Now that the Bush Administration has decided that the object of the next phase in the war on terrorism will be Saddam Hussein, numerous strategic questions remain. How, specifically, will we remove him? What will the causus belli be? How many divisions will we use? Will we be based out of Jordan, Qatar, or will Saudi Arabia let us use its territory? But before we’re caught up in the Middle Eastern version of Diplomacy, aren’t these questions better answered by first deciding what a post-Hussein Iraq should look like?
Perhaps one reason this question isn’t being addressed with the same concern is because the alternatives for a post-Iraqi War future are boring by comparison. The inner-workings of government aren’t as exciting as Airborne Rangers parachuting into Baghdad in daring nighttime assaults. A lack of interest in what an Iraqi constitution would look like is therefore somewhat understandable. However, boring though it might be, this question has to be addressed immediately or the entire campaign could be botched. When we do go to war, it will be solely to depose the current regime. What exactly do we propose to replace it with?
Unfortunately, Saddam’s tendency to kill any potential rivals in his government means there is no Iraqi George Washington or Thomas Jefferson waiting in the wings, so it appears that we will have to go with what Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson referred to as the “least abhorrent choice.” As I see it, there are several forms of immediate postwar governments that could ensue after a U.S. victory, each with their own bonuses and drawbacks.
Our first option is the one we chose in Afghanistan to hand over power to exiled nationals who have been living abroad. The dominant group of Iraqi political refugees is the Iraqi National Congress (INC). Led by Ahmad Chalabi, a successful businessman in London, the INC is currently the preferred candidate of the Defense Department. But there are plenty of other Iraqis who might head up a new government. They have absolutely no ties to the current regime or its atrocities. They have also been exposed to pro-Western values and will happily espouse them once in office. In addition, living in the West has taught them a fair amount of media savvy. The drawbacks of a new Iraqi leadership coming from exiled politicos are that they have no current power base in the country. They will have to rely on Western troops to maintain order for some time. Their perceived “foreignness” also opens them up to the charges of being Western puppets.
An internal revolt in Iraq would probably bring some random strongman to power, most likely from the Iraqi Army. This is the solution being pushed by the CIA and State Department. They’re terrified of committing United States troops to an Iraqi peacekeeping mission. Once the strongman comes to power, according to the theory’s supporters, he would open up Iraq to weapons inspectors and moderate the country’s international behavior. A strong Iraqi regime could simultaneously prevent an encroachment of Iranian interests in the Gulf and separatist ambitions from the Kurds and Shiites. However, there are two problems: this option was the preferred U.S. choice during the Cold War and is responsible for empowering men like Augusto Pinochet and Mobutu Sese Seko. Not exactly a ringing endorsement. A strongman also could easily morph into Saddam II and we would be right back where we started.
“The Islamic Republic of Iraq” becomes a possibility if elections are held by the United States shortly after the war’s end. While Saddam has been effective at thinning the Islamists’ numbers, a free Iraq would probably see an immediate resurgence in these groups. Historically, whenever free elections have been held in the Arab world, Islamists clean up quite nicely. They could either be pro-Western like Alija Izetbegovic in Bosnia or hostile like the Ayatollah Khomeini. An Islamist government would have a good chance at co-opting any Islamic revolutionaries into the regime and might even try to create a popular religious-based democracy. But there’s always the chance that an Islamist Iraq could become another Taliban Afghanistan, Iran, or Algeria.
Of course we could always just run the country ourselves. Based on the postwar Germany-Japan model, this scenario would feature direct rule by the U.S. military over Iraq until democracy has had time to take root possibly as long as ten years. Elections would start locally and slowly progress to a national level. However, any benefits of “Americanization” with a Western constitution and a Western bureaucracy (i.e. limited corruption) would have to be weighed against accusations of neo-colonialism, plus the inevitable Islamic terrorism by Hezbollah or Al Qaeda.
If all else fails, there’s always Kofi Annan. Bringing in the United Nations would turn Iraq into a Middle Eastern Bosnia, where a UN high commissioner governs a series of mini-states under the protection of Western troops. While not part of the official power structure, the high commissioner would be empowered to dismiss any officials or politicians that they disliked, thus transforming Iraq into an international protectorate. A UN-sponsored leader would definitely limit world-wide criticism, but at what cost? In Kosovo, for example, the rule of law is still subordinate to the rule of the Kalashnikov. Moreover, any UN success would be dependent on Iranian and Syrian sponsorship of anti-Iraqi government guerrillas.
The Bush Administration has been coy about when a war might start, but most people are expecting one between November and April. Make no mistake. Saddam’s regime will be finished by this time next year. So, we need to start thinking right now as to what a Saddam-less Iraq should look like and why.