The Real War

The real war is quite different from the one we are seeing on television, as reported by journalists “embedded” so deeply in the militarist mystique that they no longer bother to disguise their role as cheerleaders. Their role is to shout “Hail Caesar!” at the appropriate moment, and otherwise shut their mouths. But sometimes a dissonant note is sounded, if only by accident, one that imparts a sinister air to the whole sorry scene. One such moment occurred on the Saturday edition of Chris Matthews’ “Hardball,” when he interviewed one Esra Naamas, a representative of “Women for a Free Iraq.”

Ms. Naamas, an Iraqi-American who met with the President and other top government officials, hailed the invasion as a “liberation.” Matthews asked her how many Saddam loyalists remained in Iraq:

“One-hundred thousand?”

“Yes,” she said, nodding.

“And what should be done with all these people?”

“Executions.”

“Thousands of executions?”

“Yes. Thousands.”

In his newfound enthusiasm for this war – and, perhaps, out of a sense of fair play: Ms. Naamas is, after all, barely in her twenties – Matthews gave her an easy out, as the interview progressed, and asked her again:

Thousands of executions?”

Yes!” she exclaimed, “these people have to be punished for what they did!”

To an American, such passions are extreme, and more than a little insane. Although Ms. Naamas came to the U.S. as a child, she apparently has not lost that Middle Eastern ferocity that is so frightening, and alien, to the American mind. These passions visited us once before, on 9/11, and we will revisit them in Iraq, where they will not be easily reined in. This is the meaning of the fight yet to come, as The Observer put it in a recent article: the real war to take place in the wake of our initial “victory.”

As much as the more rabid neocons would like thousands of executions, I doubt they’ll be impolitic enough to insist on it. Most of the executions will have already taken place, during the “bunker-buster” phase of the invasion. But Matthews’ question is even more pertinent in that case: what will be the fate of the ruling Ba’athist party members? The top leaders will be thrown in the brig, and the “coalition” will throw away the key. But what about the hundreds of thousands of lower level BA’athist cadre who remain in Iraq?

There are two views on this, and within the US government they break down along bureaucratic lines as follows. There is the view of the State Department, which favors retaining as many trained Iraqi personnel as possible. Their plan is to basically keep the present administrative structure in place to provide essential services and act as an adjunct to the occupiers. These people, after all, are skilled and knowledgeable: it is better to have them on your side, the State Department types aver, than carrying on a guerrilla struggle. The UN would be brought in to manage humanitarian relief, and administer the country until order is restored and elections are held. The costs, too, would be shared, as well as the responsibilities and the risks, and the US would have the opportunity to mend many broken fences in the capitals of Europe and around the world.

And they all lived happily ever after….

On the other hand, there is the position of the Pentagon, or, rather its civilian leadership, which models its vision of postwar Iraq on the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Of course, they don’t exactly say that: instead, they burble on about the American occupation of Germany and Japan as two examples of what can happen when democracy is exported at gunpoint.

(It naturally means nothing to them that the populations of both these model nations overwhelmingly opposed the US invasion: both are hotbeds of the “anti-Americanism” descried by the War Party. Perhaps they need to be reoccupied– oh, wait, in both cases the occupation never ended….)

In any case, the German example is the relevant one, since in Japan the US merely imposed a political mask on the immutable face of Japanese society, even leaving the Emperor in place. In Germany, however, a policy of “de-Nazification” was implemented that is remarkably similar, and not only phonetically, to “de-Baathification” as touted by Iraqi exile Kanan Makiya in The New Republic. Makiya is a key figure in what he describes as “the democratic wing” of the Iraqi exile community, and he has a plan so Carthaginian that he has the hearts of the neocons all aflutter.

The Baath party, like the German Nazis, is to be banned – the first act of the emerging Iraqi “democracy.” The 2 million Baath party members will not all be purged, of course, or else the country would come to a grinding halt, not to mention the amount of resentment that would generate. But, while Makiya’s wrath isn’t as hot as Ms. Naamas’, the purge he envisions is not restricted to the corridors of government ministries, but is as potentially far-reaching as any carried out by a Soviet commissar:

“The primary structures of [Saddam Hussein’s] control are not housed neatly in government ministries. In fact, outside of the departments of interior, education, and defense, Saddam’s ministries are largely technocratic bureaucracies that are either harmless or useless. The most insidious presence of the Baath Party is in the schools, the universities, the trade unions, the women’s organizations, and the youth groups. It is reflected in curricula and in the way teachers have been trained to think; it is evident in the affairs of the mosques – especially the subordination of the appointment of clerics to political considerations; it figures prominently in the practices and mindsets of hundreds of thousands of police officers and army personnel.”

A social revolution, imposed from the top down, is what Makiya and his fellow exiles want to see. The universities, the media, the unions, the social organizations: every sector of society will be transformed by the conquest, and in very short order. As in postwar Germany, Makiya would institute various “grades” of de-Baathification, from “major offender” to “exonerated.” Former Baath party members would be barred from participating in the “democratic” process, and, presumably, barred from even voting. Those not imprisoned would become official non-persons, in the old Soviet mode, though on what basis or by what standard Makiya does not exactly say. According to him, however, an entire science of victimology will have to be invented:

“There must be a legal definition of victimhood at the hands of the Baath, and it must be broad enough to include members of the Baath Party who were themselves victimized by the regime. Such a definition might give ‘victim’ status – and a basis for compensation – to anyone oppressed because of political opposition to the regime or because of race, religion, or ideology; and to anyone who as a result suffered loss of life, limb or health, loss of liberty or property, or who experienced professional or vocational damage.”

Those who are not victims must, by definition, be victimizers, and they will be cast into the outer darkness.

In the victimological sweepstakes that will define postwar Iraq, the traditional roles will be reversed: the Shia will lord it over the Sunnis, and the exiles – with their influential connections to the conquerors – will come out on top. This will breed new resentments, but the presence of American troops will preserve the new elite’s status unto eternity – or so they hope.

The absurdly overstated equation of Saddam with Hitler and the Baath party with the Nazis is a useful device, as far as the neoconservatives are concerned. Not only for getting us into a war in the first place, but also for determining the shape of the “peace” – which, if they have their way, will merely be a war carried out by means other than “bunker-busters.”

Just as Henry Morgenthau, FDR’s Treasury Secretary, proposed that postwar Germany be reduced to an agricultural, pastoral society, with its industry basically destroyed, so the plan for Iraq after the American conquest is predicated on a similarly monolithic vision of Iraqi industrial organization: based, not on agriculture, but on oil production – and a constant infusion of US taxpayer dollars.

The assault on Baghdad could come at any time, but the viceroys, both American and British, are already gathered together in Kuwait, ready and waiting to be summoned. As the Observer reports:

“Phase two comes in the immediate aftermath of the conflict. Under American and British military command, civil servants from both countries will ‘run’ Iraq after what is described as a ‘regime collapse’. That administration will then lead to phase three, the interim administration under Jay Garner, the retired general in charge of reconstruction. Last night it was reported that Garner was planning to move into Umm Qasr, the Iraqi port, to start work on phase three.”

Yet “nothing is settled,” the paper reports, and Garner is so unnerved by the fierce intramural fight going on between “Wolfowitz of Arabia” and Colin Powell’s boys that he has considered resigning before assuming his post.

There are many differences between the two competing visions of postwar Iraq, and I have covered some of them here. But the one disparity that stands out is that the Morganthau-type plan put out by the neocons, and favored by the Pentagon, assumes a permanent American troop presence. It is an implicitly colonial model, that sees the US military as the de facto ruler of a conquered province – and Iraq as a forward base for future military operations.

The UN-Powell plan, on the other hand, assumes some endpoint to an American military presence. It is an exit strategy, a major aspect of the Powellian view of warfare, that basically amounts to asking the rest of the world to clean up the mess we made, even though they opposed us making it in the first place. This will be far less costly, and risky, for the US, but politically it will be hard to pull off. If anyone can do it, Powell can – if he ever gets the chance.

That hardly seems likely, however. The news that James Woolsey, former CIA director under Bill Clinton – and a tireless advocate of “World War IV” – is on the list of administration favorites to lead the “interim” Iraqi government is a not so subtle hint as to which plan is favored by the White House.

In our accelerated, totally-wired, up-to-the-minute, fully-“embedded” hyper-reality, where immediacy is everything, the war will have lasted but a few weeks, a month or so at the most. But the real war is going to be the long occupation, during which US troops will be sitting ducks for every Islamist nutball in a region filled with them – and the War Party will be looking for new lands to conquer. The danger could not be greater.

God help us all.

– Justin Raimondo

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo is editor-at-large at Antiwar.com, and a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He is a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and writes a monthly column for Chronicles. He is the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].