Fifteen months ago George Bush dismissed the U.N. Security Council from U.S. policy after it refused to approve the U.S.-British plan to force regime change in Iraq. But last week he made large concessions in order to gain U.N. endorsement of his plan to turn over sovereignty on June 30 to Iraq's government and permit the United Nations to assume leadership in preparing Iraq for national elections next January.
What changed in fifteen months to bring Mr. Bush to this policy reversal?
The most obvious reason is that Iraqis did not welcome U.S. troops as "liberators," as the Pentagon had predicted, but instead viewed them as occupiers. That produced widespread violence and a budding insurgency in some areas. As a result, over 500 American troops have been killed since Baghdad was captured in April last year.
A second factor was the inability of the Bush administration to persuade other countries to contribute significant numbers of troops to build security and enable reconstruction to proceed. Although many countries sent small contingents to work with British and American troops, no other country has provided a large force to share the burden. The result is the Pentagon's decision to increase U.S. forces to 145,000 this summer in order to deal with the continuing violence. Instead of receiving the support of other countries to help in the pacification program, as the Pentagon predicted a year ago, the United States is forced to do the job itself.
The third and most pressing reason that Bush changed course is the American public's growing disenchantment with the war. A year ago his approval ratings were high because the military's victory in Iraq had been swift (three weeks) and the killing of U.S. troops by terrorists had not yet started. Now the president's approval ratings have dropped below 50 percent and his handling of the Iraqi situation is widely criticized, even among some Republicans.
With the presidential election looming in five months, George Bush needs a way to defuse Iraq as a campaign issue. One way is to pull American troops away from major trouble spots, such as Falluja and Najav (as occurred recently) and encourage Iraq's new interim government, headed by Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, to organize and deploy security forces for that purpose. This will take time, but American casualties should decline.
Last week's U.N. Resolution on Iraq enables U.N. Special Representative, Lakhdar Brahimi, to assume responsibility for organizing national elections next January and drafting of an Iraqi constitution by the end of 2005. Optimists say that countries such as Canada, France, Germany, and Russia, which until now have refused to be involved, will contribute funding and non-military personnel to help in the reconstruction. Police training is a large task that Germans and French have done effectively elsewhere.
A large question is who will pay for the reconstruction of Iraq. Last fall President Bush persuaded Congress to provide nearly $20 billion to rebuild Iraq's economy, and the Pentagon is requesting another installment for the coming year. In reality, France, Germany, and Canada., among others, insisted on the U.N.'s approval before agreeing to help in rebuilding Iraq, but so far they have not contributed substantial funding and may not do so in the future.
But the larger strategic questions that will continue to be debated before November's presidential election are these: Why did George Bush invade Iraq in 2003? Was the threat of Saddam Hussein's acquiring nuclear weapons the real reason?
In my view, George Bush and Tony Blair understood after the attacks of 9-11 that Saudi Arabia's shaky monarchy, on which the industrialized world relies for a steady flow of oil to world markets. was in danger of being overthrown by Islamic radicals. These terrorists are the disciples of Osama bin Laden, himself a Saudi national who was banished from that country for fomenting an insurrection. Were the pro-American regime is to be ousted, these revolutionaries would be able to control of Persian Gulf oil prices and attempt to force the United States to withdrawing its power from the Middle East, including support for Israel's policies.
Neighboring Iran went through an Islamic revolution twenty-five year ago, throwing out the pro-American shah's regime and presenting Washington with a strategic debacle. If Saudi Arabia followed that revolutionary path and Saddam remained in Iraq, the United States would have no major ally left in the Gulf . The price of crude oil and gasoline in the United States wuld then be manipulated by three anti-American governments: Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia.
In that case, no American president or British prime minister would permit a dangerous threat to their countries' economies to occur without taking action. A recent action was Bush's decision to remove U.S. forces from Saudi Arabia, as an effort to undercut the Islamic radicals' charge that they had corrupted Saudi society and were endangering the nation's sovereignty.
The decision that Bush and Blair made in 2003 to oust Saddam Hussein was in response to their real fear of losing control of Persian Gulf oil. Those who argue that Saddam was not a threat and would keep oil prices down even if Saudi Arabia's regime were overthrown should recall that Iraq joined in the Arab oil embargo in 1973 which caused a near- tripling of gasoline prices in the United States. The shah's Iran refused to join that embargo, but the current anti-American government in Tehran would certainly not help the United States in a new crisis.
American motorists already complain about paying $2.00 for a gallon for gas. What will happen if the price suddenly jumps to $3.00 following a revolution in Saudi Arabia? The impact on the U.S. economy would be enormous, and no president, Republican or Democrat, wants to face the electorate with that political albatross around his neck.
File last modified on Thursday, 12-AUG-2004 09:00 PM EST