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On Point

Baghdad the Day After: Revisited

by Austin Bay
October 15, 2002

Seven months ago, I wrote a column with the working title "Baghdad the Day After."

The essay argued that the political landscape of Baghdad apres Saddam had to be scoped out before the tanks roll. For that matter, the United States had better have governing policies, implementing procedures and Iraqi political personalities in line before an anti-Saddam coup d'etat.

Removing the Butcher of Baghdad is a noble goal. Political blundering after Saddam's dispatch, however, would make Washington the Botcher of Baghdad -- an improvement over current conditions but the seed of unnecessary future suffering.

The Bush White House, the State Department, the Pentagon and the cost-plus shadow government of Beltway defense consultants have been hashing and re-hashing U.S. and Iraqi governing options post-Saddam. Frankly, the hash marks start in the fall of 1990. The Clinton administration's episodic affairs with Iraqi opposition figures and its 1996 "intelligence finding" authorizing support for an anti-Saddam movement were part of this search for fruitful, stable alternatives.

Now the Beltway's "day after" policy debate has gone public. The options discussed aren't new, but this time the Tinkertoys are out of the box, with sticks and spokes being readied. The call-up of U.S. military civil affairs specialists -- the guys and gals who build governments after the guns fall silent -- shows the Baghdad project is well underway.

While Beltway gossips insist State Department "war doves" disdain Iraqi opposition groups, while Pentagon "war hawks" love them, the truth is more complex. The Pentagon's foreign policy job is to break things. State's job is to manipulate and maintain or restrain things. The Iraqi opposition is riddled with frauds and hucksters, jokers who are useful in a war (Pentagon focus) but fatal to long-term stability (State's bailiwick). State is sifting for leadership gems in the opposition, and they exist. Smart diplomats don't tip their hands or drip their leaks until the appropriate moment.

How best to handle the dicey transition from breaking an enemy to creating the political and economic conditions that in the long haul produce a stable U.S. ally?

That's the un-botched Baghdad -- a stable ally. It's a tough but achievable goal, with enormous payoffs for 21st century peace.

Possible paths to the maximum payoff entail:



  • Establishing an Iraqi "national council-in-exile," a broad coalition that affirms the territorial integrity of post-Saddam Iraq. The idea isn't to create a provosional Iraqi government, but to provide an Iraqi forum for debating how to build a new one. Critics that say this tactic would give certain exile groups a head start have a point. However, rebel Iraqi Army generals, with guns on the ground, also have a "start." So do Kurds residing near oilfields. A national council, a not-quite-government, becomes a platform for negotiating before, rather than after, power-grabs.

  • Rapidly locating and eliminating weapons of mass destruction.

  • Rapidly securing religious sites and oilfields. This is key to Iraqi liberation. Saddam burned Kuwait, and would try to do the same to Karbala and Kurdistan.

  • Emplacing a U.S. military government in charge of liberated Iraqi territory, one backed by overwhelming military force as well as overwhelming humanitarian aid. This limits anarchy and squelches would-be warlords. The oilfields must be occupied and brought on line. Oil sales are essential to economic stability. The post-WWII allied administration of Trieste may be a better model than Japan, since Trieste required accommodating cultural and religious differences.

  • Quick arrest and prosecution of war criminals. De-Baathizing Iraq will produce a real renaissance.

The military government must remain in control long enough for the vast majority of Iraqis get a taste for life without fear. Iraq has no Islamist roots. Baghdad understands business. Shared oil profits will stymie separatists -- money has a way of making the intractable tractable. Yes, Shias hold a major and deserved grudge against Iraq's Sunnis, and that's the bitter ground Truth Commissions must sweep.

Who pays the bills? Iraq has oil, but in the short haul that's not enough. The Marshall Plan was smart money and a smart weapon. If smashing thug regimes and Islamist socio-paths requires cashing checks, then by damn we do it.

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