By Dick Morris
May 13, 2004
It is not only the isolated acts of a few individuals that is causing angst in Iraq but the inherent problems that come with any military occupation. The danger is not that this gross misconduct will destroy America's image abroad. It is more that it will sap our self-esteem at home and shake our confidence in the military and in our own benign intentions. We are in Iraq because we are idealistic, but when that idealism is besmirched by abuse and torture it becomes hard to perceive.
Vietnam made us doubt ourselves. It took 20 years and Ronald Reagan to restore our belief in American exceptionalism and virtue. American morale is fragile. That which separates us from the fear that grips Madrid and the defeatism that enfeebles France is not sturdy. More photos, increased frustration and greater casualties will erode our sense of purpose just when we need it most to face terrorists who would destroy our civilization if they could.
And additional revelations could cost George W. Bush the presidency and elect instead a man who sees the battle against terrorism as the prosecution of a crime, not the waging of a war. John Kerry must not become president. He would replace military action against states that sponsor and shelter terrorists with DEA-style raids and arrests. Kerry would attack the capillaries, but Bush goes for the terrorists' jugular.
But public confidence in Bush's handling of the war on terror drops with each revelation. Pollster Scott Rasmussen reports that as of last Thursday, "just 49 percent said they trust Bush more on the issues [of terror and Iraq] while 42 percent prefer Kerry." That margin, the pollster noted, is "the smallest edge for the president all year."
Today, Americans believe, by 48-29, that news of Iraqi prisoner abuse reflects "isolated events" and is not "fairly widespread." Will the further revelations predicted by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld alter this perception? Will Sen. Lindsey Graham's (R-S.C.) prophesy of reports of murder and homosexual rape of Iraqi prisoners create the sense of widespread brutality?
Recent Gallup poll data - before the abuse scandal - reflects that only 26 percent of Iraqis have a positive view of the United States. We are creating, as Adams warned, two mobs as we control one.
And all this is for what?
To force a democracy on the Iraqi people? Why do we care what their form of government is? Why can't we keep a large enough garrison there to intervene should the Baathists take power, and leave Iraq to the Iraqis? There are not many Saddam Husseins in this world, thank God, and chaos does not usually metastasize into a Taliban-like regime, as it did in Afghanistan. Most nations that are not democracies are not terrorist states either.
Let's remember democracy as a goal in Iraq only assumed political importance when we failed to find weapons of mass destruction. Toppling Saddam was sufficient justification for the invasion, but we needed a larger cause to get allied support, hence the commitment to democratization. However, Iraq never was a democracy and likely never will be.
And let us also remember Iraq is a creation of the British foreign office and Lord Balfour, who combined the Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite regions into one administrative unit, just as they created Saudi Arabia and Jordan (and the French created Syria and Lebanon). There is no reason, except Turkish disapproval, not to allow three separate states to develop. An ongoing U.S. military presence in safely sealed bases can ensure a capacity to intervene should a terrorist-sponsoring regime rear its head.
We need to conserve our national morale, confidence, self-esteem, will and resources for the serious tasks that loom in the war on terror. President Bush must not take our support for granted, nor dare he pursue a crusade that saps our energy.
Dick Morris was an adviser to Bill Clinton for 20 years. Look for his new book, Rewriting History.
Distributed by Cagle Cartoons, Inc. to subscribers for publication.