Neo-Conservative Plan on the Rocks

Muqtedar Khan
Muqtedar Khan Former Brookings Expert, Professor, Department of Political Science and International Relations - University of Delaware

October 16, 2003

It seems that the neo-conservative empire is unravelling. Suicide attacks that are still killing people, and the assassination of the most pragmatic voice of Hamas means the peace process is clearly off the road. In one bloody week in Iraq, the UN head quarters was destroyed by a suicide truck bomber that killed 23 including the head of UN mission in Baghdad. Every day coalition forces suffer casualties, and the reconstruction process suffers as gas pipes and water supply lines are blown away. Today Iraqis are without water, without electricity, without gas, without government and without security.

The Middle East peace process was following the script. Those who want peace are too meek to do anything and those who are opposed to peace will stop at nothing. Unless a third party, the UN or US sends ground troops to enforce peace, one cannot expect any serious progress in that direction.

But Iraq is puzzling. The conduct of Americans who wish to occupy and transform Iraq as a first step towards transforming the entire Middle East, and those in Iraq who continue to battle Americans, are both beyond rational calculus.

Before the war President Bush advanced two principle reasons for attacking Iraq. The first reason was that Iraq was on the verge of developing nuclear weapons and already had an ominous stockpile of biological and chemical weapons. Iraq was definitely linked with those who attacked America on 11 September 2001. If Iraq was not immediately disarmed and its regime changed, then the US and the world were in grave danger of becoming victims of terrorists armed with weapons of mass destruction. Post-war revelations have exposed the fallacy of these claims. Careless remarks by key members of the Bush administration, Paul Wolfowitz in particular, have revealed that the argument that Iraq was an immediate threat was hyped by the administration in order to gain domestic public support for an imperial war that was necessary for other perceived interests of the US.

The are several reasons for the invasion of Iraq. First of all for many of the neo-conservatives, Iraq constituted unfinished business and the post September 11 mood in the country presented an opportunity for initiating plans for invasion. Secondly, many of the neo-cons are deeply committed to the security of Israel and they considered Iraq, Iran and Syria as festering threats to Israel. Regime change followed by disarmament of the trio is, in their minds, the only way to safeguard Israel and hence the invasion of Iraq as the first step, towards change in the Middle East. Once Iraq was secured by non-military means backed by coercive diplomacy, the plan could be adopted to precipitate regime changes, probably in the following order: Iran, Syria and then Saudi Arabia. A transformed Middle East would welcome democracy and American influence, keep Israel safe with minimum concession to the Palestinians and reduce the threat of terrorism from Muslim militias such as Al-Qa’eda, Hizbullah and Hamas.

If this was indeed the neo-cons’ grand design then why not execute it in a fashion that would ensure its success. Their first mistake was to wage a war against the entire international community bar the UK, through a misguided attempt to threaten the UN to join the war or lose legitimacy. The post-war Iraq is a testimony to how badly the Bush administration needs the rest of the world to help maintain its hegemony. The second mistake was to ignore the advice of the military generals and not put enough boots into Iraq. Most of the problems in Iraq are a result of a shortage of troops. There aren’t enough soldiers to safeguard either the pipelines or power plants or provide security to potential targets (such as the UN office) for the guerrillas. Saboteurs are having a field day in Iraq. One tactical error made immediately after the war was the failure to consolidate control over Iraqi territory by sealing its borders. Open borders have allowed foreign fighters to join the locals in mounting a guerrilla war that has been more devastating to American forces than the war itself. At the time of writing this article the number of American casualties after victory in the war exceed the number of casualties in the war.

Perhaps the neo-cons are autistic. Brilliant in the manner in which they hijacked US foreign policy in the wake of 11 September, but utterly incompetent once in charge.

American failures in Iraq are understandable. After all America is an empire with hardly any imperial experience. America’s imperial ambitions are best served through multilateral institutions and the cover of international legitimacy that the Security Council provides. In Iraq, without the umbrella of the UN, America is exposed to the searing heat of raw geopolitics. But what is perplexing is the objective of the Iraqi opposition. What do they really want?

There are three kinds of Iraqis out there. Those who hate, oppose, and attack Americans; those who see the possibility of a better Iraq but are doing little to seize the moment; and those who are with the Americans but are irrelevant to the Iraqi future.

As far as the Iraqis themselves are concerned it does not matter why the US sought regime change in Iraq. They have been rescued from the clutches of a horrible tyrant who had oppressed them for decades. Instead of facilitating progress, Saddam Hussein’s regime brought only wars, sanctions and isolation upon Iraqis. Iraqis have enormous potential, great natural resources that can immediately be converted into hard cash and temporarily the commitment of the world’s only super power to reconstruct their nation and create a healthy, prosperous and free society. This is the time for them to seize the moment and lay the foundations for a prosperous Iraq.

But the resistance to the occupation seems determined to cause enough casualties in the American and British ranks to force a premature withdrawal. If the militants are successful, the US will certainly be humiliated, but it will do little good to Iraq. I am convinced that if the Americans were to withdraw their troops right now, the Iraqis would rob, murder and plunder each other and eventually become prey to either another Taliban type or Ba’athist-type regime.

Left to themselves momentarily after the collapse of Saddam’s regime we saw what some of the Iraqis did to their own national treasures. They robbed and sold them. I cannot see a single reason why American withdrawal will be positive for the Iraqis at the moment. There are those who have only one faith—anti-Americanism. For them America’s existence as a capitalist superpower/Zionist-crusader entity is the overriding issue and opposition to America, no matter what the consequences, has become an article, indeed the only article of faith. These people will risk and even lay down their lives to kill and hurt Americans. Unfortunately, killing is all these people know. If the US were to withdraw from Iraq now, mayhem will follow. Iraq could very well become another Afghanistan and a haven for Bin Laden, Al-Qa’eda and allied Jihadis.

American withdrawal before Iraq is stabilised, security, law and order is restored and the infrastructure—economic, civil and political—is reconstituted, spells doom for Iraq. Then why are some Iraqis, who have everything to lose and nothing to gain from an American retreat, opposing America with such determination? Either those who are opposing Iraq do not have Iraq’s welfare at heart or they are willing to sacrifice the future of Iraq to what they may perceive as a higher goal—killing Americans.

It is in the interest of Russia, China, France, the UN, the Jihadis and many Middle Eastern powers to see the US fail in Iraq. US failure in Iraq will bury the imperial ambitions of the neo-cons. A US trapped indefinitely in the Iraqi quagmire will neither be able to wage the war on terror with any great ability, nor will it be able to push its grand agenda for regional transformation. Rather than bullying Iran and Syria to change, the US may soon, if not already, have to secretly solicit their help to deal with the present Iraqi insurgency.

The Bush administration’s over-zealous foreign policy and its tactical incompetence, both in post-war Iraq and in the diplomatic arena, continue to put America open to terrorism, instability and war. The war on Iraq was supposed to reduce terrorism. One only has to look at this week’s newspapers—Israel, India, and Iraq—to realise that terror reigns globally. There is no sign of the WMDs and as the prospects of finding them diminish, the international legitimacy of US actions also evaporates. As Iraq suffers on in chaos, American capabilities and intentions will come into question. At this rate the US may soon become like Israel; it will continue to be the target of terror but in the eyes of the world will be seen as an occupier and an oppressor.