Jewish World Review May 6, 2004 / 15 Iyar 5764
Iraq through a rearview mirror
Slowly, painfully slowly, after a long and increasingly bloody year, a hard truth dawns on American policymakers:
A New and Democratic Iraq cannot be created simply by repeating that phrase. There can be no new Iraq unless it is rooted in the old, or it will be swept away by the first wind out of the desert.
To quote some wisdom out of the East: Where there is no vision, the people perish. Democracy may be a grand vision, but where there is no appreciation of the realities, it is vision that perishes. And nowhere can visions be more dangerous and deluding than in the desert, where wishes may create cruel mirages. Especially to foreign eyes.
Looking at Iraq a year after the formal war ended while the informal, decisive one continues, there is no listing all the multiple mistakes made there, but some stand out like a mountain range, casting long shadows:
- It becomes clearer as the Rumsfeldian mirages are dispelled that the old Iraqi army should not have been disbanded but reformed under leaders capable of being rehabilitated.
By dissolving the Iraqi army, the occupying authorities in one brilliant stroke assured high unemployment, created a critical mass of injured pride and deep resentment in the Iraqi population, and loosed bands of well-armed freebooters to roam the country - much like the German Freikorps that bedeviled the Weimar Republic after the collapse of the Kaiser's empire at the end of the First World War in 1918.
- Order should have been more strictly imposed - instead of violence being tolerated in the name of freedom. Our own General Shinfeki had warned that it might take some 200,000 American troops to occupy Iraq. At the time he may have seemed alarmist to the civilians running the Pentagon like any other high-tech, low-manpower, outsourcing corporation; now he seems prophetic.
- Established religious leaders should have been given greater sway, imported secular ones held in check. Democracy should have been given room to develop in accordance with the culture, not pitted against its Islamic basis.
Next to these massive misjudgments, American successes may not be the stuff of headlines, but they are just as real and impressive - from a remarkably successful three-week military campaign a year ago to the peace and progress that generally reigns in Kurdish territory. Freedom of the press, individual rights, the liberation of Iraqi women . . . all are signal contributions to this new-old Iraq.
But it is the mistakes that stand out in hindsight (they always do) and are brought home with every casualty report. Yet in hindsight it also becomes clearer that the greatest mistake of all would have been to allow Saddam Hussein to stay in power, and to think/hope we could somehow contain his mad plans without a showdown at some point. The sooner it came, the better for America and the world.
The various weapons programs that David Kay found in Iraq after the formal war there had been concluded, even if they had not yet produced weapons, needed to be stopped while they were still programs, not assembly lines. As George W. Bush observed soon after September 11th, time was not on our side.
As for John Kerry, he has not yet made the mother of all mistakes; he still gives at least lip service to staying the course in Iraq, though it is clear he also hopes to appeal to the isolationist impulse at the core of the American psyche.
The senator who would be president has his own litany of empty phrases that on examination will not stand up any better than the superficial talk of a New and Democratic Iraq: He speaks loosely of recruiting NATO to supplant American forces, by which he means France and Germany - the same powers that frustrated any real attempt to confront Saddam Hussein in the first place.
Senator Kerry speaks just as loosely about relying on the United Nations, the same outfit that originated the oil-for-palaces program that enriched not just Saddam Hussein but the U.N. itself - and maybe some high-ranking U.N. officials personally. (The investigation is only starting, and may still get sidetracked.)
Both NATO and the U.N. may provide useful diplomatic cover, but, please, let us not replace old delusions with new ones. Peace and freedom depend, as they have for the better part of a century now, on the power and perseverance of America, and the steadfastness of American public opinion. Make no mistake: If our national unity goes, so will American security. Among all the new lessons to be learned, an old one needs to be kept in mind: Divided we fall.
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