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
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.