Mission Accursed

Last week was the five year anniversary of President Bush landing on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, striding along the flight deck in flight suit and stating triumphantly that "major combat operations in Iraq have ended" while standing under a banner proclaiming "Mission Accomplished." For the neocons and chickenhawks, it was a giddy moment. Victory was at hand. But like almost everything else about the administration’s Iraq policy, it was ultimately nothing more than hubris. Five years later, White House press secretary Dana Perino offered up this explanation: "President Bush is well aware that the banner should have been much more specific and said mission accomplished for these sailors who are on this ship on their mission." (To be fair, the president did not actually say "mission accomplished" in his speech.) But feeble explanations aside, what has been accomplished?

Saddam Hussein – demonized as a threat to world peace by President Bush – has been deposed. So there is one less brutal dictator in the world. But Saddam was never a threat. He did not have the dreaded WMDs alleged by the administration. And even if did, that would not have made him a threat since (a) he had no means to deliver such weapons (the best the administration could come up with was claiming that Iraq possessed unmanned aerial drones that could deliver chemical or biological weapons, but these drones didn’t even pose a threat to Israel let alone the United States) and (b) Saddam would have had to been suicidal to use such weapons knowing that the United States could retaliate with the full spectrum of military force, including the U.S. nuclear arsenal capable of utterly destroying Iraq. And more importantly, Saddam did not have a hand in 9/11 or any ties to al-Qaeda – which has belatedly acknowledged by the Pentagon, long after Donald Rumsfeld’s departure. Hussein’s terrorist connections that were hyped at every opportunity by the administration and its cheerleaders were to anti-Israeli terrorists who posed no threat to America.

Moreover, the U.S. invasion to rid Iraq of Saddam Hussein and his nonexistent WMDs has led to perhaps the greatest irony of all. Under the Hussein regime, there was no al-Qaeda presence in Iraq. In fact, bin Laden viewed Hussein as an apostate Muslim ruler and referred to Saddam’s Ba’ath Party as "infidels" in a February 2003 videotape. But the ongoing U.S. military occupation of Iraq has become a cause célèbre for jihadists (much like the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan was for the mujahedeen) and resulted in the formation of Tanzim Qaidat al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Rafidayn, more commonly referred to as al-Qaeda of Mesopotamia or al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Instead of a dictatorship, the Iraqi people are now blessed with a democracy. In January 2005, the Iraqi people voted for an assembly to draft a constitution for a new sovereign government. And in December 2005, Iraqis elected the members of the first national assembly under the constitution. But instead of democracy bringing peace and prosperity as promised by the architects of the Iraq War, there has been nothing but discord in Iraq. In fact, for all the trappings of democracy, Iraq remains a deeply divided country teetering on the verge of civil war.

And Iraq’s fledgling democratic government seems only able to stand on its own two feet because of the continued U.S. military occupation (currently nearly 160,000 troops and likely to remain at that level for the foreseeable future), which gives the appearance of an installed puppet government rather than an independent, sovereign one. The fact that Iraqi security forces are less than capable is lost on no one – as demonstrated by the ill-fated March operation against the Mahdi Army in Basra. Moreover, U.S. military forces in Iraq are sowing the seeds of the discord that plagues the country. In addition to being a calling card for jihadists to flock to Iraq, the U.S. military presence also fans the flames of anti-American sentiment among Iraqis. Indeed, U.S. military occupation has been the long-standing grievance of Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who last week urged his followers not to fight Iraqi security forces and for Iraqi security forces "to be close to their people and far from the occupier, because we will not be blessed with peace as long as they occupy our land."

Although progress has certainly been made, Iraq is far from being a reconstructed country. Because of soaring oil prices (oil was about $30 per barrel when the U.S. decided to invade Iraq in March 2003 and is currently trading at over $110 per barrel as this is written), Iraq is projected to realize $70 billion in oil revenue this year, according to a U.S. government report. But at the same time the Iraqi Oil Ministry is reporting that 65 percent of the oil pipeline network is idle due to sabotage and lack of repairs, and Iraq has failed to attract much needed foreign investment due to ongoing violence. According to the special inspector for Iraq reconstruction, Stuart Bowen, the more than $20 billion spent on reconstruction (Congress has appropriated $46 billion for reconstruction projects in Iraq) "has produced mixed results." The largest reconstruction project – the Nassriya Water Treatment Plant – is actually considered a failure.

Finally, there are these "accomplishments" to consider:

If it wasn’t apparent then, it should be clear by now that the mission in Iraq is far from accomplished. In fact, the end doesn’t appear to be anywhere in sight. So looking back at President Bush’s May 2003 victory speech (he may not have claimed "mission accomplished" aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, but he did say, "The battle of Iraq is one victory in a war on terror that began on September the 11th, 2002") brings to mind a favorite British phrase: Well played, sir!

Author: Charles V. Peña

Charles V. Peña is a senior fellow at the Independent Institute, a senior fellow with the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy, a former senior fellow with the George Washington University Homeland Security
Policy Institute
, an adviser to the Straus Military Reform Project, and an analyst for MSNBC television. Peña is the co-author of Exiting Iraq: Why the U.S. Must End the Military Occupation and Renew the War Against al-Qaeda and author of Winning the Un-War: A New Strategy for the War on Terrorism.