13 November 2003
Get Me Out Of Here! Now!
By Gwynne Dyer
Back in September, when French president Jacques Chirac urged a high-speed handover to power to Iraqis as the best way of clearing up the huge mess created by the illegal invasion of Iraq, US National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice was scathing. “The French plan, which would somehow transfer sovereignty to an unelected group of people, just isn’t workable,” she said. But that was two months and many American soldiers’ deaths ago.
Now it’s just what’s needed to get US troops out of the line of fire before Mr Bush faces American voters less than twelve months from now. The White House hasn’t figured out how yet, but in Mr Bush’s emergency talks on Wednesday with US occupation chief L. Paul Bremer, it was agreed that ‘Iraqisation’ will go into high gear. Legal control will be handed over promptly to a bunch of unelected but pro-American Iraqis, then they’ll hold an election sooner or later, and we’ll worry about a constitution much later.
But what might have worked two months ago will be a lot harder to pull off now. With the US obviously desperate to find an exit, why should Iraqis accept the rule of somebody like the Pentagon’s protege Ahmed Chalabi, a convicted embezzler with a 22-year jail sentence awaiting him in Jordan who has spent practically his whole life abroad? And even if Washington were willing to give control of the transition to the United Nations (which it still isn’t), what countries would send troops to Iraq to replace American soldiers, even under UN auspices, after what happened to the Italian troops in Nasiriyah?
The Bush administration can hand over ‘power’ in Iraq to anyone it likes, but the armed resistance won’t stop and the major local players will pay little attention. Already, their main preoccupation is manoeuvring for position in the scramble for power that would follow a US pull-out — a scramble that could easily end in a civil war. But what this means is that Iraqisation cannot get the Bush administration off the hook in time for the election.
The Bush administration is like a rat in a maze. It has no map of the maze — nobody in the administration seems to understand anything about the Arab world, or indeed about the world outside America in general — and if this new course doesn’t deliver it to an exit in a few months, it will set off down another avenue. That new course, alas, may well include another war.
Imagine the scenario four months from now: March, 2004. There is an Iraqi government of sorts, with ‘President’ Chalabi or some dignified nonentity at its head, but several of its ministers have already been killed by the resistance. There is an Iraqi police force and the beginnings of an army, but both are heavily infiltrated by the resistance and their training and morale are so poor that they need US military back-up whenever anything serious happens. And every day, something serious does happen: a roadside bomb, a suicide attack, mortar rounds hitting some American base.
The US is still losing several soldiers killed each day, but the Bush administration can’t pull the American troops out of Iraq unless it is willing to see its puppet government massacred and their bodies dragged through the streets of Baghdad on live television BEFORE the November election. A single, strong anti-war candidate has emerged from the Democratic pack — Howard Dean or Wesley Clark — and is leading Mr. Bush in the polls. What would the Bush administration do then?
Perhaps it would accept its impending defeat philosophically, but I think it would do absolutely anything to turn the situation around — and the obvious thing is to drop all the recent nonsense about bringing democracy to the Arab world and get back to the earler nonsense about Iraq being part of the ‘war on terrorism’.
That theme still has resonance with the American public, and it will have more if Islamist militants manage to blow anything up in the United States this winter. (They will certainly be trying very hard, for al-Qaeda’s leadership would do anything to get Bush re-elected.)
If Iraq is really part of the war on terrorism, and the resistance is really just coming from a combination of Saddam loyalists and ‘foreign terrorists’ (as most official American sources still insist), then obviously the solution is to stop the foreign terrorists from infiltrating into Iraq. Where do they come from? According to the same official American sources, they mostly come from Syria and Iran.
So how do we stop these famous foreign terrorists from destabilising Iraq? Well, we have to ‘root them out’ in their lairs in Syria and/or Iran. Since Iran is a big, mountainous country whose government has a lot of popular support, and Syria is a much smaller, mostly flat country with a deeply unpopular government, the choice makes itself. Besides, if the target is Syria, then Israel (at least under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s government) would be glad to help.
This is obviously crazy stuff — invading another country just to rally popular support during an election campaign — and its long-term consequences would be calamitous for the Middle East, the United States and the international rule of law. Unfortunately, that does not mean that it’s impossible. In fact, it’s getting likelier by the week.
To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 5 and 9. (“The Bush…war”; and “That theme…re-elected”)