Winning a war with Iraq is not the problem. Getting rid of Saddam Hussein is not the problem either. We can probably achieve both missions, although the cost may be more that expected.
The problem, is what happens after we have "won?"
To roll the credits back a notch, let's look at where we are in Afghanistan after "winning." The national army we put in place dares not venture outside Kabul. Vice President Qadir was assassinated on July 6 and there has since been an attempt on President Hamid Karzai, a very nearly successful operation by either Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or any one of a number of pissed-off warlords. The Taliban has regrouped and threatens a prolonged guerrilla campaign similar to the one that ultimately caused the Russians to go home. American troops are particularly targeted. American bases are infiltrated with (take your choice of the above groups) to the extent that no tactical moves are made without forewarning.
Afghanistan is coming apart in our hands. And yet, the "quick victory" there, the vaunted success of air power is touted as a template for what is to come in Iraq. The American public is being given the good news, withheld from the bad.
A pillar of Iraq theory has it that Al-Qaeda is looking to arm itself with nuclear weapons and Saddam may be close to developing a weapon. Pakistan is not close, it is there, already a nuclear power. Nuclear material, possibly intact warheads, are known to have walked off Russian nuclear stockpiles on the black market. If al Qaeda becomes nuclear, it's far more practical and possible for them to acquire such weapons from those sources.
Bernard Lewis, a well regarded Princeton Middle East historian who seems to have Cheney's ear, says "By defeating Hitler and his Japanese allies, we did not seek to dominate Germany and Japan. Our purpose was to give the Germans and the Japanese the chance to redeem and liberate themselves. The long oppressed people of Iraq, the first and greatest victims of Saddam Hussein, deserve no less."
That's selective history at its worst. The war against Japan was retaliatory after they'd destroyed most of our Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor. We declared war and Germany immediately declared war against us. Very different circumstance. Lewis fails again, in that we absolutely damn well did seek to conquer and dominate Germany and Japan. Having done that, the Marshall Plan rebuilt their economies, while we as victors oversaw the restructuring of their political systems. But they were not warlord societies. China, our WWII ally, failed to develop a democratic society because it was a warlord society and Chiang Kai-shek was merely a warlord among warlords, soon squeezed off to Taiwan.
Iraq is a warlord society, as is Afghanistan. Saddam Hussein, much as we dislike him and wish him to be otherwise, is the Tito of Iraq, the only man capable of the power to keep Iraq's warlords in check. He's done it brutally, efficiently, ruthlessly. We are not prepared to be brutal and ruthless. We expect, and for some reason continue to expect in the face of the bloody evidence at hand, that wise, popular, even-handed Iraqis are merely awaiting liberation to turn their country into a Jeffersonian democracy.
It simply is not going to happen and we are on our way to expanding Muslim extremism, where it is our hope to contain it. Iran may well follow Iraq into the hellish factionalism that now overpowers our best efforts in Afghanistan.
The White House hasn't yet asked for a National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, a mainstay of national security decision-making for nearly 60 years. One intelligence official says the White House decided not to request the report to "avoid enshrining in a widely circulated document the uncertainties that persist about Iraq."
It's an absolute mystery to me that Saudi Arabia, whose citizens comprised 15 of the 9/11 terrorists, whose citizenship Osama bin Laden holds, who continues to fund Al-Qaeda, who refuses to close down or even acknowledge Al-Qaeda bank accounts, is somehow our ally rather than our enemy in this furious concentration on Saddam Hussein. A further mystery is that Pakistan, a refuge for Al-Qaeda as well as a nuclear power, is our ally, while Iraq, where there is no (forthcoming) evidence of either has to be targeted without delay, without consensus and without an endgame.
Jim Freeman is an American writer living in the Czech Republic and author of Evoke (see www.praguewriter.com/evoke.htm), a futurist political novel for those who hate politics and can't stand science fiction.