Last week Donald Rumsfeld said that he could not have predicted the current level of violence in Iraq. The Secretary of Defense has been listening to the usual suspects for too long and has become comfortable drinking his own bath water at the Pentagon. Sadly most, if not all, of what has happened in Iraq could have been foreseen, and I for one predicted much of it on WILM Radio (Wilmington, Delaware) before the invasion of Iraq and during the early days of the war. Given that Mr. Rumsfeld, his cronies and Dr. Rice have been so wrong about so much and for so long, it is time that they should be replaced. Another Donald would already have said, "you're fired!"
The President of the United States need not be a specialist on the Middle East, on Islam or, in fact, on anything. What he or she needs is the best advice that this country has to offer on any and all issues. Above all a president must have good judgment. It seems evident that George Bush has not received sound advice (or reasonable predictions) about the Middle East from Donald Rumsfeld, from Dr. Rice or from Vice President Cheney. Let's look at the case against the two who can be, and should be, fired immediately.
Ahmad Chalabi convinced Mr. Rumsfeld and his deputy, Mr. Wolfowitz, that Iraqis yearned for freedom; the war would be easy because all Iraqis hated Saddam and that Chalabi had loyal followers who would join the U.S. effort when there was an opportunity to do so. He led Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz to believe that, upon their liberation from the tyrant Saddam, Iraqis would embrace democracy, would support U.S. efforts in the region and would be beholden to the United States for generations. And of course everyone would live happily ever after. What a wonderful fairy tale! It clearly seems that Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz swallowed the story hook, line and sinker and that Dr. Rice did not exactly disagree so much as to put her job on the line. Anyone who commits such a history-changing error should be fired.
Why was all of this so obvious even before the war? First, to most Middle Easterners, the notion that the U.S. invaded Iraq to promote freedom and democracy in the region was an outright lie. Don't get me wrong, Iraqis love freedom. All Middle Easterners love freedom. There is one problem. They have not had much of it, and the majority of Middle Easterners blame their misfortune more on the United States than they do on themselves and their governments. The U.S. has "earned" this reputation both by its actions and because of guilt by association. Most Middle Easterners do not see the U.S. as a liberator; they remember instead the CIA's overthrow of Mossadeq in Iran in 1953, its support of every Middle Eastern dictator as long as they tow the Washington line and its unabashed support of Israel in denying the Palestinians their freedom. There can only be broad hostility and suspicion of U.S. motives in Iraq and in the region generally, no matter what the U.S. does. The baggage of past U.S. involvement in the region is heavy.
Second, in any developing country regime that receives easy and painless cash (in this case from oil), has UN-imposed sanctions and is a dictatorship, large numbers of people (in this case Ba'athists) and their extended families derive immense and disproportionate economic and political benefits from the status quo. At least 1-2 million Iraqis would stand to lose everything in the short run if Shiites came to power. The young among this group of 1-2 million Iraqis would surely put up a guerilla-style resistance to the U.S. occupation instead of showering U.S. troops with roses.
Third, the U.S.-appointed Governing Council could never enjoy popular support. Most of its members have lived the "good life" abroad. They did not expose themselves to conditions in Iraq and did not suffer at the hands of Saddam. No one living in Iraq can identify with most of them (the exception being the Kurds with the Kurdish representatives and the Shiites with a few Shiite clerics on the Council). The representatives are seen as corrupt U.S. puppets. Just look at who has gotten some of the contracts in Iraq and at whose relatives run the ministries. We continue to say that everything we do is for democracy, but with every passing day our story becomes less believable. Rather than improving our reputation in the region, our efforts are only making it worse.
Fourth, Mr. Rumsfeld and Dr.Rice continue to say that the resistance is from a few terrorists left over from Saddam's regime and that there is no chance there could be a joint effort including the Shiites; that the Shiites would never join the Sunnis. Wrong again. If Rumsfeld and Rice had only studied the events of the Iran-Iraq war, where Iraqi Shiites fought alongside Iraqi Sunnis against the world's largest Shiite country across the border. Why would Iraqis not fight together against the United States if they felt that Iraq was being threatened?
Fifth, although Mr. Rumsfeld has said on many occasions that he wants to win the hearts and minds of Iraqis, two recent U.S. actions have come perilously close to losing this war. The Pentagon seemed surprised at the vicious brutality shown against four American civilians. Iraq's recent history is filled with such inhumane acts. In the 1958 Revolution, they cut up their Prime Minister's body into small pieces; later when they deposed Abdul Karim Qassem, they put so many bullets through his body that one could see right through to the other side. Look at how they gassed Iranians and electrocuted them in the marshes. In fact,I predicted that this would happen. I also said that, ultimately, U.S. soldier would lose his cool when confronted by the famed brutality of Iraqi fighters and that he would kill hundreds of innocent Iraqis. In reality, in Falluja, it was Rumsfeld who lost his cool. The military's disproportionate response, the killing of over 600 civilians, has generally eroded support for the U.S. even further.
The sixth error, potentially the biggest of them all, has yet to occur but could do so at any moment on the orders of Donald Rumsfeld. The U.S. military declared its mission outside Najaf as the capture or the killing of Moqtada Al-Sadr. Such an announcement has made Al-Sadr a hero. But worse is the threat to invade Najaf. If the U.S. carries out this threat, it will incur the wrath of every Iraqi Shiite (including all religious Iranians) and even the Kurds will turn against the U.S. because, upon reflection, they know that they will ultimately have to deal with the rulers in Baghdad after the U.S. has left.
The mess in Iraq and our unquestioned support of Israel, especially at this time, could cause a domino effect in the region and make the "clash of civilizations" a reality.
And yet Donald and Condoleezza stay on the job. Pundits who purport to know George W. Bush well say that the President is loyal toward those who work for him. Surely such loyalty is misplaced. A president's loyalty must be first to the U.S., to its people and to the men and women who may be called to make the ultimate sacrifice. Mistakes must be admitted. We must learn from them and change course as necessary. We cannot begin to do that until those who are responsible for such mistakes are summarily dismissed.
Hossein Askari is the Iran Professor of International Business and Professor of International Affairs at the George Washington University.