very Iraqis on whose behalf American soldiers were dying, there was none.
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No better was the Iraqi military. A new army battalion refused to go into combat in Fallujah. Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton explained that they said they had not signed up to fight other Iraqis. Gen. Eaton preferred to refer to this mutiny by the Orwellian moniker “a command failure.”
A handful of intellectuals courageously endorsed allied action. But where were the mass of Iraqis? Fortunately, most did not join the uprising. Many probably disdained the resistance. Some undoubtedly are genuinely committed to a liberal, democratic future.
BUT THOSE WHO ACTED almost all joined in the attack on American and coalition forces. Sunnis and Shiites, who normally hate each other, came together to combat the foreign infidels. The diverse mix of terrorists, insurgents, militiamen, and rioters may remain small in number, but it is no longer as small as it was. Even a relatively modest number of violent resisters is likely to dominate an inert silent majority, if one even exists.
Despite some 100 American military dead, numerous civilian contractors killed and their corpses mutilated, a number of U.S. personnel captured, and tanks, helicopters, and supply convoys destroyed, the occupation authority will regain control of the rebellious cities. But the Iraq of today is not the same as the Iraq of last month.
Hundreds of Iraqis are dead and neighborhoods across the country are smoldering. As one unnamed State Department official told the New York Times, “Six months of work is completely gone. There is nothing to show for it.”
THE FUTURE DOESN’T look better. House-to-house resistance and mob control of cities are different in kind from sporadic attacks on U.S. forces through improvised explosive devices and sniping.
Moreover, the events in April are likely the beginning, not the end. Insurgents now will roam in Shiite as well as Sunni areas. No foreigner, and especially no American, can feel safe anywhere in Iraq. Nor can genuinely liberal Iraqis, those few dedicated to the kind of society which the U.S. wants to build.
Few nations are likely to aid Washington in an increasingly difficult fight. The Washington Post, normally a sober voice, editorialized: “Remarkably, major U.S. allies with capable military forces, ranging from Germany and France to Turkey, India and Pakistan, continue to watch from the sidelines as Iraq flirts with a catastrophe that would be deeply damaging to their own interests.”
But what sane foreign leader would choose to enter into a conflict that his people opposed and which has been so badly bungled by America? Some coalition members already are looking for the exit and even those that stay aren’t necessarily much help. The Ukrainian force fled Kut after one death and five injuries.
SOME OCCUPATION ENTHUSIASTS want to respond with greater repression. Stop “conducting a campaign that is hopelessly apologetic and appeasing,” argues Peter Schwartz, chairman of the board of the Ayn Rand institute, in a column for CNSNEWS.com. Just impose the constitution and leaders we favor and kill anyone who objects.
That’s one strategy but we don’t have the stomach for such a brutal approach. And even if we did, it likely would not bring nationalistic Iraqis to heel. It would merely ensure a longer and more intense guerrilla campaign.
We should all hope that Iraq eventually makes its way towards liberal democracy. But we should have no illusions about being able to impose that model upon a people who are growing increasingly restive under the U.S. occupation.
“I still believe that most Iraqis are with us,” says Secretary of State Colin Powell and he may be correct. Certainly the Kurds back us but they would prefer to be out of, not in, a united Iraq. As for the rest of the population, if the majority won’t fight for us they might as well be against us.
Instead of attempting to live out its unrealistic democratic dream, the administration must face reality. As it turns over sovereignty to Iraqis, it should begin planning for the full withdrawal of U.S. forces in months, not years.
Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and a former special assistant to President Ronald Reagan.
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