Off the Mark on Cost of War, Reception by Iraqis
The "coalition has been unable to ensure a safe and secure environment within critical areas of Iraq," concluded a Council on Foreign Relations task force led by former defense and energy secretary James R. Schlesinger and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Thomas R. Pickering.
"This lack of security has created widespread fear among Iraqis, inhibited growth of private sector economic activity, distorted the initial development of a robust and open civil society, and places important limitations on the normal routines of life for most Iraqis," said its report, "Iraq: One Year After."
Iraqis, who had high expectations that the United States could make them secure, have been disappointed, analysts say.
"Unfortunately, it's been 11 months since the fall of Baghdad, and the U.S. still hasn't fulfilled those expectations of [providing] basic security or services," said Kenneth Pollack, research director of the Brookings Institution's Saban Center and a former National Security Council staff member in the Clinton and current Bush administrations. "At this point, Iraqis are beginning to think that, if those services have not been provided, it may be because we're unable or unwilling to do so."
A poll of Iraqis released this week by ABC News found that 42 percent of Iraqis, and 33 percent of Arab Iraqis, said the war liberated Iraq, but that 41 percent of Iraqis, and 48 percent of Arab Iraqis, said it humiliated the country. The presence of U.S.-led forces in Iraq is opposed by 51 percent of Iraqis.
Administration forecasts that the invasion would improve Iraqis' lives were closer to the mark. On March 17, 2003, Bush promised to help "build a new Iraq that is prosperous and free." Secretary of State Colin L. Powell vowed days later: "We will show the Iraqi people a better life. We'll deal with those segments of the population who have been . . . absolutely brutally deprived for years, and they will start to see a better life very quickly."
Thanks to the massive injection of foreign aid, an important transformation has begun in rebuilding an Iraqi society emaciated by a dozen years of tough economic sanctions and Hussein's preference for personal luxuries over public necessities, analysts say.
Considerable economic activity has resumed in Baghdad and other major cities, while living standards are better than at any time since the 1991 Persian Gulf War and the country's oil revenue is gradually climbing. "What's impressive -- and maybe more credit goes to Iraqis than to us -- is that economic activity has picked up. Clearly, there's money out there. People are going to jobs and working," said Henri Barkey, former State Department expert on Iraq and now chairman of Lehigh University's International Relations Department.
The ABC News poll confirms this. Fifty-six percent of Iraqis said things are better than before the war, and 71 percent expect that their lives will be even better next year.
The administration's forecast that the toppling of Hussein would start a wave of democracy and a disavowal of terrorism in the region has not yet happened. There has been progress; Libya, for example, has since relinquished its nuclear weapons program. But while the administration had often predicted that Hussein's ouster could resolve the impasse between the Israelis and the Palestinians, the standoff between the two has worsened.
A poll released this week by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center found that Muslim countries are highly skeptical that the ouster of Hussein will make the Middle East more democratic.
"Iraqi democracy will succeed -- and that success will send forth the news, from Damascus to Tehran -- that freedom can be the future of every nation," the president said in October.
But Iraqi democracy has proved messy in the making. Almost immediately, divisions within the Bush administration led to a temporary breakdown over the postwar plan for Iraq. The Pentagon abruptly jettisoned the State Department's plans for assembling a post-Hussein government and started from scratch -- a move from which analysts believe the United States has not recovered.
"Because we didn't have anything concrete to put in place the day after, it left a vacuum," Barkey said. The early chaos led the administration to change course. A plan to hold an Afghan-like national conference to select an interim Iraqi authority was tossed out in favor of appointing a 25-person Iraqi Governing Council, largely exiles and dissidents allied with Washington.
Two transition plans designed by the United States and its allies in the Coalition Provisional Authority were rejected out of hand by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, a Shiite cleric virtually unknown before the war. With about four months left before the U.S. occupation is due to end, there is still no plan for how to pick a new government.
"The challenges for U.S. policy in postwar Iraq, given the geopolitical stakes, the threat of ethnic conflict and armed resistance, and the political complexities of administering a legal occupation, were far more formidable than those that confronted U.S. officials in previous cases," from Haiti to the Balkans to East Timor in the 1990s, the Council on Foreign Relations report said.
Still, there is hope that democracy may yet take hold. "Iraqis are engaged in free and vigorous debate about their collective political future and the adoption of a Transitional Administrative Law represents a major success both for U.S. policy and for the people of Iraq," the report concluded.
Researcher Julie Tate contributed to this article.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company