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Ivan Eland: Mr. President, What Planet Are You On?

Mr. President, What Planet Are You On?

By Ivan Eland*
May 24, 2004

In ''Spin City,'' the nation’s capital, presidential administrations often believe their own propaganda. The Bush administration, however, has been especially self-delusional—particularly when it comes to the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Not since the Johnson and Nixon administrations during the Vietnam War and Watergate has an administration been in such denial about its policy course. Like a naïve fawn caught in the headlights, the Bush crowd seems paralyzed and condemned to the oncoming crash.

Legislative hawks such as John McCain (R-AZ) and John Murtha (D-PA), neither of whom may have the president’s best interests at heart, have advocated sending more troops into the quicksand of Mesopotamia. But even with an additional 300,000 troops, the U.S. would still be unable to pacify a country in which public opinion has largely turned its back on the occupation. The burgeoning prison torture scandal has driven the last nail into the coffin of a botched U.S. occupation. It is unlikely that the anti-U.S. feelings of the Iraqi population—instigated by more than a decade of grinding U.S.-led economic sanctions and an invasion—can now be reversed.

General Anthony Zinni, the former U.S. commander in the Middle East, recently called the administration’s Iraq policy a “failure” and added, “Somebody has screwed up. And at this level and at this stage, it should be evident to everybody that they’ve screwed up. And whose heads are rolling on this? That’s what bothers me most.” Zinni’s sentiments were echoed by General Joseph Hoar, another former U.S. commander in the Middle East: “I believe we are absolutely on the brink of failure. We are looking into the abyss.” You know a policy is toast when active military commanders are distancing themselves from failure. Maj. Gen. Charles Swannack Jr., commander of the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division in Iraq, admitted, “We are losing public support regionally, internationally and within America—thus, currently, we are losing strategically.”

Yet instead of taking advantage of the Iraqi prisoner scandal to show the door to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld—the incompetent architect of the administration’s Iraq policy—the president went out of his way to show support for his embattled security chieftain. The only strategy that the administration seems to have is to churn out more propaganda about how well things are going. Just last week, the president continued to indulge in the fantasy of a democratic Iraq leading to a democratic Middle East: “An Iraqi democracy is emerging… In time, Iraq will be a free and democratic nation at the heart of the Middle East. This will send a message—a powerful message—from Damascus to Tehran: that democracy can bring hope to lives in every culture.” Unfortunately, the message sent to Syria, Iran, and other “rogue” states by the failed U.S. occupation of Iraq, is that they could be successful fighting a guerilla war against the United States.

The president is somehow deluded that a fake turnover of power to a puppet interim government—to replace the widely discredited U.S.-picked Governing Council—will take the fire out of the guerrilla insurgency. Bush retains that vain hope despite his administration’s attempt to low-ball expectations by having senior officials warn that violence could spike after the turn over of “sovereignty” on June 30.

The violence is likely to get worse despite the administration’s pretense of turning over Iraq to the Iraqis, and throwing more U.S. forces into a quagmire already unpopular at home would be a sure election loser. What’s an administration to do?

How about the obvious: turning over real power to the Iraqis, allowing them to genuinely determine their own future, declaring victory and withdrawing U.S. forces. Of course, this might require the Bush administration to stomach even a partition of the country into three new states. The withdrawal of the occupying power and autonomy or statehood for the various ethnic/religious groups could actually take the fire out of the insurgency. Such a post-occupation arrangement among the groups would likely remove the fear that some would dominate the others in a unified Iraq.

This is the last chance for the Bush administration to get out of Iraq with some prestige and dignity intact. During Vietnam paralyzed U.S. policymakers behaved like investors who, instead of cutting losses, ride declining stocks to the bottom hoping that they would some day rise again. The Bush administration should not make the same mistake in Iraq.


*Ivan Eland is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute in Oakland, CA., and author of the book, Putting “Defense” Back into U.S. Defense Policy: Rethinking U.S. Security in the Post-Cold War World. For further articles and studies, see the War on Terrorism and

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