Violence and the menace of anarchy no longer drive events in Haiti, we are relieved to note. A visit there in early April by U. S. Secretary of State Powell highlighted support initiatives by the United States. With UN involvement, as pushed for months by France, the international community, too, likely will help Haitians in the search for stability.
We therefore inevitably return our international focus to the world’s most trouble-filled region, the Middle East, and the particular problem of Iraq.
Half a century ago King Faisal II got it right, it certainly appears, when he opined that the country was ungovernable. He noted deep-seated religious, sectional, and political differences in what had become a separate country only after the First World War and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Faisal II was the last of the three kings in the monarchy established back in 1921; he was murdered in a military coup in 1958. Other coups and purges followed. Iraq’s political outlook during Cold War years changed from one overthrow to the next. Eventually, in 1979 Saddam Hussein took the presidency in yet another coup. Given emerging evidence on the brutality of his regime, Washington’s relations with Baghdad were complex and frequently troubled, despite the provision of limited cooperation in Saddam’s long war against Iran.
Of recent memory, the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait brought forceful UN-sanctioned opposition and the expulsion in early 1991 of Saddam’s forces from that oil-rich corner of the world. The American military led the way. But President Bush — senior, that is—withdrew without pursuing the Iraqi army to Baghdad. He incurred criticism for stopping short of ousting Saddam, but is reported to have believed that the swift, complete defeat of Iraq’s army would lead directly to the dictator being deposed anyway.
Today, a year after the U.S.-led invasion and final overthrow of Saddam, Iraq’s historic divisive internal stresses continue evident, exacerbated as far as many Iraqis are concerned by a military occupation by foreign powers, led by the United States. As these words emerge from the word processor, violence has increased, American and Coalition lives are being forfeited, kidnappings and the murder of foreign civilians have begun, and doubt surrounds the scheduled return of sovereignty on June 30. The situation deteriorates day by day.
Most violence has been generated in guerrilla warfare against American and other Coalition military forces in the country. But Iraq now has risen to the forefront of active terrorism as usually defined, serving as a focal point for Muslim extremist sentiment elsewhere in the region. Fanatics now focus on Iraq, even more than the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, as the rationale for their attacks on civilians, as in the case of the recent railway bombings in Spain.
The incursion into and occupation of Iraq thus has resulted in a greater — not a lesser — level of danger to the United States and, indeed, Western nations generally. The defeat and ouster of Saddam has by no means generated the beginnings of a national and then an area-wide democratic movement, which was also a rationale advanced by Washington.
The American-led action, opposed in this corner before it began as being uncalled for and unnecessary, has proven to have been a tragic error of judgment. Afghanistan, yes; Iraq, no! It may be the most egregious national blunder by any country in the West since the hurriedly mounted British/French/Israeli attack on Egypt in the Suez Crisis of almost half a century ago.
Ah, the Law of Unanticipated and Unintended Consequences!
That “law” applies not only to technologic and medical and legal initiatives and business choices and personal decisions, but also to policy determinations in foreign affairs. This Bush administration’s misguided, ill-timed professed effort to head off the terrorist menace by attacking Iraq has resulted in the opposite. There is now and will remain for the unpredictable future less security from world terrorism than before.
What to do? How to retrieve the situation? There are no easy answers, and that’s an understatement. U. S. and other Coalition troops can hardly be simply withdrawn at this juncture—declare victory and head home. Wrong signals and all that. Nor can they continue as at present for very long without making the even worse the situation area wide even, if not necessarily only in Iraq.
We are left with the faint hope that the UN and other international organizations can be persuaded to sponsor and manage a longer term in-country solution to the problem, replacing gradually the U. S. presence. Washington policymakers should drop its misguided, misinformed democratization focus and seek day and night a means to internationalize the return to the Iraqis of their country—sans Saddam and of course preferably without the threat of radical elements.
Enough of this policy that unintentionally but clearly provokes extremists in the rest of the Muslim world—a policy that provides propaganda ammunition and inspiration to al-Qaeda and other radical elements. Enough!
—Editor Henry E. Mattox