Published in Lake Champlain Weekly on 20 July 2004 - the success of Operation Iraqi Freedom
Operation Iraqi Freedom
By Quentin Langley
Dateline 20 July 2004
Operation Iraqi Freedom has proved a tremendous success. Regime change has been achieved, and the Butcher of Baghdad awaits trial. Saddam’s chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs turned out to be at least two years behind the best estimates of western intelligence experts. Good. Given the margins of error, it could have turned out that the programs were two years ahead of estimates. That is more or less what happened in the 1990s. That his weapons were not ready to use is a good thing – and must have been an enormous relief to American and coalition troops.
The physical conquest, according to Vice-President Cheney, had been expected to take “weeks rather than months”. We can assume that he had in mind a timetable of 3-8 weeks, as anything beyond eight weeks would have been “months”. It took just under three weeks, with Baghdad falling on day 21. This turned out to be a mixed blessing. Iraqi troops did not fight – they either ran away or surrendered. Accepting surrenders was the thing that most slowed down the progress of coalition troops. But this does mean that Saddam’s troops are still alive, and many are still armed and carrying out guerrilla attacks on the coalition and Iraqi authorities. If the conquest had been harder, the occupation would have been easier.
In a perfect world, the coalition would have focussed on building town and county councils first, then provincial governments, and only finally a federal authority, but that opportunity has been missed, and the restructuring of Iraq is now in the hands of Iraqis.
But these minor caveats aside, the Bush administration has confronted and solved a problem which its predecessor preferred to either ignore, or occasionally exacerbate with macho displays of missile power and no follow through on the ground.
But, electorally, is this good news for Bush? Historically, electorates have been ungrateful to leaders who have solved foreign policy problems. The President must be all too aware that his hero, Winston Churchill, and his own father both fell from power at the height of their foreign policy successes.
The reason is simple. In an election, people do not reward politicians for past successes. They appoint them for what they think they will do in the future. With hindsight, the fact British Conservatives contested the 1945 election on the basis that they were led by a great war-leader was naïve. Who needs a war-leader when the war is over? And America in 1992 felt the same. Shut up about the cold war, George. It’s the economy, stupid.
But this is where 2004 differs markedly from 1992 or 1945. This war isn’t over. Saddam’s terrorist training camps have closed down, but terrorism is still a real and immediate threat. One member of the axis of evil has fallen. Two have not.
Politicians competing for power in November will have to satisfy voters that they fully understand this and have plans to confront, not ignore, the problem.
Iran is a more pluralist society than pre-liberation Iraq. An invasion is probably not the way to solve the problem. There are reformist pro-western political groups there, which win elections when people are allowed to vote for them. These groups should be encouraged, and will certainly take heart from the coming elections in Iraq.
North Korea seems to have usable nuclear weapons. They do not have missiles capable of hitting the US, but nuclear bombs can be delivered in a suitcase. And they might well have missiles that could reach Seoul or Tokyo. The global economic depression that would follow such a strike would probably kill more people – through starvation, mostly in Asia and Africa – than the blast. The US, Japan, Russia and China all need to keep up pressure on North Korea.
But here, there is perhaps a more imaginative solution that just might achieve regime change. North Korean leader, Kim Jong Il, is a film buff. If Hollywood activists are really interested in world peace, they should offer him a job. He is an unreconstructed communist, so he would fit right in.
Copyright © Quentin Langley 20 July 2004