One gets the feeling that even the White House realizes the mess it's made of Iraq. The other day the newspapers reported that the Bush administration has scaled back its objectives rather substantially. We might call it Iraq 3.0.
First the plan was to create a democratic paradise which, domino-like, would spread freedom throughout the Middle East. When that didn't work, the administration shifted to simply bringing some kind of order to Iraq, reconciling the three largest groups - Shi'a, Sunni and Kurd.
That hasn't gone too well either. The nearly two dozen political objectives that the military "surge" was intended to accomplish have largely gone unachieved. The violence level may have fallen (one never knows how temporary such things are), but there are many possible explanations for that. One horrifying explanation is that enough ethnic cleansing of neighborhoods and emigration have occurred that less violence is "necessary" in the eyes of the various militias. That presumably is not the sort of peace President Bush had in mind.
So now the strategists in Washington have retooled. The New York Times says, "The Bush administration has lowered its expectations of quickly achieving major steps toward unifying the country, including passage of a long-stymied plan to share oil revenue and holding regional elections. Instead, administration officials say they are focusing their immediate efforts on several more limited but achievable goals in the hope of convincing Iraqis, foreign governments and Americans that some progress is being made toward the political breakthroughs that the intensified military campaign of the past 10 months was supposed to promote."
Stage magicians call this "misdirection." If you can't have the audience look here, you must do something to make them look over there. Voilà! Apparently item No. 1 on the new and improved American agenda for Iraq is approval of that country's $48 billion budget. You read that right. The U.S. government is maintaining an occupation of a foreign country to help its government pass the budget!
The Times says the Iraqis claim to be doing this already, but no matter. When that budget is passed, presumably the White House will be hanging "Mission Accomplished" signs again and declaring victory. I can see the ticker-tape parade down Wall Street already.
But that's not all. Other goals include getting the UN to renew the mandate that countenances the occupation. Now this one takes some thought. An objective of the occupation is to reauthorize the occupation. The boys in the U.S. Department of Logic must have worked overtime on that one.
Finally, the 3.0 agenda aims to get a law passed to let Ba'ath Party members back into government jobs. "This last goal was described by a senior Bush administration official as largely symbolic, since rehirings have been quietly taking place already without a law," the Times reports.
There you have it: an agenda that can be accomplished. Every American should be proud of this can-do attitude. Never mind that armed Americans are patrolling other people's country, entering homes, stopping them at check points - and are ready to shoot to kill if they can't divine the intentions of the persons approaching them. It's for their own good.
The other shoe has already dropped. The White House itself admits it is not meeting its goals in Afghanistan. The U.S. military may be beating the resurgent Taliban in individual battles, but it is losing the larger war.
It's amazing how little you can get for $10 billion (or more) a month.
And where is the allegedly anti-war party these days? Who knows? The Democratic leadership, which has the power to cut off money for this madness, refuses to do it. The likely Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, sees U.S. troops in Iraq far into the future. The American people want out, but the politicians don't listen.
This is the system Bush wants to bring to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Sheldon Richman is senior fellow at The Future of Freedom Foundation (www.fff.org) and editor of The Freeman magazine.