Up Against It

Despite the optimism which continues to be expressed by the Bush administration and its supporters, the situation of American and coalition forces in Iraq seems progressively untenable.

The task of fending off former dictator Saddam Hussein's diehard Sunni adherents was difficult enough, as the unspeakable carnage last week in Fallujah demonstrated. But the developing insurrection against the occupying forces by a faction of Iraq's majority Shiite population is truly ominous. It is unrealistic to expect that just over 100,000 troops can maintain order over 25 million people in a seething landscape where both the language and the culture are utterly unfamiliar.

Even more unrealistic is the administration's still extant June 30th deadline for "turning over" power to an Iraqi governing authority. What authority? Surely not that represented by Ahmed Chalabi, the returned exile and U.S.-installed Iraqi Governing Council "president" whose early accounts of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction proved as fictitious as the council's actual influence over Iraqi affairs appears to be.

The reality is that Iraq seems poised on the brink of a civil war involving the country's Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds -- with Turkey and Iran poised on Iraq's borders, clearly spoiling to intervene if the opportunity should present itself.

Whatever the merits of a campaign to depose Saddam might have been when the idea was first conceived by the administration in 2001, even before the 9/11 terrorist attacks provided a highly questionable pretext for action, President Bush clearly missed the opportunity to establish a common front with the world community.

Defenders of the president now pooh-pooh that kind of universalist concept as do-goody, but it is precisely what the current incumbent's father, former President George H.W. Bush, was able to establish on the occasion of Desert Storm in 1991.

What is needed to stabilize matters is concurrence not only among Iraq's warring factions but within the international community.

We're obviously not going to win hearts and minds in Iraq by the kind of scorched-earth reprisals currently under way there. Once upon a time, we tried that in -- what was the name of that place? Oh yeah, Vietnam.

Time To Reconsider

Beginning with a committee hearing this week and continuing through Monday's regular meeting, members of the Shelby County Commission still have the opportunity to perform a sensible public service by voting to authorize the Tennessee General Assembly to consider legislation enabling a casino at The Pyramid -- and only at The Pyramid.

The commission put such action on hold two weeks ago -- thanks largely to an astutely mounted campaign by commission chairman Marilyn Loeffel to arouse opposition to it from local social conservatives.

We would ask the commission to reconsider the proposal on the common-sense principle that no other alternatives for future gainful use of The Pyramid have yet emerged and that, without same, the taxpayers are quite likely to be stuck with a pointy-headed white elephant down on the riverfront, one burdening them with $32 million in outstanding bonds and with untold millions in maintenance costs over the years.

The constitutional-amendment process is a time-consuming one, as we learned from the 16 years it took to establish a state lottery. Between legislative consideration and a possible statewide referendum, there is ample time for someone to suggest a realistic alternative to a casino at The Pyramid.

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