A victory (of sorts) in Iraq
   by Gene Lyons

According to the White House script, the made-for-TV action/adventure flick CNN
called "Showdown Iraq" ended triumphantly when President Bush swaggered across
the USS Abraham Lincoln's flight deck in his Village People fighter jock costume.
On Chris Matthews' MSNBC blatherfest, "Hardball," the hyperbolic host and G. Gordon
Liddy got so overwhelmed with patriotic zeal that they actually discussed the president's,
um, well, his "manly characteristic" was Liddy's euphemism. The Watergate felon turned
talk show host chided Democrats who found Bush's posturing ludicrous. "Run that stuff
again of him walking across there with the parachute," Liddy scolded. "He has just won
every woman's vote in the United States of America. You know, all those women who
say size doesn't count-they're all liars."

O tempora, O mores, as disgraced GOP virtue czar Bill Bennett might have observed
back when an earlier president's manly characteristic was much in the news. (Speaking of
whom, does anybody hang out in Vegas for days at a time playing the slots and attending
religious services? And don't casinos make sure big players never go thirsty and meet lots
of friendly women?) Meanwhile, back on planet Earth, the results of America's first
"preventive war" began to look anything but triumphant. The stunning effectiveness of the
U.S. military notwithstanding (equipped and trained on Bill Clinton's watch, it's worth
noticing), everything war critics feared could go wrong has gone wrong.

In Baghdad, chaos and savagery ruled. No sooner had U.S. Marines pulled down
Saddam Hussein's statue than the undermanned force's inability to assure law and
order became clear. Troops stood helplessly by as mob violence swept the country.
"Since the American takeover," writes Hassan Fattah in The New Republic, "Baghdad
has turned into an Arab version of the Watts riots.  Burning buildings dot the city skyline.
Armed looters terrorize the population, tearing into homes and emptying them of their
possessions....Street crime was infrequent under Saddam, but today random rapes,
carjackings and murders have become commonplace in many parts of the city,
and as a result women have virtually disappeared from the streets. At Baghdad's
Al Nouman Hospital, sources say 35 women who were raped and left for dead
have been brought into the ward in recent weeks."

Even worse, he wrote, "Iraq's nascent political groups are forming armed militias
and storing weapons as they prepare for a potential civil war...."

Two American regime changes later, democracy has been put on indefinite hold.
Electrical power, water, sanitary sewers and telephones haven't been restored.
Spring planting hasn't taken place for lack of seeds, fertilizer and irrigation pumps.
"Drive around Basra," suggests prowar New York Times columnist Thomas
Friedman, "and see what looters have done to just one institution: the 12,000-student
Basra University. It looks as if a tornado hit it. Looters have made off with all the
desks and chairs, ransacked the library and were last seen by my colleague Marc
Santora ripping out window frames and digging up cables."

Friedman acts surprised that the Bush administration hasn't delivered on its promises.
Imagine that. He warns that Iraqis who initially welcomed U.S. troops are growing embittered.

The hawkish New York Post finds American soldiers uneasy, reporting: "'  I'm no
bleeding heart, ' says Sgt. Leon 'Pete' Peters (who had more than his share of kills
during the fighting south of the city). 'I'll pull the trigger quick as anyone. But this place
is going to go crazy if we don't find a way to help these people.... I've been here for
more than 30 days and I've yet to see a single yellow humanitarian food package. '"

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld fired Army Secretary Thomas White and
effectively silenced Gen. Eric Shinseki after the war. Shinseki had warned Congress
that "hundreds of thousands" of soldiers would be needed to occupy Iraq, according
to The New York Times. He and other experienced soldiers who criticized Rummy's
plan were clearly correct.

The search for Saddam's vaunted "weapons of mass destruction" has turned into farce.
The Washington Post describes U.S. intelligence experts bursting into warehouses
filled with vacuum cleaners; finding swimming pools and liquor distilleries at supposed
WMD sites; and confiscating kids'  science projects. Looters have stripped Iraqi nuclear
waste sites bare. Have terrorists made off with deadly radioactive waste? Nobody knows.
Polls find Americans too busy chanting "We're Number One" to care whether Bush simply
lied or U.S. intelligence bungled the WMDs question. But defeating Iraq militarily was
always going to be the easy part. Alas, Bush was talking through his hat when he declared
al-Qa'ida gravely weakened. Last week's sickening terror attacks in Saudi Arabia and
Morocco showed that. Suicide bombings in Israel also have wrecked the president's
"road map for peace," again empowering lunatics and fantasists on both sides of the
Israeli-Palestinian question. Otherwise, the president has won a famous victory.

Free-lance columnist Gene Lyons is a Little Rock author
and recipient of the National Magazine Award.

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