Final Days
By Scott D. Gillette

John Quincy Adams once said, “We do not go to war in search of monsters to destroy.” That was another America a long time ago. We’re going to cross the Rubicon by the time this column is published. And that’s that.

I still contend that the long-term security interests of our country are worsened rather than improved by invading Iraq. Time is.... well, was, on our side in neutralizing Hussein, and a policy of preemption is a poor and dangerous precedent for the United States to establish. But all that is tilting at windmills. Instead, an examination of the probable consequences of our invasion of Iraq is more appropriate.

Of course, any precise predictions of what may follow is folly: there are so many variables at work that we can only say, like the Stoics, that the only certainty we can count on is that there are no certainties. We’re on the precipice of…something different in world politics. The first few days of bombing will be the only thing anyone will be able to count on. 

I predicted back in late 2001 that the Afghan campaign to be a long and brutal. I was completely wrong. In part, I underestimated how weakened Afghanistan had been by 20 years of war, and how the different tribal groups would defer to the Americans for the sake of a long-term peace settlement. But more importantly, I also underestimated just how strong the United States military has become. In two months, the U.S. was able to accomplish what the Soviet Union could not do in more than a decade.

The general consensus is that any Iraqi conflict will end quickly, and I agree. Many Iraqi troops will surrender even more quickly than they did in 1991. However, do not be surprised if Hussein uses biological and chemical weapons for no other reason than spite. The oil fields will be set ablaze, and some suicide attacks will occur, as Hussein recognizes that such actions would strike a chord amongst the American public. Hussein will simply have nothing to lose, and he would not strike me as a gracious loser.

Hussein has made it difficult for opponents of the war to support their position. (While claiming he has no chemical weapons, he threatens to use them if there is an attack on Iraq.) So is it possible that Hussein will be overthrown, or send himself on a long vacation when the bombing begins? Possible, but doubtful. By definition, you cannot be courageous and survive in Hussein’s leadership circle at the same time. Moreover, the worst thing in Hussein’s mafia thug world is to lose face. Now, the Iraqi leadership may balk, but this is a likely consequence of nothing less than American troops outside of Baghdad.

Nobody knows how the Iraqi population will react to Hussein’s downfall first, and then America’s intervention in the region. However, history is replete of countries that do not like invaders, no matter how bad the conditions are in their country.

I submit that the success is Afghanistan is fueling the conflict in Iraq. I can imagine the military planners in the Pentagon exclaiming, “Look. We could do it in Afghanistan, we could do it in Iraq!” The “Vietnam syndrome” has been vanquished, and the lessons of Somalia have supposedly been learned. The United States has rededicated itself to nation-building around the world. I have no doubt that trend will continue, as the American dominion over the world continues in the decades to come.

We’ll be in Iraq for decades. It is a nation with an entrepreneurial and cosmopolitan culture, and most of its people will be content to live better lives. But there will be pockets of terrorism, particularly in an aggrieved Shiite southern Iraq still consumed with fury over the sanctions. Terrorist acts will occur in Iraq.

But the biggest threat of terror will now come from the rest of the Islamic world. Iraq is a secular country; its neighbors, like Saudi Arabia and Egypt, are not. These nations are under the rule of authoritarian governments increasingly ill equipped to handle the tension within their societies.

Moreover, Saudi Arabia and the other Persian Gulf states now must contend with the fact that their dominance over the oil market is coming to an end. I don’t think our primary reason for invading Iraq is oil. But that does not change the fact that America will have control over the second largest amount of oil reserves in the world. The automatic wealth of the oil states is at serious risk.

The blueprint to invade Iraq has been in the works for more than a decade. The final movement into Iraq will assert American role in the region like never before. The hope is that the stalled peace process between the Israelis and Palestinians will be jump-started by American dominance. Possible, but again not likely. There can be no end to that conflict unless the Palestinians are granted their own geographical state. There does not seem to be any movement towards that happening within the current administration, proclamations of a Palestinian state being created by 2005 aside.

 Since the 1930’s, the United States has supplied Saudi Arabia with security in exchange for cheap oil. That relationship is coming to an end. It is too strong to say that the entire Saudi regime is directly implicated with Al Queda and other terrorist networks, although certain elements have been exposed. It is correct to say that the Saudi regime does not have the capacity to make sufficient reforms because of the fundamentalism of the Wahibbi movement within the country, and the fact that its complacent leadership has no interest in doing anything difficult.  

What about the rest of the world? Our alliances with France and Germany will stand, but the relationship will never be quite the same. Iran and North Korea, meanwhile, are scared out of their wits, which is why they are accelerating their nuclear programs at this time. Hey, the doctrine of mutually assured destruction still works. This means a chillier world, in which security concerns predominate, and economic development around the world is hampered except in, ironically, Iraq.

I hope fervently that I am wrong, and President Bush’s military campaign is proven correct. This is a difficult position for me: to be right of center politically and to oppose the war. I don’t have too many fellow travelers. But Bush’s position, which does galvanize his party base, leaves the rest of the country deeply unconvinced as of now. Even if an immediate and short victory in Iraq is assured, and this conflict is nothing if not a roll of the dice, his reelection in 2004 is still problematic. There is too much likely to go wrong in ruling Iraq between now and 2004.

I believe Bush is operating out of the best of intentions. Perhaps he believes that once all of the world’s nation-states are on our side, terrorism will be the only major world left for the United States. But conservatives should remind themselves that intentions are not enough, and the results will count. Roger Morris pointed out in a NY Times op-ed that the United States and the “Central Intelligence Agency, under President John F. Kennedy, conducted its own regime change in Baghdad, (by overthrowing Kassam) carried out in collaboration with Saddam Hussein.” Will the United States make the enormous sacrifices necessary to make sure another Hussein doesn’t take over Iraq again? If history is our guide, the answer is no.

Moreover, this war is being conducted because of the hawkish dreams of our foreign policy establishment.  People like Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle and Dick Cheney are taking us into this conflict, and all have thought so for more than a decade. We do not live in a democracy, folks, and it becomes less so by the day. I don’t think there have been so few people determining the fate of so many. It should be no surprise why relatively few people vote.  

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