Thursday, May 25. 2006
Perhaps it's just the engineer in me, but whenever I read about some
problem, I can't help but think of ways around it. Bush's Iraq war was
probably doomed from the start, but he could have done some things to
limit the damage, and maybe they would have been enough to spin it into
some sort of success. Of course, he didn't do these things, and I think
the reason wasn't just oversight or even excessive optimism: the things
that needed to be done weren't in his nature to do. On the other hand,
had one the sense to do these things, one would also have had the sense
not to start the war in the first place. Still, enumerating the steps
he should have taken helps show how hopelessly ill-equipped he was to
deal with the real world of Iraq.
Solve the Israel-Palestine problem. The dumbest thing anyone
said in favor of the Iraq war was that the road to peace in Israel
passes through Baghdad. That's exactly bass-ackwards. More than
anything else, the Bush needed some credible evidence that the US
could be trusted to do right by Iraq, Arabs, and Muslims. Fifty
years of sucking up to Israel argues otherwise, and the only way
to fix up that image problem is to settle the conflict. Impossible?
The Saudis made a sensible proposal and rounded up unanimous support
from the Arab League, and Bush just ignored it. The terms were easy
to understand and fair: Israel withdraws to 1967 borders, letting
the Palestinians govern themselves in the West Bank and Gaza, and
every Arab nation normalizes relations with Israel. This grants
Israel the one serious red line issue they've fought for since
1948 -- the refugees still need some help somehow, but they won't
be able to return to Israel. Sharon would have squealed like a
stuck pig, but would he have resisted all the pressure Bush could
have brought down on him? Most Israelis support a two-state deal
like that, and the US and the Saudis could have greased the deal
with a lot of money. (Bush offered Turkey $40 billion just to stage
the Iraq war from Turkish soil. You could relocate all the settlers
to Las Vegas for less than that.) So sure, it could have been done.
And it needed to be done: the occupation of Palestine was the model
the US would inevitably be measured against in Iraq. The only way
to get past that comparison was to get rid of the model.
Patch up the problems with Iran. The US doesn't have a real
problem with Islamic theocracies -- I mean, look at our bosom buddies
in Saudi Arabia! Iran is an enemy because we had a snit fit when they
deposed the Shah, occupied the US embassy, and held our people hostage
for a year. Get over it. The Shah was a jerk anyway, and we should be
embarrassed for catering to him like we did. We apologize for the
Shah and all that silly Axis of Evil stuff; they apologize for the
embassy, and Lebanon -- well, thank God that's all over with now.
We drop all our embargos. If Iran wants nuclear power plants, well,
we'd be happy to sell them stuff that we're scared of building back
home, but what the hell, knock yourself out. Iran's a natural ally
of the US viz. Iraq, just as they turned out to be an ally in
Afghanistan once we had to give up on the Taliban.
For that matter, patch up our relations with Syria, Lebanon,
and Turkey. Shouldn't be much of a problem after Israel-Palestine
is taken care of. Syria's been trying to make nice since 9/11, even
offering their services torturing Canadian tourists rendered by the
CIA. And Turkey just wanted to keep us from doing something stupid.
Kind of like taking the car keys away from a drunk. Can't hold a
grudge about that.
Change the baseline reason for the war from WMD to Saddam
Hussein. Part of the rationale here is the argument that as long
as Saddam Hussein is in power he would always be a threat to start
wars and develop and use WMD even if he doesn't have any now: the
only way to be sure Iraq will peacefully coexist with everyone else
is to remove him from power. Reinforce this argument by having the
International Criminal Court indict him, his two idiot sons, and
anyone else you really need to get rid of -- a short but definite
list. One thing this does is to change the focus from something
indefinite -- that may not exist, or may just be hidden -- to
something readily verifiable.
Spell out exactly what you plan to do with Iraq once the US
invades and deposes Saddam Hussein. There should be no ambiguity
or confusion when a US tank strolls into Baghdad. The list should
be clear, and well publicized before any action happens. It should
include objectives, like detaining only those indicted by the ICC,
and confiscating heavy weapons including any WMD. It should specify
the rules of engagement -- e.g., we don't shoot unless we are shot
at. It should spell out what happens to existing institutions --
e.g., that they are to be maintained until they are passed on to
a newly constituted democratic government. It should explain how
that government will be formed. I recommend building government
from the bottom up, with substantial federal autonomy for each of
the pre-existing governorates, while keeping the oil industry at
the federal level, with equitable revenue sharing. I also favor
a federal courts system to protect individual liberties. It should
specify who does what during the transition period. And it has to
specify when, by criteria if not by date, US forces will withdraw.
The list can be monitored, and there should be an international
system that Iraqis can take complaints to.
Take this list to the UN, NATO, the Arab League, anyone
else you want help from. Bush needs the UN not just for legitimacy,
but also for skills. Let's face it, the US military is real good
at blowing things up and moving shit around, but that's as far
as the list goes. Even if the US gets its credibility act back
together, we still need help doing all those little things that
need to be done. Even before this war Iraq's infrastructure had
been badly damaged -- the reconstruction list is extensive, and
just bringing Iraq back to where it was before Saddam won't be
Don't rush, and don't panic. The best solution would be
for Saddam to turn himself in and turn his government over intact.
Maybe you'll accept a plea bargain -- he testifies before a "truth
and reconciliation" commission then goes into comfy exile. Such a
commission is a good idea in general -- beyond the ICC indictment
list there should be a general amnesty conditional on testimony.
It is important that the world learn what Saddam's government did.
It is far less important that they suffer for it. The cycle of
revenge needs to stop, and this provides an honest way out. But
set a date: if Saddam doesn't surrender by then, move in and
execute the plan.
This all seems so straightforward that it's remarkable that it's
all so inconceivable for anyone anywhere near the center of power
in the US. There are two core reasons for this. One is that we've
long been convinced of our righteousness -- of the value of applying
our way of life to the rest of the world, a fact that was proven by
our triumph over fascism in WWII and communism in the Cold War. The
other is that we cling to the belief that dominance works -- that
as long as we are strong and forceful enough the rest of the world
will follow our lead, to their as well as our benefit. Reasons like
these are really just conceits: their very persuasiveness depends
on never exposing them to examination, which is why no politician
would dare suggest otherwise.
Israel is less a cause than a supreme example of this stubborn
belief in self-righteous dominance. Israel is the only nation in the
world today whose political system insists that one broad class of
people are entitled to systematically repress another, yet we never
allow ourselves to notice -- raise even the faintest question and
Israel's flacks jump all over you, frantically trying to change the
subject because Israel's behavior cannot survive scrutiny. By never
challenging Israel, the US has become complicit in all that Israel
does, which leads us to engage in the same sort of desperate escape
from the real impact of our acts.
Few people in America actually believe that "might makes right" --
the opposite is closer to what they believe, but American might has
gone off on its own, following its own brutal logic. Optimists hope
for some silver lining in all that power; cynics look for ways to
exploit it for their own benefit. But neither group -- the opposite
ends of the respectable political spectrum these days -- dare rein
it in. When I was a child, people liked to quote Lord Action: "power
tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely." That's not
something you hear much of these days. America's empire depends on
circumspection, on plausible denial. The reason is that nobody wants
to be under some empire's thumb -- two-plus centuries of revolution
have made this point time and again. But America's power has become
so corrupt that Bush and the neocons make no effort to hide it. No,
they flaunt it, and that above all else was their purpose in Iraq.
To succeed at what they wanted, they not only had to achieve short
term goals like deposing Saddam Hussein. They had to bend the Iraqi
people to their will, because only in doing so would they succeed
in showing the world the hopelessness of defying American power. In
that they failed, and that is why they failed.
The alternate approach I outlined above tried to minimize the raw
use of power by finding points where we could establish that what we
wanted to do was right -- so clearly right that others could see us in
that light and assent to our plans. This allows that power may still
be needed to overcome someone like Saddam Hussein who has repeatedly
abused his power. But by stating our intents clearly and constraining
our methods, we make it clear that we have no hidden agendas. Bush
couldn't do this, not because he couldn't buck AIPAC, but because he
had his own hidden agendas he didn't dare expose. Those of us who knew
that, in our bones or in our minds, opposed his war -- not to save
Saddam Hussein, who we have nothing but contempt for, but to save
America from the consequences of Bush's extraordinary arrogance.