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The beginning of the end of chaos?

By Jackson Murphy
web posted June 2, 2003

As the Bush Administration goes on the rhetorical offensive with another member of what is now the simply the "Duo of Evil," questions are being raised as to the success of the war on the former charter member, Iraq.

Critics of Bush & Co. have completely overused the "you can win the war but might lose the peace" line thus far. Mickey Kaus, writing for Slate.com figures that this is the basis for a major foreign policy challenge for the struggling Democrats in the coming months.

Kaus believes that the any democratic foreign policy and potentially its most damning attack against the Bush administration policy may originate from a former military officer named Philip Carter. (For more Philip Carter read his latest essay) Basically, the argument goes, after barely two months since its liberation Iraq has become a total disaster.

"But the hawks' gloating proved premature. The generals' argument had never been just about what forces it would take to decapitate Saddam's regime. It was also about being ready for the long, grinding challenge after the shooting stopped. By that measure they have been proven dizzyingly correct. April and May brought daily news reports from Baghdad quoting U.S. military officers saying they lacked the manpower to do their jobs. As the doubters predicted, we may have had enough troops to win the war -- but not nearly enough to win the peace," writes Carter.

Part of the argument is the debate between the military brass (Chief of Staff Eric K. Shinseki who argued for 200 000 troops) and the civilian leadership (Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy Paul Wolfowitz who argued for 50 000 and settled on 90 000) before the war began on how many troops to use. Shinseki wanted the extra troops to win the peace in a post war environment on the belief that you still need boots on the ground to establish security and maintain it.

Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld acknowledges that this is going to be a tough task. "There are still difficulties in Iraq, to be sure -- crime, inflation, gas lines, unemployment. But the fact that such difficulties exist should come as no surprise: No nation that has made the transition from tyranny to a free society has been immune to the difficulties and challenges of taking that path--not even our own."

But the Bush administration isn't ignoring these alarming reports of too few troops and anarchy on the ground. They have already replaced the first post-war administrator and given the new guy, Paul Bremer, pretty much what he needs-and at this time he is asking for more troops. And Bremer is quickly cracking down on the chaos. In fact some, like Christopher Hitchens are alarmed at just how much control Bremer is wielding on behalf of the United States.

"At the present moment, it seems that control freaks have assumed power. It's a defense of a kind to say that control freaks are better than Ba'athist megalomaniacs. It's a short-term defense to argue that water and electricity come first. It might even be a defense of a kind to say that control-freakery is preferable to factionalism and communal or intercommunal strife."

These comments by Hitchens who is a pretty credible voice on the situation since he has intellectually been at the center of so much of its debate reveal something interesting. On the one hand you have plenty of people waiting, in a cat like state of readiness, to pounce on Bush if things go badly in Iraq. On the other hand, you have people who don't want Bush to react and succeed to the evolving problem there. And when they adapt to take a hard line they expose the true American interest, empire.

"The new conventional wisdom seems to be that Iraq itself is destined for chaos. This is equally off base. To visit Iraq is to see a land of opportunity, rich in resources and educated people who are, most importantly, well-disposed to our presence," writes Robert Pollack in The Wall Street Journal. "But to take advantage of the opportunity to remake a country and perhaps a region, the U.S. will have to become at once a more dedicated and more nimble occupier. This could mean a competent American-led administration for the foreseeable future--most Iraqis certainly would not object."

The reality is that in three months the debate about Iraq has transformed from one where we wondered if there were any mass graves to being unable to properly exhume them as Iraqi families have struggled to figure out what ever became to their loved ones. We are wondering about the status of water, electricity, and sewers instead of children's jails, torture chambers, and repression. That sounds like the beginning of the end of chaos.

Jackson Murphy is a commentator from Vancouver, Canada. He is the editor of "Dispatches" a website that serves up political commentary 24-7. You can contact him at jacksonmurphy@telus.net.

Other related stories: (open in a new window)

  • Of time and the rivers by William S. Lind (June 2, 2003)
    William S. Lind says the reason why peace will be so difficult to achieve in Iraq is because the war is only over when your enemy says its over
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