The war is getting messy, but the peace will be much worse.
The Bush administration's plan to keep several hundred thousand U.S. and British troops for years in a divided, heavily armed Muslim country will make all Americans "targets of opportunity" for terrorists and become a rallying point for fundamentalist revolutionaries throughout the world.
The post-Hussein strategy, formed by a neoconservative clique close to the White House, is another indicator that this is in no way a war "to disarm Iraq." If disarmament were the central goal, the U.S.-British alliance would need to control Iraq for only months, not years. That would be enough time for its weapons inspectors to do what it said the United Nations could not accomplish.
Instead, unable to produce any real evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq before the invasion or since it began, the administration publicly shifted its rationale from disarmament to the "nation-building" that Bush properly derided during the 2000 election.
However, there is ample evidence that "regime change" and redrawing the map of the Mideast were the goals of the Bush administration's neoconservative core all along.
The Carnegie Endowment last week published "Origins of Regime Change in Iraq," a thorough portrait of this "textbook case of how a small, organized group can determine policy in a large nation, even when the majority of officials and experts originally scorned their views."
The president, who seems to pride himself on knowing more about the mores of Midland, Texas, than about the rest of the world's complex cultures, has bought this cabal's naive and dangerous plan for a Pax Americana.
Bush already refers to warlord-controlled Afghanistan as "democratic," so perhaps an Iraq run by an American general -- for the profit of Dick Cheney's old company Halliburton and other defense contractors -- will justify for Bush the war that spinmeisters are calling "Operation Iraqi Freedom." But it won't wear well with most of the world, which has seen that even the best intentions of colonialists inevitably go awry.
Lest we forget, Saddam Hussein and his Baath Party were the preferred choice of U.S. governments for most of the last 40 years. Even after Hussein gassed his own people, the 1988 signature horror to which Bush constantly refers, the U.S. government attempted to shift the blame to Iran and Bush's father extended to Iraq an additional $1.2 billion in credits and loans.
The Commerce Department under Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush had long permitted U.S. companies to sell anthrax and other biological and chemical supplies to Iraq, the Senate Banking Committee documented.
Furthermore, it was Reagan who signed National Security Decision Directive 114 on Nov. 26, 1983, committing the United States to do "whatever necessary and legal" for Iraq to win its war against Iran, even after documented reports of Iraq's use of what we now call weapons of mass destruction. It was at that time that Donald Rumsfeld was dispatched by Reagan as a special envoy to reassure Hussein of unwavering U.S. support.
It is an act of extreme hubris for this administration to repeatedly justify its invasion of Iraq by citing Iraq's attacks on Iran decades ago and its use of banned weapons in that war. Those old charges won't suffice for a world demanding hard and more recent evidence supporting the need for a preemptive attack.
If the United States fails to unearth weapons of mass destruction that U.N. inspectors might have been able to discover -- if they had been given sufficient time -- the imperial designs of this administration will stand exposed as the true cause of the war.
If the weapons in question don't exist, however, some in the U.S. government might be tempted to plant them, lest the Bush administration be accused of a grand fraud. It was certainly suspicious that someone in the administration Sunday leaked "evidence" of a chemical weapons factory in Najaf, which the Pentagon ended up downplaying as "premature." The "news," not coincidentally, was first and most aggressively carried by the Jerusalem Post and the Fox network, both of which are far-right cheerleaders for the war.
Were Ted Koppel at his post on "Nightline" and not uselessly "embedded" in some troop convoy, he might be asking the government tough questions about the lack of evidence to back up its rationale for the war. Instead, like so many others in the media, he fell for the illusion that war roadies hanging on to every word of the Pentagon's spin performers can also be journalists.