AT LAST, there’s consensus on who’s to blame for the mess in Iraq: the Iraqis!
From the beginning, there were ominous signs that the Iraqis weren’t going to play the game right. More than a few neocon hearts were broken by the Iraqi refusal to greet us with flowers and champagne as we marched into Baghdad, and the snub still hurts. Just this week, Daniel Pipes, president of the Middle East Forum and an unrepentant hawk, complained about “the ingratitude of the Iraqis for the extraordinary favor we gave them: to release them from the bondage of Saddam Hussein’s tyranny.”
What really rankles most politicos these days is the Iraqis’ refusal to get cracking on the formation of a multiethnic government. Four months after the elections, Iraqi factions still haven’t come up with a power-sharing arrangement that satisfies all constituencies.
In Baghdad on Monday for a joint appearance with British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, Condoleezza Rice suggested that we’ve now given the Iraqis all the help a liberated people can reasonably expect: We “have forces on the ground and have sacrificed here,” she told reporters, so we have “a right to expect that this process [of government formation] will keep moving forward.”
Chiming in, Straw called on the Iraqis to shape up and select a prime minister, pronto: “The Americans have lost over 2,000 people [in Iraq]. We’ve lost over 100.... And billions -- billions -- of United States dollars, hundreds of millions of British pound sterlings have come into this country. We do have, I think, a right to say that we’ve got to be able to deal with Mr. A or Mr. B or Mr. C. We can’t deal with Mr. Nobody.”
The “after all we’ve done for you!” theme is more than a little jarring, coming as it does from the architects of the war. The Iraqis didn’t beg us to invade their country. We invaded Iraq for reasons quite unrelated to the welfare of the Iraqi people (and, it turned out, for reasons unrelated to the welfare of the American people as well).
Though most Iraqis were delighted to see the last of Hussein, the war that caused his ouster has had a far higher price tag for Iraqis than for Americans. Iraq’s economy is in a shambles, and insurgent and sectarian violence continue unabated. Although solid figures are impossible to come by, most estimates suggest that at least 30,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed as a result of the war in Iraq, along with thousands of Iraqi soldiers and police.
Last week, Rice breezily acknowledged the “thousands” of “tactical errors” the U.S. has made in Iraq. She later insisted she was speaking “figuratively, not literally,” but even if our bloopers only numbered in the dozens, some of them were pretty big, and all of them have contributed to the current fiasco.
When coalition forces brought regime change to Iraq, they also released from their bottles the genies of ethnic and sectarian conflict. Hussein had kept Iraq intact through terror and brute force. Coalition forces ousted Hussein, but neither Washington nor the Iraqis have been able to come up with a recipe for peace and political stability post-Hussein.
U.S. pressure for an instant political fix has been one of our many “tactical errors.” In September, the International Crisis Group warned that “a rushed constitutional process has deepened rifts and hardened feelings” among Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds. Undaunted, Washington kept pushing, and the consequences are unlikely to be better this time. The only thing that currently seems to unite Iraq’s mutually hostile factions is the conviction that the hectoring remarks by Rice and Straw have just made a bad situation worse.
If Rice is concerned that we’re not getting a great return on our investment in Iraqi democracy, she should consider that -- despite the ringing pro-democracy rhetoric -- direct U.S. investments in Iraqi democracy have been embarrassingly small. The lion’s share of U.S. funding for Iraq has gone to the Pentagon, with little left over for the slow but essential work of training legislators, building accountable political parties and fostering strong civil-society institutions, all crucial to the development of sustainable democratic institutions.
On the eve of the Iraq war, former Secretary of State Colin Powell is said to have cautioned President Bush by citing the “Pottery Barn Rule”: “You break it, you own it.” Rice’s suggestion that the Iraqis now owe it to the United States to move forward with democratic reform is a twisted echo of her predecessor’s words. Today, Iraq is broken -- and even though we’re the ones who broke it, our current secretary of State thinks we deserve a refund.