May 26, 2003
Within eight days time, the U.S. reversed every announcement it had made concerning its plans for occupying Iraq. Jay Garner, who had arrived in Iraq only three weeks earlier to head the "reconstruction" of Iraq, was demoted. A new man, Paul Bremer, was rushed to the scene. Plans for an Iraqi Provisional Government were cancelled, and the U.S. and Britain announced that they would run the country, without making any attempt to put what Bush had called "an Iraqi" face on their regime. Four of the top people whom the U.S. had just sent into Iraq to direct different aspects of the "reconstruction" were also replaced – even before they'd found an office to start working out of.
Most telling of all, orders to return to the U.S., which had already been issued for the troops who did the heaviest fighting, were cancelled, just days before they were scheduled to leave. They were being sent back to Baghdad and given orders by the new man to go out into the street to shoot down every looter. And more troops were being ferried in. Even while sailors and airmen arrive in the U.S., more ground troops are going into Iraq.
At the same time – and very much behind the scenes – various U.S. generals who had criticized the plans for this war from the beginning were being moved around or even cashiered out.
In other words, things were not going nearly so well as Donald Rumsfeld, the man who thinks for George W. Bush, was pretending. And in a rather embarrassing twist, not only did media sources reveal that the bang-bang-shoot-em-up rescue of Jessica Lynch had been staged for the cameras (since her captors had deserted the scene a day earlier, U.S. troops had only been shooting blanks!). They also revealed that the supposedly welcoming crowds greeting U.S. soldiers in Baghdad had also been staged – several hundred members of the exile Iraqi National Congress had been flown in for the occasion, to applaud as U.S. soldiers tore down the statue of Saddam Hussein.
As every military expert has said, there was no doubt that the U.S. could win the war – if winning the war meant that the Iraqi army would evaporate. What was questionable was what would happen in the days and weeks and months and years to follow. What the last few weeks have made clear is that staging things for U.S. television won't play well in an Iraq which has been devastated by war, an Iraq whose basic facilities for water, electricity and medical care are still not functioning even at a minimal stage – where they are functioning at all. This was not inevitable. It's simply because the battle plans of the U.S. took no account of what would be required to restore the basic services that U.S. bombs destroyed – any more than the "reconstruction" plans take those things into account today. Almost nothing has been done. Nor has there been any significant provision of food or money that the population, cut out of its jobs or its pensions, so desperately needs.
This is why demonstrations have continued to grow in the streets of Baghdad and other cities, demanding the immediate departure of U.S. troops. And it's why U.S. soldiers on patrol run into more and more incidents with a population that wants to see the U.S. leave.
Bremer, who for years was a spymaster, has been brought in to "restore order." In other words, to reestablish prisons, to bring back Saddam Hussein's police and torturers, and to carry out door-to-door sweeps of the poor neighborhoods.
This is the real balance sheet of what the U.S. war on Iraq has meant so far – a balance sheet that promises to grow much worse.