For me, the highlight of last week’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing came when Senator Joe Biden questioned Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice about the Bush Administration’s postwar strategy for Iraq.
“What’s the plan, Stan?” said Biden with all of the eloquence of a playground bully, yet with none of the charm.
I am almost old enough to remember a time when military plans were kept secret. Today, they must be broadcast via satellite to the mustiest cave in Afghanistan. And the more plans on the table the better, if only to hide beneath later.
Despite what you’ve heard, there was no dearth of plans and planners before the invasion. At the top of the list were the Coalition Provisional Authority’s plan and the State Department’s Future of Iraq plan. The Pentagon and the CIA had plans too. All had basically the same goals: set up a provisional government, implement a democratic constitution, hold elections. Make sure the Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds share power like good little boys and girls. And then there was the military’s plan: kill or capture Saddam and his inner circle, remove the Baathists from power, restore order.
It is now axiomatic that L. Paul Bremer’s bumbling Coalition Provisional Authority, which ruled Iraq from May 2003 to June 2004, caused much of the postwar chaos. How? By dismantling the Iraqi military and secret police and barring Baathists from power. Yet the sixty-four thousand-dinar question remains: how else does one build a new Iraq? Speaking before packed houses of insurance salesmen in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia and such, Bremer continues to defend his agency’s policies, pointing out that for 30 years Saddam used that same army and intelligence services “to inflict misery, torture, and death on Iraqis and their neighbors. [While] the Baath Party was another important instrument of Saddam’s tyranny.” Writing earlier this year in the Wall Street Journal, Bremer maintained that it was vital to reassure the Iraqi people that in the New Iraq, Baathists and Saddam’s secret police would no longer be used as instruments of terror.
Bremer was right. Try to imagine triumphant Allied troops encouraging Nazi officials to move back into their government offices, or putting a rearmed SS in charge of security. Second, there were practical concerns, such as how it would look for rape and torture victims to run into their former tormentors patrolling the streets of Baghdad.
L. Paul Bremer now says the U.S. erred in planning for humanitarian relief and starving refugees, rather than preparing for a bloody insurgency. “There was planning, but planning for a situation that didn’t arise,” Bremer now says. The former CPA director is just one of many bureaucrats who have criticized Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld for deploying too few troops in Iraq. It is this small number of troops that is blamed for the violence and looting (mostly of Baathist buildings) that followed the remarkably quick crumbling of Saddam’s war machine. Yet the same critics also recognize that too many troops would risk an even greater anti-imperialist backlash in the Muslim world and a greater antiwar reaction back home. Okay, in hindsight maybe the Pentagon’s balancing act needed a bit more work. But as for the paucity of troops, the Post reported a senior defense department official saying that Director Bremer never requested additional troops.
LOST IN ALL THE FAULT-FINDING is how well things have gone. Building a free democratic nation out of the ruins of a cruel fascist dictatorship is no Sunday morning walk in the park, but in two and a half years, America and its allies have pretty much done just that. Iraqis now have a constitution to rival that of many Western states, and in a few months their own democratically elected government will be sworn in. Increasingly Iraqi troops are taking over security operations, and doing a bang-up job. Despite what the Michael Moores and Howard Deans believe, Army Spc. Casey Sheehan and the other American, British, Australian, Polish, Italian, and Iraqi soldiers have been part of — in the president’s words — “an historic opportunity to change the world,” a moment when America and its allies proved beyond doubt that democracy and freedom and human rights are accessible to everyone, everywhere. Yes, even to Middle East Muslims.
But perhaps the most encouraging development in Iraq is this one: as the Baghdad government’s legitimacy grows in the eyes of the Iraqi people, the average citizen is increasingly pointing out the foreign suicide bombers who crawl into Iraq to kill civilians. Like people everywhere, the Iraqis long for peace and stability. Give them a chance to vote — in a secret ballot where the cutthroat Bin Ladinists cannot terrorize them — and Iraqis overwhelmingly vote for democracy. Just like Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair said all along.
Bush and Blair also promised that Iraq’s transition to democracy would transform the Middle East and the Muslim world. Two for two. If you are keeping tabs, since the March 2003 invasion, the U.S. has lifted its trade embargo on Libya — until recently a major state sponsor of terrorism — as a reward for its giving up weapons of mass destruction. The Afghans, Iraqis, Palestinians, and Saudis have held elections — for Arabia its first municipal elections in decades. Even more amazing, President Hosni Mubarak allowed multiparty elections in Egypt. Syrian troops pulled out of Lebanon. Israel pulled out of Gaza. After years of silence, Jordan and Syria have begun to talk up reform. So many positive developments cannot be coincidental.
So what is the plan, Stan?
Last week on Capitol Hill, Ms. Rice said the U.S. plan is to clear the toughest areas of insurgents, make those areas a sanctuary from violence and then build durable national Iraqi institutions. “Our strategy is to clear, hold, and build,” said Rice. That sounds infinitely preferable to the left’s “Protest, Undermine, and Desert” strategy.
In addition, the U.S. will also “embed” diplomats, police trainers, and aid workers on military bases, and traveling with troops. Soon Provincial Reconstruction Teams will be deployed to help secure the country by training police, setting up courts, and helping local governments with essential services like sewage treatment or irrigation, Rice said.
While Iraqis were working to write a democratic constitution with checks and balances, respect for human rights, and multi-party elections — in other words while they were building a future of hope and freedom — jihadist groups like Moqtada Sadr’s Mehdi Army and Saddam’s Fedayeen were trying to gain power by planting roadside bombs and murdering Iraqi civilians. These so-called insurgents blew up Iraqi civilians not because of the U.S. intervention, but because only by starting a civil war can cretinous thugs hope to gain power.
Today the imminent civil war is entering its second year of not happening. The militias are largely disbanded, and most of the violence comes from disenchanted Iraqi Sunni, Syrian Sunni, and Saudi Sunni suicide bombers directed mainly at Shiite civilians. Like Israel, like Spain, like the Philippines, Iraq will learn to live with petty terrorists in its midst. At least for the foreseeable future. But that doesn’t mean that the plan isn’t working, or that Iraqis and all those who live under tyranny don’t deserve to live free.
Christopher Orlet is a frequent contributor and runs the Existential Journalist website.
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