Fools Rush In ...

With the American invasion of Iraq apparently weeks away, the Bush administration is just now turning its attention to the problems that will result. As the New York Times reported on Feb. 17, "Senior Bush administration officials are for the first time openly discussing a subject they have sidestepped during the build up of forces around Iraq: what could go wrong, and not only during an attack but also in the aftermath of an invasion."

Better late than never, I suppose.

Among the questions that the administration can’t answer is how long the operation will take. "Three days, three weeks, three months, three years," one senior planner wonders. "We still do not know how U.S. forces will be received," another senior official admits. "Will it be cheers, jeers or shots? And the fact is, we won’t know till we get there."

In 1992, Colin Powell, writing in Foreign Affairs, wrote: "When a 'fire' starts that might require committing armed forces, we need to evaluate the circumstances. Relevant questions include: Is the political objective we seek to achieve important, clearly defined and understood? Have all other nonviolent policy means failed? Will military force achieve the objective? At what cost? Have the gains and risks been analyzed? How might the situation that we seek to alter, once it is altered by force, develop further and what might be the consequences?"

The Bush Administration, on the brink of committing the country to war, is just now seriously addressing these questions.

Yes, we have the military power to defeat the Iraqi military. But at what cost? For what objective? Is there an exit strategy? What are the consequences -- even of a quick military victory?

The best American scenario, expressed in Congressional testimony by undersecretary of state Marc Grossman, is that (what he calls) the "liberation" of Iraq and the elimination of the "terrorist infrastructure" will be quick work. The goal is "free elections based on a democratic constitution," he says. The American occupation of Iraq will last but two years.

Let’s accept that forecast, however fantastic. A quick victory does not guarantee a successful outcome. It took more than a decade for our anti-Soviet intervention in Afghanistan to blow-back on us in the form of al Qaida. Twenty-five years after we overthrew a popular government in Iran and successfully installed our puppet, the tyrannical Shah, blow-back hit us with the Islamic revolution and the taking of American hostages. Saddam Hussein was the same tyrant then that he is now, but we backed him when he attacked Iran. Now he’s our enemy. More blow-back. Fools rush in where angels fear to tread. Bush may think he has God on his side, but so also think Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, two former adversaries now united against us, their common enemy.

How will the Iraqis greet us? Many will cheer Saddam’s demise -- if we get him. But what happens when the country splits apart and religious and nationalistic rivals bid for power? What will happen to the weapons of mass destruction, presuming that Iraq has them? Which faction will get them? What happens if, as a last ditch act of defiance, Saddam destroys his own oilfields and drops scud missiles on Israel?

Suppose the Iraqi military retreats to the cities and fights. Are we ready for high casualties? What about Iraqi civilians? We’ll call them "collateral damage" and claim to have kept them to a minimum. But the Iraqis will remember their dead as friends and family. Will this encourage them to see us as "liberators"?

We’ve been on high alert against terrorism. But the probability of terrorism rises after the American attack. A terrorist strike on American civilian targets before the war begins would shift world opinion towards the Bush policy and give the administration justification to strike back. By waiting for the bombing to start, terrorists could justify their attack as retaliation for the United States’ assault.

The administration knows this. Diplomats throughout the world are sending families home. Overseas executives are returning; those who remain, like diplomats, are under increased guard. When the American bombs fall on Baghdad, mass demonstrations against the United States will occur all over the world. Many will be violent. TV pictures of the American bombing will flash around the world putting Americans everywhere at risk.

Our ally, the Jordanians, warn (in the NY Times 2/19) that "any new war will have serious repercussions not only on the unity and territorial integrity of Iraq, but on the whole region" leading to "deaths, injuries, refugee movements and displacements numbering in the millions." What happens if Jordan’s pro-western government falls? What happens if General Musharraf, our ally in Pakistan, is overthrown? Extremists, some allied with al-Qaeda, could get their hands on nuclear weapons. The Pakistani confrontation with India’s Hindu nationalists would flare; each side threatening the other with nuclear bombs.

In Afghanistan, the U.S. bribed the warlords to fight the Taliban, but apparently didn’t give them enough money to buy their support for democracy or national reconstruction. Right now, Bush is offering Turkey a bribe of $26 billion for assistance in invading Iraq from the North. The Turks, no fools, are demanding more. But Turkey’s main interest is quashing the national aspirations of our friends, the Kurds. If Bush bribes Turkey into joining his "coalition of the willing," he will be selling out his most dependable anti-Saddam allies within Iraq.

And so the problems multiply, creating more problems and raising more questions. But there is an alternative to this pending disaster; an alternative that adheres to Colin Powell’s thoughtful but now abandoned strategic doctrine. And that’s to support the UN in containing and isolating Saddam. Countries and peoples around the world see this as a policy that is working. What worries them is their inability to contain the Bush administration.

Marty Jezer's books include "Abbie Hoffman: American Rebel." He writes from Brattleboro, Vermont. His web site is www.sover.net/~mjez.

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