Whitley's Journal

The Razor's Edge

This journal entry was originally posted on April 8. A few days later, I received some emails asking why I had deleted it. I did not realize that I had done this. I've revised it slightly to reflect the changing situation in Iraq, but the warning it contains is, if anything, even more valid now than it was before the fall of Baghdad.

The United States and the world rest uncomfortably on a razor?s edge. At the present time, practically everything that appears to be going right is actually going wrong. On the surface, all is well. Just beneath it, there is an abyss.

Even as our soldiers fight brilliantly and successfully in Iraq, the Taliban are reorganizing and regaining power in Afghanistan. The primary reason is that the governmental infrastructure that was supposed to spread from Kabul into the rest of the country never materialized. This is because there has been no money to pay Afghan soldiers and government workers for months. Nearly a year ago, the United States ceased to support the Kabul government in any meaningful way financially. The result is inevitable: the Moslem extremists will be back, and an occasional search and destroy operation on the part of American troops will only slow this process down somewhat, if at all--at the cost, of course, of lives lost.

Our presence in Iraq has galvanized Syria, Iran and Turkey to begin working together in an organized way for the first time. The Turks are terrified that the U.S. will sanction an independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq. The Iranians know that the fundamentalists who cling to power in that country are hanging by a thread. Sufficient pressure, properly applied, from the U.S. could cause the restless younger population to drive them from power. Syria, being a brutal dictatorship committing the same sort of atrocities that have characterized the regime of Saddam Hussein, is uneasy.

Opposition to our presence in Iraq is vastly greater among Moslems worldwide than had been anticipated by the Administration. It has not been helped by reports in the Arab press that Christian groups are handing out prayer cards to American soldiers. Those who seek to characterize this as a latter-day crusade, on both sides, do not have peace as their objective. They seek to involve the world in a death-grip war between Islam and Christianity. Moslem extremists hope that it will lead to sha'aria, the return of the world to the state it was in during the lifetime of Mohammed. Christian extremists hope that it will lead to the battle of Armageddon, the end of the world, and their transport into heaven via the rapture.

This kind of primitive thinking fills the air in Iraq like deadly fumes. But it is not only the war in Iraq that is the problem, it is the unexpected way that it has evolved. Our problem right now is that our fighting force, so effective militarily, is very thin on the ground. It cannot hope to maintain order, and it will be time before an Iraqi infrastructure can be put in place. Maybe too much time.

Our present problem in Iraq is basically that we cannot impose a governmental infrastructure from the outside without causing the Iraqi people to resist. This is because we do not have the UN with us to provide that interim infrastructure.

The postwar problems we are facing in Iraq began a while ago. They begin with our loss of the UN.

The US should never have attempted to get another resolution out of the Security Council. Unless we could offer absolute proof of weapons of mass destruction, it was too much of a gamble. Colin Powell's ineffectual presentation before the Council was a diplomatic catastrophe that is now having its first repercussions.

Moreover, the determination by the US to go ahead and invade Iraq even without a new resolution, has undermined the force of international law in profound and deeply negative ways. This was not necessary. Had the US simply made its presentation, then not even asked for a resolution, this would not have happened. Our invasion could have been justified under existing resolutions, with a far less damaging effect on the force of international law. And we could be calling on the UN now to provide temporary government in Iraq.

But now we cannot. Additionally, the United States has set a precedent that it is acceptable for a great power to invade a smaller one without UN approval. This makes number of situations around the world far more unstable.

What is to prevent China, now, from invading Taiwan? After all, they view it as a province of China, and they have history to back them up. If that happens, our only choice is to either abandon our treaty with Taiwan or go to war with China. We cannot turn to the UN. And what is to prevent India and Pakistan from deciding that regime change is called for in the other country because they have illegally acquired weapons of mass destruction? And what of North Korea? As soon as the US attacked Iraq, Kim Jong Il disappeared and has not been seen since. Is he hiding out of fear that he will be the next victim of decapitation, or is he preparing for regime change in South Korea?

Because we have not properly prepared for the contingency we are actually facing?an out-of-control poplation--the US is now in a precarious position in Iraq. On a much smaller scale, we are in a situation similar to the one found himself in when he reached Moscow. Their technologically superior but outnumbered armies had reached the main objective and become exhausted at the same time. The Russian government secretly fostered anarchy. Moscow burned. Napoleon was destroyed.

Our situation is somewhat better, but only somewhat. We went ahead with our invasion even though crucial force elements were not deployed. We had no northern front. We had only one armored division instead of two.

We did this because we were planning on an assumption: we assumed that we would be welcomed by the local population. After all, the last time the US went to Iraq, the entire Shiite population rose up against Saddam Hussein. At one point, all but four Iraqi provinces were in a state of revolt.

But we abandoned them. Saddam came back. He was brutal beyond belief. He left wounds in hundreds of thousands of Shia families that are open and bleeding right now. People have not forgotten, not nearly.

So we have ended up doing something that we did not want to do and should not have done. To gain the support of the Shiite population, we have returned the Iraqi National Congress to the country. While this may help with the Shiites, it sends a very negative message to the Suni population.

It's true that the choice of Ahmad Chalabi to lead this force was probably a wise one. He has gone on record before the US congress as a supporter of genuine tolerance and democracy in Iraq. Testifying prior to the passage of the Iraq Liberation Act in 1998, he made his position clear.

However, he left Iraq in 1958 with the overthrow of the royal family. He has extensive contacts there, but there is so far no evidence that he has reached the Suni population with a message of tolerance believable to them.

Because of the presence of the INC as the only Iraqi governing presence recognized by the US in the country, Suni soldiers in Baghdad may well become urban guerillas over the next few months even if Saddam Hussein is proved to be dead, because they will now fear that the US will leave them under control of the Shiites. After all, democracy means majority control, and the Shiite population is the majority in Iraq, and by a substantial margin.

When there is a horrendous blood feud between the majority and a minority in a country, what does democracy actually mean? One man one vote? No, democracy in such a place has a very different and more basic meaning: it means, as the President has pointed out, that the rule of law must prevail.

True enough, but what if the majority does not want the rule of law? What if it wants to exact retribution from its oppressors? The only way such a situation can be handled is by active intervention from the outside. The proper model for our invasion of Iraq should not have been the Gulf War. We should have approached Iraq as another, much larger, Bosnia.

Nevertheless, at the moment it appears that our extraordinary military gamble is paying off. We have actually taken Baghdad with a single brigade of tanks and relatively light supporting forces.

American and British troops have carried out a general act of heroism in Iraq, minimizing civilian casualties while effectively fighting a difficult war, often in crowded civilian areas. It has been a magnificent military achievement.

But those troops are stretched to their limit. No matter how effective, a few thousand soldiers cannot really control a metropolitan area of seven million. We need to build our force in Baghdad quickly, or our control of the city and the country will continue to be limited to the ground on which we stand.

Should the present chaos drag on, a situation could develop where an Iraqi population that no longer has to worry about the Ba?ath party will also become intolerant of the US presence. It has been claimed that Iraq can never become another Vietnam because there can be no steady flow of armaments into the country. However, one of the primary objectives of the countries opposing our presence there will be to flow just such armaments into the hands of anybody who will oppose us. The US has already protests arms shipments from Syria. There are now reports that volunteers are pouring in from Iran, not to support either Suni or Shiite, but in support of the greater cause that is uniting all Moslems, the perceived need to preserve a Moslem country from Christian invaders.

If we had entered Iraq with sufficient force to provide the population with a reason to believe we intended to do more than simply destroy the Ba?athists, we might have had a reasonably good chance of winning even more quickly and helping them to immediately begin development an Iraqi national infrastructure that would enable democracy without opening the door to bloody rivalries.

But a decision was made in Washington that the war would be easy because the Shiites in the south would rise up and welcome us as liberators. In part, this gamble has paid off. But it's real cost may not be obvious yet.

In his thoughtful 1998 book, A World Transformed, George Bush, Sr. wrote, ?we should not march into Baghdad. To occupy Iraq would instantly shatter our coalition, turning the whole Arab world againstus and make a broken tyrant into a latter-day Arab hero...assigning young soldiers to a fruitless hunt for a securely entrenched dictator and condemning them to fight in what would be an unwinnable urban guerilla war. It could only plunge that part of the world into even greater instability."

A quick, decisive campaign in Iraq, fought with sufficient force against a background of effective US postwar action in Afghanistan might have made Mr. Bush seem like Chicken Little. Instead, there is serious danger now that the former president will turn out to be a prophet.

NOTE: This Journal entry, previously published on our old site, will have any links removed.


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