It is the beginning of the end for the United States in Iraq. No amount of glib optimism from Bush administration soothsayers can conceal that reality. Sure, the U.S. possesses the military might to hang on indefinitely, but only through the continuous sacrifice of lives in a reckless venture that never had an honestly stated purpose.
Now that thousands of rioting Shiites have been added to the persistent Sunni insurrection targeting the U.S.-led occupation, it is absurd to define the enemy as only foreigners or agents of the captured tyrant Saddam Hussein. The "coalition" forces are the foreigners, in fact, and the U.S.-financed quisling local government fools no one, regardless of the planned "handover" of power.
Under the false conceit that the adventure made sense as part of the fight against terror, the United States seized a country containing a major portion of the world's most valued and scarce resource. Yet our leaders expect the natives to believe that the corporate camp followers of the U.S. military are swarming over their country only for the purpose of humanitarian reconstruction.
Just how dumb do we think they are? After all, Iraqis know their own tortuous history. Theirs is a country patched together at the end of a gun barrel by previous colonizers. The common denominator of those imperial designs was the exploitation of oil rather than the desire to produce a harmonious, let alone democratic, society.
Nor does the United States have clean hands. During the Cold War, Washington tried to break any government or leader in the region unwilling to bend to its will, including popular nationalists Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran and Abdul Karim Kassem in Iraq. Never heard of Kassem? He's the guy the CIA hired young Saddam Hussein and other unsavory thugs to overthrow (and then kill) because he dared to challenge the strong U.S. role in the region after World War II.
And so it goes. Saddam's rule emerged from the United States' inability to allow yet another country to find its own way, just as al-Qaida was blowback from our "freedom-fighting" team in the cynical Cold War proxy conflict that destroyed Afghanistan. The only link between Osama bin Laden and Saddam is that they are both monsters of our creation.
To its credit, the United States is also the nation that genuinely sought to advance the Mideast peace process under every recent president until George W. Bush. From Jimmy Carter through the first President Bush to Bill Clinton, the U.S. aimed to undermine the region's irrational and fundamentalist forces with a genuine peace between Palestinians and Israelis. For once, the United States deserved high praise for attempting to mitigate rather than exploit the grievances that have left the region a breeding ground for terrorism and rage.
Yet, under the current administration, this good-faith effort has been discarded, further disillusioning U.S. friends in the Mideast and stoking those in the region who spew hateful rhetoric against Jews and "infidels."
And even when that rhetoric again manifested itself in violence with the deadly attacks on the U.S. destroyer Cole in Yemen, it was of bare interest to then-candidate Bush. He rarely referenced terrorism during the campaign and, the record is now clear, all but ignored the al-Qaida terror threat in the months leading up to the attacks on 9/11.
Instead, his focus was the irrelevant target of Iraq, defanged by 10 years of sanctions and U.N. weapons inspections but still possessing huge reserves of black gold. Few in the rest of the world, least of all the Iraqi people, are buying the administration's current line, that the prime goal of the occupation is simply to turn Iraq into a good place to live.
Consequently, while it would be great if that country were to end up in the column of democratic societies, the tragic events of recent days once again remind us that it is an outcome made less likely by each additional day we presume to know what is best for the rest of the world -- and we impose those views with our awesome military power.