Elections + casualties = Iraqification

The Bush administration’s new policy in Iraq arrives on the heels of a deadly month in the U.S. campaign. After what appeared to be an emergency meeting with L. Paul Bremer, the top official in Iraq, President George W. Bush announced the United States would change its tactics and push for a faster transfer of power. The plan is not a significant improvement over past policy. Administration officials seem rushed to minimize political fallout and still have yet to outline an exit strategy.

Bush’s new plan will transfer sovereignty and control to the interim Iraqi government by June. Unlike the previous strategy, the administration is no longer insisting a constitution be written first. However, it does hope the interim government will adopt some fundamental laws guaranteeing equal rights for women and minorities.

The plan is a hopeful one at best. Even if fundamental law is adopted, the interim government, and later the elected government, could easily nullify it. This reality is a far cry from the liberal democracy Bush hoped to implant as a model in the Middle East.

The strategy change is because of insurgents’ opposition to the U.S.-led occupation. More than a dozen top Iraqi officials who worked with the occupying force have been assassinated. Americans are no longer working directly with the Iraqi people; they travel in tanks or remain barricaded in compounds. In the early days of the campaign, Bush could have opened the peacekeeping operations to an international community. A more global presence might have stymied some animosity and allowed a more thoughtful transition of power.

Bush missed his window of opportunity to truly help Iraqis – without major concessions from the United States, foreign governments are no longer willing to get involved in what now promises to be a deadly and drawn-out occupation. Now the Bush administration is faced with both an international and domestic battle and technical battle on the ground.

In 2004, we will see if the old adage holds true – be careful what you wish for.