HNN Poll: Are We at a Turning Point in Iraq?





Here's a scenario for you: American aircraft are firing into residential neighborhoods inhabited by the very people we claim to be protecting; American casualties are spiking; local security forces we've built and supported collapse or flee the scene; American officials are confined to their "compounds" because of "security worries"; top officials are rushing on air to claim that things are not what they seem, that progress is occurring; American generals are publicly planning for the possibility of sending in more troops; the president is swearing that we will not "cut and run" but "stay the course"; pundits, editorial writers, and TV journalists are calling the situation a "quagmire"; the American public is catching all this on television, including shots of American troops battling in the streets of major cities; the latest opinion polls indicate that Americans are reconsidering their support for the ongoing war and that rising numbers -- 44% -- now claim to be in favor of pulling out American troops "as soon as possible"; under the weight of the latest war news, the President's opinion-poll popularity ratings are dropping fast.

Do we have to wait another day before some official completes this picture by using the phrase "the light at the end of the tunnel"? Here's the sort of statement that's already coming out of the mouth of the Coalition Provisional Authority’s L. Paul Bremer:

'There is no question we have control over the country. I know if you just report on those few places [where the fighting is taking place], it does look chaotic,' Bremer said on CNN's American Morning. 'But if you travel around the country, what you find is a bustling economy, people opening businesses right and left, unemployment has dropped… The story of the house that doesn't burn down is not much of a story in the news. The story of the house that does burn down is news.

So is Iraq -- yes, we're talking about Iraq, not Vietnam -- a glass half full or half empty? Or could it be half-shattered… or is it a glass at all?

Soon enough we'll undoubtedly hear plaintive murmurings from official Washington that "they" -- the Sunni insurgents in that famed "triangle" (reminiscent of "triangles" first named decades ago); and the followers of the young Islamist extremist Muqtada al Sadr -- have been militarily "defeated" and should recognize as much and act accordingly. As if that were the point. As if the story were really a military one in the first place.

For anyone of a certain age, memories -- particularly of the shocking beginning moment of the surprise 1968 Tet Offensive in Vietnam -- are bound to come flooding back; not, I hasten to add, because that massive nationwide series of assaults which stunned the American public into disbelief and this chaotic spread of rebellion into the Shiite areas of Iraq are in any literal way similar, but because the response is familiar, because the "gap" between events unfolding on television and the Iraq promised by this administration is already large enough to create genuine unease in the "homeland," to give the alternately sunny and belligerent pronouncements of this administration’s spokesmen in Baghdad and Washington the look of propaganda, not to say surreality.

In the Vietnam years, at least, our government had a series of military regimes, however shaky, to back in South Vietnam (even if we had largely put them in place). Iraq, on the other hand, is like a strange administrative void at the moment. Under other circumstances, an American administration would simply have backed a military strongman or junta of some sort. But this is now inconceivable. With every other announced explanation for the invasion of Iraq from weapons of mass destruction to al-Qaeda links down the tubes, this administration has nothing left but the idea that it’s bringing "democracy" to the country. Lose that and what is there except dreams, greed, and disaster.


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bryan haught - 4/13/2004

Although I agree with much of your post - the U.S. must be seen to "plays nice with others" in order to fulfill its foreign policy objectives without generating a coalition of the mistrustful - supersonic fighters with GBUs do confer political as well as military clout. Our current administration is running into the limits of military power, particularly if it is being run on the cheap. I suspect that if the original multi-hundred thousand man estimate for occupying Iraq had been taken seriously, we would not have seen quite the dissolution of Iraqi civil society that did occur - not least because the US army could not have supplied that number by itself for long, and we would have been forced to integrate UN troops and planning into our structure, with resultant gains in legitimacy and foreign aid. Of course, this would have required a completely different administration with completely different objectives...


Michael Meo - 4/11/2004

Let me if I may take the fact of the U.S. defeat in Iraq a few steps forward. Now that it is clear that the U.S. is not able just to walk into Iraq and change the regime wfter our own image, and the so-called "hegemon"--read single Imperial Power--is that only in its own mind, the whole business of the Indispensible Superpower needs to be thrown out.

The clearest way forward is to reject the unreal deception, that having supersonic fighters with laser-guided bombs allows you political power. Rather let the United States learn, after the debacle of Iraq, to implement George W. Bush's campaign promises of the year 2000, to approach international problems with humble expectations and with a willingness to work with others.


mark safranski - 4/10/2004

The Tet analogy is interesting. The Tet offensive militarily destroyed the NLF even as it produced politically disatrous televised images and commentary by Walter Cronkite. Thereafter, it was up to North Vietnam to replace the once thriving Southern guerilla movement with northern bodies.

The Sadrists ( who are anti-Iranian and xenophobic Islamists) have to either radicalize the Shiite majority that dislikes and distrusts them, come to a truce with the CPA or be chewed to pieces.


William S. Monroe - 4/7/2004

Paul Bremer says that "if you travel around the country, what you find is a bustling economy, [etc.]" But when Paul Bremer travels around the country he does so surrounded by heavily armed "civilian contractors". We will have reached a turning point in Iraq when Bremer can travel without those guards, and when George W. Bush can fly into Iraq in broad daylight, with advance warning, and can stay for more than 30 minutes. Otherwise, things have not changed since a year ago.


William S. Monroe - 4/7/2004

Paul Bremer says that "if you travel around the country, what you find is a bustling economy, [etc.]" But when Paul Bremer travels around the country he does so surrounded by heavily armed "civilian contractors". We will have reached a turning point in Iraq when Bremer can travel without those guards, and when George W. Bush can fly into Iraq in broad daylight, with advance warning, and can stay for more than 30 minutes. Otherwise, things have not changed since a year ago.

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