Former Sunday Times editor Andrew Neil visits Washington D.C. and finds….doom, gloom and a sense that the Iraq invasion is falling apart with appalling consequences: Scotsman.com News – International – Inside story of how Washington is losing its bottle
“In both places it is worse than you think,” I was warned before arriving in the US capital for a series of off-the-record briefings. The warning was accurate.
Take Afghanistan first. You don’t read or see much about it these days. The reality is grim. The Taliban is resurgent; al-Qaeda is there too, but not as relevant as it was. Attacks on aid workers are soaring; many are refusing to leave the urban areas. The warlords are back in control of the countryside, where opium production is already above pre-invasion levels. “Afghanistan is a narco-economy once more,” said one intelligence analyst.
The Taliban regularly mounts attacks in the rural areas and is expected to hit urban centres with greater force. “If they knew how weak we were,” confided one intelligence source, “they would have done it already.” Coalition forces are confined to Vietnam-style strategic hamlets from which they emerge for operations only in great force, before returning to their enclaves. Hamid Karzai’s grip on power is tenuous.
It is not much better for Iraq. There are now an average of 130 attacks a day on coalition (mainly American) forces; almost 100 coalition troops have been killed in November, the grimmest month so far. “We only have a third of the forces we need to fight the insurgents,” one former US diplomat told me. The intelligence is threadbare too: US commanders have no real idea who they are up against, except that they are well-organised remnants of Saddam’s Ba’athist regime, supplemented with some al-Qaeda-type Islamo-fascists. “We still don’t really know who is behind the attacks,” I was told. “So we just go around kicking doors in – which is exactly what the enemy wants us to do.”
The US forces might lack purpose or direction but there are plenty of both to the insurgents’ attacks. The UN was specifically targeted; it is now effectively gone from Iraq. Next were the various non-government organisations trying to assist in building a better Iraq; they, including the Red Cross, have also headed for the exit. Then it was the turn of what few allies America has in Iraq, specifically the Italians. Those most at risk now are Iraqis co-operating with the US. Last week a US commander reported a slackening of attacks on his own troops because the insurgents were concentrating on assassinating those they see as quislings.
Now it is the Americans themselves who seem to be in a rush for the exit. On September 22 Condoleezza Rice, the president’s national security adviser, attacked France for suggesting a speedier transfer of power to Iraqis. Yet since President Bush summoned Paul Bremer, his Iraqi governor general, to the White House, that is exactly what is happening. Bush wants a substantial withdrawal of US forces before next November’s elections. Former Pentagon favourite, Ahmad Chalabi, is dismayed: “The whole thing [the speedier transfer of power] was set up so President Bush could come to the airport in October  for a ceremony to congratulate the new Iraqi government.”
The consequences on the ground are apparent. Until recently, US forces took 12 weeks to train Iraqis for the new police force; that has been speeded up to one week. No proper checks on individuals are being done, so trainees have been infiltrated with insurgent spies. US intelligence officers were horrified to discover recently that the insurgents even had details of Bremer’s schedule.
Bush is fond of saying that America did not spend so much in men and materiel to liberate 25 million Iraqis only to succumb to a ragbag of insurgents. Yet it looks as if that is exactly what is happening. The insurgents have noted that a few very big bombs have already forced Washington to speed up its exit strategy; that can only result in even bigger bombs.
No wonder the neo-conservatives in the Bush administration are in retreat: their policy of replacing Middle East tyrants with democracy and functioning economies is in grave danger of falling at the first hurdle, largely from lack if American willpower. The consequences of defeat and retreat, of course, are so grave that I cannot believe any US president can contemplate it for long; but what exactly Bush plans to do about it is a mystery which nobody I met in Washington was able to resolve.
Domestically, the administration may be able to get people to ignore what is happening on the ground and instead concentrate on a speech, or a nice telegenic image. But it appears that the hostiles in Afghanistan and Iraq may not be watching Fox news.