George Bush may have lost his mojo, but he sure hasn’t lost his chutzpa. The architect of the disaster in Iraq may be responsible for the mess in Mesopotamia, but he won’t take responsibility for getting us out. Instead, the buck-passer-in-chief is maneuvering politically to try and pin the blame on the democrats when (in all likelihood) the so-called surge fizzles and the ungrateful volcano, as Winston Churchill once described Iraq, really erupts.
Tragically, thoughtful Middle Eastern experts agree that the surge probably represents Iraq’s last best chance to avoid sinking into a Hobbesian Hell. But they also agree that any military surge has to be accompanied by a diplomatic surge. Unfortunately, Condoleezza and Stephen Hadley simply don’t represent the A-Team when it comes to the foreign policy heavy hitters America needs to hammer out a political deal between the warring Sunni, Shia, and Kurdish factions. Put simply, the administration desperately needs political fixers with the savvy and stature of James Baker and George Schulz, but what they’ve got is second stringers at best. Alas, the incompetence of Donald Rumsfeld, Alberto Gonzales, Michael Brown, and Harriet Miers, isn’t the exception with this administration, it’s the rule.
Some, like Middle Eastern expert Faoud Ajami, are calling our mission in Iraq a “noble failure.” Sure, and Don Quixote’s campaign against the windmills he mistook for adversarial knights might be counted as a noble failure too (or simply a preposterous undertaking, if you happen to be a member of the reality-based community). With Don Quixote, of course, one could question his sanity, but not his intentions. With Bush, however, the war profiteering of private contractors tied to the administration, the interests of U.S. oil giants allied with the Bush Administration, and the short-term political advantage his administration gained from going to war with Iraq will forever cast a shadow over this whole tragic endeavor.
It was geopolitical madness to invade Iraq the way the Bush Administration did. The first rule of statecraft is to divide conquer. This can mean forging alliances of convenience based on common interests for the sake of isolating enemies. Following 9/11, for instance, Iran and Syria cooperated in going after al-Qaeda, and the Iranians in particular were very helpful in going after their natural enemies, the Taliban. Bush’s axis-of-evil speech and the invasion of Iraq changed this dynamic entirely. Iran and Syria, after all, had every reason to believe they were next in line for regime change.
The American invasion of Iraq has: 1) dramatically increased the influence of Iranian hardliners throughout the region, 2) helped turn Iraq into a failed state al-Qaeda can use to recruit and train a new generation of terrorists, 3) decimated America’s reputation, leaving it isolated, drained, without good options. Put simply, no country in the Persian Gulf has a stake in seeing America succeed in Iraq, and the most important ones have a stake in see America’s fail.
On the home front, Bush has lost the confidence of about 70% of the population, and it’s fair to say that most democrats and independents are so enraged by Bush’s political demagoguery that they feel totally alienated from their president. In other words, almost four years into an excruciatingly difficult war, almost no one outside of Bush’s increasingly narrow base is invested in his success.
It’s getting so bad that even the Bush Dynasty’s closest ally in the region, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, recently blasted America’s presence in Iraq as an “illegitimate foreign occupation.” This is a clear signal that America’s traditional partners in the region see the United States’ role in the Middle East as waning. Everyone – the Iranians, the Iraqis, the Saudis, and al-Qaeda – is waiting for the day America exits Iraq. As an angry young Arab was quoted: “You Americans should stay out of our region. You divided Korea, Vietnam, and now Iraq. Please just go.”
Seeing phantom WMD that didn’t exist was the Bush Administration’s first delusion. Trying to impose democracy by force (which is a contradiction in terms) was its second delusion. And stubbornly clinging to the same failed strategy in spite of all evidence and advice pointing in the opposite direction is the administration’s third and most tragic delusion. In an image suggested by Bill Clinton: The Bush Administration is like the guy who has dug himself into a hole, but insists on using a bigger shovel to dig himself out.
Insanity and irony often go hand in hand. As terrorism expert Lawrence Wright notes, America had all but defeated al-Qaeda prior to the invasion of Iraq. The campaign in Afghanistan had killed or captured most of the movement’s top leaders, and the rest had scattered without a state to operate from. Invading Iraq was Bush’s gift to bin Laden, a gift that will keep on giving for generations. Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, how crazy is that?
The Bush Administration ushered America into Iraq by hyping a worst-case scenario that was largely a figment of its imagination (Saddam’s smoking gun becoming a mushroom cloud). Four years later, the Bush Administration aims to keep America in Iraq by hyping a worst-case scenario (Iraq will become a terrorist training ground and the entire region will be dominated by anti-American jihadists controlling the world’s oil supply) made possible by its misadventure in Iraq. Morality and logic would seem to dictate that we do everything we can to avoid leaving Iraq far worse off than it was under Saddam. But nothing I’ve seen so far indicates that the Bush Administration can achieve this aim.
Anyone who supports the so-called surge must recognize it is nothing more than a gamble. At this stage the America has little left to lose, except the lives of U.S. troops. Victory, in any meaningful sense, is no longer possible, as the mission has morphed into avoiding defeat. Baghdad Bob, Saddam Hussein’s loony Information Minister, once claimed Americans were arriving in Baghdad to commit suicide. Everyone thought he was nuts at the time, but his words seems as eerily prophetic as those uttered by King Lear’s “fool”(in Shakespeare’s grim play concerning a state unwisely divided).
The Bush Administration has created a predicament every bit as crazy as the scenario depicted in David Lean’s classic anti-war picture The Bridge on the River Kwai. In the film an inflexible allied POW commander (Alec Guinness), trying to reinstall discipline and boost moral within the ranks, unwittingly puts his men to work in the cause of building a railway bridge that will aid their Japanese captors. Perversely, he then prevents a group of allied saboteurs from blowing up the bridge out of a stubborn pride of not wanting to see his handiwork destroyed. Realizing his tragic error too late – Academy Award winner Alec Guinness’ “what have I done?” moment – he inadvertently detonates the bridge when he falls mortally wounded. A little farfetched, perhaps, but truth is far stranger than fiction, especially when on realizes that Bush’s invasion of Iraq has only backfired to the advantage of Iran, al-Qaeda, and jihadists throughout the region, and that anyone who questions the war in Iraq is accused of sabotaging America’s efforts. “Madness,” cries the one sane character left in The Bridge on the River Kwai, “sheer madness.”