Jewish World Review April 25, 2003 / 23 Nisan, 5763

Jim Hoagland

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De-Baathification, root and branch | Iraq's surprises may not be over for the Bush administration, which is learning that history is inevitable only in retrospect.

The biggest immediate risk in the wake of the stunning U.S. battlefield victory lies in underestimating once again the determination and venomous nature of Saddam Hussein's Baathist Party apparatus, which struggles to regroup in the ruins of Baghdad and other cities.

The American military was surprised on two fronts in the war. First it did not expect Baathist death squads to show up and fight to extinction in Basra and other points along the invasion route. The second surprise came from the lack of such bitter-end resistance in Baghdad.

That mirror-image result may be explained by the demonstration effect of the futility of the death squad tactics in Basra -- as predicted by the British commanders who won that battle. But it is also possible that the surprised Iraqi dictator folded his hand quickly in Baghdad to preserve resources and people for guerrilla war or insurrection with or without him.

Free Iraqi Forces in Baghdad have picked up signs of new underground armed Baathist groupings calling themselves "Those Who Return." As long as there is doubt about whether he lives, Hussein serves as inspiration for such gangs. Their cause was helped by the circulation of the videotape that purported to show him alive as late as April 9.

De-Baathification in Iraq does not seem to be a high priority for U.S. policy. Iraqi citizens insisted it be inscribed as an important part of the 13-point statement issued at the end of the political organization meeting in Ur on April 15. They had to overcome procedural objections from U.S. organizers, who underestimate the potency of this issue.

Princeton University's Bernard Lewis recently pointed out that "the ancestry of the Baath may be found not in the Middle East, not in Islam, not in Arabism but in the Nazi Party and the Communist Party, two sources of inspiration" that were introduced into Iraq and Syria through European colonialism.

Root-and-branch destruction of Baath rule will end a particularly malignant and totalitarian offshoot of the colonial era in Iraq. The authoritarian and royal regimes that rule most of the Arab world are also products of Europe's imprint on the region in that bygone time, in one fashion or another. A fresh start in Iraq underlines their anachronistic nature.

Americans and Iraqis alike must treat with care this opportunity for Iraq to develop indigenous political bodies and theories and not once again graft foreign forms of government onto the country. Impatience and hubris on both sides are dangerous enemies in this enterprise. De-Baathification at the roots is also needed to break the emotional wall of fear and passivity that has imprisoned most Iraqis for decades.

Scenes of looting, arson and initial political demonstrations demanding rapid American withdrawal have dominated the immediate, messy aftermath of Gen. Tommy Franks's campaign and have been used by critics to question U.S. intentions and capabilities. But it is still far from clear that they should all be interpreted as spontaneous acts that have no Baathist orchestration or other subterranean political meaning.

In Hussein's day, Iraq was fairly easy to predict, as I wrote last fall in bidding him a not-so-fond farewell. Totalitarianism provides a crystal ball to anyone willing to look into it. The crystal ball for how Iraq will look a year from now was crushed by that falling statue in Baghdad.

But we probably can form a good picture of what Iraq will not be in a year's time. It will not be a state where every word, action and even imputed thought could lead to prison or execution. It will not be a state where its Kurdish citizens are treated as subhumans and appropriate targets for genocide. It will not be an outlaw state crushed by U.N. sanctions.

It will not be that way, that is, if the Bush administration can find the same clarity and boldness to deal with the nebulous political situation that it employed in the military campaign. President Bush recognized that he could not and should not run the war himself, and left it to the Pentagon.

Given the deep divisions in his administration over foreign policy and the tricky political currents that lie ahead in Iraq and at the United Nations, Bush should now name a respected, politically experienced figure to serve him directly as White House coordinator for Iraqi affairs. That person will need access to and complete trust from Bush, and a brand new crystal ball.

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04/21/03: Victims of civic passivity
04/14/03: Three miscreants
04/11/03: Saddam's final mistake

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