Avoiding Catastrophe, Skirting Disaster

David Forte

September 1, 2003

Because of George W. Bush, the totalitarian Islamic radicals do not have what German Fascism and Soviet Communism possessed: a secure territorial base. Germany and Russia gave their evil masters armies, economies, intelligence networks, and weapons programs to wreak their murderous ambitions on the lives of millions. American arms destroyed radical Islamic territorial bases from coalescing in Afghanistan and Iraq. One need only read Sayyid Qutb, the executed Egyptian ideologue, and listen to Osama bin Laden to know that Islamic radicalism is both totalitarian and ambitious of ever increasing territory.

In Iraq, in a brilliantly executed military campaign, flexible enough to triumph without the expected help of allies, American and British forces swept away one of the most brutal personalities ever to have gained political power. The coalition has yet to find extant weapons of mass destruction, but it is clear that Saddam was planning a lightning quick rearmament in deadly gasses and germs as soon as the United Nations neutralized the persistent Americans. Saddam had already killed hundreds of thousands of persons and the firm action of the coalition armed forces undoubtedly saved the lives of hundreds of thousands more.

At the same time, extraordinary military planning averted catastrophes that pundits had wrung their hands over. The oil wells were not destroyed. There was no famine or starvation. Massive civilian casualties did not come from house to house fighting. The lightning movement of American forces also avoided what we now know was not imminent, though we honestly feared it was: a spasmodic counterattack with chemical and biological weapons. Most significantly, Iraq has not collapsed into a civil war among regional, ethnic, and religious groups.

The great military historian S.L.A. Marshall counseled that a military triumph is not a victory until its gains are consolidated and gathered in. Otherwise, as Americans found out in Korea, one can avoid catastrophe only to face a disaster. In the case of Iraq, the consolidation is political, and we are having problems gathering it in.

There have been a series of unexpected surprises, no one of which carries weight in itself, but taken in sum, they are slowing and even endangering the movement for political consolidation.

There was the political embarrassment of no quick revelations of weapons of mass destruction as well as the false intelligence of nuclear materiel. We were surprised to find out how decrepit was the physical infrastructure. We thought we would come across a sophisticated educated people, ready to rebuild their country into a free economic power. We found instead a people cowed by decades of insidious cruelty, with hundreds of thousands used to living off the dole and much of the rest seeking merely to get by and to survive. The lack of wholehearted co-operation by the Iraqis in the rebuilding and prospering of their country frustrates many American leaders. This week Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld expressed this frustration when he said that the Iraqis would not be fully secure unless they gave us the information about the terrorists bringing havoc to the country.

Most significantly, we have been surprised at how effective and politically intelligent the terrorist resistance has been. It has struck at the UN, Jordan, and moderate Shi’ites. Despite hundreds of coalition patrols, terrorists enter the country from Syria, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. The terrorists target Americans at soft targets like hospitals. The casualty rate begins to worry the military and people at home.

When you have a terrorist/guerilla war supported by or winked at by neighboring governments; when you have porous borders, when the enemy enjoys some domestic support, and when much of the rest of the population is fearful of supporting you; when it is militarily or politically impossible to increase your troop levels; and when the financial cost seems unending, there are serious problems that cannot be talked away.

All these problems can be handled, so long as one thing remains constant. The United States must retain the military and political initiative. Iraq simply must become the base for a democratic and moderate movement to spread through the Middle East and defeat totalitarian Islamic radicalism root and branch. If we lose the military and political initiative, then the entire war against terrorism may unravel.

The good news is that we have not yet lost the initiative. The 25 member Iraq Governing Council has named ministers to staff the government’s 25 ministries. It has formed a preparatory committee looking to draft a new constitution. Although the coalition earlier suspended the movement towards elections, it was a wise move. Elections must follow the constitution. Elections do not make a democracy. They are the fruits of a democratic system. Still, the momentum towards a new constitution must not stall. Progress must be real and perceived by the Iraqi people to be real.

Despite guerilla attacks and a decade of intentional neglect by the Baathist regime, there are visible improvements to the infrastructure. The agricultural section should see dramatic improvement within a year, perhaps doubling production. The repair and improvement of dams, reservoirs and water pipelines has been dramatic. The people of Iraq should see these results by the end of the year. At present, water systems are operating nationally at 70% of capacity. The improvements in the health system will be much slower, as training of medical staffing takes time. Some hospitals are being rebuilt, but for the time being, direct outside medical assistance will need to continue. Much more dramatic has been the reconstruction of schools, nearly 1000 of which will have been repaired or rebuilt by September 30. All Iraqi universities have reopened.

Electrical generation will be insufficient for some time. During the last decade, Baghdad enjoyed sufficient electrical service because the regime drew off electrical power from the north and south of the country. With the north and south now enjoying the products of their regions’ own electrical generation, Baghdad has been left with far less, and the people are that much more resentful. At the start of combat, Baghdad used 2500 Megawatts of electricity. That fell to 300 MW at the end of major hostilities and has risen to only 1283 MW by the end of July. The entire country only had a little over 3000 MW at the end of August, but will have 4,400 MW by the end of this month. Still, Iraq needs something over 6000 MW to make significant economic progress and that will not be available for some time.

There are, however, serious problems in increasing oil production, the key source of income for Iraqi economic progress. Crude oil production has not reached the level Saddam enjoyed during 2002 even with international sanctions. Pipelines are vulnerable to guerilla attack, while significant amounts of gasoline, kerosene, and diesel still need to be imported. That means that until the United States and its allies defeat the resurgent guerilla movement, the key ingredient for economic self-sufficiency will be missing.

So how goes the military pacification program? Security is the primary concern of all friendly parties in Iraq, including members of the Governing Council. At present, the United States has 148,000 troops in Iraq, along with 16,000 coalition troops from 18 countries. Forty-two of the fifty-five most wanted Baathists have been captured, and 200 out of 600 of the next tier are in custody. Intelligence officers cannot keep up with the thousands of documents being captured by continuing raids by coalition forces.

Yet although American force commanders continue to repeat that there is no need for additional American troops, the fact is that both the State and Defense Departments believe there is a real need for more boots on the ground. The government understands what the guerillas understand: that a slow steady continuation of American casualties will cause the home front to lose heart. The Defense Department needs other troops to man the soft targets where American soldiers are easy targets. They need more bodies to police the borders against infiltrators. Although the expansion of the Iraqi police and border guard contingents is proceeding, the level and sophistication of the terrorists’ attacks require a more immediate military response. The fact is that we still do not know who exactly has been behind the attacks.

In the Pentagon, the diminished levels of forces available to the United States has led to a phrase (not yet a doctrine one hopes) that “every future war we fight will be a coalition war.” Coalition wars can be much more effective politically as well as militarily, but if all future combat must necessarily be based on a coalition, such a position will inevitably diminish American options against other terrorist states.

Some nations have promised major contingents for Iraq with the backing of a United Nations resolution. That is the reason why the United States is eating a little crow and returning to the United Nations. We hope the military pressure on American forces will thereby be lessened. France, as usual, is demanding political control for the UN (and its own economic benefits) as the price to pay. That is a price too high to pay. If the United States accedes to that demand, it will have lost both the political and military initiative, and the slow inevitable spiral towards disaster will have begun. But if we hold firm to our demand to retain control, the opposite will occur. It will be the terrorists and their sponsor states that will unravel.

David Forte is a Professor of Law at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law in Cleveland, Ohio and the author of Islamic Studies: Classical and Contemporary Applications. He is an Adjunct Fellow of the John M. Ashbrook Center for Public Affairs at Ashland University, Ashland, Ohio.