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Get real Driven by a neo-conservative dream, the US is loath to relinquish control in Iraq. But the price for Washington's stubbornness may be failure, writes Brian Whitaker Tuesday August 26, 2003 http://www.guardian.co.uk/elsewhere/journalist/story/0,7792,1029595,00.html Talk of impending failure in Iraq may sound like whinging when it comes from those who opposed the war, but last week the unspeakable seven-letter F-word was uttered by one of the bastions of US neo-conservative hawkery. Under the headline "Do what it takes in Iraq", an editorial in the Weekly Standard called for a huge commitment of more troops, more money and more civilian workers to fend off disaster. "Make no mistake," the magazine said. "The president's vision will, in the coming months, either be launched successfully in Iraq, or it will die in Iraq ... the future course of American foreign policy, American world leadership, and American security is at stake. Failure in Iraq would be a devastating blow to everything the United States hopes to accomplish." Unfortunately for President Bush, this is true. He has left no face-saving escape route for himself or his country. The neo-conservative solution is to devote to Iraq whatever it takes and for as long as it takes, for a whole generation if necessary. The Weekly Standard wants an immediate allocation of $60bn (£38.4bn) for reconstruction. If the Bush administration is serious, "then this is the necessary down payment," it said, while the official Washington line has been that reconstruction will be funded by Iraq's (still largely non-existent) oil revenue. Only total commitment on a scale not seen since the end of the second world war can ensure US success in Iraq, the Weekly Standard insisted, but the problem for George Bush is that he can't give that commitment, at least not if he values his presidency. Many US voters don't share the neo-conservatives' obsession with redesigning the Middle East with Texas as a model, and they can quite reasonably ask what they are getting for their money. For the $100bn or so spent on the invasion, they have seen the welcome departure of Saddam Hussein, but that was supposed to be the grand finale of the war, not the overture. Instead, they are stuck with an open-ended military occupation costing $4bn a month and which could drag on for years. Despite the bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad last week and the continuing sabotage and killings, the US defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Bremer, the chief civilian administrator in Iraq, both insist there is no need for extra troops. A different view came recently from James Dobbins, who helped to manage the reconstruction of Bosnia and Kosovo, and also served as a special envoy for Bush in Afghanistan. Dobbins looked at the size of the stabilisation forces previously sent to Bosnia and Kosovo - both considered successful operations - and adjusted the figures to take account of Iraq's larger population. Using the Bosnian model, he concluded that to be effective in Iraq the US would need 258,000 troops on the ground. Using the Kosovo model, that figure rose to 526,000. The current deployment in Iraq of some 170,000 troops, of which 148,000 are US forces, suggests a serious shortfall. But the Bush administration can do little about it without getting egg on its face. The three possible options are (a) send more US troops, (b) create a multinational force under UN auspices or (c) reconstitute the Iraqi army. Although neo-conservative dogma favours the all-American option, the US does not have troops to spare, and training more would take time and money. Seeking to expand the army for a war that was supposedly won four months ago also would be far too hazardous politically as a presidential election approaches. Militarily, the UN route is a worse option, raising a host of issues about the differences in language, capabilities and equipment of a multinational force, as well as difficulties with command and logistics. The US resists the UN option for ideological reasons. That leaves the option of reconstituting the Iraqi army that was disbanded as part of the sweeping US de-Baathification programme. Currently, most of its 400,000 officers and men are being paid between $50 and $150 a month to stay at home. Recalling the Iraqi troops looks like a quick and easy solution, but the US insists there is no point at present. Apart from questions of allegiance, they don't have the required training, officials say. So the Iraqi army is being rebuilt slowly from scratch. It is expected to number just 12,000 men by the end of this year, and 40,000 by the end of next year. For anyone interested in knowing more about the military options, Anthony Cordesman of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies explores them in detail in his paper, What is next in Iraq. When Rumsfeld and Bremer say there is no need for extra troops, what they really mean is that it is preferable to tolerate the current level of casualties and sabotage than it is to expand the security force. They are also gambling on a gradual reduction in violence as those responsible for attacks are rounded up or killed, and hidden supplies of explosives and ammunition start to run out. The danger, of course, is that it won't turn out like that. Most of the trouble so far has come from Sunni Arabs around Baghdad but the Shia communities - who form the majority - now look increasingly restive. And then there are the foreign militants, an unknown quantity at present and potentially a highly destabilising influence. Efforts to placate ordinary Iraqis by repairing the country's infrastructure could also worsen the security situation, by creating more soft targets in need of protection. There is another danger to stability in Iraq that is less often mentioned. It is Bremer's Coalition Provisional Authority. The CPA is the temporary civilian power, but it is not just paving the way for a new Iraqi government. It is trying to reshape the country by implementing the neo-conservatives' "clean break" philosophy. "Clean break" is a truly revolutionary approach. There are no quick fixes. If something doesn't work, you knock it down and start again. One example of this is the extreme lengths that de-Baathification has gone to. Ghassan Salamé, a UN political advisor in Iraq reported that 1,832 university professors and 14,000 secondary school heads had been sacked, even though most of them had only joined the Baath party in order to get a job. According to the French magazine, Le Nouvel Observateur, it's much the same with dentists. But if you've got toothache, you don't really care whether the man with the drill is a Baathist or not. Politics apart, there is certainly a lot that ought to change in Iraq: rooting out corruption, making government accountable and transparent, etc, etc, etc. But as a maximalist approach, "clean break" also maximises the risk of failure. The neo-conservatives are wedded to it because of their wider agenda - to create a western-orientated democracy in Iraq that can be exported to Iran, Syria and other "problem" countries in the region. But turning Iraq into a neo-conservative paradise - a process euphemistically and patronisingly described as "nation-building" - cannot be done in a hurry, and that is the heart of the CPA's problem. Bremer keeps urging patience, but time is not on his side. The main political divide in Iraq at present is not between Sunni and Shia, or between Arabs and Kurds. It is between those who are willing to accept the US occupation in good faith and those who aren't. Currently, the US still has the benefit of the doubt, but the longer it seeks to retain control, the more that will change. US reluctance to cede control to Iraqis stems from a fear that the wrong sort of people might get into power and blow the project off course. But delays can blow it off course too. Iraqi members of the new governing council - a largely cosmetic body despite its name - must consider their own credibility with the electorate. There's a limit to how long they can co-operate with the US and have nothing to show for it. Not ceding control to Iraqis also creates another problem. It ensures that all the many grievances and grumbles of ordinary people are directed against the United States. Giving real power to the governing council would redirect complaints and focus attention on possible solutions. A report, Governing Iraq, issued yesterday by the International Crisis Group, highlighted the CPA's problems. "It is not realistic, on all available evidence to date," it said, "to expect the CPA to be capable by itself of adequately caring for the population's essential needs and successfully ruling Iraq. Nor is it realistic to imagine that Iraqis will view the present interim governing council as a credible, legitimate and empowered institution." The report proposed restricting the CPA's activities to overseeing security, law and order, and reconstruction. The governing council would then take charge of day-to-day government through an appointed cabinet, and would become accountable not to the CPA but to the UN. That, of course, would be a bitter pill for Bush to swallow, and it would signal the end of the neo-conservative daydream. But it might be the only way to avoid the F-word. _______________________________________________ Sent via the discussion list of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. To unsubscribe, visit http://lists.casi.org.uk/mailman/listinfo/casi-discuss To contact the list manager, email email@example.com All postings are archived on CASI's website: http://www.casi.org.uk