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Political analysis and other daily rants on the state of the nation

Friday | April 18, 2003

The future of US foreign policy: the new era

This is the opening piece in a look at US foreign policy going into the 2004 election. An introduction into the issues leading into the next election, starting with Iraq and how our problems there reflect other, ongoing issues in foreign affairs . Other topics will include defense and intelligence policy and regional issues

Iraq's neighbours urge US withdrawal

The countries neighbouring Iraq have called on US-led forces that toppled Saddam Hussein's regime to pull out of the country as soon as possible.
They also demanded the speedy formation of a representative government in the country, with a central role for the United Nations.

The foreign ministers of the group of six states which border Iraq, plus Egypt and Bahrain, issued the statement after meeting in the Saudi Arabian capital, Riyadh.

They also spoke out against the exploitation of Iraqi oil by foreign powers, and recent US threats against Syria.

Speaking after the meeting, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal emphasised the need to maintain the unity and territorial integrity of Iraq - and said any outside interference in Iraq's internal affairs would not be tolerated.

Prince Saud also said that UN sanctions against Iraq should be lifted as soon as there was a legitimate government in place in Baghdad.

The US wants to see a quick end to the economic sanctions against Iraq, freeing up sales of its oil which would help to finance the country's reconstruction.

This is not how this was supposed to happen. Not only is substantial opposition growing inside the country, Iraq's neighbors are formenting external opposition.

Fergal Keane of the BBC writes that:
The greatest tragedy of all has been the failure to prepare a political future. To invade Iraq without having a well-thought-out political plan was an extraordinary miscalculation. Now the forces suppressed for the last quarter of a century are emerging. None are friendly to the US or its vision for the Middle East. What exactly did the Allies believe would emerge when it burst open the doors of Saddam's demented republic? Peace, democracy, secularism?

What is amazing, at least to me, is the amount and strength of the opposition to the US already on the ground. The Shia and Sunni clerics, free of Saddam's secret police and bolstered by armed militias, are already mobilizing, while the US is oblivious to the growing organization. Chalabi is a joke, even calling him Kerensky is too much of a compliment. And he's certainly no Hamid Karzai, who was chosen by the warlords, even if they ignore him.

While the Pentagon and their friends were quick to praise the war, the light forces which shoved the Iraqi Army aside are unable to administer the country. The Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) sounds great on paper. But when faced with a real country, with real problems, the lack of international support is allowing an armed opposition to form under our noses.

The problem was that Iraq policy was seen as a military problem while the underlying social and political problems were given short shrift. Despite voluminous warnings, the US allowed widespread looting, while as reported on ABC News tonight, tons of secret police files are sitting in the open. Investigative reporter Brian Ross and former CIA agent and consultant Bob Baer sifted through them as Baer translated.

Chalabi fits in perfectly with the Pentagon's idea of the next Iraqi leader, pro-Western, glib, looks good in a suit. However, no matter where the Iraqis are on the politico-religious spectrum, it is widely felt that the next leader of Iraq has to have suffered directly under Saddam. Chalabi never lived under Saddam. His family fled after the collapse of the Hashemite Kingdom in 1958. Thus, to most Iraqis he's an anonymous figure and among those who know him, one , according to Keane, decided to fire eight shots at a pickup one of his supporters was using.

The problem is that the only credible figure to head a government is a Shia cleric who spent the last two decades in Iran, while 27 members of his family were murdered by Saddam, who also tried to kill him eight times. The US is desperate keep Ayatollah Al-Hakim and his 15,000 man Badr Brigade guerrillas out of the country. Not that he cares. He tried to deal with the US and both sides were skittish.

However, there are signs of a greater, endemic failure of US policy here.

First, our ability to use intelligence has failed badly, yet again. Once again, we were given fair warning of a disaster, yet there was no plan to secure Iraq's institutions. We had assumed that the administration would stay in place. We relied on spies we bought, probably a mixture of people sent to us by the exiles and people supplied by the Iraqi intelligence services. Either way, neither proved to be completely reliable.

Second, our need to create proxies has led us down an increasingly uncertain road in Iraq. Ahmad Chalabi is not going to gain traction in an Iraq where Shia and Sunni clerics are quickly moving to dominate political life. He has no credibility in an Iraq where that is measured by the suffering Saddam inflicted on you and your family. American policy indicates time and again we expect others to act in our interests when we give them little in return for doing so.

We also rarely cultivate democratic forces in a credible way. Chalabi and the FIF are not reliable people. There are nearly 4 million Iraqi exiles between the US, UK and the Middle East. Did the US rely on the Jordanian Iraqi exile community for support? As best as we can tell, no.

Third, we based our plans on a set of conditions which were required to be favorable to work. We thought we could deacpitate Saddam and keep his government's basic functions in place, limiting our exposure. Instead. the entire Iraqi government went home. The army, the police, the bureaucrats. We didn't have a credible alternative in place.

Now, facing a restive population, informed by shortwave radio of US policy debates and incidents like the noted Islamophobe Franklin Graham speaking during Good Friday services at the Pentagon, which is news around the Arab world.

We live in an age of global communication and the Internet and shortwave radio make US news accessable to the rest of the world. Internal debates are no longer internal, and restricted to scholars.

Our policy must be affected by these changes. The charges of seizing Iraqi oil and promoting Israeli interests is not paranoia or anti semitic doggerel. If you can speak English and have access to the Internet, you can read the Project for a New American Century. They hear it reported on the Arabic service of the BBC and Radio Monte Carlo, news organizations which do not exist to Americans but are regarded as reliable to Iraqis. What was once internal policy debates now exist in a new, open source world where what is said and read in Washington can be said and read anywhere on earth with the Internet.

What policy makers will have to consider, not in some misty future, but today, tomorrow, is how we conduct policy in this new world.

The Bush Administration has opted for a unilateralism which is creaking under their feet. Open disorder, the US military force to act as both combat troops and peacekeepers, the inability to communicate with the locals to any large degree all result from a lack of coalition partners.

Clearly, while the PNAC cabal plots to invade Syria, more sober minds have to plan for a foreign policy which will have to consider dealing with a multilateral world where foreign policy is designed to encourage stability and self-determination but with much greater cooperation and acceptance of international participation than in the past. The PNAC's idea of a unilateral US will be shortlived, clearly not lasting past the Bush Administration. We have to prepare for a very different world, one where the US is one among equals.

The second is that our policy debates will be open. The amount of information online is only growing. Our policy options will be known by all as soon as they are conceived and published. We have to prepare to not only debate policy in Washington, but on a global stage. The opposition to the Iraq War was only possible because of the information available from US policy makers.

The first problem US policy makers must deal with is the Intelligence Community. Time and again, the IC either fails to warn us of threats or has its intellgence abused for political purposes. Yet, without timely, accurate intelligence, making sound foreign policy is impossible. What kind of IC is needed in a world of varying threats and how do we spend that money most effectively?

That's our next topic.

Steve Gilliard

Posted April 18, 2003 08:22 PM | Comments (47)


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