Politics & Prose August 2003

The War After the War

The attack on the UN will slow our efforts to rebuild Iraq—and further undermine our legitimacy there

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?

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Jack Beatty is a senior editor at The Atlantic Monthly and the editor of Colossus: How the Corporation Changed America, which was named one of the top ten books of 2001 by Business Week. His previous books are The World According to Peter Drucker (1998) and The Rascal King: The Life and Times of James Michael Curley (1992). More

Jack Beatty"The Atlantic Monthly is an American tradition; since 1857 it has helped to shape the American mind and conscience," senior editor Jack Beatty explains. "We are proud of that tradition. It is the tradition of excellence for which we were awarded the National Magazine Award for General Excellence. It is the tie that binds us to our past. It is a standard we won't betray."

Beatty joined The Atlantic Monthly as a senior editor in September of 1983, having previously worked as a book reviewer at Newsweek and as the literary editor of The New Republic.

Born, raised, and educated in Boston, Beatty wrote a best-selling biography of James Michael Curley, the Massachusetts congressman and governor and Boston mayor, which Addison-Wesley published in 1992 to enthusiastic reviews. The Washington Post said, "The Rascal King is an exemplary political biography. It is thorough, balanced, reflective, and gracefully written." The Chicago Sun-Times called it a ". . . beautifully written, richly detailed, vibrant biography." The book was nominated for a National Book Critics' Circle award.

His 1993 contribution to The Atlantic Monthly's Travel pages, "The Bounteous Berkshires," earned these words of praise from The Washington Post: "The best travel writers make you want to travel with them. I, for instance, would like to travel somewhere with Jack Beatty, having read his superb account of a cultural journey to the Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts." Beatty is also the author of The World According to Peter Drucker, published in 1998 by The Free Press and called "a fine intellectual portrait" by Michael Lewis in the New York Times Book Review.

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