MIME-Version: 1.0 Content-Location: file:///C:/224BB24E/NortonNation.htm Content-Transfer-Encoding: quoted-printable Content-Type: text/html; charset="us-ascii" Boston, June 19, 2004 in The Nation

Boston<= /st1:City>, June 19, 2004 in The Nation

Those perched above the clouds in the White House may be in denial, but the "F" word is heard more and more in Washington these days. Barring a mirac= ulous consolidation of power by Prime Minister Iyad <= span class=3DSpellE>Allawi and his new Baghdad government, the present course seems headed into the jaws of failure. The bold new thinking necessary to avert disaster, as suggested= by several contributors to the forum, is unlikely.

There are a number of reasons to doubt that the new government will enjoy sufficient moral authority to guide Iraq toward UN-supervised elections by yea= r's end, not least the demonstrated US intolerance of Iraqi officials unwilling to toe the line. Lakhdar Brahimi has become little more than a multilateral stage prop. The transiti= onal government led by Allawi will find legitimacy e= lusive unless the United States can be kept at arm's length, which means reducing visible US dividends from invading Iraq. A= Bush Administration bent on re-election will not look kindly on a further whittl= ing of already much diminished dividends. Ambassador John Negroponte will "reel in" independent-minded Iraqi officials or subvert their authority.

US officials have yet to come = to terms with the core dilemma in Iraq: to end the insurgency's momentum, Washington must pay a heavy toll in prestige and reputation, not to mention a domestic political penalty for a tacit admission of failure. Instead, the Bush Administration will cling to the illusion that it can engineer a satisfacto= ry outcome in Baghdad= .

Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the most influential voice for Iraq's = Shiite Muslim majority, offered only a conditional stamp of approval for the new government, which, he emphasizes,= is un-elected. He poses key criteria to judge the government's performance: the restoration of Iraqi sovereignty and the establishment of comprehensive security. Neither condition is likely to be = met. Iraqi sovereignty will mean little in the face of "military necessity."

The resistance attacks are unlikely to end or even taper off. Senior US offi= cers persistently underestimate and seriously misread the challenge. Gen. John <= span class=3DSpellE>Abizaid, for instance, has claimed that the fighters = are a force of only 5,000. In Lebanon the Israeli army faced a resistance force with a full-time cadre of fewer t= han 500. Other fighters were weekend mujahedeen--mechanics, optometrists, bakers--who disappeared for a few days on operation and then returned to work. That force prompted a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from = Lebanon= in May 2000. In Iraq, as in Lebanon, a village force of five or ten draws strength from cousins, friends and co-religionists and grows ac= cordionlike--5,000 becomes 25,000.

Options and choices that are now visible in the rearview mirror are gone. It is not= as though one missed a turn on the freeway and can double back to choose a new route. Early on the = United States lost the opportunity to win a bro= ader legitimacy for its occupation because it was determined to marginalize the = UN. The United States has effectively checkmated itself in Iraq.

A century and a half ago, Florence Nightingale, the Crimean War nurse who bec= ame a leading hospital reformer, offered a wise comment: "It may seem a strange principle to enunciate as the very first requirement in a Hospital = that it should do the sick no harm." In Ira= q, the United States has illustrated the limits of its power, and it has spread disease rather t= han cured sickness. The Middle East is a muc= h more dangerous region today than it was two years ago.

AUGUSTUS RICHARD NORTON For all letters see: htt= p://www.thenation.com/doc.mhtml?i=3D20040719&s=3Dletter<= /span>

F= or the original article on = Iraq:  http= ://www.thenation.com/doc.mhtml?i=3D20040524&s=3Dforum