- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 3, 2007

The late Peter Ustinov once remarked, “Terrorism is the war of the poor and war is the terrorism of the rich.” The trouble in Iraq is that the poor have more staying power than the rich.

The insurgency in Baghdad has gone to ground and doesn’t plan to resurface until Gen. David Petraeus’ lightning $6 billion surge of U.S. and Iraqi troops has swept through the capital and declared “mission accomplished.”

With Iranian backing and thousands of tons of arms and ammo cached in Saddam Hussein’s salad days, the insurgency can keep going for several more years. The United States cannot. So last weekend a gathering of the trans-Atlantic mandarins of the “realpolitik” clan gathered in Washington, albeit off the record, to dispense sage advice on an honorable exit from Iraq — and a geopolitical compromise that would obviate a military showdown with Iran.

Realpolitik is a policy of political realism, or the politics of the real world rather than politics based on theoretical, moral or idealistic concerns. That is a tall order in Iraq as the rationale for the invasion was a blend of all three.

With Ahmad Chalabi — once described by his neocon friends as the best hope for democracy in Iraq, and now closer to Tehran than Washington — moving back into the Iraqi political imbroglio, the realists see this as the institutionalization of corruption at the top. Mr. Chalabi is now supposed to serve as the intermediary between Baghdad residents and Iraqi and U.S. security forces whose main function is to assess how much compensation the U.S. should pay for damages caused to homes and automobiles by Gen. Petraeus’ surge.

Mr. Chalabi is also in charge of “de-Ba’athification,” an organization that has fired scores of thousands of Sunni civil servants — adding to both the ranks of the unemployed and the insurgency. More recently, Mr. Chalabi claimed he had reversed course and taken back 14,000 Sunni civil servants. He also pledged when all is said and done more will have been said than done as only 1,500 former Ba’athists would be permanently excluded from government employment.

It was Sheikh Muqtada al-Sadr, the anti-American head of the Shi’ite Mahdi Army militia, now lying low for the duration of the surge, who instructed Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to create a post on adjudicating “reparations” owed by the Americans. At least that’s what Mr. Maliki’s entourage told some Iraqi reporters.

The realists now say the entire U.S.-built “democratic” infrastructure is rotten to the core. Ministers and former ministers absconded with millions of dollars. There is still no proper accounting for the more than $30 billion a year derived from some 2 million barrels of oil pumped daily. Also unaccounted-for is the $12 billion in $100 bills the U.S. trucked in behind the original invasion to get the country moving again.

One Iraqi-born Iraqi expert among the realpolitikers said, not for attribution, there is only one way to save democracy in Iraq and that is by temporarily suspending it and getting a strongman to take over and declare martial law. “This potential Ataturk,” he explained, “would have to be a former general known for his competence rather than his subservience to Saddam Hussein. There must be such a popular and friendly general that U.S. or Arab intelligence agencies know about. He could be in prison or in Syria or Beirut or even London. He might even be a general now in the insurgency underground. But he must be a man who understood all the details of the hidden persuaders of Saddam’s control apparatus. His job would be to impose martial law and to get everything moving again through dictatorial edict and action. He should be given $5 billion to $10 billion to dispense as he sees fit to get the job done.”

The Bush administration once considered the strongman solution (known as the Cincinnatus option, named after one of the heroes of early Rome five centuries B.C., and a model of Roman virtue and simplicity) but rejected it. Potential candidates were presumably too strong — or too weak.

The kind of action this prominent ex-Iraqi realist had in mind would “suspend or jail corrupt officials. Electricity should not only be brought back to Saddam levels but to uninterrupted 24/7 power. Oil revenue would have to be centralized under strict control and revenues allocated for urgent needs, such as health, hospitals, garbage collection and so forth.” Insurgents would be given a week to surrender their weapons, or face execution if captured. In return, the martial law government would guarantee them a job.

What we call democracy in Iraq today is a parody; it’s a kleptocracy. It cannot be reformed, this prominent Iraqi internationalist argued, and a coup by a nonsectarian strongman would be welcomed by most Iraqis who say life was less stressful with fewer hardships under Saddam.

Iraq needs a Kemal Ataturk (“father of all Turks”), the dictator who seized control of the dying Ottoman Sultanate in 1923, and singlehandedly cajoled and browbeat his country into the modern Western mold. His puritanical blend of secularism abolished the caliphate, closed religious schools, banned veils and fezes, purged Turkish of its Arabic alphabet. Three times since 1960, the army, as guarantor of Ataturk’s legacy, seized power to defend Turkey against terrorism of both the far left and far right.

If President Bush concludes he cannot risk a freshly minted “Save Democracy” campaign in Iraq as Republican and Democratic presidential hopefuls jostle for position at the starting gate, the entire experiment will flop and U.S. troops will come home to a failed mission. The line of least resistance is to kick the can down the presidential road, leaving an exit deal to the next administration. But the Democrats will ensure this won’t happen.

The practitioners of geopolitics, in their small offline huddles this past weekend, agreed the time had come for Mr. Bush to swallow his pride and accept a royal invitation to hold a tripartite summit in Riyadh — with Iran.

The geopolitical realists said off the record this would be a propitious period for the three principal powers of the Gulf — Iran, Saudi Arabia and the U.S.— to hold a regional summit on Gulf security. Saudi King Abdullah would do the inviting. The only two invitees would be Mr. Bush and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the man who holds the real power over hothead President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. All three have the biggest stakes in Gulf security, and legitimate security concerns.

A week ago, Mr. Bush said nothing could move until the mullahs first suspended uranium enrichment activities. After the weekend think tank palavers, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said nothing had changed but the U.S. would sit down March 10 in Baghdad with Iraq’s neighbors, including Iran and Syria.

The diplomatic waters quickly muddied again as the Maliki government expanded the guest list to include its six neighbors, the Arab League, five permanent members of the Security Council, and the Organization of Islamic states. A recipe for gridlock.

Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president and chairman of Iran’s highest body, remarked that America’s two invasions “had only served Iran’s interests… and the Americans are… like a wounded tiger, and we must not ignore this.” Peace or war with Iran is still in the balance.

Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.

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