Baghdad Blowback

Will the Bush Administration's Iraq war haunt us for years to come?

If you ask Chris Demchak, she'll tell you that the problem with the current war in Iraq isn't defeating Saddam Hussein. It's the long-term ripples that the timing of the military action will have on America's relations with the rest of the world.

So why would you ask Demchak's opinion? Well, she's a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve; she's active with the American Political Science Association's section on International Security and Arms Control; and she holds a doctorate in political science and teaches about global relationships and terrorism as an associate professor with the UA's School of Public Administration and Policy.

In other words, she knows a thing or two about history, the military and international affairs. And while she readily embraces the notion of the United States as world policeman, in this case, she says the action is premature.

"There's no reason to go to war when we did," she says. "This man could not have lobbed anything that mattered to us.

"We could have had really aggressive inspections. My suspicion is there was a disinterest in having the inspections really work. Had they worked, we would have proof positive, we would have gone to war maybe next fall, and we wouldn't have taken 18 months to destroy 40 years of carefully crafted international goodwill."

Bringing more countries into the coalition against Iraq would have deflected some of the worldwide vitriol now aimed at the United States. "It presents a united front and it's much more difficult for the radicals in these moderate Arab nations to say, 'It's all made up.' And part of the reason they can say that is that we're a democracy and honest people are going to say, 'I didn't see any military reason for going right now.' And we're going to put it in our print and people over there are going to read it and say, 'See, they didn't see any reason, either.'"

The Bush Administration's rush to war has severely damaged America's relationship with countries that would normally be our allies at a time we need all the friends we can get.

"At the level of personal interaction, we have really soiled our mess kit," Demchak says. "These people have made it personal. It's going to be real hard to get some of those senior German and French officials back on line."

Why is it important? In the long run, it's about American security, both here and overseas.

"It's going to be very hard on us, unless we handle this very, very well," Demchak says. "It could be in 10 to 15 years that there will be whole places in the world where you as an American cannot go safely."

And the blame for that, she suspects, can be laid at the feet of Bush and the man she calls his "Rasputin," political strategist Karl Rove.

As far as Demchak is concerned, the conflict is about re-electing President Bush. She notes that the war drums started beating last summer, when papers were filled with headlines about corporate fraud--particularly the spectacular implosion of Enron Corp. At the same time, senior Pentagon officials were expressing skepticism about the necessity of the war, although they were swiftly squelched by an administration that prizes loyalty above all else.

"This White House is one of the more secretive and ruthless since Nixon," says Demchak. "If you are in the Pentagon, and you raise a contrary voice, you are summarily retired, period. That was made clear last May, and the inside dissenting voices shut up."

Although she's critical of the timing, Demchak has been impressed by the way the Pentagon has conducted the war through careful strikes against specific targets and the effort to force Iraqi forces to surrender. Although it's more risky than an all-out flattening of the enemy, she thinks it may help mitigate the growing anger toward America in the Muslim world.

After Saddam is toppled, Demchak doesn't foresee the flowering of democracy that administration officials are promising. Given the instability that will follow Saddam's collapse, she predicts the United States will quickly declare victory, turn the country over to Iraqi dissidents and European countries, and go home. When the Bush tax cut eats up federal budget, the United States probably won't even deliver much in the way of aid for rebuilding the war-torn country. And if Iraq falls into chaos, the United States will be able blame the French or Al-Qaeda.

"There are lots of possible enemies to use," she says.

While she disagrees with the contention that the war is about oil, Demchak says she respects the people who are protesting against the war.

"Protestors like that are the conscience of the nation," Demchak says. "They don't often succeed in changing these policies. What they succeed in doing is making us sensitive to excessiveness."

But she suspects protestors are in the minority, citing a recent study by political science professor Peter Feaver of Duke University, who determined that 35 percent of the American public always supports a war; 20 percent is always opposed to war; 30 percent tend to support war if they sense America is likely to win; and the final 15 percent support war as long as the likelihood of casualties were low.

"Going into this war, you simply had to catch that 30 percent that didn't want to lose, and you automatically had 65 percent of the American public," says Demchak.

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