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The meaning of victory in Iraq

11/12/2003

In the past two weeks, the most visible, high-profile events in Iraq have been the repeated attacks on U.S. facilities in Baghdad, near-simultaneous suicide bombings at the Red Crescent HQ and police stations around Baghdad, the loss of dozens of Coalition troops (about half of them in two U.S. helicopters), and fierce retaliation by the U.S. military. The situation doesn't look so good. But the most important developments in the Iraqi arena actually have been taking place in Washington.

Most significant has been the dawning of a recognition by the Administration that its larger strategy for the endgame, upon which the future of Iraq depends, predictably has failed. If there's nothing on the horizon to work towards, it scarcely matters that you can't get there. The United States now seems to have begun to back grudgingly into a strategy that it should have embraced fully months ago.

This past Sunday, Robin Wright and Rajiv Chandrasekaran wrote in the Washington Post,

Increasingly alarmed by the failure of Iraq's Governing Council to take decisive action, the Bush administration is developing possible alternatives to the council to ensure that the United States can turn over political power at the same time and pace that troops are withdrawn, according to senior U.S. officials here and in Baghdad.
Let's develop those possible alternatives a little faster, shall we? Sticking these folks in a room together to produce a constitution followed by a democratic government was never anything more than the political equivalent of cold fusion, a reaction without any catalyst. Improbable if not downright miraculous.

On Monday, Tom Bowman wrote in the Baltimore Sun,

Six months after U.S. officials disbanded the 400,000-soldier Iraqi army, there are growing calls to bring back large parts of it to help combat stubborn guerrilla resistance and relieve stretched American forces. "It's something that's very actively under discussion" and could be decided by the end of the month, said a State Department official who requested anonymity. "People are saying, 'Let's entertain the idea. How would you do it?'"
Can we entertain the idea a little faster? It never made any sense to try to rebuild Iraq's security from scratch, while keeping thousands of able-bodied men out of work and potentially adding some to the "enemy" column.

(And the latest word is that Paul Bremer has been recalled home to Washington for urgent consultations. Perhaps something other than CENTCOM control of Iraq accompanied by an under-resourced, OSD-run virtual figurehead operation is in the works.)

You can see where this is leading, can't you? The fact is, reliance on Iraq's Interim Governing Council and largely untrained security forces for a "soft landing" has always been a formula for chaos, civil war, or putsch shortly after the withdrawal of Coalition forces, maybe even before they're all out. Yes, it's distasteful. And the same President Bush who just uttered a clarion call for democracy in the Middle East (or rather, a sort of gradual liberalization and progress towards democracy, since he called on a pack of dictators to implement it) will never call it by its name. But what Iraq needs soon, and more than anything else, is not an unattainable instant democracy (just add U.S. Army and stir!). It's a stable government backed by reliable security forces. If you must call a spade a spade, call it a dictatorship. If it doesn't arbitrarily abuse its citizens and it has a free press, it will already be the most liberal regime in the Arab world, and something to build on. As the South Koreans could tell you, it is possible to build on such things. Certainly, building on a base of stability over the years and decades is easier to imagine than an overnight metamorphosis from today's wounded and splintered Iraq to some enlightened republic.

It may not be easy to accept such a view. Certainly, it isn't easy for this administration to accept it. They know that for all its agonies, democracy remains what the unfree world aspires to at the end of the day. But there's a lesson hiding somewhere in the blood and tears, and it's not that we aren't bombing the insurgents in the right way, or failing to collect the right intelligence, or what have you. America in particular is a shining beacon to those denied freedom and self-government. But shining beacons work best when shining and beckoning, that is, exerting powerful influence and leading by example. They can also be expected to defend themselves, their friends, and their allies, but they aren't supposed to tromp all over your country in Army boots, if it's at all avoidable. In Iraq, it was eminently avoidable. And it turns out that it's tough to beckon while tromping.

Let's hope that America is able to leave Iraq in one piece and can soon return to inspiring the denizens of the unfree world towards better things.

Analyst

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000108.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

by Analyst @ 07:19 AM CST [Link]

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