Bush Needs a 12-Step Program
William D. Hartung
May 27, 2004
Containing no substantial new policy, Monday's speech laying out the administration's plans for the handover in Iraq reaffirms the Bush team's arms-length relationship with reality. In this commentary, Bill Hartung focuses on the president's credibility—or lack of it—and calls for an end to the fatally flawed Bush Doctrine.
William D. Hartung is a senior fellow at the World Policy Institute in New York and the author of How Much Are You Making on the War, Daddy? - A Quick and Dirty Guide to War Profiteering in the Bush Administration (Nation Books/Avalon Group, 2004).
President Bush's May 24th speech on his administration's five-step plan for a transition to sovereignty and democracy in Iraq was highly persuasive, if you happened to have spent the past year in a sound-proof room, sealed off from even the faintest whiff of reality. The speech was the first of six he will give on this subject between now and the June 30th date for the handover of power to an Iraqi caretaker government of uncertain composition and capabilities. For those of us who have been paying even intermittent attention to the growing fiasco in Iraq, President Bush's latest rhetorical offensive is far too little, far too late.
The central issue at hand is the president's credibility. After two years of spin, dissembling and outright lies about Iraq's great and gathering arsenal of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and Saddam Hussein's ties to Al Qaeda, the Bush crowd abruptly changed their rationale for going to war there. No longer had we risked lives and treasure to displace an imminent threat to national security. Instead, it ends up, we had cast Saddam Hussein into the dustbin of history in service of a breathtaking mission to spread democracy in the Middle East and beyond. This was supposed to have collateral security benefits, as the flowering of democracy eventually undermined support for Al Qaeda and other global terror groups, at some indeterminate date in the future.
The photos of torture at Abu Ghraib prison—and it was torture, no matter what verbal gymnastics Donald Rumsfeld chooses to perform have cast serious doubt on the latest rationale for the war. In Iraq throughout the Arab world, and even among America's closest allies elsewhere, the torture photos send a message of disrespect for Iraqi life that seems incompatible with treating Iraqis as democratic citizens worthy of the fundamental rights and responsibilities of self-governance. Recent polls indicate that 90 percent of Iraqis view American troops as occupiers, not liberators, while a majority of Americans are finally starting to wonder what on earth the Bush administration thinks it is doing there.
As we now know, the cavalier disregard for international law and basic human decency suggested by the torture photos starts at the top, with President Bush, his top legal advisors and Donald Rumsfeld and his merry band of yes-men at the Pentagon. If this scandal is a about a "few bad apples," as the Bush PR machine would have us believe, those apples are at the top of the tree—not the bottom—and their names are Bush, Cheney, Gonzalez, Ashcroft, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Feith and Cambone.
The Abu Ghraib scandal draws together all that is wrong with the Bush Doctrine in one deadly but concise package: 1) arrogance bordering on megalomania; 2) failure to take into account the history, culture, or dynamics of the society being acted upon; 3) poor coordination and confused lines of authority; and 4) a congenital inability to acknowledge or learn from past mistakes.This was the context for the president's speech, whose only genuine applause line was a promise to build a new prison and tear down Abu Ghraib, if the new Iraqi government was amenable to the plan. Talk about diminished expectations—"Operation Iraqi Freedom: Better Prisons Thanks To American Intervention!" It's not exactly a slogan designed to launch armies, or stanch the president's sliding approval ratings.
It will take a lot more than five steps and six speeches to restore George W. Bush's credibility on Iraq in particular, or foreign policy in general. What he really needs is a 12-step program to roll back his administration's parallel addictions to aggressive unilateralism and excessive secrecy. Firing Donald Rumsfeld at this late date is probably beside the point, but heads should roll among the neocon implementers of Rumsfeld's Iraq policy, including Paul Wolfowitz, his chief deputy, who was apparently so busy thinking big thoughts that he couldn't even tell a Congressional committee how many U.S. military personnel had lost their lives in the Iraq war he helped to start; Douglas Feith, the raving ideologue who has been the Pentagon's point man for overseeing the unbelievably inept Iraq rebuilding process; and Stephen Cambone, who may well have "set the conditions" for orders to be sent down the chain that led to the Abu Ghraib abuses.
The State Department should be given a much more robust role in running U.S. policy towards the rebuilding of Iraq, in conjunction with the United Nations and key U.S. allies. The Bush administration should invite United Nations inspectors back into Iraq to find out what they can about the state of Iraq's weapons programs. They should also press for an international tribunal to deal with war crimes committed by Saddam Hussein's regime rather than the current partisan body run by Ahmed Chalabi's nephew, Salem Chalabi. The administration should openly renounce any designs on long-term U.S. bases in Iraq, and announce a date certain for a U.S. troop pullout. That date should be measured in months and years, not years and decades. The absurd investment law that was rammed through by Paul Bremer and the Coalition Provisional Authority, which allows 100 percent of any Iraqi industry other than oil to be owned by foreign interests, should be repealed to make room for arrangements that will allow room for the flowering of indigenous Iraqi businesses. Future rebuilding contracts should be open to genuine competition, with preferences for Iraqi-owned concerns. The administration should rethink its plan to embed U.S. advisors in each and every ministry of the transitional Iraqi government with veto power over major decisions. In short, instead of the narrow, aggressive, "with us or against us" approach that got us into Iraq, the United States should pursue a genuine change of course that suggests that "we're all in this together." That would mean giving up its role as "occupier-in-chief" in Iraq and sharing political, economic and military power with allies, the United Nations and indigenous Iraqis who suffered under Saddam Hussein's rule.
Obviously, this kind of about-face in U.S. policy would be more likely to occur if there were to be a regime change in Washington in November 2004 that sent the neocons and their imperial dreams packing. There would still be plenty of work to do to get John "Stay the course" Kerry to disengage from Iraq rather than burrowing in deeper, but at least advocates of Iraqi independence from U.S. occupation wouldn't have to contend with the Cheney/Feith/Wolfowitz "axis of arrogance."
Would it be too much to ask Bush and Cheney to make one of the six speeches on Iraq a joint appearance, at which they take a page from Lyndon Johnson's Vietnam-era address and announce that "we shall not seek, nor will we accept, the nominations of our party to be the president and vice-president of the United States of America?" Just wishful thinking—but no more wishful than Bush's claim that he has a workable five-step plan for bringing sovereignty, security and democracy to Iraq.