Israel’s future could be on the line in Iraq

Original story found here.

For all the talk about Iraq and whether we should send more troops, one subject seems almost too delicate to bring up: Israel. What happens to America’s closest ally in the Middle East if the Bush administration loses Iraq to a wider war marked by more anarchy and violence?

The Administration aspired to remake Iraq in a Jeffersonian image that would have left the nation more friendly to us and Israel. But the effort has failed.

Not only is Iraq the site of spreading sectarian violence, but the U.S.-led invasion has made the country a magnet for al-Qaida and other terrorist groups hostile to the United States and Israel. By helping bring Iraq’s long-oppressed Shia majority to power, the administration has, however unwittingly, helped expand the influence of Iran at a time when Iran’s nuclear activities pose a long-term threat to Israel.

President George W. Bush seems convinced his short-term “surge” will help stem Iraq’s rising tide of bloodletting. But neither he nor his advisers have articulated what might come next. Bush has already rejected the bipartisan Iraq Study Group’s recommendations to pursue several diplomatic initiatives at once, including sustained peace-building efforts between Israelis and Palestinians.

Arab leaders have been making it clear to U.S. officials, including Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice on her latest trip to the region, they will not back U.S. efforts to stabilize Iraq without seeing progress toward a Palestinian state. So if the administration’s one big last military push fails, the United States will have few options left in the region. Pushing again on Israeli-Palestinian tensions would be conceivable but would most likely be seen as too little, too late.

Israelis will continue to live in an area where the forces on the rise in Iraq, Lebanon, and elsewhere are not stable, pro-Western governments but sectarian militias and other irregular armed groups – many of whom hate each other and their own states, but nearly all of whom oppose Israel.

Of course, Israel can defend itself, with the best-trained, best-armed military in the region, no doubt armed with nuclear weapons. The country’s willingness to use its strength for rapid strikes inside enemy territory has been an effective deterrent against even the most hostile states such as Syria, which have easily identifiable targets like military bases and electrical plants.

But nonstate movements are far less vulnerable to retaliatory attacks, as Israel learned last year after its air strikes in Lebanon failed to do much discernable damage to Hezbollah while Hezbollah militia forces were firing rockets into Israel.

Such irregular armed forces breed in a climate of resistance. Thriving on perceptions of their own victimization, they often gain politically, as Hezbollah did from its military defeats in Lebanon following Israel’s bombing. Well-armed powers have discovered, most recently in Iraq and Lebanon, that neutralizing the appeal of such militias requires at least as much savvy as arms.

In the past, Israel has quietly gained as its enemies fought each other, notably during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. But what applies to states does not necessarily apply to irregular armed movements. Take the clashes today in the West Bank and Gaza between Fatah and Hamas Palestinians. Instead of weakening Israel’s enemies, the fighting may end up undermining moderates such as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

In a broader struggle between Sunnis and Shia in the Persian Gulf region, the two warring Muslim sects may each find opportunities to attack Israel, to bolster their jihadist credentials. Though Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaida leaders are ultra-conservative Sunnis who have long derided Shia for deviating from the Muslim faith, some al-Qaida figures came to Hezbollah’s defense as it attacked Israel, calling the Shia fighters Muslim allies in a common struggle.

The same kind of cynical logic may help explain the repugnant language of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. His conference in Tehran promoting Holocaust denial helped show other anti-Israeli Muslims the Middle East’s largest Shia-led state is no less hostile to Israel than are many Sunni Muslims.

This means avoiding further destabilization of the Middle East is in the interest not only of the United States, but of Israel. This is a fact the Bush administration would do well to address. It is betting against the odds its one-track military policy will work. If it fails, Israel could be in greater danger than ever.


This article originally appeared at:,0,1972949.story?coll=ny-viewpoints-headlines

Time for Hard Choices on Leaving Iraq

While the unexpected crisis involving Israel and Lebanon rages on with no end in sight, the United States needs to stay focused on the Iraqi crisis of its own making. Lately, even the most articulate supporters of that war have finally declared that our efforts there are not working. But navigating our own safe passage out of Iraq at this stage will require more than simply throwing up our hands.

The time has come to make some hard choices. So far, the highly partisan debate here has been about whether to set up a timetable for U.S. forces to leave Iraq and, if so, when. But this is little more than political posturing unless we first pave the way for our forces to leave without the nation imploding while drawing in other states in the region.

It might help if we could try to understand Iraqis on their own terms. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) recently announced his outrage over elected Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s refusal to criticize the Lebanese group Hezbollah for its ongoing, indiscriminate attacks against Israel. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) expressed her affront over the same Iraqi government’s plan to offer amnesty to Iraqi insurgents who have attacked American forces.

These Democrats are making the same mistake many Republicans did in presuming that Iraqis would not only be grateful for our help in bringing democracy to their nation, but that they would show it by electing leaders with whom we would get along. We seem to forget that most Iraqis are poor Shias who long lived under the boot of Saddam Hussein, while Shia groups elsewhere, namely with Hezbollah and in Iran, each supported Iraqi Shias against Hussein far more consistently than we did.

Now, if we are going to find our way out of Iraq, we must scale down our expectations. Iraq will never be the pro-American beacon of Western values that architects in the Bush administration naively promised. Nor is the ongoing Iraqi insurgency, or the nation’s even faster rising tide of sectarian violence, likely to end until after Iraq’s elected, Shia-led government negotiates a settlement with the nation’s own entrenched Sunni insurgents.

This may well require granting insurgents an amnesty for attacking not only U.S. forces but armed Iraqi forces. After all, Great Britain was forced to accept even tougher terms to negotiate a settlement in Northern Ireland with the Irish Republican Army. One difference in Iraq might be that an amnesty would not extend to those responsible for attacks on Iraqi civilians, most of which have been carried out by foreign fighters loosely associated with al-Qaida.

Another concession we may well need to make is to give up any permanent U.S. military bases on Iraqi soil. Only the Kurds in the north really want us to stay there, anyway, to keep them from being overrun by Turkey. Of course, none of these steps would change anything overnight. But renouncing our own claims to retain any long-term military presence in Iraq could help change the political climate inside the country.

As long as Iraqis of all kinds can blame their daily problems on occupying U.S.-led troops, the nation’s various groups – including insurgents, sectarian militias and government authorities – can put off facing one another to try to resolve their differences. Already Shia militias are demanding greater autonomy in the south. Great Britain recently announced its plans to turn over the southernmost city of Basra to the local Shia militia by early next year.

The United States is sure to feel more pressure to follow suit, even though doing so could easily help lead to the bloody breakup of Iraq. Anyone advocating an immediate or otherwise premature U.S. withdrawal should keep in mind that no matter what one chooses to call it so far, Iraq’s ethnic cleansing could still get much worse.

But there is at least one silver lining hanging over today’s stormy region. Hezbollah’s status throughout the Arab world has only risen from its ongoing rocket attacks against Israel, and this has notably helped defuse tensions between Shias and Sunnis in much of the Arab world. Many radical Sunnis who previously denounced Shias for practicing their own interpretation of Islam now accept Hezbollah as a partner in a broader anti-Western struggle. This could help strengthen the hand of Prime Minister Maliki both inside and outside of Iraq to try to find a settlement to both the insurgency and sectarian strife inside his own nation.

The same storm drops at least one flash retort, too, on those who still claim the Bush administration only went into Iraq to set up a puppet government and steal Iraqi oil. Even if that were the original intent, no doubt the elected Iraqi government is speaking with its own voice today, though it remains dependent on U.S. troops for its survival.

Not the democracy we wanted? It’s the one we got, so we’d better get used to it if we want to bring our troops home anytime in the foreseeable future.

A war ‘shock and awe’ didn’t win

Original story found here.

Remember when the Bush administration launched its “shock and awe” campaign across Iraq?

Even hardened critics were left starstruck watching the bombs rain down on Baghdad and other targets three years ago this week. It was as if the United States were flaunting its firepower while saying to hostile states and forces around the world: This is what happens to you when you mess with us.

The Pentagon was testing a theory developed seven years earlier by a small team of U.S. National Defense University authors. “The aims of this doctrine are to apply massive or overwhelming force as quickly as possible,” the authors wrote. “While there are surely humanitarian considerations that cannot or should not be ignored, the ability to shock and awe ultimately rests in the ability to frighten, scare, intimidate, and disarm” the enemy’s will.

It seemed to work at first, as supporters boldly proclaimed we had both won a war and taught the Mideast a lesson. And we did so, or so we thought, by beating the Saddam out of Iraq. “[T]he comatose and glazed expressions of survivors of the great bombardments of World War I,” wrote the authors, was exactly the kind of effect on the adversary they proposed.

But the doctrine was even more ambitious. Much the way a schoolyard bully might pummel one smaller kid to send a message to the rest, its proponents wrote that the impressive display of force would compel not only the targeted nation but other states as well to fall into line. This helps explain why the administration thought that the messy politics of Iraq along with the entangled mosaic of the region were not much to worry about, as the other states would all end up coming at least a little more our way once they got wind of shock and awe.

But the doctrine failed its first field test, while the arrogance it dropped on Iraq has since given rise to contingencies its proponents never saw. Far from making Iraqis more pliant, shock and awe helped foment an insurgency that shows no sign of going away, besides helping to uncork sectarian strife that the administration also grossly underestimated. The same hubris has further increased sympathy for al-Qaida in many nations while it has helped Saddam Hussein turn his murder trial into a stage to rally insurgents against the U.S.-led occupation.

Instead of learning to fear us, as the Bush administration’s war planners had hoped, the world now understands that even the tallest of giants can end up bogged down, if not crippled, no matter how fierce it starts out. In a world as complex as ours, military strength is only a part of even our nation’s overall power. Instead of the kind of decisive, demonstrative victory the administration expected, the legacy of shock and awe may be that being mean and dumb doesn’t work.

One lesson we could yet learn is as simple as: The politics matter, stupid. Trying to bully a whole nation along with a region into submission could end up backfiring on us. Showing off our high-tech muscle on even the most despised despotic regime may only result in turning countless people there and elsewhere against us.

Of course, it is never too late to change. But we have to start with our attitude. Arguably, such a transformation is already under way, although the administration would be the last to admit it. Last week, both the United States and Iran announced that, despite their many disagreements, it is finally time after decades of no diplomatic contact to open talks. Now that we know that shock and awe didn’t scare the Ayatollahs, either, we’ve learned the hard way that we have to treat them, like other people, with respect whether we like them or not.

The same goes for Iraq. Having failed to subdue seemingly any sizable part of the population in the long run, we now know that we need to reach out to not only those Iraqis more or less on our side but also to the leaders of the insurgency whom we still hope to bring into the political process. One might call it bunker diplomacy. Instead of walking tall across the battlefield in the wake of shock and awe, we are the ones looking besieged and desperate for a way out.

Despite the grandiosity America sported when we invaded Iraq, the giant that the administration tried to project there sure looks weaker now. It all comes back to basics. The bully may well beat up one kid after another – only to find himself alone, surrounded by ever more people who hate him and hope, if not plot, for his demise.

Iraq: No Consensus, No Constitution

Original story found here.

Iraqi negotiators are as likely to agree on a constitution by Monday’s new deadline as American troops are likely to leave Iraq anytime soon. If leaders ultimately fail to reach a consensus, however, we could end up occupying Iraq for years if not decades to come.

It is hardly surprising that Iraqis are so divided. Any notion of pluralism, let alone democracy, is not only new to Iraq; it threatens to upset a regional balance of power that has lasted for centuries.

In a nation as inequitable and discriminatory as Iraq long has been, forging a consensus looks as difficult as the effort to end apartheid in South Africa was. This example shows, perhaps, that peace in Iraq may one day be possible — but not until after at least its three largest sides have fought it out hard and long enough to learn that compromising is their only remaining option.

We might never have invaded their nation if we had known how hard it would be for Iraqi groups to get along with each other. Much has been said about the Bush administration’s failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, after it alleged, along with most media, that they were there. But few people seem to realize that the administration and the same media together also planned an invasion for a fantasy nation.

In the years and months building up to the 2003 invasion, leading publications and columnists in the U.S. somehow wished Iraq’s toughest internal problems away.

A basic error in the reporting of Iraqi demographics gave a confusing and inaccurate portrayal of the country. In the 1990s, The Washington Post repeatedly described Iraq’s majority Shias as a “minority.”

In 1999, the journal Foreign Affairs published an article saying that Iraq’s big problem after Saddam Hussein will be helping its “Sunni majority” keep its Kurdish and Shi’a minorities from pulling away.

A 2002 op-ed by Henry Kissinger in The Washington Post warned that after Hussein, Iraq’s “Sunni majority” would need our help keeping the Kurdish and alleged Shi’a minorities in line.

Eight months before the invasion, William Safire, in The New York Times, downsized the so-called Sunni majority to a “plurality.”

Now, everyone knows that neither Iraq’s Sunni Arabs nor the country’s (Sunni) Kurds comprise more than 20 percent — at most — of the nation’s population, while nearly two-thirds of Iraqis are Shia Arabs.
By inflating the long politically dominant Sunni Arabs into an alleged majority, while downsizing the long-oppressed Shia Arabs into a so-called minority, the media allowed the administration to sidestep
the all-important question of what might happen to Iraq after Hussein.

The irony of this blind spot in the pre-invasion debate is that the same facts have played a role in our Iraqi policy before.

Back in 1991, after then-President George H.W. Bush repeatedly encouraged Iraqis to “toss aside” Hussein, he and his administration watched Iraq’s elite forces crush the very uprisings — by both the Shi’as in the south and the Kurds in the north — that they helped inspire. He and members of his cabinet later admitted that they did so because they feared the consequences of either Iraq’s Shi’a majority or Kurdish minority gaining more power.

Today, President George W. Bush still promises to bring democracy to Iraq, while adding earlier this week that he is optimistic that the Iraqis trying to negotiate a constitution will reach a consensus. That might have been easier if the fantasy nation that many pro-war experts, opinionists and pundits described before the invasion really existed. But the reality of Iraq is that the Shi’a majority is finally gaining the power that arguably it has long deserved, while the Kurdish minority is intent on preserving its hard-earned autonomy, if not breaking away from Iraq outright.

The Sunni Arab minority, meanwhile, is losing the power that it long has enjoyed out of proportion to its numbers.

It is possible to negotiate settlements to even the most entangled hostilities, as events in places as diverse as El Salvador, South Africa and Northern Ireland all show. But parties in each one of these conflicts only came to the table willing to make a deal after they more than flexed their military muscle. The bloody headlines coming out of Iraq every day show that Iraq’s Sunni Arabs still have plenty of muscle to flex. Many of them will keep on fighting to try and either restore themselves to power or at least strengthen their hand.

Next test: insurgents

Original story found here.

The Bush administration looks like it has finally scored a ringing success in Iraq.

But, if one objective of Sunday’s elections was to help defeat Iraq’s ongoing insurgencies, then the exercise failed.

The question now is how Iraq’s next government will handle the insurgents. Before Sunday, they threatened voters. But U.S. troops led the effort to secure polling stations, while more than half of Iraq’s eligible voters defied insurgent threats and exercised their first real chance for self-empowerment in history.

No one should doubt the sincerity of that step–least of all President George W. Bush and his senior advisers. For, as much as Iraq’s elections stand as a triumph, they also mark the failure of the administration’s original plan for governing the nation. Instead of helping to install pliable Iraqis ready to follow Washington’s lead, Iraq’s next government will be dominated by Shia Arabs, more than two-thirds of whom, according to a recent poll by the reliable Zogby International, want U.S. troops out of Iraq as soon as the new government is in place.

Iraq’s next leaders, however, may want us to stay a little longer, as any abrupt U.S. withdrawal could plunge the nation into a civil war. And, if the way Iraqis voted on Sunday is any indication, such a conflict is already under way. The day before Iraq’s elections, the new White House national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, claimed in a Washington Post op-ed that Iraq’s sectarian splits were being overblown. Yet the turnout was undeniably high in Shia as well as Kurdish areas, while in the Sunni Arab heartland relatively fewer Iraqis chose to vote.

Rather than unite Iraq, the U.S.-backed elections have only sharpened the struggle for political power among the nation’s different population groups. The challenge for both the next Iraqi government and the Bush administration is to find a way to reach out to Iraq’s newly disenfranchised Sunni Arab minority. Not only are areas like the Sunni Triangle the same places where few Iraqis voted, but these same areas remain the main base of Iraq’s ongoing insurgencies.

The Bush administration launched a major military offensive in cities like Fallujah before the elections. Yet, even though U.S. operations killed or drove out many insurgents, they still failed to secure these areas in a way that compelled Sunnis to vote. Some commentators have already asked whether the next government will be able to find and train Iraqi troops to take over more of the fighting from U.S. forces. But these new Iraqi troops may well be drawn from Iranian-trained Shia militias, and their deployment would only further split Iraq’s sectarian sides.

One alternative now would be to try to negotiate with Iraq’s Sunni insurgents instead of trying to eliminate them militarily. Fortunately, the United States already has a precedent for such an approach, even if Bush administration officials still fail to see it.

Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld have each pointed to El Salvador’s war-time elections 20 years ago as a supposed model for Iraq. But they forget that El Salvador’s war dragged on for another 10 years after that nation’s first election, and its war ended not through elections at all but only after El Salvador’s U.S.-backed government finally decided to negotiate with El Salvador’s insurgents.

Negotiating with Iraqi insurgents would be even harder. While many if not most Sunni Arabs may well desire peace, foreign insurgents tied to al-Qaida would surely continue using terror to try to derail any possible settlement. Sadly, the war in Iraq may also already be dangerously close to the point at which even a new strategy would not be enough to prevent the nation’s slide into even thicker sectarian bloodshed. If so, U.S. troops would end up stuck in the middle, while fighting at least one side.

It’s hoped senior Bush administration advisers have finally learned something, at least since Sunday. Sectarian divisions do matter in a country where one small group has oppressed others for not only decades but centuries. The new Iraq promises to be more representative, indeed, than any government in that region’s long history. But, instead of being the first step toward democracy, it could yet mark the start of a full-blown civil war.

Hasty elections could divide Iraq

Original story found here.

No matter which candidate wins in November, he will face his first challenge in Iraq.

President George W. Bush keeps promising that Iraq’s first national elections will be held in January, even if they only take place, as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said, in “three-quarters or four- fifths” of the nation. Sen. John Kerry, meanwhile, has yet to articulate any meaningful position on Iraq, as both candidates are reluctant to raise issues they can’t resolve.

But we cannot afford to ignore Iraq’s rising tide of violence. Yesterday, a rocket attack hit the Sheraton Hotel in Baghdad. And, if the Bush administration goes ahead quickly toward elections, the president may end up doing something that he promised he would never do: breaking up Iraq into three parts largely along ethnic and religious lines.

Of course, this is not what the administration had in mind for Iraq. But it will be one sure result of any attempt to hold elections in the middle of an escalating insurgent war. It would be risky if not impossible to hold elections in the Sunni Triangle, where most of the insurgency is based. But, if these areas are excluded from the voting, Iraq will be left with two noncontiguous, self-governing entities by the Kurdish minority in the north and the Shia majority in the south.

The insurgency itself is not what many may think. Rather than enjoy either broad geographic reach or diverse popular support, most of the armed resistance is limited to one part of Iraq and is being mostly carried out by one population group. Over the past month, a private security firm documented more than 2,300 attacks against U.S.-led forces stretching across the entire nation.

But about 80 percent of the attacks were concentrated in [or around] the Sunni Triangle along both the Tigris and Euphrates river valleys and in Baghdad itself.

There was only one attack last month, for example, in the southern city of Najaf, as by then the rebellion led by Muqtada al-Sadr, the young son of a cleric killed by Saddam Hussein, was already over. The Shia resistance declined after his al-Mahdi militia suffered heavy casualties and the more respected, elder surviving cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, brokered a cease-fire. Now al-Sistani is demanding nationwide elections, while al-Sadr has gone back and forth about whether he will disarm his militia and will participate in the January elections.

Sporadic Shia resistance continues in the Sadr city slum of Baghdad, but most of the remaining insurgency is concentrated in the Sunni Triangle.

For a while, Rumsfeld and others tried to blame foreign fighters tied to al-Qaida for most of the violence in Iraq. Today, these foreign Islamists remain active out of proportion to their relatively small numbers inside Iraq, and they are responsible, indeed, for many recent beheadings of kidnapped Westerners.

But by now even Rumsfeld’s own intelligence analysts agree that the bulk of the Iraqi resistance is not only homegrown but also deeply rooted among Iraq’s Sunni Arab minority population.

Even though ethnic Arabs of the mainstream Sunni Muslim religion are a majority in most Arab nations, they are a minority in Iraq of, at most, 17 percent of the population. Both the Kurds in the north, who constitute about 20 percent of Iraqis, and the Shia Arabs in the slums around Baghdad and in the south, who make up at least 60 percent of Iraqis, are more numerous. But it is Sunni Arabs, albeit through more rural tribes under Hussein than before, who have long dominated the region.

Iraq’s Sunni Arab minority has little incentive to compete in elections with other population groups, as introducing any pluralism into Iraq would only end the Sunnis’ long-standing monopoly on power. Combined with the heavy-handedness of U.S. forces, killing many civilians including women and children in cities like Fallujah and Samarra, the Sunni Arab insurgency has grown even deeper roots throughout the Sunni Triangle — which really has only two sides, along the Euphrates and Tigris. The insurgency also extends north along the Tigris as far as Mosul into areas dominated by Christian Arabs, who also rose to power under Hussein.

Even the best possible deployment of U.S. firepower and tactics cannot prevent the specter of moderate Iraqis being blown apart as they try to vote, even if it is possible to hold secure elections in most of the country.

Elections could well lead to more self-government for the “four-fifths” of Iraqis who live in either the south or the north. But these two model areas would still be split by a limited but raging insurgency alongside them and in between.

The Bush administration has backed itself into a corner. If elections are not held across Iraq, as al-Sistani is demanding, Washington risks provoking a broad Shia insurgency that would be even harder to handle than all the anti-American resistance there so far. Yet, holding elections while the Sunni insurgency is raging can only lead to the de facto breakup of Iraq.

Arguably, the administration has no choice, as it must keep its promise to Iraqis to hold elections. But, through elections in most but not all of the country, President Bush will be breaking the strategic promise he made not to divide the Iraqi nation. Rather than unite the nation under a legitimate government, wartime elections will split Iraq into three enclaves without any foreseeable plan to bring them back together.

U.S. shouldn’t rely on Iraq’s yes men

Original story found here.

How did we end up in such a fix in Iraq? We did what we have long done abroad: We sought out not the foreigners whom we still need to work with, but the exiles who were most like us.

The practice of imposing unpopular proxies hardly began with this Bush administration. It is one that U.S. policy makers have long been pursuing with mixed results. But, in a world as complex as this one is after 9/11, the days of picking leaders like characters in a Graham Greene novel may be gone. Instead, we must build relationships with foreigners who have support among their own people and stop sidling up to the kind who merely tell us what we want to hear.

Favorite foreign sons often enjoy more support in this nation than in their own, and it may take years before the illusions they have peddled here are exposed. One such man was the late president of El Salvador, José Napoleon Duarte, who once enjoyed a broad bipartisan consensus in Washington.

Duarte was so dependent on us to keep him in power that he not only wrote his autobiography when he was still in office during his nation’s ongoing war, but he wrote and published it in English for us to read – instead of his own people.

It took five years before U.S. policy makers finally realized that Duarte, for all his rosy promises, had failed.

But it has taken only one year for most policy makers to realize that America’s handpicked Iraqis are failing. The Pentagon has favored Ahmad Chalabi while the State Department has preferred Adnan Pachachi. Both are exiles who did not set foot inside Iraq for more than three decades, and neither man has ever enjoyed any sizable constituency inside Iraq.

But they each looked good on paper. Fluent in English, Chalabi studied mathematics before becoming a banker, and he describes himself not in religious terms but as a secular Shia Iraqi. Pachachi, who has better ties to the Arab world, is a former diplomat who once represented Iraq in New York at the United Nations. Chalabi and his family were close to Iraq’s old British-imposed monarchy, while Pachachi served Iraq’s pre-Baathist military regimes. When different administration officials looked out at Iraq’s colorful (and confusing) sectarian landscape, these two men stood out.

One reason Chalabi found favor for so long is that he, in particular, always said yes to us. Yes, Iraqis will rise up when you invade, even though America only betrayed them the last time they rose up. (Bob Woodward’s book “Plan of Attack” reports that Vice President Dick Cheney did not know until after the invasion that “the trauma” among Shi’a Iraqis was still so bad.) Yes, you may exploit Iraqi oil through a sweetheart deal with Halliburton, even if few Iraqis benefit from it.

Yes, Chalabi argued, you may use me to shape a government to your liking, even if Iraqis do not elect it. Oh, and don’t worry about all those messy ethnic and religious tensions — with me in charge together we will transcend them.

The biggest fiction Chalabi spread was the same one Duarte told, that bringing democracy to his country was somehow synonymous with bringing him to power. This is the whopper the White House may have swallowed. Last month in Washington, President George W. Bush told newspaper editors that he still plans to bring democracy to Iraq. But what Bush may not yet get is that any democratic elections there are not likely to lead to any government he has in mind, or elect any leader he knows.

Everyone should know by now that Iraq’s future could well hang on the word, or life, of a 74-year-old cleric of the Shi’a Muslim faith, Ali Sistani, who wears a black turban signifying that he is a descendant of the prophet Mohammed. But only after last year’s invasion did policy makers seem to learn that they might even need support from Iraqis as unfamiliar to us as this grand ayatollah.

Instead, administration officials picked different Iraqis with whom they were most comfortable, and now American soldiers along with Iraqi civilians are dying for their mistakes.

For a nation with as many enemies as America has today, we need more allies and fewer puppets around the world.