National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  June 4, 2004

The plan that's really a wish list

Iraq has now become the campaign within the campaign.

We were informed the last week of May that President Bush would spend the next five weeks convincing the American people, in a series of speeches, that the war in Iraq was not only justified but that it is going according to plan.

If the first speech, delivered May 24, holds any clues, the public is going to be left with less than if the president abandoned his effort.

The first speech, which was hyped as one that would lay out the administration’s plans for conduct of the war in the coming months, was notable only for the gaping deficiencies and lack of specifics.

It was not a plan, in fact. It was a wish list, one that had been repeated so often it has grown stale with misuse.

The president insists that on June 30 the United States will transfer “full sovereignty to a government of Iraqi citizens who will prepare the way for national elections. … The occupation will end and Iraqis will govern their own affairs.”

One need not go further into the “plan,” for to move beyond the first wish is to compound the deception.

No one knows, slightly more than a month out from the turnover, who will be the recipient of the sovereignty or who will constitute the new government or what exactly full sovereignty means. Nor does anyone seem to have an explanation for the apparent contradiction when the president on one hand says that the occupation will end and on the other promises that he will send his commanders in the field more troops if they need them and that the United States will stay in Iraq until it is free.

The administration’s approach to the war in Iraq has been one dissembling episode after another. The case for war was built on concocted evidence, and very little, save the swift defeat of the Iraqi military, has gone according to any plan.

The United States was quite efficient in taking things apart in Iraq, but it seems mired in confusion and unrealistic expectations in the aftermath of the war. We’re not proving very effective at rebuilding or winning hearts and minds.

When he was campaigning for president, Bush often used the word “consequences.” Actions have consequences, he would say, and later, after 9/11, that evildoers and enemies would face the consequences of their actions.

Unspecified consequences were always the outcome of the engagingly simple moral equations upon which Bush’s international policies seemed to perch.

It is becoming increasingly clear, however, that moralizing makes the most sense in the hypothetical realm, before the reality of one’s own actions begins to tip the equation out of balance. In the case of Iraq, the fog of war clouds the clarity of Bush’s propositions.

In order for the equations to keep making sense, Bush and his cohort have to keep creating a parallel reality. None of the words match up to what actually is going on.

The desperate reality is that the United States now finds itself concerned primarily for the security of its own troops in Iraq.

One of the essential points in Bush’s plan for the rest of the way in Iraq is to engage the help of the international community. “At every stage,” he said, “the United States has gone to the United Nations: to confront Saddam Hussein, to promise serious consequences for his actions and to begin Iraqi reconstruction.”

The leaps into the administration’s parallel reality can be forgiven, perhaps, because he was presenting the briefest of summaries. In fact, the United Nations was manipulated, its inspectors disparaged and its help spurned.

Anyone who objected to our intense desire to invade Iraq was cast aside.

Now we are faced with the reality of a growing number of dead young Americans, a military occupation that is unraveling on a number of fronts and the cold reality that the rest of the world has little stomach for picking up the broken pieces of our military adventure. The American public is, indeed, in need of convincing, but not of the rightness of the current course. It needs to be convinced, instead, that a change in course is essential. It is time to conduct a serious summit with wary allies, to make an honest appraisal of the mistaken assumptions that led us to war, and to rethink our approach to the terror threat. Bellicose language, preemptive attacks and turning our back on the rest of the world have not come close to solving the problem.

National Catholic Reporter, June 4, 2004

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