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Wednesday, April 16, 2003

The Lesson Of Iraq

Demosthenes and others have blogged this item from The Guardian yesterday which claims that Dubya has nixed a Syria invasion. Let’s hope it‘s true.

But, it would seem to me to be fairly easy to change his mind if Wolfowitz or Rummy are of a mind to. All they have to do is draw the parallel between Poppy leaving Saddam in power when he had enough troops on the ground to go all the way to Baghdad and Junior leaving Assad in power when he has the troops on the ground to go all the way to Damascus (and Beirut.) I’m sure his good friend and fellow “man of peace” Ariel Sharon would be happy to weigh in on that as well.

If Syria is off the table, however, it appears that Israel is consciously playing cozy with the administration for reasons that make no sense unless they really believe that Assad is about to fold up his tent and run crying from the room. Otherwise, this sort of thing seems designed to inflame the situation to a point where invasion is unavoidable.

Mofaz, who often serves as Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's "bad cop" in taking a hard security line regarding Israel's Arab neighbors, was quoted Monday as detailing demands he said Israel would ask the Americans to pass on to Syrian officials.

Accusing Assad of having supplied Iraq with weaponry during the war, as well as making statements that appeared to negate Israel's right to exist as a nation, Mofaz told the Ma'ariv daily:

"We have a long list of issues that we are thinking of demanding of the Syrians, and it is proper that this be done by the Americans. It begins with removing the threat of Hezbollah in south Lebanon; distancing long-range rockets; moving Hezbollah away from the south, up to dismantling [Hezbollah]; stopping Iranian aid to Hezbollah via Syrian ports; and halting the granting of the cover of respectability to the terror headquarters of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad based in Damascus, from which they dispatch orders and funding to Palestinian terrorist organizations."

Inexplicably, (to me, anyway) the prevailing view really is that the US can now control events without having to go to war because it has demonstrated that it is willing to use force in Iraq.

Thomas Friedman says that we should begin a policy of “aggressive engagement” with Syria which, because we have no legal basis for a military invasion, falls somewhere between military aggression and “useless constructive engagement.” Basically, it consists of “getting in Syria’s face every day” and reminding the people of Syria how bad they have it. Somehow, this is supposed to force Syria to change because Assad saw what happened to Saddam when he refused to do what the US told it to do.

If that is the case, then it would be ridiculous to take the threat of invasion off the table because without it, it’s just a bunch of annoying hot air. Implicit in these complaints is the threat of military action and everybody knows it. It makes no sense otherwise.

But, more importantly, we need to look more closely at the example we made of Saddam Hussein and the lessons that other foreign leaders are likely to have drawn from it.

Immediately after 9/11 various friends of the administration like Perle and Woolsey immediately began banging the drum to invade Iraq, a desire that was fully documented for years by various highly influential policy makers in the administration.

Throughout the next few months, speculation in the media built as to whether the US was going to adopt this policy.

The administration released TheBush Doctrine stating in clear terms the fact that the US is adopting a strategy of pre-emption to remove the threat of weapons of mass destruction before they are operational.

In August Dick Cheney made a speech laying out the case for regime change in Iraq and the US willingness to invade unilaterally.

In September, the President changed course and went to the UN and asked for a resolution requiring that Iraq rid itself of its WMD and allow inspectors back into the country to verify said disarmament.

The UNSC voted unanimously for this resolution, Saddam declared he had destroyed his WMD long ago and the inspectors were allowed back into the country.

From that time until March, inspectors had been in the country and found no evidence of WMD. The US then said that time had run out and launched the invasion against the wishes of most of the Security Council and much of the world.

Throughout this time, the US government had insisted that if Saddam disarmed we would have no need to invade. Saddam claimed throughout that he had disarmed and allowed weapons inspectors into the country to verify that.

We have been in the country for a month now and have yet to turn up any evidence of WMD and now seem to be shifting our sights to Syria and rewriting the reasons for the invasion to be purely a war of liberation.

Yet, everyone is saying that since we deposed Saddam tyrants and despots everywhere will scurry to do our bidding in order to avoid similar treatment. Indeed, the administration says this straightforwardly: “They would do well to learn the lesson of Iraq…”

But, the lesson of Iraq is that if the US has decided to invade it has no compunction about drawing up a speculative list of crimes such as harboring terrorists and WMD’s, followed by a series of demands that you cease doing those things. Unfortunately, it has also shown that even if you make an effort to comply with those demands and as impossible as it is to prove a negative, it will say that you are lying and invade anyway.

I have no doubt that Bashar Assad is aware that Bush stuck his head in Condi Rice’s office last spring and said “Fuck Saddam, we’re taking him out,” which means that nothing short of Saddam’s ruling junta committing mass suicide could have stopped the war despite all of the posturing before the world community about "disarmament."

The lesson of Iraq is that the United States is going to do what it wants to do without regard to international law or any nation’s good faith effort to cooperate. If they have decided to take military action against you it is a fait accompli. “Aggressive engagement” looks suspiciously like the “Decade of Defiance and Deception” public relations package that sold the war to the American public. No world leader is now under the misapprehension that complying with American demands necessarily guarantees that he will not be invaded and deposed anyway. There is no value in face saving or compromise because the US has proved that it will change its goals and create new rationales at will. So, the only question for any leader in this situation is whether to surrender without bloodshed or go down fighting. All moral authority is vested in America's willingness to deploy its military.

The lesson of Iraq for the US is that the United States had better be prepared to invade any country it “aggressively engages” from now on because it proved to leaders everywhere that capitulating to its “demands” guarantees them nothing. US power now rests entirely on force – it can no longer use diplomacy or any kind of positive reward for good behavior because the lesson of Iraq is that the US cannot be trusted to negotiate in good faith. Any threats short of war are useless because foreign leaders can no longer count on the US to keep its word not to invade if certain conditions have been met.

American foreign policy is now entirely unpredictable and is based upon nothing more than an elastic self-serving notion of American security. It requires no international consensus regardless of whether it directly impacts US national security and does not follow any international law or norms. It interprets treaties as it wishes without regard to precedent and holds other nations to standards to which it does not hold itself. It does not speak with one voice so its impossible to judge its real position and act accordingly. The American public are overwhelmingly supportive of the administration's new policy regardless of whether the government lies blatently about its reasons so there is little hope of any internal pressure to moderate. The world must now base its relationship with America on nothing more than blind hope or fear of one man's unknown intentions.

The lesson of Iraq is that the US is now the world’s most powerful rogue state.