In a Fox News interview on Sunday from northern Iraq, Ahmad Chalabi, the leader of the Iraqi National Congress — the umbrella organization of the Iraqi democratic opposition — quietly suggested that it might be easier to induce the surrender of Iraqi soldiers if they were approached by Iraqi opposition leaders rather than by American military officers. He mentioned in passing that his soldiers had been ordered to await the arrival of Allied liaison officers. One must regret that such officers had not been with the INC since the onset of hostilities — no doubt Turkey’s outrageous refusal of cooperation for weeks on end made it harder for our military personnel to access northern Iraq — and their absence will undoubtedly raise INC suspicions that at least some of our planners had intended to leave the Iraqi opposition on the sidelines, especially since we have not made provisions for them to broadcast.
While we used psychological operations to urge Iraqis to surrender without a fight, we nonetheless made the liberation of Iraq a primarily military operation, failing to adopt an aggressive political campaign that would have clearly demonstrated our determination to liberate the country and assist the creation of a free country. Just a few weeks ago, the administration had to go to great lengths to deny stories about plans for an extended Allied military occupation of Iraq, and to gainsay some of the unfortunate statements along these lines that officials of the National Security Council had delivered to the Iraqi opposition.
Whether or not we actually had such intentions (I doubt it), the unfortunate statements by administration officials inevitably seemed credible to opposition leaders because both the State Department and the CIA treated the INC with contempt for more than a decade. We would have been wiser to demonstrate our real plans for a new, democratic Iraq, by creating one long before the onset of hostilities. The northern and southern “no fly” zones were under our effective control for years. We should have declared Saddam Hussein an illegitimate ruler, recognized a legitimate government in the two regions, and invited Iraqis to flee Saddam’s despotism to live freely under a normal and democratic government. The existence of a “free Iraq” would have shown the citizens of the country, whether military or civilian, the true nature of this war in a way no propaganda offensive could possibly achieve. Had we done so, and had we defended free Iraq from Saddam’s depredations, we would be far less likely to be facing the fierce battles in the southern “no fly” zone today.
Moreover, the advance of a democratic revolution, protected but not imposed by military force, would have created a model for the war against terrorism, of which the Iraqi campaign is a major battle, but only that. Our commitment to freedom will be essential in enlisting the enthusiastic support of the peoples of Syria and Iran, whose governments are enabling the infiltration of jihadist terrorists into Iraq. In Iraq and beyond, we should realize that our most lethal weapon against the terror masters is the will of the people to be free of their tyrants. In a country like Iran, there have been many massive popular demonstrations against the regime in the name of democracy, and we should be actively supporting it (and we’d be a lot more credible throughout the region if we had supported the anti-Saddam uprisings in 1991 instead of abandoning the Kurds and Shiites to their terrible fate).
The war against terror need not be primarily military. There is a much greater probability that our troops will be received as liberators rather than invaders if we “prepare the battlefield” with concrete demonstrations of the kind of free society the peoples of the region can expect once we have won. That way, we will be able to support pro-democracy forces now suffering under oppressive regimes, as we did in Yugoslavia, the Philippines, and the Soviet satellites, all of which were liberated without military invasion.
Chalabi is right. The Iraqi people and their rulers should hear the voice of the free Iraq that is their future, and they should be given the opportunity to join it with a minimum of warfare.
— Michael Ledeen, an NRO contributing editor, is most recently the author of The War Against the Terror Masters. Ledeen, Resident Scholar in the Freedom Chair at the American Enterprise Institute, can be reached through Benador Associates.