Make that June 30, 2005

Posted: Apr 12, 2004 12:00 AM
President Bush has several times reiterated his pledge that full authority will be given over to the Iraqi Governing Council on June 30. That target date was set in November, at about the high-water mark of our military operation.

It was thought a sensible thing to do. The decision took reasonable account of the perspectives of the day. One consideration was to allay the apprehension that our actions were imperialist in design -- that we were in Iraq to squat down more or less permanently over the oil fields, or at least that we proposed to govern Iraq about the way Gen. Douglas MacArthur governed Japan, which he did for four years.

Something has got into Mr. Bush's formulation of that June 30 promise. His reiteration of it has taken on a moral tone. He speaks of the date now as though to act on it were an obligation of conscience, not to be trifled with.

But the difficulty is now plain. We cannot turn over government to the Iraqi council on June 30 in good conscience. The developments of the last week make it inconceivable that we should do so:

  • The old concern that Shiites and Sunnis would fire up sectarian hostility to dismember the state is taking a back seat to the concern that they are forgetting their differences in order to fight jointly -- for the expulsion of the American military.

  • Our program to train an Iraqi peacekeeping constabulary is in disarray. Many Iraqis trained and pressed into duty fled from the onrush of dissenters and terrorists, in some cases joining with them. There were reports of trucks and cars designated as equipment for Iraqi police which, in the pell-mell of midweek, were turned over to, or taken by, the terrorists for use in their anti-American war.

  • Sentiment in neighboring Arab countries that could be said to have been tolerant of the U.S. enterprise seems markedly to have turned. This is in part because our friendship in this quarter is the friendship of summer soldiers. But in part also because some Arab observers have concluded that the U.S. is not going to pull off the grand enterprise we took on. Some phrase their criticisms with no attempt to conceal their contempt. "Thank God that the American administration is too stupid to win the Iraqis over," one Islamist lawyer in Cairo reported to The New York Times. "On the contrary, they create feelings of frustration and commit more mistakes, leading more Iraqis to rise against them."

    Never mind the question whether we have conducted the war stupidly. What does appear to be stupid, given our determination to see the venture through, is to stress our commitment to turn over authority to the Iraqi Governing Council on June 30. That is 11 weeks away. The notion that we can stick to that deadline at a moment when three cities in Iraq are in enemy hands, and when a Shiite clerical leader preaching the holy cause of dead Americans is snugly holed up in a mosque surrounded by death-to-the-end bodyguards, defies reason.

    Some are saying in Iraq that life was better even under Saddam Hussein. That should not surprise. The same point could have been made, at certain moments in history, about life under Hitler or Stalin. Many who are suffering at this point in the war did not suffer under Saddam Hussein, and enjoyed such fruits of stability as a tyrant can induce. Anarchy is never, ever preferred over government, however hideous.

    The United States has got to adjust to the reality. The Iraqi Governing Council must step forward and request a new date for the devolution of power from the United States to Iraq. Let us say, June 30, 2005. The new arrangement should be confirmed by sending another U.S. military division to Iraq and by hard diplomacy directed at enlisting cooperation at all levels from the United Nations and from states weak in the knees over the events of a terrible week.

    The weapons the United States has are resolution and huge contingent strength -- and the confidence that to save Iraq from what impends, should we turn over the entire mess to an impotent Iraqi council, is now our high duty.