The bombing of UN headquarters in Baghdad was a political strike at the credibility of the Bush Administration, giving the lie to the President's recent claim that "Iraq is more secure now than at any other time since the war"; and a strategic strike at public support for an occupation that, as of this writing, has cost the lives of 130 U.S. servicemen. If eight more precious lives are lost, then the number killed in "the war after the war," as Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic International Studies has called it, will exceed the number killed during the war.
The UN attack was right out of Clausewitz: the goal of war is to break the enemy's "national will," his stomach for the fight. Sensational as it was, this one atrocity will not break our national will. But it will weaken it. While the war retains majority support, the war after the war is not playing well on the home front. During their August recess, members of Congress have gotten an earful from their constituents about the occupation. They have absorbed the anxiety of the parents and loved ones of soldiers serving in Iraq or about to be deployed there. They have listened to the complaints of state and local officials about losing police officers, firefighters, and other first responders to the National Guard, elements of which have been deployed to Iraq. When Congress returns in September, there will be more pressure on the Administration to internationalize the occupation; there will be calls to "stand up" an Iraqi government and bring the boys home. Richard Wolf, of Newsweek, says that even conservatives are growing restive. The ones he's talked to say "U.S. troops will be out of Iraq next year," he told NPR's public-affairs talk show, On Point, last week.
Tactically, the bombing of the UN demonstrated that no one—and no institution—is safe in Iraq. The enemy hydra can strike as, when, and where it likes. It dominates the battlefield. In the wake of the UN attack, more U.S. soldiers will be diverted from mopping up guerrilla resistance to the protection of buildings, UN civilians, and aid workers. The attack will drive the Coalition Provisional Authority deeper behind the massive cement wall it has constructed around its Baghdad compound. Along with the wave of sabotage against oil pipelines and water mains, it will slow the restoration of Iraq's economy, society, and infrastructure. Yet nation-building must succeed for the occupation to have any legitimacy with the Iraqi people.
That legitimacy hangs by a thread now, an Iraqi journalist told On Point. The U.S. occupation is too weak to restore order or maintain basic services, he says, yet oppressive enough to kill, injure, and inflame Iraqi civilians. In the months since the war Baghdad has become "another Beirut," a blow to Iraqi pride for which Iraqis blame the United States. And the situation is likely to get worse. The Financial Times reports that more than 3,000 Saudi young men have "gone missing" in the past two months. Many crossed over into Iraq to mount a jihad against the occupation. More suicide bombings can be expected. More U.S. soldiers and Iraqi civilians will die. Meanwhile, in Afghanistan this week, the Taliban offensive against the Karzai government resulted in the deaths of ninety people, the worst span of violence in Afghanistan since the U.S. war against the Taliban ended, just as this week was the worst in Iraq since the war against Saddam. And yet pundits insist that George W. Bush is unassailable on foreign policy. After such success, what failure?