Three Options: Which shall you choose?

William R. Polk writes a guest editorial on Informed Comment explaining three possible options for the US in Iraq. It is important to point out that he's a former Member of the State Department's Policy Planning Council that was responsible for the Middle East. He was a Professor of History at the University of Chicago and Founding-Director of its Center for Middle Eastern Studies. Also, he has a book being published in March called Understanding Iraq. Here are the options: The first is "staying the course" which includes continued fighting a la Algeria vs. France. The second is "Vietnamization", but the point of contention is that in Iraq there is neither an Army or a government to hand over this war to. And this point is duly noted. Using a proxy militia is also not an option. Because soon after, say, Kurds are used exclusively in this manner, you would have inevitable violent internal conflict.

The third option is to choose to get out rather than being forced. Time is a wasting asset; the longer the choice is put off, the harder it will be to make. The steps required to implement this policy need not be dramatic, but the process needs to be affirmed and made unambiguous. The initial steps could be merely verbal. America would have first to declare unequivocally that it will give up its lock on the Iraqi economy, will cease to spend Iraqi revenues as it chooses and will allow Iraqi oil production to be governed by market forces rather than by an American monopoly. If President Bush could be as courageous as General Charles de Gaulle was in Algeria when he admitted that the Algerian insurgency had “won” and called for a “peace of the braves,” fighting would quickly die down in Iraq as it did in Algeria and in all other guerrilla wars. Then, and only then, could elections be meaningful. In this period, Iraq would need a police force but not an army. A UN multinational peacekeeping force would be easier, cheaper and safer than creating an Iraqi army which in the past destroyed moves toward civil society and probably would do so again, probably indeed paving the way for the “ghost” of Saddam Husain.
A variety of "service" functions would then have to be organized. Given a chance, Iraq could do them mostly by itself. It would soon again become a rich country and has a talented, well-educated population. Step by step, health care, clean water, sewage, roads, bridges, pipelines, electric grids, housing, etc. could be mainly provided by the Iraqis themselves, as they were in the past. When I visited Baghdad in February 2003 on the eve of the invasion, the Iraqis with whom I talked were proud that they had rebuilt the Tigris bridge that had been destroyed in the 1991 war. They can surely do so again.

In its own best interest, the Iraq government would empower the Iraq National Iraq Oil Company (NIOC) to award concessions by bid to a variety of international companies, each of which and NIOC would sell oil on the world market. Contracts for reconstruction paid for by Iraqi money would be awarded under bidding, as they traditionally were, but to prevent excessive corruption perhaps initially supervised by the World Bank. Where other countries supplied aid, they could be given preferential treatment in the award of contracts as is common practice elsewhere. The World Bank would follow its regular procedures on its loans. Abrogating current American policies that work against the recovery of Iraqi industry and commerce would spur development since any reasonably intelligent and self-interested government would emphasize getting Iraqi enterprises back into operation and employing Iraqi workers. That process could be speeded up through international loans, commercial agreements and protective measures so that unemployment, now at socially catastrophic levels, would be diminished. Neighborhood participation in running social affairs and providing security are old traditions in Iraqi society and allowing or favoring their reinvigoration would promote the excellent side effect of grass roots political representation. As fighting dies down, reasonable security is achieved and popular institutions revive, the one million Iraqis now living abroad will be encouraged to return home. In the aggregate they are intelligent, highly trained, and well motivated and can make major contributions in all phases of Iraqi life.

In such a program, inevitably, there will be set-backs and shortfalls, but they can be partly filled by international organizations. The steps will not be easy; Iraqis will disagree over timing, personnel and rewards while giving the process a chance will require American political courage. But, and this is the crucial matter, any other course of action would be far worse for both America and Iraq. The safety and health of American society as well as Iraqi society requires that this policy be implemented intelligently, determinedly and soon.

I hope Bush administration officials are listening closely to a man of Dr. William Polk's stature. He puts it in a way that is palatable. I see it as the only option if the US does not want an Algeria situation on their hands. The last people Americans would ever be able to tame are Iraqis. And I hate to say it as things get underway, but out of Iraqis, the last people you'll tame are people from Falloojah. It has a long history of resistance that will not fade either quickly or quietly into history. And I'm talking pre-Saddam, even. So, does the violence continue indeterminantly or will enough courage be mustered to leave Iraq eventually?

A verbal committment to leave Iraq is a good start. And it doesn't have to be all at once. But there has to be true committment and visible signs of progress toward self-determination. Attacking Fallojah now will not make leaving any easier, though. And that's why I am being so insistent that it is wrong. This is the beginning of a chain of events. One might actually say we are still in a chain of events that started when Falloojah changed everything back in April. The pace quickens, though. And my heart goes out to all the innocents that continue to suffer.

Informed Comment : William Polk's guest editorial


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