First thoughts on the prospects for a post-Saddam Iraq
Friday, April 11, 2003
by Richard E. Berg-Andersson
It was a simple policy to keep Germany disarmed and the victors adequately armed for thirty years, and in the meanwhile, even if a reconciliation could not be made with Germany, to build ever more strongly a true League of Nations capable of making sure that treaties were kept or changed only by discussion and agreement. When three or four powerful Governments acting together have demanded the most fearful sacrifices from their peoples, when these have been given freely for the common cause, and when the longed-for result has been attained, it would seem reasonable that concerted action should be preserved so that at least the essentials would not be cast away. But this modest requirement the might, civilisation, learning, knowledge, science of the victors were unable to supply. They lived from hand to mouth and from day to day, and from one election to another, until, when scarcely twenty years were out, the dread signal of the Second World War was given, and we must write of the sons of those who had fought and died so faithfully and well: [here quoting the pacifist poet and novelist Siegfried Sassoon]
"Shoulder to aching shoulder, side by side
WINSTON S. CHURCHILL: the closing words of the very first chapter of his six-volume The Second World War, which chapter is entitled 'The Follies of the Victors' and is his assessment- after having experienced high office during most of World War II- of the 1919 Treaty of Versailles and its ultimate efficacy or lack thereof.
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It is no accident that the wartime British Prime Minister of the early 1940s should have so brusquely referred to the "follies of the victors" as he began to recount, in the first of six volumes of his memoirs of World War II (a volume aptly titled The Gathering Storm), the origins of that conflict amid the world's then-hope and prayer that the post-WW II arrangements he himself had helped create would, despite that Iron Curtain having already descended "from Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic", work a darn sight better than those that had followed upon the previous general war. It is likewise no accident that I, in beginning this piece on the political challenges involved in creating a better Iraq post-Saddam Hussein than it was under that man's most brutal tyranny, quote that which I have from Mr. Churchill and then also note its context of having been written in a different (or so Churchill himself hoped) postwar atmosphere, for the United States of America- along with its partners in its Coalition of the Willing which have fought this war in Iraq (one seemingly well on its way to conclusion as I type this) or, at the very least, have supported it- now faces a rather difficult challenge, arguably its harshest test on the international stage since the end of that very World War II about which Churchill was writing.
For there are far too many follies for the victors in Iraq to now avoid- too many temptations such as shutting the United Nations that was created in the aftermath of World War II out of any meaningful participation in the rebuilding of that country, if only out of "Little Red Hen"-type spite, for example- through which it will be all too easy to eventually lose the Peace once Victory (at least in the military sense) is, sooner rather than later, achieved once and for all. It is, therefore, the proverbial "no-brainer" that the postwar model of 1945 is a much better one to follow than that of the (as it turned out) alleged "Peace" of Versailles a quarter century earlier!
It is true that Dame History has still not fully completed her assessment of those post-World War II arrangements: those in Europe, after all, soon enough became a pawn (albeit only the first such pawn) of a rather costly Cold War- one most costly, as things turned out, to that ponderous web of bureaucracy known as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics which, although shorn of its Imperium in the immediate wake of the fall of the Berlin Wall, nevertheless still collapsed of its own weight not all that long thereafter; yet we cannot forget the cost to the United States in such forms as the societal disruption engendered by the Vietnam Conflict (although, as in most such cases, this became wrapped up in many other social changes having little, if anything, directly to do with that war- for what did Sexual Liberation, Drug Experimentation and Electrified Blues-as-Art have at all to do with Ho Chi Minh's regime in Hanoi or the desirability- or lack thereof- of maintaining that political fiction known as the Republic of [South] Viet Nam? Napalm, after all, was not a weapon of any possible efficacy in relation to Women's Equality On the Job or Greater Availability and Use of Birth Control!) nor can one ignore the impact of the tug-of-war of Cold War Politics on the Third World (just how many local despots all over the globe maintained themselves by playing the Soviets off the Americans?-- one could well argue that Saddam Hussein himself was, in the main, just such a tinpot tyrant!) Yes, Central and Eastern Europe- after a delay of nearly two generations- finally did find its way to that Democracy promised by the defeat of the Nazis and the establishment, by those on the anti-Soviet side of the Cold War, of the Federal Republic in West Germany well allowed for a stable structure in place once Germany might one day reunify; nonetheless, social and economic difficulties still remain and, largely has a result, what was once East Germany has not yet been fully integrated into the larger Germany now more than a dozen years after formal reunification became a reality. Still, despite the withholding of History's final judgment as regards Europe, there is one hopeful ray in the entire light of post-1945 that one can look at now as something rather desirable of emulation: Japan.
Japan was, at the time it started on the long march toward a second 20th Century global conflict with its invasion of Manchuria some eight years before Adolf Hitler began sending tanks, troops and planes across the Polish frontier, a largely "post-feudal" society (though the term "post-feudal" is here used in quotes because Feudalism, a product of Medieval Western Civilization, does not entirely well translate cross-culturally to a world once inhabited by Samurai and Shogun). Hastily modernized over the course of only a few generations and with a militarist regime that utilized ancient traditions (most notably, worship of the Emperor) to maintain power and discipline, it was the ruins of this very type of governance that the United States found when it took on the responsibility of occupation in the immediate wake of Japan's formal surrender aboard the U.S.S. Missouri. Within a decade, despite claims that Japan had no democratic traditions on which it could rebuild, Japan had a new democratic Constitution and was well on its way, as things turned out, to becoming an economic powerhouse in the Pacific Rim; despite recent economic setbacks and the ever-present spectre of political and economic corruption, Japan is clearly a far different country in 2003 than it was back in 1903 (let alone 1803!)
The key to Japan's emergence in the second half of the 20th Century was the intelligence and diligence of the Japanese people as well the inherent wealth of the country (in Japan's case, a wealth of electronic technical innovation): a like intelligence and diligence is, by all accounts, seen in the people of Iraq and there is the inherent wealth of a valuable commodity- in Iraq's case, oil; in addition, one can argue that Saddam Hussein's regime was as militaristic as that of the generals and admirals who ran Japan in the 1930s and early 1940s (one might even argue that Saddam's crowd was just as "post-feudal" as well, as it tried- despite the inherent secularism of Ba'athist nationalist socialism- to hitch its wagon, after its defeat in the Gulf War of 1991, to the same star and crescent that has guided the Islamism of, say, an Osama bin Laden). Thus, the model of Japan immediately after 1945 is one for the United States and its Coalition to well ponder as it goes about rebuilding post-Saddam Iraq.
There is, however, one crucial difference between that which was done in Japan nearly 60 years ago and that which will have to be done in Iraq: in Japan, the United States of America was very much on its own to do pretty much whatever it wanted as regarded its occupation and rebuilding of that country; in Iraq, this will not be possible- despite, again, the strong temptation to do so (if only to "punish" France, Germany and Russia for their machinations in the U.N. Security Council a few months back)- if there is to be anything approaching success. The Arab World is nothing if not highly skeptical of American motives and intentions and not all of this is tied to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (I, for one, am not at all confident that finding an acceptable formula for having an independent, democratic Arab Palestine existing side by side with a secure State of Israel would do all that much to reduce such skepticism- even in the long run [putting aside the question of "acceptable to whom?"]) but is just as (if not much more) largely due to the obvious and complete lack of Democracy anywhere in the Arab Middle East. As long as the Wahabist Royalty of the House of ibn Sa'ud is allowed to govern as it sees most fit with American blessing, so long as the United States continues to have its "sons of bitches" with names like Hosni Murbarak or Pervez Musharraf and- as a result- looks the other way as Liberty is suppressed or Freedom crushed by regimes merely convenient for the U.S. to have as its Arab allies in the region, such skepticism is likely to remain (if not also then continue to feed the coffers and training camps of such groups as Al Qa'eda). Arab collective memory is not so short as to have forgotten that Saddam Hussein himself was once one of those American "sons of bitches"-- that is, until he invaded the bailiwick of another of our "sons of bitches" (albeit on a much smaller and far less malignant scale), the Emir of Kuwait... Arab collective memory is also not so forgetful of the reason why Saddam was our "son of a bitch" for so long (because of his being a counterweight to that which we then most feared- Ayatollah Khomeini's Iran which, although Shi'ite and not Sunni and not at all Arab in ethnicity and culture, represented the first modern attempt at Islamic theocratic governance).
And it is not at all enough to have the United Kingdom along for the ride as our primary Coalition partner in Iraq: after all, the Hashemite Dynasty of Jordan's King Abdullah is just that- a ruling dynasty- largely because of the British exploitation of Arab nationalism during and immediately after World War I (something that, to be most fair, Winston Churchill himself would not have necessarily defined as one of the victors' "follies" he otherwise so decried). No... instead the political and economic reconstruction of Iraq needs to be a truly international endeavor and one in which the United Nations should not be held at arm's length. Churchill defined the Moral of his entire six-volume The Second World War as follows:
In War: Resolution
When I look up the word "Magnanimity" in the best English dictionaries of our day, I see such things as "a lack of petty resentfulness or vindictiveness; forgiving of an insult or injury"; magnanimity in how we handle the post-Saddam role of the United Nations as an organization, as well as that of such UN Member-States as France, Germany and Russia, is what will be required in order to achieve success. Goodwill in Peace itself requires a devoutly Christian President of the United States to well carry out the fullest meaning of the very creed he himself professes and, thereby, put that final stake into the heart of the argument of, at worst, those in the Arab World who have painted the Coalition as just another heavy-handed bunch of anti-Muslim "crusaders" from the West and, at best, those in that same Muslim World who see the United States and its fellow Western Democracies merely as those who talk a rather good game about Freedom and Liberty but can't seem to execute the playbook once we're in their portion of the field!
Winston Churchill did not, in the end, conclude the writings within his The Second World War on anything approaching a note of optimism. Just as the six volumes as a whole had its Moral, so did each individual volume have its Theme: the Theme for the sixth and final volume (Triumph and Tragedy, a volume not published until 1953- by which time the Cold War had gotten down to just about the temperature of the liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen that would soon be fueling Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles intended to carry nuclear warheads over the poles and across the oceans) read as follows:
How the Great Democracies Triumphed,
If we, if only for sake of this argument, accept the fact that any such "follies" as might have continued in post-WW II Europe were pretty much over and done with by some 45 years after that conflict (given the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of Communism beyond the Iron Curtain, the reunification of Germany and the subsequent dissolution of the Soviet Union itself), that time frame alone is rather chilling. Forty-five years from now would bring us to the year 2048, the year I will- should I be allowed to live so long- turn 92 years old (a prospect that, even at my current age, is difficult for me to fathom!); can the United States of America (not to mention the very Freedom and Liberty it preaches) well survive that long a period of threats from- if not the actual carrying out of- September 11th style terrorism?
Truth be told, we have to- indeed, must- well practice all that we preach in our efforts to help create a post-Saddam Iraq. What with the unfortunate efficacy of terrorism via biological and chemical hazards, "dirty" bombs and the proliferation (not to mention increasing miniaturization) of nuclear weapons technology, we simply CAN'T blow this one! Any geopolitical "follies" in this place and at this time may, indeed- later if not sooner, cost us our life as that we here in America most profess ourselves to be- a Great Democracy!!