Politics & Policy

Base of Operations

Those who insist that it will take years for democracy to take hold in Iraq are probably right in one sense. To create a functioning national government with a constitution, a parliament, courts, and the other systems that make a free government function is going to take time. But the earliest signs of an outbreak of the freedom epidemic are already there for the diagnosticians to look at. Consider the northern town of Bayji.

When the Marines were pulling out of the north, the Army was coming in. The Army found that the locals–in a town of 25,000–were holding an election for their own local government. The locals were surprised as well. The American troops turned down their offer of homemade booze. There are no reports of the hootch being offered to the Marines before they left.

While the beginnings of a new Iraqi government are sprouting up, we have to assess our own future role there. The Defense Department is looking at four or five places in Iraq as permanent bases for U.S. ground and air forces, which could operate from there to anywhere in the Middle East. We would not stay as an occupier, but as a military partner, as we did in Germany, Japan, and–for many years–the Philippines. Such a partnership with Iraq is very important to the future of the war on terror.

If American air assets and special forces remain in Iraq, they will give us the ability to operate against terrorist camps and regimes in the region with greater speed and without the huge costs of deployment of the Iraq campaign. This will continue, and increase, the pressure on Bashar Assad and the Iranians, among others. This also makes us more independent of the Turks, increasing their incentive to cooperate.

Moreover, permanent bases in Iraq will help stabilize the economy of Iraq. The troops we have stationed in places such as Germany–a charter member of the Axis of Weasels–should be pulled out and based in Iraq. The resulting infusion of money will strengthen the local economies around the bases, and if done right, can be a constant reminder of freedom and friendship. Contrary to what Tom Daschle, Richard Lugar and John Edwards may think, soldiers are often our most effective ambassadors.

Yesterday, on Meet the Press, Sen. Lugar opined that we should redouble our diplomatic efforts in the Middle East, sending those such as Brent Scowcroft and former Clintonoid Defense Secretary Bill Cohen there to sell our message. Only one problem, Mr. Lugar: those guys oppose what we’re trying to do, and will make deals we can’t live with. Forget it. Sending Colin Powell is bad enough.

Mr. Powell and the President seem willing to lessen the pressure on Syria, which may be responding to it. But there’s no reason to believe that Syria’s new-found spirit of cooperation is anything more than a stall. As late as last Thursday, Syrian buses carrying fedayeen wannabes were still coming into Iraq. Bashar Assad may think he’s Saddam’s heir to the throne of the illusory “arab nation.” Assad’s ambition, coupled with his nation’s economic weakness, make him a candidate to be the next Quaddafi, not the next Anwar Sadat. Until Syria does three things, their cooperation is simply an illusion.

First, Syria must expel the terrorists who are headquartered there, and operating training camps in many Syrian locations. Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad–just to name a few–all operate openly in and from Damascus. Hezbollah is Syria’s burgermeister in Lebanon, a constant threat on Israel’s northern border.

Next, Lebanon must be freed. Its long history has been stained for decades by the domination of Syria and Hezbollah. Lebanon’s politics are as complicated as any in the world, with substantial populations of exiles from all over the region, including Armenians. Before the Palestinian terror groups destabilized it in the 1970s at the behest of Egypt, Lebanon had a model of government that could work elsewhere. A “confessional” government–which has representatives elected by each ethnic group, rather than by region–was chaotic but growing in strength when it was torn down. This model is one we should consider in Iraq. It’s not democracy in the western form, but it’s democracy nevertheless.

Third, the Syrians need to turn over both the fugitive Iraqis, the money they stole, and whatever WMD and documents they brought with them. The WMD may be there, and Syrian cooperation with Iraq’s WMD programs probably caused the two (in chem and bio, not nukes) to have been intermingled for years. Some of the Saddamites used Syria as a stopover on their way to who knows where. The Syrians helped them escape, and may know where they are. If they don’t actively help us catch the top Saddamites, their cooperation won’t have been worth any more than their word has been since Bashar’s daddy ran the place.

Ahmad Chalabi, leader of the Iraqi National Congress, claims that Saddam is alive and still in Iraq. The INC says it is following his movements, and is always about twelve hours behind. If Saddam is alive, and if he is there, it means that the country is not quite free.

Saddam is no Fidel Castro. He won’t be able to survive in the wild, wearing dirty fatigues and eating snakes. Particularly because he has one great liability Castro didn’t: our snake-eaters are hunting him. And they’re very good at their job.

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