Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Once Upon A Time In Baghdad...

By Eugene Robinson
Washington Post
April 4, 2006

"If only . . . " used to be nothing more than the wish of a fairy tale protagonist who was out of options, as in "If only a handsome prince would arrive and save the day," or "If only a brave huntsman would happen by and perform some Abu Ghraib-style interrogation on this big, bad wolf that just ate Grandma." Now, thanks to George W. Bush and his court of wizards, "if only . . . " is also a subtle yet comprehensive strategy for war-fighting, insurgency-quashing, nation-building and all the other urgent business they've bungled in Iraq.

Condoleezza Rice made a surprise trip to Baghdad over the weekend to advance the Fairy Tale Doctrine, pressuring Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jafari to stop all the maneuvering and go ahead and form a government, preferably one that doesn't make it a crime to be Sunni Muslim. You see, if only the Iraqis can put together a government, everything will be just fine.

Okay, she didn't quite say that all would be sweetness and light. But by jetting to Baghdad without telling anybody in advance, taking along British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and freezing al-Jafari with her most intimidating Ice Queen faux-smile, she clearly reinforced the administration's view that cobbling together a new government is the next magic bullet that is going to rescue the Iraq adventure from an utter debacle.

The Bush administration would like to see a government of "national unity," as if such a thing existed in today's Iraq. Perhaps in the fanciful Baghdad of the Arabian Nights there's a genie who can cross his arms, blink his eyes and conjure a gentle breeze that spreads harmony across the land. If they find him, they should make him prime minister.

Bringing disaffected Iraqis into the government is supposed to deprive the bloody insurgency of popular support. It's worth noting that on Sunday, as Rice began her visit, at least 50 people were killed throughout Iraq in mortar attacks, death-squad executions, bombings and other forms of mayhem.

It's also worth noting that we've heard the Bush administration's "if only . . . " predictions so many times that it's hard to take them seriously.

The war started with the premise that if only we could depose Saddam Hussein, all sorts of wonderful benefits would accrue. We would eliminate the threat of attack by his weapons of mass destruction -- except Hussein turned out not to have any. We would strike a mortal blow against our terrorist enemies -- except there turned out to be no connection between the Iraqi dictator and Sept. 11, 2001. Our troops would be greeted as liberators -- except it turned out that many Iraqis saw them as occupiers.

If only Iraqis would go to the polls and show the world a stirring portrait of democracy in action, the nascent insurgency would wither away -- except that when Iraqis voted, the insurgency grew. If only the Iraqis could write a constitution, that would marginalize the insurgents -- except the insurgency grew some more. If only Saddam Hussein were made to sit in the dock like a common defendant, the insurgents would lose faith -- except his histrionics seemed, if anything, to hearten his die-hard followers. If only the Iraqis would go to the polls and vote again -- except the violence has now worsened into sectarian killing that threatens to blow the place apart.

And of course there was the biggest "if only . . ." of all, the one about how invading Iraq and turning it into a pro-Western democracy would touch off a wildfire of pro-Western democracy throughout the Middle East. Well, we did manage to get Hamas elected in the Palestinian territories and strengthen religious parties almost everywhere else. History will take a while to render a final judgment on this one, but early returns are anything but promising.

Now the administration is fixated on the peace and prosperity that will surely take root throughout ancient Mesopotamia if only a bunch of self-interested Iraqi politicians grudgingly settle on a division of spoils that can, with a straight face, be called a "government of national unity." The Bush people keep moving the finish line, and the Iraqis keep reaching it, and the insurgency not only persists but takes on new, more ominous dimensions.

The tit-for-tat atrocities by Sunni and Shiite death squads are threatening to devolve into the kind of revenge killings that take on a momentum of their own, because they do not need any underlying political logic to sustain them. It becomes: You kill my brother, I kill your brother -- until we run out of brothers.

If only the Fairy Tale Doctrine guaranteed a happy ending. Tragically, in the real world, it doesn't.

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