A Sad Litany of Failures
How could the American public not be confused about Iraq when our leaders speak of progress but our secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, suffers a triple humiliation, having to circle Baghdad airport for 40 minutes because of mortar and rocket fire, then being helicoptered into the city because driving the deadly bomb-strewn highway is too dangerous, and, finally, having to meet with the Iraqi president in the dark because the power has cut off yet again?
Nobody was entitled to think the Iraq venture would be roses all the way, given that Saddam Hussein had repressed Iraqis for three decades, depriving the nation of a cadre of local leaders like, say, Hamid Karzai in Kabul. But we had a vision of what might have been achieved. It would not be too much to say it was a noble vision, but it was not one grounded in the hard reality of a fractured, multiethnic society. Saddam held his citizens down by brutality and cunning, not giving religious leaders a key role, as we did, yet subtly balancing religious rivalries one against the other. Shiites account for some 60 percent of Iraq's population, and for them democracy means empowerment. But the Sunnis, who had dominated under Saddam for so long, were never going to accept minority status, and the Kurds were not going to accept anything less than de facto sovereignty, which they obtained after the 1991 Gulf War.
Occupiers. Alas, whatever chances we may have had to overcome these difficulties have been torpedoed by the breathtaking incompetence of the Bush administration in managing postwar Iraq. Senior officials from the president on down ignored warnings that we might win the war and lose the peace. Gen. Tommy Franks won the battle for Baghdad but seemed to feel that planning for the postwar period was someone else's job. But whose? We sent an inept group of operatives to run Iraq, often appointed because of their political leanings. Whatever support we originally enjoyed there we began to lose when we allowed criminals to rampage. Then the Americans, fabled for their can-do efficiency, failed again and again to deliver electricity, water, and, most critically, security. Today, the violence is estimated by one account to have cost more than 600,000 Iraqis their lives.
The president's most devastating appointment was of Paul Bremer to lead the Coalition Provisional Authority. Bremer seemed to feel that he was Gen. Douglas MacArthur in Japan-despite our objective to have Iraqi faces at the head of the government, so that this would not seem like an American occupation. Perhaps the single most damaging move in postwar Iraq was Bremer's decision to proceed-over the warnings of the CIA and others-with the program of general de-Baathification, followed by the swift dissolution of the Iraqi military, placing tens of thousands of armed Saddam supporters on the streets with no jobs. The result was to dissolve one of the few unifying forces in this multiethnic country and risk Iraq tearing itself to pieces. Bremer, in effect, created a class of disenfranchised Iraqi leaders and then supplied them with rank-and-file members. Instead of our employing a trained pool of tens of thousands to restore order and services, he not only put them out of work, but he left them to work for the gathering insurgency. Thus we came to be seen not as liberators but as occupiers.