- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 19, 2002

War against Iraq crowned with a speedy and decisive United States triumph is as certain as things get in international affairs.

Ever-treacherous Saddam Hussein is no more likely to comply with the weapons inspection regime demanded by a unanimous United Nations Security Council than was Adolf Hitler to honor his promise of pacifism if the Sudetenland was peacefully (and cowardly) surrendered. On Dec. 8, Iraq must provide a "full, accurate and complete" accounting of its nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons programs and delivery mechanisms. But to expect Iraqi compliance is to believe in fairy tales. And then the war will come.

As Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld opined, five days, five weeks or five months may be consumed in the conflict. But a crushing United States victory is assured. Iraq's military profile has shrunk since the short-lived 1991 Persian Gulf war, which featured members of Saddam's formidable Republican Guard surrendering in droves to news reporters.

And after 11 more years of Saddam's brutal, nepotistic and thieving egomaniacs, to think that the Iraqi people would risk that last full measure of devotion to preserve their arch-oppressors is like thinking that black slaves in the South would rally to fight under the banner of Robert E. Lee as the Civil War unfolded.

But what ensues after the liberation of Iraq and dethronement of Saddam is fraught with difficulties. A Carthaginian peace would inflame the Middle East, and sabotage our professed Iraqi war aims. But the alternatives also seem uninviting.

The fractured Iraqi opposition commands no nationwide popular legitimacy. Two cult-like Kurdish parties, a Shi'ite faction, a museum piece clamoring for a restoration of monarchy, defectors from Saddam's army, and the Iraqi National Congress, headed by power-hungry Ahmed Chalabi, are maneuvering for ascendancy before the first American bomb has been dropped.

Neither a George Washington patriot nor even an epigone is anywhere to be seen. The spoils of war dance in the heads of the opposition, not a vision of a new Iraq, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. They seem to prefer the prospect of all hanging separately over putting aside pettiness in order to all hang together, turning Benjamin Franklin's statesmanship on its head. No opposition leader can be expected to march through the streets of postwar Bagdad and attract wildly cheering crowds like Charles de Gaulle in Paris in August 1944.

None of this political bleakness is surprising. Iraq is an artificial creation, much more so than faction-riddled Afghanistan. First loyalties are to tribe, sect or consanguinity, not to the emblems of national life.

Iraq was born from the rubble of the Ottoman Empire after World War I in a British cradle. King Feisal was thrust upon the Iraqi people in 1921 under an ill-starred League of Nations mandate. The monarchy was overthrown in 1958, and successor despots, concluding with Saddam Hussein, never flirted with representative government or human rights. Indigenous human capital to construct an authentic and democratic Iraqi government is thus a mirage.

Postwar Iraq's national viability is further problematic because of the fanatical Mullah theocracy in neighboring Iran. The two nations fought from 1980-1988 in a war that celebrated chemical weapons, missile attacks on civilians, and child soldiers. The Shi'ite sect dictates in Iran, whereas it is an oppressed majority in the south in Sunni-dominated Iraq. Through financial aid and other covert assistance, Iran's Mullahs will ally with Iraq's Shi'ites hoping to spark a revolt against any central government.

The last thing Iran's mad theocrats want in a neighbor is a flourishing democracy, which would strengthen Iran's own dissidents demanding more freedom and popular government.

Suppose the United States leaves postwar Iraq posthaste after destroying all of Saddam's arsenals and military infrastructure and liquidating his regime. Might that deserve praise as masterly inactivity?

Probably not.

Shi'ites would clash with Sunnis. The Kurdish factions in the north would seek a separate state with its capital in oil-rich Kirkuk, and invite a Turkish incursion. Iran would be tempted to capture Basra.

Lawlessness would stalk the country. Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations would find refuge there, as they do at present along the unpoliced Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

On the other hand, if the United States remains in liberated Iraq, the chances of midwifing a democratic dispensation ala Gen. Douglas MacArthur in Japan is remote. The general built on long decades of a Japanese democratic flowering in the aftermath of the 1868 Meiji Restoration. It had withered in the 1930s with the rise of Japanese nationalism and the politics of assassination. In contrast, postwar Iraq would inherit no democratic genes or protoplasm. A Book of Genesis-like God would be needed to create an enduring Iraqi democracy. But no mortal seems fit for the task.

Finally, the United States predominance in Japan's politics persisted for years, until at least the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty.

Under the rosiest of projections, the United States would need a decade or more to nurture Iraq into embracing democracy and democratic culture. Such a prolonged American mission abroad, exposing our soldiers and civil servants to terrorist atrocities by Middle East fanatics, is politically unthinkable both to President George W. Bush and Congress.

In sum, postwar Iraq will be an advance on the prewar variety, but not by much in its domestic (as opposed to international) realm.

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