Global Policy Forum

Playing Shell Games on Responsibility with Iraq


By Derrick Z. Jackson

Boston Globe
September 23, 2006

The same White House that trashed generals and bean counters for saying it would take hundreds of thousands of more troops and billions more dollars to secure Iraq is now blaming the puppet government for not securing the country. The blame is arriving through one of those ``senior-administration-official-speaking-on-background" whisper campaigns. One such official told The New York Times that President Bush is peeved at Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of Iraq. ``The thing you hear the most is that he never makes any decisions," the official said. ``And that drives Bush crazy. He doesn't take well to anyone who talks about getting something accomplished and then refuses to take the first step."

In the Los Angeles Times, a Bush official said that the White House is getting ``frustrated. . . . There is a little bit of impatience." Another official said Maliki's get-tough-on-violence ``rhetoric has to be matched by concrete action . . . acting on the ground on its own behalf."

While his minions cut the knees out from under Maliki, Bush himself acts like the general manager of a sports team who declares he has full confidence in the coach during a losing season. Bush said on CNN, ``I'm impressed by President Maliki. I've talked to him. I've seen the decision-making process that he's put in place." White House press secretary Tony Snow continues to declare that reports of Bush losing faith in Maliki are ``absolutely false."

This shell game of responsibility was all but inevitable in a war launched both under false pretenses and with undermanned and underequipped forces. It was inevitable in an occupation where the White House brags about a duly elected government while it still has 138,000 troops there.

This week, General John Abizaid, the US Central Command chief, ended any illusions of major troop withdraw anytime soon. He said troop levels must be ``sustained through the spring" because ``the secular tensions, if left unchecked, could be fatal to Iraq." In a cryptic response to a reporter's question as to whether the United States is winning the war and occupation, Abizaid said, ``Given unlimited time and unlimited support, we're winning the war."

Abizaid said the occupation is so murky that ``Baghdad is not going to clarify itself in my mind militarily for a couple months." To punctuate that point, the United Nations issued a report this week that at least 6,600 people were killed and 4,300 people were wounded in Iraq in July and August, far more than previously estimated.

But while Abizaid is talking about needing unlimited time and unlimited resources, a bipartisan study group headed by former secretary of state James Baker and former US representative Lee Hamilton declared that ``the next three months are critical" for the government of Iraq ``to show its own citizens soon and the citizens of the United States that it is deserving of continued support."

So the US military deserves unlimited time but Maliki deserves just three months? That sure begs the question of whose country it is. The mixed messages smell of how the United States alternately propped up, manipulated, ignored, and ultimately abandoned South Vietnam's president, Nguyen Van Thieu. Thieu was elected in 1967 and reelected in 1971 under questionable, US-backed circumstances. He was widely acknowledged to be corrupt, but US meddling did not help.

By many accounts, he became a pawn between the lame-duck Johnson administration and the Nixon presidential campaign on whether to halt the bombing of North Vietnam. He was essentially ignored by Nixon over the 1973 ``peace accords" that left North Vietnamese soldiers in position to overrun South Vietnam. That eventually happened and Thieu fled the country. Thieu eventually died in obscurity in Boston in 2001. Upon his death, Vietnam historian Stanley Karnow told National Public Radio, ``The short answer is that he was not terribly effective, but it's doubtful anybody would have been effective. Thieu came into office amid a lot of political turmoil in Saigon. . . . The situation began to get so hopeless in a way that finally President Johnson put in American combat troops in the summer of 1965 as about the only way to bolster up the government in Saigon." Karnow added, ``and so what you had in Vietnam was a kind of facade of a client government, an allied government, which in fact didn't amount to very much."

Four decades later, there is a new facade of a client government. Bush officials whisper that it is not amounting to very much. That is to cover up the fact that the US invasion and occupation has amounted to even less.

More Information on Iraq
More Information on Iraq's Government
More Information on Leaders and Occupiers in Post-War Iraq


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