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Three Myths About Iraq

"It is time for truth telling by the administration with respect to its Iraq policy. There were a number of incorrect assumptions underlying the decision to go into Iraq, and there is some faulty reasoning as to why U.S. forces need to remain." Photo courtesy of AFP.
by William C. Danvers
UPI Outside View Commentator
Washington (UPI) Oct 02, 2006
The Bush administration's fall offensive to boost public support for Iraq is underway. Unfortunately, there is a reality gap between the administration's Iraq policy and actual events on the ground. Specifically, there are three myths regarding U.S. involvement in Iraq that stand in the way of developing the consensus approach necessary to get the job done there.

They both perpetuate support for the status quo policy -- fighting terrorists and building democracy in the Middle East -- by providing a rationale that is more rhetorical than real; and they offer a false dichotomy of either staying the course or adhering to a timeline for withdrawal, by suggesting that there are not other creative alternatives.

The first myth is that we are fighting in Iraq because it was a key front in the war on terror. Terrorists in Iraq -- both foreign fighters and home grown jihadis -- are a problem, but this is a result of the war, not a reason for starting it. The idea that fighting in Baghdad protects the United States at home is incorrect.

It likely makes things worse to the extent that U.S. involvement there is a rallying cry for extremists. Certainly Abu Ghraib has been used as a recruiting tool by terrorists. Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia and Europe, as the recent London airline plots underscored, are equal if not greater sources of terrorism.

In addition, Iraq is a constant drain on resources, military and financial, which undermine the ability of the U.S. government to focus efforts on homeland security and prevent a terrorist act from occurring in the United States.

Another myth is that the United States is building a democracy in Iraq that can serve as a regional model. To their credit, many Iraqis have participated in elections and understand the need for a government that is responsive to their needs and concerns. But an election alone does not constitute a democracy.

The election in Gaza of Hamas and in Iran of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president -- not to mention the participation of Hezbollah in the Lebanese Government -- are three examples of the problems of defining democracy primarily on the basis of elections.

According to Egyptian professor and democracy activist, Saad Eddin Ibrahim, a public opinion survey in Egypt has Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah ranked as the most important regional leader, followed by others like Ahmadinejad and Osama bin Laden.

Recent regional elections, as well as the political popularity of Middle Eastern leaders who are anathema to the West, reinforce the idea that making democracy work in the region cannot be imposed from the outside. Rather than claiming that every election is a victory for democracy and pushing the idea that Iraq will serve as a democratic model for its neighbors, the Bush administration ought to focus on helping Iraq build institutions that can support and sustain democracy.

The administrations of President Bill Clinton and President George W. Bush's father sought to do as much for the nations of the former Soviet empire. Even there, where there was a willingness to embrace the West, the process of getting democracy to take root has not always been smooth and easy. It is much more complicated in the Middle East, where the West is not seen as the model to follow.

The third myth is that those who support getting U.S. troops out of Iraq as soon as possible must call for a withdrawal date. While reasonable arguments can be made on both sides of the issue, the reality is that as long as Bush is in office, he will not accept a date certain for withdrawal. Essentially, Congress, short of cutting off funds for the troops, which it will not do, cannot force the president to accept a definite timeline for withdrawal.

An alternative, in keeping with actions already taken by Congress, is to tie funding to the administration's implementation of a realistic strategy that will get U.S. forces out sooner rather than later. Creative proposals for dealing with U.S. involvement in Iraq -- like the one from Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del. and Council on Foreign Relations President Emeritus Leslie Gelb calling for a unified but decentralized Iraq with more autonomy for its regions and ethnic groups -- should be the focus of debate about U.S. policy options, rather than arguing over a date certain.

Simply staying the course is not an option, but establishing a fixed timeline is not the only alternative.

It is time for truth telling by the administration with respect to its Iraq policy. There were a number of incorrect assumptions underlying the decision to go into Iraq, and there is some faulty reasoning as to why U.S. forces need to remain.

While pulling out without fixing a strategy that at least offers the hope of Iraq rebuilding itself and developing a democracy over time is not the best course, neither is pretending that the United States can simply will things to work out by using tough rhetoric and maintaining the status quo.

A measure of humility about Iraq and what is happening there is essential for pursuing a new course around which the people of the United States and other nations can coalesce.

William Danvers, an adjunct professor at George Washington University, worked for the State Department and National Security Council during the Clinton administration, and is currently employed by Johnson, Madigan, Peck, a government relations firm.

United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.

Source: United Press International

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Iraq Casualties On The Rise
Washington (UPI) Oct 01, 2006
The past two weeks have seen a sharp rise in the rates at which U.S. soldiers are being killed and wounded in Iraq. The total number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq through Sept. 27 since the start of operations to topple Saddam Hussein on March 19, 2003, was 2,706, according to official figures issued by the U.S. Department of Defense. Therefore, 28 U.S. soldiers were killed during the nine days from Sept. 19 through Sept. 27, at an average rate of 3.1 per day.

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