Marshall-like plan will fail in post-Saddam

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Posted by Voice of Dissent from ( on Thursday, February 13, 2003 at 1:25PM :

Posted 2/12/2003 7:19 PM

Marshall-like plan will fail in post-Saddam Iraq

By Sandra Mackey

Under pressure from skeptical senators, the Bush administration is beginning to sketch out its plans for a
post-Saddam Hussein Iraq. Acknowledging the need for an American military government to administer
Iraq for at least two years, Bush officials claim they are not committed to a post-World War II model.

Yet for months, Bush's foreign-policy team and hawkish members of Congress have been dusting off the
Marshall Plan, under which the USA helped rebuild Western Europe, and devouring other post-WWII
management plans. A popular notion is that the decisions and experiences surrounding the reconstruction
of Germany and Japan can apply to post-Saddam Iraq.

They cannot. The Pentagon's civilian leadership, Bush's advisers and members of Congress are engaged
in a dangerous fantasy. The United States should not invade Iraq until Bush and Washington's hawks
understand that the real risks for the USA are not in war, but in the peace that follows.

The challenge of governing Iraq after Saddam is gone is enormous. The WWII analogies, while seductive,
are flawed. The United States and its allies demanded total surrender of Germany and Japan as the price
of peace. In theory, the defeated countries' slates were wiped clean. The United States then bestowed
new leadership, new institutions and new money in the form of millions of dollars of economic aid to shape
Germany and Japan into the societies they are today.

Yet did the hand of Washington really create new civil societies in Germany and Japan, or were
well-entrenched and well-defined societies simply freed from the shackles of tyranny and militarism?

It was some of both. The crucial factor in the success of postwar construction was that the Germans and
Japanese, as individuals, possessed a keen sense of identity and deep, pervasive feelings of nationalism. In
a sense, defeat in war cleansed both people of nationalism gone amok, allowing their authentic,
well-developed societies to emerge and go forward toward what has proved to be a better future. It is a
pattern that cannot be transferred to Iraq.

The Iraqis have a weak sense of authentic nationhood, making them a fractured people whose differences
have always tested Iraq's survival. Many different Iraqi groups compete for the right to define the state.
Tribalism, the plague of all Iraqi governments, has intensified under Saddam.

No matter to what extremes he has gone to gain and defend his own power, Saddam is, in important
respects, the product of the Iraqi state. That state was jury-rigged in 1921 by the victors of World War I.
Iraq, which combines Arab Sunnis, Arab Shiites, Kurds, Turkmen, Armenians and a host of other groups
claiming different languages, cultures, histories and religions, is a state but not a nation. Sadly for the
Iraqis, they have never been able to find a common definition of that state. The short history of Iraq is a
chronicle of Iraqis' tormented search for a common identity.

In 1921, the monarchy installed by Britain defined Iraq in terms of Arab nationalism, but that image
worked only for the 20% of the population that was Sunni.
In 1958, the leader of the military revolution, Gen. Abdul Karim Qassim promoted a vision of Iraq
as a unique country, both Arab and non-Arab. That idea ended in 1963, when Qassim was
murdered. The generals who succeeded him returned to Arab nationalism as the basis of Iraq's
In 1968, the Baath Party took control. Ideologically, its members were Arab nationalists, but when
oil revenues skyrocketed in 1973, they were loath to share their newfound wealth with other Arabs
who lacked their own oil resources. From within the party, Saddam created a new Iraqi identity:
descendents of the ancient Mesopotamians. Although they might not be blood relatives, every Iraqi
could embrace the cultural heritage of the Sumerians, Assyrians and Babylonians.

That new identity might have succeeded if Saddam, as the new president, had not invaded Iran in 1980.
To keep the largely Arab conscripts fighting for eight years, Saddam sold his war as a contest between
Arabs and Persians. Iraq consequently emerged from the war with an official Arab identity.

That was sacrificed during the 1991 Persian Gulf War. To keep himself in power after simultaneous
revolts by the Arab Shiites and the Kurds following his ignominious defeat, Saddam fell back on the most
basic unit of most Iraqis' identity: the tribe. During the next decade, the tyrant of Baghdad ruled not only
through fear but also through tribal alliances.

In his continual search for some touchstone of commonality, Saddam now has raised up Islam. Elaborate
mosques are being built across the country as gifts of Saddam. Religion as identity not only mitigates
decades of secularism, but also leaves out Iraq's Christians.

The lack of Iraqi identity poses profound risks for a U.S. war against Saddam. If the Bush administration
ignores the United Nations and invades Iraq unilaterally, the United States becomes the governing
authority for a state that has never become a nation. In even the best-case scenarios, group will challenge
group for the right to define the state in its own particular vision. Unable to allow Iraq to fragment because
of its oil resources and its geographical importance, the United States will become both policeman and
nanny of Iraqi nation-building.

The technology with which the Pentagon promises a quick victory will be of little use during this exercise,
which will take years, consume billions of dollars and cost uncounted American lives. Ultimately, war
against Iraq is more political than military. Before it commits the USA to this quagmire, Washington needs
to throw away the post-WWII models. This is Iraq, not Germany or Japan.

Sandra Mackey is the author of The Reckoning: Iraq and the Legacy of Saddam Hussein.

-- Voice of Dissent
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