Iraq Policy for Dumbbells
April 30, 2003
By Bernard Weiner, The
What with Shia and Sunni and Ba'ath and imams and Syria and
Abu Mazer and WMDs, it's no wonder many are confused in this
post-Iraq-war period. Time once again to turn to some easy-to-comprehend
answers to difficult questions.
Q. What happened? First the U.S. was bogged down in Iraq
and it looked like deja Vietnam quagmire all over again, and
then suddenly, without much of a fight, the U.S. sweeps into
Baghdad and it's all over but the cheering.
A. The U.S. military wasn't quite ready, but the Hothead
Hardliners in the Bush Administration didn't want to wait
one more second - they were terrified of getting bogged down
in diplomacy and thus being prevented from launching their
war. So, even though they had no Turkish base from where they
could insert their infantry into Northern Iraq, they hastily
entered from the South, which meant a long, hard slog up to
Baghdad. They were unprepared for the welcoming fire they
got in the South, and, at first, didn't have enough troops
to battle all the forces that were attacking them and that
were holed up in the cities along the route to Baghdad.
But U.S. superiority in terms of computers, airbombing,
artillery and tanks finally kicked in, and the troops began
a fast track to Baghdad, outracing their supply lines. Reportedly,
some deals were struck with various Iraqi military generals
in Baghdad - offering them everything from money and post-war
positions and even U.S. citizenship - and Saddam's Republican
Guard divisions melted away. Note: It's conceivable they could
be reconstituted, if things play out their way.
Q. And how are things playing out? True, no WMDs ever
were discovered, but from what I can see, the U.S. achieved
a smashing victory and got what it wanted. It's in total military
command of the country, and has set about repairing the electrical
grid, the waterworks, etc. It even got the oil flowing again.
Why would the Saddam forces even think about regrouping and
taking on the U.S.?
A. As was the case in Vietnam, and then again in Afghanistan,
Pentagon strategists never fully appreciated the strength
of nationalistic pride, or the repetitive historic cycle of
wars against invaders. There are huge sectors of the Iraqi
population grateful to the U.S. for getting rid of their brutal
dictator for them - both Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims - but now
they want the U.S. military to leave and let them sort out
the future of their country by themselves.
(Note: The U.S. now needs the former government's officials
and technicians to help get the country back up and running.
Translated, that means some elements of the old Ba'athist
structure will be back in positions of power; for those Saddam
forces in exile or who melted into the civilian population,
that will be the key to reconstituting their forces - that
and the genuine anti-U.S. feelings among many, stirred up
by religious clerics anxious to assert their power now that
the secular regime has fallen.)
Many Iraqis don't trust the Bush Administration's motives
in the slightest. They think the U.S. is there to set up stealth
colonial-type institutions, tie corrupt entrepreneurs into
shady deals that will benefit mainly outside corporations
(and not just regarding oil), establish a secular government
beholden to the U.S., use Iraqi bases for asserting its military
power against other Muslim governments in the region, etc.
By and large, they are spot-on.
Q. But I thought the U.S. went in there to liberate the
Iraqi people. Bush says we won't stay there one more day than
is necessary. You don't believe him?
A. He's telling the truth. But the key question is "necessary
for whom?" Once he's got a friendly interim government installed,
once the U.S. corporations such as Halliburton and Bechtel
set up "reconstruction" shop, once the use of the military
bases is worked out with the new government, once the oil
is flowing fully again (with that U.S.-friendly government
in charge, and outside oil companies handling part of the
business), then the bulk of the U.S. military will be out
But there's a possible catch. The Pentagon strategists,
you see, never really thought through the post-Iraq phase
of the war. For one thing, they just assumed they'd find the
dread WMDs, thus legitimizing their invasion; egg on the face
time. They're also now forced to recognize that they might
have won the battle - and broke the spine of Saddam's cruel
regime - but they may well lose the war, both inside Iraq
and in the Arab region in general.
Q. How can they lose the war? There is no military rival
that can stand up to them, either inside Iraq or outside.
A. What U.S. officials are learning, to their surprise and
horror, is that you can have the strongest military in the
world and still not be able to control the population, especially
when that population thinks you're on their sacred homeland
for nefarious purposes.
And the U.S., clueless as usual, continues to permit things
that are anathema to the population. Such as: permitting missionaries
into the country to attempt to Christianize the Muslim citizenry;
Bush has approved Franklin Graham (Billy's son) and his missionaries
being let loose in Iraq. Graham on several occasions has denounced
Islam as a "very evil and wicked religion," making Muslims
just a tad suspicious of the man.
Because the Saddam regime collapsed so quickly - the U.S.
experienced a "catastrophic success," said Rumsfeld - and
the U.S. had no ready-to-go post-war plan worked out for Iraq,
Islamic clerics stepped into the breach and began exercising
their influence, with the more fundamentalist among them drawing
huge crowds for once-banned religious ceremonies and anti-U.S.
rallies. The U.S.-sponsored exiled opposition leaders, like
Ahmad Chalabi and others, are regarded as corrupt lackeys
of the U.S. and are not likely to generate popular support
- and, if the Pentagon Hardliners manage to install him into
power anyway, you can expect both a civil war and near-total
opposition to the U.S. forces on the ground.
The U.S. is now having to face the possibility that, unless
they can engineer a popular secular interim government soon
that will assume control, the democratic tiger they are riding
into Iraq may yield a radical Islamist regime, despite Rumsfeld's
warning that the U.S. won't let that happen. Nobody is quite
sure what the long-range implications of an Islamist regime
would mean, except that it most probably wouldn't mean anything
good for the Americans: All their blood and treasure will
have been spent for nothing, and bye bye, Bush, in the 2004
So, you see, the Hardliners in the Bush Administration are
almost forced into staying the course in Iraq, trying to pull
the democratic rabbit out of the Islamic hat, thus risking
geopolitical disaster if it goes wrong.
Q. You keep talking about "Hardliners" in the Bush Administration.
Who are they? How much influence do they have, and what are
A. By and large, we're referring to the Project for the
New American Century (PNAC) ideologues who, after a decade
on the outside looking in, are now the prime movers in developing
the strategic foreign policy of the United States. They include
such powerful Administration figures as Vice President Dick
Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Deputy Defense
Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Defense Advisory Board members Richard
Perle and James Woolsey (a former CIA director), National
Security Council's Mideast honcho Elliot Abrams, and a host
of other highly-placed officials.
Their goals, as stated in their position papers and speeches,
can be summarized thusly: Since the U.S. is the only superpower
in the world, it should assert its power aggressively, in
order to ensure that no other state or foreign organization
(such as the U.N. or the E.U.) can ever rise to parity with
the United States and challenge its pre-eminence. This aggressive
posture includes the use of "pre-emptive" war - i.e., if the
U.S. thinks a country or force may want, at some future point,
to take on America, the U.S. goes in guns-ablazing and convinces
them otherwise. The PNAC doctrines are now official U.S. policy,
as laid out in the National Security Strategy promulgated
last year by the Bush Administration.
Iraq, with a universally despised ruler, was selected as
the demonstration model. The reasoning is similar to what
Truman used in dropping atomic bombs on Japan, as a warning
to the rest of the world to not even think about challenging
America. As a result of what the U.S. did to and in Iraq,
the rest of the Middle East has been informed in stark terms
not to get too uppity or it could happen to you. Already,
Syria has started backing away from its challenge to U.S.
hegemony in the region.
The long-term result of achieving dominance in a region
- not necessarily by having to put troops on the ground -
is: 1) you now have effective control of the natural resources
in that area; 2) you are able to reshape governments more
to your liking, in this case more "democratic" governments
in the autocratically-ruled Arab Middle East.
Q. But doesn't the U.S. risk that true democratic elections
might bring into power fundamentalist Islamic rule antagonistic
to U.S goals?
A. Yes, of course. Especially because the U.S. doesn't really
understand Islam, Islamic nationalism, or the proud Islamic
history of battling "infidels." Case in point: Bush early
on used the term "crusade" to describe what the U.S. was about
in the Middle East, and was clueless as to why Muslims worldwide
reacted in anger and horror. Sending in Christian missionaries
to Iraq just fuels this fire of resentment.
Rumsfeld says the U.S. won't let Islamists take control.
But once you let the democracy genie out of the bottle, it's
often impossible to deal with the implications on the ground.
The PNAC boys tend to see only how strong the U.S. is militarily,
and believe that force always is capable of bending the will
of citizens and nations. The PNACs are weaker in understanding
the force of people power, of religious fervor, of nationalistic
pride - all of which may well came back to bite them where
it really hurts.
Q. But wouldn't democracy be good for all the downtrodden
Arabs in the Middle East, who have been chafing for decades
under authoritarian rule?
A. Yes, of course - unless they elect religious parties
that will be just as strict and totalitarian as what they
replace, maybe even worse. Then the citizens of those countries
will have gained very little, except to have the freedom to
choose their own repressors, who are not easy to turn out
at the polls once they get their Big Brother organizations
running. Iran is a good example.
Q. So what can the U.S. do to try to prevent this scary
state of affairs from ever happening?
A. The one thing that will defuse the growing power of the
fundamentalist Islamic movement is to quickly engineer a just
resolution of the Israeli/Palestinian situation. If Palestine
can obtain its own geographically and politically viable state
- and the only way to do that is for the U.S. to lean hard
on the Israeli government to end the Occupation and withdraw
from all settlements on Palestinian land - the pus-filled
boil would be lanced in the Arab body politic. Two independent
states would live side by side, with security guaranteed,
no terrorist attacks by Palestinians inside Israel, no incursions
by Israel into Palestine.
That's the one thing that the U.S. immediately could do,
and needs to do, to change the explosive chemistry of the
Middle East. Will it do it? History seems to point to a negative
answer. The U.S., time after time, seems willing to back off
and give in to Israel's extremist desires, which translate
into further humilitation and frustration for the Palestinians.
This time, the U.S. probably would have to threaten to withdraw
all U.S. economic and miltiary aid to Israel in order to force
it to end the Occupation and totally withdraw from all its
settlements in Palestinian land - but the Bush Administration
has given no indication that it has that kind of foresight
The result, if no just and comprehensive settlement takes
place, is that Palestinian extremists will continue their
terror campaign inside Israel, Israel will continue visiting
its brutality upon the Palestinians, the Arab world will unite
in its condemnation of the U.S. for not really wanting a just
peace in the Middle East, and Islamic fundamentalists will
assume more and more power in the area. We won't even mention
the terrorism that would make its way to U.S. shores.
Q. I'm gathering then that the U.S. will not make a military
move on Syria or Iran, at least until after the Israel/Palestine
"roadmap" is laid out and negotiations there begin. Am I right?
A. Yes. As a result of the way the U.S. entered and destroyed
Iraq - with an illegal, immoral war, not caring what anybody
else thought of its actions - the unanimity against the U.S.
in the Arab world, and the anti-U.S. economic boycotts being
organized in Europe and elsewhere, are making even the PNAC
boys have second thoughts about moving right now. First comes
defusing the situation a bit, then later it'll be time to
light the fuse of war-threats again. And then there's the
upcoming 2004 campaign; none of the HardRighters want to do
anything that would endanger Bush's chances.
Q. Do you see any chance that Bush could lose in 2004?
A. Let's just say that it's still the economy, stupid, and
Bush&Co. - who took the largest surpluses in history and brought
the country into huge deficits - continue to shoot their own
feet, pressing for even more enormous tax cuts (mostly for
the wealthy and giant corporations) that will only do further
damage to our tattered economy. Plus, so great is the resentment
against Bush among Democrats and many moderates that they
may just unite in force behind a viable Democrat candidate
this time. And, no, don't ask me who; we'll get to all that
in another article.
In the meantime, put pressure on your local elected officials
to have voting machines that guarantee ways of checking that
the balloting is on the up-and-up, and that exit polls are
back in operation. If the computer voting machines' software
has been tampered with and there's no paper trail, or exit-polling,
to measure votes cast against votes counted, all the good
Democrat campaigning in the world will never gain a victory.
You've been forewarned.
Bernard Weiner, Ph.D, also has authored "The War on Terrorism
for Dummies," "The Middle East for Dummies," "The intifadeh
& Israel for Dummies," and "The Bush 9/11 Scandal for Dummies."
He co-edits the progressive website The