My thoughts thus far. Probably more to come later. Take it as a point of view, agree or disagree. Below are my thoughts on a few things that haven't got much coverage elsewhere on this site yet. I'm writing on day three of the war, just after A-day (the start of the shock and awe bombardment.)
"America! America!" chant the Iraqis
Even in the South, where America so famously abandoned the Shia uprising against Saddam Hussein and left them to be slaughtered (anyone know why? It was because posters of Ayatollah Khomeini began appearing in Southern Iraqi towns, which was about the worse thing that could happen to the U.S. at that time, as it implied the rebels were puppets of Iran and would give this part of Iraq to them), the citizens chant "America! America!" as Marines tear down posters of the dictator. One man wearily warns his wife of what happened last time: the others are too overcome with jubilation. You may have your doubts about what will happen next, but so far it looks like the Iraqis in general have no such qualms. They are hardly fighting to the death to defend their homeland against the hated aggressor, and they wave as the armoured column speeds towards Baghdad.
Meanwhile, an entire division of the Iraqi army surrenders (that's 8000 men.) Here we see a very clever part of the American war strategy. There are many reasons not to want to slaughter the Iraqi army:
- It just plain isn't nice. Most of these guys are conscripts, they have no love for their leader. No-one wants to be the last man to die for Saddam Hussein.
- It's hard to convince the Iraqi people of our friendliness after decimating thousands of their countrymen in a cloud of aerosol.
- When the war is over, these units can be used to keep order in their homeland. Many are even being returned home before the conflict is over -- after having the first decent meal they've enjoyed in a long time. This all helps spread good feeling.
- The second wave of American troops that enters the country comes bearing food -- and money. The idea is to contract the locals to start rebuilding local infrastructure immediately, and pay them for a fair wage to do it. More good feeling is spread, and these (ex-)soldiers can help do it.
So we see an American strategy of firstly propaganda, followed up by trying to establish contact with high-up military leaders and negotiating terms of surrender with them. Leaflet drops say things such as "Do not fight and die for a man who despises you. Return home and watch your children grow and prosper." This has got to be pretty appealing to an Iraqi conscript, and it is honourable for a military leader not to subject his troops to a slaughter. As I write, Basra just capitulated: as I hoped, my Battle of Basra nodeshell need not be filled.
The grand American strategy
We need to step back and look at the bigger picture before we consider topics such as the democratization or reconstruction of Iraq. This really isn't done as often as it should be -- President Bush has been talking about "a war to last a generation" for a long time, it's time we started paying attention to what he means by this. The Middle East has been unstable for a long time. America could pretend that its disease would never afflict them -- the embassy bombings, the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole, these were all warning signs. The public wept, then they moved on. On September 11, 2001, it became impossible for the American public to accept moving on.
Afghanistan was duly liberated. As the bombing began on day one of Operation Iraqi Freedom, U.S. Marines launched a new operation to rally the last remaining elements of Al-Qaeda in that country. Iraq will shortly follow. Iran and North Korea, aware of the threat from outside and terrified of the growing unrest on their streets, withdraw further into their paranoid shells and invoke nuclear weapons programs to try and scare the Americans into capitulation. What just happened wasn't an attempt to make the economy recover in time for the next elections, it was the start of the reshaping of the World Order. The United Nations demonstrably needs reforming. The Middle East cannot be left as it is. America and the West cannot sit idly by while police discover ricin factories in London and nightclubs in Bali are blown up (and to those who say America is causing this wave of terror, I ask you to consider the targets: many oppose American action vehemently.)
The United States of America views democratization as an essential ingredient of modernization. They value it above religious conformity, and they value it above the imperative to maintain societies as they are just because that's how they've always been, which is advanced by opponents to this war. This is the vision advanced by the neoconservative idealists: a free, democratic Middle East. Freedom, capitalism, emancipation. This is the only cure to the disease that struck us on September the eleventh.
The United Nations will very likely be called on to reconstruct Iraq. This isn't immoral, or "United States strongarming" -- what power do they have to force nations to foot the bill? They don't. The fact is, nations like France and Russia like being involved in this sort of thing. It makes them feel important. Doesn't anyone remember Kosovo? After opposing the action vehemently, Russia tried to capture a huge swathe of Kosovo so they could look after it themselves. Having failed in facilitating the self-defence of nations and the disarming of dictators, the United Nations may become little more than a glorified aid agency.
French President Jacques Chirac has not just shown lack of principle and an unreasonable stance, he has been guilty of the cardinal sin of an international statesman: incompetence. He has shattered his country's relations with the World's only superpower. In a way, we should be greatful to him -- he has exposed the problems and weaknesses of our World Order. America was burnt, Europe is under threat, and still no action is to be taken according to the French. Meanwhile, Russia complains that the war in Iraq will lead to a rise in Islamic fundamentalism on its borders. The risk is there now, President Putin, this war has not begotten it. In the late 1930s, after Neville Chamberlain had made peace with Adolf Hitler, 61% of the British public supported him, and believed Hitler would go away. They were wrong. In matters of war and peace, public opinion is not as vaunted as some would like to pretend. The public of other countries - France, Chile, Mexico - are almost totally irrelevent. Alienating our sovereignty to these people through international institutions can never be a good thing. Whom would they expect to come to their rescue if they faced a grave threat to their security?
To those who say America bullies other nations into doing exactly as she wishes, I present Turkey. 1,500 lightly-armed Turkish troops crossed the border into Iraq (UK Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon said this was in line with the number that would be used for a border policing operation), with this number apparently set to be swelled to 10,000. Ostensibly, their purpose is to prevent an influx of refugees from the Kurdish zone in Northern Iraq.
But there's a problem: Kirkuk. Kirkuk was once a Kurdish majority city, but Saddam Hussein has driven them out of it into the North. They want it back -- they write poems about it. Their milita are known as the peshmerga, or "those who face death." They're an irregular fighting force, but they've sure got balls, and they've sure got motivation. They want to ally themselves with the United States as closely as possible because they hope for a greater share of the power in post-Hussein Iraq, and at the moment the U.S. is persuading peshmerga commanders to hold their forces back. Fearing an uprising of Kurds, if Kurdish forces storm Kirkuk, Turkey has said it will go to occupy the cities themselves. Clashes are almost inevitable, and we'll just have to see how this develops.
This is one of the "nightmare scenarios" surrounding the war. The above is background, I'll flesh out what actually happens at a later date.
Who knows what's to come. I certainly hope people aren't going to start bitching and moaning if Iraq doesn't accept a modern, federal democracy. The Bush administration has actually been pretty cautious about promising such - they use words such as "free Iraq", "liberated Iraq." There are a number of problems to a federal Iraq, and some things that need to be done to give democratic institutions a fighting chance. "The social contract of the Arab world" involves Sunnis giving the orders and Shiites obeying - Iraq has a population of 60% Shiites. They need to be emancipated - at the moment, they're not represented much in the ruling Ba'ath Party or in the higher echelons of the Army. When seeking competent administrators for the next government in Baghdad, it is going to be necessary to use some current high-ranking officials, maybe some Party members. These are overwhelmingly Sunnis, so Shiites will need to be given a fighting chance of taking part as well. The current officers corps could be stripped to give Shiites a chance of attaining high military rank - that way, you keep those units of Shiites soldiers in the South (the ones who capitulated around and before Basra) loyal.
The Kurds should accept a regime that limits the power of the Sunnis, who they despise. The Sunnis aren't going to be ecstatic about this reduction in their power, but with Saddam Hussein and his Republican Guard gone, they're going to have little choice. It's going to be hard to figure all this out, and it's going to be hard to stop the whole shebang dissolving into chaos. This is not a reason not to try and do it. But, believe me, every effort is going to be put into making Iraq a stable, non-fundamentalist country. It suits the American strategy -- in fact, it's an integral part of it.
The last thing the Arab dictators want is a successful democratic Arabic nation on their doorstep. This especially goes for Iran, where unrest is growing against the current regime as it is. The people are growing uneasy, and the Shia majority might be encouraged to seek a democratic Iran. Good will towards America will grow (10,000 Shiites marched in favour of the war on Iraq in New York City recently. The media ignored it.) One interesting addition to this is so-called "hug of death" diplomacy: the idea that we can accelerate the collapse of a regime by normalizing relations with it and destroying the image of the "Great Satan." Imagine having people queueing five times round the block again in Tehran at an American embassy to gain access to the U.S.