The "New American Century" Ends Prematurely
  by Gene Lyons

      It's beginning to look as if the "New American Century" could be over as early
as June 2004. That's when the Bush administration plans to turn Iraq's sovereignty
back to as many of its hand-picked Governing Council as manage to survive until
that heralded day. See, for those inclined to follow President Bush's practice of
averting his eyes from the bad news out of Baghdad, it's crucial to understand that
it's not just American soldiers who are targets of the brutal Iraqi insurgency.
It's anybody and everybody who looks like an accomplice of the U.S. occupation.

      So does the impending turnover mean that Bush has decided to heed the kind
of advice given to our last Texas president by Vermont Sen. George Aiken back
in 1966? "President Johnson," Aiken said famously "should declare victory in Vietnam
and get out." Probably not. Nevertheless, it's apt to happen anyway. There's a growing
likelihood that Bush's intentions--particularly given White House political advisor
Karl Rove's wish to see him returned to office in 2004--will end up having little to do
with the ultimate outcome in Iraq. Events appear to be spiralling out of control.

      According to a top secret CIA report leaked to the Philadelphia Inquirer last week,
"growing numbers of Iraqis are concluding the U.S.-led coalition can be defeated and
are supporting the insurgents." The report's bleak tone, the newspaper emphasized,
was shared by L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. official in charge of the occupation, who
"unexpectedly" returned to Washington in a seeming effort to get Bush's attention.
The CIA findings were leaked, wrote the Inquirer's John S. Landay, because
"senior policymakers" have become frustrated by their inability "to provide Bush with
more somber analyses of the situation in Iraq than the optimistic views presented by
Cheney, Rumsfeld, and other hard-liners."

      For "senior policymakers," it's probably fair to read Bremer himself and Colin Powell.
Given Bush's stated disinclination to read newspapers or watch TV news, preferring
instead to rely upon the honeyed words of his trusted advisors, the leakers real hope
may have been to get the Machiavellian Mr. Rove's attention.

      Last week's new "Iraqification" plan--the U.S. would retain military control--made
many suspect that real idea is to prop up a make-believe government in Iraq, call it a
democracy, proclaim victory during the Republican National Convention, then pray that
sheer chaos and open civil war among the country's three main ethnic groups--Sunni,
Shiites and Kurds--don't break out before election day 2004.

      Even as the U.S. command's Hollywood-sounding "Operation Iron Hammer" began
bombing empty warehouses and shooting up villages deemed loyal to Saddam Hussein,
Bush felt compelled to deny that the U.S. planned to "cut and run." Doubters came from
almost every point on the political compass: "My greatest fear is that this administration,
having made all the wrong choices, is going to conclude they have to bring Johnny and
Jane home by the next election in order to survive," Joe Biden told the New York Times.

      Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona was customarily blunt: "To announce
withdrawals when the number of attacks and deaths of American military are going up
is not reasonable or logical," he said. "If the American military can't do it, then certainly
half-trained Iraqis cannot."

      McCain's fellow Vietnam vet Chuck Hagel, sounded equally dubious in the Washington
Post: "We so underestimated and underplanned and underthought about a post-Saddam
Iraq that we've been woefully unprepared...Now we have a security problem. We have a
reality problem. And we have a governance problem....And time is not on our side."

      Even William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard and cheerleader for the clique
of neoconservative chickenhawks who conceived this visionary scheme and sold it to a
feckless, easily bamboozled president, sounded uncertain for once: "Too many people for
my comfort are looking for an exit strategy," he admitted, "and this administration is
making too many noises that sound like an exit strategy. But I believe that, at the end
of the day, Bush is not pursuing and will not pursue an exit strategy."
      Dream on, pal. "The Project for a New American Century," Kristol and his fellow
visionaries called their plan. (The late Gov. George Wallace might have called them
"pointy-headed intellectuals.") Turning Iraq into a kind of Arab Switzerland was supposed
to be only the first step in creating a benign American empire encompassing most of the
Middle East and Southern Asia.

      But the problem isn't simply that they oversold Iraq's non-existent "weapons of mass
destruction" and underestimated its resentment of foreign invaders. They also misunderstood
their own country. Americans, see, will fight fiercely in what they see as self-defense.
But they have no real appetite for empire.

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