Bush’s Post-Iraq Performance Open to Criticism

Posted May 16, 2003 at 1:32pm

While President Bush’s visit to the USS Abraham Lincoln has been talked about a lot, the post-Iraq pledges he made aboard the carrier haven’t been. Bush needs to deliver results. So far, the news is not so good. [IMGCAP(1)]

Members of Congress, led by Democrats like Sen. Joseph Biden (Del.), warned loudly before the war that careful planning had to be done for a smooth aftermath. It seems clear now that it wasn’t.

Biden based his apprehensions on the continuing inadequate security in post-war Afghanistan. Those problems continue to such an extent that Iran has stepped into the picture to help control the burgeoning Afghan narcotics trade.

Aboard the Lincoln, Bush justifiably declared that “in the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.”

He said that “the battle of Iraq is one victory in a war on terror that began on September 11, 2001,” but the key link between Iraq and 9/11 — weapons of mass destruction — is still missing.

In advance, Bush’s major case for going to war with Iraq was that its chemical, biological and — eventually — nuclear weapons might be handed off to terrorists.

In the aftermath, the administration is touting the “liberation of the Iraqi people” as its justification. Unquestionably, it’s a boon that an evil despot has been toppled.

But as long as weapons of mass destruction aren’t found, questions remain — at a minimum, about U.S. intelligence. It appears that U.S. forces may have located the looted hulks of several mobile biological laboratories, but proof-positive of a large-scale WMD program is still missing.

If it turns up, Bush will be vindicated. If it doesn’t, he’ll be embarrassed and his critics at home and abroad can legitimately ask, “What did we fight this war for?”

In his speech, Bush promised to find and try leaders of Saddam Hussein’s regime. The finding certainly has begun. The whereabouts of Hussein and his sons is still a mystery, but top subordinate officials are in custody.

Bringing malefactors to justice will be difficult because of the looting of government ministries during and immediately after the war and the destruction of evidence as Iraqi families desperately searched for the bodies of slain loved ones.

Bush also declared, “We’re bringing order to parts of that country that remain dangerous,” and, “We’re helping to rebuild Iraq, where the dictator built himself palaces for himself instead of schools and hospitals. We will stand with the new leaders of Iraq as they establish a government of, by and for the Iraqi people.”

It’s pretty clear that, a month after the military victory, order is not restored and the rebuilding process has not begun swiftly enough — apparently because of faulty pre-war planning by the Bush administration.

“Chaos” and “anarchy” are the words being used to describe conditions in Iraq — a lack of governmental authority, policing, health administration, clean water, food and fuel.

Businesses and banks can’t open because their operators fear looting. Women are being kidnapped and raped, permanently damaging them in Islamic culture. Children are suffering from malnutrition and diarrhea from contaminated water.

Finally, last week, U.S. occupation forces announced that the number of military police in Iraq would be doubled. The question is: Why has it taken a month for this to happen?

It seems clear that, while superb planning was done by Gen. Tommy Franks for the military conquest of Iraq, much too little was done by retired Gen. Jay Garner for the aftermath.

Indeed, Garner has been replaced by former diplomat Paul Bremer as the top official in charge of reconstruction. Bremer, a tough anti-terrorism expert, has started to take steps to impose order.

Beyond Iraq, Bush vowed to “target” any “person, organization or government that supports, protects or harbors terrorists.”

And, he said, “Any outlaw regime that has ties to terrorist groups and seeks or possesses weapons of mass destruction … will be confronted.”

Bush seemed to be talking about groups such as Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad, as well as al Qaeda, and countries such as Syria, Iran and North Korea.

The administration seems to have had some success in inducing Syria to hand over fleeing Hussein subordinates. And Syria has shut down offices of Islamic Jihad and Hamas.

But North Korea already has nuclear weapons and Iran, which has closer ties to terrorist groups than Iraq ever did, is believed to have chemical and biological weapons. And it has mounted two separate projects to develop nuclear weapons.

It’s not clear what the administration’s strategy is for “confronting” either North Korea or Iran. Persistent reports are that the administration’s ongoing divisions between Pentagon hawks and State Department doves are hampering strategy development.

The hawks reportedly want to effect regime change in both countries — by aiding democratic forces in Iran and inducing the economic collapse of North Korea. The State Department reportedly wants to improve relations with Iran and negotiate with North Korea.

Bush is riding high politically on the strength of his foreign policy performance — so far. But, aboard the Lincoln, he set some very high bars for himself. Democrats have every right to hold him accountable for his performance.