by Bernard Weiner
April 29, 2003
What with Shia and Sunni and Ba'ath and imams and Syria and Abu Mazer and WMDs, it's no wonder many are confused in this post-Iraq-war period. Time once again to turn to that franchised series of books for easy-to-comprehend answers to difficult questions.
Q. What happened? First the U.S. was bogged down in Iraq and it looked like deja Vietnam quagmire all over again, and then suddenly, without much of a fight, 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 the Bush Administration didn't want to wait one more second -- they were terrified of getting bogged down in diplomacy and thus being prevented from launching their war. So, even though they had no Turkish base from where they could insert their infantry into Northern Iraq, they hastily entered from the South, which meant a long, hard slog up to Baghdad. They were unprepared for the welcoming fire they got in the South, and, at first, didn't have enough troops to battle all the forces that were attacking them and that were holed up in the cities along the route to Baghdad.
But U.S. superiority in terms of computers, airbombing, artillery and tanks finally kicked in, and the troops began a fast track to Baghdad, outracing their supply lines. Reportedly, some deals were struck with various Iraqi military generals in Baghdad -- offering them everything from money and post-war positions and even U.S. citizenship -- and Saddam's Republican Guard divisions melted away. Note: It's conceivable they could be reconstituted, if things play out their way.
Q. And how are things playing out? True, no WMDs ever were discovered, but from what I can see, the U.S. achieved a smashing victory and got what it wanted. It's in total military command of the country, and has set about repairing the electrical grid, the waterworks, etc. It even got the oil flowing again. Why would the Saddam forces even think about regrouping and taking on the U.S.?
A. As was the case in Vietnam, and then again in Afghanistan, Pentagon strategists never fully appreciated the strength of nationalistic pride, or the repetitive historic cycle of wars against invaders. There are huge sectors of the Iraqi population grateful to the U.S. for getting rid of their brutal dictator for them -- both Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims -- but now they want the U.S. military to leave and let them sort out the future of their country by themselves.
(Note: The U.S. now needs the former government's officials and technicians to help get the country back up and running. Translated, that means some elements of the old Ba'athist structure will be back in positions of power; for those Saddam forces in exile or who melted into the civilian population, that will be the key to reconstituting their forces -- that and the genuine anti-U.S. feelings among many, stirred up by religious clerics anxious to assert their power now that the secular regime has fallen.)
Many Iraqis don't trust the Bush Administration's motives in the slightest. They think the U.S. is there to set up stealth colonial-type institutions, tie corrupt entrepreneurs into shady deals that will benefit mainly outside corporations (and not just regarding oil), establish a secular government beholden to the U.S., use Iraqi bases for asserting its military power against other 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. Bush says we won't stay there one more day than is necessary. You don't believe him?
A. He's telling the truth. But the key question is "necessary for whom?" Once he's got a friendly interim government installed, once the U.S. corporations such as Halliburton and Bechtel set up "reconstruction" shop, once the use of the military bases is worked out with the new government, once the oil is flowing fully again (with that U.S.-friendly government in charge, and outside oil companies handling part of the business), then the bulk of the U.S. military will be out of there.
But there's a possible catch. The Pentagon strategists, you see, never really thought through the post-Iraq phase of the war. For one thing, they just assumed they'd find the dread WMDs, thus legitimizing their invasion; egg on the face time. 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 war, both inside Iraq and in the Arab region in general.
Q. How can they lose the war? There is no military rival that can stand up to them, either inside Iraq or outside.
A. What U.S. officials are learning, to their surprise and horror, is that you can have the strongest military in the world and still not be able to control the population, especially when that population thinks you're on their sacred homeland for nefarious purposes.
And the U.S., clueless as usual, continues to permit things that are anathema to the population. Such as: permitting missionaries into the country to attempt to Christianize the Muslim citizenry; Bush has approved Franklin Graham (Billy's son) and his missionaries being let loose in Iraq. Graham on several occasions has denounced Islam as a "very evil and wicked religion," making Muslims just a tad 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 post-war plan worked out for Iraq, Islamic clerics stepped into the breech and began exercising their influence, with the more fundamentalist among them drawing huge crowds for once-banned religious ceremonies and anti-U.S. rallies. The U.S.-sponsored exiled opposition leaders, like Ahmad Chalabi and others, are regarded as corrupt lackeys of the U.S. and are not likely to generate popular support -- and, if the Pentagon Hardliners manage to install him into power anyway, you can expect both a civil war and near-total opposition to the U.S. forces on the ground.
The U.S. is now having to face the possibility that, unless they can engineer a popular secular interim government soon that will assume control, the democratic tiger they are riding into Iraq may yield a radical Islamist regime, despite Rumsfeld's warning that the U.S. won't let that happen. Nobody is quite sure what the long-range implications of an Islamist regime would mean, except that it most probably wouldn't mean anything good for the Americans: All their blood and treasure will have been spent for nothing, and bye bye, Bush, in the 2004 election.
So, you see, the Hardliners in the Bush Administration are almost forced into staying the course in Iraq, trying to pull the democratic rabbit out of the Islamic hat, thus risking geopolitical disaster if it goes wrong.
Q. You keep talking about "Hardliners" in the Bush Administration. Who are 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 Century (PNAC) ideologues who, after a decade on the outside looking in, are now the prime movers in developing the strategic foreign policy of the United States. They include such powerful Administration figures as Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Defense Advisory Board members Richard Perle and James Woolsey (a former CIA director), National Security Council's Mideast honcho Elliot Abrams, and a host of other highly-placed officials.
Their goals, as stated in their position papers and speeches, can be summarized thusly: Since the U.S. is the only superpower in the world, it should assert its power aggressively, in order to ensure that no other state or foreign organization (such as the U.N. or the E.U.) can ever rise to parity with the United States and challenge its pre-eminence. This aggressive posture includes the use of "pre-emptive" war -- i.e., if the U.S. thinks a country or force may want, at some future point, to take on America, the U.S. goes in guns-ablazing and convinces them otherwise. The PNAC doctrines are now official U.S. policy, as laid out in the National Security Strategy promulgated last year by the Bush Administration.
Iraq, with a universally despised ruler, was selected as the demonstration model. The reasoning is similar to what Truman used in dropping atomic bombs on Japan, as a warning to the rest of the world to not even think about challenging America. As a result of what the U.S. did to and in Iraq, the rest of the Middle East has been informed in stark terms not to get too uppity or it could happen to you. Already, Syria has started backing away from its challenge to U.S. hegemony in the region.
The long-term result of achieving dominance in a region -- not necessarily by having to put troops on the ground -- is: 1) you now have effective control of the natural resources in that area; 2) you are able to reshape governments more to your liking, in this case more "democratic" governments in the autocratically-ruled Arab Middle East.
Q. But doesn't the U.S. risk that true democratic elections might bring into power fundamentalist Islamic rule antagonistic to U.S goals?
A. Yes, of course. Especially because the U.S. doesn't really understand Islam, Islamic nationalism, or proud Islamic history of battling "infidels." Case in point: Bush early on used the term "crusade" to describe what the U.S. was about in the Middle East, and was clueless as to why Muslims worldwide reacted in anger and horror. Sending in Christian missionaries to Iraq just fuels this fire of resentment.
Rumsfeld says the U.S. won't let Islamists take control. But once you let the democracy genie out of the bottle, it's often impossible to deal with the implications on the ground.
The PNAC boys tend to see only how strong the U.S. is militarily, and believe that force always is capable of bending the will of citizens and nations. The PNACs are weaker in understanding the force of people power, of religious fervor, of nationalistic pride -- all of which may well came back to bite them where it really hurts.
Q. But wouldn't democracy be good for all the downtrodden Arabs in the Middle East, who have been chafing for decades under authoritarian rule?
A. Yes, of course -- unless they elect religious parties that will be just as strict and totalitarian as what they replace, maybe even worse. Then the citizens of those countries will have gained very little, except to have the freedom to choose their own repressors, who are not easy to turn out at the polls once they get their Big Brother organizations running. Iran is a good example.
Q. So what can the U.S. do to try to prevent this scary state of affairs from ever happening?
A. The one thing that will defuse the growing power of the fundamentalist Islamic movement is to quickly engineer a just resolution of the Israeli/Palestinian situation. If Palestine can obtain its own geographically and politically viable state -- and the only way to do that is for the U.S. to lean hard on the Israeli government to end the Occupation and withdraw from all settlements on Palestinian land -- the pus-filled boil would be lanced in the Arab body politic. Two independent states would live side by side, with security guaranteed, no terrorist attacks by Palestinians inside Israel, no incursions by Israel into Palestine.
That's the one thing that the U.S. immediately could do, and needs to do, to change the explosive chemistry of the Middle East. Will it do it? History seems to point to a negative answer. The U.S., time after time, seems willing to back off and give in to Israel's extremist desires, which translate into further humiliation and frustration for the Palestinians. This time, the U.S. probably would have to threaten to withdraw all U.S. economic and military aid to Israel in order to force it to end the Occupation and totally withdraw from all its settlements in Palestinian land -- but the Bush Administration has given no indication that it has that kind of foresight or courage. The result, if no just and comprehensive settlement takes place, is that Palestinian extremists will continue their terror campaign inside Israel, Israel will continue visiting its brutality upon the Palestinians, the Arab world will unite in its condemnation of the U.S. for not really wanting a just peace in the Middle East, and Islamic fundamentalists will assume more and more power in the area. We won't even mention the terrorism that would make its way to U.S. shores.
Q. I'm gathering then that the U.S. will not make a military move on Syria or Iran, at least until after the Israel/Palestine "roadmap" is laid out and negotiations there begin. Am I right?
A. Yes. As a result of the way the U.S. entered and destroyed Iraq -- with an illegal, immoral war, not caring what anybody else thought of its actions -- the unanimity against the U.S. in the Arab world, and the anti-U.S. economic boycotts being organized in Europe and elsewhere, are making even the PNAC boys have second thoughts about moving right now. First comes defusing the situation a bit, then later it'll be time to light the fuse of war-threats again. And then there's the upcoming 2004 campaign; none of the HardRighters want 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 Bush&Co. -- who took the largest surpluses in history and brought the country into huge deficits -- continue to shoot their own feet, pressing for even more enormous tax cuts (mostly for the wealthy and giant corporations) that will only do further damage to our tattered economy. Plus, so great is the resentment against Bush among Democrats and many moderates that they may just unite in force behind a viable Democrat candidate this time. And, no, don't ask me 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 machines that guarantee ways of checking that the balloting is on the up-and-up, and that exit polls are back in operation. If the computer voting machines' software has been tampered with and there's no paper trail, or exit-polling, to measure votes cast against votes counted, all the good Democrat campaigning in the world will never gain a victory. You've been forewarned.
Bernard Weiner, Ph.D., is co-editor of The Crisis Papers, where this essay first appeared (www.crisispapers.org). He has taught at various universities, and was a writer/editor with the San Francisco Chronicle for nearly 20 years. He is author of Boy Into Man: A Fathersí Guide to Initiation of Teenage Sons (Transformation Press, 1992). He has also authored: "The War on Terrorism for Dummies," "The Middle East for Dummies," "The intifadeh & Israel for Dummies," and "The Bush 9/11 Scandal for Dummies."