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Iraq, Iran and the Folly of Faith-Based Foreign Policy

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Message Randolph Holhut
CHESTER, Vt. - The latest New York Times/CBS News poll has President Bush's approval rating down to 34 percent. More telling, though, is that 83 percent of those who responded to the poll say Bush is either "hiding something or mostly lying" about how things are going in Iraq.

This is the logical conclusion of what former Ambassador Peter Galbraith called the Bush administration's "substitution of ideology for national security strategy, of wishful thinking for reality."

Galbraith appeared with former United Nations weapons inspector Scott Ritter here on Oct. 7. They delivered brutally frank assessments of the ongoing U.S. occupation in Iraq and the possibility of a U.S. attack on Iran during a two-hour joint presentation.

Both men have just come out with pertinent books on the current situation in the Middle East.

Galbraith, who was the first U.S. ambassador to Croatia and who helped negotiate an end to the war in that country in 1995, says his new book, "The End of Iraq," is partly a memoir of his two decades of involvement in Iraq, partly a critique of U.S. policy since 2003 and partly "a prescription for what I think should happen next (in Iraq)."

Ritter, a former Marine Corps intelligence officer who was the top UN weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991 to 1998, has written extensively on Iraq over the past four years. But in his latest book, "Target Iran," Ritter switches his focus to the Bush administration's plans for that country.

Neither man was particularly optimistic about the future of Iraq, and that lack of optimism can be traced back to the aftermath of the U.S. invasion and how it was handled. The looting and chaos following the fall of Baghdad in April 2003, Galbraith said, set the tone for what followed.

"The Pentagon failed to do even the most elementary planning for the postwar period," said Galbraith. "To the Iraqis, the perception was that we were either so incompetent that we could not secure their country or so evil that we allowed the chaos to happen."

The outcome, Galbraith said, was a classic example of "the first victim of propaganda is the propagandist. ... They wanted to transform Iraq by making it a democratic state and, in the process, transform the Middle East. This was their vision, an incredibly radical thing to do."

Galbraith described this thinking as "faith-based military strategy," and said it was a disaster waiting to happen. He said the Bush administration now cannot win this war, "if winning is defined as creating a stable and democratic Iraq. If we're not going to build a unified, democratic Iraq, then we should change the mission to fit the resources and realities."

Some of those realities include the formation of a separate Kurdish republic, something that is now all but official in Iraq. As the most stable, pro-U.S. part of Iraq, Galbraith believes it is the most logical place to withdraw U.S. troops to.

As it stands now, Galbraith believes the current U.S. force is powerless to intervene in the ongoing civil war without substantially increasing troop strength and taking over more of the responsibility for security - something that would greatly increase the risk of heavy U.S. causalities.

"Events in Iraq are happening beyond our power to influence them," said Galbraith. "Civil wars have their own dynamic and once they get started; they empower the extremists on both sides."

Ritter was even more blunt about the situation in Iraq.

"We're losing," he said. "We're getting our butts handed to us."

But even more frustrating to Ritter is what he believes is a general lack of understanding by most Americans about what war is really about.

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Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 25 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at
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