- Each day the debate in Washington grows more strident
as the critics and supporters of President Bushâs plan to invade
Iraq jockey for a clear lead. Brent Scowcroft, National Security Adviser
to Former President Bush, declares that the invasion could lead to Armageddon.
Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger argues that Bush reliance on
military power is excessive and ultimately harmful. Former Secretary of
State Lawrence Eagleburger says Saddam should go, but the time is not now
when everybody is against it. No major foreign government supports the
idea of pre-emptive regime change in Iraq. The Arab League now appears
solidly aligned against an attack. Even British Prime Minister Tony Blair,
close friend to President George W. Bush, is struggling with strident opposition
to the idea. Meanwhile, the primary advocate groups, notably the Program
for the New American Century, the Defense Policy Board, and the Ariel Sharon
government of Israel, advise the President that the time is now, and the
matter is urgent. Public support for the idea, once touted by advocate
groups as strong, has dropped sharply. What to do?
No one has ever had any fun with regime change in the Middle East. Roman
Emperor Tiberias got so angry with the Children of Israel that he threw
them out and destroyed Jerusalem. Back in Saddamâs youth, the Iraqis
slaughtered the British choice of leader. Egyptian President Nasser planted
his man Hakim Amer in Damascus to form the United Arab Republic with Syria.
A few years later, Syrian opponents of the change pulled off a virtually
bloodless coup and sent Amer back to Cairo. Meanwhile, the rules of regime
change were shifting. The Ayatollah Khomeini arranged the fall of the Shah
of Iran from Paris by cassette tapes and the telephone. The son and namesake
of the former Shah seeks to change the Ayatollahâs successor regime
by use of even more modern tools, satellite dishes and the Internet. But
much of the talk in Washington has concerned a messy street-by-street battle
for Baghdad, a very bloody type of guerrilla warfare that fits todayâs
oversupply of small arms.
That talk, the sobering pictures of blood and body bags it brings to mind,
and the threat of the Israeli to strike back with nuclear weapons if the
Iraqis fire missiles at Israel, are at the root of the sober Scowcroft
prediction. It sounds extreme, but, looking only at the likely reactions
of the Israeli and the Iraqis can get one to this image of chaos much faster
than the short flights of missiles between Baghdad and Tel Aviv. The awkward
part of this scenario, however, is that United States forces, having launched
an attack in full charge of the program, will suddenly be caught in the
middle of a hail of fire from Iraqi weapons as well as the friendly fire
of Israeli missiles. With Arab nations increasingly against an attack,
US forces face a shrinking number of places to launch from or retreat to
beyond our own ships at sea. Maybe there are worse ways to plan a street
fight in Baghdad, but it would take some thought.
More to the point, none of the talk yields a clear picture of what happens
when the US wins, as it is tacitly assumed we will. Kurds, Turkmen, Shiite
Muslims, the elites around Saddam, and the exiles allegedly grooming for
takeover are all looking for different futures. A Kurdish future would
spin off pieces of Iraq and Turkey for a new state that will not be liked
by either Ankara or Baghdad. The Turkmen want the prize real estate sought
by the Kurds, namely Kirkuk. The Shiites in that northwest region, essentially
ethnic Iranians, are not likely to see any benefit in those changes. The
elite in Baghdad, if it survives, will not take either to carving up the
country or power sharing with the exiles. The exiles at best face a mission
impossible, because the potential Iraqi human configuration can be pretty
toxic. Perhaps that is why Saddam put parts of this situation into a too
hard compartment and left them there.
It is time for the President to look for options for getting out of the
Iraqi swamp. Hardliners around the White House and Israeli leadership have
deliberately misled him into a box that is dangerous for his presidency
and a disaster for Americaâs future. On this subject, recent commentaries,
such as those of Pat Buchanan, are nonsense. It is the job of the President
to examine situations, even to make mistakes in weighing the available
choices, but in the end he will prosper by making policies that serve the
national interest. Invading Iraq is not one of them.
If the President is timid and self-centered he might, as Buchanan suggests,
retreat from canceling invasion plans because he would look wimpish. Hard
to imagine he would be so labeled for saving lives and avoiding catastrophe.
Since the President is an experienced, seasoned politician, however, he
must see that the cat of common sense has a paw firmly on his tail, and
he will shed it. Given the present Iraqi prospect, hardly anyone, anywhere
will fault George W. Bush for dropping that tail; it is expendable. And
if he sticks around Washington long enough, which he might, if he forgets
about Iraq, his tail will grow back.
The writer is a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer of the US Department