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The U.S. Debate About Iraq — The September 2003 Edition

How do different U.S. political factions view the Iraq engagement four months into the occupation?

September 29, 2003

How do different U.S. political factions view the Iraq engagement four months into the occupation?

Iraq's occupation and reconstruction are the subject of much global debate. As the casualties and costs continue to rise, so do critical voices in the United States. The Bush Administration is under fire from the press and lawmakers — all of whom are trying to gain from the contentious situation in Iraq. Our Read My Lips captures key U.S. quotes as of September 2003.

How divided are Americans about Iraq's reconstruction?

“The American Left as well as the American Right understands that we have a moral obligation to help rebuild Iraq.”
(Harold Meyerson, editor at large of the American Prospect)

Why does Iraq matter?

“Iraq may become for America what Afghanistan became for the Soviet empire: The place where its fight against Islamic jihad will be won — or lost.”
(Michael Ignatieff, Director of the Carr Center of Human Rights Policy)

What is the view from the Bush Administration?

“The Iraq I saw was a society on the move, a vibrant land with a hardy people, experiencing the first heady taste of freedom.”
(U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell)

Does that mean life is back to normal?

“People finished their university exams, the Iraqi symphony orchestra performed and took a tour up to the north, kids went to school.”
(U.S. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice)

Is Washington willing to involve the United Nations at this stage?

“Members of the United Nations now have an opportunity — and the responsibility — to assume a broader role in assuring that Iraq becomes a free and democratic nation.”
(U.S. President George W. Bush)

How do others interpret these overtures to the UN?

“We certainly blew past the United Nations. Why, I don’t know. Now, we are going back hat in hand.”
(Retired U.S. Marine General Anthony C. Zinny)

Why is the United States cautious about more UN involvement?

“We don’t want to reproduce a Bosnia model, or an East Timor model.”
(U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz)

How many troops could other nations spare anyway?

“Neither France nor any other of our leading NATO allies has more than a handful of troops to spare for Iraq. France and Germany are tapped out in missions in Africa, Afghanistan and the Balkans. The British and Spanish are tapped out in Iraq.”
(Robert Kagan, Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment)

What do critics have to say about President George W. Bush's foreign policy?

“Overseas, George Bush has led — and misled — us on a course at odds with 200 years of our history.”
(U.S. Senator John Kerry, D-MA)

How relevant is the link between Iraq and terrorism?

“Who gave more financial support to the 9/11 al Qaeda terrorists: the Iraqi ruling class under Saddam — or the Saudi Arabian ruling class?”
(Letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal)

What would it mean if Iraq bacame a success?

“Creating a sovereign, democratic constitutional and prosperous Iraq deals a blow to terrorists.”
(U.S. top Iraq Administrator Paul Bremer)

Will the Iraq operation be a long-term engagement?

“The danger is not that the United States will be drawn into some quagmire à la Vietnam, but that we will show a desire to leave too soon, as in Somalia.”
(Wall Street Journal editorial)

What is the Bush Administration's justification for spending billions of dollars in Iraq?

“Yes, the price tag may be very high, but freedom is priceless.”
(U.S. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice)

What explains the increase in costs?

“It is fair to say that the level of decay and underinvestment in the Iraqi infrastructure was worse than almost anyone outside anticipated.”
(Senior U.S. administration official)

Does that impress the critics?

“They are using whatever argument is the most remarkable at any given time.”
(U.S. Senator Lincoln D. Chafee, R-RI)

Why are U.S. lawmakers angry?

“This is the same administration who says we can’t afford a real prescription drug benefit, we can’t afford to invest in our public schools, we can’t afford to address the serious health care crisis in America — but the American tax payer can afford to pay for everything that is happening in Iraq right now.”
(U.S. Senator John Edwards, D-NC)

What about setbacks from a military perspective?

“This is a battle of wills.”
(U.S. Air Force General Richard Myers)

Yet, do other experts believe more could have been done?

“Where was the radio network that could have allowed the United States to communicate with the Iraqi people? Where were the thousands of Arab Americans ready to translate? Where were the trained Iraqi judges? Where were the economic-development programs with contractors ready to go?”
(Wesley Clark, former NATO commander and Democratic presidential candidate)

Do U.S. troops also have a PR problem?

“To a lot of Iraqis, we’re no longer the guys who threw out Saddam — but the ones who are busting down doors and barging in on their wives and daughters.”
(U.S. defense official)

What is the bottom line for Americans?

“What Americans want to know in wartime is that their leaders have a strategy to win — and that they are being honest about the cost.”
(Wall Street Journal editorial)

And finally, how is improvement measured these days?

“The Iraqi police are getting infinitely better. Right now, they are just bad. A month ago, they were absolutely horrible.”
(U.S. Lt. Col. David Haight, U.S. commander for southern Baghdad)