Now an Iraq War in Washington


By Jim Hoagland

Washington Post
April 9, 2001

President George W. Bush is said to have empowered three administration working groups to think hard and devise one more new and improved U.S. policy on Iraq. Have no doubt: This means war.

No, not the kind of war that involves B-2s blasting Saddam Hussein's bunker in Baghdad, or U.S. grunts marching toward Basrah. The elder President Bush tried that (to some extent) before snatching stalemate from the jaws of victory in Operation Desert Storm. This will be a war fought in Washington with bullets of secret position papers, historical analogies, news leaks and other bureaucratic artifice.

Opposing U.S. factions, rather than Saddam's Republican Guards, will be the immediate targets of ambush and gas attacks of the hot air kind. Progress will be measured in career enhancement achieved rather than hilltops seized, in slanted insider accounts that make Page 1 rather than in enemy aircraft downed.

These are Washington Rules, well known to longtime denizens of the Potomac who see policy-making as an unending, existential struggle over resources. But it would not take much to turn the justified review of 15 years of failed U.S. policy toward Saddam into something valuable and innovative.

First, historical analogies not directly tied to U.S. experience in Iraq should be banished from these interagency battles. History used as a tool of argument invariably produces flawed analysis. Vietnam was not Munich, and Desert Storm was not Vietnam. The Bay of Pigs is not the only outcome available to the United States in supporting Iraqi exiles who would try to topple Saddam. The Bay of Pigs comparison is aggressively advanced by those in the "regime change" working group who oppose doing anything significant to lift the Iraqi opposition out of its current weakened state. The fact that successive U.S. betrayals and failures helped plunge the opposition into that weakness does not seem to matter to the Bay of Pigsters - some of whom engineered the earlier betrayals and failures and are back for more.

Mr. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice seem to be approaching the Iraq review with open minds. That goads the partisans into stepping up the skirmishing and the leaking, which by past Washington standards is still embryonic.

But the working groups (the other two cover economic sanctions and the no-flight zones over Iraq policed by U.S. and British planes) will provide excellent platforms for stealth assaults unless Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney and Ms. Rice get more of a handle on where the review is going.

Unidentified State Department officials have followed up an energetic trashing of the existing sanctions regime in the press with a campaign of character assassination aimed at Saddam's opponents, who are largely guilty of being friends of the diplomats' enemies at the Pentagon.

The Los Angeles Times on March 19 quoted anonymous U.S. and Arab diplomats and others as having called Ahmed Chalabi, leader of the Iraqi National Congress, "a crook" and a sponge who is hopeless when it comes to managing money.

Left out were Mr. Chalabi's Ph.D. in mathematics and other graduate degrees from the University of Chicago and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, his success in founding an Amman bank that was expropriated and looted by the government of Jordan on trumped up charges of embezzlement, and his sacrifice of most of his fortune so that he can risk his life to fight Saddam.

Also left out was the salient fact that Mr. Chalabi has become the bíÂȘte noire of the CIA and its friends at the State Department. He publicized the intelligence agency's gross failures in Iraq. A serious Iraq review would begin with a serious look at why and how the CIA fell on its face in Iraq under Bill Clinton.

Mr. Chalabi is a dedicated advocate of democracy who does fight against enormous military odds and deep religious and social divisions in the Arab world. A policy review dedicated to trashing him and other exiles is a shameful and self-defeating way to begin anew on Iraq. It is a phony way to argue that nothing can or should be done to oust the predatory psychopath who holds Iraq hostage.

More Information on a Turning Point for Iraq
More Information on the Iraq Crisis
More Information on Sanctions Against Iraq