Archive for February, 2003

On the road to chaos

[Originally published in the Rutland Herald.]

Colin Powell has spoken to America, the United Nations and the world. The reaction so far shows that he hasn’t changed many minds. His presentation seems unlikely to convince doubting Security Council members other than Great Britain that they should support an immediate U.S.-led war on Iraq. So we are left with the options of letting the U.N. inspection process play out or going virtually unilaterally into Iraq without U.N. support.

It is not difficult to understand the administration’s motivation on terrorism. We have been badly mauled by a bunch of people who hate us, and we are in the process of denying them a future. Most Americans would probably agree with this policy.

The Bush administration’s motivation on Iraq is not as clear. The administration asserts that the Iraqis threaten us because one day, and it is unclear when, they or their surrogates may pose a threat to America with biological and chemical weapons, as well as with nuclear weapons and delivery systems that they do not now possess.

The Bush administration seems to prefer to go it alone on Iraq despite the fact that the post-war results of an attack unsanctioned by the U.N. are potentially disastrous. Motivation is often very difficult to perceive. In this case, even though just about everyone agrees on the evils of Iraq, many abroad do not see a compelling reason for the extraordinary haste shown in the Bush administration’s policy. That may provide some insight into administration motivation on this issue.

The U.S. government’s analytical community pretty much agrees that a unilateral attack on Iraq has potentially disastrous results for the United States. Even the professional military has major reservations. Such an attack is very likely to create massive instability in a part of the world that is inherently unstable. Iraqi Kurds and Shiites will likely go their own way, tempting or inviting fellow Kurds and Shiites in Iran and Turkey, Central Asia and Syria to join them. This will create instability in all those countries, countries that are already deeply involved with fundamentalism, as well as in “moderate” countries in the Arab world. It is likely to spill over into Pakistan and, therefore, India (both nuclear powers) and into Central Asia, where Islamic fundamentalism has all the right objective conditions to prosper. The same is likely to happen in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Kuwait and the gulf states, where the objective conditions of regimes out of touch with their subjects are equally as favorable to Islamic fundamentalists.

Unilateral attack not sanctioned by the United Nations is likely to strengthen radical Islamic fundamentalism, create more anti-American terrorists, tell the world that preemptive strikes are acceptable, further marginalize the United Nations, create problems for NATO and precipitate a protracted struggle between Islam and the secular West.

The result of such an attack may very well turn out to be total chaos. Moderate Muslim Arab states may fall to fundamentalist pressures, creating an environment in which any thought of representative government or democracy will be anathema to those fundamentalists, whose religious beliefs not only provide them with a way of life, but also with a model for civil government a model that is anything but democratic and representative.

The thoughts above are those of many Middle East experts within the government. Obviously, those positions are being overlooked or rejected by this administration for its own political reasons. No matter how you look at it, you have to come back to the premise that administration policymakers have been told, or know, or at least assume that this policy will lead to chaos in the region. Chaos may also support those in the administration who would like to see the United States more in control of the flow of money to terrorists and think chaos and U.S. occupation would make that possible. Parenthetically, chaos will certainly forward the goals of Osama bin Laden and radical Islam for long-term conflict between the theocratic Muslim and secular Western worlds.

Whatever the reasons, unilateral attack is likely to create chaos in the Arab world, particularly if this is the first move in a new American policy designed to attack all Arab states that do not agree with U.S. policy. It almost certainly will meet the goals of the Likudists. Under this scenario, the United States (and Israel) will rule the Middle East. On the odd chance that it works, the Arab threat to Israel will be gone. A simplistic policy for a complicated world!

As implausible as it may sound, the only logic in this illogical situation has both sides heading toward chaos, al-Qaida hoping for a protracted holy war and the United States hoping that this will somehow control terrorism and put the United States more in charge that region. A more sober interpretation might be that even if we are successful, we will be faced with the largest, ugliest, most unmanageable and expensive military occupation in recorded history. U.N. backing would obviate most of these problems.

Haviland Smith is a retired CIA station chief who served in Eastern and Western Europe, Lebanon and Iran and was chief of the CIA’s counterterrorism staff. He lives in Williston.

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