Wolfowitz Doctrine Sinks in the Iraqi Quagmire


The pre-emption doctrine of Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz helped fuel the war in Iraq. Wolfowitz argued that the United States should "shape," not just react, to the world, acting alone when necessary and using its military and economic hegemony to foster American values and protect U.S. interests. But the outcome of the Iraq war has brought about the opposite: the quagmire has stymied aggressive U.S. unilateral action and forced Washington to work with European allies and even an old foe, Iran.

In his Jan. 2001 State of the Union address, President Bush announced that the primary U.S. objective in Iraq was "regime change," not destroying weapons of mass destruction, which became the main justification for ousting Saddam. Bush made it clear he would no longer negotiate with Baghdad when he included Iraq in the "axis of evil" along with Iran and North Korea.

Now, seven months after the official end of the Iraq war, Bush says, "Not every situation needs to be resolved through military action. And I would cite to you North Korea and Iran." Why the change?

The United States has come to realize it can't bring order to Iraq without the help of Iran and its influence over Iraq's majority Shiite population.

This wasn't the original post-war plan. Initially, Jay Garner, U.S. interim administrator for Iraq, adopted an occupation strategy that would circumvent the need for cooperation with Iran. This model was designed to replace only the top layer of the Iraqi power structure. U.S. administrators would replace senior Baath officials, but the police, ministries, intelligence agencies and army would be maintained. This plan was modeled after the U.S. occupation of Germany and Japan after World War II.

The strategy planned to neutralize opposition from the Sunni elite, which had controlled the power structure for 35 years, because most Sunnis would keep their jobs and status. But it created much resentment among Iraq's Shiite population. Images of angry Shiites yelling, "We do not want Saddam's police," became a regular feature on Arab satellite television.

Shiites are a transnational force in the Middle East, with loyalty toward spiritual rather than secular leaders. Iran is about 90 percent Shiite.

With the fall of Saddam, Iraqi Shiites were able to visit their holy shrines for the fist time in more than three decades. About 3 million marched in Karbulah and Najaf, delivering a strong message to Washington. We are a political power that can't be ignored, they said.

Washington heard them. It understandably feared angering the Shiites, who make up 60 percent of the Iraqi population, for the sake of the Sunnis, who are only 15 percent. Garner was replaced with Presidential Envoy to Iraq Paul Bremer, who adopted a completely different occupation strategy. His plan was to dissolve pre-existing power structures and start from zero. Bremer began by dissolving the 300,000-man Iraqi army. He then dissolved the Iraqi ministry of information and dismantled the police.

The U.S. policy-shift did not fall on deaf ears in Iran. Tehran was the first country to send delegates to the U.S.-created Iraqi Governing Council. Iran also helped the council get recognized by the Islamic conference in Malaysia. Iran launched a 24-hour news channel in Arabic called Al-Alam, which Iraqi governing council members have used as a platform. At the donor conference in Madrid, Iran pledged $300 million in loans and promised to allow Iraq to export oil through Iranian ports and supply its neighbor with electricity and gas.

In exchange for dismantling Baathist institutions and empowering the Shiites in Iraq by giving them proportional political representation, which was symbolically achieved by appointing 13 Shiites council members to the 25 council seats (compared to only five Sunnis), Iran would support U.S. efforts to establish order in Iraq.

Iran has supported Iraq's highest-ranking Shiite religious authority, Ayatollah Sayyid Ali al-Hussaini Sistani, who issued a fatwa (religious decree) stating that Iraq's Shiites should refrain from attacking U.S. and British forces. However, Iran's conservatives have also increased ties with Iraqi Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sader, the main challenger to Sistani, who said recently, "the small Satan (Saddam Hussein) got away and the big Satan (the United States) came." Iran is keeping the door open to support one leader over the other, depending on U.S. actions.

Bremer's strategy may have temporarily placated the Shiites, but Iraq's Sunni population was outraged. Many responded by taking arms against American soldiers. Because they formed the backbone of the Iraqi intelligence and army, the Sunnis knew where weapons were hidden and how to use them. The United States underestimated their ability to deliver painful, deadly blows to U.S. troops.

Just a few weeks after Sept. 11, 2001, Wolfowitz argued that military force would bring the necessary political and cultural change in the Middle East in order to defeat terrorism. But now, to keep a fierce guerrilla war from expanding further, the U.S. must put incredible energy into diplomacy and negotiation. Forget "pre-emption," "regime change" and "axis of evil." In Iraq, Washington needs all the help it can get.

Jalal Ghazi monitors and translates Arab media for New California Media and Link TV.

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