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 apresSaddam had to be scoped out before the tanks roll. For that matter, theUnited States had better have governing policies, implementing proceduresand Iraqi political personalities in line before an anti-Saddam coup d'etat.

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

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

Now the Beltway's "day after" policy debate has gone public. Theoptions discussed aren't new, but this time the Tinkertoys are out of thebox, with sticks and spokes being readied. The call-up of U.S. militarycivil affairs specialists -- the guys and gals who build governments afterthe 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, thetruth 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 Iraqiopposition is riddled with frauds and hucksters, jokers who are useful in awar (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 theappropriate moment.

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

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

Possible paths to the maximum payoff entail:

  • Establishing an Iraqi "national council-in-exile," a broadcoalition that affirms the territorial integrity of post-Saddam Iraq. Theidea isn't to create a provosional Iraqi government, but to provide an Iraqiforum for debating how to build a new one. Critics that say this tacticwould give certain exile groups a head start have a point. However, rebelIraqi Army generals, with guns on the ground, also have a "start." So doKurds 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 keyto Iraqi liberation. Saddam burned Kuwait, and would try to do the same toKarbala and Kurdistan.

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

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

The military government must remain in control long enough forthe vast majority of Iraqis get a taste for life without fear. Iraq has noIslamist roots. Baghdad understands business. Shared oil profits will stymieseparatists -- money has a way of making the intractable tractable. Yes,Shias hold a major and deserved grudge against Iraq's Sunnis, and that's thebitter ground Truth Commissions must sweep.

Who pays the bills? Iraq has oil, but in the short haul that'snot enough. The Marshall Plan was smart money and a smart weapon. Ifsmashing thug regimes and Islamist socio-paths requires cashing checks, thenby damn we do it.

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To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.


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