America may be heading home from Iraq sooner than many of us realize. For the implied message of the president’s address at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., is that America wants out of Iraq.
Rereading that speech, one finds in it little of Churchill’s “We-shall-fight-them-on-the-beaches” defiance. Rather, the president laid out a five-step strategy to secure “freedom and independence, security and prosperity for the Iraqi people” and then depart.
The five steps? Besides helping to establish security, rebuild infrastructure and increase international aid, they are to transfer sovereignty to a U.N.-appointed interim government by June 30 and hold elections by Jan. 31 for a national assembly. Says Bush, the interim government “will exercise full sovereignty.” But full sovereignty means control of foreign forces. It means the authority to tell the U.S. military it cannot attack sanctuaries like Najaf and Fallujah without Baghdad’s approval. China, France and Russia want that restriction written into the U.N. resolution Bush is seeking. And Tony Blair has said that any government appointed by U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, a Sunni Arab, will have the power to restrict U.S. military operations.
Why might this mean the war may end sooner than imagined?
With a majority of Sunnis and Shi’ites now hostile to continued U.S. military presence, how many Sunni or Shi’ite leaders, either appointed or elected, will defy the popular will and authorize American attacks on their co-religionists? How many will publicly agree to permanent U.S. military bases inside their country?
Should the new interim government remain silent in the face of a U.S. attack, say, on Fallujah, would it not be seen as a puppet government? Would not its leaders risk the fate of Izzedine Saleem, leader of the Iraqi Governing Council killed by car bomb at the gates of the Green Zone?
If the Iraqis tell us to stop initiating attacks, U.S. officers will have three options. They can defy Baghdad and refuse to fight under rules of engagement handed down by Iraqi politicians sympathetic to the enemy. They can accept the orders from Baghdad, which would enrage and inflame the Army. Or we can declare the U.S. military does not take commands from local rulers or U.N. bureaucrats, withdraw and come home.
It is hard to believe President Bush or the U.S. military will allow any U.N.-appointed Iraqi government to tell us when, where or how we must fight. Hence, an early collision between Gen. Abizaid and the new U.N.-appointed government seems inevitable.
And this summer and fall, as the election campaign heats up for the national assembly, how many candidates will be willing to run on a “Stand by Uncle Sam!” platform? Is it not more likely that, seeing how popular Sheik Moqtada Al Sadr became by defying America and killing our troops, candidates will appeal to voters by pledging to end the occupation and send the Americans packing?
How will Americans react to Iraqi politicians, whose freedom is being guaranteed by U.S. troops, campaigning openly for the ouster of those American troops from the country?
At Carlisle, President Bush spoke of a swift transfer of power to Iraqi officials and security forces. As was always inevitable in this war, the president must now begin to rely for the attainment of his strategic goals on Iraqis themselves. But when have Iraqi forces ever taken the initiative and attacked the insurgents?
“Fallujah must cease to be a sanctuary for the enemy,” said the president. But when the Marines pulled out of Fallujah and we left it to Iraqis to deal with the militias, the Ba’athists and foreign fighters, what took place was not a fight, but fraternization.
President Bush has called Iraq the central front in the war on terror and his “world democratic revolution.” He is now wagering the success of both causes on an Iraqi police and army that have yet to show any of the willingness to fight exhibited by the insurgents in Fallujah or the militia of Al Sadr.
The neoconservative dream was to create a pro-American, free-market democracy in Iraq to serve as a model and catalyst for Arab peoples and convert Iraq into a base camp of American Empire, flanking Iran and Syria. It was to bring to power an Iraqi DeGaulle named Ahmed Chalabi, who would recognize Israel, build a Mosul-to-Haifa oil pipeline and become the Simon Bolivar of the Middle East.
That utopian vision has vanished. President Bush has rejoined the realist camp. We are not going deeper in. We are on the way out.