Posted: September 1, 2003
war that ought, perhaps, to have been properly finished 12 years ago, came to a close in May 2003. The war achieved the good consequence of relieving the Iraqi people of an evil tyrant. The victorious coalition is now engaged in the complicated task of establishing good order in Iraq while handing the country back to its own people to rule themselves. Despite the drumbeat of media impatience that began on day one, this will be a long process taxing our wisdom and resolution of purpose. And despite expert commentary suggesting otherwise, this effort is not unique; history does offer some useful perspective as we go forward. Yet, noble as it is to remove an evil tyrant and to help a tyrannized people achieve a liberty they have never known, this is not why we went to war. We went to war because strategy required it. That, in the end, may be the hardest thing for us, as a democratic people, to come to grips with.
The establishment of good order in Iraq depends on the judicious exercise of military power to suppress violent resistance, the restoration of the public services, and ultimately the will of the Iraqi people. Although the military coalition came into Iraq as liberators, the Iraqi population greeted it with a mixture of relief, fear, and hostility. What seemed like liberation to the coalition looked like a war of conquest to some or even most Iraqis. And they must realize that they have not been freed of despotism through their own endeavors but by a bunch of foreigners with lots of big tanks, aircraft, and much high explosive.
Having found ways to survive, more or less, under a dictatorship, the Iraqis are now expected to recover from a war they couldn't win and take responsibility for ruling themselves.
Iraq has never before been a place where political freedom has flourished. The "operative ideal" of democratic government, that liberty is the birthright of all people, is something to which the Iraqis need to be introduced, along with the principle that government is a public service to be exercised according to law. If free peoples elsewhere take these things for granted, the Iraqis have to be brought to discover them; a matter of time, patience, and enduring effort.
Political turbulence is the principal tradition that Iraqis have to look back upon since the country's independence from four centuries of rule by the Ottoman Empire, which suppressed turbulence by force. The more recent dictatorship used terror and force as the basis of civil government. Access to the reins of government by the citizens of Iraq has not been, since 1918, a characteristic of the Iraqi constitution. Iraq has the wealth in its people and resources to become a prosperous state. But miracles cannot be expected, nor can it be expected that Iraq will quickly evolve into a stable democracy. On this point, the experience of the leading Western democracies speaks volumes.
Democracy and the Lessons of History
The United Kingdom is one of the handful of democracies in the world. But its constitutional evolution took over 700 years. The quarrels between King John and his barons, neither of which were democratic, forced the king to issue the Great Charter of Liberties known as the Magna Carta in 1215. This was no more than the careful spelling out of the king's customary obligations to his subjects as they were understood to have been "since time immemorial." The principle implicit and explicit in the Charter was that the king must respect the rights of his subjects and that if he did not he could be compelled to do so by law. The king swore that no freeman could be arrested, imprisoned, outlawed, exiled, or otherwise destroyed, save by the lawful judgment of his peers and by the law of the land. No payment to the king, save those already customary, could be compelled unless by common counsel of the kingdom. That would become, by the end of the 13th century, the principle that matters of national importance, like taxation, could only be decided by common consent of the realm, for "what touches all must have the consent of all." That the Great Charter was issued again and again marked its significance at the time and lent it a certain perpetuity.
The emergence of parliament as the agency for expressing the common consent of the realm occurred over the next 400 years. Out of that, the elected House of Commons emerged over 200 years as the body upon which national government would be based. A democratically elected House of Commons only evolved beginning with the Reform Act of 1832 and through subsequent acts extending the franchise until 1918, when women, over age 30, were granted the vote. The long evolution of the United Kingdom into a parliamentary democracy took place in the course of wars, internal uprisings, conflicting partisan interests, and all the diverse machinations and frictions that a community generates in the name of politics and government.
The Americans who dwelt in the British North American colonies were more fortunate than their British cousins. They came to rule themselves out of necessity when the English were distracted from that task by civil war at home and threats to the kingdom and empire from abroad. The defeat of France and its expulsion from North America after the close of the French and Indian War—the Seven Years War in Europe—in 1763 found the colonies so attached to self-rule that they resisted the reassertion of English authority.
English efforts to restore imperial control over the colonies became intolerable, and within 12 years the colonies asserted their independence and fought a war to secure it. Yet it was another 12 years after the Declaration of Independence before the colonies, now states, had a constitution for their federation. Even then it wasn't until 1790 that Rhode Island adopted the Constitution. Seventy years later, the Constitution was challenged by the Southern states in a great and bloody civil war.
If that war settled, at last, the terrible issue of slavery, it would be another century before Americans, descendants of those slaves, would have their rights as citizens finally embedded in law in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Even in a nation founded on the principle of democratic representation, the progress toward democracy was hardly instantaneous, nor without pain and conflict.
The nations fighting the war and establishing order in Iraq have had the benefit of much commentary from French and German officials and media, warning about the difficulties facing their endeavors. Both the French and the Germans speak from painful experience, the one of liberation after defeat, and the other of defeat, surrender, and occupation. France returned to the rule of its own people between the liberation of Paris by the French Resistance and the 2nd French Armored Division in August 1944 and the final clearing of the last German forces from France in May 1945. While Allied and Free French forces struggled to clean France of Germans and to advance into Germany, France did not immediately settle into good order. The black market, organized crime, political retribution for the defeat of 1940 and collaboration with the Nazis set the atmosphere for re-establishment of civil government in France. Not the least of the difficulties was the struggle with the Communists who had helped the Germans to defeat France in 1940. The unofficial and extra- legal purge of collaborators or supposed collaborators accounted for perhaps 9,000 persons. The official purge accounted for maybe 150,000 of which 50,000 were stripped of their civil rights while 25,000 who had been in the Vichy administration were variously punished. All of that amid the necessity to restore public services and civil government, deal with the consequences of Nazi looting of the country's resources, and repair the damage left by Allied bombing and the battles for the liberation of France. It was 14 years after the liberation of Paris before the French people could settle on a Constitution that would endure, at least to 2003. But the French people dealt with such matters themselves.
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Germany was a different problem altogether. The Allied invasion of northwest Europe at Normandy and later in southern France aimed at the destruction of the German armed forces, the conquest of Germany, and the overthrow of the Nazi regime. German forces continued resistance until the eve of the surrender of Germany, May 8, 1945.
Although German citizens flew white flags of surrender in their towns and villages, Germany, unlike France, was not a welcoming country. If there was defeat and surrender on the one hand, there was defiance on the other.
Special teams operated with advancing elements of the Allied Forces to uncover German nuclear development facilities. Civil-affairs teams followed the armies to secure control of local governments, while counter-intelligence corps units rounded up those on the Allied wanted lists. Both were intended to secure the lines of communications behind Allied forces and, with combat formations in support, prevent interference with the Allied advance by stay-behind elements of the German Army and SS.
Occupation forces, those not being prepared for re-deployment to the Pacific, conducted security operations manning check-points along roads and highways to search travelers for weapons and to look for Nazi fugitives. Allied soldiers in occupation went about armed at all times. The black market raged, stoked by thievery from Army supply depots by some displaced persons and by Allied deserters, while ordinary public services were slowly restored at the local level.
To take one example, the city of Saarbrücken on the border with France saw the ending of hostilities in late March 1945. There followed the round-up of SS special units in the Saar region and the removal of principal Nazis from the administration. Inhabitants were issued Military Government of Germany registration cards to be carried at all times. The inhabitants were forbidden to leave the localities where they were registered; they were warned to turn in all firearms, explosives, and edged weapons with heavy penalties for those who, after June 10, 1945, were found with such things in their possession. The restoration of Saarbrücken as a functioning city with minimal public services like transportation, water, and electricity took until 1950. Reconstruction would take another decade or more.
Allied occupation policy aimed at de-Nazification, demilitarization, decentralization of government, and democratization. That was in the Western Occupation Zones; the Soviet Zone followed the edicts of Stalin and suffered the imposition of a Communist regime. The important difference between the liberation of France, and the occupation of Germany was that Germans were to be treated as defeated enemies. As the 21st Army Group put it, defining military government in Germany:
In the liberated friendly territories…we are dealing with our allies…we therefore respect their sovereignty and their institutions… in Germany…it is the duty of commanders to impose the will of the Supreme Commander upon the German people. Germany…must now do as ordered. Military government is the instrument by which these orders will be conveyed and enforced.
German defiance and hostility toward the Western powers were moderated by the Red Army's presence in the Eastern Zone. That encouraged the Germans in the Western Occupation Zones to cooperate in the restoration of order and the reconstruction of local government and of the public services—all accomplished less by military force than by the threat of the Russian bayonets across the Zonal border in the East. Soviet policies in Berlin, East Germany, and throughout Eastern Europe did nothing to dissuade the West Germans from doing otherwise. It was all helped forward by a certain respect for authority on the part of Germans and their inclination to work hard at the physical tasks of reconstruction and the political tasks of reconstitution.
Iraq was far less materially devastated by the three-week war there, than were France and Germany in their five years of war. Most Iraqis do not know and cannot be expected to care about what happened to Germany in the Second World War. But for the coalition's task of assisting in the restoration of Iraq, the comparison is significant. A thousand heavy bombers dropping 3,000 bombs from an altitude of 25,000 feet with the expectation that 10 percent of the bombs might fall within the targeted areas is markedly different from a handful of aircraft delivering precision-guided explosives against a particular target within a city block where the miss rate was 10 percent at worst. Collateral damage in the latter case was remarkably small considering the weight of the attacks. The task of reconstruction or restoration of facilities in Iraq is miniscule compared to the tasks facing the Germans in 1945.
Hostility and resistance to what many Iraqis see as a foreign, infidel occupying force are to be expected. They can hardly appreciate that the war fought within their land was a discriminating one, aimed not at the destruction of their country, but only at the regime's ability to resist its overthrow.
In a way, the automobile presents some measure of disruption of life in Iraq. In 1967, there were 100,000 registered vehicles; by 1996, the number had increased to over a million. A story datelined from Mahawil, Iraq, after the war ended, told of the distress of Iraqis searching for the graves of relatives killed by the dictatorship. An Iraqi woman is described in her anguish, "as she leaned against the radiator of her minivan." A Newsweek photograph, meant evidently to depict the uncontrolled disorder in Iraq a few weeks after the war ended, shows five lines of passenger cars stretching away to the camera's horizon with the caption, "Lines in the Sand: Atop some of the richest oil fields, Iraq's motorists wait hours for gas." There was no explanation of how the drivers of the cars managed the gas to get to the line for the service station or where the service station managed to get its gas. The story's theme was consistent with Newsweek's disapproval of the war for Iraq and criticism of the coalition's failure instantly to restore order in the country. But, waiting to fill the car with gasoline can be a real pain, as we all know.
Like the conduct of the war, the restoration of order in Iraq requires resolution, determination, patience, and the deliberate and discriminating application of force where necessary. The Iraqis are not a backward people. Whatever resentments they may harbor against their liberators may be set against concern for the safety of person, family, and community, and the promise of prosperity. Establishing order and encouraging the construction of administration and government serviceable to the Iraqi people are noble enterprises.
Whether historical experience and religious outlook will permit the Iraqis quickly to accept the principle that government is the servant of the people instead of the reverse, and then apply that principle as they rule themselves, remains to be seen. If they can overcome their past, Iraq can be made a decent and comfortable place for its ordinary citizens to live and prosper. But such an expectation with its hope and promise is subject to political passions, deeply rooted animosities, and resistance to foreign intervention.
Strategy and the Iraq War
It was not the wickedness of the Iraqi dictatorship that evoked American military response in two wars, nor was it the prospect of promoting democracy in that country. It was the strategic threat to the United States from the policies that country developed under its dictatorship. The neutralization of that threat entailed the removal of the dictatorship and thereby opened the opportunity to foster self-government under a democratic regime. Democratic regimes, as they are understood among Western democracies, are seen as more comfortable members of the community of nations, and less likely to implement long-term strategies threatening to other countries. Disputes among democracies, even if they are at times rancorous, seem easier to settle by softer means than going to war. Constant discourse characterizes the politics of democratic regimes and that characteristic is reflected in relations between them.
Authoritarian regimes or dictatorships are more difficult to reason with because their frames of reference are at odds with those of democratic regimes. That is true because dictatorial regimes often use international discourse as the arena for gaining strategic advantage in relationships that are seen to be fundamentally competitive, where winning will bolster the regime and where losing will threaten the regime. It is difficult in a democracy, where domestic political disputes are subject to compromise and accommodation, not to expect the same sort of amelioration of conflict to work in disputes between nations. Talk is better than war. And among the Western democracies it is talk that is conceived as the best way of addressing those matters that other nations see as strategic. In democratic regimes like the United States, strategy is most often seen as assertive and as associated with war. In the attack on the United States on September 11, 2001, the instant reaction was of shock and anger at such a manifestation of deadly purpose against the United States. But a secondary response, after the smoke had settled, and it had become safe to do so, was to question how it was that U.S. foreign relations were being conducted in the world in a way that would evoke such hatred against the citizens of the United States. What had the United States done wrong to provoke holy war on its own territory? One could see the same manifestation in the aftermath of the war with Japan. What on earth did American political leaders do over the years that would lead Japan to attack the United States in December 1941? The fact that the Japanese government might have long-range strategic objectives in the world, the accomplishment of which would require war against the United States, at the appropriate time, was an intolerable truth. For if a democratic nation had always to be on guard against the loss of strategic independence and must from time to time go to war to secure itself, the world was not the comfortable place that democrats would like to think it is.
It is difficult to accept that the United States, by its very existence and condition, is an offense in the eyes of some peoples abroad. Making nice to such peoples doesn't change their view but only reinforces their hostile inclinations. Making nice is seen not as strength but as weakness to be exploited. It is in the realm of statesmanship that the choice must be made when to exercise civility and extend help and when to impose will. It is an unavoidable reality that, while there are in the world entities that wish no harm to others, there are those, as well, who are not merely careless of harming others but find fulfillment in it. That is, there are friends and there are enemies. The purpose of civil government is to distinguish between the two and act accordingly.
In looking at the aftermath of the war for Iraq it is the change in the strategic circumstances of the United States and its allies that is the most important consideration. Strategy is not a nice word in American discourse, unless used in the context of American political parties seeking pre-eminence over one another. In foreign relations the word carries the implication of conflicts irreconcilable save through war. Yet the word keeps cropping up from foreign sources, not the least in respect to the Middle East where the Iraq wars were fought.
Iraq's seizure of Kuwait in August 1990 was not just an international outrage; it opened the possibility for the overrunning of Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Qatar, and Bahrain. Yemen's expressed sympathy for Iraq seemed to augur changes in the balance of power in the Arabian Peninsula. Neither Iraq nor Yemen could be considered in any way pro-Western, but the change in the Arabian Peninsula might have been acceptable as being only of moderate strategic significance. After all, the United States had tolerated the overthrow of the Shah's regime in Iran, even though Iran had, before then, been pro-Western. But the new regime appeared unequivocally Islamic in character, which seemed to place it outside the pale of our strategic adversary, the Soviet Union.
Iraq was a different problem. Although it received little public attention at the time because of the always-delicate nature of Western relations with the Soviet Union, Iraq was a client state of the Soviet Union and had been so for decades. In that respect it joined that Soviet club in North Africa and the Middle East, which comprised Algeria, Libya, Syria, and the two Yemens before they were united. Could Iraq then be an instrument of Soviet strategy in the Middle East? The Soviet Union had declared its neutrality in the long war between Iraq and Iran but had nonetheless kept Iraq armed and had technical, intelligence, and military advisors in the country. But of course, Iran was also being supplied by other client states of the Soviet Union. Sensible observers might easily conclude, in 1990, that more than Iraqi policy was at work in the region; Soviet strategy might be at work as well.
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The recent Iraq war, then, had wider strategic overtones than just imposing order on a disruptive regime. But those overtones were an indelicate topic for discussion, especially since the Soviet disestablishment of the Union and the assertions of ex-Communists, now Russian leaders, that democracy in the Russian Federation was aborning, the Cold War was a thing of the past, and therefore Russians were no longer concerned about strategy in the Middle East.
The fact that Iraq continued to be a sore spot in a region of strategic importance to the Western Alliance and therefore to the United States was in no way modified by continued Soviet and then Russian active interest in Iraq as a strategic asset. The Interfax Military News Agency in Moscow reported a statement of Colonel-General Vladislav Achalov, former Soviet deputy minister of defense and "recent military advisor to Saddam Hussein." He spoke of how, in the first Iraq war, the Americans had been unable to capture a single large locality because the Iraqi defense was based on the combat experience of the Soviet army in World War II.
In April, while the second war for Iraq was underway, elements of the Russian Fleet from the Black Sea and the Pacific began deployment from Sebastapol and Vladivostok to join together off the Yemeni island of Socotra in the Gulf of Aden, whence they were to proceed together to join in exercises with the Indian Navy. These maneuvers were said by Russian naval officers to have no connection with U.S.-led operations underway in Iraq. "Senior Naval officersâ€¦are keen to demonstrate [the Russian Navy's] continued ability to deploy into areas where Russia sees a strategic interest." Commander Baskar of Delhi's Institute of Strategic Studies and Analysis suggested that after the Cold War and 9/11 the maritime strategic focus had shifted "to the Indian Ocean region and Russia wants to register itself there."
The waters of the Gulf of Aden are an extension of the Indian Ocean, which washes the shores of Yemen and Oman and extends into the Red Sea toward the Suez Canal; the waters of the Persian Gulf enter via the Gulf of Oman into the Arabian Sea that is part of the Indian Ocean. Such maritime routes have been and remain fundamental to the movement of commercial goods among the ports of the world. But those routes are equally fundamental to the movement of naval forces in support of the strategic interests of maritime powers and their allies. The two Iraq wars demonstrated the ability of naval power to support the operation of land forces in a country where a military decision is being sought by powers not resident in the region.
The recognition by those who rule in Moscow, as well as those who think of such things in India, that strategic matters are at stake in the Indian Ocean and adjacent waters, should suggest that such matters are still at stake for the United States as well. The fact that Australia, lying in the Indian Ocean, should see its interest to be engaged enough to deploy forces to fight in Iraq implies that what happens in the Middle East has some strategic importance to Australia. But then the region of the Middle East, even before oil became important, has been a place where distant powers, capable of doing so, have felt compelled to intervene to support their endeavors elsewhere.
There is traditional reluctance, among those who would influence the course of American foreign relations, to discuss the strategic interests of the United States. The reluctance stems from the association of strategy with war. But polite educated discourse seems to balk even at the possibility that nations hostile to the United States and the Western Alliance would pursue strategy as an advantage without at once conducting military operations against the United States or its allies.
A strategic consequence of the war for Iraq is its removal as a protégé of Russia and its disarmament as a major player in the Middle East. There is now one less front-line state aligned against Israel; Saddam Hussein can no longer exercise influence over his neighbor, Jordan; and Yemen has lost a possible ally against Saudi Arabia.
The vigor and resolution of the coalition led by the United States in the prosecution of the war in Iraq makes of the United States a formidable enemy to those in the Middle East who have hostile intentions. It doesn't remove those enemies, but it makes them wary of pursuing policies that might call down upon themselves the kind of intervention that has liberated Iraq from its dictatorship. Of course, a consistent American policy in the region can be subject to the erosion inflicted by electoral politics in the United States. And no Middle Eastern country, nor its mentors, can be unaware of that fact.
That the war in Iraq accrued strategic advantage to the United States is certain. Whether the advantage is to endure depends not just on the run of politics within the United States but also on the ability of hostile countries to exploit the issue of American intervention or find other means to counter the advantage gained through the war. One ought not to suppose that Syria and Iran will accept the neutralization of Iraq by the coalition as a reason to moderate their hostility to the Western Alliance and especially to the leader of that alliance. Nor can one expect that Moscow will encourage them to do so, while itself dismissing its own interests in the region. Nations that see future benefits from the pursuit of strategic competition do not easily abandon such competition because of a setback; they seek means to turn the setback to advantage.
Syria, for example, during the war for Iraq, conveyed its hostility to the U.S. through a visiting correspondent of the New York Times. "Humiliation and Rage Stalk the Arab World," was the headline in the newspaper. "To many Arabs, even Hussein was better than defeat by the West," the Times reported. "An Arab leader ruling an Arab countrytheir tyrant." Since the correspondent was granted a visa to enter Syria as a newspaperman and then conveyed by his Syrian government "minder" to interviews with those in Syria who would echo the regime's sentiments, one may regard the theme of the Times's report as authentic Syrian policy. It is well to remember that Syria's army, navy, and air force were equipped and trained by the Soviet Union, and, after the Soviet Union was dissolved, by Russia.
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The neutralization of Iraq has been accomplished. That has not disarmed the hostility of those nations claiming the leadership of the Arab world. The terrible weakness of the Saudi regime in the face of Arab-Islamic terrorism can lead to Saudi Arabia's becoming another Iraq or Iran. It doesn't take a higher degree in social studies for those hostile to the West to understand the vulnerability of Saudi Arabia, or the value to the militant Arab cause of possession of the holy places of Islam by a new regime in Saudi Arabia—one constituted to carry on the struggle that Syria, Libya, Yemen, and Iran seem dedicated to, and that Iraq has been forced to abandon, at least for a time.
Removing Iraq from the ranks of militant Arab states leaves the rest to be dealt with. De-coupling Iraq from its Moscow connections renders the radical states even more valuable as strategic assets if Moscow still conceives that, despite the "ending of the Cold War," the struggle with the Western democracies continues. If that is the case, the militant Arab states remain as strategic outriders in that struggle and ought to be dealt with in that light by a comprehensive Western strategy aimed at drawing their teeth. Otherwise they are nuisances to be handled as occasion demands with the appropriate applications of diplomacy and military power.