- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 17, 2003

Before tackling today’s topic, permit me to retool and recalibrate the most trusty high-tech instrument on my punditry workbench.

I refer, of course, to the truth-reflecting device I invented in the 1980s — my Meese Measuring Stick. For years, I used it to take the measure of duplicitous liberals who loved to lambaste President Ronald Reagan’s conservative counselor (later attorney general) by portraying even his slight ethical oversights as major corruption.

I held my imaginary Meese Measuring Stick alongside far more serious transgressions committed by Democrats and asked silent fellow Democrats: If that act had been committed by Ed Meese, what would you be saying about it? But today’s topic — the Bush administration’s performance in the weeks after its impressive victory in Iraq — requires a new, state-of-the-craft instrument. So today I am unveiling the Clintonian Calculator.

First, we will hold the Clintonian Calculator up against the Bush administration’s record since the Iraq war was swiftly won. It is a record of failure to win the peace: failure to get water and electricity up and running again for millions of Iraqis; failure to halt the looting of government buildings, privately owned stores, historic treasures; failure to install a functioning police force to protect citizens from marauding thugs; failure to capitalize on the initial euphoria of crowds that cheered U.S. troops after the toppling of Saddam Hussein; failure to anticipate the militant fundamentalist power of the Shi’ite leaders favoring Islamic rule who rushed to fill the vacuum by filling streets with crowds chanting for Americans to go home; and failure to do anything to make lives of ordinary Iraqi citizens demonstrably better. All of this needed to be well thought-out before the war began.

Second, we ask Washington Republicans: What would you be saying about these failures of presidential policy if they had happened not under President George W. Bush but under President Bill Clinton?

Be wary: Bush loyalists will initially howl that Mr. Clinton wouldn’t have gone to war against Saddam; also that Mr. Clinton’s pathetic responses to Osama bin Laden’s terrorism on his watch (attacks on two U.S. Embassies in Africa and the USS Cole in Yemen) were unacceptably limp. Those comments have substantial merit. But they fail to address our topic — the failures of President Bush and his high command before the war to anticipate and address the postwar inevitabilities.

The only honest answer to our question, of course, is that if President Clinton had permitted this nation-building collapse, Republicans such as their unreconstructed House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, would be calling Mr. Clinton every printable unpalatable name in the book. And they would have a point — for what is happening (or, rather, not happening) in Iraq now threatens all the beneficial outcomes of ousting Saddam Hussein.

Who is to blame? Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who deserves credit for having directed a stunningly victorious war plan, must also shoulder the blame for the nation-building operation — was there ever a plan? — that he and his department directed. Actually, “directed” is the wrong verb. The more accurate would be that Mr. Rumsfeld “laissez-faired” the nation-building, but it cannot be used due to the technicality that there is no such verb.

However, Mr. Rumsfeld reports to Mr. Bush, so the Clintonian Calculator tells us Mr. Bush is to blame. The best that can be said of Mr. Bush is that he has jettisoned his incompetent first nation-building team, headed by retired Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, and sent in L. Paul Bremer III.

What happens in Iraq in the weeks to come may powerfully influence what happens in the Middle East in the years to come. Will millions of Iraqis cheer Americans as liberators or demand that Americans be run out of their country? Will Iraq plunge from anarchy into a democracy of its own invention or Islamic rule akin to Iran’s? Will Iraq and Iran, longtime enemies, unify in common hatred of the U.S.A.? Will that lure Syria, Libya, Lebanon, et al. to join in?

It’s too soon to know. But this much we do know: In America, when a storm causes electricity or water to be off for even just one day — let alone one month — people become enraged at the mayor. Inevitably, they toss him or her out on his or her ear or rear.

And today’s hard-core reality, as millions of Iraqis see it, is that if they don’t get electricity and water in their homes, police on the streets and food on the table, they will blame just one individual — the new mayor of every Iraqi city, Mayor George W. Bush.

Martin Schram writes political analysis for Scripps Howard News Service.

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