05 September 2003
How arrogant was the path to war. As President Bush now desperately tries to cajole the old UN donkey to rescue him from Iraq - he who warned us that the UN was in danger of turning into a League of Nations "talking shop" if it declined him legitimacy for his invasion - we are supposed to believe that no one in Washington could have guessed the future.
Messrs Bush and Blair fantasised their way to war with all those mythical weapons of mass destruction and "imminent threats" from Iraq - whether of the 45-minute variety or not - and of the post-war "liberation", "democracy" and map-changing they were going to bestow upon the region. But the record shows just how many warnings the Bush administration received from sane and decent men in the days before we plunged into this terrible adventure.
Take the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings in Washington on the eve of war. Assistant Under Secretary Douglas Feith, one of Rumsfeld's "neo-cons", revealed that an office for "post-war planning" had only been opened three weeks earlier. He and Under Secretary of State Marc Grossman conceded that the Pentagon had been "thinking" about post-war Iraq for 10 months. "There are enormous uncertainties," Feith said. "The most you can do in planning is develop concepts."
US senators at the time were highly suspicious of the "concept" bit. When Democrat Joe Biden asked if anyone in the Bush administration had planned the post-war government of Iraq, Grossman replied that "There are things in our country we're not going to be able to do because of our commitment in Iraq." Richard Lugar, the Republican chairman then asked: "Who will rule Iraq and how? Who will provide security? How long might US troops conceivably remain? Will the United Nations have a role?"
Ex-General Anthony Zinni, once the top man in US Central Command with "peacekeeping" experience in Kosovo, Somalia and (in 1991) northern Iraq, smelled a rat and said so in public. "Do we want to transform Iraq or just transition it out from under the unacceptable regime of Saddam Hussein into a reasonably stable nation? Transformation implies significant changes in forms of governance... Certainly there will not be a spontaneous democracy..."
Zinni spoke of the "long hard" journey towards reconstruction and added - with ironic prescience - that "It isn't going to be a handful of people that drive out of the Pentagon, catch a plane and fly in after the military peace to try to pull this thing together."
But incredibly, that's exactly what happened. First it was Jay "pull-your-stomach-in-and-say-you're-proud-to-be-an-American" Garner, and then the famous "anti-terrorism" expert Paul Bremer who washed up in Baghdad to hire and then re-hire the Iraqi army and then - faced with one dead American a day (and 250 US troops wounded in August alone) - to rehire the murderous thugs of Saddam's torture centres to help in the battle against "terrorism". Iraq, Bremer blandly admitted last week, will need "several tens of billions" of dollars next year alone.
No wonder Rumsfeld keeps telling us he has "enough" men in Iraq. Sixteen of Americas's 33 combat brigades are now in the cauldron of Iraq - five others are also deployed overseas - and the 82nd Airborne, only just out of Afghanistan (where another five US troops were killed last weekend) is about to be deployed north of Baghdad. "Bring 'em on," Bush taunted America's guerrilla enemies last month. Well, they've taken him at his word. There is so far not a shred of evidence that the latest Bush administration fantasy - "thousands" of foreign Islamist "jihadi" fighters streaming into Iraq to kill Americans - is true.
But it might soon be. And what will be told then? Wasn't Iraq invaded to destroy terrorism rather than to recreate it? We were told Iraq was going to be transformed into a democracy and suddenly it's to be a battleground for more "war against terror". America, Bush now tells his people, "is confronting terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan... so our people will not have to confront terrorist violence in New York or... Los Angeles." So that's it then. Draw all these nasty terrorists into our much-loved "liberated" Iraq and they'll obligingly leave the "homeland" alone. I wonder.
But notice, too, how everything is predicated to America's costs, to American blood. An American commentator, Rosie DiManno, wrote this week that in Iraq "There's also the other cost, the one measured in human lives... one American a day slain since Bush declared the major fighting over." Note here how the blood of Iraqis - whom we were so desperate to liberate six months ago - has disappeared from the narrative. Up to 20 innocent Iraqi civilians a day are now believed to be dying - in murders, revenge killings, at US checkpoints - and yet they no longer count. No wonder journalists now have to seek permission from the occupation authorities to visit Baghdad hospitals. Who knows how many corpses they would find in the morgue?
"The Baghdad communiqués are belated, insincere, incomplete. Things are far worse than we have been told... We are today not far short of a disaster." The writer was describing the crumbling British occupation of Iraq, under guerrilla attack in 1920. His name was Lawrence of Arabia.