Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Two hundred billion dollars later, President Bush is now almost alone in seeing Iraq as a major battlefield against Osama bin Laden’s terrorists.

Most of the original armchair strategists of the “cakewalk” brigade had gone AWOL. Inside the 61-square-mile zone surrounded by reality, otherwise known as the District of Columbia, the cacophony of mating cicadas had put the war hawks to flight.

The global newspaper Financial Times’ Gerard Baker wrote: “It is hard to find anyone who admits to having supported the war at all. If success has many fathers and failure is an orphan, Washington is now running the largest and most desperate orphanage in modern intellectual history.”

Those who were once gung-ho to liberate Iraq listened politely, without objection, to various face-saving, U.N.-sponsored scenarios. Accelerated Iraqi sovereignty now seemed a small price to bring U.S. troops home by April 2005, the second anniversary of the occupation.

The tsunami of anti-American venom unleashed around the world by the Abu Ghraib torture pictures also has crested and begun to subside. But Mr. Bush is still being pummeled mercilessly for what Le Monde called “out of control hoity-toity hubris.”

A common editorial thread between the world’s most respected journals was that the occupation has weakened the world’s only superpower, both within and without Iraq; that its strongest alliances have splintered; and that its policies have been rejected by overwhelming majorities throughout the world. The dominant emotion seemed sorrow, not anger.

The Financial Times’ star columnist Martin Wolf, self-described as “a huge admirer” of the United States, wrote that “freedom and democracy survived the 20th century only because of American actions and values,” but now, like “the vast majority of humanity,” he sees that the Bush administration “fails to understand the basis of U.S. power, mis-specifies U.S. objectives and is incompetent in executing its intentions.”

As a result, Mr. Wolf concludes, “The position of the U.S. — and so of the West — is worse … than it was the day after September 11, 2001. Then, a huge proportion of humanity viewed the U.S. as the victim of an outrage. Today … it is seen as a perpetrator of them.”

Former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, in the current issue of the New Republic, writes, “America’s credibility has been tarnished among its traditional friends, its prestige has plummeted worldwide, and global hostility toward the United States has reached a historical high.”

Mr. Brzezinski says the United States could still redeem the Iraqi disaster by subordinating “as soon as possible, the American occupation — which is rapidly alienating the Iraqis — to the visible presence of the U.N., headed by a high commissioner to whom effective authority should then be transferred. A genuinely empowered U.N. high commissioner could, in turn, progressively yield genuine sovereignty to the Iraqis with much greater prospects of gaining public support for the interim government.”

In this scenario, the U.S. commanders would retain full discretion to respond to attacks upon U.S. forces “in the manner they deem necessary, but any offensive operations they — or other coalition forces — conduct should require explicit authorization from the high commissioner, perhaps in consultation with the Iraqi leaders.”

This would automatically transform the U.S. presence in Iraq “from a military occupation to internationally supervised peacekeeping.”

The longer U.S. occupation lasts, the more likely Iraqi resistance will intensify. So the sooner Iraqis know there is a departure date certain — say, April 2005, two years after the defeat of the Saddam Hussein regime — more likely they are to take seriously the organization of their own security.

Democracy will have to wait. It cannot be transplanted where it has never flourished — or implanted by force of foreign arms. The Belgian federal example of two ethnic groups — French-speaking Walloons and Dutch-speaking Flemish — who cordially loathe each other, is probably more germane than the Swiss cantonal system. Belgium, with 11 million people, also made room in its federal system for a small German-speaking enclave. All three political entities have their own governments and parliaments — and limousines for three-score ministers.

Iraq will have to accommodate 18 provinces. A benevolent strongman strikes many observers as the only way to lead Iraq back to political sanity.

Next, the United States — whether a Republican or Democratic administration — will have to mobilize, says Mr. Brzezinski, “those Palestinians and Israelis who seek peace, to convince the Middle East that U.S. occupation of Iraq is not simply a conspiratorial extension of Israeli domination of the West Bank,” which is what most Arabs believe.

Mr. Brzezinski’s latest geopolitical book titled “The Choice” spells out the options in the subtitle: “American Domination” or “American Leadership.” As a leading possibility for secretary of state in a Kerry administration, his ideas are a must-read. The outcome of the presidential campaign will remain a 50-50 proposition until the polls close Nov. 2.

If Iraq was not the principal front in the war on terrorism, as Mr. Bush claims, where is the battle against al Qaeda taking place? It’s global. Islamist terrorist cells have proliferated throughout the world since Operation Enduring Freedom defeated the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in 2001.

The U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq became a magnet for some 1,000 jihadi volunteers to link up with Iraqi insurgents. But the main front for al Qaeda’s sympathizers is wherever they feel Judeo-Christian civilization can be weakened. Their strongest suit defies Western logic; Islamists love death the way we love life.

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

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