Quagmire in the Sun
August 19, 2003
Sometimes our enemies have a point. Realizing
this is part of growing up, and some people never make it.
When the United States
conquered Iraq a few months ago, we were told that the Iraqi people were
gratefully welcoming the American troops who had liberated them from
Saddam Husseins tyranny. Were hearing from the
grateful ones now, someone remarked. Well hear
from the others later.
We are indeed hearing from the
others, as U.S. soldiers and UN personnel are shot and blown up daily. There
is precious little sign that the Iraqis are still thankful, if they ever were,
for their putative liberation. We can only guess why this is so.
Last week, as you may possibly
have heard, the northeastern United States were struck by an enormous
power failure. For a few hours, millions of Americans found themselves
suddenly without electricity in 90-degree weather. They werent
happy about it, and there has been much pointing of accusing fingers, but
its generally agreed that it was an accident.
But just imagine the reaction if
it had been the work of a foreign government. And imagine how wed
feel if we were a poor, weak country that couldnt retaliate, while
enemy troops, having cut off our electricity, moved in and occupied us.
Imagine that the power outage went on for months, while the temperature
rose as high as 125 degrees.
Might some of us have been
tempted to strike at those occupation troops? Would we have called
Americans who did so terrorists or patriots?
Of course Im describing what has actually happened in
Baghdad, where the general reaction to the news of our power outage was
that we were getting a small taste of our own medicine. The New
York Times quotes one Iraqi who recalls that after the 1991 Gulf
war Saddam Hussein restored electrical power within two months. No
doubt millions of Iraqis share his sentiments.
The Bush administration
didnt plan on this: in the early phase of their
liberation, many Iraqis are already yearning for the good old
days of Saddam Hussein. Of course we should bear in mind that many
Russians still pine for the good old days of Stalin, so this isnt a
final moral judgment on the war. But it is certainly a reflection on the
administrations pre-war optimism, especially when the practical
result so far is a mounting pile of dead Americans.
President Bush showed more
sense during the 2000 presidential campaign, when he expressed
skepticism of nation-building. People without electricity in
punishing summer heat arent impressed by promises of democracy
in the indefinite future. Its time for Bush to drop the triumphalist
rhetoric about the desperate situation he has created in Iraq.
In the spring of this year Bush
was sitting on top of the world. He had gotten the war he wanted, won it
easily, and could crow about vanquishing Saddam and bringing freedom to
the oppressed. Predictions of a quagmire were laughed off.
Bush was still confident that Saddams weapons of mass
destruction would be found very soon.
Now the Iraqis are fighting back
with the only weapons they have left not the doomsday weapons of
Bushs fantasies, but rifles and explosives that could never
threaten us at home, but make ruling Iraq a nightmare.
We can be sure that this
administration will never utter the three simple words that no
administration has yet learned to pronounce: We were
wrong. But from now on its chief challenge will be to disengage
from Iraq, to withdraw decorously, and to minimize the political cost in
It wont be easy. All the
urgent reasons trumpeted for the war for so many months now ring hollow.
Even Colin Powells reputation for sober judgment is in ruins.
Americas international image is one of a bully, and an incompetent
one at that. Once again it has started something it had no idea how to
finish. Instead of being loved and respected, it finds itself hated and
Bush is a stubborn man, and he
isnt inclined to climb down from a position he has insistently
taken. He pledged to destroy the Iraqi threat while leaving the Iraqi people
better off. But there was no Iraqi threat, and most Iraqis are probably
worse off than before. And Bush no longer looks politically invincible.