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Iraq - What's Next?

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Recently, there've been a series of revelations about Iraq. Retired generals attacked Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, described him as a bully. Their statements told us a lot about the actual operation of Rumsfeld and the rest of the Bush gang, what they should have done but didn't. Unfortunately, these remarks didn't address the big question: Given what we know about Dubya, what'll he do next in Iraq? And what can we do about it?

In the April 17th Time Magazine, Retired Marine General Greg Newbold deplored the Bush Administration actions leading to the invasion of Iraq. "An unnecessary war," he said, "[One where] the commitment of our forces to this fight was done with a casualness and swagger." Newbold recommended, "Replacing Rumsfeld and many others unwilling to fundamentally change their approach" It is time for senior military leaders to discard caution in expressing their views and ensure that the President hears them clearly."

Sounds good. But how likely is it that Dubya will fire Rumsfeld, Cheney, and the others in his inner circle that supported his desire to invade Iraq? Pretty unlikely, judging from what Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor say in Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq. Their long book""almost 600 pages with appendices""is essential reading for anyone who wants to know the awful truth about how the Iraq debacle came about. It paints a picture of an insular President surrounded by a tight clique that ardently support his warped perspective.

Evidently, Bush came into office determined to do something about Iraq. Gordon and Trainer write that on December 19, 2000, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton had a private meeting in the White House. "Clinton told Bush that he had read his campaign statements carefully and his impression was that his two priorities were national missile defense and Iraq. Bush said this was right. Clinton proposed a different set of priorities, which included Al Qaeda, Middle East diplomacy, North Korea, the nuclear competition in South Asia and, only then, Iraq. Bush did not respond."

After his inauguration, President Bush surrounded himself with people who shared his preoccupation with Iraq. The inner White House circle was so obsessed with defeating Saddam Hussein that, after 9/11, they precipitously shifted focus from the hunt for Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and began planning to invade Iraq.

According to Gordon and Trainer, the Administration "committed five grievous errors" during the planning and execution of the invasion. First, "They underestimated their opponent and failed to understand the welter of ethnic groups and tribes that is Iraq." Second, "they did not bring the right tools to the fight and put too much confidence in technology." Third, "They failed to adapt to developments on the ground;" they did not recognize the rise of the insurgency. Fourth, "They presided over a system in which differing military and political perspectives were discouraged"""what the generals have been complaining about. Finally, "they turned their backs on" nation-building."

There's a tendency for writers such as General Newbold to argue that if the President replaced his closest advisers then he'd make better decisions. They believe that if new faces surrounded Bush, he'd realize that the occupation of Iraq is a disaster and start developing alternative strategies.

But, it's a mistake to dismiss Dubya as a weak President, as someone who does whatever his advisers tell him. Bush knows his own mind. Liberals think that he's stupid, because his unscripted remarks often border on incoherence. But, Dubya is a savvy political operator. And, he's deeply conservative. He holds a few unshakeable beliefs: government is bad, taxing the rich hurts the economy, and the key to US global supremacy lies in our use of the military.

Bush proponents often point out how "determined" he is. They confuse his inflexibility with stalwartness. Bush's presidency has been characterized by an unwillingness to change his position, for any reason. The Gordon and Trainer book illustrates that Bush would not change his predilection to invade Iraq even when it became apparent that Saddam Hussein was not an imminent threat to America. Further, he would not reconsider his occupation strategy even when it became clear that it was not working. Once Dubya starts down a road, he stays on it, regardless of what obstacles show up.

Before the 2000 election, we were warned about George Bush. Texas observers cautioned that behind his facile bonhomie lurked a narrow, petulant, narcissist; someone who surrounded himself with a small cadre of advisers with similar personalities. Writing in The New York Review of Books, veteran political analyst Elizabeth Drew observed, "One disturbing aspect of the close working relationship between Bush and [presidential adviser Karl] Rove is that each man is capable of deep and lasting resentments" [They share] mutually reinforcing anger." Unfortunately, Drew's characterization is also true of the relationship between Bush and Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld, and Condi Rice. Bush is not going to sack those few of his intimates who share his warped worldview. And, outside his tight inner circle, he greets reasoned disagreement not with interest, but with hostility.

America faces 32 more months of the Bush gang. And, Dubya's not going to change his position on Iraq. He's not going to admit mistakes. He's not going to fire anyone that helped him make them. The war in Iraq will drag on.

The only hope for change comes from the possibility that in November the Democrats will gain control of either the House or Senate. If that happens, the Dems might force a change in Iraq policy.

Unfortunately, the President's history shows that he doesn't make accommodations to his adversaries. He is inflexible and angry.

It's not a happy picture: George Bush as the crazed captain who is willing to take the good ship America over the falls, rather than admit to error. But, it's accurate. Hopefully, seeing Bush as he really is will spur us all to take action.
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Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. In a previous life he was one of the executive founders of Cisco Systems.
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