Free flowing propaganda about the pressing need to get Saddam, in which kernels of truth are built into wild imaginings as to his intent, worries Americans, and frightens the rest of the world. It took me a while and some study, but I am leaning to the idea that kicking out Saddam is the right move, that he really is dangerous, and that Iraq is a reasonable next step in the war on terror. The case is plenty good enough not to have been spoiled with exaggerated rhetoric. The American public could easily have been convinced, and, more significantly, foreign support was there for the asking, by making a straightforward case, as father Bush did in 1990, instead of sounding off like spoiled brats and bashing anyone offering resistance.
Although the administration sounds like a bunch of warmongering klutzes, there is something behind the bluster. While they are so secretive that their own cause has been injured, there is something sensible going on here. I have been trying to figure out what it is.
Our indecisiveness stands out because of the loud rhetoric, but it probably results from a struggle between two camps: the non-war Powell side and the Cheney/Rumsfeld warmongers. On the Powell side, the plan all along has been to use threats to get Saddam to comply. Assuming he wasn’t the frenzied madman we portrayed, it was logical to assume that if we were firm enough (that is, took decisive steps to invade, the only way to deal with him) he would give up his weapons in order to remain in power. Unfortunately for Powell, we had threatened too often in the past, and Saddam had worked wonders with the U.N. and felt he could again, so we have had to follow through by positioning troops. The Cheney side is anxious to get on with it because, if Saddam saves himself at the eleventh hour, he will remain a threat and their plans will be thrown awry. In the end, Saddam will make the decision, which is unfortunate for us if he remains (so I am rooting against Powell at this point).
What about the troubling political vacuum should Saddam be eliminated. The warmongers have a plan. Here it is.
The following theory on what the hard liners are thinking comes from the February 17 The New Yorker, in an article titled After Iraq by Nicholas Lemann. Lemann uncovered a plan in the defense department, a mighty aggressive and optimistic one, but at least a rational approach. Remarkably, no one seems to have noticed because of intense concentration elsewhere. It goes this way.
The belief is that terrorism can survive only with state support (right wing pundits have begun to recite this as gospel). One of the reasons we did not go after Pakistan, the new home of al Qaeda, is that the government there makes a passing attempt at not letting terrorists run free. Better to support the military government because if it falls, fundamentalists, who support terrorists, will take over. Pakistan’s possession of the A-bomb adds to our reluctance, but the official reason is that the present government is “safe” as related to terrorism.
Saddam, while not active in terrorism, provides a heaven sent opportunity for an aggressive strategy in the war on terrorism. The concept is to make Iraq an example, to put fear into other Moslem states that we mean what we say and will knock them off if they support terrorists. Iraq sits right in the middle of the Moslem world on the border of both Iran and Syria, the two main terrorist supporting countries. We will be right there, with all our arms, saying, clean up the terrorists or it is your turn to be crushed. Military force, or hopefully threat, will be used to bring enough pressure on the governments to get them to reform, modernize, renounce terrorism, and go after terrorists in their own countries. At the same time, gradual creation of a humane representative government in Iraq, operating in the Japan occupation style, will have a spillover effect on the entire region.
Combine the idea that terrorists require state support with the immense pressure we will be able to apply by sitting squarely in the midst of the Moslem world, and you have a strategy for winning the war on terror. The apparently foolish urgency relates to Powell’s fear that time is running for out his peaceful solution (which is not a solution as regards to Iraq and Saddam), and Cheney/Rumfeld’s even worse fear that Saddam will wiggle off the hook at the eleventh hour.
Supporting the idea of a forcible military government is that nothing is heard any more about regime change because we have no interest in a new regime, we will be in charge (at least for several years). This is the vital change brought about by 9/11, the inadequacy of regime change and the need for an occupation government. I understand we are pretty much ignoring the people who might have taken over (they are very fragmented anyway), and they are beginning to get worried. Liberal fears that removing Saddam will leave chaos behind are wrong. The fact that Iraq is a Versailles Treaty 1919 put together is all the better for the plan since it is relatively ungovernable anyway.
The hard line theory is to make terrorism like piracy and the slave trade, unacceptable in the world (Bush is good at articulating this when he isn’t carrying on about evil ones). Moslem countries used to be proud of their piracy, but we wiped it out (after Mediterranean countries themselves failed). We think it can be done again by putting pressure on every country to consider terrorism as similar to poison gas (used only once by Iraq/Iran since World War I) and the A-bomb (used only once/twice by us), that is to say, not acceptable for a civilized nation. The hardliners believe that, because of jealousy and our support for hated Israel, terrorism can’t be ended through moral pressure. We’ve got to force it by making an example of what can happen to them and be on the spot to back up the threat. Afghanistan was a diversion, a get al Qaeda and Osama campaign that failed. We are accused of neglecting Afghanistan, but that was a side show. We won’t neglect Iraq, because it is the key to the plan for defeating terrorism.
Iraq offers another plus: it has the economic potential in its oil to be self-sustaining, and become a successful economic nation. We are going to supervise a major oil development program by seeing that reliable contracts are issued to oil companies in exchange for rapid development (another reason why we have to remain in control) because oil fits neatly into the overall plan. Oil can be used in addition to military pressure to bring non-oil countries, notably Syria, in line, perhaps even to produce enough oil to pressure Iran and Saudi Arabia.
The hints coming out of Washington support this as the plan. It is reasonably sensible from the militarist point of view, but whether or not it is doable remains to be seen. The biggest danger is a perfect terrorist set up, an occupying army in an uncooperative country, where nationalism is added to the motivation of religion. Even if some see us as providing freedom from an oppressive regime, that good will is apt to quickly wear thin. It is Lebanon and Somolia all over again on a grand scale. The plan is also probably too optimistic about threat versus shooting, and any more invasions will make us look like a conquering hoard. I suspect we are overlooking the religious factor that makes terrorism more difficult to stamp out, the horrible example being set by Israel, and the difficulty of conventional forces against an at home guerrilla movement (Viet Nam already forgotten). Another probably unanticipated difficulty was the severity of the shock around the world, especially in Europe, at our provoking a war, a problem that will be intensified by an occupation government. I sense we have at least temporarily lost our world leadership, other than militarily, because of the hopeless diplomacy of the Bush administration, but it might be recovered some time in the future.
No matter which alternative unfolds, the strategy could not be revealed. The very man Lemann talked to refused to say anything the other day before a Senate committee, leaving the impression we have no plan for a post-Saddam Iraq. There was a hint at a two year program for Iraq, but the real plan involves a lot longer.
Revealing a plan to use Iraq as a long term foil to terrorism might have created even greater resistance. Even if countries like France understood what we were up to, the plan is extended, fraught with future problems, and undoubtedly very expensive, so they did not want any part of it. Both France and Germany are emotionally opposed to occupation, whereas we have the arrogance to think that everything we do is well intentioned. The perhaps unintended consequence is that we are going to be left with the full cost of the war and the occupation. While everyone is trying to figure out the cost of the war, the more pertinent question is probably the cost of maintaining a large army in Iraq for years, and the lack of maneuverability a large force there leaves us elsewhere. In the administration’s mind, some of that cost can be covered by Iraq oil royalties on greatly increased production, but taking their royalties to pay for our occupation will create even greater bitterness abroad.
Another reason for secrecy is Bush’s determination for more tax cuts. Apparently we are looking at a deficit building toward $400 billion, before a war that might cost $100 billion (we have had to do a lot of bribing, not just to Turkey, so the cost will probably be much higher), and occupation another $50 billion a year. Put that on top of $50-100 billion more in tax cuts (remember, the largest portion of the 2001 cuts, those in the top brackets, have barely begun) and who knows where we are headed. It may seem inconceivable that Bush would take such a reckless course, but the far right is in charge of domestic policy and they view any tax cut as good. They are emotionally committed to chopping social programs, and how better to accomplish that goal than to make it a matter of national security.
The lesson on the Iraq controversy is the bankruptcy of the Bush foreign policy. As soon as he came to office, the bashing of foreigners began, we pointedly refused to cooperation in any global effort, and most of our treaties were renounced. When the decision was made to make Iraq the second step in the war on terror, the Bushies immediately began bashing anyone who did not step up and offer support. The situation was made worse, both for foreigners and at home, by exaggerating the immediacy of the affair.
It is likely that the tense international situation could have been avoided by reforming the old coalition through friendly face to face diplomacy. Proceeding recklessly ahead, while bashing anyone expressing caution, was the kind of thoughtless hot headed arrogance this administration has become noted for. When Powell talked them into going through the U.N., the case was already in trouble because of the president’s excessive rhetoric, then Bush made a tragic mistake: he went to the U.N., made a grand, highly exaggerated, talk down his nose speech, and then threatened all who would not provide support. He even concluded with the extraordinarily unwise statement that the U.N. would render itself irrelevant by not following his lead, referring to them as a budding League of Nations. While seen as a great fiery speech in the U.S., at least in conservative circles, it was a truly amazing blunder, a blueprint for turning friends into enemies. These kinds of words are almost never used in diplomacy because they are so counter-productive. All of this is incomprehensible until you remember that the radical right wing wants to destroy the U.N. and exercise our superior military power to get what we want (in other words, the people calling the shots are seriously dangerous). However, after throwing away any hope for help and backing ourselves into a corner, we ought to go ahead and clean up Saddam.
Reviewing the history of our ins and outs with Saddam, the following events are likely. The U.N. difficulties encourage Saddam to remain firm, but he will fold with action. We always open with lengthy bombing and when that begins, the game will be on. He will be back-tracking, we won’t. He will try to remain by giving up the weapons (not all at once, chemicals first), thereby enlisting support from the rest of the world, we will want to go on, get him, and execute the plan. It will be a process, not a sudden happening. In this final showdown, our ridiculous diplomacy will make life much harder for us, but at this point we might as well win the war, and hope that Bush, if not his militaristic aides, has learned from the mistakes.