President Bush Should Change His Strategy in Iraq

By Ted Belman<



President Bush was asked about Iraq at his press conference last week and answered,

‘The strategy is to help the Iraqi people achieve their objectives and their dreams, which is a democratic society. That’s the strategy. The tactics — now, either you say, yes, its important we stay there and get it done, or we leave. We’re not leaving, so long as I’m the President. That would be a huge mistake. It would send an unbelievably terrible signal to reformers across the region. It would say we’ve abandoned our desire to change the conditions that create terror. It would give the terrorists a safe haven from which to launch attacks. It would embolden Iran. It would embolden extremists.’

Does this make sense?  Is this strategy appropriate or achievable?

In 1990 when Saddam Hussein attacked Kuwait and threatened to attack Saudi Arabia, he claimed that he was acting on behalf of the masses to bring about a redistribution of wealth and a more equitable sharing of oil revenue.

Osama bin Laden, when attacking Saudi Arabia, also promised the same thing to win the support of the Arab street. Neither offered freedom or democracy. They knew with whom they were dealing.

During Gulf War I, the US decided not to conquer Iraq but to require it to accept a ceasefire which left Hussein in power but contained by the US and Britain. Hussein constantly challenged the containment in many ways over the next 12 years, necessitating a great expenditure of money and effort by the US.

The ceasefire imposed no—fly zones and required a cessation of the development of WMDs. The latter ultimately required the UN to impose sanctions and ultimately the ‘oil for food’ program. This lead to ‘Oilscam’ in which $22 billion dollars went missing and ended up the hands of many corrupt politicians and countries.

After 9/11, President Bush named Iraq along with N. Korea and Iran as part of the axis of evil.

Osama bin Laden and Afghanistan were at the top of the agenda so they were invaded first. The purpose was to defeat the Taliban so Afghanistan would cease to be a haven for terrorists.

Next, President Bush set his sights on Iraq. In part because the containment was problematic and in part because it was a good place to start to transform the Middle East, which was his goal. After all, Iraq bordered on six Arab states, some of which were friendly. Rather than justify his intentions on this basis, he made arguments that would best resonate, first, with Congress, and subsequently with the UN.

He alleged that Hussein had WMDs and had good reason to believe so. There was a real concern that these weapons might get into the hands of terrorists. He also argued that the UN must enforce its resolutions or lose credibility. And so the necessary consents were obtained.<
In order to get the Arab world on board, he agreed to launch the Roadmap calling for a two state solution. It was announced one week after the invasion.

Where he erred was in not having a viable plan for the aftermath in Iraq, due in part to American hubris and to a lack of understanding of the Arab mentality.  He expected flowers and got bombs. He certainly didn’t appreciate how vulnerable a new Iraq would be to Iranian influence and control, or to die—hard Sunnis who resented their loss of power.

In order to justify the occupation he readily embraced Sharansky’s ideas on the importance of democracy and argued that everyone has an innate desire for freedom. This was a goal that Americans could support, but it was not the reason for attacking Iraq in the first place.

In my opinion, ‘democracy’ has no currency in the Arabs’ world. What drives the Arabs is clan, tribe, the Ummah and the caliphate.

The democracy bill of goods is now tattered and torn. According to a new poll, recently taken among Iraqis,

‘The bottom line is 91.7% of Iraqis oppose the presence of coalition troops in the country, up from 74.4% in 2004. 84.5% are ‘strongly opposed’.’

Americans, also, no longer believe democracy is the answer. In fact they believe the US must find another answer or withdraw. Yet President Bush sticks to his guns, literally and figuratively.

A year ago when Sharon was arguing for his Disengagement Plan for Gaza, I wrote that the US needs to have a Disengagement Plan for Iraq. I argued,

‘What a mess. The problem is that the US cannot transform the ME to its liking whether it stays in Iraq or disengages. Nor can it submit to Al Qaeda’s demands that it get out of the ME entirely.’

It is clear that there will be no pax—Americana. Perhaps a guerre—Americana would be a better solution. It is in the US interest to have the Sunnis and Shiites fight each other as they did in the Iraq/Iranian war. It would preoccupy the terrorists and the regimes that support them. It would also make all the regimes vulnerable and concerned with their own survival. As I wrote last year,

‘Bush should take his former advice and not be in the business of nation building. A policy of deterrence would be better. From a base in an independent Kurdistan it could have great influence over how all their protagonists act. It should be prepared to punish them by bombing them if need be. It should also support Israel and allow it to do likewise.’

Nothing has happened since to change my opinion.

The Iraq battlefield has now been extended to Lebanon and President Bush has continued to play the democracy card. When the war began, he stressed that Israel should not undermine the government of Siniori. He hoped that the defeat of Hezb’allah would strengthen Siniori. As it turned out, Hezb’allah was not defeated and managed to increase its control of the Siniori government. It is no longer a state within a state, it is practically the state. Iran is thus in control of Lebanon even more so than of Iraq.

The disastrous Res. 1701 is looking weaker day by day, even with the pledging of 7000 European troops. The mandate, when it is finalized, will rightfully be characterized as ‘insipid’ rather then ‘robust.’ The US is no longer trying to avoid the status quo ante but rather has settled for maintaining the status quo, post war, i.e. no disarmament but an effective embargo.

The latter goal is very much in doubt. It appears that it is left to the Lebanese army alone to intercept arms. To compound the matter, the US and the world community are determined to cushion the economic effects of the war on Lebanon, even knowing that that will rescue Hezb’allah from Lebanese anger.

Israel, the victim of aggression, gets nothing.

It looks to me as a failed policy in Lebanon. Lebanon is lost to Iran and Iraq soon will be.

So what strategy should America be following?  Iran, Syria and Lebanon should be punished. There must be consequences. The more they cause problems the more they should be punished. Lebanon should not be rebuilt at least not by the west. Let it be Iran’s problem. Let Lebanon rue the day it let Hezb’allah prepare for war.

And above all, if the US wants terrorism to decrease, punish the sponsors.
Rather then working to create friendly democracies against all odds, the US should be punishing its enemies and co—opting friends, whether democracies or dictatorships. Let Iraq and Lebanon go their own way and pay for their own rehabilitation. If Iran or Syria tries to extend their influence, bomb them.

At the moment Americans are the sitting ducks.  They must reverse roles with Syria and Iran. They must be put on the defensive.


August 25, 2006 | Comments »

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