Losing the Peace

It's time to stop arguing whether the glass is half-full or half-empty.

| May 06, 2004

For all I know, we may have done something smart in Fallujah by hiring ex-Iraqi troops to take over, but it's sure not what we said we were going to do when we started to go in. Then, the photos from the Abu Ghraib prison horror hit. Let's hear it for privatization again. We just cannot get a break over there.

I think we're at a point when it's useless to continue the argument over whether the glass is half-empty or half-full. Things are going very badly in Iraq. I'm sure some of our professional patriotic bullies will denounce this as unpatriotic pessimism, harmful to the morale of the troops, etc. I think it's more important to recognize reality.

Even though I still consider getting rid of Saddam Hussein an unmitigated good, we may have lost the peace very early on. Peter Galbraith, writing in The New York Review of Books, reports that the initial looting right after the war "ended" was unbelievably costly in both monetary terms and Iraqi support. Others have concluded that the corruption, so familiar under Saddam Hussein and now again in full flower with the private contractors, has so wiped out respect for our efforts that Iraqis are concluding we are "just like Saddam." For us to continue killing Iraqis for their own good is not a policy likely to redound to our benefit.

Galbraith recommends a federation in which the Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds are each allowed to choose pretty much their own form of government. The Kurds could keep their own governing council, the Shiites would choose an Islamic republic, and who knows what the Sunnis want.

"These republics would be self-governing, financially self-sustaining, and with their own territorial military and police forces," Galbraith recommends. "The central government would have a weak presidency rotating among the republics, with responsibility limited to foreign affairs, monetary policy, and some coordination of defense policy."

Anyone have a better idea? A countrywide election will yield a Shiite government, in turn leading almost inevitably to civil war.

I am so depressed and disgusted with this misbegotten occupation, I've resorted to trying to figure out how we got here in the first place. I read Bob Woodward's book Plan of Attack. I consider Woodward a superb reporter, but he has the oddest inability to sort the wheat from the chaff or to put either of them into context. One point on which I found the book quite helpful is the issue of whether Bush & Co. lied about the weapons of mass destruction, were fed bad intelligence, or engaged in self-deception. It seems to have been a combination of self-delusion and cherry-picking from some very unclear intelligence.

It is quite possible the final lesson of the Iraq debacle will be that the military is the wrong tool for the terrorist job. This brings us back to the original rhetorical trap we got ourselves into by talking about "the war on terror." Wars are fought by the military, but the tools needed include a huge intelligence operation as well as criminal investigation.

To this end, how stupid is it that we have two dozen treasury agents chasing Cuban embargo violators and only four tracking terrorist money? As Rep. William Delahunt, D-Mass., put it, "We're chasing old ladies on bicycle trips in Cuba when we should be concentrating on the significant tools against shadowy terrorist organizations."

When the Bushies came in, they abandoned the multilateral efforts Bill Clinton had set up to track offshore money. Even after 9/11, they only reluctantly endorsed increasing the Treasury's power to follow the money. It is not conspiracy-mongering to point out that this reluctance stems from the unhappy habit of so many American rich people to keep their money in offshore accounts in order to avoid taxes.

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