[OUTLOOK]The end of a Bushite dreamIn December 2002, when the United States had already decided to go to war against Saddam Hussein, I gave a lecture at the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board. Over lunch, I asked one of the leading neo-conservative lights, one of the strongest proponents of the war, “How long do you intend to stay?”
His answer startled me: “Oh, no longer than 18 months.” Incredulously, I shot back: “You can’t be serious. This is not a classical war whose purpose it is to defeat the enemy’s army. That is going to be as easy as shooting fish in a barrel. But the objective is more ambitious. It is to remake a society, to turn it from totalitarianism to democracy. Do you remember how long it took in Germany and Japan? Decades, and even today, there are U.S. troops in both countries.”
My neo-conservative friend replied: “We will have to leave soon; otherwise we will turn into targets.” What he did not mention was the wildly optimistic assumptions behind the war ― the United States would win quickly (which it did), march into Baghdad amidst the cheers of the population, hand over power to Ahmad Chalabi, the head of the expatriate Iraqi National Congress, and leave.
Today, this premise lies in tatters. From November, the United States has been fighting Saddam’s old political power base, the Sunnis holed up in the “Sunni Triangle” around Faluja, who are supported by international terrorists of all stripes and colors. Now the Shiites have opened a second front.
That the Shiites have entered the battle, with 60 dead in one weekend alone, is a particularly troublesome omen. After all, they were the designated beneficiaries of the U.S. intervention. Though the Shiites make up about 60 percent of the population, they have been the eternal victims of Sunni oppression since at least the 1920s. Like the Kurds, another target of Saddam’s brutality, the Shiites should have embraced the Americans. Instead, they have risen up against them.
The consequences are easy to see. The idea that the United States could hand over power to the Iraqis on June 30, a silly notion to begin with, is now dead. The idea that they could leave soon is equally dead. The influential chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the Republican Richard Lugar, put it this way: “I am being hounded by June 30. To whom are we going to hand over power? Who is going to be in charge of security?” In short, all of this ought to be “discussed.”
This was not an enemy of President Bush speaking, but a Republican and one of the most respected figures in the Congress. It is also an open secret that the top brass of the U.S. Army wants more, rather than fewer troops. But the White House pretends that nothing has changed. With almost childlike stubbornness, the Bushies keep repeating that the June 30 date is firm and fixed.
They will have to eat their words. Today’s wars are different from the past. In the old days, it was enough to defeat the enemy; today he has to be reshaped and reformed. The wars of the 21st centuries are wars of choice, not necessity, wars of order rather then conquest. Indeed, the real task begins after victory, and it is open-ended. Look at Bosnia, look at Kosovo. Nine years after NATO’s intervention in Bosnia, five years after the intervention in Kosovo, there are still international troops there and with no end in sight.
The first lesson is that an intervention today is not a quick and dirty affair, but an open-ended protectorate. The reason is simple: The intervention defeats troops but not the conditions ― sectarian or ethnic strife ― that created the problem. Hence, the moment foreign troops withdraw, the conflicts break out into the open again. The task is not to send in firefighters, but policemen.
Firefighters break doors, kill the fire and leave. Policemen, on the other hand, stay forever. And you might add: Americans are very good firefighters, but not patient enough to be good policemen. But if post-Saddam Iraq is to have even a minimal chance to overcome its horrid past, it will have to learn how to be policemen: walk the beat, learn how to distinguish between the bad and the good (or at least half-bad) guys, and demonstrate to all that they will stay as long as it takes.
This is why the June 30 handover date was silly. As of last week, it has become positively dangerous because the United States must fight a three-front war: against the old Sunni power structure, against international terrorism, and now against the largest group of them all, the Shiites. The 130,000 troops in Iraq surely will have to be doubled, and more importantly, this is a war the United States cannot fight by itself.
A Bushist dream has just died in Iraq: that this greatest power in history can bring order to troubled society on its own. Say good-bye to unilateralism, say hello to multilateralism and community. It goes without saying that nobody in his right mind, whether Europeans, Russians, Chinese or Koreans, has an interest in seeing the United States fail in Iraq. For this is where the future of the 21st century will be decided.
* The writer is the editor of Die Zeit, a German weekly, and an associate at the Olin Institute for Strategic Studies at Harvard University.
by Josef Joffe