The following is an edited transcript of the thirty-third in a series of Capitol Hill conferences convened by the Middle East Policy Council. The meeting was held on June 20, 2003, in the Dirksen Senate Office Building with Chas. W. Freeman, Jr., moderating.
CHAS. W. FREEMAN, JR., president, Middle East Policy Council
The Iraqi people are still pondering the question of whether they have been liberated or subjugated, a question only they can answer. Whatever we call it, they will decide subjectively what it is they are experiencing. How they answer that question and what their reaction is to the American occupation, along with developments between the Israelis and Palestinians, will in turn determine the nature of our relationships in the broader region and affect our position in the world.
We’re here to talk about a war that had multiple purposes. Depending on the time of day and the day of the week, the purposes were stated differently. I count about six reasons that the president gave for going to war, and on most of them, the jury is still out. We will be dealing today, in a sense, with the unanswered questions of the justification for the war.
The war was to eliminate the massive weapons of mass destruction (WMD) program which Saddam Hussein was conducting. If we do find WMD, it now appears unlikely that they will be of a magnitude to have justified the attack on Iraq. In the meantime, in the absence of such a discovery, American credibility on a range of issues not limited to the Middle East – North Korea, for example, and other proliferation issues – is arguably very negatively affected. The second reason was regime change. It’s clear that we did get rid of Saddam Hussein’s regime. The only problem is, we haven’t yet apparently figured out how and with what to replace it. There is no government in Iraq at present, and it’s not clear what sort of legitimate authority will emerge. When it will emerge is also an open question.
Then we were told that the war was to democratize Iraq – which it now appears meant to desecularize Iraq; to remove that element of Iraqi society that was most in tune with the secular notions of the West, even though it operated in the Baathist context – and replace it with leaders of religious orientation. Fourth, we were to improve the lives of Iraqis, who are not vastly better off today than they were before we bombed the hell out of them. This, too, is in a lengthy period of transition, the answer to which is not clear. Then it was stated that this war would be a mighty blow against international terrorism. So far, the terrorists don’t seem to have noticed this, except in terms of their exploitation of the issue for recruitment purposes. But again, the jury is still out; this may prove to be better founded than it seems to be at present.
Finally, the conquest of Iraq and its reform under American tutelage were justified as bringing about a transformation of the broader region of which Iraq is a part. And it’s clear there are many immediate after-effects of the combat. Redeployments going on in the Gulf, rearrangement of the pattern of U.S. engagement there; even as, on a popular level, relations between Americans and Gulf Arabs have never been so embittered. There is motion in Iran of a nature that is unclear. Whether it is related to the American presence in Iraq or something that has spontaneously arisen within Iranian politics is a subject we will want to discuss. Syria is reassessing its position and its policies, and we will want to talk about that. And there is the question of the relevance of Turkey.
JUDITH YAPHE, senior research fellow for the Middle East, Institute for National Strategic Studies, National Defense University
We are still in the preliminary stages of this war’s “aftershocks.” And it is premature as well to talk about what purposes may have been fulfilled. Doesn’t that depend on why we went to war? And doesn’t that depend on how good the intelligence was to clarify whether those purposes were fulfilled? What were the reasons for going to war, making regime change the only option left to the United States and the free world?
WMD: Saddam Hussein has them and he will use them if challenged; we are at imminent risk from his weapons, which include tons of anthrax and botulinum and sarin and the prototype of a nuclear bomb. This claim, by the way, I believed in large part.
Terrorism: Iraq is a state sponsor of terrorism, responsible for acts of terror against the United States and in the United States (from the 1993 Twin Towers attack to Oklahoma City and 9/11). More important, Saddam supports al-Qaeda, hosted Osama bin Laden, and will give terrorists WMD to use against us. This claim is based, in my opinion and my professional experience, on false claims and circumstantial evidence at best. It apparently has not been corroborated by any reliable source – meaning a participant from the detainees or by a knowledgeable Iraqi, of whom we have at least one in custody.
Mass murder and repression of human rights: It is a shame we did not view this as a sufficient reason, even if unevenly applied as a principle of international law or American foreign policy. We have long known about the ethnic cleansing, mass murders, forced resettlement of populations, use of torture, blackmail. The mass graves being unearthed now serve as mute testimony to what we knew all along but deliberately avoided discussing.
The strategic-prize thesis: The oil, the bases, the democratic-minded Iraqis who will make the new democratic Iraq a paragon of virtue and the model to be emulated throughout the region as we remake the political map of the Middle East. (I don’t think so.)
The strategic-realists goals: The oil, the bases, elimination of WMD, strategic location. Democracy? Irrelevant.
Conspiracy theory #1: Israel and its lobbyists have taken U.S. foreign policy hostage. I don’t think so, and I am uncomfortable with the usually intelligent people who subscribe to this notion. However, I do note a report in The Nation this week that describes a small group within the Israeli prime minister’s office that produced intelligence reports in English for the Pentagon [by Robert Dreyfuss – Ed.].
Conspiracy theory #2: The United States “knows” where Saddam is, and this is a plot to keep Iraq and the Arabs weak.
If you subscribed to any of these theories, then you must be disappointed that our “purposes” have not been fulfilled. Where are the weapons of mass destruction? What about those al-Qaeda bases inside Iraq (well, okay, inside Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq)? What about the terrorist training camp and the American aircraft that was being used by bearded men who prayed to practice their hijacking and crash-into-buildings routines? Why did our smart bombs focus so carefully and precisely on targets of high value to the regime and avoid, for the most part, civilian areas? Why did Iraqis not run away from Baghdad (besides the fact that Saddam’s Fedayeen intimidated them into staying put)? Did they indeed “trust” the bombers not to hit them? If we were so careful during the war, why were we so careless and indifferent to protecting Iraq’s people and historic treasures after the war? Why was the Oil Ministry guarded but not the banks, museums or libraries?
I think we need to keep some basic points in mind before we continue the near mindless criticism of all the United States has inflicted on Iraq, and before we get so taken away with each day’s press revelation about an angry Iraqi who still has no water, no electricity, little food, no job and little left of his national pride and dignity. Yes, many things have not gone well; the situation does not look good; our military operations may have been brilliant but we ignored planning for the “day after” until too late. I will make a fearless analytical prediction: the security situation will probably deteriorate further this summer, especially in July as the average daily temperature passes 130 degrees and the month of revolution in 1920 and two in 1968 is upon us.
What did not happen is as significant as what did occur. Anticipated crises included floods of refugees trying to leave Iraq and internally displaced persons moving around within Iraq; revenge killings; use of weapons of mass destruction (WMD); destruction of Iraq’s oil fields, roads and bridges; regional state involvement in the military conflict; and acts of international terrorism either during the war or as a direct result of it. (Revenge killings are occurring now, by Iraqis against Baathists and security types blamed for collaborating with the regime and by Saddam supporters against Americans and Iraqis they believe are collaborating with us; and terrorist attacks have occurred in Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Israel.)
Confusion still reigns in the region and at home regarding American goals and objectives for the war and for the day after Saddam. Friends in the region have told me that the U.S. strategy throughout the war lacked clarity of purpose beyond the removal of Saddam Hussein from power. Certainly, Iraqis’ mistrust of American intentions and concern that the coalition would abandon them again to remnants of the old regime left many Iraqis unsure whether they should greet the U.S. and coalition forces with enthusiasm or bitterness.
The strategy for the “day after” did not match the war strategy. Our military strategy focused, correctly in my view, on a rapid drive to Baghdad and confrontation with the military and paramilitary forces loyal to Saddam. The drive was rapid, the battle never came, Saddam escaped. In the process, we left Iraqis in the south to suffer at the hands of Fedayeen and Baath loyalists. We left the Kurds feeling on the edge of abandonment. They credit the Turks with saving them, because Turkish intransigence, its refusal to cooperate with U.S. military requests, meant the Kurds would not be sacrificed to soothe Turkish anxieties. The point here is that Jay Garner’s strategy for rescue and reconstruction was based on a rolling-thunder type of military operation that would see areas of Iraq brought under control. (Remember, the Iraqis were going to welcome us as liberators and not oppose us.) It never happened.
Religious extremists and tribal warlords appear for now to be the only forces organized to take charge and provide security and social services. Iraqis worry about the lack of security, the absence of justice, the need to establish law and order, the lack of local civil infrastructure, and the disappearance of the “Old Guard,” including Saddam and his inner circle. (There is good news and bad news – Saddam is gone, but so is everyone else.) They wonder how radical de-Baathification in the military and civil service will affect security, the need to maintain critical levels of administrative, judicial and law-enforcement infrastructure. How do you balance Iraq’s ethnic and religious factions? Are they locked in an inevitable and permanent state of war? What is an appropriate formula for federalism? Could the new Iraq be based on the simple division of Iraq into Kurd, Shia and Sunni regions, or should it be geographically based? They fret over the lack of information on U.S. and British visions for a new political structure; virtually all disapprove of the imposition of an interim authority or council or provisional government without consultation and input from Iraqis. Some Iraqis note that the absence of clear and decisive action in establishing a new government quickly has created opportunities for extremists to seize political space and control. This, it seems to me, may be short-term thinking. It may be that Iraq’s secular and religious moderates need time to recover and find their political voice again – stilled for more than 30 years. If so, the phenomenon of the Shia community as united and intent on an Islamic republic may fade. Already we are seeing fissures in the bloc mistakenly identified as “the Shia.”
We fretted about WMD, but it was never a primal worry to Iraqis, Arab or Kurd, Sunni or Shia, or to Iraq’s neighbors (Iran excepted). Many Iraqis and their neighbors expressed little concern over the presence of weapons of mass destruction in the old or new Iraq and draw comparisons with the uneven application of U.N. Security Council resolutions on Israel and other regional nuclear powers (or wannabe powers). They saw no threat, but they did see a double standard in applying compliance with UNSCRs on Iraq but not Israel.
No information, no reparations, no oil, no women. Why did it take so long to get the media up and running? The Iraqis were desperate for news about the physical impact of the war, Iraqi casualties and the fate of persons who had disappeared over the years in Saddam’s prisons. And what about reparations payments, acquiring new foreign debt, the right to make contracts and control petrochemical resources? Why were so very few Iraqi women (only 4 of 100 attendees at the first meeting in Nasiriyah) present in the planning for Iraq’s political and social reconstruction. Be careful, Mr. Bremer, what you ask of the new Iraqi “government.” It may be too fragile to bear the burden of our aid and comfort.
Regional implications of war, regime change and occupation in Iraq. Syria, Turkey and Iran all worry about developments in Iraq and the potential for spillover of Iraq’s ethnic and sectarian problems. All three overestimated Saddam’s ability to absorb an American attack and underestimated the collateral damage that their miscalculations would have on their relations with the United States. All three are governed by virtually dysfunctional regimes, with weak and easily distracted political leaders and sagging economies. Iran is relieved that the United States has removed the second of its regional threats (Afghanistan under the Taliban being the first), but is uneasy with the prospect of a long American military occupation and access to military facilities in Iraq. Iran, Syria and Turkey oppose any semblance of autonomy for Iraq’s Kurds. (Their ability to distance themselves from central authority and control a swath of territory had already impressed Kurds in the three countries sufficiently to provoke public demonstrations.)
Whatever steps we take to reconstruct an independent Iraq with a strong self-image, national pride and self-respect will not make the neighbors happy. Can you have regional security and an Iraq with a leaner, professional, depoliticized, conventionally armed military on a defensive mission? Democratic political institutions, rule of law, a constitution, representative and elected political participation – these may be existential threats to Iraq’s neighbors, solutions fine for an Iraq under America’s mentoring eye, but not for us. The neighbors would like a role in shaping New Iraq’s political institutions and selecting its leaders, as was done for Afghanistan at the Bonn conference. I venture a guess that, while occupation is unendurable, humiliating and reprehensible, involvement of the Turks, Iranians, Saudis and Syrians would be more humiliating and self serving. After all, they each have an agenda in Iraq. How do you get the neighbors to buy into a new Iraq that they are uncomfortable in having nearby? They will not breathe easy or invite Iraq to sit at their tables.
Role of sectarian and ethnic politics. The neighbors are watching closely to gauge how power will be shared by Iraq’s diverse ethnic and religious communities. If the government in Baghdad is weak and the Kurds and Shia communities each represent a strong decentralized political force, then they will fear greater danger from Iraq’s borders. If, however, the central government is strong and able to manipulate the multiple Shia and Kurdish and Sunni Arab factions, the neighbors will fear a rearmed and resurgent Iraq.
One last thing that disturbs me: what was gained by war in Iraq? I believe it was the only way to remove a harsh and brutal dictator. But I am worried about the consequences of the witch hunt for “who was responsible for misleading the president and the people of the United States with unsubstantiated information on the imminent threat Saddam Hussein’s regime posed to the American people and their interests.” Was it the intelligence community, which was supposedly too limited in intellect and analytical skills to recognize truth? Or was it those who were determined to remove Saddam with or without precise, valid justification?
Iraq is a complex society, and it is impossible to determine how important a role the individual elements – Kurds, Arabs, Sunnis, Shias, tribes, townies, Christians or women – will play. There is a risk that the United States will tip the balance by favoring or restoring power to one group at the expense of another, as if power were a zero-sum game. Iraqis and their neighbors view the United States with great suspicion, uncertain as to what the American goals and priorities are and whether we will stay long enough to see them completed. It seems to me that several “purposes” for this war may not be realized except over time. Yet time and patience are in short supply in Iraq and in Washington. My plea is this: Stay the course, be firm and fair in establishing law, order, justice, a return to civil society. And remember that we can only be effective if we make an honest effort and commitment to Iraq, to the region, and to resolving the stalemate between Israelis and Palestinians and Israel and Syria.
FREEMAN: There are two issues that you posed which I hope will be a focus of discussion. Somebody analogized the United States to a dog chasing a car. The dog hadn’t really thought about what it was going to do with the car if it actually caught it. We now have caught the car. We have our teeth in the tire. Whether we were right or wrong is really beside the point. We’re there; we’re accountable in Iraq. We have to do something with it. What is it that we plan to do? What is it that we need to do to make this go right, or at least not badly wrong? The second issue that you posed is a very, very important one. How does a future Iraq fit into the region? What is the relationship of that Iraq with the GCC, with Turkey, with Syria, with Israel, with Iran?
KENNETH KATZMAN, Middle East affairs specialist, Congressional Research Service
There’s a spectrum in Washington from the optimistic to the pessimistic. I am very much on the pessimistic side. My own view is that Shiite Islamist factions will ultimately become the dominant powers in post-war Iraq. As the Baath party is dismantled, as the coalition provisional authority is intent on doing, the organized counterweight to Shiite Islamist power is being weakened. The Shiite Islamists are simply better organized and more well-funded than their competition. They are the only groups that have demonstrated the ability to mobilize large numbers of Iraqis in political demonstrations.
Of course, not everything is equal. U.S. troops are the major power in Iraq at this time, and Shiite Islamists have decided to tread very carefully as long as U.S. forces are in Iraq in large numbers. The Shiite Islamists appear to have settled on a strategy of allowing the Sunni Muslim groups to be the ones to openly challenge the U.S. occupation. The Shiite Islamists are hoping that Sunni violence in central Iraq will weaken the U.S. commitment and possibly trigger a drawdown of the U.S. presence in Iraq, which would then pave the way for the Shiite groups to assert themselves. For now, the Shiite Islamists are content to allow the Sunnis and U.S. forces to punch each other out. Then the Shiites wish to pick up the pieces afterward. My view is that we are, indeed, on the leading edge of a Sunni-led intifada against the U.S. presence that will cause progressively escalating difficulty for U.S. forces and prevent an early stabilization of the situation.
It had long been assumed that, while U.S. troops are there in force, Iraqi National Congress Executive Director Ahmed Chalabi might enjoy supremacy as first among equals. However, he did not attract a large following, and the U.S. decision to delay the formation of an Iraqi self-rule authority has tarnished the aura of inevitability that he was attempting to cultivate. Having lost the impression of U.S. backing and with no real party structure under him, Chalabi appears to have little political support.
Much has been made of an intra-Shiite power struggle. I do not believe this is going to turn into any major violent infighting among them. There are many, multi-tiered, interlocking relationships within the Shiite Islamic community. Much has been made of the young Moqtada Sadr, head of the Sadr clan, trying to assert himself against the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution, SCIRI, headed by Mohammed Bakr Al-Hakim. But, Moqtada Sadr’s great uncle, Mohammed Bakr Al-Sadr, was an associate of Bakr Hakim’s father, Mohsen al-Hakim. They were associates of Khomeini when he was in exile in Najaf. These ties put a brake on the infighting. Let’s not forget that Khomeini, before he died, had designated Mohammed Bakr AlHakim as his choice to head an Islamic Republic of Iraq.
My own view is that SCIRI will emerge as the dominant political force within the Shiite community. And Mohammed Bakr Al-Hakim will become, at least de facto, the most powerful leader of postwar Iraq. His homecoming demonstrated that his movement is well organized and well-funded by Iran. Iran has offered him a virtual blank check.
There are now indications that a separation of responsibilities is taking place. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the head of the Hawza al-Ilmiyya group of seminaries in Najaf, will serve as the theological leader, and Mohammed Bakr Hakim as the leading political decision maker. This goes very much with Sistani’s quietest tradition of not wanting clerics to play an active role in politics. Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani traveled to Najaf in early June. He met with Sistani and Hakim. There appears to be some sort of a marriage between the two, as well as the Kurds. And Hakim is supported by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khomeini, by Rafsanjani and by President Khatami.
Even if Iraq does become a liberal democracy – one man, one vote – SCIRI and other Shiites will have a major say in who wins. We almost had an election in Najaf the other day. The SCIRI candidate was about to win the election, and then, apparently, Ambassador Bremer canned the election because SCIRI would have won. This indicates, I think, Bremer’s concerns with SCIRI; it’s building, in my view. I recognize I will get strong arguments against this assessment. There are other groups in Iraq. It is not a homogeneous society. You have the Kurds, you have the Sunnis, you have Arab nationalism to deal with. In my view, SCIRI has negotiated all these trends, and they have very good relations with all the other factions. I don’t think SCIRI is completely unacceptable to any faction in Iraq, even the Baathists. Mohammed Bakr al-Hakim has been remarkably muted on the idea of weeding out the Baath party. It’s actually been Ahmed Chalabi who has been the most vocal on this issue, and I think the Baathists would be very hesitant to work with him.
Let’s assume this scenario comes to pass. What does it mean for U.S. interests? There is significant concern that Iran will have a tremendous amount of influence in Iraq, and I think that’s right. Iran may acquire strategic depth if the Shiite Islamist SCIRI takes over. There could even be an arms and technology relationship between Iran and a new Iraq. With Saddam out, let’s say years go by, there could be a technology relationship reemerging between Bakr Hakim and the Iranians.
Let’s talk a little about overall Iran policy in light of fears about Iran’s strengthened hand in Iraq, its reported hosting of al-Qaeda activists, and the nuclear program that has been in the news very much this week. There is increased talk about new options on Iran. There appears to be a growing market in town for some type of regime-change strategy towards Iran, although that is acknowledged to be extremely difficult to achieve. Even if Washington could change Iran’s regime, could it do so in time – before Iran has a nuclear weapon? Would a new regime necessarily cancel Iran’s nuclear program? How could you be sure that regime change solves the nuclear issue?
Because of these doubts, there is increasing talk about focusing only on the nuclear program. Can the United States work with the IAEA and the Security Council to perhaps persuade Iran to forswear its nuclear program? If that fails, however, it’s no secret there is talk in Washington about targeted military options against Iran’s nuclear infrastructure if diplomacy fails. I do not hear talk about any type of major U.S. offensive to change the regime, eliminate the nuclear program, et cetera. However, there definitely is talk of some sort of more targeted military action.
Before you get to military action, can you try international sanctions against Iran? It would be difficult. Can we get a vote in the Security Council to impose sanctions, first of all? Would other countries, especially in view of what has happened on Iraq, agree to sanction Iran? Would sanctions work? Would they be tough enough that Iran would be dissuaded from continuing its nuclear program? I very much doubt that international sanctions will be the end stage of U.S. policy, but I do believe there has been a decision made in the administration. I think President Bush announced it the other day: that Iran must not be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon. I believe that will be the focus of much administration attention in the next several months.
FREEMAN: If I understood you correctly, you suggest that even though there may be grounds for concern that the American presence in Iraq could be a springboard for some action against Iran, perhaps the more pressing issue is that the American presence in Iraq has opened major opportunities for Iran to extend its influence into Iraq. If that’s the case, then I suppose Iraq will not be an asset against Iran. I assume that’s the Iranian purpose in all this. The second matter that you raise implicitly is whether the program of de-Baathification is not, in effect, disarming the very forces that stand against Iranian influence of the kind you fear. The technocrat’s identification with the Baath party was more in the nature of a union card one needed to be in the government. This question, again, relates to decisions that are being made somewhere in Washington and Baghdad in a complete vacuum of public debate.
OMER TASPINAR, visiting fellow in foreign policy studies, the Brookings Institution; adjunct professor, the Johns Hopkins University, SAIS
I would like to talk about the relevance of the Turkish model for Iraq. There are two major questions that have to be addressed. First, what do we understand from the Turkish model? Two elements are crucial: first, the way the Turkish model deals with political Islam; second, the way it deals with Kurdish nationalism. Both issues are very relevant for Iraq.
When you look at Turkey from Washington, DC, there is a tendency to see the only secular, Muslim, pro-Western, democratic country in the Islamic world. After all, there aren’t many Muslim countries where governments regularly alternate through free elections. On the other hand, when you look at Turkey from Europe, there is a tendency to see that the military plays a major role in shaping civilian politics. Since the target audience for the model is probably the Arab world, the more important question is: How does the Arab world perceive the Turkish model? At a time when anti-Americanism is high in the Arab world, is it a good strategy for the United States to project Turkey as America’s model for the Middle East? Anti-Americanism might undermine the appeal of the project from the very beginning.
How does Turkey deal with political Islam and Kurdish nationalism, and what can be the lesson for Iraq? The short answer Turkey provides is Kemalism – the official state ideology of the republic. Today, on the other hand, there are elements in the periphery, the Kurdish elements and Islamic elements, that are eroding Turkey’s Kemalist political center. For instance, right now we have in power a political party with Islamic roots – not exactly a Muslim democratic party, but a moderate, conservative party with Islamic roots. This is a new development in Turkish politics, and I believe it is a positive one. This political experiment will test whether Turkey is democratically mature enough to afford such a government.
But how has Turkey dealt with political Islam so far? The answer is Turkish secularism, Kemalist secularism. Yet, ironically, you don’t really have separation of mosque and state in Turkey. This is a popular misconception. The model for Turkey has been France, in fact, Jacobin France, with its very anticlerical and antireligion proclivities. Turkey tried, under the Kemalists in the 1920s and ’30s, to control religion by establishing an institution called the presidency of religious affairs. To this day, the state tries to supervise – control – Islam. That’s Turkish secularism, to try to control Islam, and the Arab world perceives it as such. They don’t believe this is a very good model. They believe that the model survives thanks to the vigilance of the military. In 1997 for instance, when Prime Minister Necmeitin Erbakan was believed to have crossed the line, the military engaged in what came to be called a postmodern coup, a soft coup. The National Security Council came up with a list of things to do, and basically kicked Erbakan out of power. This showed that, in fact, Turkish secularism as it exists today is under the vigilance of the military, and that the military plays a major role in protecting Turkey’s secular model. Such a role is very appealing to Pakistan, but not too many Arab countries. Pervez Musharraf is probably the only leader in the Muslim world who takes the Turkish model very seriously; he believes that the Pakistani army can also have such a role. In the eyes of the Arabs, this is not a very good model.
How can we transcend this? If the incumbent Muslim political party can show that issues sensitive to Turkish secularists, like head scarves and Islamic education, do not have to become polarizing issues, then it can try to prove that there can be a smooth transition from a type of secularism that tries to control Islam into a more liberal secularism where there is a clear separation between what is politics and what is religion. This may be very hard. Orientalists believe that Islam and democracy are not compatible. In order to have democracy in the Muslim world, they believe that you have to control Islam. Unfortunately, in Turkey many people also believe in this orientalist theory. So it remains to be seen how the AKP party (Justice and Development) will behave.
The other question is Kurdish nationalism. France again is the model for Turkey because the French model is based on the assimilation of different ethnic groups, as is the Turkish model. There is a civic element in assimilation: If you assimilate, if you decide to become Turkish, so to speak, upward mobility in politics is possible. In that sense, Kurds who assume Turkish identity in Turkey are not discriminated against. The problem starts when you want to engage in politics as a Kurdish nationalist. When you want to assert your Kurdish national identity and enter politics and expect upward mobility, then you face the Kemalist dogma. The Kemalist elite sees this as the beginning of national disintegration, recalling in the collective memory of Turks the Ottoman Empire. There is a belief that when you give cultural rights to the Kurds, political rights will follow. Then there will be a federation, then autonomy and then separatism and independence. Just as in the case of the headscarves, the Kemalist logic goes, if you give the right to girls to wear headscarves, this is the beginning of an Islamic revolution. So there is a zero-sum, polarizing attitude.
The Arab world sees that Turkey has a difficult time even giving cultural rights to the Kurds. You have the military, which plays a major role; you have a secular system that is very aggressively anticlerical; and you have a concept of Turkish nationalism that is uneasy, to say the least with Kurdish cultural rights. So why is the United States promoting this? Because of the absence of a better alternative. Compared to the Middle East, this is a country where governments come to power with free elections, there is civil society, there is freedom of the press, there is a discussion of all these issues. Therefore, it’s the best alternative we have.
The Arab world, especially Iraq, will have to come up with its own model. Change has to come from within. A model is not a blueprint; it’s not something that you can impose on countries. It can only provide a framework for a progressive agenda. Of course there were many things that could have been done better in Turkey, but when we look at the Kemalist era of the 1920s and ’30s, the understanding back then was democratic gradualism, not democratic shock therapy. Free elections were perceived as the culmination of an era, not the inauguration of democratization.
I think one lesson for Iraq is that free elections at this early stage may be very difficult. They may lead to an Islamic government, to political Islam coming to power. Therefore, the Kemalist strategy of trying to first modernize and secularize the country by investing in human capital, by increasing literacy rates, by emphasizing gender equality – all these things are the right things to do. The need for investing in human capital has been emphasized in the Arab Human Development Report. Turkey has scored very high on many of these issues – gender equality, literacy rates, human capital, good universities. Once you establish the rule of law, an independent judiciary and a constitutional understanding of liberalism, maybe you can slowly move to democratic elections. In that sense, Kemalist Turkey in the 1930s and ’40s is becoming a model.
But the Turkish model has to become a better model. What we need in Turkey is a more liberal balance between Islam, democracy and secularism. And on the Kurdish front, what we need is more civic understanding of Turkish nationalism, which will allow for Kurdish cultural rights and a more multicultural Turkey.
FREEMAN: Your statement that the Turkish model really has not jelled, that it has not resolved some of the fundamental contradictions in Turkey is a useful reminder. Again I’m driven to the question of what our relationship as occupiers should be with the secular element in Iraqi society. I also appreciate your candor in stating that military-regulated constitutional orders are not very appealing, either in the Arab world or to Americans, and your reminder that Turkey has not come up with an answer to the question of sub-national identity. If it were to be emulated in Iraq, it would imply the Arabization of the Kurdish zone. This seems to me to limit the utility of Turkey as a counter to the Iranian problems we were discussing.
MARTHA NEFF KESSLER, consultant, CIA analyst (ret.)
I would second what my colleagues have said and what Chas. has emphasized: that this is early in the game to make any predictions about how things are going to play out. But I have selected some things that I do think are going to persist, things that we’ve already done that are going to have reverberations. Some of them seem to be below our radarscope right now, but they certainly are on Syria’s radarscope.
On the positive side, the United States has acted very boldly and decisively against Saddam, exposed him utterly as a despot, and no doubt impressed our friends and foes alike with our extraordinary military prowess and willingness to act essentially alone. It wasn’t that long ago that the United States was thought to be hobbled by its commitment to multilateralism, the post-Vietnam syndrome, lots of different things that allowed states in the region, Syria being one of them, to push pretty hard against us. I think that’s changed.
Our friends in the Gulf, who unabashedly depend upon us – despite the cost to them in terms of Arab politics – are obviously more comfortable now that this is over. Other U.S.-aligned states – Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia – have a much more complicated calculus to struggle with now but are no doubt relieved at our quick and decisive victory and the removal of Saddam.
All the states of the region, particularly our detractors, are almost certainly intimidated to some extent by U.S. action and power, especially since our crosshairs have been swinging across the region ever since the victory in Iraq. This time I think they have considerably more gravitas than they had before. But I don’t agree with the punditism that suggests we’ve burst some bubble of terrorism by acting so authoritatively against a state sponsor of terrorism. It would be easier for us if states were still the primary perpetrators of terrorism. However, the strategy of going after state sponsors misses two very important points that have relevance for Syria, and more broadly. Terrorists have, with considerable success, weaned themselves from relying so heavily on states, and globalism has been a big boon to them in this effort.
The other point I would make is that states in the Middle East, with very few exceptions, have continuously diminishing control over their populations and their institutions of power. No matter how intimidated the governments in that region are by U.S. saber-rattling, few can guarantee that their security services and militaries will necessarily toe the government line, nor can they deliver up popular support for antiterrorist cooperation. I think this is true in Pakistan, to a lesser extent in Egypt and Jordan, and of course in Saudi Arabia, which is almost a case unto itself.
Not only have we not burst the bubble of terrorism, I think we’ve badly blurred our case. Post9/11, the United States had the moral high ground, world sympathy and a clear-cut and intentional policy of going after al-Qaeda. Washington’s case was made very simply and compellingly to the American public and to the rest of the world. We elicited a great deal of support and help, even from Syria. But even before the war with Iraq, we were getting into trouble with the case against Saddam and his alleged support to al-Qaeda. Now in its aftermath, the frenzy over the absence of WMD has eroded U.S. credibility badly and contributed to truly dangerous levels of anti-Americanism virtually everywhere, but especially in the Middle East.
The sense that the United States has invaded and now occupies Iraq, an ancient pillar of Islamic culture and Arab civilization, is likely to replace any gratitude for chasing out the regionally troublesome and much-despised Saddam Hussein. The more toxic combination that dominated Arab politics following the 1948 and 1967 wars – humiliation, powerlessness and rage – is more likely to set in, possibly stimulating greater Islamic extremism, challenges to existing regimes, especially the pro-American ones, and a resurgence of active rather than passive rejection of Israel. While this U.S. administration may have secured for itself the shield that comes with that kind of intimidating exercise of power, I think subsequent U.S. leaders can expect to be doubly tested, both by extremists and regularly constituted power. I also think that, while they wait, the extremists in the region are going to look for and vent their energies against more accessible and vulnerable targets.
A couple of other quick general points. The fact that we’re perceived to have acted unilaterally and preemptively has really hurt our credibility in terms of being a promoter of more traditional forms of conflict resolution. We’ve circumvented the United Nations and therefore hurt that institution and the role that it plays in the Arab-Israeli peace process. Finally, our willingness to act unilaterally against Iraq, even though we had some new Europeans surrounding us, has given credibility to this notion that we’re seriously going to try to reshape this part of the world. The implications for the states in the region are obvious. What’s less obvious is that this is going to have a stimulating effect on the very large Muslim populations in Europe, which have considerable capacity for unrest and a great deal of potential political clout.
On to Syria. I don’t think the Syrians are as concerned now with their future relationship with Iraq as they are enormously preoccupied with our presence there. This has been the biggest challenge to Syria in two decades. Essentially the choice for the Syrians is to risk U.S. action against them as a result of their support to Hezbollah, Hamas and other groups that they consider legitimate resistance and not terrorists, or lose credibility inside Syria itself and in the larger Arab world. This situation has aggravated cleavages within the young Bashar al-Asad’s regime at a time when he’s trying to consolidate his power. The divisions don’t break down simply, as the conventional wisdom might suggest, between an older generation or the old guard and his younger followers, but rather reflect the two competing aspects of Syrian foreign policy: highly principled, supportive Pan-Arab goals, on the one hand, and practicality on the other. So far, the leadership has walked a fairly fine line. Iran has temporarily taken the heat off, but I don’t expect that to last long.
I’d also make a final point. The Syrian leadership for over a decade and a half has relied on the United States, ironically, as the centerpiece of their security policy. They believe the United States is the only force that can restrain an aggressive Israel. They have had a floor beneath which they do not want relationships with the United States to fall. They also have a ceiling above which they are not prepared to go in relating to us. I think they’ll have to recalculate that now. It’s conceivable that they will make major changes in how they cultivate their traditional ally, Iran, how they deal with us, and their approach to the Middle East peace process.
FREEMAN: You have suggested we may have, instead of rearranging the region to our advantage, laid the basis for rearranging it to our disadvantage, a theme that several others have struck in a different context. I think you were right to remind us that the military prowess of the United States on display in the three-week conquest of Iraq is a very powerful, intimidating and inhibiting force, not just in the region but more broadly. This raises the question of whether Caligula really was right, “Let them hate us as long as they fear us.” Whether that is an adequate answer in the long run to the management of relations with other states I will leave to others.
Q: “Never wish for something fervently lest your wish be granted.” The idealism of the United States, in particular the Bush administration, to recreate or to create democracy in other areas of the world is commendable. We pressed the Turks for years about the issue of democratic elections, and they had a democratic election, and the Islamists made great progress, to our detriment as far as using Turkish bases in Operation Iraqi Freedom was concerned. Similarly, we pressed the Pakistanis and President Musharraf very hard on democratic elections and, for the first time in Pakistan’s history, the Islamists achieved more than their usual 5 percent, taking over a provincial assembly in the northwest frontier adjoining Afghanistan. Now we’re similarly engaged in Iraq. But does the creation of democracy make any sense?
TASPINAR: The view that Turkey did not cooperate, or cooperated minimally with the United States because it had an Islamic majority in the parliament misses the real point. The opposition, which is a Kemalist opposition, the Republican People’s party, voted overwhelmingly against cooperation. The Kemalist establishment, the CHB, the Republican People’s party, did not support the idea of cooperating with the United States.
More interesting, as Paul Wolfowitz mentioned in an interview with CNN Turkey, the military was not very outspoken on the issue. Maybe they wanted the government to take the blame, since this was a very unpopular idea in Turkey. Going to war against Iraq was opposed in public-opinion polls by 94 percent of Turks. The military, for reasons having to do with the Kurdish question, with a kind of confidence crisis with the United States, not knowing what would be the future of northern Iraq, did not support this idea very clearly. Once again, this is relevant for the Turkish model. The military is a very important part of it, and they are concerned about the future of Iraq, primarily because of the Kurdish question. The Kurds never had it better in the 1990s; they had a de facto state. What was the United States promising the Kurds now that would be even better for them in the year 2005? The Turkish suspicion was that it was something along the lines of federation or potentially something even better, maybe autonomy. This was the logic of the military. They were really uneasy about this. To blame the Islamists for the minimal cooperation is a bit simplistic.
FREEMAN: If 94 percent of Turks – 97 percent in some polls – opposed cooperating with the United States, similar percentages in the Gulf opposed the cooperation with the United States, except in Kuwait and the UAE, and yet autocratic governments cooperated. The democratic government ultimately found it impossible to lead its people into cooperation against such a large majority of opposition. It is striking that democracy worked to our disadvantage, not to our advantage.
YAPHE: It’s true, Iraq has no history of being a democracy, but how can you say that they can’t have democracy or function as democrats? We should not assume – though we do – that because you have elections you have a democracy. And we should not assume that elections equal democracy equal a pro-American government. Iraqis are one of the best-educated populations with a lot of knowledge that we have ignored. I think they know what democracy could be for them, but they don’t know how to get from where they are now to that point, and they’re not sure we’re going to take them there. The British created democratic institutions, but that was like creating a Potemkin village and saying it’s a real village. You don’t have democracy if Iraqis don’t have responsibility, power, the authority to make decisions. They didn’t under the Brits, and the longer this sort of transition takes to happen, the more difficult I think our position is going to be. One could interpret what you’re saying as the Iraqis have to be ruled with a firm hand from a strong centralized government, and only a Sunni Arab general or patriarch could do that. I would never say that, and I don’t think most people would.
Q: The issue was imposition of the U.S. vision of democracy upon other countries, whether it’s Turkey, Pakistan or ultimately Iraq.
YAPHE: There I would agree. It’s taken us more than 200 years to get to where we are in our democratic institutions, traditions, experience. And we didn’t get it right the first time. The Articles of Confederation didn’t work; we had to go through it a second time.
FREEMAN: I think we are wrestling here with some obvious contradictions that the somewhat Orwellian use of language in the run-up to war concealed. The notion that occupation can be liberation or that military rule can be democratization is inherently nonsense. If you’re looking for analogies to the Iraq experience, I would look to the Philippines, which we liberated and which didn’t enjoy the liberation. In fact, we had almost a decade of violent warfare before we pacified it and successfully transplanted our democratic institutions. Few people would argue that they really took root in the manner that we had hoped. So I think the question of whether you can transplant institutions and forms into a society that doesn’t have the tradition that coincides with these forms is a valid question. It’s got nothing to do with the national character of Iraqis or whether they’re right or not.
KESSLER: We’ve watched in places like Algeria, where the election delivered up what would have been a difficult government for us to work with. A lot of glib things came out of that – we don’t support one man, one vote, one time and whatever. It bothered me that following that there wasn’t a more careful look at this whole issue of transplanting and encouraging democratic institutions. It’s almost as if we demean our own heritage by not understanding and recognizing how complicated it is and how much more sensitive we need to be to the cultures we’re talking about here.
One of the interesting things that I’ve discovered in looking at my research from the book I’m working on now on Syria is what happened to them during the Oslo decade. It was a very long running tutorial on the democratic practices inside the United States and Israel. Our secretaries of state spent as much time explaining to the Syrians what was going on politically in our country and what was going on politically in Israel as they did in the actual negotiations. The Syrians emerged from that with a much clearer understanding of both the pluses and the liabilities of democracy. And in the case of Israel, which is the democracy they all live with, of the enormous instability of it – six different prime ministers, one assassinated, and wild swings in politics. It had a very sobering and lasting impact on them. I never hear anyone talk about that – how they all sat and listened to us explain what was going on with the one thriving democracy in their region and what that decade meant in terms of Israeli politics. It’s a very complicated business we’re in.
KATZMAN: My assessment is that we seem to be for democracy in Iraq as long as the Shiite Islamists don’t win. I would refer again to this election that was almost held in Najaf last week, canceled because it was obvious that the SCIRI candidate was going to win. Any democracy that’s shaped that way is going to be inherently unstable, and it will be difficult to ultimately deny the will of the Iraqi people.
On another point, let’s not forget that in the one year March 2002 to March 2003, U.S. government attention was very much focused on Iraq, to the exclusion of almost all other major problems. And what happened? North Korea has completely broken out of the nuclear cage, and the Islamic Republic of Iran has made dramatic progress on its nuclear program. These other threats were not dealt with very much during that year, and they’ve become dramatically tougher problems. These nuclear programs are real threats. This is not some anthrax that we have not found in Iraq; this is not some nuclear program that was alleged and has now been found not to exist in Iraq. These are real, confirmed programs. The intelligence is not murky in these two cases, and we’ve lost time on them.
Then there’s the broader question of whether there are doubts about U.S. intelligence now. Are we going to be able to deal with these other proliferation threats if the world is in some way doubting our intelligence assessments? I think that’s a very valid and important question.
FREEMAN: One last comment on democracy. I think that the most effective means by which to spread democracy is by example. What we do at home is far more important than what we do abroad. There is an emerging contradiction between our professions of democracy and support for the rule of law in other societies as we suspend habeas corpus for Muslim Americans or Muslim residents of the United States accused, rightly or wrongly, of connections with terrorism. I don’t believe we can simultaneously promote the values of our Constitution and violate them at home. Whatever we do abroad, we should never forget that we need to maintain the strength of our traditions and our own values.
Q: The alternative description that I’ve heard around town for the justification for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, rather than being the democratization or reinvention of the region along the lines of that now-famous “clean break” report, is the idea that once Saddam is out of the way this would remove one of the last major excuses for Sharon and the right wing in Israel to avoid going forward with some kind of fundamental peace agreement.
People in the region are far more concerned about development. Inside Iran the vast majority of young people are looking to see Iran transformed into something more along the lines of a modern developing nation, not stuck in theocracy. Prior to Saddam Hussein’s takeover, Iraq was a growing model of development, of scientific and technological prowess in the Arab world. Obviously, Israel, unfettered from the psychosis of being an occupying power in the West Bank and Gaza, has enormous potential for economic development. There are projects like the Caspian Sea development; there are now extensive discussions about transportation corridors and pipelines between India and Iran. If the United States were to take the lead, as we did in the post-World War II period with the Marshall Plan, we could perhaps restore the American image in the region.
KESSLER: That’s one of the imponderables at this point: whether we will be able to take our position following this war and turn it into serious momentum in the peace process. I’m not hopeful, just based on what’s happened so far. We still have a structure of this peace process that gives a veto to violence, and our actions in Iraq have been a stimulant to violence. So I think there needs to be a real reconsideration as to how we approach negotiations. We have appeared, fairly or unfairly, to be in lockstep with Israel’s interests. That hurts us as an honest broker in negotiations. We have undermined the United Nations, and every negotiation has been entered into on the Arab side on the basis of U.N. resolutions. To the extent they think the United States is no longer honoring that U.N. platform, I think you’re going to see less malleable positions on the sides of the last two participants, the Palestinians and the Syrians.
YAPHE: It’s easy to say that development is the answer, because in many ways it would be. If we could give everybody jobs and economic hope of prosperity, surely no one would be interested in being recruited to extremist groups, Islamist or otherwise, etc. That’s a nice answer, but it’s not the right answer in terms of what the reality is. And if the question is, what has been the impact of what we’ve done in Iraq on Israel, I’m afraid it feeds something darker. It might be encouraging the Israelis to suggest to us that now is the time to deal with Syria and Iran in a similar fashion because, after all, they are as guilty as Iraq was of doing nefarious things. That would not be good. I would like to think it would make Israel feel more secure, but Israel hasn’t been worried about Iraq’s threatening its security for a long time. I do think the Israelis are probably more than eager to teach us how to deal with a surly occupied population, and that would not be a good model, as Martha has suggested.
TASPINAR: Political economists always debate whether development and democracy are mutually exclusive. They often come to the conclusion that you need a certain amount of democracy to take the right decisions, to make the right investments. So there’s a tendency to say that democracy is part of development. They’re not mutually exclusive projects. On the other hand, what we need is definitely not a top-down but a bottom-up agenda of democratization. So we need a middle class in the Middle East in the Arab world. When you look at how Europe democratized and became a secular continent, it’s really the rule of the bourgeoisie. Without the bourgeoisie, without economic development, the industrial revolution, there wouldn’t be secular democracy. In that sense we have to downplay the role of Islam and not ask questions about whether Islam is compatible with democracy. We have to emphasize development and create an Arab middle class, which will have its own democratization agenda.
Q: It may be too early to say whether we will be perceived as having facilitated liberation or subjugation, but the short-term answer to that question is clearly the latter. We are the authority in Iraq, and from an Iraqi perspective, their situation is less than the Palestinians’, which has, since the intifada, been beamed daily into every living room daily in the region. What are the implications for our needs, our concerns, our interests, our relations, our key foreign-policy objectives? Second, we talk a good game about being pro-peace, about being supportive of regional stability, and about promoting the rule of law. Yet, among the nearly 190 members of the United Nations, no country is more widely perceived as having been the least supportive of those three ideals. In terms of peace, while we have a bold rhetorical set of pronouncements coming from the administration in support of the Roadmap, we have a media, we have an overwhelming sentiment on Capitol Hill, as well as in the neoconservative wings of the administration that could hardly be less pro-peace. What are the implications?
FREEMAN: We are losing our capacity to inspire and replacing it with a capacity to intimidate. We are losing international respect as we appear to be an international scofflaw rather than a champion of the rule of law and the sort of order that we championed throughout the twentieth century. This problem is not going to be fixed by advertising campaigns or radio stations playing soft rock and contemporary Lebanese music. It is a more serious matter than that, and it requires us to do what we demand of others: to engage in some soul searching, to consider where we are headed, and what we stand for. Occupation cannot be liberation. Subjugation, however, has to be looked at in a longer-term perspective. If the United States does certain things, then the intifada that Ken fears among Sunnis need not arise. If the United States does emphasize development over crafting political institutions in Iraq, and allows Iraqis to fashion their own political institutions to match development, then the long-term pattern of resistance and hostility to the United States that otherwise might appear could be avoided.
With regard to peace in the Middle East, the jury is still out, although the indications are not good regarding seriousness of purpose in the White House and the determination to carry through with the kind of decision making and pressure on our friends – not our enemies – that will be required to compel them to make decisions that they otherwise will find every excuse to avoid.
YAPHE: We assume elections mean democracy, and we also assume that elections and our role there are going to produce a pro-U.S. government that’s going to follow our policies. Never assume that a new Iraqi government either would follow U.S. policy as expected, or that it could afford to even if it wanted to. For example, in the minds of many in Washington whom you have labeled the neocons is a certain agenda as to what that new Iraqi government will do. It will recognize Israel. It will not join us in supporting the real enemies in the region – Iran, even Syria. It will pay reparations. It will follow all U.N. Security Council resolutions. It will gladly give up weapons of mass destruction. Why would we assume any of that? Even if a government that we hand-picked were to say they would do that, how could they and survive? This is putting a heavy burden on a very fragile regime, whether it is elected by the Iraqis or appointed by us. It’s going to be fragile for a long time.
My second point, on broader implications, is that, I think you have to go to a higher level of analysis, and that is embedded in our national-security strategy and the image we are projecting. I was stunned that we put this in a national-security document to be publicly read. What we have said was: we are the sole superpower, and we believe that we have the right of preemption – that if we see something threatening us, we have the right to act preemptively. What’s the impact of that in the region? It makes them more afraid of us. They have seen our use of power; they have seen our decisiveness. Fine. Does it mean we are going to stay there? Maybe, and maybe that’s good, but it also raises that all-important question: who’s next? What if you don’t like us, or what if we do something wrong? Is Syria next; is Iran next? If you carry this fantasy of remaking the Middle East to its conclusion, with Iraq as the model to emulate, it’s not just going to be Syria or Iran, it’s going to be Saudi Arabia, it’s going to be the Gulf states, it’s going to be Egypt, it’s going to be everyone. I think that’s overreaching; it is in the realm of fantasy. But in the region, people are very worried.
FREEMAN: Aside from Israel, which pioneered the concept of preventive warfare or preemptive warfare in the last century, the only government to have officially endorsed our statement is the government of India. If you were Pakistan, that would give you a nightmare or two.
KATZMAN: There’s going to be rebellion in Iraq against the subjugation. We’re already starting to see that. It may not be militarily significant, but it’s going to be politically significant. On CNN yesterday they had one of their instant polls. Should U.S. troops stay or should they leave Iraq? Today The Washington Post has an article about the troops grumbling that they want to come home. They don’t like their duties as occupiers. We are heading into an election year. To have 150,000 U.S. troops still in Iraq in October 2004, one month before the election, still taking casualties, still with no stable Iraqi authority – that is not where the White House wants to be. There is going to be tremendous pressure within the administration to restructure the policy if we don’t start to see progress toward an Iraqi authority, a stable government that would allow us to draw the presence down.
YAPHE: The lesson here goes back to the British in 1920. The Iraqis’ reaction to the British imposition of colonial rule and mandate was threefold: resist it, rebel against it and co-opt it. They will recognize we are going to be there for the short-term, so they will get in, take over the institutions, and shape them the way they want, because we – the Brits then, the Americans now – won’t be there long.
Q: We, in Kuwait, are very concerned about the stability of Iraq. I was concerned when I heard Dr. Katzman speaking about the possibility that U.S. troops might not be there for a long time, which will harm Kuwait and other regional countries. Where does Kuwait play a role, and the rest of the GCC, in reintegrating Iraq within the region?
YAPHE: Right after the war for Kuwait’s liberation was over, most of the Gulf wanted to go back to the situation as it was before Iraq invaded; back to balance of power. It was as if they said, we still need an Iraq to balance it out and play a role for us; it’s too bad it’s under Saddam. The tendency has always been to go back to things that worked before.
I don’t think that an Iraq with democratic institutions and elected parliaments and all the things that don’t really exist in much of the Gulf now – I don’t think that’s the challenge, though it’s an existential concern. If I were a Kuwaiti, I would think about the following: enormous pressure to give up on reparations – you don’t need them, you can’t impose that kind of a burden on a new Iraqi government. Iraq is oil-rich in theory, but in reality it will not enjoy the status or the use, or even have the oil to export that it once had for a long time. It’s going to desperately need outside assistance, especially in terms of investment, money to rebuild, to get back to where it was. In a sense, that’s where the neighbors can help, even though that may be self-defeating if it’s going to affect OPEC decisions. There are a lot of things that Kuwait will be pressed heavily to give up on, to forget what happened in the past, to look ahead.
Having said that, in my conversations with many from the region, including in Kuwait and even in the lower Gulf, there is a very clear sense that they know they have to deal with Iraq, that it’s going to need help, and they would like to play a greater role – which they probably will be allowed to do, but they shouldn’t be involved in reshaping Iraq internally. They’re not going to let the Iraqis into the GCC and they’re really not ready to talk about security, either sharing or participation. That’s a long way away, I think.
FREEMAN: There are people in Kuwait who argue, and I happen to agree with them, that Kuwait’s natural role, historically and in the future, has been as an entrepôt for its hinterland in Iraq and extending up to Central Asia. It is a logical trading point for that whole basin, up to the Caspian and beyond. If that’s the case, then Kuwait’s future lies in very close association with the Iraq that will emerge. No country has a greater stake in the character of that Iraq than Kuwait.
A second point I would make is, there is now a great deal of redeployment by U.S. forces: withdrawal from Saudi Arabia of combat forces even as a new and expanded training role emerges for the U.S.-Saudi relationship; deployments to Qatar; shifts in and out of Kuwait; uncertainties about the future American presence, if any, in Iraq; adjustments in relations with the UAE and Oman; the Fifth Fleet in Bahrain. Yet, startlingly, all this is going on with no collective discussion with the United States, no common GCC position, no strategy, no group dialogue, no effort to produce a rational division of labor, to reduce political and economic burdens or share them adequately. This is really quite a remarkable, to my mind, failure of the GCC and of American policy, which ought to demand some measure of accountability by those we are deployed to defend.
YAPHE: I would add one footnote to what Chas. has said. What will be the future of our relationships? How do we perceive, for example, Saudi Arabia? We all are aware that there are people who don’t put high value on our maintaining a close relationship with Saudi Arabia, or our need for Saudi oil, or the need for bases. Maybe that’s all gone and been replaced by this great new relationship we’re going to have in Iraq.
KATZMAN: As Chas. said, there is going to be a U.S. drawdown, eventually. Either after Iraq is stabilized or before, there will be some shifting of U.S. forces out of the region. In one sense, that’s good because it relieves some internal domestic pressure that the Gulf states have been facing to some extent about the size of the U.S. presence. But, on the other hand, it’s problematic because it could leave the GCC states feeling much more vulnerable without that extensive U.S. security presence. This brings me to Iran. Iraq is no longer available as a strategic counterweight to Iran, and if U.S. forces also draw down substantially, does that essentially leave the field free to Iran in the Gulf? Would Iran acquire additional leverage? Would it seek to use that leverage against the GCC states?
The United States is going to focus more on the internal politics of the GCC states. This is not so much a consequence of the Iraq situation as it is of the perceived terrorism threat. Washington is taking much more interest in internal political reform in the Gulf. That could cut both ways. It could lead to reforms, which could perhaps make the GCC more stable; or it could lead to a backlash against perceived U.S. meddling in the region.
I also think that within the GCC there is going to be more of a focus on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the Arab-Israeli question. If there is no progress, that could come back to hurt the Gulf governments.
KESSLER: I’m not as sanguine as my colleagues that we will be out of Iraq early, and I think that the impact on Gulf internal politics is going to be considerable if we stay for a long period of time. I think it will also be very difficult for the United States to push Iraq in the direction of more democratic practices and building democratic institutions without the spotlight falling very much on our other friends in the region. It’s almost guaranteed the U.S. media will go after this once we enter that phase. The Gulf states and Saudi Arabia particularly have felt very much in the hot seat more as a result of the terrorist issue than in relationship to Iraq. But I think that a phase of this development is coming up in which that will happen, and the issue of democratization will become acute.
YAPHE: There is already a shift in U.S. forces, but it’s within the region, and I think that we will continue to maintain a presence. We may be out of Saudi Arabia, but we’re in more heavily in the smaller states, and we’re going to be in Iraq. We’re also in Afghanistan, Central Asia, as well as the Gulf. Does that make a circle around another “I” country?
My second point would be this: Iraq is still there as a counterweight to Iran, but not as the GCC or the Arab counterweight. It may become the U.S. counterweight to Iran, and that is different from protecting the Arabs, as Saddam professed to do in his invasion of Iran.
Q: Development is a really bad example for democracy. USAID has poured money into Morocco since 1952, yet Morocco is ranked 128th in the UNDP development report. We have given Egypt over $40 billion since ’79, yet the vast majority of Egyptians swim in poverty, and human rights and civil liberties are worse today than they were in the ’70s. If the United States wants to promote democracy, it needs first to read their lips. It needs to change the way it deals with them. The United States and the panel have failed to distinguish between the governments and the civil society. The day after the bombings wracked Casablanca, Rabat hosted the Arab Annual Poetry Program. At a time when the world was denouncing America and its supremacy, the Moroccans were renegotiating a free-trade agreement. Bahrain, Jordan, Morocco all have democratic experiments, and in the campaigns it’s not anti-Americanism, it’s not Israel, and it’s not Palestine. It’s money, education, unemployment, health care – just as in New Hampshire and Iowa. The United States needs to stay away from the government and deal directly with the people. Development has failed because it has been a government-to-government policy. Democracy promotion will fail if it is a government-to-government policy because the Arab governments do not want democracy. Since most of the panel is from the intelligence community, is this an idea whose time has come?
KESSLER: I don’t think it’s an era that’s here at all, unfortunately. I understand the point you’re trying to make, and I think that we have not been successful, with only one exception that I can think of, in establishing close and effective rapport at a popular level. It’s highly unlikely that we will go in that direction, at least in the near term. The one exception was during the development era of the Oslo negotiations and the Palestinian Authority, when there were non-governmental institutions developed to handle monies to go directly to people.
FREEMAN: I think you’re right in principle, but the means by which Americans relate directly to foreign peoples are not through USAID, but through business connections, and business connections with the entire region are atrophying, decaying and disappearing for obvious reasons. People can’t get visas to come here. If they do get visas, they are reluctant to brave the Immigration and Naturalization Service, Customs and other indignities at the port of entry, or to travel domestically in the United States on airlines through a domestic security apparatus that is not particularly welcoming to people from the Middle East, given 9/11. Americans, for their part, don’t want to go to the region because they are apprehensive about hostile attitudes which, in fact, are a reality.
Q: What would you recommend, specifically, that Israel do regarding the peace process? And what do you want the United States to do regarding Israel and the peace process?
KESSLER: This U.S. administration seems to be trying to use the same approaches – incrementalism, confidence-building measures and a negotiating format not unlike what we have been using all along – despite dramatic changes in the region and an incredible escalation of violence and bloodshed in the Palestinian-Israeli arena. I think confidence-building measures are almost an insult to those in the region who have lost homes and families. To expect that somehow we can all sit down and reason together and go for long periods of time testing one another’s trust levels is just one of the more profound misunderstandings of what the peoples of this region have experienced. I think that’s true on both sides of the table, for Israel and the Palestinians.
We need to have a thorough reexamination of how we want to approach Middle East peace; how to proceed with negotiations, and whether we really can move forward using any of the previous designs that we have used with no success, I might add; tried and not true. In terms of Israel’s position, there is no doubt that they have encouraged this notion of reshaping the region and pushing democracy. It’s an ill-conceived notion, and I would like to see them rethink it.
KATZMAN: I agree that this is probably going to take new formulas. Unless and until the parties agree to go back where they broke off in January 2001 and negotiate on the basis of what was very close to an agreement, I doubt that roadmaps and the Tenet plan, the Mitchell plan and how many other envoys are going to yield any real substance. There was something very close to an agreement, and if the parties were to revisit that, it probably could be the basis of moving forward.
YAPHE: The U.S. occupation of Iraq is not the same thing as Israel’s occupying territories that it had agreed to give back to the Palestinians and has failed to do so, and is still reluctant to do so. Israel has to deal with terrorism, but dealing with it simply by retaliatory and preemptive violence not only is not the answer; it’s only result has been more violence and more terror. It feeds into those elements that see this as a brilliant and easy way to prevent both reconstituting the peace process and having to come to closure or make concessions. That plays into the hands of those who pay lip service to getting back to talking. Israel, like the Palestinians, has to look to its obligations. What did it promise? Good works are more than good words.
Q: In the hearings on the Hill the last few days, the issue has been how do we try and get the French, the Russians, the Koreans, the Japanese – the people who actually have troops – to help some of the six divisions or so that we have in Iraq now to start coming home sometime before the end of the decade and to help pay for what has been estimated to be $3.5 or so billion a month or $40 billion a year?
KESSLER: We clearly did not take into account possible allies in the beginning, so there isn’t any question that, in order to bring them on board now, we’re going to have to give up a lot – in terms of whatever economic benefits flow from the rebuilding; in terms of decision-making and sharing with allies. We’re just going to have to give up a lot of the authority that we have for this situation and for accruing the economic benefits of development. We’re going to have to share it, and I’m not even sure that will work.
KATZMAN: There have been some commitments. The United States is talking with about 30 countries to make some contributions of troops. There is a tremendous reluctance to contribute troops on the part of other donors because these other donors were not leading the charge to go into Iraq. To ask them to come in now is a bit difficult. But I think eventually they will come in. That’s going to be the beginning of a transition to allowing the Iraqi people to determine the character of their government. In exchange for these troops coming in, the United States will pull out some troops and lose some leverage over the character of the new Iraqi government.
YAPHE: I don’t see us giving up much authority, and I don’t see us letting in foreign troops when we bring our boys and girls home. I think you need to ask three questions. Who is going to make the decisions? For example, in oil contracts. Will the Iraqis even now be allowed to make the decisions as to honoring the contracts signed under Saddam’s government with the Russians, the French and everyone else? Or do these all have to be renegotiated because the new government is not responsible for honoring those old contracts, which might be to their disadvantage? They should maybe be renegotiated. What’s the role of the U.S. political adviser? If the United States were to allow an Iraqi team to go to OPEC as part of the upcoming discussions, they would not be able to make any agreements, especially international ones, without the approval of the American adviser, that retired oil-company executive. Finally, how are contracts being handed out now? Is there not insistence by us, just as there was in 1991– we had liberated Kuwait, saved Saudi Arabia – that Americans get those contracts? I’m not saying that’s right; I’m saying that’s what I hear. If that standard is going to be applied, then I think we are in trouble.
TASPINAR: Switching from unilateralism to multilateralism may not be so easy. There is a price to pay for unilateralism. If you are a European, you may react negatively to the idea of the United States asking for NATO troops or U.N. troops, because one way of legitimizing unilateralism was: they will follow us after victory. Victory has been achieved, now they will follow. They do not want to set a precedent. They want to say no; we were not with you on this invasion. Now you’re asking us to contribute, but there is a price to pay. Multilateralism has to be a standard from the very beginning. I can understand Europe. It’s not feasible in the north. Maybe it is in the south. It’s not easy to switch from a unilateral paradigm to a multilateral paradigm without paying a high price. The Bosnia model would be nice, or Afghanistan, but in these cases, there was a multilateral façade. Now it may be hard to get the French and the Germans on board, even financially.
FREEMAN: I think the more relevant question is: who is going to pay? My own view is that, in Iraq, the United States now faces a fundamental problem: we broke it; we’re going to pay for it. The GDP of Iraq is around $35 billion, probably less than the state of Rhode Island. If, after $6 billion of investment, a year from now Iraq gets back to 2.5 million barrels per day of oil, it will net about $15 billion annually. Let’s say Iraq also exports other things – Mesopotamian antiquities, dates. And let’s say that, therefore, total revenue available to the government is $18 billion annually under these ideal circumstances. Against that, the expenditures are $20-$40 billion for occupation. By the way, no one should be under any illusion that Warsaw is going to pay for Polish troops in Iraq. You and I are going to pay, or Kuwait perhaps: $20-$40 billion for the occupation, $20-$30 billion for reconstruction, $20 billion or so for debt payments against $398 billion in debt and reparations – some to be written off, to be sure, but some to be paid. That comes to around $80 billion against an $18-billion income. How is a gap of $62 billion or so going to be made up? This is the sort of question that the Congressional Budget Office ought to start studying. There is no line of people standing outside the china shop saying, oh, don’t worry, sir, we’ll pick up the tab. That is not the tone we set on the way into Iraq. As Omer Taspinar said, unilateralism turns out to have a cost.
Q: I would appreciate your comments on the recent Iranian situation and the Iranian role. And don’t you think, Dr. Katzman, that your emphasis on the Iranian nuclear program is resonating with the neocons’ attitude and approach toward current U.S. Iran policy? I came back from Iran about three weeks ago, and I think that, if the Iranian question is resolved, then 40 percent of the Iraqi problem would be resolved, too, mainly addressing the question of the Shiites in Iraq. If there is a democracy in Iran, then all those questions in the Middle East with regard to the spread of fundamentalist Islam would be mostly resolved. Therefore, we’ve got to pay attention to how delicate U.S. policy is currently, and what the consequences are going to be for the decisions that we are making at this time with regards to Iran.
I would like to ask the audience, how many of you are aware of the fact that there has been a letter signed by 130 members of the Iranian Majlis, very critical and sharply criticizing Khamenei, the supreme leader? How many of you are aware of the fact that there are currently representatives of the Iranian government – aside from President Khatami – who are very much more critical in their approach to the establishment of a gradual growth of democracy in Iran? How many of you are aware of the fact that the Iranian radio and TV are broadcasting live Majlis debates on the floor every day? How many of you are aware of the level of dialogue and political engagement in Iran?
Does the United States have to sharpen up its rhetoric against Iran on the basis of its nuclear program? Let that be resolved multilaterally, peacefully, through other agencies. Let’s sharpen up our differences with Iran on the basis of human rights, democratic rights, creation of civil society. We are talking about the creation of democracy in the Middle East. There is a democracy evolving. Support it instead of threatening preemptive attack by Israel or others. This will play into the hands of the very hardliners that you are trying to remove.
KATZMAN: Having gone to war to overthrow Saddam Hussein for having weapons of mass destruction that we didn’t quite know he had, it seems to me to take sort of surgical military action against Iran on sites that are well defined and well known is something the administration is certainly considering. This is what I’ve heard. I’m not saying that that’s their first option or the only option. Whether it comes to fruition, who knows? We fought an entire war over weapons of mass destruction. That was the public justification anyway. I think the administration is very serious about WMD, particularly in the hands of Iran. I think one could reasonably say to Iran, look, Saddam is not a nuclear threat to you; the Taliban are no longer there; we took care of them also. Why must you have a nuclear weapon now? Why be so provocative now that these threats have been resolved in your neighborhood? I think that’s a legitimate question to ask Iran.
YAPHE: I think Ken reads the neocons correctly, but I want to put my remarks from a regional point of view. I think the Iranians thanked us for getting rid of Saddam. But their great concern is a long term U.S. military presence. That’s something that they’re extremely uncomfortable with. I do think the Iranian way of dealing with it is to try to find a way to negotiate out of it. I tend to favor talks and negotiations. I think we’ve overestimated and the Iranians may be overestimating once again their influence on Iraq’s Shia and on the Iraqi Shia support for an Islamic republic in Iraq. Mohammed Bakr Hakim says both things – yes, of course we recognize Iraq is not Iran and we want a democratic state – and he’ll also say, we want an Islamic republic.
We’ve underestimated the Iraqi Shia. They may take Iran’s money and support, but their willingness to take orders or to reflect Iran’s policies and positions in any government they would found or support is as unlikely to happen as a government that the United States would put in place would adhere to U.S. policies. During the Iran-Iraq War, the Shia Iraqis saw themselves as Arabs and Iraqis; this was not an anomaly nor an illusion. They hated Saddam and his version of the state, but they supported the state of Iraq. They hated Saddam’s government, but they saw themselves as Arabs. The Iranians see them as Arabs, too. These are not two cultures that are comfortable with each other. They have been too long engaged antagonistically, and there is not going to be immediate trust because there’s a Shia government in Baghdad. The histories of their conversion are different, their practices are different, their institutions are different.
There is a question I wish somebody would help me answer: What will be the impact on Iran, on its religious institutions and on the legitimacy of the clerical regime in Iran as the leader of the world’s Muslims and the Shia, as Najaf resumes its preeminent role in the Shia world? If, as we see happening, many clerics are going back to Najaf and Karbala, will Qum now go back to its former third or fourth position as the center of Shia learning? Is Najaf Jerusalem for the Shia, in a sense? How does that affect the religious institution and the clerics? Does that have any impact on the government? There is a distrust that goes beyond the religious. It didn’t work in the 1980s, and I don’t see why we assume that when Iraq votes, the tide will be on the side of a Shia Islamic republic.