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A Report Card: G. W. Bush's Venture in Iraq
 


As the Bush administration's days came to an end on January 20, 2009, almost six years after the war against Iraq, which started on March 20, 2003, it is worthwhile to take stock of what the Bush White House has accomplished there.
 
The declared agenda
The declared objectives behind the occupation of Iraq by Washington, and London, were many. On top of the propagated list was the finding and the destruction of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Such weapons, however, were never found before or after the invasion. Indeed, the WMD claim had been contradicted by the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as late before the war as February 2003. WMD was a "convenient justification" for war, said Hans Blix, who was in charge of UNMOVIC's Iraq search.  By confessing that he would still have joined the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq even if he had known Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction, Tony Blair confirmed that the WMD story was an excuse.
 
Among the hoped for objectives were a secular and democratic Iraq, linked closely to US corporations and investors, and friendly to Israel--a model for the Arab world to emulate.

 
The hidden agenda
There were also hidden objectives. These may be inferred from statements and actions made by the G. W. Bush administration. In naming Iran as a member of the “Axis of Evil” in his State of the Union address on January 29, 2002 and placing Syria under sanction on May 11, 2004, President Bush made his intentions clear; Iraq's regime change was the opening salvo in a grand war to reshape the Middle East. Under a Bush/Cheney pax-Americana plan, regime changes in Tehran and Damascus would follow that of Baghdad. In his memoirs, released on September 1, 2010, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair revealed that "Damascus was next on Mr. Cheney’s hit list". The new Middle East would: 1) Hand Washington control over the entirety of Middle East crude oil, 2) achieve a peace agreement between Syria and Israel on terms favorable to Israel, 3) eliminate Hizbollah from Lebanon and Hamas from from the Gaza Strip.
 

The cost
The Bush White House failed to achieve its grand plan. Indeed, the opposite has happened. Regime changes in Tehran and Damascus, not only failed to materialize, but the Bush administration's elimination of the Talibans in 2001 and Saddam’s regime in 2003 made Iran a regional powerhouse. On April 9, 2003, when US forces captured Baghdad, Washington handed control in Mesopotamia to Iraq’s 60% Shiite majority after a thousand years of Arab Sunni control. On April 9, 2003, the U.S. won the battle against a tattered Iraq, but Iran without firing a shot won the war for Iraq. The British think tank, Chatham House, concluded in August 2006. “The greatest problem facing the U.S. is that Iran has superseded it as the most influential power in Iraq.”
 
Iraq adopted in 2005 a new Islamist constitution, not a secular constitution, tinged with Iranian wilayat al-faqih odor (rulership by an unelected Shiite cleric). The head of Iran's powerful ultra-conservative Guardian Council, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati told Friday worshipers in Tehran on August 26, 2005: "Fortunately, after years of effort and expectation in Iraq, an Islamic state has come to power and the constitution has been established on the basis of Islamic precepts".  
 
From the Abu Ghraib Prison, the image of American decency and fair play was shattered. From the devastated Anbar, Baghdad, Fallujah, Mosul, Najaf, Ramadi, Samarra, Tikrit, and Tal-Afar, with thousands upon thousands of children, women, and men killed and maimed, in addition to the more than four million refugees, Arab and Muslim enmity to American policies, sadly, has deepened to a frightening level.
 
In the process more than 4,300 American soldiers were killed, 30,000 injured, US$700 billion wasted, possibly three times as much in terms of economic cost. These figures turned out to be considerably higher than the prewar forecasts. In early January 2003, a few weeks before the invasion, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld put the number at under $50 billion. "How much of that would be the US’s burden, and how much would be other countries, is an open question," Rumsfeld said. Not only were the financial forecasts wildly off, the US Central Command’s war plan postulated in August 2002 that the United States would have only 5,000 troops left in Iraq by December 2006, a far cry from the 140,000 US military personnel on the ground in Iraq at the end of December 2008. In Iraq, “America is living a nightmare with no end in sight” warned the former commander of coalition forces in Iraq, retired general Ricardo Sanchez in October 2007.
 
The motives

Why was the Iraq project undertaken? The simple answer is that the benefits were perceived by the Bush administration to outweigh the cost. Groups with different agendas pushed for the occupation of Iraq to serve their narrow parochial self-interests.
 
Leading the charge were the oil men who wanted to control Iraq’s 113 billion barrels in proven reserves and then go after Iran’s 90 billion barrels; the chiefs of the military-industrial complex who were tantalized by new opportunities to sell expensive arms systems and gain huge contracts to reconstruct war-ravaged infrastructure; Israel’s lobbyists who sought to demolish Iraq’s fighting capabilities and, later, those of Iran and Syria as well; the evangelical Christians who fantasize over speeding up the return of Christ; the neo-con ideologues who found in the War on Terror a replacement for the Cold War; and Tehran’s cunning Iraqi moles who were bent on luring the US not only to hand them the keys to Baghdad but also hand Tehran control of the predominantly Shiite southern Iraq. Together, these parties administered a sugarcoated bitter pill to the American people.
 
Notable among those Iraqis was Ahmad Chalabi. Befriending many of the men in the highest offices of the Bush administration, Chalabi provided what later proved to be false information regarding Iraq’s WMDs. In the Spring of 2004, rumors circulated in Washington that Chalabi had been duping the Americans all along while spying for Iran. With the approval and funding from Washington, Chalabi had maintained an office in Iran.
 
Until his death on August 26, 2009 in Tehran, Abdulaziz Al-Hakeem  was the head of SCIRI and the Badr Brigade (his son Ammar inherited  the mantle). The Badr Brigade, a militia financed, trained, and equipped by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard fought on the side of Tehran in the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988). On December 21, 2006, US troops raided Al-Hakeem’s compound in Baghdad and detained two members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. He and his older brother, Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir, fled to Iran in 1980. As Baghdad fell in April 2003, Abdulaziz was appointed to the American-appointed Iraqi Governing Council. Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir Al-Hakeem was assassinated in Najaf in August 2003. Iran declared three days of official mourning following his assassination.
 
The senior leaders of the Islamic Daawa Party are closely linked to Tehran as well. Ibrahim Al-Jaafari, spent twenty years in exile in Iran. He became Iraq’s transitional prime minister in April 2005. Nouri Al-Maliki succeeded Al-Jaafari in April 2006 as Iraq’s first full-term prime minister. Al-Maliki, a hard-line activist, spent two decades in exile in Iran and Syria.
 
Disengagement

Six years after the occupation, Washington finds itself in an untenable position. Staying means facing several possible fronts: a nationalist war of liberation, a Shiite-Sunni sectarian confrontation, and a Shiite-Shiite turf war (for more on this see: A Verdict on the Surge). The cost of staying is high, especially when it is to protect anti-American ayatollahs and Iraqi politicians linked to Tehran (for more on this see: The March of Shiism).
 
As the cost of the war mounts, Washington will sooner or later withdraw its forces from Iraq. Indeed, the Obama administration announced plans to withdraw the majority of American forces by the end of 2010. When this happens, Iraq will be left plagued by sectarian and ethnic divisions. The occupation of Iraq will leave behind a Middle East rife with Shiite-Sunni conflicts, spilling rivers of blood in the decades to come and breeding hardened terrorists, until and unless Iraq’s Sunnis and the Sunni majorities in the neighboring countries manage to either halt the march of Shiism or accept Iran’s hegemony.
 
The paradox between the fantasy and the reality is astounding. How did such a situation develop?
 
Anatomy of failure

It was the lack of knowledge by the Bush administration’s war managers about Arab history, Islam, Sunnism, and Shiism. It was their ignorance of Arab social and cultural subtleties and the makeup and dynamics of Iraq's religio-ethnic structures, let alone those of other Arab countries. Many of the Bush administration’s “experts” had never visited Iraq or any Arab country before the occupation, let alone studied Arabic, or read the Quran, or deliberated its message from an Arab or Muslim perspective. Most of these “experts” do not speak Arabic. They had little or no contact with Arabs, Arabic food, Arabic music, or the Arab way of life, save for a life-long indoctrination from anti-Arab and anti-Islam rhetoric in Hollywood movies or hostile and prejudiced Madison Avenue prototypes of Arabs and Muslims as dirty, nasty, violent, and nefarious beings. It was the arrogance of power, the feeling of self-righteousness, the belief that God is on "our" side,  and that the gun can settle all conflicts that led to the endless waves of shock-and-awe bombardment of Baghdad. The natural outcome of such a mindset is escalating violence, especially when martyrdom-seeking jihadists are at the receiving end.

This ignorance was also behind the wishful thinking, or the mistaken belief that the Arab masses everywhere would want to copy the American "democratic" model in Iraq. These experts failed to foresee that the masses would regard the American occupation as an anti-Islam colonial adventure. These “experts” could have never imagined that the Quran may be transformed into a weapon against occupation. Iraqis in their millions did not turn out to welcome America’s soldiers with roses, as Washington’s Iraqi “friends” had promised. Most seriously, however, is the feeling of enmity that this war has engendered in the collective memory of generations of Arabs and Muslims to come.
 
In their book, A World Transformed, former president George Bush (Sr.) and Brent Scowcroft wrote on why the first Bush administration decided against occupying Iraq in 1991: “Had we gone the invasion route, the United States could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land. It would have been a dramatically different—and perhaps barren—outcome.”
 
In March 1991, when he was defense secretary, Dick Cheney toed his superiors’ line. He said on ABC-TV, in answer to a question as to why US forces did not go to Baghdad to remove Saddam Hussein from power:

“I think for us to get American military personnel involved in a civil war inside Iraq would literally be a quagmire. Once we got to Baghdad, what would we do? Who would we put in power? What kind of government? Would it be a Sunni government, a Shi’ite government, a Kurdish government? Would it be secular, along the lines of the Baath party? Would it be fundamentalist Islamic. I do not think the United States wants to have US military forces accept casualties and accept responsibility of trying to govern Iraq. It makes no sense at all.”
 
To pretend that the failures are only tactical in an otherwise sound strategy is to put on a brave face with a brazen political spin. To blame the failures on Iraq’s ethnic and sectarian divisions or on the meddling of neighbors is to run away from responsibility. Was it not the American occupation that released these demons in the first place? History will remember Iraq as Mr. George W. Bush’s gift to Iran, a strategic blunder of gigantic proportions. The followers of Shiism will  forever be grateful. The Arab Sunni masses will never forget or forgive.      

As for those former officials of the Bush administration who were relentless in their eagerness for the war and who later found it convenient to blame the failures on the Bush administration’s mismanagement, such finger pointing is morally deficient. Two leading neo-cons, Richard Perle and Kenneth Adelman, attacked the Bush team in Vanity Fair Magazine. Both had been senior defense department officials and members of a Pentagon advisory board. Both had argued vociferously for war in Iraq. Richard Perle declared that had he known how it would turn out, he would have been against it. “I think now I probably would have said, ‘No, let’s consider other strategies.’” Kenneth Adelman said, “They turned out to be among the most incompetent teams in the post-war era . . . Not only did each of them, individually, have enormous flaws, but together they were deadly, dysfunctional.” Donald Rumsfeld “fooled me,” Adelman added.
 
In a speech in October 2007 the former commander of coalition forces in Iraq, retired general Ricardo Sanchez labeled his political leaders as “incompetent” and “corrupted” and declared that they would have faced courts martial for dereliction of duty had they been in the military.

 
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