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The Iraqi Inversion
ASHINGTON.- Maybe after high-definition TV, they'll invent high-dudgeon TV, a product so realistic you can just lunge through the screen and shake the Bush officials when they say something maddening about 9/11 or Iraq, or when they engage in some egregious bit of character assassination.
It would come in handy for Karen Hughes's Bush-nannying book tour and Condoleezza Rice's Clarke-riposting 9/11 commission testimony.
And I was desperately wishing for it yesterday, when Donald Rumsfeld held forth at a Pentagon briefing.
Even though the assumptions the Bush administration used to go to war have now proved to be astonishingly arrogant, naďve and ideological, Mr. Rumsfeld is as testy and Delphic as ever about the fragility of Iraq.
"We're trying to explain how things are going, and they are going as they are going," he said, adding: "Some things are going well and some things obviously are not going well. You're going to have good days and bad days." On the road to democracy, this "is one moment, and there will be other moments. And there will be good moments and there will be less good moments."
Calling the families of more than 30 young Americans killed this week in the confusing hell of Iraq must be a less good moment.
Our troops in Iraq don't know who they're fighting and who they're saving. They don't know when they're coming home or when they're being forcibly re-upped by Rummy. Our diplomats in Baghdad don't know who they're handing the country over to next month. And Bush officials don't know where to go for help, since the military's tapped out, the allies have cold feet, the Arab world's angry and the rest of the globe is thinking, "You got what you deserved."
Before heading out to Iraq last spring, Marine commanders explained that they would try to take a gentler approach than the Army. They would avoid using military tactics that would risk civilian casualties, learn Arabic and take off their sunglasses when talking with Iraqis. "If to kill a terrorist we have got to kill eight innocent people, you don't kill them," Maj. Gen. James Mattis told The Times's Michael Gordon.
But in the wake of the Falluja horror and Shiite uprising, civility must take a back seat to stomping.
The marines had to fire rockets at a mosque in Falluja used by the Shiite followers of the radical cleric Moktada al-Sadr, and the hospitals are filled with civilians. Instead of playing soccer with kids, now the marines have to worry that the kids are the enemy, spotting targets or wielding guns. The farmers and taxicab drivers, wearing their own clothes and driving their own cars, try to murder the marines before melting back into the populace.
Paul Wolfowitz assumed that the Shiites, tormented by Saddam over their religion, would be grateful, not hateful. Wrong. It isn't a cakewalk; it's chaos.
Every single thing the administration calculated would happen in Iraq has turned out the opposite. The W.M.D. that supposedly threatened us did not exist. The dangerous dictator was deluded and writing romance novels. The terrorism that would be thwarted has mushroomed in Iraq and is feeding Arab radicalism.
Mr. Rumsfeld thought invading Iraq would exorcise America's Vietnam syndrome, its squeamishness about using force. Instead, it has raised the specter of another Vietnam, where our courageous troops don't understand the culture, can't recognize the enemy and don't have an exit strategy. And the administration spins the war every day.
Rummy also thought he could show off his transformation of the military, using a leaner force. Now even some Republicans say he is putting our troops at risk by stubbornly refusing to admit he was wrong.
Dick Cheney thought fear was better than weak-kneed diplomacy, that if America whacked one Arab foe, all the others would cower. Wrong. The Iraq invasion has multiplied and emboldened our enemies.
Mr. Cheney and Mr. Rumsfeld thought America should flex its hyperpower muscles, castrating the U.N. and blowing off multilateral arrangements. Now the administration may have to crawl back for help.
The hawks thought they could establish a democracy that would produce a domino effect in the Arab world. Wrong. The dominoes are falling in a scarier direction.
The president thought he could improve on the ending to his father's gulf war. Wrong again.