Bush’s Headache… and Historic Opportunity

by Patrick J. Buchanan – April 14, 2003

It was no cakewalk. But no quagmire either. It was the most awesome display of military power in modern times.

At the beginning of the war, Iraqi defenders far outnumbered the U.S. and British invasion force. Yet, from a rolling start, coalition forces took but three weeks and 100 dead to occupy the capital of a nation the size of France with an army of hundreds of thousands.

It was a triumph of technology and air power. Perhaps 1,000 cruise missiles and 20,000 precision-guided bombs smashed Iraqi command-and-control and army formations even before they could engage us. When the Iraqis did engage, they faced tanks and artillery far superior to their own and U.S.-British troops with greater firepower and body armor.

When Iraqis were wounded, they bled to death. Wounded Brits and Americans were treated immediately by medics and airlifted to hospitals.

But if the military goals – smashing the Republican Guard, ousting Saddam, the occupation of Baghdad – have been achieved, the political struggle has only begun. After having destroyed the Iraqi regime and its armed forces, we now inherit a nation and its historic obligations. Just as we did with Germany and Japan.

The immediate need is for the restoration of law and order. In Baghdad and Basra, there were as many looters as celebrants in the streets when Saddam’s statue fell. And as with the liberation of France and Italy late in World War II, there are certain to be reprisals against Baath Party officials and the police who carried out Saddam’s repression and tortures.

But, as the policing of cities is not the job of American troops, U.S. military police or foreign troops may have to be brought in until the new Iraqi police have been trained.

More important, with the Iraqi army destroyed, U.S. forces must hold the country together. Any attempt by Kurds to declare independence would bring a rapid Turkish invasion. Indeed, the presence of Kurdish troops in Kirkuk has already been declared “unacceptable.” If we do not want a clash with the Turks, our Kurdish allies cannot be permitted to take over the cities of Kirkuk and Mosul, to which they have ancient claims.

A similar problem exists in the south. In 1991, the Shiites rose in rebellion at the urging of Bush I and were butchered by Saddam’s troops. As the largest ethnic group in Iraq, will they accept continued rule by the Sunnis who persecuted them for three decades? What do we do if the Shiites and Kurds both declare independence? Iran, a Shiite nation, will be fishing in these waters. In short, it is difficult to see how America can leave Iraq without first building a strong national Iraqi army to hold that country together and defend it against predatory neighbors.

Yet, Americans have been told that no extended occupation will be needed, only that Iraq would be disarmed, Saddam deposed and the people liberated. Then we can go home. That is the expectation of the American troops and of their families.

But if President Bush inherits Iraq’s problems, he has also been given a historic opportunity to disprove the charge believed by almost all Arabs and Muslims: that this was a war for American empire, for oil, for Israel and for hegemony in the Middle East.

To neoconservatives, who were demanding Iraq’s destruction years before 9-11 – and long before weapons of mass destruction – were an issue, hegemony and empire are their stated goals. Can Bush break with these neoconservatives? We shall soon find out.

The president also told the Arab world that Iraqis will decide their own destiny and we will not impose a regime of exiles. A bold promise, considering that recent free elections in Algeria, Turkey and Pakistan produced Islamist victories. What do we do if the Iraqis elect Islamist leaders? What do we do if the elected leaders declare their solidarity with the Palestinians, and offer moral and financial assistance to the intifada?

The president has been touting the wonders of democracy to the peoples of the Middle East. But in democracies, the people rule, and their will is manifest in national policy. Yet in Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt and most of the Gulf states, Arab peoples were violently opposed to the America war – which their unelected leaders passively supported.

If a plebiscite were held today in the Islamic world on this question – Should America and Israel get out of the Middle East? – we might find the results rather disappointing. To the democratist True Believers, I would counsel: Don’t pray too hard for something. You may just get it.