April 8, 2003
Up the Pieces
the 24/7 triumphalism on the cable news channels, the war isn't
over yet, although it's difficult to see an outcome other than eventual
U.S. and British supremacy, at least for now. The U.S. decision
to send convoys of tanks and Bradley vehicles into the heart of
Baghdad was a bold stroke, but it didn't necessarily establish coalition
dominance of the city.
The move was made possible because of the speed
and power of the vehicles; moving at 30 mph or more they can make
difficult targets, especially without precision munitions. But they
moved down broad avenues where the convoy could have simply continued
around a tank that had become stopped or disabled. If fighting has
to be done on narrower streets such vehicles will not have such
an advantage and they might even become something of a liability.
Furthermore, the targets they chose to seize or
destroy were more symbolic than strategic, and some aspects could
lead to blowback later. It is certainly understandable that some
American GIs would get a kick out of lolling around one of Saddam
Hussein's palaces and even taking a first shower in a month in one
of the bathrooms with gold fixtures. But to many Arab eyes it could
look like revelry and an in-your-face bullying attitude. Tearing
down statues of Saddam (as the cheerleaders in the media wanted
more of) might have some psychological warfare value, but it doesn't
disrupt communications or root anybody out of a bunker.
shall see soon enough, but it seems likely that more fighting over
Baghdad is to come, and it might become difficult to tell whether
the capital city has actually been effectively captured. One can
understand the U.S. military's desire not to get involved in house-to-house
urban warfare or a long-term siege of Baghdad whose effectiveness
would eventually depend on depriving civilians of food and water.
From the perspective of one who would like to see it over with as
little destruction as possible on both sides, one may hope the bold
feints by tank columns speed the end of Saddam Hussein's regime.
But (as U.S. military commanders have to their credit warned) a
fair amount of tought fighting could still lie ahead.
There is also still the question of those long supply
lines from Kuwait that could could still be vulnerable to attack.
I read a dispatch from a Russian newspaper that talked about the
U.S. strategy of simply going around cities where Iraqi resistance
might be strong. While some have likened it to Douglas MacArthur's
"island-hopping" strategy in World War II that left Japanese
garrisons on some islands with nobody to fight, the difference is
that the Iraqi troops in southern Iraq are not constrained by deep
coalition air superiority they can't move with impunity, of course,
but they can move and harass coalition supply lines guerrilla-style.
Whether they will continue to do so if command and control from
Baghdad is effectively destroyed or more symbolic bad guys like
"Chemical Ali" are killed is an open question, but they
have already offered more resistance than the most optimistic planners
had expected. The situation in the north is not yet quite resolved.
There seems to be little question that the United States and Britain
will prevail militarily, but it could yet be more difficult than
most observers had expected.
Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair met yesterday in Belfast,
Northern Ireland. The meeting and its location were in many ways
emblematic of the difficulties and complexities both leaders face.
This was apparently something of an emergency meeting, held for
the most part at Tony Blair's behest and designed to bolster his
domestic political position.
of the most vexing ongoing problems facing Great Britain, of course,
is precisely Northern Ireland. This is the fifth anniversary of
the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 that was supposed to bring self-government
and a semblance of mutual understanding to Northern Ireland.
But the power-sharing assembly that was the centerpiece
of the plan was suspended in October, and while violence has declined
distrust over the role of the Irish Republican Army persists. By
holding the "summit" in Belfast, with the hint if not
quite the promise of a more active American role (although it's
difficult to see just what the United States actually accomplished
when former President Clinton would occasionally arouse himself
and toddle off to Ireland), Mr. Blair hoped to get the "peace
process" off dead center. But it hasn't been easy and no satisfatory
end is yet in sight. And this is five years after a peace agreement
following almost 30 years of hot-and-cold civil war or insurrection,
following centuries of Irish-British distrust. All this in a developed
country with a long tradition of civil society and some experience
If peace and democracy are so hard in a part of
the world with a tradition of civil society, how much more difficult
will it be in Iraq? To be sure, Iraq (or the various political entities
that make up the artificial country the British created after World
War I) has had something resembling a civil society at various times
in its long history. But it has never seen a semblance of democracy
and the evidence on whether the people really wants it is not necessarily
Mr. Blair, who faces an electorate considerably
more skeptical of this war than most Americans have been, now faces
pressure to bring President Bush – that "cowboy" American
in so many British and European eyes – back into the embrace of
the "international community." He is said to be arguing
for a pre-eminent role for the United Nations in rebuilding Iraq
– and for the U.S. to make haste to implement the vague "road
map" for Israeli-Palestinian peace both leaders touted a couple
of weeks ago. That way he can tell the Brits that joining the war
was worth it, since it allowed sensible Britons to guide the powerful
but sometimes unruly colonials across the pond.
THE VICTORS ... DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVES
W. Bush, at the head of a genuinely awesome military complex (though
the "shock and awe" campaign apparently did neither),
can in fact take almost any course he chooses. But he is pulled
in several directions. He is said to be willing to let the UN help
out in the humanitarian aid department, but to be skeptical, perhaps
rightly so, about its political or nation-building abilities. But
the evidence is that the United States war and peace planners have
not really thought through what comes next – and the planning will
be done in the context of a U.S. government deeply divided on the
issue, although they've done their best to paper over the differences
Bush's apparent inclination (at least as outlined
by Asst. Sec. of Defense Paul Wolfowitz) is to put the U.S. military
in charge for six months and turn the country over to whichever
Iraqi political leaders emerge (or are anointed). That seems to
be the preferred Pentagon plan. The Pentagon also seems to want
to put the exile Iraqi National Congress and its front man, Ahmad
Chalabi, in charge of a provisional Iraqi government rather quickly.
But the State Department has never been enamored of Chalabi and
the I.N.C., and Bush doesn't seem to have signed on to that idea
talked to Ivan Eland, head of the Center
on Peace and Liberty at the Independent Institute in Oakland,
California, and he said the decision to put together a civilian
administration (headed by a former General, Jay M. Garner) to run
Iraq directly is almost breathtaking to him. It's the move most
calculated to stur up resentment in the Arab world and encourage
more acts of terrorism against the United States. "In the old
days analysts would have called that direct imperial rule,"
he told me, but polite people in the United States don't speak of
empire. But the decision in a sense might have been forced on the
administration by the fact that so far no remotely credible opposition
figure has emerged (as was Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan, remember
him?) to head a post-Daddam regime.
Meantime, of course, influential forces in and out
of the administration are doubtless urging Bush to have the U.S.
stay a long time and begin planning now for confrontations with
Iran, Syria and perhaps eventually Saudi Arabia, as part of a more
ambitious plan to remake the Middle East. Others will urge him to
declare victory, bless the forms of democracy and get out of day-to-day
running things as quickly as possible. Still others will use the
occasion to call for a reassessment of the doctrine of preemptive
military action, while others will say it is time to give North
Korea a whiff of American military prowess.
Whoever tries to transform postwar Iraq must cope
with the problem – as outlined in a recent piece by Hoover Institution
senior fellows Russell Berman, Stephen Haber and Barry Weingast
– that democratic systems historically have arisen from a culture
that emphasizes literacy and individualism, political institutions
that involve checks and balances and peaceful acceptance of election
results, and economic institutions that support markets. Genuinely
free and democratic countries are built from the bottom up rather
than being imposed from the top down.
these circumstances the kind of becoming modesty that the president
commended during the election campaign would be welcome. The U.S.
military has won, Mr. Bush could say, and Saddam Hussein's regime
is on the way out. The U.S. cannot and should not dictate the political
future for Iraq. We should keep the occupation short, give Iraq
back to the Iraqis, and accept the quite real possibility that the
result might be less then perfect from our perspective, but democracy
is inherently messy.
It might just be that public opinion, even in the
United States, may be more ready to hear such arguments than we
yet suspect. Sure, the war has been fascinating to watch and the
media have in general enjoyed the experience immensely so far. But
we have lost some journalists along the way, and it hasn't been
Perhaps we can build on the fact that the administration
and so many in the media demonized Saddam Hussein so effectively
as a uniquely cruel, ambitious and dangerous dictator. Having taken
out this uniquely nasty guy, the argument could go, it's time to
pull in our horns and reassess our strategy and our position in
the world. Saddam was a special case, but the United States doesn't
have to – and shouldn't – go around preemptively invading any country
where a nasty dictator rules. (It is even possible that the military
will quietly deliver this message to civilian leaders).
is also possible there will be something of a backlash against the
war in weeks and months to come. The London Telegraph ran
a story last week by Oliver Poole (reprinted
in the Washington Times) that quoted U.S. troops as
being "stunned by the number of enemy forces they had killed."
"I hope we don't experience anything like this
again," said a seargeant who gave only one name. "It is
like [the 1991 Persian Gulf war]. When I see that many bodies, I
just don't want to be here anymore." Another sergeant said,
"You could have sent two men in to kill Saddam Hussein. Why
did we have to kill so many people? There were so many deaths today."
The International Committee of the Red Cross, meanwhile,
says the number of casualties in Baghdad is so high that hospitals
have stopped counting the number of epople treated. U.S. Central
Command estimates that between 2,000 and 3,000 Iraqi fighters were
killed on Saturday, and typically the number of wounded is several
times the number killed. And not all of those wounded in Baghdad
have been or will be military personnel.
the cause of such carnage might not cause many twinges or second
thoughts in the editorial offices of the Weekly Standard.
But the American military personnel who have had to commit the carnage
directly might have second thought sooner, and in time many of the
American people might join them.
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