Thursday, August 14, 2003

For all the churlish commentary by armchair generals before and during the Iraq War, the Bush administration has done a remarkable job. Even President Bush’s postwar efforts, a subject that has pushed shrill, hypocritical vitriol to new heights, has accomplished much over three short months. Like the deck of cards bearing the faces of his cohorts, Saddam’s long reign of terror has collapsed, his murderous sons are dead and the Butcher of Baghdad himself is running for his life. Not a bad start to reconstruction. What’s more, Iraq is free.

Yet, as each day passes and U.S. and Iraq hostilities flare anew, the situation becomes more tenuous and volatile, threatening to undermine hard-fought hopes for peace.

The problem is as simple as it is ancient. A protracted western presence by heavily armed U.S. troops is viewed by a majority of Arabs in the Middle East as one of colonial occupation and not liberation. Factor in long-standing U.S. policy in support of Israel, a potent galvanizing force for millions of Middle East Muslims, and suspicion of U.S. intentions only intensifies.

There is nothing new about the U.S. military successfully occupying foreign countries, beginning with the original Axis of Evil — Germany, Japan and Italy, and decades later, Korea, Haiti and Bosnia. But, there were failures as well, most notably Beirut and Somalia, where occupying American soldiers were slaughtered, forcing humiliating U.S. retreats. It’s no coincidence both of those incidents occurred in Middle Eastern cultures dominated by Islamic majorities.

One major reason for previous American successes was the decision to quickly lower the profile of the American military and reinstate many of the former civic leaders, even thousands of the defeated armed forces. Indeed, after World War II, the Truman administration came under fire for its appointment of alleged former Nazis and German army units to spearhead reconstruction.

The Bush administration would no doubt face similar criticism if it reinstated any member of Saddam’s hated regime, but, unlike Truman, President Bush has options — literally thousands of Iraqis, including former military personnel, whose loyalty has always been to their country, not Saddam’s Ba’athist Party.

U.S. policy in the Middle East requires an immediate face lift and that new face should be an Arab — not a young soldier from Alabama. The sooner that make-over begins, the sooner the daily blood-letting of Americans will cease, the Iraqi people will be the masters of their destiny and the Bush administration will be credited with the foreign policy victory it richly deserves.

All U.S. peacekeeping activities should be planned in concert with and executed by Arabs, people who understand the traditions, cultures and ancient ways of their region. One model for such a transition is Operation Uphold Democracy in Haiti. The Haitian military was vetted within the first two months and turned into a police force. Local Haitian officials were included in all decisions dealing with security, infrastructure and commerce within their localities. Haitians resolved Haitian issues, advised, assisted and equipped by Americans.

Today, the United States is facing an insurgency in Iraq, aided and funded by Iran and those still loyal to Saddam Hussein, what the U.S. military calls “dead-enders.” This is not a peacekeeping operation but something akin to a guerrilla war where terror, civil unrest and political instability, not military victory, are the objectives. And, if the deaths of young American GIs provides grist for craven politicians who will say anything to further their presidential ambitions by discrediting the Bush administration, all the better for the dead-enders. As in Vietnam War, our enemies often have no greater allies than U.S. politicians who vote for war and then condemn it while the blood of young Americans flows on foreign battlefields.

Those insurgency efforts would immediately dissipate, possibly even disappear, if Iraqis and some of their Arab neighbors were utilized to gather intelligence, communicate our true intentions to Iraqis and assist in the massive job of rebuilding their country. Iraqis, not American soldiers, should also be used to conduct searches and confiscate property from Iraqi citizens when necessary. More importantly, however, U.S. officials must recognize Iraqi tribal leaders, the oldest and most respected form of governance in Iraq, and encourage them to serve as our public liaisons.

And, finally, if the Iraqi public is ever to hear anything approaching truth, the anti-American propaganda that dominates the airwaves and newspapers throughout the Middle East must be drowned out. We can and should provide the means, support and professional expertise for a free and open Iraqi press. TV, newspapers and radio owned and operated by Arabs for Arabs providing accurate news and fair and balanced commentary is essential to Iraq’s future, as well as the speedy withdrawal of American military forces.

We have won the war and freed the Iraqi people, but now we must put an Arab face on rebuilding Iraq. Only then will our latest mission be successful and return our soldiers from harm’s way.

David N. Bossie is the president of Citizens United Foundation and former chief investigator for the House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight.

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