The President took an important step this week by making public the discussions about how the next Iraqi government will be formed. By meeting personally with Iraqi expatriates, Mr. Bush set in motion the last mechanism needed to resolve Saddam Hussein. In his meeting Mr. Bush made clear his desire for a short military occupation, quick reconstruction, and the formation of a democratic government by free elections.
This highly public meeting makes the Iraq question ripe for action. All that remains is for our “coalition of the willing” to decide that it is, finally, willing, and for the President to decide to tell the U.N. what we’re doing after we’ve done it. The coming 27 January report by the Blixies will ask for another year to complete their inspections, and most of the U.N., including some wobbling Brits, will want to wait. But we are not going to wait.
America is on the move. F-15 and F-16 fighters, bombers (both Buffs and B-2s), AC-130 gunships and Navy carriers loaded for bear are deploying to the Middle East. This past week, another 62,000 troops got orders to go there. Among them are about 14,000 Marines from Camp Pendleton and Camp Lejeune. The Army’s Third Infantry Division is headed there, along with many other units. All told, we will soon have about 150,000 troops there, about twice the number needed to do the job. Three aircraft carrier battle groups may be joined by a fourth. (Too bad Baghdad doesn’t have a beach, or we’d replay that scene from The Longest Day.) As to the special ops types, well, the less said the better at this point. You won’t find a lot of young dads sitting at home in places such as McDill, Fort Bragg or Little Creek these days.
Facing this buildup, Saddam should know that if he wants to escape with his skin, the time has come for him to take the money and run. But the need to save himself doesn’t arise until he believes that decisive American action is inevitable. It is hard to believe in inevitability when even America’s most reliable ally seems to be going wobbly.
Tony Blair has a big problem. Though he is personally committed to removing Saddam, even his own ministers don’t want to join the campaign against Saddam. Some even want to revive the Clinton strategy of giving the U.N. control over decisions of peace, war or appeasement. Ms. Clare Short, Britain’s “International Development Secretary,” delivered herself of the opinions that the U.K. should not join in American “unilateral” action against Iraq (doesn’t she know that if Britain joins, it’s not “unilateral” anymore?) and that Britain had the duty to stop America from acting without U.N. authority. Iain Duncan Smith-the Tory chieftain who has led his tribe to a hitherto unheard-of level of obscurity-managed to accuse Mr. Blair of “wobbling” while at the same time saying that Blair hadn’t made the case for British action against Saddam. “That worries me,” Duncan Smith said, “because the British people are still waiting to see what the case is for British involvement.”
Mr. Blair has been both clear and patient in demonstrating this case, with his government’s analysis of Saddam’s weapons programs and human rights abuses. His speeches demonstrating the danger Saddam poses to the world have made clear to everyone who is willing to listen that Saddam must be removed. Nevertheless, Mr. Blair will have to spend much of this week trying to quell the dissent. Given that Iain Duncan Smith’s position is closer to the Labour wobblies than Blair’s is, there’s only one answer to the problem: Blair and Smith should swap jobs. They should be quick about it, because now is the time to be hurting our enemies and helping our Iraqi friends achieve a democratic government.
Mr. Bush has rightly refused to play king-maker to the post-Saddam Iraq. If only that were true of the State Department. For the past several years State has tried to control Dr. Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress by tying up the money Congress granted it with audits and red tape. Because Chalabi is not their stooge, the Foggy Bottom types don’t like him. In London last fall, I met with Dr. Chalabi and came to understand his commitment to both freeing Iraq and to becoming its next leader.
A large chunk of Ahmed Chalabi’s considerable personal wealth, as well as all of his considerable personal energy, has been invested in freeing Iraq. I asked Dr. Chalabi why he didn’t just form a government in exile with himself as head. He rejected that utterly as futile and premature. Though he wants to be the president of free Iraq, Chalabi says that job isn’t owed to him. He is insistent on constitutional democracy and free elections. So much so that when the State Department’s effort to push him aside went to the extreme of setting up political groups to compete with the Iraqi National Congress, Chalabi won those groups over. Foggy Bottom wasn’t happy, which is a good indication of something gone horribly right. Mr. Bush hasn’t come out with an endorsement of Chalabi. But the fact that there is contact at the President’s level shows both that Chalabi’s friends are in places more important than the State Department bureaucracy and that we will be involved directly in the formation of the new Iraqi government, as we must be.
There are some 65 groups now representing different Iraqi factions. Among them, the Kurdish factions seemed the most dangerous to a free Iraq, because it is they who could try to partition Iraq. But Jalal Talabani, head of the PUK (probably the largest Kurdish group), told the BBC in December that the Kurds want to remain part of Iraq. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that Chalabi, in cooperation with others such as Talabani, would very soon set up an exile government in Kurdish northern Iraq. If that provisional government is established, our military action should follow quickly. Saddam’s many opponents could rally around the new leadership, and help end the war even more quickly than it would otherwise.
We should help the free Iraqis such as Chalabi, and whatever brief military occupation government we establish must leave behind a unified, democratic Iraq. It will not be possible for this new government to be formed immediately. But if we are to shed blood to free Iraq, we cannot shed blood without achieving the desired result. A free, democratic Iraq should be an example for the whole Middle East. We cannot allow it to be less. Mr. Chalabi understands this. We must ensure the other Iraqi leaders, and would-be leaders, do as well.
Though it is very unlikely, our campaign to liberate Iraq could still be delayed past next month. Our forces can stay on station and be resupplied for sixty or ninety days. Perhaps longer. But the noose is tightening around Saddam’s neck, and there is no reason for military action to be delayed for long. With every meeting between our leadership and the free Iraqis, with every soldier that boards a transport plane, the inevitability factor rises a notch, which even a dictator should realize. Saddam delendus est.
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