As these lines are being written, the United States is building up a mighty force for the siege of Baghdad. Given the firepower being brought to bear on that city and its defenders, we are going to win this war, depose Saddam, occupy Baghdad, and rid Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction. Whether that battle of Baghdad comes in two days, two weeks, or two months, it is going to end in a U.S. military victory.
But after victory, what? What will be the consequences of the first war of American empire? And is this president prepared for them?
Already, the “cakewalk” crowd that predicted a promenade into Baghdad, with Iraqis pouring out to welcome our invading army with garlands of desert flowers, has been discredited. Had the United States followed their counsel and confined U.S. invasion forces to fewer than 100,000 men, we would today be facing stalemate, far heavier casualties, and possible humiliation.
As it is, each day the fall of Baghdad is delayed is a victory for Saddam’s regime. Anti-Americans worldwide, whose number is legion, are taking heart from Iraq’s defiance of the last Superpower. Each day we are forced to rain death on the defenders and destruction on their ancient and fabled capital, for half a millennium the seat of the caliphate of Islam, the greater the deposits of hatred of us in the Arab and Islamic world. This is Saddam’s goal: to make us destroy Baghdad. If we are going to take him down, he wants to take down the good name of the United States forever in the eyes of Islam. He wants Arab and Islamic peoples to see us forever as the Mongols of modernity.
An Iraqi Intifada?
That Iraqi Fedayeen have been turning up along our 300-mile supply line from Kuwait, ambushing marines and soldiers, disguised in U.S. uniforms, tells us that those who warned that Iraq could become America’s West Bank were right. Already, a suicide bomber in a taxi killed four U.S. soldiers in Nasariyah.
Syria and Iran are now infiltrating warriors into Iraq for the postwar intifada. If, after we take Baghdad, U.S. occupation troops are being nightly sniped at, wounded and killed, not many weeks will elapse before the American people tell President Bush to get the disarmament done, and get our troops out.
To neoconservatives, this is but the first engagement of a long war for glory, empire, and “democratization” of the Islamic world. But the president has never made the case for that war. And the American people have never signed on to that war. Moreover, a struggle is already shaping up in the War Cabinet over what our Middle East priorities should be—after Baghdad.
Road Map to Nowhere
In winning decisively in parliament on the vote for war on Iraq, Tony Blair pacified rebellious Labourites by telling them he and Bush were now united, not only on liberating Iraq, but on doing justice to the Palestinians. President Bush has signed on to the “road map” for peace, said Blair, referring to the step-by-step plan to erect a viable Palestinian state. Even more important than Blair is Colin Powell. He, too, is now fully committed to the “road map,” where the U.S., EU, UN, and Russia pressure Israel and the Palestinians to take parallel steps to permanent peace by 2005. Consider this excerpt from a recent Washington Times story about a clash between British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and Ariel Sharon over Israel’s non-compliance with UN resolutions.
“Secretary Powell also entered the fray, telling a newspaper columnist this week that Mr. Bush will push Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon hard on a Middle East peace plan once its war in Iraq is over.
“‘He [Sharon] understands that the whole world is going to be looking to him to do something about the Middle East once Iraq has been dealt with,’ Mr. Powell told a columnist for the Washington Post.
“Mr. Powell was asked who besides him in the Bush administration ‘favored a plan that would mean going to the mat with Sharon.’
“‘The President,’ Mr. Powell replied, ‘I just left him 30 minutes ago, and we talked about it.’”
While I do not doubt the sincerity of Secretary Powell, he underestimates the forces in this city determined to rip up what they deride as the “road map to nowhere.” If Powell believes President Bush is going to the mat with Ariel Sharon in an election cycle, he is dreaming.
George W. Bush knows what happened to his father. When Bush I, after his triumph in the Gulf War, asked Congress for a brief delay in granting $10 billion in loan guarantees to Israel, until Yitzhak Shamir agreed not to use the money for new settlements, he was denounced as an anti-Semite by a member of the Israeli Cabinet and excoriated by the Israeli Lobby and its media allies. The political damage done to him helped to cost George H. W. Bush his presidency.
George W. knows that. Karl Rove knows that. And they know, better than Colin Powell, the forces that will be marshaled against them if they do what Powell has committed President Bush to do, i.e., go to the mat with Ariel Sharon over the West Bank settlements.
First, there will be fierce resistance in the President’s own War Cabinet. Neither Cheney nor Rumsfeld, who calls the West Bank “so-called occupied territory,” believes in pressuring Israel. Nor do the neoconservatives Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith at Defense. Nor does Elliot Abrams of the NSC, who holds the Middle East portfolio at the White House. The affection of these gentlemen for the Oslo Accords, for which assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin won a Nobel Prize, is roughly the same as that of Hamas.
They will fight to kill the road map. And if Sharon, under pressure, charges the Bush administration, as he has before, of plotting a “Munich” at the expense of Israel by forcing him to yield land to terrorists, his cause will be taken up by the Israeli Lobby, neoconservative columnists, Evangelical Christians, House Republicans, and the leadership and presidential candidates of a Democratic Party that will see this as an opportunity to drive a wedge between Bush and his new enthusiasts in the Jewish community. Finally, there is no hard evidence Bush himself believes that deeply in the road map or is willing to pay the hellish price he would have to pay to impose it upon Ariel Sharon.
James Baker, Secretary of State for Bush I, believes that an Arab-Israeli peace conference should be called immediately after the war in Iraq to demand implementation of the road map. Others believe U.S. pressure on Israel, to conclude a peace in the Middle East close to the Camp David and Taba plans, is a vital national interest. But Sharon and his right-wing regime reject this idea utterly and were elected to resist such a peace.
Should President Bush try to make good on his commitment to Blair and on Powell’s commitment of his prestige and authority, Karl Rove will be in his office with a simple message: “Mr. President, given the opposition here and in Israel, this cannot be done. Push it, and you risk your re-election.”
A collision between Blair and Bush over pressuring Israel to adhere to the road map is ahead, as is a battle royal inside the War Cabinet between Powell and Cheney-Rumsfeld. Blair and Powell will lose, which could rupture the Anglo-American alliance and split the Bush cabinet as well.
Americans are enraged today at the French and the Germans. But there is special anguish over the Turks. By denying their old friend and ally access to their territory to open a northern front, the Turks terribly undercut U.S. war strategy. This war will last longer and more U.S. lives will be lost because they said no.
Why did Turkey do it? We came to her aid with the Truman Doctrine, when Turkey was a target of Soviet encroachments. We fought together in Korea. We defended her for 40 years of Cold War. We have championed her admission to the European Union. We alone have understood the Turkish position on Cyprus. We have thrown over our free-market principles to lead repeated IMF bailouts of Ankara. And we had put on the table offers as high as $28 billion in aid and loan guarantees if only the Turks would let us use their territory to open a northern front. Why did the Turks rebuff us?
For the same reason Israelis do when we demand an end to the building of settlements. To us these are unimportant matters. In their eyes, they are matters of vital interest.
Turkey feared that if the United States put an army into northern Iraq, that army would quickly drive Saddam’s army out of Kirkuk and Mosul on the way to Baghdad. But as Saddam’s army fled, the Kurds would occupy Kirkuk and Mosul, seize the oil fields, and declare a Kurdish state. As the our country was born of a rebellion against a tyrant, America—the Turks know—could not crush a Kurdish rebellion against a Baghdad regime that has been far more tyrannical than George III. The Turks believed that permitting a U.S. army to enter and occupy northern Iraq could lead to a Kurdish state on their southern border that would be a magnet for the huge restive Kurdish population inside their own country. This could threaten a breakup of Turkey, and Turks felt they could not trust U.S. promises to repress a Kurdish independence movement.
And they have a point. How many Americans would support U.S. military suppression of a declaration of independence by Kurds who had fought and bled beside us in a war to liberate Iraq?
Believing an independent Kurdistan to be a mortal threat to the unity and territorial integrity of their country, Turks are determined not to let the Kurds take over the oil fields that could make a Kurdistan a viable state.
To prevent it, Turkey is prepared to invade. And if they have to invade, they would prefer not to collide with an American army. That is why the Turks were willing to pay the political and economic price for back-handing their old friend the United States.
As was true throughout the twentieth century, America’s problems arise not with the onset of war, but with the armistice and the onset of “peace,” which all too often has simply prepared the ground for the next war. With victory and the occupation of Iraq by American troops, our time of troubles in the region does not end. It will have only just begun.