June 23, 2005
Amid growing domestic and international criticism against his Iraq policy, President Bush issued a statement to dispel the impression that Iraq was faltering. On 20/6/05 he said, "We're making progress toward the goal, which is, on the one hand, a political process moving forward in Iraq and, on the other hand, the Iraqis capable of defending themselves." He also gave no indication about a timetable for withdrawing US troops from Iraq, except that Iraq was preoccupying his mind. He said, "I think about Iraq every day, every single day."
A close study of Bush’s statements regarding the political process and security situation in Iraq appears to contradict the reality in Iraq. Till now, the Bush administration has been unable to accomplish any of the goals it set out before the invasion of Iraq or in the aftermath of the collapse of the Iraqi government.
The failure to discover any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, touted as one of the primary reasons for going to war has blighted America’s credibility around the world. Likewise the complete collapse of security surrounding Iraq’s oil wells and pipelines has meant that the administration has been unable to fulfill its commitment to American oil companies. This swiftly led Bush to modify his initial goals and he announced plans to democratise Iraq. This provided the administration with some brief respite, but the spike in the resistance after the Iraqi elections has put an end to Bush’s vision of a democratic Iraq. Insecurity is rampant, the resistance is out of control and the US and Iraqi forces are neither prepared nor equipped to stamp their authority on Iraq.
Today Bush’s America finds itself increasingly isolated, devoid of any political objectives and desperate to spin any news that helps him perpetuate the lie that Iraq is stabilising and democracy is taking root. Americans have decided enough is enough and have started to express their disapproval of Bush’s handling of Iraq.
A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll showed that for the first time since the war began, more than half of the public believes that the U.S. invasion of Iraq had not made the America more safe, and nearly 40 percent described the situation there now as analogous to the Vietnam War. "The steady drip of negative news from Iraq is significantly undermining support for the U.S. military operation there," noted Andy Kohout, director of the Pew Research Centre for the People & the Press. The Pew poll also found an all-time high of 46 percent of the public favouring a withdrawal from Iraq. US politicians responding to public concerns are also voicing their support for withdrawing American forces from Iraq. According to a Gallup poll, some 72 percent of Democrats, 65 percent of independents and 41 percent of Republicans say they favour a partial or complete withdrawal.
But the most damning piece of evidence that pours scorn over the Bush’s inflated projections about Iraq come from the US military. "As early as July 2003 the US military lost its dominance in Iraq and is yet to regain that position". This was the conclusion of a report authored by Maj. Isaiah Wilson, the official historian of the U.S. Army for the Iraq war. In addition, the report was highly critical of US civilian leadership as well as US war planners who worked under their supervision. The report states "U.S. war planners, practitioners and the civilian leadership conceived of the war far too narrowly…This overly simplistic conception of the war led to a cascading undercutting of the war effort: too few troops, too little coordination with civilian and governmental/non-governmental agencies and too little allotted time to achieve success". So far the army has not endorsed the report as the official version on the history of the army in Iraq.
Eschewing the endorsement of bad news, especially one that undermines Bush’s policies has been the hallmark of his administration. Any individual who opposes the vision set forth by the Bush administration are either ostracised or forced into early retirement by US army’s civilian leadership. Former army chief of staff Erik Shinseiki estimated in 2003 that a post-war occupation force would likely need to be several hundred thousand troops in size. Shinseiki was forced to retire not long after making his remarks. Another Army general John Riggs was forced to retire at a reduced rank, losing one of his stars, because he publicly contradicted Rumsfeld by arguing that the Army was overstretched in Iraq and Afghanistan and needed more troops. Others have waited till retirement before speaking out against Rumsfeld; most notable amongst them is Marine Corps General Anthony Zinni.
Recently, several serving officials decided to break rank with the Bush administration and voiced their own concerns over various aspects of military operations in Iraq. On 6/01/05 the commander of the US army reserve Lt Gen James Helmly said in a leaked memo that it [US army reserve] is rapidly degenerating into a "broken" force. He also said that the reserve has reached a point where it cannot fulfil its missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. The army reserve is a force of about 200,000 part-time soldiers who chose not to sign-up for active duty, but can be mobilised in time of need. Reservists account for about 40% of US troops in Iraq. The future of the army reserve is further compounded by the fact that it is falling short of its recruitment targets. On 6/3/05 in an article entitled U.S. Army Struggles to Coax Recruits Amid Iraq War published by Reuters, it was stated, "The army in February, for the first time in nearly five years, failed to achieve its monthly recruiting goal. It is in danger of missing its annual recruiting target for the first time since 1999 ". Commenting on shortfall Defense analyst Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute said that there has been a migration of recruits away from the ground forces toward services less likely to be in harm's way in Iraq -- the Navy and Air Force. "There's a bottom line to the recruiting debate. People don't want to die," Thompson said.
Differing accounts are also emerging between the US government and the army over the performance of the Iraqi insurgency. The Bush administration has always down played the Iraqi resistance by dismissing it as acts perpetrated by a small desperate minority who oppose freedom and democracy. In contrast the army’s appraisal of the potency resistance appears to be more accurate.
In May 2005, the New York Times reported Lieutenant Colonel Frederick P Wellman, who works with the task force overseeing the training of Iraqi security troops. He said that the insurgency doesn't seem to be running out of new recruits, a dynamic fuelled by tribal members seeking revenge for relatives killed in fighting. "We can't kill them all", Wellman said. "When I kill one I create three." General George W Casey, the top US commander in Iraq, expressed similar sentiments, calling the military's efforts "the Pillsbury Doughboy idea" - pressing the insurgency in one area only causes it to rise elsewhere. This is an interesting about-face for Casey, as he said on March 9 that "the level of attacks, the level of violence has dropped off significantly since the [Iraqi] elections." On 30/05/05 General Myers admitted that "lethality" of the insurgent attacks had increased.
The claims by the military are substantiated by statistics. Data compiled by the Brookings Institute supports the US army’s assertion that Iraq is becoming more chaotic and deadly by the day. For instance, as of May 2005, the average number of U.S. troops killed and wounded in Iraq was 77 and 615 per month, respectively. A year ago, those numbers were 42 and 584. At this time last year, there were an average of 52 insurgent attacks per day. As of May 2005, there were 70 per day.
The increasing tensions between the Bush administration and the military top brass prompted the army to leak stories about the mistreatment of prisoners at Guantanamo and other prisons. The Newsweek story about the discretion of the Quran was intentionally leaked by the military to make itself heard. Even after the Whitehouse pressurised Newsweek to retract the story, the Pentagon further embarrassed the Whitehouse by releasing a report to the media that catalogued several incidents of Quran abuse against detainees.
As a result of this mounting pressure the Bush administration has been forced to admit that the situation in Iraq has worsened. On 14/06/05 in an interview with BBC, Rumsfeld was asked whether the security situation in Iraq had improved and responded by saying "statistically, no". On the same day Cheney also conceded that Iraq had compromised America’s ability to conduct wars elsewhere. But despite these admissions the administration is still reluctant to come out and clearly say in public that America has been defeated in Iraq and must retreat from the war zone.
This means that the tensions between the US military leadership and the Bush administration will continue to simmer, especially since military operations are having no effect in tampering the insurgency or improving the security situation in Iraq. The Bush administration is now faced with two choices, either reinstate the draft or withdraw from Iraq. Both options are humiliating for Bush, but only one option will save the US military from further bloodshed and that is America’s retreat from Iraq.
This is because the US army is not prepared or equipped to fight asymmetrical wars. America’s military machine prides itself on the use of over-whelming force against the enemy. But against fighters backed by popular support such tactics do not deliver tangible results. Rather they only serve to alienate the population from the occupation force. In the battle of Fallujah, America used the largest concentration of conventional firepower, since World War 2, but could not quell the resistance. Similar battles have taken place elsewhere in Iraq and the results have been very disappointing. US military chiefs know that the military cannot continue to function like this and are relying on the Whitehouse to bail them out. The trouble is that Bush has also run out of political solutions and now faces an uncertain future.
One thing is for sure that while America has failed to turn Iraqis against the resistance, the Iraqi resistance has succeeded in turning the American public and the military against the Bush administration.
Abid Mustafa is a political analyst who specialises in Muslim affairs.