In the beginning of the war in Iraq, images of U.S. military prowess filled TV screens, easily beating back resisting forces. This imagery and power made the U.S. look invincible. Yet, as we enter 2006, Operation Iraqi Freedom is beginning to look more and more like a terrible failure.
There have been some positive developments, though. For one, a murderous dictator was removed from power. Also, Iraqis themselves held two cycles of democratic elections and approved several constitutional provisions.
However, none of those accomplishments have stopped the insurgency or provided significant unity among the different cultural groups in the nation. The nation is as divided, chaotic and violent as it was the day the U.S. brought all its awful shocking.
Americans have began to ask some serious questions. The most important of which is: When and how should the U.S. leave Iraq?
The U.S. entered Iraq with unrealistic hopes, bad information and even worse planning. A population that was supposed to greet the freedom fighters unleashed a fierce resistance. The cultural differences between the Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds have led to a state of civil war. And the much needed support to pull this thing off has dwindled from very little, to almost none.
As of Jan. 1, these factors have held progress to a minimum in Iraq. The December 2005 elections brought high turnout but increased the rift between the Shiites and Sunnis. The Sunnis claim there was widespread tampering at the polls and want a redo. The United Nations has endorsed the validity of the election results. But it is not likely the people in Iraq are going to take their word for it. They simply don’t have any faith in the democratic process at this point.
And who could blame them for that?
In terms of infrastructure, they have seen little or no improvement. The availability of electricity is, at the very least, not much better than it was under Saddam. And if you ask congressmen like John Murtha (D-PA), both electricity and water availability are below pre-war levels.
In the area of security, the term FUBAR comes to mind. U.S. convoys are attacked very frequently. Generals have complained since day one about not having enough troops to secure Iraq’s borders, let alone interior.
The U.S. underestimated the amount of troops this thing would take. And then, didn’t even give those troops the proper equipment. First the reports came out about the body armor; troops couldn’t even get it if they were willing to pay. Now, stories about communication equipment shortages have emerged.
I mean, look, body armor is one thing. It is nice, but not essential. On the other hand, radios are probably as important in war as bullets. Essentially, the Iraqi people have seen nothing but the bad parts of democracy, including bureaucracies that don’t know what the hell is going on until a report hits the desk and unqualified elected or appointed officials.
If you couple the equipment and planning problems with the training issues, you have a full-blown snafu. The finest example of the training issue is Abu Gharib. In this situation a number of troops, who had not been taught how to handle detainees and interrogations, sodomized prisoners of war and took pictures. Nothing says “trust your freedom fighter” like a photo of your countrymen being shamed in the worst possible way.
Sarcasm aside, trying to understand why all of this has happened is extremely difficult. Depending on who is being interviewed the public receives a very different story. If you watch Fox New, Iraq seems like a good home for a third Disney attraction, and if you read the NY Times it’s more like Vietnam without the rain in 1968.
So, is it any wonder that Iraq is in a state of political chaos? The nation that has occupied them is not doing much better in its new home away from home. That is not to say that a more politically unified America would mean a more unified Iraq. What it does say is that those who led the U.S. into this fight were unprepared and badly informed.
Moreover, the cost of these mistakes has been very high. 277 billion dollars have already been spent or allocated to the effort with an expected 150 billion on the way in 2006. It has cost nearly 2,200 American lives and an estimated 30,000 civilian lives. These numbers do not include coalition losses or the losses of contractors, volunteers or various others who traveled to Iraq to assist in the effort.
The Administration believes that a long term commitment is the only way. But the opposition suggests that withdrawing in six months will best serve the situation.
A long-term occupancy will become only more costly. However, if things turn out as planned in Iraq it may well be worth it. The problem is that the U.S. may not have the financial ability to do that. The debt is once again spiraling out of control. Things will be fine as long as other nations are willing to lend the U.S. the money needed to do its bidding. The problem is that running that kind of debt can cause a power shift in the global financial market. In modern history nations that conceded their once great international power to other nations did so in the financial market first.
Then again, it certainly seems immoral to break something and then leave it for someone else to fix. Some say we should finish what we start. Truthfully, that makes sense to a Southern fellow like me.
Yet, that does not mean that some changes are not in order. I have no problem with changing horses mid-stream if the one I’m on can’t figure out how to get across. The U.S. needs some major change in leadership. Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and anyone they hired have to go. Accountability has to start somewhere and those guys are as responsible for these problems as anyone.
Lastly, Congress has to get some major oversight powers in this situation. The U.S. needs more people on the job. The more transparent this operation is to our elected officials the more capable they’ll be of making positive changes.
One thing is for sure, this dog is not going to hunt and Washington better find a way to get things turned around before troops start coming home throwing their medals at them again.