How Much Will We Accept?

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On
April 11, just 11 weeks before we were scheduled to turn the job
of governing Iraq over to the Iraqis, Paul Bremer, the top American
administrator in Iraq, was asked who will take the reins. “That’s
a good question,” he replied.

Two
days later, President Bush was asked the same question at a White
House press conference. “You’ll find that out soon,” he replied.

In
other words, there’s no one. We’re up to our chins in a snake pit
and none of the locals are up to pulling us out – and U.N Secretary-General
Kofi Annan is telling us that we’d better hold our fire. “Violent
military action by an occupying power against inhabitants of an
occupied country will only make matters worse,” he recently warned,
a few hours after a U.S. soldier was killed in an ambush near Tel
Afar, making April the bloodiest month for American forces in Iraq.

All
told, things are currently not unlike what Secretary of State Colin
Powell warned President Bush about prior to the war, according to
Bob Woodward’s new book. Two months before the invasion of Iraq,
reports Woodward, the former Army general told Bush that “you’re
going to be owning this place” if he went to war. Powell and his
deputy, Richard Armitage, called it “the Pottery Barn rule” of military
action: “You break it, you own it,” according to Woodward.

More
than a decade before Powell’s reported advice to Bush, there was
another strong warning about Iraq, and very similar: “Once you’ve
got Baghdad, it’s not clear what you do with it. It’s not clear
what kind of government you would put in place of the one that’s
currently there.” That was Dick Cheney, 1991, in his job as Defense
secretary, explaining why the first Bush administration decided
not to invade Baghdad and overthrow Saddam Hussein even though U.S
forces had just kicked the stuffing out of the Iraqi army in Kuwait.

“How
much credibility is that government going to have if it’s set up
by the United States military when it’s there?,” asked Cheney. “I
think to have American military forces engaged in a civil war inside
Iraq would fit the description of quagmire, and we have absolutely
no desire to get bogged down in that fashion.”

Some
ten years later, in September 2001, Vice President Cheney declared:
“Saddam Hussein is bottled up.” Two months before that, National
Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice argued that Saddam had been contained:
“We are able to keep arms from Hussein. His military forces have
not been rebuilt.” Six months before that, Powell reported that
Saddam “has not developed any significant capability with respect
to weapons of mass destruction.” Further, said Powell, Saddam Hussein
was “unable to project conventional power against his neighbors.”
Everyone was singing from the same sheet: Sanctions had worked.

All
of the above, it seems, still stands as correct. Cheney had it right
in 1991. Once you’re in Baghdad, it’s not clear what you’ve got,
not clear how you avoid a quagmire. Or as Bremmer now says about
what’s next: “That’s a good question.”

Move
forward to 2001, and Cheney still had it right, along with Powell
and Rice, regarding the state of Iraq’s military. What’s turned
up are no invoices of shipments of uranium from Africa, no unmanned
planes capable of hitting Manhattan, no real army, no reconstituted
nukes.

And
now? On April 3, Lawrence F. Kaplan, a senior editor at The New
Republic and a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute’s Project
on American Primacy in World Affairs, reported in The Washington
Post on what level of casualties we’re willing to tolerate in
Iraq, according to “a massive opinion poll conducted by Princeton
Survey Research Associates” in 1999. “The survey showed the public
would tolerate, as a mean figure, 29,853 American fatalities,” reported
Kaplan. Rounded off, that’s another 29,000.

May
5, 2004

Ralph
R. Reiland [send him mail]
is a
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review columnist and the B. Kenneth Simon
Professor of Free Enterprise at Robert Morris University.

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