Archive for November, 2004

[Originally published in The Valley News.]

The Bush Administration, having effectively dropped its claims about Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction, now says that its primary goal is to see Iraq through to free elections leading to democracy. It insists that all is well in Iraq, and that we are marching not only toward democracy there, but toward democracy in the rest of the Arab world as well. Democratizing Iraq is certainly a worthy goal, but the real question is whether it is a reasonable one.

The key short-term issue here is bringing enough stability and security to Iraq to permit an election process that will be viewed as fair by all the participants in Iraq and interested parties around the globe. Having completely missed the opportunity to bring stability to Iraq from the start by not committing sufficient numbers of troops, the Administration now has only two options. It can send the additional 300,000 to 400,000 troops that should have been committed at the onset and hope it’s not too late. Or, as appears to be the case, it can try to eliminate the insurgency with the troops already in Iraq.

The Iraq insurgency is composed of unconventional fighters fighting an asymmetrical war. While we use tanks, planes and artillery, they use rifles, machine guns, mortars and car/suicide bombers. These are all highly portable weapons that, unlike ours, do not require fixed bases of operation and elaborate support mechanisms. The advantage that these insurgents have over our conventional forces is that they hit and run. They don’t have to engage us in prolonged conventional battles. Why then, since their war is going so well for them, would they want to open themselves to massive defeat in Fallujah by fighting our kind of war? The Vietcong didn’t fight our kind of war and defeated us. Every insurgency in the world looks at Vietnam as the premier lesson in how to fight conventional troops.

It would seem much more likely that as our troops storm Fallujah, the insurgents will simply fade away and regroup elsewhere in that vast country to fight us their way again. If they do it right, they will survive as a fighting force. We will demolish a city and, in so doing, push other Iraqis into the insurgent ranks.

In his first post-election news conference, President Bush said that he does not accept the premise that democracy can’t be brought to undemocratic states. All well and good, but has he considered a state that has a built-in belief system that is not familiar to most Americans or to him? The President says that he honors belief systems. Does that mean that he honors those Muslims whose Koran tells them exactly how to run their lives, including a description of what kind of system of governance they must have? And how will the president react if Muslims create a government that is not democratic in conventional American terms?

Doesn’t that mean that in order for many Muslims to accept our notion of democracy, they have to drop their belief in the Koran? If they do not accept our goals, does that mean that we will have to invade them as we have done in Afghanistan and Iraq and thus force them to accept our democracy? Is this how we are going to bring democracy to the world?

Let’s stipulate that we will create enough stability in Iraq to have an election. If majority rules, we will then see a government dominated by Shiites, who compose 60 percent of the population.

It will almost certainly be a theocratic government, since its leaders are all devout believers in the Koran. That raises the possibility of creating a government similar to the one established by the Taliban, which supported and facilitated al-Qaida in Afghanistan.

What would the Bush Administration do about that? Is it going to say that it is unacceptable, or renege on its statement that it needed a democratic government in Iraq? That is now the only remaining rationale for our invasion.

There are far too many things that can go wrong with Iraq. In the run-up to the war, this Administration ignored real intelligence, preferring to act on carefully selected information that supported the policy it had already decided on. It was wrong in its belief that we would be welcomed there. It clearly resisted real planning for what it would do after toppling Saddam Hussein. The Administration’s own plans have proven to be out of touch with objective reality. Can we logically expect that Iraq will turn into anything but a tar baby for the Administration and a disaster for America?

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

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