Iraq, News Articles, Outside Analysis

Article: Conservatives and exiles [begin to consider that they may have to think about having to] desert war campaign

Picking up where we left off, the following is another article about conservatives shedding their confidence in the effort to bring democracy to the Middle East via the war in Iraq. This article serves up more than our last entry on this subject, however, in that it focuses in part on remarks made at a conference hosted by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), an organization closely associated with the PNAC.

The title of this article is fairly misleading in my opinion–the so-called “conservatives” in this article don’t appear to me to be deserting the war campaign, at least not based on what is reported. There is clearly a lot of disappointment as to how the war has been conducted and doubt about Iraq’s future prospects, but I didn’t read anyone say that they oppose the war or think the U.S. should exit anytime soon.

To their credit, that is in line with the neoconservative angle on the Iraq war. Under the neoconservative framework, Iraq really has to be won by the U.S.– or at least needs to be a demonstrable success of some sort. (If for no other reason than because it was supposed to be a “show of power” that would result in a greater level of respect/fear for the U.S. throughout the Middle East, and in troublesome regimes around the globe.) And despite the oft-repeated contentions by pro-war pundits that “Iraq is better off without Saddam” (“no matter how things turn out” usually being unstated, but implicit), and citations of various indicators of progress in this “developing democracy”, this article makes it clear that many of the war’s most ardent supporters are seriously concerned that the Iraq adventure might turn out to be a near-total failure. Whether it’s concern about fundamental flaws in the structure of the developing Iraqi government, or worry about the effect the 2006 congressional election will have on the political will power of Bush and the Republicans, neoconservatives and conservative war supporters appear to be getting their heads around the idea that the Iraq war may ultimately be a lost cause.

The article was originally published by Financial Times; I’m archiving it in full here for educational and research purposes.

Conservatives and exiles desert war campaign

By Guy Dinmore

10/11/05 “Financial Times” — — Even among the strongest advocates in Washington of the war in Iraq there is a sense of alarm these days, with harsh criticism directed particularly at the draft constitution, which they see as a betrayal of principles and a recipe for disintegration of the Iraqi state.

Expressions of concern among conservatives and former Iraqi exiles, seen also in the rising disillusionment of the American public, reflect a widening gap with the Bush administration and its claims of “incredible political progress� in Iraq.

Over the past week, two of Washington’s most influential conservative think-tanks, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and the Heritage Foundation, held conferences on Iraq where the mood among speakers, including Iraqi officials, was decidedly sombre.

Kanan Makiya, an outspoken proponent of the war who is documenting the horrors of the Saddam regime in his Iraq Memory Foundation, opened the AEI meeting by admitting to many “dashed dreams�.

He said he and other opposition figures had seriously underestimated the powers of ethnic and sectarian self-interest, as well as the survivability of the “constantly morphing and flexibleâ€? Ba’ath party. He also blamed the Bush administration for poor planning and committing too few troops.

The proposed constitution, to be taken to a referendum on Saturday, was a “profoundly destabilising document� that could “deal a death blow� to Iraq, he said.

The constitution was a recipe for greater chaos, said Rend Rahim, a former exile who had been designated as Iraq’s first postwar ambassador to the US. Unless revised, it would lead to such a devolution of power that the central government would barely exist, she said.

Qubad Talabani, Washington representative of the Kurdistan regional government, delivered a stinging indictment of the central government that echoed the growing divisions in the ruling alliance of Shia and Kurds.

Danielle Pletka, senior analyst at AEI and conference moderator, called the constitution deeply flawed, describing it as the result of political machinations between Iraqis and Americans. She said the process had been reduced to a benchmark for the exit of US troops.

With growing numbers of Americans wanting an early withdrawal from Iraq, Mrs Pletka’s remarks reflect the concerns of conservative ideologues that the Bush administration will succumb to internal pressures and pull out prematurely.

The latest CBS poll shows that 32 per cent of Americans approve of President George W. Bush’s handling of the situation in Iraq, and 59 per cent want US troops out “as soon as possible, even if Iraq is not completely stableâ€?.

Mrs Pletka insists that despite what she called frustration and anger at day-to-day decision-making and unnecessary mistakes, conservative supporters of the war remain optimistic in the long term. “I think the president is right there has been enormous progress,� she told the FT.

General David Petraeus, recently in charge of training the new Iraqi army, spoke of “tremendous progress by any metricâ€? in building up Iraq’s armed forces.

“I’m not putting lipstick on any pigs out there,â€? he said.

But he admitted to concerns that the army did not have enough minority Sunnis and that Iraqi soldiers faced “conflicting loyalties�.

At the Heritage Foundation, Bing West, a former marine who has been embedded with 17 battalions in Iraq, cautioned that the referendum would not lead to a “political epiphany�.

“Brute force will win this war,� he said.

Michael Eisenstadt of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a pro-war think-tank, said insurgents were mounting about 90 attacks a day, compared to 50 to 70 a year ago. He expressed concern that if the constitution is approved insurgents will be able to mobilise more support from Sunnis who feel the system is stacked against them.

Speaking later to the FT, Mr Eisenstadt said it would take years to defeat such an insurgency but there were indications that the Bush administration would start to pull out troops in 2006 for its own political and electoral reasons.

“I don’t know if it is winnable, but we haven’t lost it yet,â€? Mr Eisenstadt concluded. The original goals, he said, were out of reach but “something acceptableâ€? was still possible.

Tensions over Iraq mean the administration is trying to finesse waning public support for the war with disapproval of its conduct among its core devotees who fear “cut and run�. This helps explain the mixed messages from the Pentagon and the White House on whether troops will start to return in early 2006.

At the same time, Mr Bush and his cabinet are presenting a new case against a premature pull-out, arguing that this would mean not just an end to the democratic aspirations of Iraqis, but also defeat for the whole “freedom agenda� in the Middle East.

“If we quit now,� said Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state, in a speech at Princeton University last month, “we will embolden every enemy of liberty and democracy across the Middle East. We will destroy any chance that the people of this region have of building a future of hope and opportunity. And we will make America more vulnerable.�

© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

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