At Large

After the Inevitable War

One possible course of action now being discussed is not to democratize Iraq, but to dismember it.

By 11.27.02

It is no longer a question of whether, but when. The consensus in what are usually referred to as well-informed circles, in Washington and abroad, is that the U.S. will invade Iraq; it is only a matter of time. Indeed one question that occupies the Bush Administration now is what Iraq will look like after Saddam Hussein is gone. On Monday the New York Times reported that the administration was forging a political alliance with Ayatollah Muhammad Bakir al-Hakim, a prominent Iraqi Shiite who has lived in Iran for the last 20 years. Presumably he would call on the Shiites in Iraq not to resist an invasion if, as the Times reported, an invasion "enables him to secure a place in a new power structure in Iraq."

How that new power structure would operate, though, is uncertain. The Middle East is what it is, and while the administration may talk about turning Iraq into a democracy, it does so mostly for PR purposes. In fact, one possible course of action now being discussed is not to democratize Iraq, but to dismember it. The U.S. would preside over an updated version of the 1878 Congress of Berlin. Iraq would be divided into three or more parts.

Thus the southern region would be handed over to the Shiites. Iraq has been dominated by a Sunni Muslim minority, although the Shiites, who have links to Iran, make up some 55 percent of the Iraqi population. At the same time the Kurds would maintain their two semi-autonomous areas in the north, although they would "not be semi-autonomous enough," as a source said, "to upset the Turks."

Meanwhile, if Prowler readers will consult their maps now, they will find what looks like a Jordan panhandle, extending toward the east into Iraq, with Syria to the north and Saudi Arabia to the south. In a post-Saddam Iraq, the panhandle would be extended further. Jordan, with the blessing of both Israel and the U.S., would inherit a piece of Iraq.

But before the map is rearranged, of course, President Bush must authorize an invasion. So how, and when, is he likely to do it? "Wargame: Iraq," a simulated meeting of the National Security Council, shown as a two-hour program on MSNBC Monday night, tried to suggest an answer.

The program was a condensed and edited version of an actual wargame that had been held at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. Veterans of previous administrations played the roles of officials in the current administration. James Woolsey, the former director of central intelligence, for example, acted as the secretary of defense. Wendy Sherman, once the counselor to the State Department, as well as special adviser on North Korea, was the secretary of state. All the participants, meanwhile, were supposed to respond to the events in the wargame the same way they thought their counterparts in the Bush Administration would respond if the events took place in real life.

And, more or less, that's what they did. Ms. Sherman, for instance, did not oppose war with Iraq, but she did not want the U.S. to act in haste, or to go to war without allies. This seems to be Colin Powell's position, too. Similarly, Woolsey did a fair representation of Donald Rumsfeld; he praised smart bombs, was critical of Hans Blix, and said the U.S. must act "decisively."

Obviously there was nothing new in most of this. If you read the papers at all these days, you pretty much know what the players in the Bush Administration think. On the other hand, Youssef Ibrahim, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, who took the role of the secretary of energy, seemed to be reflecting his own views more than he did those of Spencer Abraham, and this was all to the good. Ibrahim, once a foreign correspondent for the Times, actually knows something about the Middle East.

When Woolsey-Rumsfeld worried, for example, that Qatar might become unsettled, Ibrahim said no matter: "Qatar is a Mickey Mouse country." When Woolsey-Rumsfeld said something pious about bringing democracy to Arab countries, Ibrahim countered with, "We're not in the business of creating democracy." Ibrahim also had the audacity to mention oil. It is a principal determinative of American foreign policy, even though there seem to be strictures against admitting it.

In the end, however, the wargame did not offer a definitive answer on what Bush will do, or when he will do it. But rightly or wrongly, it made clear, he was headed toward war.

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About the Author

John Corry is a former New York Times media critic and reporter.