- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Before the second Gulf war, the Bush administration said Iraqi nuclear scientists were far too fear-struck to tell the truth to U.N. inspectors. Saddam Hussein’s secret police thugs always hovered nearby. Only if they were allowed to leave Iraq with their families could their statements have any credibility. Predictably then, they said there were no hidden nukes and that a nuclear weapons program had been scrapped in the early 1990s.

But now they’re free to talk, the scientists have not changed their story, according to the Financial Times: No nukes and no program to develop them. It was intemperate rhetoric about Saddam’s impending ability to threaten nuclear blackmail that silenced many of the administration’s critics.

The “neo-cons,” or neo-conservatives, agitated the scarecrow of nuclear annihilation, along with biological and chemical weapons of mass destruction, which are yet to be found, as the why-for-what-for-wherefore the invasion of Iraq.

The strategic objectives of the neo-cons were breathtaking in concept and would have been meritorious if achieved. An exemplary Iraqi democracy would prove contagious in Syria, Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States. All these new Arab democracies would then sign final peace treaties with Israel, and the Jewish state could look forward to a generation of peace and prosperity, fueled by Israel’s technological ability to make their neighbors’ deserts bloom, too.

Unfortunately, the armchair strategists, whose knowledge of the Arab world didn’t match their Israeli expertise, had not thought through the Iraqi war scenario beyond the victory march through Baghdad. They had dismissed the possibility of an Iraqi resistance movement and terror attacks against U.S. soldiers as defeatist prattle by naysayers.

Now at least 14 different resistance groups have been identified — from Jihad Brigades to the Black Banner Organization, including anti-Saddam outfits that are also anti-American, non-Iraqi Sunni groups, and, of course, al Qaeda and its volunteers from all over the Arab world.

The neo-cons could not imagine Osama Bin Laden and his followers were not only willing to die, but seeking to die, and would maximize opportunities against the U.S. occupation, the way piranhas maximize protein ingestion, as one wit put it.

Now that the grand design has eluded the amateur strategists who crafted it, they are looking for a quick exit from what could become an Iraqi quagmire. Exit strategy quickly displaced long-term commitment.

The much-pilloried U.N. has suddenly resurfaced in the form of a lifeboat. In a Paris interview, Richard Perle, the standard-bearer of the neo-cons, spoke about getting out of Iraq as quickly as possible. The French plan for a rapid handover to a provisional Iraqi government, followed by rapid-fire drafting of a new constitution, and elections next spring, was at first denounced as an absurd Gallic gallopade. Which it was.

But then the prospect of large U.S. troop withdrawals around convention time in 2004 began to look like the better part of valor. Karl Rove, his friends said, “wants to get them home like the day before yesterday.” Sixty-one percent of respondents in poll by The Washington Post opposed granting President Bush the latest $87 billion addendum to the Iraqi expense account. The president’s approval for his handling of Iraq has dropped below 50 percent and on the economy to 38 percent, according to a Newsweek-ABC poll.

Mr. Perle’s close friend and the neo-cons’ candidate to run Iraq is Ahmad Chalabi, currently the president of Iraq’s interim government. A convicted felon in neighboring Jordan, where he was sentenced in 1992 to 22 years in prison on 31 counts of embezzlement and bank fraud, Mr. Chalabi is already demanding U.S. authorities cede control of the powerful finance and security ministries to the 25-member Governing Council. This, in turn, explained Mr. Chalabi, would put the Iraqis back in charge. Presumably as a sop to France, Mr. Chalabi said this should be under a U.N., not a U.S., mandate, which he feels is increasingly resented. He occupied Iraq’s seat at the U.N. as President Bush told the Assembly Iraqi sovereignty shouldn’t be rushed or delayed.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was no longer saying “as long as it takes,” which Iraqi specialists took to mean at least five years, possibly 10. The examples of Germany and Japan after World War II were once mentioned time and again as a signal of how long the U.S. must be prepared to stay. Now Mr. Rumsfeld is explaining that what took years during those two post-World War II occupations has already been achieved in Iraq.

Vice President Richard Cheney struggled valiantly on national television by hinting Saddam may have had something to do with al Qaeda, only to be shot down by POTUS himself. There is no evidence, said Mr. Bush, that Saddam was involved in the attacks of September 11, 2001, a far cry from Mr. Bush’s 2003 State of the Union message, which said Saddam “aids and protects terrorists, including members of al Qaeda.”

An elaborate tale was spun, woven with threads of disinformation, half-truths and untruths that was swallowed unquestioningly by 70 percent of Americans. But now that a more accurate story is coming directly from the president’s mouth, the majority of poll responders clearly resent the way they were disinformed.

Long before his defeat, Saddam was convinced the Vietnam syndrome is alive and well in America. Before the first Gulf war, Saddam said Americans wouldn’t tolerate 10,000 dead in one battle. Similarly, Somalia convinced Osama bin Laden that “America is a paper tiger.”

Whether one was for or against the war is now irrelevant. The inescapable reality is that (1) U.S. forces will not be relieved in any significant numbers by Pakistani, Indian and Turkish forces and (2) the U.S. must be prepared for a long occupation of Iraq as the best guarantee it eventually will learn to live with a durable democratic system. Not to see this mission through to a successful conclusion would relegate the United States to the role of Sweden or Switzerland in a world increasingly populated by pariah states. A new world disorder would be well nigh inevitable.

So this may be a good time to shift gears from Mr. Rumsfeld’s “new” Europe back to the “old” Europe with a view to closing ranks among the western Big Four (U.S., U.K., France and Germany). The obvious compromise between what Charles de Gaulle used to call, sneeringly, the “Anglo-Saxons” and the Franco-German axis is a U.S.-U.N. partnership for the reconstruction of Iraq’s infrastructure and later, alas much later, for the role of midwife in the birth of a modern, democratic market economy. To make this work, time and patience are prerequisites, There is no exit strategy. And failure is not an option.

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

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