The "central front" on the War on Terror (more commonly known as the fiasco in Iraq) has been going badly. So, Mr. Bush claimed this week to have opened another front in the War on Terror: Lebanon. Rumor has it that the new front in the War on Terror is not going well either.
Earlier this week after meetings at the Pentagon and State Department, Mr. Bush took out his "War on Terror" brush and once again painted broadly. In his remarks to reporters, he added a new front to his ever-widening war:
We discussed the global war on terror. We discussed the situation on the ground in three fronts of the global war on terror: in Lebanon and Iraq and Afghanistan.
It is probably a matter of time until Mr. Bush adds Syria and Iran to his list of fronts. As long as new fronts continue to be added, he can reasonably argue that the War on Terror is not lost. Perhaps the hope is that Iraq will get lost in an ocean of fronts and utter failure there will not be seen as humiliation.
While the definitions are fiddled with in Washington, the civil war in Iraq rages without pause. While we were away watching the collapse of Ehud Olmert’s political career at the cost of Lebanese and Israeli lives, the cadence of death in Iraq has accelerated. According to the Iraqi Health Ministry, July was the deadliest month in Iraq since George W Bush decided to do a photo op on a tax-payer financed aircraft carrier:
An average of more than 110 Iraqis were killed each day in July, according to the figures. The total number of civilian deaths last month — 3,438 — is a 9 percent increase over the tally in June, and nearly double the toll of January.
The rising numbers suggest that sectarian violence is spiraling out of control, and they seemed to bolster an assertion many senior Iraqi officials and U.S. military analysts have been making in recent months — that the country is already embroiled in a civil war, not just slipping into one, and that the U.S.-led forces are caught between Sunni Arab guerrillas and Shiite militias
The pace of killing is staggering and is on par with or exceeds the pace of death in other modern civil wars: notably the Lebanese Civil War and the Algerian Civil War. It has now become fashionable in Washington to use the "C" word when talking about Iraq. The shift in rhetoric and direction began in June after the Maliki government began to voice sentiment about an American pullout. It was a sure sign of a parting of the ways between the Iraqis and the Americans. Since that time, U.S. officials have started to edge the rhetoric toward "civil war" – a civil war that arguably began in March of this year. At that time, I wrote these words to mark what I saw as the beginning of the civil war in Iraq:
This week marks the beginning of the Iraqi Civil War. The American mission in Iraq is over. We can either stay and fight everyone, pick sides, or leave. No choice open to America now will improve the situation on the ground.
The events kicked off by the Samarra bombing have now been book-ended by the attack on the mosque in Baghdad. We have entered the fray in a big way with the attack on the mosque. Images of the dead lying in a prayer room in the mosque and reports that the 80-year-old imam of the mosque has also been killed are being beamed continuously to everyone with a TV and electricity in Iraq. The American military’s protestations that the mosque was not entered will fall on deaf ears. We have no credibility there – not only because we are not trusted, but also because we have been unable or unwilling to stop the bloodletting there.
The ingredient missing from Iraq’s slide into civil war was mainstream outrage and anger and an embracing of the sectarian militias as the only guarantors of security. We have, perhaps unwittingly, provided the last piece of the puzzle and now the civil war picture is complete.
In tandem with an admission that Iraq is either sliding into civil war or is in a civil war, there has been a shifting of the blame to the Iraqis for the failure of the Bush Administration’s mission in Iraq. There was always an element of this in the mantra: "We will stand down when the Iraqis stand up." After all if the Iraqis don’t "stand up", can it possibly be the fault of the Bush Administration? Lately, however, the blame potential has been cashed in for large helpings of blame. Last week our man in Baghdad mouthed the "blame the Iraqis" talking points:
U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said in an interview last week that Iraq’s political leaders have failed to fully use their influence to rein in the soaring violence, and that people associated with the government are stoking the flames of sectarian hatred.
"I think the time has come for these leaders to take responsibility with regards to sectarian violence, to the security of Baghdad at the present time," Khalilzad said.
Of course the Iraqi leaders should be able to "rein in" sectarian violence with their ill-equipped and ill-trained military forces where 130,000 American soldiers have failed. Even the President let it be known this week that he was disappointed with the Iraqis for failing to join his freedom parade:
“I sensed a frustration with the lack of progress on the bigger picture of Iraq generally — that we continue to lose a lot of lives, it continues to sap our budget,” said one person who attended the meeting. “The president wants the people in Iraq to get more on board to bring success.”
More generally, the participants said, the president expressed frustration that Iraqis had not come to appreciate the sacrifices the United States had made in Iraq, and was puzzled as to how a recent anti-American rally in support of Hezbollah in Baghdad could draw such a large crowd. “I do think he was frustrated about why 10,000 Shiites would go into the streets and demonstrate against the United States,” said another person who attended.
The President’s spokesman later denied that Mr. Bush had misgivings. Nonetheless, the rumor of Presidential disappointment was already laid and a rationale for washing our hands of Iraq had already been articulated.
Although it is politically convenient to blame the Iraqis for this Administration’s failures, it is also demonstrably false. The current sectarian violence is a direct result of the Bush Administration’s failure to secure Iraq after the initial invasion in 2003. Securing Iraq was not an optional part of the war plan – it was a required duty of the United States as the occupying power according to the Law of Occupation as codified by the Hague Regulations, the Fourth Geneva Conventions and the U.S. Army Field Manual 27-10, The Law of Land Warfare. Article 43 of the Hague Regulations state:
The authority of the legitimate power having in fact passed into the hands of the occupant, the latter shall take all the measures in his power to restore, and ensure, as far as possible, public order and safety, while respecting, unless absolutely prevented, the laws in force in the country.
The United States failed to provide basic security to the civilians in Iraq. No amount of finger pointing will whitewash that fact. The Bush Administration not only failed to protect the Iraqi civilians, it also showed a callous disregard for their plight. As Iraq started to descend into chaos after the American invasion, that bumbling buffoon of a Defense Secretary had this to say:
Declaring that freedom is "untidy," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Friday the looting in Iraq was a result of "pent-up feelings" of oppression and that it would subside as Iraqis adjusted to life without Saddam Hussein.
He also asserted the looting was not as bad as some television and newspaper reports have indicated and said there was no major crisis in Baghdad, the capital city, which lacks a central governing authority. The looting, he suggested, was "part of the price" for what the United States and Britain have called the liberation of Iraq.
"Freedom’s untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things," Rumsfeld said. "They’re also free to live their lives and do wonderful things. And that’s what’s going to happen here."
Looting, he added, was not uncommon for countries that experience significant social upheaval. "Stuff happens," Rumsfeld said.
Civil wars apparently happen too. Especially when those responsible for the protection of the civilian population fail to provide the necessary security.
I would venture that any major American city would descend into chaos if law enforcement decided to take a 3-year holiday and leave the citizens to fend for themselves. I would guess that rather quickly neighborhoods would start taking steps to protect themselves from thieves and other intruders, militias would form and start offering protection at a price to helpless civilians, tribalism would start to take hold, a steady disintegration of civil society would occur.
It may seem easy and convenient to blame the Iraqis for sectarian violence, but this violence became inevitable when this neo-con fantasy of an invasion was set in motion. Ever since this fiasco began, Mr. Bush has been blaming everyone but himself. Earlier this year, he famously and laughably blamed Saddam Hussein for the current violence. Now Mr. Bush’s finger of blame has moved on to the Iraqi leadership and the people. Perhaps it is time to place a mirror in front of Mr. Bush.