April 30, 2004,
The latest post-hoc conventional wisdom on Iraq is that Defense Secretary Rumsfeld won the war but lost the occupation. There are two problems with this analysis (which comes, most forcefully, from The Weekly Standard). First, it's not Rumsfeld's occupation; it's Colin Powell's and George Tenet's. Second, although it's painfully obvious that much is wrong with this occupation, it's simple-minded to assume that more troops will fix it. More troops may be needed now, but more of the same will not do the job. Something different is needed and was, right from the start.
A Rumsfeld occupation would have been different, and still might be. Rumsfeld wanted to put an Iraqi face on everything at the outset not just on the occupation of Iraq, but on its liberation too. That would have made a world of difference.
Rumsfeld's plan was to train and equip and then transport to Iraq some 10,000 Shia and Sunni freedom fighters led by Shia exile leader Ahmed Chalabi and his cohorts in the INC, the multi-ethnic anti-Saddam coalition he created. There, they would have joined with thousands of experienced Kurdish freedom fighters, ably led, politically and militarily, by Jalal Talabani and Massoud Barzani. Working with our special forces, this trio would have sprung into action at the start of the war, striking from the north, helping to drive Baathist thugs from power, and joining Coalition forces in the liberation of Baghdad. That would have put a proud, victorious, multi-ethnic Iraqi face on the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, and it would have given enormous prestige to three stubbornly independent and unashamedly pro-American Iraqi freedom fighters: Chalabi, Talabani, and Barzani.
Jay Garner, the retired American general Rumsfeld chose to head the civilian administration of the new Iraq, planned to capitalize on that prestige immediately by appointing all three, along with six others, to head up Iraq's new transitional government. He planned to cede power to them in a matter of weeks not months or years and was confident that they would work with him, not against him, because two of them already had. General Garner, after all, is the man who headed the successful humanitarian rescue mission that saved the Kurds in the disastrous aftermath of Gulf War I, after the State Department-CIA crowd and like thinkers in the first Bush administration betrayed them. Kurds are not a small minority and they remember. The hero's welcome they gave General Garner when he returned to Iraq last April made that crystal clear.
Finally, Secretary Rumsfeld wanted to cut way down on the infiltration of Syrian and Iranian agents and their foreign terrorist recruits, not just by trying to catch them at the border a losing game, given the length of those borders but by pursuing them across the border into Syria to strike hard at both the terrorists and their Syrian sponsors, a move that would have forced Iran as well as Syria to reconsider the price of trying to sabotage the reconstruction of Iraq.
None of this happened, however, because State and CIA fought against Rumsfeld's plans every step of the way. Instead of bringing a liberating Shia and Sunni force of 10,000 to Iraq, the Pentagon was only allowed to fly in a few hundred INC men. General Garner was unceremoniously dumped after only three weeks on the job, and permission for our military to pursue infiltrators across the border into Syria was denied.
General Garner was replaced by L. Paul Bremer, a State Department man who kept most of the power in his own hands and diluted what little power Chalabi, Talabani, and Barzani had by appointing not six but 22 other Iraqis to share power with them. This resulted in a rapidly rotating 25-man queen-for-a-day-type leadership that turned the Iraqi Governing Council into a faceless mass, leaving Bremer's face as the only one most Iraqis saw.
By including fence-sitters and hostile elements as well as American friends in his big, unwieldy IGC and giving them all equal weight, Bremer hoped to display a kind of inclusive, above-it-all neutrality that would win over hostile segments of Iraqi society and convince them that a fully representative Iraqi democracy would emerge. But Iraqis didn't see it that way. Many saw a foreign occupation of potentially endless length, led by the sort of Americans who can't be trusted to back up their friends or punish their enemies. Iraqis saw, too, that Syria and Iran had no and were busily entrenching their agents and terrorist recruits into Iraqi society to organize, fund, and equip Sunni bitter-enders like those now terrorizing Fallujah and Shiite thugs like Moqtada al Sadr, the man who is holding hostage the holy city of Najaf.
Despite all the crippling disadvantages it labored under, Bremer's IGC managed to do some genuine good by writing a worthy constitution, but the inability of this group to govern-period, let alone in time for the promised June 30 handover finally became so clear that Bremer and his backers at State and the CIA were forced to recognize it. Their last minute "solution" is to dump the Governing Council altogether, and give U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan's special envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, the power to appoint a new interim government. The hope is that U.N. sponsorship will do two big things: 1) give the Brahimi government greater legitimacy in the eyes of the Iraqi people; and 2) convince former allies to join us and reinforce our troops in Iraq in some significant way. These are vain hopes.
Putting a U.N. stamp on an Iraqi government will delegitimize it in the eyes of most Iraqis and do great damage to those who are actively striving to create a freer, more progressive Middle East. Iraqis may distrust us, but they have good reason to despise the U.N., and they do. For 30 years, the U.N. ignored their torments and embraced their tormentor, focusing obsessively on a handful of Palestinians instead. Then, when Saddam's misrule reduced them to begging for food and medicine, they saw U.N. fat cats rip off the Oil-for-Food Program money that was supposed to save them.
The U.N. as a whole is bad; Lakhdar Brahimi is worse. A long-time Algerian and Arab League diplomat, he is the very embodiment of all the destructive old policies foisted on the U.N. by unreformed Arab tyrants, and he lost no time in making that plain. In his first press conferences, he emphasized three points: Chalabi, Talabani, and Barzani will have no place in a government he appoints; he will condemn American military action to restore order in Iraq; and he will be an energetic promoter of the old Arab excuses Israel's "poison in the region," he announced, is the reason it's so hard to create a viable Iraqi interim government.
Men like Chalabi, Talabani, and Barzani have nothing but contempt for Mr. Brahimi, the U.N., and old Europe. They know perfectly well who their real enemies are, and they understand that only decisive military action against them can create the kind of order that is a necessary precondition for freedom and democracy. They see, as our State Department Arabists do not, that we will never be loved, in Iraq or anywhere else in the Middle East, until we are respected, and that the month we have wasted negotiating with the butchers of Fallujah has earned us only contempt, frightening our friends and encouraging our mortal enemies.
The damage Brahimi will do to the hope of a new day in Iraq and in the Middle East is so profound that it would not be worth it even if empowering him would bring in a division of French troops to reinforce ours in Iraq. In fact, it will do no such thing. Behind all the bluster and moral preening, the plain truth is that the French have starved their military to feed their bloated, top-heavy welfare state for decades. They couldn't send a division like the one the Brits sent, even if they wanted to (they don't). Belgium doesn't want to help us either, nor Spain, nor Russia, because these countries are not interested in fighting to create a new Middle East. They're fighting to make the most advantageous deals they can with the old Middle East, seeking to gain advantages at our expense, and at the expense of the oppressed in Iraq, Iran, and every other Middle Eastern country where people are struggling to throw off the shackles of Islamofascist oppression.
It is not yet too late for us to recognize these facts and act on them by dismissing Brahimi, putting Secretary Rumsfeld and our Iraqi friends fully in charge at last, and unleashing our Marines to make an example of Fallujah. And when al Jazeera screams "massacre," instead of cringing and apologizing, we need to stand tall and proud and tell the world: Lynch mobs like the one that slaughtered four Americans will not be tolerated. Order will restored, and Iraqis who side with us will be protected and rewarded.
Barbara Lerner is a frequent contributor to NRO.