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Are We Better-off Without Saddam?

June 23, 2004

Saddam Hussein? A nation-builder? Leon Hadar explains that it's not as far-fetched as it might sound. Hussein is one in a long line of dictators who held their fractious countries together by force.

Are We Better-off Without Saddam?

By Leon Hadar

The conventional wisdom among foreign policy wonks is that, all things considered, the Iraqi people are better off without Saddam Hussein. Even the harshest Bush-bashing pundit tends to qualify his or her criticism of the war in Iraq with the line, "there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein was an evil man and we should all be thankful that he and his cronies have been deposed, but...."

In fact, you can already envision neoconservative columnists insisting a year or two from now that despite the fact that we weren't successful in establishing a democracy in Mesopotamia, we should appreciate the "legacy" that President George W. Bush has left behind. Our grand ambitions of making Iraq and the Arab world safe for political freedom weren't fulfilled. But at least we don't have another bloody dictator around anymore. Right?

To respond to that question, one should press the rewind button of 20th century history. There was a time in the West, 100 years ago, when liberal intellectuals in New York, London, and Paris were united in the certainty that the most anti-democratic and corrupt regime in Europe was Czarist Russia. The Czar and his cronies were regarded as leading reactionary figures who opposed reform, repressed their people, launched anti-Jewish pogroms and dominated a huge empire.

It wasn't surprising then that when Czar Nikolai II abdicated in 1917, the event produced a sense of euphoria among liberals everywhere. They expected that now that the evil tyrant was gone, Russia would enter the age of political and economic progress. All things considered, the Russian people were expected to be better off without Czar Nikolai II.

Such reactions also followed the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II in the aftermath of Germany's defeat in World War I. That authoritarian and militarist figure was regarded by most Western observers as a warmonger responsible for the outbreak of the Great War. That he was now in exile and his rule was replaced by a republican system committed to democratic principles was seen at the time as another step in the worldwide march towards progress--together with the end of the Czarist rule in Russia as well as the collapse of the despised Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires. The world was supposedly now better off without all these autocrats and despots. Right?

Well, we know the answer to those questions as we press the fast-forward button of history and are exposed to the revolting personalities of Hitler and Stalin and to the horrific images of Auschwitz and the Gulag, to the bloody scenes of the battlegrounds of World War II and the long history of the Cold War. And after following the terror of the civil war in Yugoslavia and to the continuing mess in the Middle East, some may even feel nostalgic towards the Austro-Hungarian emperors and the Ottoman Sultan.

Might we--and more important the Iraqi people--feel a similar sense of nostalgia towards Saddam Hussein years from now, if the country degenerates into a bloody civil war a la Afghanistan, with weapons of mass destruction falling into the hands of warlords and terrorists? If parts of Iraq come under the rule of a theocratic Shiite regime, where women and Christians wouldn't even enjoy the limited freedom that they had under the secular Baath rule? If Iran, equipped with nuclear weapons, becomes the hegemonic power in the entire Persian Gulf? Or if Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia become embroiled in a regional war in which they would carve Iraq? Or if the United States would be forced into a lengthy and costly occupation as part of a strategy to prevent these scenarios?

We should recall, however, that Czar Nikolai II was forced out of power by the Russian people and not by an outside power. And, notwithstanding President Woodrow Wilson's slogan of "making the world safe for democracy," World War I resulted from political and strategic considerations and was not aimed at "regime change" in Russia and Germany.

The United States ousted Saddam Hussein, a man known for brutality against his own people and for his threats against his neighbors, in a war of choice. We have become responsible for whatever scenario might unfold in Iraq or its remnants, for better--or more likely--for worst.

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Leon Hadar is a member of the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy and a research fellow in foreign policy studies with the Cato Institute. He is the author of the forthcoming book, Sandstorm: American Blindness in the Middle East. (Palgrave Macmillan)

Posted by coalition at 10:19 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Is Kerry Different from Bush on Iraq?

June 15, 2004

There is a bi-partisan flavor to the future of U.S. military operations in Iraq, with both President Bush and Senator Kerry advocating variations of "stay the course." But, as Wayne Merry points out, staying the course might violate one of the most basic principles of military strategy: don't reinforce failure.

Is Kerry Different from Bush on Iraq

by E. Wayne Merry

ìDonít reinforce failure.î This principle is basic in American military training. John Kerry certainly heard the dictum as a young naval officer and witnessed the consequences of its violation during his service in Vietnam. Unfortunately, the presumptive Democratic Party presidential candidate has forgotten this most elementary of prescriptions in his approach to Iraq.

Kerry actually proposes a deepening of the American entanglement, with more troops, more efforts to engage reluctant allies, and a broad commitment to the very policies which alone might defeat George W. Bush at the polls in November.

Kerry voted in favor of the war to unseat Saddam Hussein. He can acknowledge that vote was a mistake--either because of misleading intelligence about weapons of mass destruction or just as a mistake. Or he can continue to support last yearís war but recognize the post-war occupation is no longer salvageable. So far, with only minor nuances almost invisible to potential voters, he has done neither.

Instead, Kerry and those aspiring to top jobs in his putative administration believe internationalization of the occupation can yet turn dross into gold. Especially unreal is the notion of engaging NATO in Iraq. The allianceís secretary-general recently warned that NATO is edging toward failure in its modest peacekeeping efforts in Afghanistan, mostly limited to Kabul. More to the point, European governments which refused Washingtonís pressure to send troops to Iraq will not do so under a NATO fig leaf. Indeed, several governments may follow Spain to the exit.

While American media are dominated by the deepening tragedy in Iraq, Kerry parses his position with such care that even journalists following his campaign are not quite sure where he stands. Such an approach may work in the arcane mechanisms of the Senate, but not in a national referendum on George Bushís decision to take the country into a war it could have avoided.

Kerry wants to be seen as a strong and courageous leader with foreign affairs experience, but he reflects the schism in his own party toward the outside world. For generations, the Democratic Party has tried to balance internationalist and protectionist tendencies. In the previous century, Democrats took America into war far more often than did Republicans, most recently in Bill Clintonís campaigns in Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo.

Democrats proclaim solidarity with the worldís poor and sometimes undertake Wilsonian projects to transform other societies, as Clinton attempted in Russia and Haiti. In parallel, the partyís protectionist wing opposes giving the worldís poor any jobs that might remotely challenge employment here or opening American markets to competition from developing countries. Protectionist Democrats are hostile even toward our Canadian and Mexican neighbors, and their anti-Asian rhetoric comes close to xenophobia.

Kerry, like Clinton and other Democratic leaders before him, tries to bestride these conflicting forces within his party. One can hope Kerry knows that much of what he is saying about international issues, especially trade, is nonsense. If Kerry chooses either Richard Gephardt or John Edwards as his running mate, the Europeans who imagine Kerry is one of them just because he speaks French might one day look back on George Bush as the more internationalist president on economic issues.

Kerry is surrounded by his partyís foreign affairs elite who aggressively pursued American hegemony in a unipolar post-Cold War world, bombed Iraq daily for almost a decade, see Europeans as subordinates rather than as partners, and whose failures to respond adequately to the challenges of Saddam and al Qaeda were precursors to Bushís ìaxis of evilî and ìwar on terrorism.î On the Middle East, Kerry offers as blank a check to Israel as does Bush and evidently shares the belief that democracy and Westernization can be imposed on the Islamic world.

To American voters looking for a real choice on Iraq, Kerry and Bush both offer four more years of casualties, Iraqi hatred, alienation of the Islamic world and of traditional allies alike, and the deepening of precisely that quagmire in the Middle East that the neo-conservatives promised the war would avoid. This lack of choice is frustrating for real conservatives, who wonder how a Wilsonian foreign policy ever found a home in a Republican administration, and for true liberals, who opposed the war all along and may yet turn in real numbers to Ralph Nader.

For most Democrats, ìanyone but Bushî will apply in November. For independent voters, the election will be about Iraq, not Bush. Increasing numbers of centrist Americans, whether they thought the war against Saddam a mistake or not, now recognize failure in the occupation of Iraq and want a leader who can and will get America out without provoking chaos across the region. John Kerry currently offers only reinforcement of failure.

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E. Wayne Merry is a former State Department and Pentagon official and a member of the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy (www.realisticforeignpolicy.org).

Posted by coalition at 10:18 PM | Comments (0)

Fuzzy Math on Iraq

June 07, 2004

The numbers of dead and wounded in Iraq are available for all to see and ponder. David Isenberg wonders why the number two official at the Pentagon had such trouble answering a simple question about where the war had been, and where it is heading.

Fuzzy Math on Iraq

by David Isenberg

How bad are things for the U.S. military forces in Iraq? When the No. 2 man in the Pentagon doesnít even come within the distance of a ballpark homer in terms of American troop deaths you know things are bad--very bad.

Consider that back towards the end of April, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz, testifying before a congressional subcommittee, drastically underestimated the number of American soldiers killed in Iraq since the war began.

"It's approximately 500, of which ­I can get the exact numbers. ­Approximately 350 are combat deaths," said Wolfowitz.

At that time, 726 U.S. troops had died in Iraq. Of those, 524 were combat deaths. Thus, he was off on the total number of deaths by 27 percent and the number of combat deaths by 33 percent. Talk about not getting it!

Of course, since then at least another 70 U.S. military personnel have died. As I write this the U.S. military fatality count stands at 806. And, the official wounded count, as of May 8, is 3,786 wounded since May 1, 2003. But there is a lot of controversy about these figures, which do not include many minor wounds, although they do include some soldiers who are wounded and returned to duty. Other estimates of wounded American soldiers range as high as 15,000.

And many of these wounds are serious indeed. Increasingly in Iraq, the wounds involve severe damage to the head and eyes--injuries that leave soldiers brain damaged or blind, or both.

Looked at another way, the United States has suffered 744 fatalities since May 1, 2003, when the Bush administration announced that major combat operations were over. That is 5.35 times as many fatalities as occurred during that phase of the war. Coincidentally, that number is the daily average of coalition soldiers killed in Iraq during the month of April, according to Newsweek.

Speaking of April, there were 87 deaths by hostile fire in the first 15 days of that month. The last time U.S. troops experienced a two-week loss such as this one in Iraq was in October 1971, two years before U.S. ground involvement ended in Vietnam. Truly, April is the cruelest month.

But wait thereís more. The British have suffered 59 military forces killed. The other countries, Italians, Spaniards, Ukrainians, Polish, and others, contributing troops have together suffered another 51 killed. The entire coalition currently has suffered 916 deaths.

Bear in mind, however, no official count exists of contractor, NGO and U.N., and civil servant/government official deaths. Private military companies have easily suffered over 50 dead.

It is also important to note, as Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies pointed out, that these official casualty counts, in terms of the number of fatalities, do not reflect the technical definition of casualty. Websterís and other dictionaries define the term casualty as ìa military person lost through death, wounds, injury, sickness, internment, or capture or through being missing in action.î

For example, the wounded totals do not include several thousand Americans and other coalition personnel that have been evacuated for reasons of physical and mental health. They also do not include at least 24 US military suicides. Physically and mentally ill, and suicides are not technically casualties of war. Accurate data does not seem to be available on non-US military personnel who qualify as wounded. Technically speaking, such personnel should often be defined as ìcasualties.î

Could it get much worse? Actually, yes, much worse. Consider improvised explosive devices. Before the violence in April, which was the deadliest month of the war with 135 U.S. soldiers killed, they were the leading killer of American troops.

As improvised explosive device attacks claim more U.S. and coalition troops, the supply of armor for Humvees--one of the most common forms of military transportation--has become a crucial issue. The Pentagon acknowledges it needs 2,000 more armored Humvees to help protect convoys, but under the current funding plan, it could be two more years before U.S. forces reach that level.

In other words, the lack of proper shielding has caused many needless deaths and wounds. According to a study by a defense consultant, first reported by Newsweek, of a total of 789 coalition deaths as of April 15 (686 of them Americans), 142 were killed by land mines or improvised explosive devices, while 48 others died in rocket-propelled grenade attacks. Almost all of those soldiers were killed while in unprotected vehicles, which means perhaps one in four of those killed in combat in Iraq might be alive if they had had stronger armor around them, the study suggested. Thousands more who were unprotected have suffered grievous wounds, such as the loss of limbs.

With figures likes these, one understands why the Pentagon has fought so hard to prevent images of dead soldiers' homecomings at military bases from becoming public.

David Isenberg is a senior analyst at the British American Security Information Council (BASIC) and a member of the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy.

Posted by coalition at 10:20 PM | Comments (0)