The Crisis 0aPapers
Tuesday 29 April 2003
What with Shia and Sunni and Ba'ath and imams and Syria and Abu Mazer and 0aWMDs, it's no wonder many are confused in this post-Iraq-war period. Time once 0aagain to turn to that franchised series of books for easy-to-comprehend answers 0ato difficult questions.
Q. What happened? First the U.S. was bogged down in Iraq and it looked 0alike deja Vietnam quagmire all over again, and then suddenly, without much of a 0afight, the U.S. sweeps into Baghdad and it's all over but the cheering.
A. The U.S. military wasn't quite ready, but the Hothead Hardliners in 0athe Bush Administration didn't want to wait one more second -- they were 0aterrified of getting bogged down in diplomacy and thus being prevented from 0alaunching their war. So, even though they had no Turkish base from where they 0acould insert their infantry into Northern Iraq, they hastily entered from the 0aSouth, which meant a long, hard slog up to Baghdad. They were unprepared for the 0awelcoming fire they got in the South, and, at first, didn't have enough troops 0ato battle all the forces that were attacking them and that were holed up in the 0acities along the route to Baghdad.
But U.S. superiority in terms of computers, airbombing, artillery and tanks 0afinally kicked in, and the troops began a fast track to Baghdad, outracing their 0asupply lines. Reportedly, some deals were struck with various Iraqi military 0agenerals in Baghdad -- offering them everything from money and post-war 0apositions and even U.S. citizenship -- and Saddam's Republican Guard divisions 0amelted away. Note: It's conceivable they could be reconstituted, if things play 0aout their way.
Q. And how are things playing out? True, no WMDs ever were discovered, 0abut from what I can see, the U.S. achieved a smashing victory and got what it 0awanted. It's in total military command of the country, and has set about 0arepairing the electrical grid, the waterworks, etc. It even got the oil flowing 0aagain. Why would the Saddam forces even think about regrouping and taking on the 0aU.S.?
A. As was the case in Vietnam, and then again in Afghanistan, Pentagon 0astrategists never fully appreciated the strength of nationalistic pride, or the 0arepetitive historic cycle of wars against invaders. There are huge sectors of 0athe Iraqi population grateful to the U.S. for getting rid of their brutal 0adictator for them -- both Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims -- but now they want the 0aU.S. military to leave and let them sort out the future of their country by 0athemselves.
(Note: The U.S. now needs the former government's officials and technicians 0ato help get the country back up and running. Translated, that means some 0aelements of the old Ba'athist structure will be back in positions of power; for 0athose Saddam forces in exile or who melted into the civilian population, that 0awill be the key to reconstituting their forces -- that and the genuine anti-U.S. 0afeelings among many, stirred up by religious clerics anxious to assert their 0apower now that the secular regime has fallen.)
Many Iraqis don't trust the Bush Administration's motives in the slightest. 0aThey think the U.S. is there to set up stealth colonial-type institutions, tie 0acorrupt entrepreneurs into shady deals that will benefit mainly outside 0acorporations (and not just regarding oil), establish a secular government 0abeholden to the U.S., use Iraqi bases for asserting its military power against 0aother Muslim governments in the region, etc. By and large, they are spot-on.
Q. But I thought the U.S. went in there to liberate the Iraqi people. 0aBush says we won't stay there one more day than is necessary. You don't believe 0ahim?
A. He's telling the truth. But the key question is "necessary for 0awhom?" Once he's got a friendly interim government installed, once the U.S. 0acorporations such as Halliburton and Bechtel set up "reconstruction" shop, once 0athe use of the military bases is worked out with the new government, once the 0aoil is flowing fully again (with that U.S.-friendly government in charge, and 0aoutside oil companies handling part of the business), then the bulk of the U.S. 0amilitary will be out of there.
But there's a possible catch. The Pentagon strategists, you see, never really 0athought through the post-Iraq phase of the war. For one thing, they just assumed 0athey'd find the dread WMDs, thus legitimizing their invasion; egg on the face 0atime. They're also now forced to recognize that they might have won the battle -- and broke the spine of Saddam's cruel regime -- but they may well lose the 0awar, both inside Iraq and in the Arab region in general.
Q. How can they lose the war? There is no military rival that can 0astand up to them, either inside Iraq or outside.
A. What U.S. officials are learning, to their surprise and horror, is 0athat you can have the strongest military in the world and still not be able to 0acontrol the population, especially when that population thinks you're on their 0asacred homeland for nefarious purposes.
And the U.S., clueless as usual, continues to permit things that are anathema 0ato the population. Such as: permitting missionaries into the country to attempt 0ato Christianize the Muslim citizenry; Bush has approved Franklin Graham (Billy's 0ason) and his missionaries being let loose in Iraq. Graham on several occasions 0ahas denounced Islam as a "very evil and wicked religion," making Muslims just a 0atad suspicious of the man.
Because the Saddam regime collapsed so quickly -- the U.S. experienced a "catastrophic success," said Rumsfeld -- and the U.S. had no ready-to-go 0apost-war plan worked out for Iraq, Islamic clerics stepped into the breech and 0abegan exercising their influence, with the more fundamentalist among them 0adrawing huge crowds for once-banned religious ceremonies and anti-U.S. rallies. 0aThe U.S.-sponsored exiled opposition leaders, like Ahmad Chalabi and others, are 0aregarded as corrupt lackeys of the U.S. and are not likely to generate popular 0asupport -- and, if the Pentagon Hardliners manage to install him into power 0aanyway, you can expect both a civil war and near-total opposition to the U.S. 0aforces on the ground.
The U.S. is now having to face the possibility that, unless they can engineer 0aa popular secular interim government soon that will assume control, the 0ademocratic tiger they are riding into Iraq may yield a radical Islamist regime, 0adespite Rumsfeld's warning that the U.S. won't let that happen. Nobody is quite 0asure what the long-range implications of an Islamist regime would mean, except 0athat it most probably wouldn't mean anything good for the Americans: All their 0ablood and treasure will have been spent for nothing, and bye bye, Bush, in the 0a2004 election.
So, you see, the Hardliners in the Bush Administration are almost forced into 0astaying the course in Iraq, trying to pull the democratic rabbit out of the 0aIslamic hat, thus risking geopolitical disaster if it goes wrong.
Q. You keep talking about "Hardliners" in the Bush Administration. Who 0aare they? How much influence do they have, and what are their motives?
A. By and large, we're referring to the Project for the New American 0aCentury (PNAC) ideologues who, after a decade on the outside looking in, are now 0athe prime movers in developing the strategic foreign policy of the United 0aStates. They include such powerful Administration figures as Vice President Dick 0aCheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul 0aWolfowitz, Defense Advisory Board members Richard Perle and James Woolsey (a 0aformer CIA director), National Security Council's Mideast honcho Elliot Abrams, 0aand a host of other highly-placed officials.
Their goals, as stated in their position papers and speeches, can be 0asummarized thusly: Since the U.S. is the only superpower in the world, it should 0aassert its power aggressively, in order to ensure that no other state or foreign 0aorganization (such as the U.N. or the E.U.) can ever rise to parity with the 0aUnited States and challenge its pre-eminence. This aggressive posture includes 0athe use of "pre-emptive" war -- i.e., if the U.S. thinks a country or force may 0awant, at some future point, to take on America, the U.S. goes in guns-ablazing 0aand convinces them otherwise. The PNAC doctrines are now official U.S. policy, 0aas laid out in the National Security Strategy promulgated last year by the Bush 0aAdministration.
Iraq, with a universally despised ruler, was selected as the demonstration 0amodel. The reasoning is similar to what Truman used in dropping atomic bombs on 0aJapan, as a warning to the rest of the world to not even think about challenging 0aAmerica. As a result of what the U.S. did to and in Iraq, the rest of the Middle 0aEast has been informed in stark terms not to get too uppity or it could happen 0ato you. Already, Syria has started backing away from its challenge to U.S. 0ahegemony in the region.
The long-term result of achieving dominance in a region -- not necessarily by 0ahaving to put troops on the ground -- is: 1) you now have effective control of 0athe natural resources in that area; 2) you are able to reshape governments more 0ato your liking, in this case more "democratic" governments in the 0aautocratically-ruled Arab Middle East.
Q. But doesn't the U.S. risk that true democracic elections might 0abring into power fundamentalist Islamic rule antagonistic to U.S goals?
A. Yes, of course. Especially because the U.S. doesn't really 0aunderstand Islam, Islamic nationalism, or proud Islamic history of battling "infidels." Case in point: Bush early on used the term "crusade" to describe 0awhat the U.S. was about in the Middle East, and was clueless as to why Muslims 0aworldwide reacted in anger and horror. Sending in Christian missionaries to Iraq 0ajust fuels this fire of resentment.
Rumsfeld says the U.S. won't let Islamists take control. But once you let the 0ademocracy genie out of the bottle, it's often impossible to deal with the 0aimplications on the ground.
The PNAC boys tend to see only how strong the U.S. is militarily, and believe 0athat force always is capable of bending the will of citizens and nations. The 0aPNACs are weaker in understanding the force of people power, of religious 0afervor, of nationalistic pride -- all of which may well came back to bite them 0awhere it really hurts.
Q. But wouldn't democracy be good for all the downtrodden Arabs in the 0aMiddle East, who have been chafing for decades under authoritarian rule?
A. Yes, of course -- unless they elect religious parties that will be 0ajust as strict and totalitarian as what they replace, maybe even worse. Then the 0acitizens of those countries will have gained very little, except to have the 0afreedom to choose their own repressors, who are not easy to turn out at the 0apolls once they get their Big Brother organizations running. Iran is a good 0aexample.
Q. So what can the U.S. do to try to prevent this scary state of 0aaffairs from ever happening?
A. The one thing that will defuse the growing power of the 0afundamentalist Islamic movement is to quickly engineer a just resolution of the 0aIsraeli/Palestinian situation. If Palestine can obtain its own geographically 0aand politically viable state -- and the only way to do that is for the U.S. to 0alean hard on the Israeli government to end the Occupation and withdraw from all 0asettlements on Palestinian land -- the pus-filled boil would be lanced in the 0aArab body politic. Two independent states would live side by side, with security 0aguaranteed, no terrorist attacks by Palestinians inside Israel, no incursions by 0aIsrael into Palestine.
That's the one thing that the U.S. immediately could do, and needs to do, to 0achange the explosive chemistry of the Middle East. Will it do it? History seems 0ato point to a negative answer. The U.S., time after time, seems willing to back 0aoff and give in to Israel's extremist desires, which translate into further 0ahumilitation and frustration for the Palestinians. This time, the U.S. probably 0awould have to threaten to withdraw all U.S. economic and miltiary aid to Israel 0ain order to force it to end the Occupation and totally withdraw from all its 0asettlements in Palestinian land -- but the Bush Administration has given no 0aindication that it has that kind of foresight or courage.
The result, if no just and comprehensive settlement takes place, is that 0aPalestinian extremists will continue their terror campaign inside Israel, Israel 0awill continue visiting its brutality upon the Palestinians, the Arab world will 0aunite in its condemnation of the U.S. for not really wanting a just peace in the 0aMiddle East, and Islamic fundamentalists will assume more and more power in the 0aarea. We won't even mention the terrorism that would make its way to U.S. 0ashores.
Q. I'm gathering then that the U.S. will not make a military move on 0aSyria or Iran, at least until after the Israel/Palestine "roadmap" is laid out 0aand negotiations there begin. Am I right?
A. Yes. As a result of the way the U.S. entered and destroyed Iraq -- 0awith an illegal, immoral war, not caring what anybody else thought of its 0aactions -- the unanimity against the U.S. in the Arab world, and the anti-U.S. 0aeconomic boycotts being organized in Europe and elsewhere, are making even the 0aPNAC boys have second thoughts about moving right now. First comes defusing the 0asituation a bit, then later it'll be time to light the fuse of war-threats 0aagain. And then there's the upcoming 2004 campaign; none of the HardRighters 0awant to do anything that would endanger Bush's chances.
Q. Do you see any chance that Bush could lose in 2004?
A. Let's just say that it's still the economy, stupid, and 0aBush&Co. -- who took the largest surpluses in history and brought the 0acountry into huge deficits -- continue to shoot their own feet, pressing for 0aeven more enormous tax cuts (mostly for the wealthy and giant corporations) that 0awill only do further damage to our tattered economy. Plus, so great is the 0aresentment against Bush among Democrats and many moderates that they may just 0aunite in force behind a viable Democrat candidate this time. And, no, don't ask 0ame who; we'll get to all that in another Dummies-type article.
In the meantime, put pressure on your local elected officials to have voting 0amachines that guarantee ways of checking that the balloting is on the up-and-up, 0aand that exit polls are back in operation. If the computer voting machines' 0asoftware has been tampered with and there's no paper trail, or exit-polling, to 0ameasure votes cast against votes counted, all the good Democrat campaigning in 0athe world will never gain a victory. You've been forewarned.
Bernard Weiner, Ph.D, also has authored "The War on Terrorism for 0aDummies," "The Middle East for Dummies," "The intifadeh & Israel for 0aDummies," and "The Bush 9/11 Scandal for Dummies." He co-edits the progressive 0awebsite The Crisis Papers (http://www.crisispapers.org/)
(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is 0adistributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in 0areceiving the included information for research and educational 0apurposes.)