by Austin Bay
April 17, 2002
Baghad, the morning after. The morning after the toppling ofSaddam.
What does it look like?
Sure, there's the TV feed. Shattered palaces, crateredairfields, perhaps a rubble-strewn baby-milk factory/bio-weapons plant, withGeraldo poking the debris.
But what about the political picture the morning after? With thehard shadow of Saddam and his Tikriti clique removed from power in Baghdad,what emerges in Iraq -- what else shows up in a post-Saddam snapshot of theMiddle East?
Of course, we heard this question posed 11 years ago, as Iraqitroops smashed the post-Desert Storm Shia rebellion in Iraq's south andbattled Kurds up north. The U.N. did not sanction a coalition-attack totopple the Iraqi government, at least if Saddam agreed to live with a seriesof tough restrictions. Even in the bloody chaos of March and April 1991, theU.S.-led forces kept that mandate to the letter.
The "morning after" question continues to stymie U.S. andregional diplomacy.
Indeed, the means of Saddam's demise fundamentally impact thepost-Saddam Middle East. This is why the United States (and Iraq'sneighbors) hoped for and encouraged the "nine millimeter ballot" -- asilver-bullet coup d'etat engineered by the Iraqi Army or dissidents in theRepublican Guard or Kurdish dissidents or, frankly, any Iraqi national withthe brass, means and opportunity. In 1992, a well-placed observer of theMiddle East told me, rather bitterly: "That's unfortunately a traditionalmeans of governmental change in our region. An assassination and coup withthe former head of state pulled away by his heels. That resolution of theSaddam problem will be accepted (by Iraq's neighbors)."
Though the rumor-mill and occasional defectors mention plots,Saddam's security network has repeatedly crushed internal opposition.
In the aftermath of Sept. 11, the Bush administration hasdecided Saddam's terror-facilitating, weapons-of-mass-destruction-seekingregime must go. Besides, Saddam has violated the agreements that endedDesert Storm.
What are Washington's options? CIA finagling to remove an outlawregime has a dismal track record. Clinton's air-only campaigns rattled butdidn't drop Saddam. While the Kurds offer a "force on the ground" vaguelysimilar to the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, it is just that -- vaguelysimilar. Smashing Saddam appears to require the hammer of a U.S. armoredcorps, striking from Kuwait, supported by air strikes and -- perhaps --Turkish forces driving south.
But consider this brave new Baghdad from Iran's point of view.Make no mistake, Iranians regard Saddam as the devil. The Iran-Iraq War,that World War I redux instigated by Saddam, deeply scars Iranian psyches.Tehran wants Saddam gone yesterday. Iranians, however, also fear whatfollows. There are already 7,000 American troops in Afghanistan, on Iran'seastern border. Now there are two hundred thousand or so to the west. Howwould the United States respond to an Iranian heavy corps trouncing anoxious regime in Canada?
Then there's what's been described, not quite fairly, as "theSaudi concern." Does removing one autocratic regime, albeit one of theearth's most vicious, open the door to removing others? The Bushadministration has suggested that a democratic Iraq would politicallyreshape the region. There are regional autocrats that fear that result morethan they fear Saddam's Scuds.
And what are the odds on a democratic Iraq? Iraqi Kurds havesignaled they are interested in a "federal" Iraq, but that's viewed in somesectors as a step toward partition. Partition of Iraq is regarded, by many,as a euphemism for fragmentation -- a Mesopotamian chaos. The morning after,Iraq remains. But the year after, a partitioned Iraq might see a new Shianation in the south, a remnant Iraq around Baghdad and a Kurdistan to thenorth. Turkey, however, won't allow an independent Kurdistan.
The Israeli-Palestinian fiasco adds another acid. In oneGotterdammerung scenario, a toppling Saddam launches a chemical attack onIsrael. Let's say he misses Tel Aviv and the warhead kills thousands ofPalestinians in Nablus. The conspiracy theories generated by that evil actwould take three lifetimes to untangle.
Sure, Saddam's regime must go. But before that happens, U.S.strategists must have a clear picture of the political morning after -- andthe time to frame it is many moons before.