What our military has not yet won, our diplomats are working very hard to throw away. The Bush administration is divided over whether there should be a military government in post-Saddam Iraq, and how Hussein’s Baath party faithful should be removed. How those questions are answered will determine if the war against terror is going to get easier or harder once the Iraq campaign is over.
The State Department and the CIA want to shape the new government, and believe an American military government would give them the power and time to do it. The Defense Department, recognizing the problems a military government will cause, is opposed. What State and CIA fail to recognize is that by trying to control the new government they open the door for France, Germany, Russia, and China to make the new Iraq into the same kind of mess they now are making of the United Nations. And the Saudis, who have great influence at State, are lobbying hard for a military government because they are afraid that democracy will take too firm a hold and destabilize their own autocracy.
Even more importantly, State and CIA fail to recognize the tremendously negative effect an American military government will have all over the Middle East. We can be seen as liberators or conquerors: Conquerors intend to control and colonize set up military governments; liberators don’t, unless they have no other choice. And we have a choice. We can forestall these events by having the free Iraqi opposition form an interim government in northern Iraq now, and recognize them as the legitimate government as soon as the shooting stops.
The 65 groups of the Iraqi opposition have been ready to “stand up” their interim government for weeks, but State, the CIA, and Zalmay Khalilzad — President Bush’s “ambassador at large” to the Iraqi opposition — have insisted that they not do so. Even our most faithful allies in the Iraqi opposition — such as the Iraqi National Congress — believe a military government would betray our promise to liberate Iraq. They suspect betrayal because we have betrayed them before, and because the State Department has been hostile to them for years. They have good reason to be concerned.
Two weeks ago, Khalilzad traveled to the United Arab Emirates to meet with Adnan Pachachi — an octogenarian Arab-nationalist hostile to the U.S. Khalilzad’s mission was to offer Pachachi a place in the post-Saddam government. For 30 years, Pachachi insisted that Kuwait was part of Iraq, and not entitled to independence. Now, he refers to Bush administration hawks as a “Zionist lobby.” Offering Pachachi a part in the new Iraq makes as much sense as inviting in one of the Iranian mullahs.
Ahmad Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress has been feuding with State for many years, and State does not want him to come out on top. But if the Iraqi opposition meets in northern Iraq to select a leader, Chalabi will likely be chosen. I asked Chalabi (by e-mail) why he opposed to an interim military government. He responded:
We welcome a cooperative relationship with the US. We want U.S. troops to stay in Iraq for a lengthy period of time which insures stability during the transition period, removes WMD as you said. We want the U.S.-Iraq relationship to be a long and close one well into the future. . . . It is clear that in an effort to mollify . . . the State Department’s ‘friends’ in the region they came up with this plan which would essentially keep the opposition out of the game by having an American run the administration rather than a provisional government. What we are saying is that even six days when the sovereignty of Iraq is out of Iraqi hands is bad all around. That is why we want to establish a provisional government but U.S. officials told the Kurds the U.S. is against this and will dissociate itself from a provisional government if we come up with one.
Saddam Hussein is an old enemy, but this is a new war. Removing him will be the first American-imposed regime change in the Arab world. Hussein, bin Laden, and assorted Saudi government officials and mullahs are propagandizing that America is the infidel crusader attacking the ummah, the idealized Arab “nation.” Saudi foreign minister Saud al-Faisal said recently that any “unilateral” military action by America would be an “act of aggression.” If we establish a military government for Iraq — even for a little while — we will aid those who want to destroy our credibility, and the freedom we can bring.
We will not have defeated terror once Saddam is gone. But if the Arabs see that we establish freedom — and how fast we can propel the Iraqis from oppression to freedom to prosperity — the concept of America as liberator will not be easily discarded. The peoples of other problem nations, such as Syria, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, will see Iraq as an example of freedom to be followed. The hate that fills the government press and many sermons will increasingly be seen for what it is: propaganda.
The administration dogfight extends beyond the question of a military government to whether most of Saddam’s Baath party loyalists will be left in place. The Washington Post reported that post-Saddam Iraq would look much like the pre-war Iraq, because America planned to remove only the top layer of Saddam’s people. The Post’s report brought to mind the scene in Patton when the general takes a lot of heat from reporters for leaving Nazis in place to run the local government. But Rumsfeld isn’t Patton, and we’re not about to leave criminal Baathists in place.
Secretary Rumsfeld — who resists the idea of a military government — is nevertheless planning for one, as ordered. Among other things, the Defense Department plan classifies Iraqi government officials in three “baskets.” The first basket contains Saddam, his sons, and about a dozen or so of his closest cronies. They will be turned over to international war-crimes tribunals. Basket 2 will contain those higher-ranking Saddam loyalists who may be accused of other, less widespread crimes. These people will be turned over to Iraqi courts. It’s Rumsfeld’s “Basket 3″ that all the commotion is about.
“Basket 3″ consists of those Baath functionaries who aren’t thought to be involved in any crimes, and who may be left in place because their skills may be necessary to keep basic services running. Yes, these people will be of questionable loyalty. No, they will not be exempted from trial and prosecution for crimes they may be suspected of. And yes, they may also turn out to be a real asset. They may perform valuable functions, without which the civilian population may suffer.
But all of this — like the other functions of the post-Saddam government — should be performed by Iraqis. We must, and will, maintain a military presence there for some considerable time. But who will we trust to choose the new leaders of Iraq? The Iraqi opposition or the State Department, the Saudis, and our pals from the U.N. Security Council? Saddam delendus est.