All Writings
March 30, 2003

The Haunting Aftermath Of Victory

That the war with Iraq will end in a U.S. and British military victory, although with far greater difficulties than expected, is not in doubt. But that such a victory leads to the transformation of Iraq, and eventually the entire Middle East, into a sea of freedom and democracy, as President Bush has predicted, remains in serious doubt. The first 12 days of the war have glaringly demonstrated that while the Iraqi people hate and revile their leader, they have no greater affection for America, and certainly not as an occupying power. So the question is: How can we foster peace and stability in the aftermath of the war?

I am not sure if naivete or wishful thinking made so many administration officials predict that the Iraqi people would greet our troops with flowers instead of bullets. To think that once Saddam Hussein is deposed, and the dust of war has settled, the Iraqi people will embrace and welcome us as liberators is equally delusional and dangerous. Any military miscalculations made before the war, based on mistaken notions about how the Iraqi military would respond, can be rectified–although at a terrible cost–to bring the military campaign to a successful conclusion. But similar miscalculations concerning post-war Iraq will not only result in our failing to transform that nation, but subject the entire Middle East to the whims of Arab and Muslim militants, causing tremendous political turmoil throughout the region with unpredictable but probably dire consequences. To be sure, we will eventually win the war but lose the struggle to win the minds and hearts of the Arab people. For these compelling reasons, the Bush administration must rethink its strategy about our role in post-war Iraq, taking into full consideration Arab, especially Iraqi, national sentiments so that we achieve at least some modicum of stability by changing the regime in Iraq.

The administration's plan to appoint a general, although in civilian clothes, to oversee the reconstruction of Iraq, is a dreadful mistake. The Iraqi people want to be liberated, the loathed Saddam Hussein replaced, but not by an American military governor however benevolent. Having endured the indignity of colonialism and the inhumanity of successive ruthless dictators from the day Iraq was born, the people have no stomach for a U.S. occupation under any guise.

America's extensive strategic and economic interests in Iraq, especially, concerning the flow of oil, must be reconciled with the Iraqi people's national aspirations, if peace and stability are to be realized anytime soon. The rising death toll and the widening suffering of Iraqi civilians, which will inevitably increase in the coming days and weeks, have already obscured the faint glow of liberation. So even when liberation eventually comes, it will be at a price not every Iraqi may be willing to pay. Therefore, the administration cannot dangle liberation in front of the Iraqi people, while denying them the right to choose their own government. Our role in reconstruction may well be extensive and last for a number of years, but we must play our part from behind the scenes.

To avoid endless hostilities and instead set Iraq on the path of reconstruction and peace, we must move swiftly to create an all-Iraqi transitional government fashioned after that of Afghanistan. Many Iraqis prefer to follow the Afghani self-government model. Although established with the help of, and sustained and protected by the United States, it remains an Afghani national government in all aspects and functions. Iraqi intellectuals, especially members of the Iraqi National Congress (INC), insist that their nation is considerably more advanced socially and politically than Afghanistan and if Afghanistan has thus far succeeded so can Iraq. And, however factional and imperfect it is, the INC itself represents the three major Iraqi ethno-religious groups: the Shi'a in the south, the Sunni in the center, and the Kurds in the north. A representative government comprised of these three groups should be formed and empowered to write a constitution. Given the factionalism and suspicion inherent in Iraqi society, this document must enshrine the right of every individual while allowing for the semi-autonomous rule of the three factions, which should, however, also be linked to a federalist system, that is, a government with the centralized authority necessary to maintain the cohesiveness of Iraqi society and its territorial integrity.

Much of course remains to unfold before we can draw any final conclusions about how post-war Iraq should look. But if the Bush administration does not want to be mired in a Middle East quagmire, it must now rethink its post-Saddam strategy and then explain how it intends to foster regional peace and stability. Recent public accusations by Defense Secretary Rumsfeld against Syria and Iran for interfering with the American war effort are potentially damaging to this end. Regardless of the merit of these accusations, which in any case should have first been made privately, his warning that he will hold Syria accountable suggests to an extremely uneasy region that the conflict with Iraq could expand to include other nearby nations. Whatever his intentions, these remarks were ill timed, ill suited and ill conceived, and, moreover, delivered with an arrogance that does nothing but reinforce the fear of the multitude of Arabs and Muslims that the United States seeks domination, not reconciliation.

It is an absolute fallacy to assume the Iraqi people will take whatever America dictates sitting down. The Arab masses will be at the least indignant about what they perceive to be renewed colonialism, and this will only create a resentment and hatred of Americans greater than ever before. In the role of a governing presence, the United States will be rejected and resisted. Terrorism will intensify, new recruits will flock to organizations espousing it, violence among various Iraqi factions will become rampant, Americans will be targeted at every turn, while Iraq's neighbors, without exception, will be swept up in violent political unrest that is certain to destabilize the entire region.

Yes, this may seem a prediction of doom, but so far the administration's own predictions about how smoothly the military campaign will unfold and how the Iraqi people will greet us with open arms have been dead wrong. We cannot afford to make another tragic miscalculation about post-war Iraq. Such a mistake could have far-reaching geo-political implications, pitting the West against Islam for years if not generations to come.