Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Great Expectations

I've been meaning to write a post explaining why I'm so angry about the invasion of Iraq and I will get round to it at some point. I've just read an article from Sunday's Washington Post which would be an ideal starting point.

The problem relates what is Colin Powell called the Pottery Barn Rule: if you break it, you own it. Bush and Blair have consistently failed to understand just how difficult it would be to glue their purchase back together, once "major combat operations" had ceased. And I don't want to hear how hindsight is a wonderful thing because it was eminently predictable that these problems would occur. Iraq was only held together as a nation because Saddam was a nasty authoritarian bastard. It's only a country at all courtesy of some Great British imperialism.
The boundaries of modern Iraq were settled by British officials, including Winston Churchill, who combined three Ottoman districts, the northern mostly Kurdish district administered from Mosul; the middle mostly Sunni Arab district, which contained Baghdad; and the southern mostly Shiite district, whose major city was Basra.
Since before the invasion, I've been saying that the situation in Iraq would slowly deteriorate after the removal of Saddam. According to the Washington Post, it seems that the Bush administration are finally starting to realise this and they're looking for a way out.
"What we expected to achieve was never realistic given the timetable or what unfolded on the ground," said a senior official involved in policy since the 2003 invasion. "We are in a process of absorbing the factors of the situation we're in and shedding the unreality that dominated at the beginning."
Unreality isn't exactly a sterling basis for good policy making.
But the realities of daily life are a constant reminder of how the initial U.S. ambitions have not been fulfilled in ways that Americans and Iraqis once anticipated. Many of Baghdad's 6 million people go without electricity for days in 120-degree heat. Parents fearful of kidnapping are keeping children indoors.
Barbers post signs saying they do not shave men, after months of barbers being killed by religious extremists. Ethnic or religious-based militias police the northern and southern portions of Iraq. Analysts estimate that in the whole of Iraq, unemployment is 50 percent to 65 percent.
Iraq is most definitely broken.
"We set out to establish a democracy, but we're slowly realizing we will have some form of Islamic republic," said another U.S. official familiar with policymaking from the beginning, who like some others interviewed would speak candidly only on the condition of anonymity.
"There has been a realistic reassessment of what it is possible to achieve in the short term and fashion a partial exit strategy," Yaphe [Army Brig. Gen. Yves Fontaine] said. "This change is dictated not just by events on the ground but by unrealistic expectations at the start."
How did these unrealistic expectation come to dominate official policy? It's so extraordinarily frustrating that no-one has accepted responsibility for this enormous misjudgement, especially given that so many people warned before the invasion that it was based on a fantasy.
Ironically, White [Wayne White, former head of the State Department's Iraq intelligence team] said, the initial ambitions may have complicated the U.S. mission: "In order to get out earlier, expectations are going to have to be lower, even much lower. The higher your expectation, the longer you have to stay. Getting out is going to be a more important consideration than the original goals were. They were unrealistic."
No shit. How it has taken them three years (at least, given the planning phase) for them to work this out is beyond by ability to comprehend. I'd encourage you to read the entire Washington Post article to get a full understanding of just how far the Bush administration is about to backpedal. It looks like they've decided that the Pottery Barn Rule no longer applies and they're planning to leave without paying. Well, who's going to stop them? Again, entirely predictable I'm afraid.

The real tragedy is in what's likely to happen in Iraq as the US military engages its reverse gear. I'm afraid I can only see the situation getting slowly worse and worse. I can't see Iraq decending into all out civil war at this stage but I'm not confident I'll be able to say the same a year after the US troops leave. The only way I can see the country staying together is if another Saddam type figure emerges and that's not an outcome anyone wants.

There is still hope but it's fading fast. What I believe is necessary is a multinational peackeeping force under the control of the UN. This is going to be very difficult to organise but Blair and Bush should be grovelling 24 hours a day to those who's help they so desperately need in order to bring this about. At the moment, Iraq is a classic Catch 22. If the US troops pull out there's likely to be a slow decline into anarchy. If they stay, they antagonise many Iraqi's and fuel the insurgency. As things stand it's a no win situation but then some of us have been saying that for quite a long time now. I desperately wish we'd been proved wrong.

About an hour after this was posted more than 40 people were killed in a series of coordinated bomb attacks in Badhdad. 2 US and 6 Iraqi soldiers have also been killed in seperate attacks. The BBC news at lunchtime reported the bomb blasts in the second half of the broadcast. The attacks are unlikely to feature prominently in tomorrow's newspapers. Blair is unlikely to be asked to comment on how his policies have contributed towards these deaths, and if he is he'll just regurgitate his standard well worn, and increasingly discredited "defence" of his position.

People are dying at a rate of 30 a day in Iraq. That there does not appear to be any great urgency in our government's response to this situation says much about their ability to deal with it.

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