Iraq: Win The War But Lose The Peace?

Let’s get this part straight.

I don’t much like the idea of France, let alone Cameroon or Syria — Syria! — having to sign off on United States security. Neither do I like the 12 years Saddam Hussein has been able to defy the United Nations. He invaded and trashed Kuwait, lobbed missiles into Saudi Arabia and Israel, lost a war, agreed to disarm — and didn’t do it.

But I do like the idea of taking the war that was declared on us on Sept. 11, 2001, right back to the terrorists. Indirectly, Saddam Hussein is part of that menacing mix. He’s not al-Qaeda, but he’s an enabler with a sadistic, murderous track record. In the world of transnational terrorism and civilization-altering weapons of mass destruction, the cost of counterpunching may be unacceptably, obscenely high. That’s why President George W. Bush replaced the Cold War policy of containment with that of pre-emption. It so happens that Iraq is the first test case.

I also like making the U.S. — and the Middle East — safer places. I even like re-making Baghdad into Babylon.

Having said all that, however, here’s where we are. Being basically right doesn’t preclude the possibility of being wrong-headed and counterproductive.

President Bush’s rush to attack and invade, delaying enough to placate Colin Powell and maybe coax a rubber stamp out of the UN, has painted the U.S. into a foreign policy corner. “On your mark, set, set some more” just doesn’t cut it after you’ve drawn that line in the sand. Troops on ready lose their edge and morale, if held too long. You either declare victory, go home and ignore the Iraqi spin on who blinked — or you go to war.

However imperfect, and often maddeningly, hypocritically so, the UN has a role. It offers the auspices of legitimacy. There is, at least, a sense of some accountability. For all its flaws, its global forum represents hope for the planet. It’s why the U.S. pushed for its formation — and pays a quarter of its budget.

But when the world’s only superpower picks up its cards and shuffles off to a unilateral declaration of war, the UN is truly rendered obsolete. And the U.S. helped make it so.

Worse yet, the precedent is set for others to bypass the UN. Don’t think China, for one, hasn’t noticed. It doesn’t think an invasion of Taiwan, for example, is anyone else’s business. Including Taiwan’s. And how do you think the International Atomic Energy Commission regards American complaints about Iran unilaterally accelerating its nuclear program?

We can surely agree that America doesn’t need to be lectured to by France — unless we need advice on truffles. But France isn’t really the problem. Russia and China, two countries that really matter and have been on board in the fight against terrorism, are adamantly opposed to U.S. military action in Iraq as well. Even the Irish won’t let us use their airfields. Turkey, which is saddled with Iraq as a mutant border neighbor, can’t even be bribed into being a self-interested ally.

When you gather your close, staunch allies — at a table for four — and two thirds are Spain and Portugal, you are coalition challenged. While the U.S. disingenuously points to support from the so-called “Coalition of the Willing,” no one is impressed by the lightweight likes of Eritrea and Estonia. The only countries actually willing to contribute troops are England and Australia. And that contribution could cost Tony Blair, America’s best friend in the world, his job.

Would that it only mattered on the logistical front. We can certainly win a war by ourselves against anyone. But whereas victory is said to have a thousand fathers, this one may be a bastard.

As many have noted, winning the peace can’t be done unilaterally. Especially in an alien culture, amid those already too disposed to see us as the essence of arrogance and hegemony. Yes, they’re wrong — at least on the hegemony rap — but a billion Muslims misperceiving the U.S. is not just THEIR problem. In the aftermath of 9/11, it’s very much OUR problem.

Those who were not signatories for military action are not going to be much help in the reconstruction of Iraq. They now think we’re arrogant, if not hegemonous, too. And that perception is also our problem if we want help in post-war Iraq. And we do.

Let’s face it. An American-occupied Iraq under Viceroy Tommy Franks stands a very good chance of not playing well in the Arab world. And that includes Iraq, whose populace just might not act as if they have been liberated. Some will likely turn on their “invader,” regardless of how we couch our arrival. Others will simply resume the historic Kurd-Sunni-Shiite fratricide.

Policing this mess — while pouring billions of dollars into infrastructure rebuilding — will be reminiscent of the ill-fated involvement of the U.S. Marines in Lebanon in the 1980s under President Ronald Reagan. The likelihood of terrorism against Americans — at home and abroad — will only ratchet up. The color orange could become a permanent alert hue.

And lest anyone forget, the genesis of Islamic fundamentalist hate — and jealousy — for the U.S. is not our quenchless thirst for oil or the stationing of U.S. troops, including women, on sacrosanct Saudi Arabian soil. No, it’s ultimately the bloody, Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Sure, the Palestinians are more at fault by virtue of intentionally targeting innocents — but Israeli policy is hardly innocent. Nobody gets more American foreign aid than Israel. For our $5 billion a year, we should at least be demanding that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon start dismantling the provocative settlements in the occupied territories. A regime change in Israel would also be welcome. The recent Bush Administration “road map” was a good idea — two years ago.

For all the trauma and tragedy that gripped this country after 9/11, there was at least the consolation that the truly civilized world was with us. If it were “us” against “them,” it helped mightily that there were more of “us” than “them.”

The unilateral Iraqi fiasco, however, has squandered much of that good will.

It’s sobering and disgusting to see so many around the world perceiving the U.S. as a bully and its president as a gunslinger. We could continue to say, in effect, we don’t care what others think, we’re going to do whatever it takes to protect ourselves. That plays well to a lot of domestic constituencies, if the polls are truly reflecting public opinion. And it makes eminent sense to look out for number one first.

The irony, however, is that with the backing of most of the world, that formidable task becomes much less daunting.

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