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May 25, 2004

Neocons Go Macho on Iraq

by Jim Lobe

Despite a tidal wave of bad news from the Iraq occupation they did so much to promote, neoconservatives are calling for U.S. President George W. Bush to pursue a military solution against resistance fighters there.

"Crush the Insurgents in Iraq," screamed a column in Sunday's Washington Post by prominent New York politician-banker Lewis Lehrman and Bill Kristol, the editor of The Weekly Standard, the magazine that comes closest to defining orthodoxy among neoconservatives.

"The immediate task is ... the destruction of the armies and militias of the insurgency – not taking and holding territory, not winning the hearts and minds of Iraqis, not conciliating opponents and critics, not gaining the approval of other nations," the two men wrote. "All of these can follow after victory over the violent insurrection."

The advice clearly goes against the general drift of U.S. policy since last month's politically disastrous siege of Fallujah and the outbreak of the Sadr rebellion in Baghdad and the predominantly Shi'ite southern part of the country.

Even the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard Myers, who has been widely criticized by the other military brass for being too deferential to Rumsfeld and his neocon aides, insisted last week, "we can't win with the military alone." Victory will require efforts on "the political and the economic fronts as well," he added.

What with reports from more than one U.S. intelligence agency that Ahmed Chalabi, a prominent Iraqi exile who championed the U.S.-led attack on Iraq in 2003 and has been touted by the neocons as Iraq's "George Washington" for much of the past decade, has been doing the bidding of who neocons call the "the terror masters" in Tehran, and the fact that virtually all of their pre-war predictions about the occupation have turned out to have been wishful thinking, one might think that Kristol and company would be inclined to reflect, at least a little, before ranting.

But one would be wrong.

It has become an article of faith among neoconservatives that, as one of their number – syndicated columnist Mona Charen – recently put it, "the question of the moment is not whether we've done enough good, but whether we've been tough enough."

Neocons have been calling for months for their erstwhile ally, Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld, to send in tens of thousands more troops to bolster the occupation, if only to persuade the "Ba'athist dead-enders," the "Islamo-fascists," and "foreign fighters" that resistance is futile against overwhelming U.S. power.

(Ba'athists are members of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath Party.)

If all of Iraq – particularly the infamous "Sunni Triangle" – had been subject to the "shock and awe" of Washington's military might, in neo-cons' view, the Fallujah siege, which began April 2 after U.S. officials vowed to capture those responsible for the killing and mutilation of four U.S. civilian guards and "pacify" the city, would never have happened.

"We expect a strong – even 'overwhelming' – military response," Kristol wrote at the time. And indeed, that's what seemed to be underway as tanks and helicopter gun ships blasted away at suspected targets, killing at least 700 Iraqis, including many women and children – much of it broadcast live on Arab television, evoking fury throughout the Arab world and even among Iraq's majority Muslim Shi'ite population.

Commanders on the ground knew it was a disaster and, with White House backing, eventually agreed to lift the siege and permit a former Revolutionary Guard general, who had been cashiered under Chalabi's "de-Ba'athization" program, to organize a local security force that includes other ex-Ba'athists but which so far has also kept the peace.

Denounced as "appeasement" by the neocons, that agreement is now seen by the uniformed military, as well as the realists in the State Department, the intelligence agencies and the British Foreign Office – who have always considered the neocons' dreams of "transforming" Iraq into a democratic, pro-Western, pro-Israel state fanciful – as the model for dealing with other restive parts of the country, including the Shi'ite South.

But this infuriates the neocons who, despite their constant rhetoric about democracy and the importance of the "war of ideas," have always considered military force to be the only language their enemies can ever really understand, be they Iraqis, Arabs, Muslims, Soviets, Communists or even Sandinistas in Nicaragua.

Thus, shortly after the war in Afghanistan, neoconservative columnist Charles Krauthammer, exulted, "Power is its own reward. Victory changes everything, psychology above all. The psychology in the region is now one of fear and deep respect for American power."

On the eve of the Iraq war, the Wall Street Journal, whose editorial page is another important source of neoconservative thinking, warned, "before the U.S. can worry about rebuilding Iraq, it has to win militarily, and decisively so. As (Princeton University Orientalist) Bernard Lewis and other scholars have long noted, Arab cultures despise weakness in an adversary above all."

Now, more than 15 months later – with close to 90 percent of Iraqis, according to the latest survey, saying they consider U.S. troops to be "occupiers" rather than "liberators," Kristol and Lehrman insist that "decisive military victories in Iraq would be respected by Sunnis, Shi'ites and Kurds alike." Sadr's militia must be rendered powerless, they wrote, while "Fallujah must be conquered."

Precisely how Fallujah or other towns and cities are to be "conquered" without piling up horrendous civilian casualties that alienate people far beyond Iraq's borders is unclear. Kristol suggested last week that "any site where Americans are attacked will be regarded as a combat zone," a suggestion that curiously recalled what since 1982 has been cited by neoconservatives as "Hama Rules," although to make an entirely different point.

Much of Hama, a city in northern Syria, was levelled by Syrian government forces in order to put down a radical Islamist uprising in 1982. From 4,000 to 20,000 people were believed to have been killed in the assault. Since then, "Hama Rules," as used mainly by neoconservatives, has referred to the ruthlessness of Arab governments in repressing challenges to their rule.

As Charen wrote last month, "Iraq cannot be truly liberated until it has been transformed. And it cannot be transformed if the bad elements are not afraid of American soldiers. Those gleeful faces in Fallujah make the point: they think we are patsies."

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    Jim Lobe, works as Inter Press Service's correspondent in the Washington, D.C., bureau. He has followed the ups and downs of neo-conservatives since well before their rise in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

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