March 12, 2003

POSTWAR BLUES
That's when it gets ugly

They're already awarding contracts for the "reconstruction" of Iraq. But who will reconstruct our old republic, once it morphs into an empire?

As they test weapons of mass destruction in the midst of one of the most populated states in the union, flexing their muscles and bellowing belligerence, the War Party exudes confidence. The ideologues pushing us into war believe they can not only "win" the war militarily, but also "win the peace" by rebuilding a devastated Iraqi economy, keeping the Iraqi state from flying apart into at least three separate pieces, and instilling the Jeffersonian ethos in a people whose role models run more along the lines of mad King Nebuchanezzar. Not even the Communists had such faith in the power of social engineering.

Once the Ba'athist regime is shattered, however, it's going to take more than multi-billions in U.S. tax dollars and all the cement the Halliburton Company can pour to put the Iraqi Humpty-Dumpty back together again.

Are we supposed to be shocked shocked! that Vice President Dick Cheney's old corporate digs, Halliburton, is making a strong bid for the $900 million pot of gold at the end of this particular rainbow? Puh-leeze. They've already grabbed the fire-fighting franchise and that's one likely to have an immediate pay-off from Day One of the war. You'll remember that Cheney, upon assuming office, made a big ol' fuss about having to give up his Halliburton stock. Now we know why.

Some will profit from the consequences of this war, and the leadership of the War Party is nothing if not shameless in the pursuit of filthy lucre. As Seymour Hersh shows in his most recent New Yorker piece, Richard Perle, the Rasputin of the War Party, is doing for "Trireme Partners" – a shadowy Delaware-based consortium what Cheney has done for Halliburton. But those who believe that cash is what motivates the War Party are mistaking the appetizers for the main course.

It is only natural that the Boy Emperor and his courtiers should be clothed in gold and jewels; austerity is one of those stern republican virtues that will fade as we enter the Imperial Era. Their motivation isn't money, but power. Not only the power to re-order the Middle East, but to set America on a far different course than the one envisioned by the Founders. Their ultimate goal is to so change the political culture that the Jeffersonian distrust of government and foreign intervention is burned out of the American soul. In its place, they would install the soul of a conqueror, albeit a supposedly benevolent one.

The American revolutionaries who defied a British King saw the New World as the New Jerusalem: a promised land that provided sanctuary from Europe's endless perils. The neoconservative Jacobins who envision the U.S. "democratizing" the Middle East at gunpoint see America as the New Rome. As we go off on our great civilizing mission, whole generations of Americans will grow up whose source of income, familial traditions, and political outlook is shaped by this messianic vision of world "liberation."

The big boys take their profits early on, but they are bound to be superceded by the profiteers of moral and material uplift: the administrators, the corporate adjuncts, the service-providers and the charitable and humanitarian organizations, the camp followers of America's conquering armies. The rise of empire necessitates the rise of a bureaucratic caste that specializes in picking up the pieces after a victorious war and "re-educating" the survivors. If all goes well with the imperial project, this group, ever-growing in numbers and resources, is destined to become a powerful political force, ceaselessly agitating for an aggressive expansionism.

But what if this first experiment in empire-building fails, as there is every indication that it must? In that case, the American people will draw back, like a child who's burned his hand on a hot stove. We are newcomers to this business, after all, with none of the finesse of the British and hardly any of the old Roman virtues that, at any rate, had vanished long before the era of Nero and Caligula. In Iraq, a make-believe "nation" – created, at the end of World War I, by the British Foreign Office we face an impossible task: to rebuild what never really existed, using elements that, when mixed, are bound to become volatile and blow up in our faces.

As an indication of just what we are letting ourselves in for, take this recent Washington Times story headlined "Kurds Attack Islamist Allies." Oh, I get it: our Kurdish friends went after those pro-Bin Laden guerrillas the administration insists are tools of Saddam Hussein, operating freely in Northern Iraq. Well, uh, not exactly:

"The jumble of secret alliances in northern Iraq turned tragic last week when Kurdish authorities gunned down a group of friendly Islamists in an attempt to protect Americans from terrorists affiliated with Osama bin Laden."

It turns out they got the wrong Islamists. The victims of this ambush were members of the Islamic Group of Kurdistan, which is on good terms with the Kurds. The point is that if not even the natives can tell friend from foe, how will the Americans be able to do it? The murky factional and clan rivalries that govern power relations in that part of the world are so complex that no outsider could possibly hope to penetrate their mysteries. Aside from the Kurds, split up into at least two major warring factions, we have the Shi'ites, the Sunnis, the Tikriti, the Chaldeans, and all sorts of tribal and religious sub-groups that have been fighting each other for centuries.

There are also the Iranians, embodied in the "Badr Brigade," who have arrived in northern Iraq as co-liberators" with the U.S., of course. The Asia Times reports:

"Some of the new arrivals say that they are there to help overthrow Saddam Hussein. Others among their ranks tell the press that they intend to support the Kurds in resisting the Turks if the northern neighbor attempts to cross the border. Both may be true. But these Shi'ite soldiers are certainly also there to establish a forceful presence in case of a power vacuum that could ensue during and after the war. Ostensibly, they would act on behalf of the 60 percent of Iraq's population that is Shi'ite, rather than Sunni."

The Brigade's political arm, known as the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, has its headquarters in Tehran, and is led by the Ayatollah Mohammed Bakr al-Hakim. Like the Americans, the Ayatollah wants to overthrow Saddam, but that is where the similarity of political goals ostensibly ends: "We do not know what the Americans will do in the future," growls al-Hakim. "If they themselves control the Iraqi government, there will be many problems and dangers." The Ayatollah who, with his band of armed Khomeini-ites, wants to set up an Iranian-style Islamic "republic," was invited to Washington so his group could be integrated into the official Iraqi "opposition":

"Ayatollah Mohammed Bakr al-Hakim of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) is one of six men invited to a meeting on August 9 or 16, co-hosted by US Under Secretary of State Marc Grossman and Under Secretary of Defense Douglas Feith. 'The purpose of the meeting is to discuss the next steps in coordinating our work with the Iraqi opposition,' State Department spokesman Frederick Jones said . . . 'Ayatollah Hakim has received an invitation to go to Washington on August 9 and is considering it,' an official at the SCIRI office in Tehran said."

The Christian Science Monitor warns that "the Shiites seem to fear an American occupation of their country nearly as much as they do Mr. Hussein's regime" a fear that could easily lead to a prolonged postwar conflict. This is the Pentagon's worst nightmare a factional free-for-all in postwar Iraq – and a major source of resistance to this war in the top echelons of the military. Quoting a number of officers, the Washington Post reports that the U.S. Army fears not Saddam, but the "impossible task" of policing Iraq:

"The U.S. Army is bracing both for war in Iraq and a postwar occupation that could tie up two to three Army divisions in an open-ended mission that would strain the all-volunteer force and put soldiers in the midst of warring ethnic and religious factions, Army officers and other senior defense officials say."

While the official estimate of the occupation force is usually put at around 50,000, retired Army Maj. Gen. William L. Nash who commanded the first Army peacekeeping operation in the Balkans says the number is more like 200,000.

Caught in the crossfire between Kurds and Turks, Shi'ites and Sunnis, Iranians, Islamists (friendly and unfriendly), and half a dozen irredentists of one sort or another, American GIs will be sitting ducks stuck in an open-ended commitment. This isn't any ordinary quagmire: it's a hellish sand-pit filled with scorpions and rattlesnakes of all shapes and sizes, one that we will scramble out of, and fast, if this administration has any sense.

But once we're in, the logic of intervention can only lead to a far deeper entanglement than anyone ever imagined. With this administration's self-avowed view that Iraq can be turned into a model democracy, the Athens of the Middle East, it doesn't look like we'll be leaving anytime soon. Unless, of course, we're forced out a long, torturous, Vietnam-like process.

The likelihood that it will all end in disaster looms large in the collective imagination of the Pentagon. They, naturally, will take the blame – never the politicians and the civilian leadership! when the imperial project fails. As the vast experiment in social engineering undertaken by this administration proves, once again, the impossibility of central planning under neo-imperialism, as well as under socialism it is those good soldiers charged with implementing this neoconservative pipe-dream who will be demoted and denigrated as unworthy of such a sacred task.

Is the United States prepared to fight a long-term guerrilla war against various Iraq factions, policing the country not only internally but also guarding its borders against would-be intruders, like our NATO ally Turkey, or a nuclearized Iran? The Bush administration refuses to estimate the length of our stay, or its costs, and isn't even budgeting for it. The American people are being sold a "war of liberation" that is going to liberate the money right out of their wallets, conscript their children in the service of the Empire, and destroy the last remnants of constitutional government.

It is a high price to pay for "victory" so high that patriots might almost be forgiven if they pine for defeat.

– Justin Raimondo

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Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of Antiwar.com. He is also the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement (with an Introduction by Patrick J. Buchanan), (1993), and Into the Bosnian Quagmire: The Case Against U.S. Intervention in the Balkans (1996). He is an Adjunct Scholar with the Ludwig von Mises Institute, in Auburn, Alabama, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Libertarian Studies, and writes frequently for Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard.

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