LIANE HANSEN: This past week the United Nations Security Council lifted economic sanctions on Iraq. The move allows foreign trade and investment in the country for the first time in 13 years. There are signs that life is returning to normal in the country. Commercial flights have resumed. Oil exports are to begin within weeks, but major challenges remain, and it’s up to L. Paul Bremer, the top US civilian in Iraq, to maintain stability and restore basic services. Bremer signed an order this past week dissolving the Iraqi military, both the regular military and paramilitary forces.
Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at The Brookings Institution, says Bremer’s action is not just a symbolic move; it has real consequences.
MICHAEL O’HANLON: It matters. As you know, the fighting force was not thoroughly destroyed, at least many parts of it were not. Many of the Iraqis simply stopped fighting and faded back into the population, and so we have a couple hundred thousand Iraqis out there who are used to having their salaries paid by the Iraqi military, and that’s a big problem: How are we going to keep them from reverting back to a form of lifestyle where they use their weapons to gain sustenance? We don’t want them fighting against us or looting. But it’s a good idea to get rid of this military. We have to built a new security force in Iraq. It can’t be the vestige of the old armed forces of Saddam Hussein.
HANSEN: Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz appeared on Capitol Hill Thursday. He got a pretty tough reception from members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Chairman Richard Lugar, the senator from Indiana, told Wolfowitz that the planning for peace was much less developed than the planning for war. Is this fair?
O’HANLON: I think it is fair. I mean, let’s also be fair by starting with the point that Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld and Franks and Myers did a great job with the war plan. I think it was very good. But the planning for the stabilization force was not. And we simply did not do a good job of stopping the looting and other kinds of disorder in the first weeks after the war was over, when the first impressions were being formed about why the United States went to war and what post-Saddam Iraq would be like. It was a big mistake. First impressions last forever. We created bad ones. I think we’re well on the road towards recovery now, but we had the people in place. If we had simply used them more effectively, we could have stopped a lot of this lawlessness.
HANSEN: Let’s talk about General Tommy Franks, the head of US Central Command. He led the troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He announced his retirement. It’s going to be effective this summer. Now there was word that Franks was under consideration for promotion to the Pentagon’s Army chief of staff. Are you surprised he retired?
O’HANLON: I’m not surprised. It’s a very hard job to be chief of staff of a military service. It’s very political. You’re dealing with a very strong secretary of Defense who likes to actually try to impose his will on the services in some situations. It’s a tough town. A lot of recent service chiefs of staff have not had happy tenures, and compared to somebody who just won two wars and has that as his immediate and probably lasting legacy, I don’t know why General Franks would have wanted to taint his final years in uniform with the chief of staff job, unless he really had a clear vision for where he wanted the Army to go. And so I’m not surprised at all.
HANSEN: The United Nations lifted sanctions on Iraq. It had the support of the countries that opposed the war, or the US-led war, China, Russia, Germany, France. You met with top French officials, Michael. You’ve just returned from France. What’s the attitude toward the continued American presence in Iraq?
O’HANLON: French attitude is complicated. On the one hand they’ve been very helpful this week, as have other Security Council members, in passing this resolution, some elements of which they didn’t like. On the other hand, the Foreign Ministry and certain other officials in France still see their role as checking American power. They think this is a fundamental role for France in the international system today. And it’s going to lead to future tensions over issues like the Middle East peace process. But on a third hand, if one may do that, the Iraqi mission and the Afghan mission and the Balkans missions are still areas of cooperation between the United States and French military services, and we’re working very well with the French intelligence services in the war on terror. We don’t want to disrupt those latter areas of cooperation, even as we continue to have a bit of a political fight at the top.
HANSEN: Front page of today’s Washington Post—administration may start applying some pressure on Iran. It suspect that the country is harboring al-Qaeda operatives. Where is this going?
O’HANLON: Well, it’s going in a bad direction if Iran really has knowingly condoned or tolerated the presence of these al-Qaeda operatives. That we don’t yet know. But if Iran was in any way, shape or form condoning this, it’s going to be very bad news for the US-Iranian relationship.
HANSEN: Finally, North Korea: a joint press conference yesterday between the Japanese prime minister and the president in Texas, and the president said that—demanded the complete verifiable and irreversible eliminations of the nuclear program. And if the North moves further toward weapons development, he warned of tougher measures. Tougher measures: What does he mean?
O’HANLON: Well, it’s a huge question. This is a major crisis. Simply putting some more economic pressure on North Korea may work, and Japan and South Korea have it in their power to tighten that noose a little bit. We may have to consider much tough things than that—economic embargoes, blockades, even pre-emptive strikes against North Korea’s nuclear facilities. And the allies are in no way, shape or form in agreement on how to do that or whether to do that just yet.
[The Islamic State] is a very strong group which has a lot of sympathizers, its ideas are embedded and it has networks. It has a lot to draw on even as it loses its physical territory