Make Politics, Not War, in Iraq

The United States is once again learning the limits of military power. In Iraq, America has unrivaled control of the air, but can’t hold the ground. Its mere presence incites violence.

While President George W. Bush believes that he has protected Americans by “taking the war to the enemy,” more than 1,700 Americans have died in the Iraq war, which also has provoked terrorist attacks on US allies. The horrific London bombings probably were inspired by Britain’s co-leadership of the war.

The Bush administration’s mistake, of course, is to neglect politics in its war calculations, or to follow blindly the dictum that war is politics by other means. In fact, most war is a failure of politics, a failure of political imagination. Given their self-righteousness and lack of historical and cultural awareness, Bush and his advisors believed that invading Iraq would be easy, that Saddam Hussein’s military would crumble, and that the US would be welcomed as a liberator. They failed to comprehend that Iraq has long been an occupied and externally manipulated country.

As a result, Iraqis understandably regard the American-led occupation as just another episode of outside exploitation. It is widely accepted that oil, not terror, was the original motivation of the war – a war planned by Mr. Bush’s senior advisors during the 1990’s, and made possible by their accession to power in 2001. Through the 1990’s, US Vice President Dick Cheney and others made clear that Saddam’s reign threatened America’s oil security by forcing over-reliance on Saudi Arabia. Iraq’s vast reserves, went the argument, could not be developed safely until Saddam was deposed. The September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the US provided the green light, not the underlying motivation.