Politics & Policy

Game Plan Iraq

24 points and a status report.

The Democrats have a wonderful idea: President Bush should reveal his game plan in Iraq to the whole world, especially to the unrepentant Baathist murderers in Tikrit.

But anyone with common sense who watched the first half of play (we are now in the opening minutes of the third quarter) can already discern what is to come. It isn’t all that hard to surmise, given the plan’s basic requirements.

Before the game began, the president plainly had at least a 16-point agenda to accomplish in the first half, and another eight or so things to do (as time permitted) in the second half. The crucial ones were the first 16. Nonetheless, the next eight are also important.

During the first six weeks, if everything went well, the plan called for the following:

(1) Prevent the scuds in the western desert from being fired at Kuwait and Israel, as in Gulf War I.

(2) Prevent the torching of the oil wells in the south, east, and north, as happened in Gulf War I.

(3) Prevent the release of oil into the Persian Gulf from the pipelines of the Basra area, as happened in Gulf War I.

(4) Have equipment and supplies in place for the scores of thousands of refugees that might, in the worst case, flee across the borders from Iraq, as happened in Gulf War I.

(5) Have ample food supplies ready to distribute to some 20 million-plus people throughout Iraq, in case the war disrupted normal distribution.

(6) Have immense quantities of good drinking water ready to truck into deprived civilian areas in cases of necessity.

(7) Accomplish a long list of assignments given to special-force units secretly embedded throughout Iraq, including the cutting of communication lines from the general command of the Iraqi forces to the field, propaganda efforts to persuade Iraqi officers to defect with their forces (or at least to stand aside once the fighting approached them), and many other still-classified tasks.

(8) Prepare for the quick emergency delivery of medical supplies to hospitals and clinics tending combatants and civilian casualties of the war, and upgrade the hospital system that had so badly deteriorated during the years of Saddam Hussein’s willful neglect.

(9) Quickly accomplish the overarching aim of removing the spine of the Iraqi national government, while doing as little damage to the surrounding tissue as humanly possible.

(10) Encourage the founding of scores, even hundreds, of newspapers, magazines, and other media of communication, and encourage open public debates, protests, marches, and the free exercise of religion, including pilgrimages and processions: In other words, inspire all of the ordinary expressions of liberty that had been repressed during the long tyranny of Saddam Hussein.

(11) As the national government was removed, encourage local leaders to establish new forms of governance in every village, town, and city, so that order would quickly be re-established on the local level and grow stronger week by week. In this way, local government of the Iraqi, by the Iraqi, and for the Iraqi would begin to flower from local levels upwards, until ready to bloom on the national level as well. (Incidentally, in the infant United States, government also flourished at local levels long before it flowered on the national level.)

(12) Get a representative national council up and running in order to name the first round of cabinet officers, and take the first steps toward framing and presenting a new constitution for a new Iraq.

Meanwhile, other steps in the plan also needed to begin:

(13) Update the electrical system to make up for years of deterioration and neglect under Saddam Hussein. Ditto the water system.

(14) Get the oil fields pumping again. Begin new investments in oil-field infrastructure so that Iraq’s future development can be self-financing.

(15) Establish a new and creditable currency to lay the groundwork for economic growth.

(16) Refurbish and improve the backward physical condition of the nation’s schools, and de-Nazify (so to speak) the Saddam-glorifying textbooks, so that all Iraq’s children could be back in school by the first autumn. Ditto for the more than two dozen Iraqi universities, including fresh investments in new equipment, books, and supplies. Higher wages needed to be available for teachers too, who, like other professionals, had been impoverished under Saddam.

Then comes a really difficult part of the plan:

(17) Revise the systematic pacification campaign against the remnants of the 1.5 million members of the Baathist party, many of whom would need to be put on trial for horrific human-rights abuses during the past 30 years. This remnant would certainly include deserters from the army and secret police, who prefer to fight unto death rather than surrender to be put on trial.

This pacification campaign, it was clear, would be especially difficult in the areas west of Baghdad, which had been the most loyal to Saddam and the most highly rewarded for their loyalty. This is the region that the 4th Infantry Division would have swept through and systematically pacified soon after departing from its base in Turkey last March. But the French and the Germans had threatened to block the Turks from entering the European Community if they allowed the Americans to launch this prong of the war effort. So the Sunni Triangle never did feel the full force of an American army sweep during those crucial early weeks. This part of the plan failed, and the price of that failure is still being paid.

In brief, the first three stages of the plan consisted of preparation, liberation, and pacification. It was expected that the third stage, pacification, might go on for some years, as stragglers, diehards, and incoming terrorists held on in their grim hope to dishearten both the Iraqis longing to be free and the Americans eager to get back home.

“The Americans,” bin Laden had once warned, “soon abandon the field at the sight of blood.” The diehards would try to achieve a huge conflagration in a barracks, as they had done in Lebanon in 1983, or a large bloodbath in an ambush, as they had done in Mogadishu. In this way, they hoped, their early defeat might be turned into later victory. They believed that Western critics of the war would eventually break America’s national morale.

The second phase of the contest, the pacification phase, would then go on and on. The whole team knew the president would have to stand ready for that and harden his will in advance. It would go on until the Baathists and all their bloody allies became disheartened by the steadfast will of the Iraqi people to give assistance to the American forces.

The later stages of the pacification effort would be a little different from the first. The American forces would have to be flexible, to adapt to the changing tactics of the Baathists. It was not foreseen in the beginning that so large a proportion of Iraq’s territories–well over 95 percent–would speedily become quite peaceful under local Iraqi self-government. Nor could the exact numbers and methods of incoming terrorists be calculated in advance. But every prior experience–in Kosovo, Somalia, Afghanistan, Yemen, Sudan, and elsewhere–demonstrated that political extremists would exact as high a cost in blood as they could. The American forces would have to try a series of different maneuvers and tactics in order to learn which were the most effective, and in what circumstances.

Above all, the Americans would need to turn for help to the Iraqi people. The Iraqis themselves would have to take the risks of bringing intelligence concerning the violent people hiding in their midst to their own police forces and to the Americans. Otherwise, the pacification stage could not be brought to a speedy and successful conclusion, hopefully within the first year after the fall of Baghdad. No doubt, as in every country of the Middle East, some residual terrorism might go on for a far longer time.

As the pacification stage progresses, other targets of the plan will have to be met:

(18) A new Iraqi police force will have to be trained, equipped, and put in the field, and a new Iraqi defense force will have to be organized, to give early warning of those Baathist diehards who still plot violence against Iraq’s new freedoms.

(19) A constitutional convention will have to be convened and a committee chosen to draft the new Iraqi constitution within a fairly short amount of time. Hopefully, it will be a brief, succinct constitution that will sturdily undergird limited government, a federal system, checks and balances, and fundamental rights and liberties. A procedure for obtaining the will of the governed through a national ratification process will also have to be decided upon.

(20) International investment will have to be encouraged, in order to help diversify Iraqi industry, manufacturing, and commerce.

(21) The enlargement and reform of the Iraqi banking system will have to be completed, not only for the sake of stability, but also for the sake of stimulating creativity, the formation of many new small businesses, and access to credit even on the part of the enterprising poor.

(22) Meanwhile, throughout this process of democratization, the return and re-integration of the four million talented Iraqis who were obliged to flee for their lives from Saddam Hussein will have to be encouraged. Their talents and investments will play a creative, beneficent role in the speedy revitalization of the Iraqi economy and polity.

(23) It would seem to be wise for Iraq to establish centers to train other peoples of the Middle East in the processes of democracy that they themselves are now learning, enjoying, executing, and constantly improving upon. The greater the number of democracies that come into being in Iraq’s part of the world, the more Iraq’s own success as a democracy will be assured. Democracy is nourished by having democratic neighbors. So is peace. And so is prosperity.

(24) Finally–and this is less a part of the American plan than a part of our profoundest hopes–Iraq must establish the clearest model of religious liberty, coupled with religious vitality, of any nation in the Muslim world. Its liberty will allow peace to flourish, and its religious vitality will disprove the fears of those Muslims who think that liberty inevitably undermines religion. Perhaps it is only because we are Americans that we see so vividly that, as Tocqueville long ago pointed out, religion and liberty go together, nourish each other, and help each other to flourish in ways that neither of them alone has ever achieved.

Those are the 24 points of the plan. Some 15 of them have already been achieved. Yet if anyone had predicted in February 2003 that, by October, even the first twelve of them would be accomplished, he would have been accused of cockeyed optimism.

Work on the last nine phases of the plan is already well begun. But the road will be a long one still. The murderers who have already cost Iraq many hundreds of thousands of lives will no doubt continue to feast on the blood of their countrymen until to the last man they are hunted down and finally brought to Justice. That day cannot come soon enough.

Embedded in the president’s plan, to be sure, were several mistakes, perfectly clear in retrospect.

(A) Where was the plan to maintain personal security for Iraqi citizens and their property when the chief source of law and order (under the tyranny of Saddam Hussein) was removed from power?

(B) Where was the plan to send American military units to ammunition dumps all over the country to prevent the regime’s bitter-enders from arming themselves to the teeth?

(C) Where was the plan to send trained units to all the major ammunition dumps, in the middle of which Saddam was known to hide containers of biological and chemical weapons?

(D) Where were the units designated to seal the borders, with Syria especially, to prevent the influx of terrorists from other countries?

(E) Where was the plan to bring a few thousand military police, specially trained for the “pacification” phase of the operation?

(F) Why has the State Department still not put into operation, here in late October, a joint Iraqi-American television network giving the people of Iraq and the region an independent point of view that fairly presents what the Coalition has set out to do?

Those who have wanted to see the president’s plan now have a sense of what it might look like, warts and all. At this stage, it does no harm to reveal those features. We have a few measures held in reserve, in case of emergencies.

In short, it wasn’t a perfect plan, but it was hugely ambitious, and most of it has been achieved far faster than any prudent planner could have hoped.

Michael Novak was a Catholic philosopher, journalist, novelist, and diplomat.

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