Iraq, as anyone who watches television or reads the paper knows,
has become the main issue in the coming presidential election.
Electoral politics, however, should not justify the extent to which
President Bush is misconstruing Iraq to his benefit. The absurdly
optimistic version of reality in Iraq which Bush touts at campaign
events paints a far-too-rosy picture that fails to grapple with the
current crisis.

Suhael Momin

As part of his re-election campaign, Bush has made two core
claims about Iraq: First and foremost, he has claimed that deposing
Saddam Hussein has made America safer. From the time it proposed
the Iraq war, the Bush team has attempted to link Hussein,
al-Qaida, Sept. 11 and Iraq together as branches of the same
interrelated problem. If one is to believe the administration, the
war in Iraq is nothing more than a logical extension of the greater
“War on Terror.” Thus, by pursuing the war on terror,
Bush has made the United States more secure. Secondly, Bush has
gone on to claim that Iraq, within a short amount of time, will
take its place among the world’s respected democracies. If
Iraq progresses as Bush hopes it will, Iraqis will go to the polls
by early 2005 to select their first popularly elected government in
decades. Unfortunately, while Bush presents these two contentions
as unshakable truth, reality dictates otherwise: The first is at
best debatable, and the second is unequivocally false.

The administration has argued, without waver, that invading Iraq
made America safer. The problem with this, unfortunately, is that
no evidence can be amassed to support the claim. The
administration’s first assertion — Iraq had illegal
weapons of mass destruction — has fizzled out. The second
— Iraq had ties to al-Qaida — has been discredited by
the Central Intelligence Agency. Paradoxically, many signs indicate
that the war in Iraq has made the United States less secure. It is
now public knowledge that terror cells are now operating openly out
of Iraq; a whole new generation, angry about the American
occupation of Iraq, has been born. Furthermore, considering that
one of al-Qaida’s original grievances was that American
troops were stationed at a base in Saudi Arabia, what implication
can the Iraq war have? Invading, then stationing troops in Iraq may
have simply reinforced the twisted logic behind al-Qaida’s
militant anti-Americanism.

Last week, when Bush made a joint appearance with interim Iraqi
Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, both were exuberant about the prospects
for thriving, prosperous Iraq. The two, however, presented a
picture that, as many have pointed out, fails to account for the
reality faced by American troops and Iraqi civilians on the ground.
The insurgency has not been tamed, the economy is not on its feet
and electricity and sanitation are still spotty. Kidnapping and
beheadings occur each week. A recent CIA report, the National
Intelligence Estimate, assessed best- and worst case scenarios for
Iraq. At best, it predicted tenuous stability — not a liberal
democracy with free and fair elections — and at worst, civil
war.

Ultimately, the American people deserve a realistic assessment
of the war and pragmatic prescription for dealing with Iraq.
Recently, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld hinted that partial
elections — elections that only involve the 70 to 80 percent
of Iraqis in areas that can be secured — were a viable
solution. While this plan is more realistic in that it addresses
the security crisis on the ground, it is nonetheless fatally
flawed. Because a government that is not elected by all Iraqis will
not be viewed as legitimate by all Iraqis, the chance of
establishing a long-lasting democratic tradition is minimal. The
Bush administration needs to quit baiting the American people with
inspiring oratory about Iraqi democracy. It needs to explain, as
clearly as possible, what journalists and editorial pages have been
saying: Iraq is a mess. It then needs to launch a plan to win
desperately needed peace, so that the eventual aspiration of
holding elections can be entertained.

Until the election, unfortunately, the Bush administration will
continue to spew rhetoric and take little decisive policy action.
Sen. John Kerry, his Democratic challenger, should take advantage
of this, and focus the last few weeks of the campaign on revealing
the wanton differences between what Bush says about Iraq and what
actually happens there. Whether he wins or loses, Kerry would do
the American people a service by igniting a factually-oriented
public discussion over the current situation in Iraq.

 

Momin can be reached at smomin@umich.edu.

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