With the inevitable ebb and flow of the war on terrorism — here an unconscionable Abu Ghraib, there a gutsy voter turnout — it becomes easy to forget the most salient – and ironic — piece of advice yet uttered on the subject of America’s “liberation” of Iraq. It was proffered by Gen. Colin Powell, chairman of the joint chiefs during Operation Desert Storm. He was weighing in on the merits of “finishing the job” of routing the forces of Saddam Hussein and physically ousting the dictator.
Powell told George Bush the Elder that, however tempting, the United States should not put itself into the position of “occupying an Arab country.” The reason was two-fold. Urban warfare – i.e., insurgencies — would replace aerial bombardment and U.S. casualties would ratchet up rapidly. In addition, the U.S. would inevitably take a public relations hit as crusading infidels occupying Muslim land. And as we’ve seen, a bloody, jihadist pep rally has resulted – further fueled by periodic prisoner humiliations and retractable tales of Koranic commode capers.
But Powell’s sage advice in the first Gulf War – although criticized in many quarters at the time — helped carry the day. It saved lives – as well as face.
Alas, Secretary of State Powell would morph into a diplomatic lawn jockey in the George W. Bush administration. His legacy is now smeared, and his principles forever compromised.
Sept. 11 altered some geo-political thinking and changed a few paradigms. What it shouldn’t have done, however, was to void a rule of thumb that America – “liberation” rhetoric notwithstanding – should not put itself into the position of “occupying an Arab country.”
It made no sense then. It makes for daily carnage and incendiary demonstrations today.