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Jewish World Review Nov. 27, 2002 / 22 Kislev, 5763

Michael Barone

Michael Barone
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Remaking the Middle East |
George W. Bush and his top advisers may be preoccupied now with how to deal with Saddam Hussein's response to U.N. Resolution 1441, but this is a president who likes to plan ahead, and others in the administration, at his direction, have already been looking ahead to the time when Iraq is militarily defeated. Critics of the president's insistence on regime change in Baghdad ask how the United States will govern Iraq after the war. It's a good question. Another good question is, How will we deal with Iran and Saudi Arabia then? Fortunately, the administration is trying to come up with answers. But there is still more work to do.

The first issue is how to deal with postwar Iraq, the subject of U.S. News'scover story this week. Some people in government-at the CIA and in the State Department's Arabist-oriented Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs-would probably like to turn to some Iraqi strongman or general. But that is not likely to happen. Better models are the U.S. military occupations of Germany and Japan after World War II. Gen. Lucius Clay and Gen. Douglas MacArthur were given authority to establish new governments while maintaining military control. They institutionalized freedoms but banned the propagation of Nazi and Japanese imperialist ideas. War-crime trials were held. Decent governments were put in place. National elections were held when the new re- gimes were up and running.

Opposition organizing. American officials today know more about Iraq than Clay or MacArthur knew about Germany or Japan in 1945. But our government has been divided. There have been bitter divisions about the role of the Iraqi National Congress, the large umbrella group that is committed to democracy, human rights, and a peaceful foreign policy; the INC has been shunned by State and CIA and has gotten support in the Pentagon.

The CIA is reported to favor a long military occupation; the Pentagon reportedly favors a short period of civil military administration, followed by a turnover to an Iraqi civilian authority with an as yet undetermined mix of INC, other exiles, and internal personnel. The administration weighed in on the side of the INC by working to cancel a conference in Brussels scheduled for November 22 by four opposition groups and blessing a conference in London including the INC and many more groups now scheduled for December 10-two days after the U.N. deadline for Saddam Hussein to declare his weapons of mass destruction. The hope is that the conference would pledge local autonomy for the Kurds in the north and the Shiites in the south, but make a firm commitment to a unitary state, human rights, the rule of law, and peace with Iraq's neighbors. National elections could come in 18 months or so.

Regime change in Iraq is bound to shake the regime of the mullahs in Iran. Some in the State Department are seeking an accommodation with Iran's nominal government of "reformers." But the "reformers" have not effectively challenged the mullahs and have not stopped Iranian aid to terrorists. There have been massive demonstrations against the regime for months, and there is strong indication that most Iranians hate the mullahs and support the United States. We should not ally ourselves with their oppressors but should work to undermine the regime, which seems ready to fall as the shah's regime did in 1979-and which may collapse quickly if Iranian TV viewers see Iraqis welcoming American troops with flowers and sweets.

Then there is the problem of Saudi Arabia. The Saudis are not helping our war effort, and they are continuing to use their oil money to propagate Wahhabi totalitarianism around the world. This spreading of Islamist fundamentalism will continue to be a grave threat to our civilization after Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction are in safe hands, for our war is not only against evil regimes but against evil ideas. After the liberation of Iraq, the United States will be in a strong position to work with discontented Saudis to move the royal family on the course toward freedom taken by Qatar and Bahrain and to insist that the Saudis stop the propagation of Wahhabism in their lands and around the world.

Those inside our government who have shunned democracy in Iraq, seek deals with the mullahs in Iran, and want to accommodate the Saudis say we must follow their advice in order to preserve stability in the Middle East. But stability in the Middle East gave us September 11. The work ahead is daunting. But it's even more daunting to think about living in a world in which that work is not done.

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Michael Barone Archives

JWR contributor Michael Barone is a columnist at U.S. News & World Report and the author of, most recently, "The New Americans." He also edits the biennial "Almanac of American Politics". Send your comments to him by clicking here.


©2002, Michael Barone