Blogs > Liberty and Power > Of "Catastrophic Success," Bush "the Deserter," and Much More

Aug 31, 2004 6:34 pm

Of "Catastrophic Success," Bush "the Deserter," and Much More

I hope you're reading Juan Cole regularly. Unlike many of those in the Bush administration who can offer only the pose without substance (and many administration defenders in the press, and on blogs), Cole is an actual Middle East expert, with extraordinary knowledge of the region, its various cultures, and its history. Even if you disagree with all of Cole's personal political beliefs (which I think it is safe to say are well left of center), his writings are invaluable for an understanding of what is now transpiring in that part of the world. This entry from today is a very good example of what I mean. Toward the conclusion of that post, in talking about Bush's characterization of the Iraq war as a" catastrophic success," Cole writes:

This is the line that the US military succeeded so well so fast against Saddam's army that chaos naturally ensued.

Democrats are having a lot of fun with the phrase, but the real problem is that that analysis of what went wrong is incorrect. The Bush administration simply mismanaged Iraq. It dissolved the Iraqi army, throwing the country into chaos. That army was not gone and would have gladly showed up at the barracks for a paycheck. It pursued a highly punitive policy of firing and excluding members of the Baath Party, which was not done in so thorough-going a manner even to Nazis in post-war Germany. It canceled planned municipal elections, denying people any stake in their new"government," which was more or less appointed by the US. It put all its efforts into destroying Arab socialism in Iraq and creating a sudden free market, rather than paying attention to the preconditions for entrepreneurial activity, like security and services. It kept changing its policies-- early on it was going to turn the country over to Ahmad Chalabi in 6 months. Then that plan was scotched and Paul Bremer was brought in to play MacArthur in Tokyo for a projected two or three years. Then that didn't work and there would be council-based elections. Then those wouldn't work and there would be a"transfer of sovereignty." All this is not to mention the brutal and punitive sieges of Fallujah and Najaf and the Abu Ghuraib torture scandal, etc., etc.

So it wasn't a catastrophic success that caused the problem. It was that Iraq was being run at the upper levels by a handful of screw-ups who had all sorts of ulterior motives, and at least sometimes did not have the best interests of the country at heart. And Bush is the one who put them in charge.

Earlier in the same entry, Cole says:
The speech-makers [at the Republican Convention last night] kept saying"we did not seek this war," and that it was imposed on us, and by God we were going to keep hitting back. That is, the rhetoric was that of righteous anger, of the avenging victim. While this argument works with regard to Afghanistan (which the US did not invade, only providing air cover to an indigenous group. the Northern Alliance), it is hollow with regard to Iraq. Only by confusing the"war on terror" with the war on Iraq could this rhetoric be even somewhat meaningful, and it is not a valid conflation.

No American president has more desperately sought out a war with any country than George W. Bush sought out this war with Iraq. Only Polk's war on Mexico, also based on false pretexts, even comes close to the degree of crafty manipulation employed by Bush and Cheney to get up the Iraq war. Intelligence about weapons of mass destruction was deliberately and vastly exaggerated, producing a"nuclear threat" where there wasn't even so much as a single gamma ray to be registered. Innuendo and repetition were cleverly used to tie Saddam to Usama Bin Laden operationally, a link that all serious intelligence professionals deny.

So, I agree that the war in Afghanistan was imposed on the US. But the war on Iraq was not. And pretending that the US had no choice but to attack Iraq and reduce it to a pitiful failed state is flatly dishonest. ...

I also objected to the use of 9/11 and the US military for partisan purposes. 9/11 happened to all of us, Republican and Democrat. Is it really plausible that all those firefighters from Queens are Republicans? But that was the impression they tried to give. As for singing all the service songs, not all servicemen support Bush. One person with direct knowledge of the incident told me that a US officer in Iraq had had to threaten his tired, dusty, frightened men with being disciplined if they did not stop referring to Bush as"the Deserter."

I am frankly not impressed by the Bush administration response to al-Qaeda. Bin Laden and al-Zawahiri are at large, as are a large number of other high al-Qaeda operatives. The Bush administration missed a chance to get a number of important al-Qaeda figures from Iran, which wanted some Mojahedin-e Khalq terrorists in return, because the Neocons in the Pentagon have some sort of weird alliance with the MEK mad bombers. Most of the really big al-Qaeda fish have been caught by Pakistan, to which the Bush administration has just farmed out some of the most important counter-insurgency work against al-Qaeda. Is this wise?

I strongly recommend that you pay Professor Cole a visit daily.

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Jonathan Dresner - 9/1/2004

I do read Cole regularly (I've been linking to him more lately) but your selection and highlighting were very useful in this instance.