The following is an edited transcript of the thirty-fourth in a series of Capitol Hill conferences convened by the Middle East Policy Council. The meeting was held on October 3, 2003, in the Rayburn House Office Building with Chas. W. Freeman, Jr., moderating.
CHAS. W. FREEMAN, JR., president, Middle East Policy Council
We are here today to talk about the impact of Iraq – as it is under the American occupation and as it will be under a future Iraqi regime – on the region as a whole. It may seem a little early to be asking whether the Middle East can be transformed, because in fact there are only two clear accomplishments to date of the American conquest of Iraq. First to the applause of the world and the delight of most Iraqis, we have ousted Saddam Hussein and his regime. We have not replaced that regime, so we have not accomplished regime change, but we have accomplished regime removal. Second, of course, we have proven that the inspectors did a vastly better job of rooting out weapons of mass destruction than even they imagined they had. These are two notable accomplishments. But we have not repaired the rifts with our allies around the world and with Iraq’s neighbors over our presence in Iraq. We have not restored basic services in Iraq. We now find ourselves being shot at because we didn’t restore the services, and, because we’re being shot at, we can’t restore them. Bechtel, which was to survey and set priorities, remains mainly in the Kuwait Sheraton rather than in Baghdad, and a lot of work that should have been done has clearly slipped.
How reconstruction will go is a major question mark in these circumstances. The United Nations has withdrawn to Jordan because of security concerns. An October 23 conference in Madrid to pledge money for the reconstruction of Iraq has so far drawn a minimalist response. As we debate this morning, the Congress is also debating the question of whether to appropriate funds or lend them to Iraq for its reconstruction, contrary to the administration’s intelligent approach to the issue. Some would argue that in these circumstances, Iraq is simply a rather badly managed Pentagon-operated theme park and that it is not timely to raise the sorts of issues we are discussing today.
There has clearly been some political progress in Iraq. A process of de-Baathification is going on, local government institutions are growing up, and the Iraqi Governing Council has been named and has been seated at the Arab League and heard at the United Nations. So all is not dark. Still, many questions are outstanding, and it’s clearer and clearer that how Iraq turns out matters.
Proponents of this war argued that the removal of WMD from Iraq would facilitate the removal of other such threats elsewhere, for example, Iran and North Korea. They argued that a U.S. presence in Iraq would generate leverage on countries like Iran, Syria or Saudi Arabia to reform. And they argued that democratization in Iraq would inspire democratic revolutions or change in regimes elsewhere in the region and throughout the Muslim world. Finally, more recently, Iraq has been named as the central battleground in the global war against terrorism, a sort of super-Cuisinart, where terrorists will be sliced, diced and shredded and al-Qaeda will meet its doom in direct confrontation with American forces.
Those on the other side of this issue would argue that what has happened in Iraq has been a stimulus, not a deterrent, to the development of WMD in Iran and North Korea; that the occupation has immobilized a large portion of the U.S. military worldwide rather than added to our leverage and flexibility; that democratization may well be producing desecularization, a turn toward religious, faith-based politics in Iraq and anti-American policies that could undermine the ability of rulers elsewhere in the region to continue to cooperate with the United States. And, finally, some argue that Iraq is becoming not the death ground of terrorism but a magnet for terrorists, a training ground for jihadis and a place for extremist target practice on American G.I.s.
These are rather different views, and what happens is clearly going to be very consequential.
KENNETH POLLACK, senior fellow, Foreign Policy Studies; director of research, Saban Center for Middle East Policy, Brookings Institution
Talking about Iraq now is even harder than it was before the invasion, because Iraq is an extraordinarily complicated situation. It is moving fast, in a whole variety of different directions, and I don’t think there’s anyone out there who really has a lock on truth. Whether we like it or not, for good or bad – and probably both – the success or failure of our efforts in Iraq will have a tremendous impact on our larger efforts toward the region and on the future of the region itself.
The picture that I see emerging right now in Iraq is an extraordinarily complex one. The situation is not as bad as the press is making it out to be, and it is not as good as the administration is making it out to be. First of all, God bless the U.S. military, and the Army and Marines in particular, who are doing an extraordinary job over there. When they got there, they sat on their hands for about six weeks after the fall of Baghdad because they assumed that the new provisional authority in Baghdad would tell them what to do. After six weeks they figured out that nobody was going to tell them what to do and they’d better do it themselves.
Two weeks ago I spent a week in Germany with about 3,000 members of the U.S. Army, many of whom were stationed in Iraq and had just come back for this one conference. I heard story after story after story about what they are doing at the local level. These are stories that have been confirmed by other sources. You’ve got company commanders and battalion commanders who are going into Iraqi villages and turning on the water and getting generators running and forming up local councils and doing all kinds of extraordinary and wonderful things that are having a real impact on the daily lives of lots of Iraqis.
A second positive to point to: so far there’s been no civil war. That’s important. There are a lot of people who were predicting right from the start that you’d have Shia going after Sunnis, Sunnis going after Shia, all the Arabs going after the Kurds. It hasn’t happened so far, and we have had provocations. The assassination of Baqir al-Hakim was, to many people, the first shot in a civil war. It hasn’t happened. That’s not to say it can’t happen; it’s simply to suggest that the ethnic differences have been exaggerated by a lot of people. The vast majority of Iraqis want this to work, and they seem willing to give us quite a bit of time to try to make it work. They seem willing to sit on their hands about a lot of things that they’re unhappy about, including the assassination of a Shia leader who in death has become far more important than he was in life. It could have been a major provocation, a trigger for a civil war if you had lots of people who were looking for an excuse.
The economy is starting to revive. People who are going to Iraq are saying that goods are more and more readily available. The repeal of all taxes inside Iraq seems to have had a real impact in terms of bringing in imports from all over. Prices have fallen very significantly, and it is easier for Iraqis to get certain things.
And it does seem to be the case that Baghdad, where most of the media are located, in some ways has the worst of what’s going on. The situation in the south and the north seems to be calmer than in Baghdad. You’ve got a real disparity in Baghdad, Saddam’s jewel in the crown. Baghdad always had energy; it always had everything that it needed. Now the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) is trying to divide energy, water, food and everything else more equitably across the country. So while the rest of the country is doing somewhat better, Baghdad is doing much worse and the Baghdadis are complaining very loudly. That’s a problem because ultimately Iraq is Baghdad, but it’s also a sign that things aren’t as bad as they’re painted to be.
There’s also a lot going wrong. We don’t have security under control. But I care very little, in terms of the stability of Iraq, about the terrorist attacks. Obviously they are a problem for us; obviously we want to make sure that our soldiers aren’t being killed. But the determinative security issue is the fact that Iraqis don’t feel safe in their homes yet, that most Iraqis still don’t feel they can allow their wives or daughters to go out after dark. That is the central security problem that we face, and it is a problem that we don’t yet have a solution to.
I’m struck by all of these claims in recent days that everything’s going well – we’ve got the right strategy; we just need better intelligence. Anytime I hear a general say that we have the right strategy, but we just don’t have the right intelligence, it is another way of saying we have the wrong strategy. Saying, I need better intelligence is like saying I need a magic bullet. Why won’t you guys come up with a magic bullet? If I had a magic bullet I could make all this go away. Intelligence is what it is: a hit-or-miss business. It is an art, not a science. Our intelligence system has been crafted over 50 years. It’s actually very good. If that intelligence system isn’t producing the kind of intelligence that we need to make this strategy work, we’re not going to be able to twist the intelligence system to get better intelligence. It will take 20 or 30 years to create a system that will produce measurably better or measurably more intelligence. We have the system that we have. The great commanders of history are the ones who recognized the limits of their own intelligence capabilities and designed their strategies accordingly. They didn’t design the ideal strategy and then beat up on the intelligence, saying why can’t you tell me what the other guy is thinking before he thinks it?
We have a lot of problems in terms of the chain of command in Iraq. From talking to the troops, talking to the aid workers out there, talking to the NGO personnel, we have this weird combination of micromanagement and no management. On the one hand, both Washington and Baghdad seem to be trying to micromanage all kinds of little things; on the other hand, the troops out in the field constantly complain of the fact that the CPA doesn’t seem to pay any attention to them. All of these local successes I was talking about often go for naught because they can’t marry them up; they can’t take local successes and turn them into larger successes. They can’t get resources from one place and move them to another. They’re jury-rigging solutions. Those solutions will work for a period of time, but unless a higher authority comes in and provides a more systematic solution to the problem, those ad hoc solutions break down.
We have enormous problems with the Governing Council. Typical Iraqi-exile politicking is going on within the Governing Council. There is an enormous problem with the representativeness and therefore the legitimacy of the Governing Council. It’s not clear that the Governing Council is actually going to produce a result that is good for Iraq as opposed to a result that is good for other members of the Governing Council. And we have no international support yet. The administration can tout its long list of clients as much as it likes, but until we’ve got countries that are willing to put up thousands of troops and not dozens, we can’t really say that we have real international support.
I can see Iraq moving in a whole variety of different directions. If we were willing to do some things very differently, I can see Iraq moving in a positive direction. Some of the things that are going right do lay the foundation for real progress. It is conceivable that over a 10-15-year period you could see a very progressive, pluralist society with a stable polity and a thriving economy emerge. Iraq does have all the tools; there’s no particular reason it can’t happen that way.
But I can also see Iraq sliding into chaos. Many of the negative trends that we’re seeing, if they persist, could mean an Iraq looking not like Poland but like Lebanon of the 1970s and ’80s. Right now a lot of Iraqis seem willing to give us time and to excuse a lot of things that they’re unhappy about to try to make all of this work. But that’s not going to last forever. If things continue to go wrong and they don’t see progress, people are going to begin to take matters into their own hands. That could be a recipe for chaos.
I can also see a more likely middle scenario: Iraq as Bosnia. Bosnia today is certainly a lot better than it was in 1994, but it’s also nobody’s idea of a great success story. If we continue to pump tens of billions of dollars into the Iraqi economy every year and we’re willing to keep a hundred thousand or more troops in Iraq, I think we can prevent it from sliding into civil war and keep a nascent economy going. But it’s going to be an economy mostly on life support, propped up by us.
The implications for the region are profound. The whole region is watching what we are doing in Iraq very, very closely, and the ultimate outcome will have a tremendous impact on what so many governments do and what so many people think. If we succeed in Iraq, we will have done something remarkable: we will have built the first Arab democracy, though I’m using the term democracy very loosely. That is extremely important. So often, when I talk to Arabs, what I hear from them is a fear of democracy. But when you ask them what they do want, what you hear are things like, a government that’s representative of the will of the people, a transparent process, government officials who don’t fleece the people but are there to help them and are accountable – all of the things that we would consider democracy.
One of the greatest problems right now is that no Arab can imagine what an Arab democracy would look like. When they think of democracy, they think of the United States and Europe and Japan and other countries that look very foreign to them, countries that they don’t particularly want to emulate. This is the problem. European societies have built democracies that fit their culture and traditions; East Asian societies built democracies that fit their traditions and cultures; we built a democracy that fit our traditions and culture. No one has built one to fit Arab traditions and cultures. So if we get it right in Iraq, we will for the first time have shown Arabs that you can build a state that is both democratic and consistent with Arab traditions and history and culture and all of the other important values of Arab society.
If we can get it right in Iraq, then over time, very gradually, I think that you will see a move in this direction. Increasingly you will see Arabs saying that it is a good alternative to the choices that we have today: autocracy or Islamic fundamentalism. This will be a third way. If we can demonstrate that it can work, you will see people gravitating toward it very slowly over time. East Asian specialists will say that it took 20 years to build democracy in Japan, but it had the same transformative effect on people’s psyches in East Asia. For the first time, East Asians could see a democracy that didn’t look European, that was consistent with Asian culture and tradition. Japan was critical ultimately in the transformations in South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, ultimately Indonesia, Malaysia, etc. On the other hand, if Iraq goes wrong, we will have destabilized the entire region.
One of the things that is absolutely striking to me about some Americans and Europeans is this idea that we can walk away from the problem of Iraq. We can’t. Remember what Lebanon did to Syria, to Israel, to Jordan, to Egypt. The instability spread. Iraq is a lot bigger, a lot more important, borders a lot more important countries than Lebanon did. If we allow Iraq to slide into chaos, that chaos will spread to all of the countries on its borders and destabilize the entire region. What’s more, every Arab will look at it and say, you tried to build democracy, it failed; therefore, Arab states can’t be democracies.
FREEMAN: That’s an inspiring vision of Iraq as a transformative model, but it raises a number of questions in my mind. Would a democratic Iraq adopt policies that would be congenial to the United States? Would it not pursue WMD as a deterrent against others in the region who have them? Would it adopt a favorable stand on Israeli-Palestinian issues, from our point of view or a different one? What would its attitude be toward our military presence in the region?
You’ve eloquently stated the possible upside of success in democratization in Iraq, and I think we’d all hope that that could happen. For that to happen, we’re going to have to stick it out in Iraq, and $87 billion this year is going to be followed by some similar amount next year and the year after, and for some time to come. If there is donor fatigue internationally, there is a lack of donor enthusiasm in the United States. And this is where we get into the impact of the military situation.
Ken, you said, quite correctly, that the situation wasn’t very interesting from a military point of view. If one soldier is killed every day, at the end of the year that would be about one half of 1 percent of the total force, maybe less than that. From a military point of view it’s hard to argue that that is consequential in any sense, and yet politically it has a great impact. It’s often said that all the guerrillas have to do to win is not to lose, and the arena in which that fight is fought is not the battlefield per se, but the halls of Congress and the corridors of public opinion in democracies like our own.
W. PATRICK LANG, president, Global Resources Group, Inc.
The questions I am asked to answer seem to be these: What is the leverage that can be exerted by U.S. military forces upon the general transformation of the region, based on our present commitment to Iraq? What is the direct impact of conventional U.S. forces on the countries in the region, and what is the impact of the ongoing insurgency in Iraq? If there are still people anywhere in the world who do not understand that the armed forces of the United States can inflict grievous damage on them to the point of bringing down their governments and occupying their territory, they are not paying attention. The fact that Arab networks such as Al-Jazeera and Al Arabiyah maintained the position throughout the very short Iraq war that this was going to be a long, protracted conflict, that there was going to be an effective defense of Baghdad, is an instance of mass delusion that I hope is not going to be repeated, because it leads to real distortions of policy. But that begs the question of what is really going on here. The difficulty is that what the United States has to be able to do in order to make the implied threat of the use of its forces effective in the region is to prove that it can pacify the territory occupied. That is the second part, which we are now involved in and which is still up in the air.
For some reason people are treating this thing in Iraq as though it were a unique artifact of history, as though nothing like this had ever happened before. In fact, the twentieth century was filled with guerrilla-resistance wars against various occupying powers and governments, and we’ve participated in a great many of them. There is a widely held body of experience and belief about how this occurs and what should be done in such situations. We were in so many of these things in Latin America in the first part of the twentieth century that the Marines got around to writing a book about it, a very good book called The Marine Corps Small Wars Manual. It is still worth reading. In the period of the Kennedy administration, it was widely believed that the principal threat, below the level of thermonuclear exchange, to freedom in the world was the idea that the Soviets and the Chinese were going to sponsor wars of national liberation across the world. Based on ideas put forward by Maxwell Taylor in his book The Uncertain Trumpet, the Kennedy administration became almost religiously wedded to the idea of counterinsurgency.
So a whole generation of officers was raised to do nothing more than fight wars of counterinsurgency all over the world. It was a highly developed doctrine, which was applied widely and with a good deal of success in Latin America and Southeast Asia. So the answer to what the Army is now doing in Iraq is, we’ve been there before. And we have won some of these things.
In the basic underlying literature of the theory of counterinsurgency is a little book by a French colonel, Roger Trinquier, called La Guerre Moderne, “Modern Warfare,” concerning Trinquier’s beliefs as to how such wars have to be fought. His essential point was that you should not expect to obtain a result based on how many soldiers have died or how many feet of ground have been occupied. The issue of whether or not you have lost men is actually secondary to the issue of where the political process is going in the war. This kind of war is a political process and the war is fought out in the minds of those people who make up the body politic, in this case in Iraq among the Iraqi people. When a general says, as Ken pointed out, we need better intelligence, what he’s really saying is that nobody is willing to tell him anything. The question then is, why aren’t the people willing to tell him anything? At the same time, in these hallowed halls of congress, you have political processes ongoing that indicate the same struggle here as well.
It is often said that a government or an occupying force can never win a thing like this militarily. I suppose that it depends on what you mean by militarily. I have seen wars of this kind won by the government or the occupying force in two ways. This I first saw applied in Latin America several times in the 1960s. Governments in that region simply adopted policies toward the inhabitants which were so genocidal and brutal that the population and the guerrillas came to the conclusion that physical annihilation was going to be the outcome. They lost heart and gave up. We’re not going to apply methods like that.
The other way to do it is to try to apply a strategy that involves political reform at the national level: installation of good government counter guerrilla operations on an effective but restrained basis throughout the country; and what we used to call “civic action.” Special forces units, like the Latin American Special Action Force, which I was assigned to in the ’60s, would go into villages and create village councils and do local education, local medicine, local agricultural support. People are always pleased to have you do that. They think you’re not such a bad fellow. It may be that 80 or 90 percent of them think that this isn’t such a bad thing having the occupier here, at least for a short period of time. But the problem is the other 10 percent who are not happy about this, who have another cause.
If, as Trinquier suggests, guerrilla war is really a political process about control of the population – the population there, the population here – then it’s that other 10 percent waging war against you on the ground for control of the population that you have to worry about. If those people succeed in achieving a situation such as the one Ken describes in which people do not feel that they’re safe, that their women cannot go out on the street, if they cannot conduct normal business, and they don’t think the Americans and the new Iraqi force can protect them, then the guerrillas will slowly start to erode your position of control over the population.
I’ve seen people win these things, and I’ve seen people lose them. In Latin America, we tended to win them. In places like Bolivia, where I served for a while, the Cubans tried to raise the Indios of the Altiplano against the government on a very serious basis, and they miscalculated in several ways. The most basic one was that the caloric intake of these Indians was not high enough to make them good military material. The second was that the Indians were not as unhappy with the government as the Cubans thought they were and not as committed to the idea of the revolutionary change, so that when the American-type theory of counterinsurgency – like the one being applied in Iraq today – was applied, the Indians eventually quit on the guerrillas. When Guevara was killed there, the Indians around Cochabamba turned him in and an American-trained counter guerrilla battalion ran him down, captured him, and the Bolivians chose to kill him.
The same theory of counterinsurgency didn’t work at all in Southeast Asia. In the early stages of this we tried to apply exactly the same doctrine. It was only after we found out that it didn’t work that the situation tended to escalate toward something more and more like conventional war in the field. Our Army found itself trying to do counterinsurgency in a situation in which the population would support battalion-size attacks against little villages.
The difference was – and this runs contrary to the great stab-in-the-back theory involving the American press – that the Vietnamese people were quite sympathetic to the insurgents and provided a base of support that we couldn’t overcome. We could always defeat the guerrilla forces in the field, but the problem was that there was this resentment against foreign occupiers – neocolonialists, whatever they thought we were – in the population. No matter how many of these guys we killed in the field, there were always more. The population of Vietnam grew every year, both North and South, throughout the war. No matter how many people you captured, killed or dragged away, there were always more of them.
The question in Iraq that has to be resolved is, “Who is on the other side?” If the situation is as the administration says, that this is a handful of Saddamist holdouts and soreheads who are mad because they’ve lost their retirement pay and a fairly small group of foreign Islamic terrorists who’ve come into the country, then I would predict that our effective counter guerrilla operations and civic action will erode this base of support and the problem will disappear before next summer. It won’t be a factor in our election. If, on the other hand, you have a situation in which a fairly large number of Sunni Arabs at least passively support the guerrilla fighters on the basis of their resentment and dislike of us and what we’re doing in their country and they continue to support them, then this situation will go on and on, and we should brace ourselves for the long haul.
I agree fully that Iraq is not some place we can walk away from. Having committed ourselves to this course of action, we have no choice but to see it out to the end. This is such a serious situation and the issue of which of these two possibilities exists is so real that we should wait until this is resolved before we consider in any way committing our forces anywhere else in the region. One commitment too far can be a very bad thing.
FREEMAN: As someone who thought that our journey into Iraq was a great mistake, I have to admit we’re there. What’s done cannot be undone, and we need to make the very best of it. I don’t think rehashing tall tales about WMD or whether there were or were not tall tales about WMD or reliving political battles across the Atlantic is a very helpful thing to do in this context. We need to move on; we need to try to make the best of a situation that may, as Ken suggests, yield major dividends if it goes well, and clearly will cause major damage if it goes badly.
AMY HAWTHORNE, associate, Democracy and Rule of Law Project, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
The question that I will address is whether democratization in the Arab world would automatically lead to secularization. This is the transformation the Bush administration envisions, although it doesn’t talk about this directly. If you analyze some of the statements made by the president and other senior officials and try to dig underneath the rhetoric, however, it’s clear that a big part of the transformative vision for Iraq and other Arab countries is the expectation that democratization can produce what the administration refers to as “modernized systems,” which here in Washington means secular and proWestern systems. “Democratized” Arab governments, it is hoped, would be secular and would not give any ideological space or other support to political Islam. The administration believes that giving any political space for Islamists would only help feed the ideology and operation of terrorism against the United States, and thus it believes that political systems (and perhaps societies) must be secularized through a political transformation.
Could democratization in the Arab world lead to secular systems of governance? Yes, it can, in theory; democracy inherently requires secular systems and values and the separation of church and state. However, there are lots of versions of democracy, and different values and ideas – including religious values and ideas – factor into how governing systems and political culture are shaped. How this happens is part of any democratization process. In Iraq and other Arab countries it would be an extremely long, messy and not inevitable process to reach a secular, democratic endpoint.
What is the lay of the land in the region at present – the territory that putatively would be democratized – in terms of the influence of Islam on political systems? It’s extremely diverse. Looking across the region we see Saudi Arabia, where governance is heavily influenced by a particular interpretation of Islam. We see countries like Egypt and Morocco, where official Islamic institutions play an important role; Islam is used to legitimize certain actions of government. Yet these are also secular systems in most respects. We see the example of Tunisia, which has a very secular system of government. And then we see Iraq, where there is no system of government. There is a political vacuum and forces from below – including newly-empowered religious forces – emerging to shape, in a very long-term process, what that country’s new government and political system will look like.
The conventional wisdom espoused by many in Washington and in the region is that if democratization were to unfold, if elections were held tomorrow, Islamists would become empowered politically. It’s expected that they would use their empowerment to advance the development of a system of government that would be based primarily on Islamic law. This would, it is thought, contribute not to a secularization process, but to the greater influence of religion in politics.
There’s an element of truth to this expectation. In most of the very limited examples of political liberalization that have occurred in the region so far in the last decade – controlled multiparty elections, for instance – forces of political Islam are clearly the best organized forms of opposition. They have the greatest grass-roots support, and, most important, they have the greatest ability to speak in a discourse that sounds authentic and legitimate to large numbers of people in the region. In Iraq, where a dictatorship has just collapsed and popular voices are emerging for the first time, we see the emergence of some Shiite religious forces wanting to play an important role in politics, and the growing influence of political Islam among certain parts of the Sunni population.
The concern about “Islamists winning” – about what might happen if people in the Arab world were politically empowered to choose their system of government and their leaders freely – contributes to U.S. schizophrenia about democracy. The United States proclaims the desire for a democratic transformation of the region, yet, as was its posture in the 1980s and 1990s (and earlier), when stability not transformation was the U.S. regional goal, it is extremely hesitant about what outcome that process might bring.
Of course, other outcomes are also possible, were a democratization process to occur in Iraq or in other Arab countries – a process that is more open and goes further than the liberalization that has occurred to date. For one thing, there are liberal forces (few would openly describe themselves as secular), forces that don’t want political systems and politics to be based primarily on religion, throughout the Arab world. They have been harshly repressed by various regimes. A democratization process would presumably offer more political space to organize support and compete. These forces, too, could organize and compete against others and present their own vision of society, which would be very different than what various Islamist forces are encouraging. We’ve never seen this happen in the Arab world; we don’t know how much support liberal forces truly could gather in a more free political environment.
It’s also possible that a political opening in Iraq or in other Arab countries could lead to the closure of a democratization process, as happened in Algeria in the early ’90s. Secular and liberal forces in that country essentially banded together with the regime to back the Algerian government’s blockage of a democratization process, to prevent Islamists from coming to power. That could happen again.
The key point is that democratization is an unpredictable process, and it will unfold differently in different countries based on specific historical, economic, political and cultural factors. It involves the empowerment of people in their own societies to determine what kind of government they want to live under and what kind of political rules they want to have. This may be “Western” and secular, or not. Further, fundamental political change does not necessarily lead to the establishment of democracy. In this regard, I would be a bit skeptical about what’s going to happen in Iraq. We’re at the very beginning of a transformation process there. We need only to remember the example of the Iranian revolution, which demonstrated that political empowerment and social transformation don’t necessarily lead to the establishment of democracy. Other outcomes are possible.
In Iraq and in other Arab countries, if a process of democratization were to take place, it would at its base involve the shaping of new national identities. I believe that a key factor in this process will be the desire to shape an identity that is authentic, not seen as “imposed” by the United States. Since religion – Islam – is seen by many people in the region as the most effective and authentic vehicle to shape an indigenous and authentic local identity, we should be prepared for the rise of the influence of religious values and ideas in shaping governance if political systems genuinely open up, under the current circumstances of rising hostility to the United States.
But democratization is a very long and messy process, and we may see outcomes that are not permanent, a tacking back and forth, trends that ebb and flow, decisions made that are later reversed. The development of more liberal interpretations of the role of Islam in government is indeed possible. These trends are very weak in the Middle East, but they do exist. There are people who are trying to figure out how the practice of Islam and the creation of a genuinely Islamic society is compatible with Western notions of democracy.
What is the role of the United States in all of this? For all its talk about transformation and democracy, the United States has been remarkably superficial in its thinking about how democratization might unfold in the Middle East. There’s been very little analysis of what social, economic, political and regional factors would give rise to a democratization process, as opposed to some other kind of political change. There has been little consideration of the way in which our policies in the region, and the local perception of and reaction to those policies, is shaping political attitudes in a way that will affect how democratization unfolds and what kind of political choices people will make.
The outcome of those choices may not be to our liking. But over time, if democratization does occur, there will be a working out within Arab societies of these issues that have been repressed or distorted for so long. Any attempt on our part to block that process or to try to interfere with it may in the short-term produce governments or policies that we believe are amenable to our interests, but it will not facilitate the genuine unfolding of the process. It’s unclear whether the United States is really ready to sit back and let that process unfold, for obvious reasons. It might produce some very difficult outcomes for us. In Iraq, we’re at the beginning of what is going to be a very complicated process of shaping that country’s new system of governance. The Iraqis haven’t yet gotten to the point of figuring out how they will draft their constitution.
FREEMAN: I am reminded of the existence of a secular democracy next door to Iraq, in Turkey. There, the Turkish general staff have emerged as the custodians of secularism, not exactly a model that many find appealing. Generally in the region, the Turkish model is viewed as anathema. But the issues that arose in Turkey, as you discussed, arise also in Iraq. Is de-Baathification, removal from political participation of the element of Iraqi society that was most avowedly secularist, likely to aid or impede the emergence of a more democratic and secular Iraq? And if Iraqis cannot agree on the source of law, whether it is legislation by a secular legislature or a constitutionally empowered process, how are they going to write a constitution in time for such a thing to be useful?
On another point, the future of U.S. relationships in the region will be decided in Iraq, but if the democratic experiment there fails, that’s not the end of the issue. There are many, many other societies in the Middle East evolving on their own toward more democratic forms of government. Therefore, while it would be lovely if Iraq were to emerge as Ken suggested, as an inspiration for the region; if it doesn’t, that isn’t the end of the issue necessarily.
PHILIP C. WILCOX, JR., president, Foundation for Middle East Peace
I will comment on our war against terrorism in which Iraq is only one aspect of a much broader problem. Terrorism – 9/11 and the history of terrorist attacks against the United States – was the main impetus for the central theme of the administration’s foreign policy, the war on terrorism and the goal of transforming the Middle East. And the administration claims that terrorism was a main rationale for war against Saddam Hussein. It’s much too early to try to draw up a balance sheet on how we’re doing, but there are some trends that bear noting.
First, major terrorist attacks around the world that emerged from conflicts in the Middle East and from Islamist extremist elements have continued on a large scale in the Middle East, South Asia, Africa and East Asia. The number of casualties from these attacks in the last two years has been greater than in the years preceding 9/11.
Second, there’s been a horrific escalation of terrorism in the Israeli-Palestinian arena following the collapse of the peace process in 2000. Third, as others have said, all is not going well in Iraq, and a new terrorist threat has emerged there. Fourth, and maybe most ominous, there is rising hostility and anger against the United States throughout the Middle East and the Islamic world. This threatens to cripple the cooperation that the United States needs in opposing and reducing the terrorism threat. The president’s own study team on public opinion in the region has described this level of hostility as “shocking.” Very large majorities in virtually all Arab and Muslim countries oppose our war on terrorism, and our presence in Iraq, and they vehemently oppose our policies toward the Israeli Palestinian conflict.
On the plus side of course, we have defeated the Taliban regime – at least for the present. We’ve installed a friendly government in Kabul. We’ve arrested hundreds of al-Qaeda leaders and operatives, disrupted plots and stopped some financial flows. But the overall balance sheet is hardly encouraging.
What has gone wrong? The administration has focused on the destruction of terrorists and terrorist groups as the solution to terrorism. Certainly, we must do this, but terrorism is a symptom of deeper conflicts. If destroying terrorists is all we do, it’s only a palliative. Unless we understand, try to eliminate or at least contain the problems that breed terrorism, we’re going to fail, and the virus of terrorism will continue to grow and spread. Some have called this approach appeasement, but it’s not. It’s common sense.
Unfortunately, our attention to addressing the basic causes of terrorism has been secondary to our focus on military remedies. The lack of human rights, the lack of democracy, the lack of economic development in the Arab and Muslim world, which have bred anger and despair, hostility and violence in those areas, have not been high on our agenda, in terms of diplomacy and resources.
We have tended to exaggerate the efficacy of military force as our primary counterterrorism weapon. Military force is essential in some cases, but its uses are still limited. It’s very hard to engage terrorists militarily. Needless to say, Osama bin Laden and his deputies are still alive; so is Saddam Hussein. By and large, military force, if it is used unilaterally, tends to frighten other governments and societies, who fear American hegemony. Military force often kills innocent civilians. It encourages those who seek holy war and probably generates new recruits.
We’ve lost some of the focus in the war on al-Qaeda and worldwide terrorism with the huge effort we’re making in Iraq. Iraq is emerging to surprise the administration, as a new breeding ground for terrorism that didn’t exist previously.
We have failed to use our great influence in addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which has bred a tremendous amount of terrorism over the decades. This, more than any other factor, has inflamed opinion in the Arab and Muslim world against us because of our perceived failure to address this issue, our perceived pro-Sharon policies. I say pro-Sharon because I don’t believe they are pro-Israel. We have not brought our influence to bear on that problem.
In the Palestinian-Israeli conflict we have tended to focus on terrorism as the main problem. We have demanded that terrorism be stopped before the larger underlying causes can be dealt with – the problems of settlements and occupation, which are the basic causes of violence and conflict there – even though the president’s own Roadmap has called for simultaneous attention to security, fighting terrorism, and ending the occupation and the policies of settlement.
Speaking of the policy of eliminating terrorism through military assassination, or other means, the former speaker of the Israeli Knesset, Avraham Burg, said last week, “We could kill a thousand ringleaders a day, and nothing will be solved, because other leaders come up from below, from the wells of hatred and anger, from the infrastructures of injustice.” Burg is right. If we are really serious about stopping terrorism and bringing security for Israel and justice for the Palestinians, we need to turn back to bold, active mediation and a policy that addresses, not just the symptoms of terrorism, but the causes. No single American policy in my view would be more effective in turning the tide toward sympathy for the United States, the kind of sympathy and support we must have in the Arab and Muslim world if we’re going to deal effectively with terrorism.
There are certainly global links to terrorism. The impact of what we do in one country can have a major effect elsewhere. But we also have to look at the internal dynamics of each conflict, and in this respect, the Palestinian problem is not a problem of terrorism in Iran or terrorism in Iraq. It is an indigenous problem, and we have to deal with it on the basis of its unique local characteristics.
The underlying causes of terrorism, needless to say, are vastly complex. We’re not going to win a permanent “victory” against terrorism. Terrorism is a phenomenon of human life and human history. But we can bring our influence to bear on the causes of terrorism, reduce the danger to our country and to others, and contain it.
We cannot defeat or contain terrorism through some rapid, cathartic process. It’s going to take much more sophisticated and broad-gauge attention to all of those factors which generate terrorism. We also need to regain friends and allies. The essence of fighting terrorism is building support and sympathy for our country and our policies, so that other governments and societies will help us identify, expose and marginalize terrorists as a common threat. We have failed to do this. We must find a way to regenerate sympathy and support in order to eliminate the anger and hostility that other nations feel toward the United States. Unless we do that, we cannot succeed in mobilizing their help, and we desperately need their help to reduce this threat and to protect ourselves.
FREEMAN: Listening to these four presentations underscored to me the importance of the issues that Congress is now debating with respect to the $20 billion in U.S. contributions to reconstruction. Clearly, an occupation that has no material benefits for those who are occupied will blight all hope of the emergence of the sort of Iraq that we can hope for. It will blight Amy Hawthorne’s vision of an evolution toward democracy in Iraq. It will lead to a lengthy guerrilla warfare, and it will entice the world’s terrorists to come where the targets are. So the impulse to try to do Iraq on the cheap is perhaps the greatest enemy of American interests.
Q: The statement “if we get it right in Iraq” glosses over a central issue in this war, which is that the United States embraced the doctrine of the neoconservatives, that unilateral aims to remove a regime are justified. Mr. Pollack, do you say that it is justified to impose democracies when we have not been attacked and when we have not been invited in by a government? Is that going to work? And to Colonel Lang, is it true that the United States has participated in some of these wars of counterinsurgency, but that there also have been many other wars by countries that had empires and had to leave?
POLLACK: My views on whether or not the United States should have gone to war in Iraq are very well known. They’re also very complicated. I believed that the problems caused by Saddam Hussein, both for his own people and for the region, were grave enough that it would probably require a war to deal with them. But I had a whole range of conditions under which I wanted to see the United States go to war, including building a large multinational coalition and making sure that we knew what we were doing, in terms of post-war reconstruction, before we went in – a whole range of conditions that unfortunately were not satisfied before the Bush administration chose to go to war.
As far as imposing democracy, it is pretty clear that the majority of Iraqis want something like a pluralist system. I also think that it’s very clear that no other system of government will produce stability and prosperity for the Iraqi people. I am an advocate of democracy in Iraq simply because, having looked at all of the other alternatives, I think that they are much, much worse. Every other alternative for Iraq would produce chaos.
As far as what that democratic, pluralist system looks like, that has to be left to the Iraqi people. The United States, and the international community – I’d much prefer the international community rather than just the United States – should impose broad parameters. We need to learn from the lessons of the last 15 years: Panama to Haiti to Somalia to Cambodia to Kosovo to Bosnia to East Timor. Many of these countries, many of these peoples, while they may aspire to these things, often don’t know the best way to get there. While the international community has not always done a brilliant job, I think that they’ve done a better and better job over the course of time. There is real expertise out there in terms of helping a nation to move in this direction. My goal would be to have Iraqis working with international personnel who are very well-versed in these subjects to help the Iraqis to move toward a pluralist society.
LANG: You have to be careful about not just limiting your thought of wars of this kind to wars waged against occupiers or colonial powers. You have to consider unpopular governments as well, some of them well-established. It is possible for governments to win wars like this. It generally depends on what level of brutality they are willing to sink to and what level of resources they are willing to commit to the process. If you look at the Philippines after World War II, the Magsaysay government very successfully applied a counterinsurgency doctrine, which was probably the ancestor of our own. The question is, what sort of price are you willing to pay, both in what it does to you and what it does to the locals, in order to win?
FREEMAN: This question about preemptive or preventative warfare leads back immediately to some of the points that Phil Wilcox was making on terrorism. If the answer to terrorism is to criminalize that behavior, to deal with it through international cooperation, the rule of law and law enforcement – which, coupled with military action, seem the only answer to it – then if you assert a right to act outside the rule of law or without regard to institutions like the United Nations that administer the rule of law, and if you alienate your allies and friends, and if you insist on the right to conduct lynchings when courts like the Security Council refuse to find in your favor on issues, then you fundamentally undercut your ability to combat terrorism. That is one of the main issues at stake in unilateralism versus a more respectful approach toward international law.
Q: I disagree a little bit with Phil in terms of his perspective on the Arab-Israeli conflict – Hamas is dedicated to the destruction of Israel. It’s a little hard to talk until that group is finished. However, my key question deals with how you deal with the guerrilla warfare. Since about 80 percent of the Iraqi population appear to be, at least for the time being, on our side, and almost all of the military problem seems to be in the Sunni triangle, why not do two things: First, impose martial law on key cities like Tikrit, and do a thorough search for arms caches, leaders, et cetera. At the same time, have the local councils quickly select representatives to serve on the constitution-making commission and move ahead with a turnover of power as soon as possible to the Iraqis themselves?
LANG: At the moment, Kurdistan and the Shia south are quiet. But guerrillas in a resistance war like this, in order to win, in the long run have only to avoid being defeated: deny stability to the country and induce a feeling within the population of large parts of the country that American gestures of good will in terms of government, economy, health and education and everything else are futile because they do not provide security. If they can do that, they then create a political situation in which their will is opposed to our will. The result becomes a contest of wills. As Clausewitz said, “War is a matter of opposing wills.”
As long as they keep inflicting casualties on the U.S. Army there, the issue is not how many soldiers we lose. I hate to admit this, but that is an irrelevant statistic in terms of who’s going to win the war. Where it is relevant is the fact that it had a direct political impact on the United States. Of all the kinds of warfare, resistance warfare involving guerrillas is the most clearly political. It is an extension of the political process into armed conflict. As long as these people continue to resist and to create an aura of insecurity, it’s going to be extremely difficult to do the things that the questioner brought up. People who adhere to that process will be targeted, they’ll be threatened, they’ll be made afraid, if that’s possible. The only way you’ll be able to avoid that is to do the kind of thing that happened in the West Bank, which is to lock these villages down and put the screws on them until nothing functions. And then you’re not getting anywhere politically.
POLLACK: I think the solution that you’re pointing at is a pretty good one. In an ideal world, you would have good local government, but appointed members to a constitutional convention where they could then draft a constitution. We do have a lot of local success stories. I’ve heard a lot of instances where tiny little villages have organized a council. If that’s the level that you’re going to start drawing constitutional convention members from, you may have several thousand, which would make it unwieldy. You’ve got to build up to a slightly higher level, and we’re not yet at that level.
The successes that I was talking about are also uneven across the country. You can have a village in one place, where there’s a good, smart U.S. commander who has done the right thing, and they formed up a local council. And there’s another village next door that we just haven’t engaged with, and they don’t have that kind of a situation. Or you’ve got a really nasty local tribal sheikh, who runs the place with an iron hand, and as a result, the Americans have said that’s in the “too hard” category for the moment.
It’s a matter of time, and that really is the critical element. I’m very wary of all of these go-fast schemes. I think the French position is outrageous. But even the positions being advocated by some Americans, that we might do this in six or 12 months or 18 months, strike me as too fast. The lesson that I learned from Bosnia is that moving too fast to this sort of national-level government just empowers the old elites and doesn’t help the process of democracy. It undercuts it.
FREEMAN: Because there is a political process in the United States, and there will be increasing pressure to declare democracy and withdraw, regardless of the realities on the ground, we might be well-advised to seek as speedy as possible movement in the direction of the objectives we are trying to pursue.
WILCOX: A comment on the argument that Hamas must be finished before Israeli Palestinian peace talks can resume. This illustrates the critical importance of public opinion in fighting terrorism. There will be no success in defeating Hamas and the other terrorist elements in the West Bank and Gaza and in Israel unless Palestinian public opinion is mobilized against the terrorists and is willing to allow Palestinian armed forces to move against them, to marginalize them, to make them pariahs rather than heroes. That hasn’t happened. There is no prospect that any Palestinian leader – Yasser Arafat or otherwise – is going to conduct a civil war against Hamas unless he has the support of his own society. And he doesn’t because there hasn’t been any corresponding effort on the part of the Sharon government to address the basic causes of violence. Some elements in Hamas will use violence whatever happens, because they want to destroy the state of Israel. But, by and large, Palestinian terrorism there is a function of a dispossession of Palestinian land, settlements and absolute hopelessness among Palestinians caused by Sharon’s uncompromising hard-line policies. That is why terrorism can only be attacked through a political solution.
HAWTHORNE: The United States is in a very difficult position, because our presence in Iraq obviously is engendering hostility and resentment among some parts of the population and perhaps giving rise to political ideologies that may not be to our liking. On the other hand, the solution is not to rush through a constitution-drafting process and the holding of elections so we can get out immediately. That would be a disaster. For Iraqis to create a constitutional system that will hold, based on a meaningful document that will give shape to how a new Iraq will be governed, how citizens will live in that country, what the relationship of other religious, ethnic and sectarian communities is to one another, takes time and real politics. It either comes from a top-down process, whereby those who are creating the document have legitimacy and credibility among the people of the country, so that they can draft something and then sell it to the larger public. Or it comes through a bottom-up process, by which citizens hash out and begin to work through some of the issues that they would like to see reflected in a constitution.
This takes time, particularly in a country like Iraq, which has no history of ever having done anything like this before in this way. What the United States needs to focus on is not rushing to create a constitution, but on thinking analytically and strategically about how to create the conditions under which either an effective top-down or bottom-up process can occur. That will take a lot longer than six months. We will probably rush it, because there’s also the timing of the U.S. presidential election that’s driving a lot of this, and we will end up with something that will crumble very shortly. Then we’ll have another problem on our hands just a few years later.
Q: I wonder if Ken hasn’t absolved our lionhearted collection of intelligence services a little too quickly. One of the things we’re lacking in Iraq is those 20 or 30 Arabic-speaking and Kurdish-speaking case officers and political officers who can get out around the country on the ground and sort out the clerics that one can work with and those one can’t, and identify those potential secular leaders who might be encouraged to come forward but who are not doing so on their own. We went into this war without a stable of real Iraq experts, people who had lived in Iraq, been on the ground, had the touch and feel for the political culture of the community. Perhaps the best we have is Phebe Marr, who is sitting right here and hasn’t been in any Pentagon planning rooms or with our people in Baghdad.
LANG: There are longstanding structural problems in the U.S. intelligence community – not just CIA, but the military as well – with regard to issues like this, in which there has been consistent underinvestment in the production of people with regional expertise and linguistic ability. There are only a handful of people around who can fulfill that role, and certainly in the military these have never been sufficiently rewarded in their careers, in order to make sure these people would stick around. The issue of whether we have enough people who understand Iraq is almost ludicrous. There has never been any really serious effort to develop clandestine intelligence in Iraq for as long as I can remember. In the lead up to the war, it was necessary to rely on third-hand reports from people who are obviously interested parties and all kinds of inferential judgments about issues of global significance. So strategic analysis of these issues was always a very defective thing. And now on the ground in Iraq, you have a bunch of guys who are trying to do jobs which, in the days of colonials, were fulfilled by people like the “Officiers des Affaires Indigenes,” those French officers who devoted their whole lives to understanding local tribal and religious politics. We don’t have anybody like that, and we have never made any effort to develop them. This reflects the fact that the Americans as a people are not interested in adventures of this kind overseas. We have tried such adventures a number of times and have, in the end, rejected them on every occasion. Now we’re committed to this effort, and there’s no way to get out. But we have very serious structural problems.
POLLACK: I certainly agree with Pat’s point. But we do have a very good intelligence service. My point was that Napoleon would have killed for the kind of information that our intelligence services are able to produce on a regular basis. The same is true for the Wehrmacht. There is no nation that has ever gone into wars as well-equipped in terms of intelligence as ours have. That’s not to suggest that ours are perfect. A great commander takes the intelligence at hand, understands the limits of his intelligence, and comes up with a strategy accordingly.
A third point. In this kind of war, getting the kind of intelligence that you would need to win it through intelligence will never happen. Twenty or 30 good case officers are a drop in the bucket. And to get the kind of information that the U.S. military is looking for would require thousands of good case officers who are able to mingle. That will never happen. The way that you get intelligence in a guerrilla war is to have the people coming to you and saying there’s a guy five doors down who is building bombs. When that happens – when the people are on your side – the intelligence all falls into place. If the people aren’t on your side; you are never going to manufacture the intelligence that you need at that tactical level. Winning guerrilla wars is about hearts and minds, removing the underlying political and economic grievances that give rise to the guerrilla movement in the first place, taking popular support away from the guerrillas. It’s not about whether you can have a thousand great case officers, all of them level-five Arabic speakers, who can pinpoint each of these groups. That will simply never happen.
FREEMAN: You don’t really need thousands of people; you need dozens. We don’t have them. The latest figures I saw on the Foreign Service suggest that there are 54 fluent Arabic speakers in the Foreign Service; that is, officers with some level of fluency. There were, a couple of years ago, only nine Americans in the entire country who graduated with a major in Arabic. The population of case officers in the intelligence community outside the Foreign Service who are comfortable with Arabic is on a par with the numbers that I have given. We are very good at spotting military formations from space or with intercepted communications, and we are very poor at fielding agents who will collect information on the ground under filthy, degrading and culturally alien conditions. This is not something that many people volunteer for, and certainly not Americans.
The larger point here is that this effort in Iraq is not being conducted in any way consistent with the lessons of the various examples that Pat cited. This is a case of nation building being managed not just by the Pentagon, but specifically by the office of the secretary of defense himself; micromanagement of a viceroy in Iraq who reports directly to the secretary of defense. Whatever the Pentagon civilians are good at, nation building is manifestly not among those things. George Bush was quite right when he said the military should not be tasked with nation building. They are not gendarmes, they are not social workers; and they are not effective as politicians. Unfortunately, we have not built the civil-affairs function to the level of political officers in the British colonial army. So we are attempting to conduct the war after the war in Iraq from the wrong place, with the wrong degree of micromanagement from Washington, with the wrong people in charge on the ground, and it’s not surprising that the results so far have been somewhat lacking.
LANG: The proof of how little we have taken this kind of thing seriously is the fact that the civil-affairs function – interaction with local government – has disappeared entirely from the regular army. This has become entirely a function of the U.S. Army Reserves. What you have committed to doing all these really great things in all these little towns backed up by airborne infantry and armor are guys who come from Boise and Santa Monica who are essentially civilians. We have never taken the time to develop the kind of in-depth expertise that would enable us to conduct a revolutionary occupation. Instead, we have guys who are hoping to go back to being a lawyer or running their hardware store. This does not indicate a level of prior commitment that ought to inspire confidence anywhere. If you’re going to try to revolutionize Iraq, this is a really long-term commitment, and we have not been very serious about it.
Q: The CPA seems to be committed to a process of writing a constitution, holding elections and then turning over authority, despite the suggestions of some people that this process might be reversed. If the constitution writing process takes six months, and nobody seems to think that possible, what kind of a forcing event will the elections in the United States be? Will it lead us to look for Sunni or Shia ex-generals – strongmen – who might take us through a difficult process rather than continue on the process of constitution making? And how will this play out in terms of the Iraqi people? Somehow, Sunnis, Shia and Kurds, in the end, are going to have to agree to rejiggered roles in the national economy, in the national defense, in national decision-making. The Sunnis are going to lose their monopoly, and the Shia and Kurds are going to gain some new powers. How is that going to play out in the six months before our election?
POLLACK: With regard to your point about the complete change in the political structure inside Iraq among the different ethnic and religious groups, I think you’re right that there will definitely be changes. Right now you don’t see a huge amount of popular resistance to that. Obviously, the Shia are very pleased by the idea. The Kurds seem comfortable with it, but they have their own particular agenda about Kurdistan. Most of the Sunnis seem comfortable with it. The problem is that you do have a group of very vocal, very violent holdouts: tribal groups, former regime loyalists; a small group of people, but a group of people who are making a lot of trouble. If that holds, the situation in six months will not be terribly problematic. The problem is, we don’t know how long that situation will hold. I think it is very much predicated on whether they see real progress.
With regard to the constitution, I think the current course that we’re on is a very problematic one. I don’t necessarily see the scenario that you are posing, which is that we start looking for a general who can run the place. I see it going in a different direction, which is that we basically try to ram the constitution through. You will have members of the Governing Council very much in favor of doing that. They will become our willing accomplices. We will increasingly defer to them. You will have people like Ayatollah Sistani opposing it and increasingly throwing up roadblocks. My guess is that they will do it very gradually because Sistani and the other moderate Shiite clerics want to see the process work. But the more that we push in this direction, the more that we demand that the constitution be enacted so that we can transfer power, I think we will wind up narrowing our base of support enormously, to the point that we’re probably relying on a small number of members of the current Governing Council to act as our surrogates. Under those circumstances, I think you will see Sistani and other moderate Shia jumping off the wagon and saying the Americans are driving this in a direction that we don’t want to go. And then if we get those problems that I was just referring to before in terms of the different ethnic and religious groups as well, you could see things really starting to come apart.
FREEMAN: To rephrase the question, next year, when the president goes up to the hill for $87 billion for fiscal 2005, what is the politics of that going to look like?
POLLACK: As an old intelligence analyst, I hate making predictions, especially about the future, especially about a situation as fluid as Iraq.
FREEMAN: I was speaking of the United States. Some people here are looking for a general to take over, too, apparently.
POLLACK: (Chuckles.) It is very unclear what we are going to see next year at this time. If we do pump $20 billion into Iraq, Iraq’s economy may actually be quite good, if only in a temporary sense. Last year, before the invasion, Iraq’s GDP was about $18 billion. If we’re going to pump more money than their GDP into the country, it will be awash in dollars, and that will keep the economy floating very nicely for that year. It will be short term; it won’t be sustainable unless we inject another however many billion dollars in to keep it afloat, but a year from now, the economy may not be doing terribly.
The real problem is the potential train wreck over the constitution. My fear is that the administration is absolutely determined to push through a constitution. If you want it bad, you will get it bad. They will wind up looking to a few people on the Governing Council who are willing to be their tools. They will put their trust and their efforts behind those people, and those people will become increasingly isolated within Iraqi society because they won’t reflect the vast majority.
HAWTHORNE: Iraq has, in large part, been in a political holding pattern until now, in part because of the security situation, the emergence of the insurgency. It’s also because key political actors are waiting for the process of constitution drafting to be able to stake their claims and assert their vision. But already there are huge fights emerging, even within the Governing Council, about not just what should be in the constitution, but how it should be drafted and who should draft it. That’s the first hurdle that has to be jumped over. Once this political process begins to kick in, it will make things messy, but it’s a messiness that the Iraqis have to go through.
In terms of the American political process, I see two scenarios. One is that the security situation deteriorates considerably. That will put pressure on us to pull out very quickly. If, as our presidential election nears, more Americans are getting killed and the situation looks, from Washington, really bad, it’s going to be very hard for the administration to argue that we need to stick it out. On the other hand, if things improve, it may give some leverage to those within the administration – and I believe they are in the minority – who actually would like to give adequate time for a constitution-writing process and elections.
FREEMAN: We need to keep reminding ourselves there are a lot of people, including some in Iraq but certainly many in the broader Arab and Muslim worlds, who don’t want that constitution and who are going to do everything they can to make the situation even messier than you correctly point out it will be.
PHEBE MARR: Someone said that Iraq has never gone through a constitutional process before. That’s not quite right. If we can stretch our minds back to the British, who were in exactly the same situation under even more unfavorable circumstances than we are back in the 1920s, they did go through this process, with many of the same difficulties. How do we get a constitution, how do we get a group of people who are going to side with our interests but make it look democratic, and so on. Suffice it to say that it took them a good two years to get through this. There was one constituent assembly that had to be canceled. Religious leaders had to be exiled to Iran to get it through, and they just squeaked through with a very short vote, finally. The constitution took effect in 1926.
I wanted to raise another issue here that hasn’t been considered. We’re going to spend $20 billion priming the pump on the economy. How the $20 billion is spent is very important. I’m a little concerned about the way in which we privatize. I agree with establishing a market economy and so on, but the critical issue seems to me to be to get Iraqis employed, to get a market economy going in Iraq, with Iraqis, presumably with a fairly level playing field. Are American companies going to come in and swallow up a lot of this money rather than laying the basis for a market economy in Iraq? The short-term aim, particularly with the election coming up, may undermine a long-term goal and lead to unintended consequences.
LANG: I have been looking at this and visiting with some of these folks that you mentioned. You have to take a sober look at this and wonder how people are going to get their hands on a lot of that money because it’s going to be really difficult to operate in Iraq in the context of the kind of security situation you have now. There are only so many large corporations that are willing to expose their senior folks to that kind of danger, and there are other issues. So far as I know, there isn’t any commercial air service into Baghdad as yet, and I don’t know when that will begin. There’s an antiaircraft fire threat around the airport. It’s going to be hard to conduct business in that context, and that will affect where the political process will be by next summer.
This is not like a blackboard in Iraq, where we write upon it and our words remain engraved forever. There’s somebody coming along behind us and erasing the words as we go. It’s going to be hard to carry out some of these schemes for writing a constitution in a context in which people can’t even agree whether Swiss law or Sharia is going to be the basis of the legal code. At the root of all these problems lies the security issue, and that has to be solved.
FREEMAN: I am also in business and do things related to this. There are quite a number of Iraqi merchant families who left Iraq during the tumult of the last 30 years who are preparing to return with foreign partners in tow. So there’s an exile community that is, if anything, more relevant and well-rooted in the economic sphere than the exile community is in the political sphere. Having said that, there is an absence of decision-making authority in Iraq at the moment. There is nobody who can bind a future Iraqi government to any decision, so decisions are not being made. Without naming the government concerned, I have had for four months about a half a billion dollars to give away in Iraq – give away in the sense of funding projects for power plants, wastewater management, water treatment and the like – exactly the things that are most required. We have not been able to get anybody to make a decision in Iraq about what priorities should be addressed by this particular set of foreign donor governments.
So we’re starting with a very, very low base in terms of privatization. I would say the greater risk is not that Iraq will be pillaged by multinationals, but that multinationals, for the very reasons Pat Lang mentioned, plus the absence of an effective decision-making mechanism in Baghdad, will turn up their noses at the place and it will get worse rather than better. Privatization doesn’t work if there aren’t people who are willing to buy assets.
POLLACK: I am nervous about how a lot of these contracts are being let. This also gets to Chas.’s earlier point about the Department of Defense perhaps not being the best choice to do nation building because they really don’t know how to do it. If you spend $20 billion in Iraq, you can probably do a lot of good things. You can also waste a lot of money. There’s enormous potential for corruption and graft. This is a country which, at least for the last 30 years and arguably for the last 80, has been built on graft. Beyond that, I am hearing very disturbing stories that for a lot of the big projects that are being led to some of these multinationals, the multinationals are planning on importing all the labor. If that’s the case, it would be disastrous. We have a lot of unemployed Iraqis out there, and we need to put them to work to get them off the street and doing constructive things, actually pay them salaries for work that they have done. If we start importing tens of thousands of Filipino laborers it will make the situation worse.
Q: Can democracy flourish on the American watch? In other words, can Iraq survive democracy? Long before American neoconservatives discovered Iraq, the British tried. They gave it a constitution, 10 elections were held between 1923 and 1958, more than 50 cabinets. They found out that the chimera they created out of the Kurdish, Shiite and Sunni areas cannot be held together with a democratic system. This is why you had dictators. The most destabilizing factor was British imperial hegemony. They were not present, but the British were not liked by the Iraqis. This is why, in spite of the democracy, they overthrew the government. Why should they love us more than they loved the British?
Second, can secularism flourish on the American watch? The most Islamizing factor in the Muslim world, particularly in Iran, was American hegemony. Only the Islamists could sacrifice themselves and throw out the shah, because Islamists are empowered. And it is the Shiites in Iraq who were in the vanguard of the anti-British movement. Is not the American presence itself the most destabilizing and Islamizing factor?
HAWTHORNE: The relationship with the West and the role of the United States in particular in these societies will become a central political issue in any democratization process. New political actors and previously repressed voices will seize on anti-American sentiment and even nationalism as a way of defining and empowering themselves politically and gaining popular support. In Iraq, this is also true. The United States has prompted the democratization process and gotten rid of Saddam’s regime – inspiring gratitude among many Iraqis, yet there may be a strong nationalist backlash against the United States that may define Iraqi politics for some time to come. We can do many positive things in Iraq, but our presence there is also going to provoke antagonism. These two strands – appreciating our role, and resenting it deeply – will coexist in Iraq for some time to come, I believe.
LANG: There’s an assumption in a lot of discussions around town which I do not share: that the indigenous culture of the Arab world is a kind of obstacle to be overcome, and that if we persist at it and we set up enough schools and have enough water piped into villages, that these folks are going to stop being who they are and will be somebody else who we can get along with easier. I think it is not true that education will lead to Westernization of the Arab world. I think that isn’t necessarily the case at all. In believing that that is true, we’re probably setting ourselves up for a great disappointment. For if we succeed in having a constitution created, which may not reflect their own values very much, then in the end they will either let that constitution exist as a kind of false front or else go back to whatever it is they really are.
When you start messing around with the deeply held beliefs of people, you shouldn’t think that you’re just going to blow through this and come out the other side, where there will be a lot of McDonald’s in Baghdad and everything will be great.
WILCOX: Speaking of American influence and democracy building in the Arab world, the credibility of our commitment to this worthy goal depends in part on how we approach the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Ironically, the Palestinians are far better equipped, historically, for the emergence of democracy in the relatively short term than almost any other Arab society. They are a Mediterranean people and they have lived next to and among Israelis who – at least for Jewish Israelis – have created a vibrant democracy. The Palestinians admire that and want it for themselves.
It is often said that the United States cannot concentrate on two major foreign-policy problems simultaneously. But if we were to restore our active leadership toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with the aim of liberating the Palestinians and supporting democracy there, and in the process help rescue Israel from a dreadful trap, that would do much to improve our credibility in this larger adventure of promoting democracy in the Middle East.
Q: There seems to be an assumption that there’s a fiscal capability within Iraq to take care of normal operations, and that this $20 billion is on top of something that is there. And is the assumption correct that the military costs – a net additional cost of the military over there – are going to be essentially flat, at least for the near term?
POLLACK: My sense of the assumptions is not that the administration or the CPA thinks that this is going to be $20 billion on top of something else. What you consistently hear from them is that they didn’t realize just how badly broken Iraq was before the invasion, and that politically and economically in terms of its infrastructure, it was in much worse shape than was realized beforehand. Therefore a lot of very basic stuff is going to have to happen. I think that there’s a lot of infrastructure repair that has to happen. And education doesn’t turn people into something different, something that we can deal with. I also do think it’s the case that Iraq’s educational structure has been broken over the last 12, 25, 30 years, and it desperately needs to be refurbished, in many cases from the ground up, in terms of building brand-new schools and coming up with brand new textbooks.
What I’m nervous about is whether this group actually knows how to spend that money correctly. I think Jerry Bremer, since he has come into office, has done some very good things. His heart is in the right place, and his focus that he seems to have is actually quite good. My sense is that he gets thrown roadblocks by a whole variety of different people. He is forced into taking actions that don’t necessarily work out in the right way, but I also don’t think that CPA is perfect. There are a lot of problems with the CPA organization. As they will say, they live in a bubble. Their contact, with both the Iraqis and the U.S. personnel who are out in the field, is minimal, and I’m very concerned about whether the CPA actually knows how to run things.
At a more mundane level, having served in the government for about a dozen years, I am very concerned that the logistics of it aren’t quite right. If you give $20 billion to the Pentagon or to the CPA, I don’t think they know how to spend it properly. I don’t think they have the people who know how to draw up and run these kinds of programs. To the extent that that capability exists, it is resident in the State Department, which has been very much shut out of this entire process.
LANG: It’s not like we never did this before, you know. If you look at American history, every occupation we have ever conducted was conducted by the U.S. Army and then later by the Department of Defense. It has always been that way because the structure is there for administering the security forces that have to be there and managing large organizations. It’s hard to find that any place else. The question isn’t so much whether it was a good idea to structure it that way, but how well is it being done? If you look at the occupation of Germany right after World War II, you find that, although Defense ran everything, they were very eager to have a large number of European-oriented State Department officers assigned to the office of the high commissioner for Germany. There was a lot of informed content in what was going on.
My father trained for a year in England and America for his role in the occupation government of Germany before the invasion of France. We didn’t do anything like that in Iraq. I’m very impatient with people who tell me that we didn’t have time that we didn’t have enough people. That’s nonsense. This was a high-priority task and it should have been taken care of, with State fully integrated in it. That didn’t happen, and I think it’s leading us toward a very bad place.
FREEMAN: It is absolutely astonishing to me that anyone could have been under any illusion at all about how bad things were in Iraq. The U.N. Development Program was on the ground everywhere in Iraq and was reporting exactly how bad it was. At one point Madeline Albright, former secretary of state, was asked what her reaction was to the death of a million Iraqis from sanctions. She said, well, sometimes you just have to do things like that to make a point, which was not a comment that went over very well in the region. In any event – after eight years of war with Iran; a year of warfare with the United States and a vast international coalition in the first Gulf War, including 42 days of bombing of Iraq; 10 years of sanctions and intermittent bombing; three weeks of extremely well-targeted attacks on infrastructure and an advance – a brilliant, but brutal advance by the U.S. Army on Baghdad – why is it a surprise that the infrastructure is a bloody mess? How could people possibly imagine that there was very much left there to be “reconstructed?” The $20 billion is not on top of very much except rubble, and I think Pat’s point is correct.
There are people who do know how to do this kind of thing. The occupation in Germany, in fact, was the origin of our doctrine on this. We invented this function there and in Japan. We’ve seemed to have shoved this experience aside, and we need to rediscover it if we’re going to have success. This is a management issue, not a political issue, although it’s become a matter of Cabinet rivalry in Washington.
HAWTHORNE: I don’t think anyone has brought up the issue of how much of this reconstruction package might be given in loans as opposed to grants. That’s a debate that’s taking place right now in Congress. I believe that having any part of the reconstruction funding be provided as loans to the Iraqi people would be a political disaster for the United States.
FREEMAN: And there’s nobody in Iraq who can sign a loan agreement.
HAWTHORNE: The logistics and the finances of it aside, the idea that the United States would have Iraqis paying for the reconstruction, after a war that we provoked, would play out politically very poorly in Iraq.
I wanted to follow up briefly on the comments that Phil Wilcox made about the relationship between the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and democratization in the region, including in Iraq. In addition to the fact that this conflict needs to be solved on its own merits and that U.S. credibility in the region is damaged by its current position towards the conflict, there is another element to this that is very important. This is how Arab citizens are internalizing and responding to the intifada as they see it, and how the intifada itself is affecting politics and the nature of political change in Arab countries
It is shaping politics in a negative way. To anyone who’s spent time in the Arab world recently, it’s very obvious the way in which the intifada is creating a new kind of angry political discourse that is not favorable to the United States or to the possibility of liberal political change. If a democratization process begins in the Arab world, we may be very disturbed with what kind of discourses and policies emerge. How the Bush administration could claim to be investing a lot of effort, time and money promoting democratization in the region and not take this other factor into account – how the persistence of Arab Israeli violence is radicalizing popular sentiment – is a mystery to me.
Q: The first moment that I recall reading this argument, that a successful overthrow of Saddam Hussein would lead to democratization in the Arab world, was in a paper called “A Clean Break,” written by Richard Pearle, David Wurmser, Doug Feith and several other people who’ve got a certain amount of clout in the current administration. At that time, in 1996, they were writing the paper as a strategy for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu on how to get out of the whole concept of land for peace. I worry that the clean-break policy doesn’t stop with Iraq but involves follow-on military operations against Syria, Iran and a lot of other places in the Arab world. What would be the impact on our prospects of success in Iraq if we failed to prevent Prime Minister Sharon and the Israeli military from going ahead, say, with their stated desires to either kill or exile Arafat, plans that I know exist for a massive incursion into the Gaza Strip, perhaps in the next two or three weeks?
WILCOX: It would only aggravate the very hostile public opinion in the entire region against the United States and in the Islamic world beyond. We’ve hurt ourselves in focusing so heavily on the failures of Yasser Arafat, while calling for democracy. He is the only Arab leader freely elected by the public, and he’s quite popular among the Palestinian people. It reflects what most people see as hypocrisy for us to hammer on the essential need of getting rid of Arafat as a precondition to U.S. diplomatic engagement.
Concerning the prospect of further U.S. wars in the region, I don’t place much store by theories that Iraq was only the first strike and that we’re going to invade these other members of the “axis of evil” consecutively. That’s mostly talk, and mostly nonsense.
FREEMAN: Maybe there is another answer. The United States, in chasing after Iraq, resembled a dog chasing a car – very enthusiastic about the chase and not thinking very much about what would happen if he actually caught the car or what he would do with it. When you sink your teeth into the tires and inhale some fumes and get some oil on your tongue, your enthusiasm for chasing the next car is likely to be less.
Q: I’m one of the Arabic-speaking military officers who was actually in Iraq with the first Marine Division, went up from the border all the way up to Tikrit and helped establish the initial government there with General Kelly. One of the things we saw with the abandonment of the region by the local regime – the police and local leadership – was an immediate fallback to local powerbrokers and tribal leaders. The natural Arab structure. How do we engender a sense of individual thought and personal enfranchisement needed to establish a democracy? If we held elections tomorrow, what you’d see is tribal sheikhs telling their people whom to vote for.
HAWTHORNE: Just as religion is a complicating factor for the establishment of democracy, a tribal system is perhaps as well. It’s not that tribal systems and democracy can’t coexist, but certain things within the tribal system would have to evolve in order to be more compatible with a democratic system in which the role and rights of the individual were a very prominent feature of politics, which is not the case within a tribal system.
There are basically two ways this can happen, and the United States can either facilitate it or be unhelpful, from the sidelines. Society itself can change. There can be economic or social processes that change the way that tribes function in society, creating an opportunity for a new kind of politics. Or there can be a system imposed from the top to which society reacts and adapts. This really is what happens in the process of democratization, how the old and the new interact together to produce something different. Our role in this is rather limited. Our influence over centuries of cultural traditions and history and family structure is not really all that great. We can’t break the back of the tribal system in Iraq. If we tried to, I think we would fail.
POLLACK: I think that Amy’s points are basically right. This is a very long process. People did fall back on that tribal structure, but it was a structure that was stronger in some parts of the country than in others. And they fell back on it because we opened up a power vacuum.
There was an Iraqi on I think the Lehrer News Hour who basically said, you Americans, you don’t know how to run a coup. When you run a coup, the first thing you do is you make an announcement: the following people are no longer in office; the following people are now in office; the following rules no longer apply; the following rules now apply; everybody show up for work on Monday. We didn’t do that. We went in, and there was nothing to support the military. Garner took a long time to put it all together. He was overwhelmed by the circumstances. It was a much bigger problem than just him. The Iraqis, in the wake of this power vacuum, immediately went looking for someone who could deliver food, protection, all the things that they needed, and, if nothing else, to give them a sense of security that there was some kind of a hierarchy in which they could fit themselves if they had any problems.
Part of the process of democratization is creating new structures that allow people to seek food, security, employment – all the things they need – outside of a traditional patronage system. Once you start to build that I think that a lot of the people who fell back on the tribal system because it was the only thing available to them will be more than glad to start to move into a new environment, a new way of thinking. It creates a new incentive structure. But it takes time, and we’ve got to prove to them that this is going to work, that we mean it, and that we’re not going to let it fail.
FREEMAN: What we’re experiencing is an illustration once again of the absolute requirement for thinking through war-termination strategies before you start wars. We failed in the Gulf War to develop a war-termination strategy. We never ended that war; its simply transmuted into a lower-intensity conflict. You can argue that the current problems derived directly from that and that it’s all part of one long campaign. The issue here is that no one is defeated when the victor proclaims victory. When the victor declares major combat operations are over, if the defeated don’t feel defeated, they can always go on fighting by some other means. There was no authority in Iraq to proclaim defeat. There was no transfer of authority. There was the ouster of a regime, not a replacement of a regime. Everything we’re discussing – and I commend the panelists for the very intelligent level of discourse they’ve brought to this issue – is about how to replace the regime that we removed without thinking adequately about what would replace it.
Q: We’ve posed the question to some degree in terms of whether you have democracy or chaos. But there’s a third alternative: the Central Asian model in which political pressure, time and military insurgency may wind up having the American government put in a constitution and some free-market approach to the economy and begin rebuilding the economy and then let somebody like Hector Aliyev become president. Then five or ten years later, the democracy disappears and you return, as Pat Lang has said, to the persistence of local custom. Ultimately you wind up with no democracy but a “democratic” form of government, much as the British did at the end.
FREEMAN: I think everyone on the panel would agree that this is, in fact, a grave danger. I don’t think it’s necessarily the most likely outcome but it’s certainly a plausible one. As I said earlier, the best may be the enemy of the good. There is a time element here which cannot be ignored. There are things happening in Iraq, there are things happening in the region, including in the Holy Land, that relate to Iraq, and there are things happening in our politics and electoral process. All of these set deadlines which we somehow are going to have to deal with or surmount.