The burdens of empire

Instead of a nice, clean occupation that results in the first Arab democracy — and a network of Army bases from which to project power throughout the region — I predict the United States will have years of guerilla insurgency from nationalistic Iraqis (some of the fiercest nationalism in the Arab world), the dirty job of suppressing Kurdish and Shi’ite independence movements and Sunni power grabs, the problem of al Qai’da slipping across the borders (with the help of Iran and sympathetic Saudis) into the country to stike at American troops and meddling in Iraq’s internal affairs by Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Russia.

hog sunset.jpgSecretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on Friday signed deployment orders for 62,000 more troops to head out to the Persian Gulf, nearly doubling the number of troops already there to about 107,000. Most defense planners expect the total number of troops to between 200,000 and 250,000.
The latest order directs 27,000 additional personnel to the gulf, including thousands of marines, an Army airborne infantry brigade, a squadron of Air Force F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighters, and two squadrons of F-16CJ radar-jamming fighters. An order late Friday sent 35,000 troops, half of them marines, to the region.
Also deployed Jan. 11 is the British aircraft carrier Ark Royal, heading a 16-ship flotilla officially sailing for long-planned naval exercises in the Middle East. This is the largest British amphibious task force to be deployed since the Falklands War, and officials say the flotilla has been strengthened with two battalions of Royal Marine commandos added — in case it is needed for an attack on Iraq.
At the same time, Tukish Prime Minister Abdullah Gul arrived in Saudi Arabia Saturday to talk about peaceful solutions to the standoff between the United States and Iraq. This meeting happened a day after Turkey finally gave permission for American military inspectors to assess the status of bases in Turkey, a necessary first step if Turkey is to be a staging area for an attack by American ground troops. (Turkey had already given the nod to the United States that it could use air bases such as Incirlik, but it’s been dragging its feet on allowing U.S. ground forces to be stationed in-country, as there is widespread opposition to the United States and a war with Iraq among the Turkish populace.)
Also mentioned in this CNN story is a series of strikes Sunday by American-Anglo planes in the southern “No-Fly” zone. There is no word on wounded or damage.


Meanwhile, back in Washington, President George W. Bush met with Iraqi opposition leaders, including members of the Iraqi National Congress, for an hour in the Oval Office and reportedly reaffirmed his support for “a sweeping transition to democracy in Iraq and a short military occupation after Saddam Hussein is out of power.” (Previously reported here.)
The Times story doesn’t say exactly what was discussed, but Kanan Makiya, a professor at Brandeis University and a leading Iraqi intellectual, said he was “deeply reassured” by what he called “the president’s intense commitment to a genuinely democratic post-Saddam Iraq” and by Bush’s determination to press forward not only with “removing Saddam from office, but reconstructing Iraq after a military conflict.”
“Mr. Bush was clearly aware that Iraq was not Afghanistan, and that it has the human and financial resources needed to support democracy,” Makiya said.
What does that mean, I wonder? I know the Bush administration is hoping to make Iraq quick, with about an 18-month time-frame to fight a war, win and rebuild the country into a democracy, which is hardly realistic in my view. The United States occupied Germany and Japan for a decade after their defeat in World War II, and it cost billions and billions of dollars. And these were easy occupations. Both countries were utterly devastated prior to the occupations, and they had a hostile Russian bear next door that made the U.S. troops relatively welcome. Neither of those factors exist in regards to Iraq.
In other areas subject to U.S. occupation, it has not gone smoothly. America occupied the Philippines from 1898 to 1946 and fought two guerilla insurgencies there, never completely putting down rebels. During the 1945-49 occupation of South Korea, there were so many resistors to American governance that Kim Il Sung was sure there would be substantial fifth-column support for his invasion. In Haiti (occupied from 1915-34), there was a 40,000-man uprising that was eventually crushed at the cost of almost 2,000 Haitians.
So unless a country is completely destroyed, as were the American Confederacy, Germany and Japan, or fears a stronger neighbor, American troops are unlikely to be welcomed “with sweets and flowers,” as one of the Iraqi dissidents reportedly told Bush. Exiles, such as Ahmed Chalabi, who heads the Iraqi National Congress, may have the least credible grasp of what’s happening in their former country. (The Bay of Pigs fiasco in Cuba was, in part, a failure due to its reliance on bad intelligence from the exile community.) Chalabi isn’t well-known or liked by many Iraqis, at least according to the Kurds I spoke with — and they’re the ones most sympathetic to an American invasion.
Instead of a nice, clean occupation that results in the first Arab democracy — and a network of Army bases from which to project power throughout the region — I predict the United States will have years of guerilla insurgency from nationalistic Iraqis (some of the fiercest nationalism in the Arab world), the dirty job of suppressing Kurdish and Shi’ite independence movements and Sunni power grabs, the problem of al Qai’da slipping across the borders (with the help of Iran and sympathetic Saudis) into the country to stike at American troops and meddling in Iraq’s internal affairs by Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Russia. And don’t forget the resentment in the region that will occur when the United States begins exploiting the Iraqi oil fields for its own purposes. No one will like that, least of all the Iraqis.
I’m not saying Saddam isn’t a menace and the United States should ignore him. But the Bush administration’s thinking that Iraq will be a “cakewalk,” as Richard Perle once said, is endangering not only innocent Iraqis but also American troops who will needlessly be put in harm’s way. My thinking is that if diplomacy is good enough North Korea, it should be good enough for Iraq. It’s only the one-track thinking of Bush, who has pushed for an invasion of Iraq since 1999, that makes war inevitable.