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The reality in Iraq

I HAVE been hearing the voices of the Bush administration preparing for the anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, telling Americans how much safer they are now, and how America must continue down the same path our leaders have set for us to final victory. ``Islamic Fascism" seems to be the new buzzword in the Bush administration as it tries to equate its current failing wars with the moral clarity of World War II.

``Some seem not to have learned history's lessons," intoned Donald Rumsfeld. The dangers of 1938 Munich-style appeasement are regularly brought out of history's trunk these days, dusted off, and worn again -- as they were in Vietnam -- even though they fail to fit.

Little of what is said seems based in reality. ``Today Iraq has the most progressive constitution and the strongest democratic mandate in the entire Arab world," I heard Vice President Dick Cheney say on National Public Radio. ``Iraq 's politicians are steady and courageous, and the citizens, police, and soldiers have stepped forward as active participants of the new democracy."

But the battle for Baghdad rages with little or no security in too much of the country, and the progressive constitution's writ runs little further than the green zone. Iraq's politicians are looking after their own interests, or the interests of their tribe, ethnic group or religious sect. The police are riddled with death squads, and Iraqi soldiers are incapable of halting the downward slide. In the Kurdish north, the Iraqi flag does not fly.

There is virtually no chance now of Iraq emerging as a bastion of Western-style democracy, a light unto others in the Arab world. The notion pushed by neo-conservatives never made any sense in the first place, given the history and make up of Iraq's population and the country's lack of the necessary institutions. The idea of forcing democracy on an Arab land by invading armies and occupation was conceived by those who either knew nothing about Iraq or didn't care to. The best that can be hoped for is some compromises that will halt Iraq's increasingly vicious civil war -- a civil war that the Bush administration has as much trouble admitting the existence of as it once had admitting that there was an insurgency.

Just as the pre-war intelligence was twisted and manipulated to make the case for war -- intelligence that a Senate investigation has found to have been ``uncorroborated, unreliable, and in some cases fabricated," in the words of Senator Jay Rockefeller -- so now is the reality of the administration's failures being glossed over for election purposes.

It is an ``age when assertion tends to overwhelm evidence, when claim so easily trumps facts," as Ron Suskind wrote in ``The One Percent Doctrine," his troubling account of the war on terror.

The administration likes to think of itself as Churchillian. But it resembles more those in the British establishment who steadfastly refused to admit that staying the course in the '30s was not working. Vincent Sheean, writing in the 1940s, said of Lord Beaverbrook that in the 1930s he ``had the queer belief . . . that things can be made true by saying it."

And so we have President Bush saying, once again, ``We will stay the course. We will help this young Iraqi democracy succeed, and victory in Iraq will be a major ideological triumph in the struggle for the 21st century." I wish it were so.

If invading Iraq was a tragic mistake and a diversion from the struggle against Islamic extremism, and if Lebanon was completely mishandled by the Bush administration, then Afghanistan was and is a necessary effort. And yet Iraq has pulled away so many resources from Afghanistan that failure looms there as well.

Back in 2002, President Bush said that the history of intervention and war in Afghanistan had been ``initial success, followed by long years of floundering and ultimate failure. We are not going to repeat that mistake," he said. But we are repeating that mistake.

The course needs to change. A better way to combat the rise of extremism other than invading or bombing Arab countries has to be found, for the number of potential terrorists is rising throughout the world. ``I have always appealed to my colleagues in the US: If there are changes in US policy in the Middle East there would be a significant reduction in terrorist attacks here," Indonesia's terrorism expert Ansyaad Mbai told the Wall Street Journal. Muslims in Europe have said the same. We might start by dropping the term ``Islamic fascism," which brings a lot of thunder but little light to the table.

H.D.S. Greenway's column appears regularly in the Globe.

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