Washington (UPI) Oct 19, 2005
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice faced a skeptical and at times combative Senate Foreign Relations Committee Wednesday in her first hearing on Iraq before the panel since she assumed office.
Rice's problem is an ironic one: the reality in Iraq is finally catching up to Bush administration rhetoric, but the White House's ability to tell the story is hamstrung by its compromised credibility on the war.
Senator after senator - Republican and Democrat - counseled Rice to speak plainly about Iraq to the public, more often, to shore up faltering support for the war.
A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll indicates 51 percent of the people don't think removing Saddam Hussein from power was worth the cost in U.S. lives and treasure; 58 percent want to reduce the number of American troops; and 56 percent are now less confident of a successful conclusion to that war.
A recent Pew poll shows 41 percent of the people think the war in Iraq has increased the chance of a terrorist attack on the United States. Only 25 percent think it has diminished the chance.
"The gap between the rhetoric of the administration and the reality the Americans see on the ground has created a credibility chasm," said Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del.
In fact, the security situation on the ground in Iraq is objectively better than it was a year ago, according to military officials up and down the chain of command who deal with it daily in Iraq.
With increasing numbers of reasonably effective Iraqi forces, the American military is able to now clear cities and leave behind a force capable of holding the cities to prevent insurgent forces from reestablishing themselves. This is a recent phenomena in Iraq.
There simply have not been adequate numbers of U.S. forces to remain in control of all the villages cleared, and Americans - with their limited language and cultural knowledge, as well as their status as occupiers - are not well suited for the job anyway.
Rice Wednesday tacitly acknowledged the fact that there have not been enough U.S. troops for the "holding" mission by heralding the achievements of Iraqi forces who now do that job.
Rice outlined a plan to increase the emphasis on fixing Baghdad's limping ministries and government services. This will be welcome news to U.S. military forces which have borne the burden of fighting, reconstruction, economic development, and political regeneration on the town and provincial level.
According to Rice, the first of a series of "provincial reconstruction teams" encompassing economic, political and physical infrastructure advisers will be deployed in Iraq next month.
She also said State Department and other U.S. civilian agency personnel would be pushed out of the "green zone" in Baghdad and integrated onto military bases to spread their expertise and services. Too often in Iraq U.S. military and civilian officials are working at cross-purposes, with the U.S. military bearing almost the entire burden in implementing schemes that emanate from Baghdad with little of their input.
This is a significant improvement in the current, Baghdad- and military-centric approach to Iraq, but is likely to receive scant attention because of the Bush administration's checkered track record in talking about Iraq.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., traced the public's "walk away from the administration" to what she considers repeated inaccuracies about issues surrounding the war - the claim that Iraq had chemical, biological and nuclear weapons; that the war would be completed in six months; that the U.S. military would be greeted as liberators; that the rebuilding would be an "affordable endeavor"; that the U.S. share of rebuilding would be limited to just a couple of billion dollars; and most recently that the insurgency is in its "last throes."
"The administration created false expectations not just for the American people, but also for the Iraqi people," Boxer said. "Madame Secretary, our country is sick at heart of the spin and the false expectations."
Boxer charged that Rice, last weekend, added a new layer of subterfuge to the debate over Iraq when she said on NBC's Meet the Press that the reason the United States invaded Iraq was because of the attack on September 11. Rice said rather than just going after the Afghanistan-based al Qaida, the Bush administration decided to go against the root cause of extremism, which meant building a democratic Middle East.
"Let me tell you, if the people of the United States of America knew at the time that our mission was to rebuild the entire Middle East, which you have several times called a malignancy ... if that was what the war was about -- the first war and even the second war -- they would have walked away from this administration long before they've walked away. And they are gone," Boxer said.
Rice clung to the administration's refusal to specify a timetable for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq. By her reasoning, saying when U.S. troops would pull out would only encourage the insurgents to keep fighting until that date. To win they don't need to beat the United States, just outlast it.
However, senators from both sides of the aisle sought potential withdrawal dates that reflect projected success in establishing a functioning Iraqi government and security force. They argue that by refusing to discuss rough timetables, it leaves the impression the United States intends to remain in Iraq as a foothold in the Middle East - something that fuels the Iraqi insurgency and probably influences foreigners to join or support al Qaida as well.
"That's what undercuts our credibility," said Sen. Russell Feingold, D-WI. "People naturally are a little bit suspicious of a country that invades another country... They wonder if we're not there for some other reason. And you've heard the reasons -- oil, or domination of the Middle East."
Rice rejected that rationale.
"I simply don't agree our its our presence feeding the insurgency," she said, contradicting a statement to the contrary by the top U.S. general in Iraq last month. "We've been very clear that we don't want to stay. That's a different matter than giving a timetable for when we think we will leave."
"I have no doubt it's going to be on a reasonable time frame," she said
Rice and the Bush administration's refusal to discuss timetables likely has as much to do with its desire to avoid being pinned down to a date that may come and go with no troop withdrawal -- a sure way to guarantee charges of failure in the mission.
Part of the new strategy in Iraq Rice outlined Wednesday is to involve oil-rich Middle Eastern countries making billions on the increased oil prices to partner with Iraq. Sustained instability in Iraq will eventually spill over into their countries, so Rice reasoned they have an immediate interest in helping.
"Clearly, one of the roles that the Saudis and others will need to play is the United States has taken a large part of the initial burden in terms of financial support for the Iraqi infrastructure, development for the training of the Iraqi security forces, and so forth. And the region will have to be more supportive in that way, and I think they are prepared to be more supportive in that way," she said.
Whether that will happen is another question. Saudi Arabia's foreign minister recently warned in an interview with the New York Times that Iraq is on the brink of disintegration but did not signal his country's intention to do anything about it. Rice said Wednesday Saud al Faisal's comments were mischaracterized.
The region's reluctance to be deeply involved in Iraq may be related to the fact that the United States invaded Iraq without the support of its neighbors. They are now confronted with a fait accompli and are being told to invest effort and money in stabilizing Iraq, which - while a threat under Saddam Hussein - was at least stable and did not need their help.
A functioning democracy in Iraq may also not be in those governments' interests. If Iraq becomes the model democracy the Bush administration hopes, it directly threatens the mostly undemocratic governments in the nations that surround it.
More immediately, their involvement with Iraq risks a backlash from the al-Qaida network, which is committed to maintaining Iraq as disputed ground.
Rice clearly signaled, however, that the Bush administration is not satisfied with just establishing Iraq as a democracy, and she rejected the notion that the invasion of Iraq caused instability in the Middle East.
"It is not as if the Middle East was stable and humming along and happily moving toward political reconciliation and stability, and then we decided to liberate Iraq. The Middle East was a malignant place that produced an ideology of extremism so great that people flew airplanes into our buildings one fine September morning. We need to keep that in mind when we say we've caused instability in the Middle East, or we're creating terrorists. What kind of Middle East do we think we were dealing with?" she said.
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Outside View: After The Iraq Vote
Washington (UPI) Oct 18, 2005
The referendum on Iraq's constitution is only the beginning of a political process to resolve the issues dividing Iraqis along ethnic and sectarian lines.
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