Carrying the can in Iraq

Last night, George W Bush finally admitted two things the world has known for a long time: that the war in Iraq isn’t being won, and that he is responsible.

Then he spent the rest of his speech proving that, whatever he intends doing about the first admission, he didn’t mean a word of the second. Or perhaps that he didn’t understand what the word ‘responsibility’ means. That would not be very surprising – it’s not hard to name politicians (business leaders, etc.) who had admitted that they were ‘responsible’ for something or other, and then completely failed to act accordingly.

The only proper response to failing to meet this responsibility is resignation.

What is Mr Bush responsible for? Thousands of unnecessary deaths. Raising the threat of terrorism around the world to unheard of levels. Making fear and horror the daily routine for millions of Iraqis. Bereaving thousands of America’s spouses, children, parents and friends. Alienating most of the world’s Muslims from everything America stands for.

And what excuse does Mr Bush have for this catastrophic failure? Was he taken by surprise? Did his advisors not warn him? Had he not been planning this war for years?

One might ask next, is there any likelihood that he will do better in future? No, though if he had not evaded the Vietnam draft in his youth, he might have more of a chance. But his new escalation and his ‘new’ strategy look like something straight out of the Saigon Manual Of How To Lose A War.

But that’s not the point. Why should he have a second chance? Because the American political system only allows for one presidential election every four years? What kind of reason is that? If even one more Iraqi or one more American so much as stubs their toe because of that quaint and monstrously anti-democratic arrangement, it would be unforgivable. The man should go – along with his entire cabinet – and go now.

But at least Mr Bush is consistent. After all, the entire American strategy for Iraq is rapidly degenerating into an immense abdication of responsibility. Just today Condoleezza Rice insisted again that the role of the American forces in Iraq is now to ‘support’ the Iraqi government. It is, the White House claims, the Maliki government’s Iraq’s plan that will be followed, and Maliki government’s responsibility to deliver. This is incredible, preposterous and, even by the White House’s negligible moral standards, outrageous.

What has happened to Iraq’s political, military, economic and social systems in the last 3 years? They have been comprehensively trashed by a war the US Government started and an insurrection that was provoked by anger at the American treatment of Iraq as an occupied country, enabled by the vacuum created by disarming the Iraqi police and army, and fuelled by the millions of weapons the American authorities allowed to slip into the hands of anyone with a few dinars to buy an AK-47.

But now the Iraqi government – whose writ scarcely runs outside the Green Zone – will assume responsibility for solving Iraq’s appalling problems. Having created a situation in which the most powerful military and political power on earth cannot govern the country effectively, the job has been foisted on Prime Minister Maliki’s government – a group of isolated and secondary politicians without the power or authority to make any substantial difference to the situation without massive American support, but who receive that support only to the extent that they do exactly what their American ‘allies’ tell them.

Since when did organ-grinders do what the monkey tells them?

There is a simple principle of responsibility. Ought implies can. You can only be asked to take responsibility for doing something you can do. The Maliki government can’t bring peace to Iraq. It probably can’t even slow down the insurrection. The only reason they have had this impossible role forced upon them is that the American forces in Iraq and the US Government can’t either, and cannot bear the responsibility any longer. But that does not mean that the responsibility is really Maliki’s and not Bush’s.

Hopefully the world will not let Mr Bush forget that simple moral fact.

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