Below the Beltway

Last February I had lunch with a friend who was teaching at one of the military war colleges. He told me that the officers he knew were uniformly skeptical about a war with Iraq. "I don't think they are worried about fighting Iraq but about garrisoning it afterward," he said. I heard similar doubts about the wisdom of the war from foreign-policy experts, oil-industry consultants and Middle East historians, but the Bush White House was not interested in these opinions. It was listening to the echo chamber set up by the Pentagon, The Weekly Standard and the American Enterprise Institute. A few months after George W. Bush declared victory, however, it is clear that the skeptics were right on every important count.

Here is a balance sheet:

Liberation. The administration foresaw a speedy military victory giving way to demonstrations of joy and gratitude from Iraqis and to the installation of a new pro-U.S. Iraqi government led by exile Ahmed Chalabi. The restoration of services and the creation of an interim Iraqi government, Chalabi promised on April 18, would take "a few weeks." Five months later, the U.S. and British occupation faces military and political opposition everywhere except the Kurdish areas in the north. Australian Paul McGeough, one of the few reporters with access to everyday Iraqis, wrote in late August, "Much of the anger and emotion in Iraq today is directed at the Americans ... . [O]rdinary Iraqis cite the same reasons for the resistance as the fighters themselves -- nationalism, Islam and payback."

As for the resistance, there is a difference in ferocity, but not in ultimate purpose, between the Shiites and the Sunnis. Sunnis around Baghdad and Tikrit, who remain loyal to the Baath Party, have conducted an armed resistance; many Iraqi Shiite leaders, however, like their Iranian counterparts in the 1970s, appear more conciliatory to the United States but are committed to a regime that would resemble the one in Iran and would probably be no more friendly to the United States than a pro-Baath government. While the war won't go on forever, the Americans' best hope in years to come may be a regime that is so crippled by factional strife that it cannot become the leader, along with Iran, of a formidable anti-American bloc.

New Dawn. The war in Iraq was also supposed to initiate a "new dawn" in the Mideast from Cairo to Kabul. Arab autocracies were supposed to crumble in the face of Iraq's democratic example. But the war has had, according to Saudi reformer Khalid al-Dakhil, a professor at King Saud University, "the reverse effect." Democratic reformers in Egypt and the Persian Gulf states had hoped to find a path between the Saudi monarchy and the Islamic opposition, but in the face of widespread perception that America is hostile to Islam, they have risked being branded as tools of the United States by radical Islamic groups. The reformist center has disappeared.

As a result of the war, the United States has also become more rather than less dependent on the anti-democratic regimes in these countries. When the joint congressional inquiry into the September 11 attacks charged in a classified section that there were ties between al-Qaeda and the top levels of the Saudi family, the Bush administration refused to release the report out of deference to the Saudi regime. [See Michael Steinberger, "Bush's Saudi Connections," page 15.] One neoconservative who wanted to take action against Riyadh was told by the White House that "if you knew what we knew you would feel differently [about the Saudis], because they have been really helpful." Similarly, the United States has become more reliant on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, counting on him to back the potholed "road map" and to use his secret police to harass jurists at Cairo's prestigious al-Azhar Seminary who have denounced Iraq's governing council.

The U.S. invasion of Iraq seems to have rekindled rather than snuffed out Iran's nuclear ambitions. And it has not made either the Israelis or the Palestinians more pliable. Even while agreeing to the American road map, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon continued to expand settlements; the Palestinians, meanwhile, responded with renewed terrorist attacks. To make matters worse, Afghanistan has tumbled back into armed chaos. According to Pakistani journalist Husain Haqqani, who, along with al-Dakhil, is currently at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, the Taliban now controls the southeastern provinces of Afghanistan from which it is launching attacks against American forces. The region joining Afghanistan with northern Pakistan is re-emerging as a terrorist enclave. And plans for national economic development have also fallen by the wayside. A United Nations study found that Afghanistan is once again the world's largest producer of opium -- an industry that the Taliban had suppressed. At best, the U.S. invasion has reinforced the unstable status quo from Cairo to Kabul. At worst, it has set the stage for a decade of tumultuous unrest.

The End of OPEC. Prior to the war, Bush administration officials claimed that Iraq's burgeoning oil revenues would pay for rebuilding the country. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz told Congress on March 27, "We are dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction, and relatively soon." But these predictions, which didn't count on the costs of rebuilding Iraq's oil infrastructure or on the possibility of sabotage, turned out to be pipe dreams. Before the war, Iraq was pumping about 2.5 million barrels a day, and administration officials expected that the country could soon be producing as much as 5 million. But in August, Iraqi oil fields averaged 645,000 barrels a day. Oil revenues, which the administration expected would run as high as $20 billion this year and $50 billion in several years, will be lucky to reach $3.5 billion this year. As a result, American taxpayers will have to bear the costs of the invasion and the country's reconstruction.

Administration officials also insisted that Iraq's oil would undermine the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and the Saudis, and keep American consumer prices down. But the exact opposite has occurred. The world price has risen above $30 a barrel, and gasoline prices in the United States have recently climbed to nearly $2 a gallon. The Saudis themselves are enjoying a boom year, with their economy up by 7 percent, while OPEC's control over world oil has been strengthened rather than weakened by the invasion. Iraq, of course, will eventually begin producing at prewar levels, or above, but it's unlikely that it will do so outside of OPEC and as a fiefdom of the American oil industry.

War on Terrorism. Invading Iraq was billed as a continuation of the war against terrorism. Part of this was based on the bogus claim that Saddam Hussein was allied to al-Qaeda. But part was based on the idea, popularized by historian Bernard Lewis, that the invasion would create a "demonstration effect" that would frighten other countries in the region into suppressing anti-American terrorist organizations. Maybe that has happened in Syria, but it doesn't seem to have occurred in Iran, Pakistan or Indonesia, where militant Islamic cleric Abu Bakar Bashir was acquitted on Sept. 2 of terrorist charges. The overall effect on the war on global terrorism has been mixed at best. From January to May, when Bush declared the war in Iraq over, there were no major terrorist incidents. Since then, there have been suicide bomb attacks at a housing complex in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on May 12, more bomb attacks in Casablanca, Morocco, on May 16, and a suicide bomb attack at a Marriott Hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Aug. 5.

There is also some evidence that in Iraq, Islamic radicals are making common cause with the Baath resistance to the American occupation. If so, the invasion of Iraq, which was supposed to prevent an alliance between secular Baathists and Islamic radicals, will have brought one into existence. This alliance won't necessarily threaten commuters in New York, but it will certainly endanger U.S. soldiers in Iraq, and it will make it even less likely that the Bush administration will get its way in that country. All in all, the administration's record in Iraq should call forth extensive resignations from the Pentagon (Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld, Douglas Feith, Stephen Cambone), the Department of State (John Bolton), the National Security Council (Robert Joseph) and the vice president's office (I. Lewis Libby). But that is not likely to occur. If past practice holds, Bush's abysmal failures will lead to a new political offensive designed to gull the American people into believing that the invasion was really a smashing success.

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