Get Real Before Domino Democracy Breaks the Bank

August 28, 2003

Comment:  #488

Discussion Threads:  Comment #s: 433, 435, 487, 486, 484, 481, 479, 476, 475

Attached References:

[Ref.1] Saul Singer, "Domino democracy," Jerusalem Post, April 7, 2002

[Ref. 2] BRUCE MURPHY, "Neoconservative clout seen in U.S. Iraq policy," Milwaukee Sentinel, April 6, 2003

[Ref 3] William Kristol and Robert Kagan, "Do What It Takes in Iraq
The United States must be serious about its "generational commitment," The Weekly Standard, Volume 008, Issue 48, 09/01/2003

[Ref 4] Anthony H. Cordesman, "What is Next in Iraq? Military Developments, Military Requirements and Armed Nation Building," GulfWire Perspectives, August 22, 2003

In the attached op-ed, Brian Whitaker argues that the US risks a colossal failure in Iraq because our country's leadership is clinging to a neo-conservative dream.

That dreamaka Domino Democracyis based on the neo-Maoist vision that a thousand democratic flowers will bloom in the Middle East if we create a little chaos by toppling the despotic regime of Saddam Hussein. At the roots of this transformational vision is a concatenation of ideas and speculations built on the voluminous writings of Bernard Lewis, a widely published pro-Israeli scholar of the Middle East and Islam. Reference 1 below is an bubbling endorsement of the Lewis world view that appeared in the Jerusalem Post in April 2002, one year before the beginning of the 2nd Iraq War. [See also comment #s 433 for an essay by Lewis & 435 for a critique of Lewis's scholarship].

This vision, "Domino Democracy," together with the dream of socially re-engineering the Middle East, has been spearheaded by a coterie of neoconservative ideologues and their leading mouthpiece, the Weekly Standard, an opinion magazine bankrolled by the conservative media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, among others. Reference 2 below reports how the thinking and influence peddling of the neocons (aka the neoconmen) helped to build Mr. Bush's vision for a transformation of the Middle East via regime change in Iraq.

Now, as evidenced by an editorial in the Weekly Standard, the ideologues are running scared, because the thousand flowers in Iraq are beginning to look like a field of AK-47s and RPG-7s. The editors called for an increased commitment by the United States to their vision which, they say now would span a generation, and would be not unlike that which we made to rebuild Europe after the Second World War [See Reference 3 below].

So, the editors of the Weekly Standard, the men who so desperately wanted this war, the very men who portrayed it as a free lunch of Domino Democracy, refuse to question their dream, but instead now want more soldiers, lots more money, and more American civilians committed to bailing out their vision of Iraq. It is a call to arms that reminds me of the psychology in Sir Douglas Haig's strategy of trying to redeem failure by pouring more men into the Battle of the Somme after taking 60,000 casualties on first day.

Of course, the editors will not allow themselves to be caught in harm's way in Iraq. They will be too busy collecting large sums of money from lecture fees and the talk show circuits, while the ordinary soldiers and civilians, who are in harm's way, continue to spill blood for Domino Democracy ... and while ordinary taxpayers continue to watch their hard-earned dollars hemorrhage when those dollars should to be husbanded to pay for problems at home, like the increased costs of an aging population and a deteriorating social infrastructure.

Perhaps as Mr. Whitaker opines below, it is time to get real about Iraq and Domino Democracy. For one man's view of what may be coming next in Iraq, see Anthony Cordesman's analysis in Reference 4.

Iraq dispatch

Get real

Driven by a neo-conservative dream, the US is loath to relinquish control in Iraq. But the price for Washington's stubbornness may be failure, writes Brian Whitaker

The Guardian
Tuesday August 26, 2003,7792,1029595,00.html

Talk of impending failure in Iraq may sound like whinging when it comes from those who opposed the war, but last week the unspeakable seven-letter F-word was uttered by one of the bastions of US neo-conservative hawkery.

Under the headline "Do what it takes in Iraq", an editorial in the Weekly Standard called for a huge commitment of more troops, more money and more civilian workers to fend off disaster. [see Reference 3 below]

"Make no mistake," the magazine said. "The president's vision will, in the coming months, either be launched successfully in Iraq, or it will die in Iraq ... the future course of American foreign policy, American world leadership, and American security is at stake. Failure in Iraq would be a devastating blow to everything the United States hopes to accomplish."

Unfortunately for President Bush, this is true. He has left no face-saving escape route for himself or his country.

The neo-conservative solution is to devote to Iraq whatever it takes and for as long as it takes, for a whole generation if necessary. The Weekly Standard wants an immediate allocation of $60bn (£38.4bn) for reconstruction. If the Bush administration is serious, "then this is the necessary down payment," it said, while the official Washington line has been that reconstruction will be funded by Iraq's (still largely non-existent) oil revenue.

Only total commitment on a scale not seen since the end of the second world war can ensure US success in Iraq, the Weekly Standard insisted, but the problem for George Bush is that he can't give that commitment, at least not if he values his presidency.

Many US voters don't share the neo-conservatives' obsession with redesigning the Middle East with Texas as a model, and they can quite reasonably ask what they are getting for their money. For the $100bn or so spent on the invasion, they have seen the welcome departure of Saddam Hussein, but that was supposed to be the grand finale of the war, not the overture. Instead, they are stuck with an open-ended military occupation costing $4bn a month and which could drag on for years.

Despite the bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad last week and the continuing sabotage and killings, the US defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Bremer, the chief civilian administrator in Iraq, both insist there is no need for extra troops.

A different view came recently from James Dobbins, who helped to manage the reconstruction of Bosnia and Kosovo, and also served as a special envoy for Bush in Afghanistan. Dobbins looked at the size of the stabilisation forces previously sent to Bosnia and Kosovo - both considered successful operations - and adjusted the figures to take account of Iraq's larger population.

Using the Bosnian model, he concluded that to be effective in Iraq the US would need 258,000 troops on the ground. Using the Kosovo model, that figure rose to 526,000. The current deployment in Iraq of some 170,000 troops, of which 148,000 are US forces, suggests a serious shortfall.

But the Bush administration can do little about it without getting egg on its face. The three possible options are (a) send more US troops, (b) create a multinational force under UN auspices or (c) reconstitute the Iraqi army.

Although neo-conservative dogma favours the all-American option, the US does not have troops to spare, and training more would take time and money. Seeking to expand the army for a war that was supposedly won four months ago also would be far too hazardous politically as a presidential election approaches.

Militarily, the UN route is a worse option, raising a host of issues about the differences in language, capabilities and equipment of a multinational force, as well as difficulties with command and logistics. The US resists the UN option for ideological reasons.

That leaves the option of reconstituting the Iraqi army that was disbanded as part of the sweeping US de-Baathification programme. Currently, most of its 400,000 officers and men are being paid between $50 and $150 a month to stay at home.

Recalling the Iraqi troops looks like a quick and easy solution, but the US insists there is no point at present. Apart from questions of allegiance, they don't have the required training, officials say. So the Iraqi army is being rebuilt slowly from scratch. It is expected to number just 12,000 men by the end of this year, and 40,000 by the end of next year.

For anyone interested in knowing more about the military options, Anthony Cordesman of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies explores them in detail in his paper, What is next in Iraq.  [see Reference 4 below]

When Rumsfeld and Bremer say there is no need for extra troops, what they really mean is that it is preferable to tolerate the current level of casualties and sabotage than it is to expand the security force. They are also gambling on a gradual reduction in violence as those responsible for attacks are rounded up or killed, and hidden supplies of explosives and ammunition start to run out.

The danger, of course, is that it won't turn out like that. Most of the trouble so far has come from Sunni Arabs around Baghdad but the Shia communities - who form the majority - now look increasingly restive. And then there are the foreign militants, an unknown quantity at present and potentially a highly destabilising influence. Efforts to placate ordinary Iraqis by repairing the country's infrastructure could also worsen the security situation, by creating more soft targets in need of protection.

There is another danger to stability in Iraq that is less often mentioned. It is Bremer's Coalition Provisional Authority. The CPA is the temporary civilian power, but it is not just paving the way for a new Iraqi government. It is trying to reshape the country by implementing the neo-conservatives' "clean break" philosophy.

"Clean break" is a truly revolutionary approach. There are no quick fixes. If something doesn't work, you knock it down and start again. One example of this is the extreme lengths that de-Baathification has gone to. Ghassan Salamé, a UN political advisor in Iraq reported that 1,832 university professors and 14,000 secondary school heads had been sacked, even though most of them had only joined the Baath party in order to get a job.

According to the French magazine, Le Nouvel Observateur, it's much the same with dentists. But if you've got toothache, you don't really care whether the man with the drill is a Baathist or not.

Politics apart, there is certainly a lot that ought to change in Iraq: rooting out corruption, making government accountable and transparent, etc, etc, etc. But as a maximalist approach, "clean break" also maximises the risk of failure. The neo-conservatives are wedded to it because of their wider agenda - to create a western-orientated democracy in Iraq that can be exported to Iran, Syria and other "problem" countries in the region.

But turning Iraq into a neo-conservative paradise - a process euphemistically and patronisingly described as "nation-building" - cannot be done in a hurry, and that is the heart of the CPA's problem. Bremer keeps urging patience, but time is not on his side.

The main political divide in Iraq at present is not between Sunni and Shia, or between Arabs and Kurds. It is between those who are willing to accept the US occupation in good faith and those who aren't. Currently, the US still has the benefit of the doubt, but the longer it seeks to retain control, the more that will change.

US reluctance to cede control to Iraqis stems from a fear that the wrong sort of people might get into power and blow the project off course. But delays can blow it off course too. Iraqi members of the new governing council - a largely cosmetic body despite its name - must consider their own credibility with the electorate. There's a limit to how long they can co-operate with the US and have nothing to show for it.

Not ceding control to Iraqis also creates another problem. It ensures that all the many grievances and grumbles of ordinary people are directed against the United States. Giving real power to the governing council would redirect complaints and focus attention on possible solutions. A report, Governing Iraq, issued yesterday by the International Crisis Group, highlighted the CPA's problems.

"It is not realistic, on all available evidence to date," it said, "to expect the CPA to be capable by itself of adequately caring for the population's essential needs and successfully ruling Iraq. Nor is it realistic to imagine that Iraqis will view the present interim governing council as a credible, legitimate and empowered institution."

The report proposed restricting the CPA's activities to overseeing security, law and order, and reconstruction. The governing council would then take charge of day-to-day government through an appointed cabinet, and would become accountable not to the CPA but to the UN.

That, of course, would be a bitter pill for Bush to swallow, and it would signal the end of the neo-conservative daydream. But it might be the only way to avoid the F-word.


Chuck Spinney

"A popular government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives." - James Madison, from a letter to W.T. Barry, August 4, 1822

[Disclaimer: In accordance with 17 U.S.C. 107, this material is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only.]

Reference 1

Domino democracy

By Saul Singer
Jerusalem Post
April 7, 2002


Lewis seems to be in his prime. Not only does he speak in perfectly formed, British-accented cadences, but with the relish of a scholar who is enjoying the dramatic expansion of his already oracle-like status. In these grim times, his survey of prospects for the region in the near future is at once sober and uplifting.


How would all this affect our more immediate opponents, the Palestinians?

The loss of one or both of their largest radical allies would obviously weaken extremist Palestinian forces. But Lewis goes beyond this to a prospect that could not seem more remote at the moment: Palestinian democracy.


Lewis seems to be a proponent of what was derided as the "domino theory" when applied to southeast Asia during the Vietnam conflict. Despite the ridicule heaped upon it then, the idea that both positive and negative developments can prove contagious throughout a region has been strengthened by subsequent history. In southeast Asia, the fall of South Vietnam did lead to totalitarian dictatorships in neighboring Laos and Cambodia. The collapse of the Soviet Union certainly triggered the wave of freedom that swept Central Europe.

If anything deserves ridicule, then it is the view that systematic change can be wrought without toppling the first domino of Arab tyrannies - Saddam Hussein's Iraq. The likely alternative to the West playing this game in earnest is not the status quo, but dominoes toppling the other direction.

Reference 2

Neoconservative clout seen in U.S. Iraq policy

Milwaukee Sentinel
April 6, 2003


The neoconservatives differ from traditional conservatives in favoring a more activist role for government and a more aggressive foreign policy.


Whether Bush ends up sticking with the neoconservative playbook remains to be seen, but a wide range of observers suggest it is a key part of his current game plan.


But it is Kristol's Weekly Standard, bankrolled by conservative media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, that has popularized these viewpoints.


In 1997, the Standard's cover story announced that "Saddam Must Go." In 1998, the Standard published a letter to then-President Clinton, calling on him to remove Hussein from power. The letter was signed by 18 people, eight of whom would join the Bush administration in senior positions, including Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Richard Perle, who serves on the influential Defense Policy Board and was until last month its chairman.


Neoconservatives often talk about "draining the swamp" in the Middle East. Once Hussein is removed, Hudson Institute co-founder Max Singer has predicted, "there will be an earthquake throughout the region" that could topple the leadership of Saudi Arabia.


A recent story in Time suggests that Cheney became convinced by his discussions with Fouad Ajami, professor and director of Middle East studies at Johns Hopkins University, that the people of Iraq would "erupt in joy" at the arrival of the Americans....

Reference 3

Do What It Takes in Iraq

The United States must be serious about its "generational commitment."

by William Kristol and Robert Kagan
The Weekly Standard , Volume 008, Issue 48
[From the September 1 / September 8, 2003 issue]


In short, while it is indeed possible that, with a little luck, the United States can muddle through to success in Iraq over the coming months, the danger is that the resources the administration is devoting to Iraq right now are insufficient, and the speed with which they are being deployed is insufficiently urgent. These failings, if not corrected soon, could over time lead to disaster.


Reference 4

What is Next in Iraq?

Military Developments, Military Requirements and Armed Nation Building

By Anthony H. Cordesman
GulfWire Perspectives
August 22, 2003

It now sees likely that the United States will face some form of low intensity conflict in Iraq for at least 6-12 more months.


The White House also is clearly trying to put a political spin on the issue of defining the enemy for both domestic and foreign political reasons by labeling the opposition as "terrorists" and linking it as much as possible to Afghanistan, outside Islamic extremists and Al Qaida. "Terrorism" is a hot button word that condemns the attackers, ties them to 9/11, avoids any mention of nationalism and the problems in nation building, avoids the issue of why the United States wasn't better prepared to deal with the problem right after the war, and presumably wins more international support. Anti-terrorism is popular; Vietnam, Lebanon, and Somalia are not.


The problem with these arguments is that the entire U.S. force structure is under severe pressure in spite of major increases in defense spending.


The validity of these arguments lies in the fact that 300,000 young men and women who lack proper training, language skills, and area expertise are not twice as good as 150,000.In fact, simply throwing more warm bodies into the mix - all of which require force protection and support -- and may complicate the problem more than they are worth. Force quality is clearly more important than force quantity, and alienating more of the Iraqi people is a risk the United States cannot afford.


The real answer is that none of these positions are likely to be adequate. The key missions the United States and its allies must succeed in are (a) develop the offensive capability to win a low intensity conflict in central Iraq, (b) carry out armed nation building in that area, and (c) prevent the broadening of the war to include the Shi'ites and ethnic/sectarian fighting in the north. The United States and its allies must also begin immediately. They cannot wait to create new forces and cadres or bring in troops from the outside.


There is no conceivable way the United States can protect everything or even enough by focusing on defensive action.


The key to winning in this offensive mission is not numbers, but intelligence, skilled cadres of expert troops, area and language specialists, mixed with constant civic action, and political warfare to win heats and minds. ...


Dr. Anthony Cordesman holds the Arleigh Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and is Co-Director of the Center's Middle East Program. He is also a military analyst for ABC and a Professor of National Security Studies at Georgetown. He directs the assessment of global military balance, strategic energy developments, and CSIS' Dynamic Net Assessment of the Middle East. He is the author of books on the military lessons of the Iran-Iraq war as well as the Arab-Israeli military balance and the peace process, a six-volume net assessment of the Gulf, transnational threats, and military developments in Iran and Iraq. He analyzes U.S. strategy and force plans, counter-proliferation issues, arms transfers, Middle Eastern security, economic, and energy issues.

Dr. Cordesman served as a national security analyst for ABC News for the 1990-91 Gulf War, Bosnia, Somalia, Operation Desert Fox, and Kosovo. He was the Assistant for National Security to Senator John McCain and a Wilson Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars at the Smithsonian. He has served in senior positions in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Department of State, the Department of Energy, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. His posts include acting as the Civilian Assistant to the Deputy Secretary of Defense, Director of Defense Intelligence Assessment, Director of Policy, Programming, and Analysis in the Department of Energy, Director of Project ISMILAID, and as the Secretary of Defense's representative on the Middle East Working Group.

Dr. Cordesman has also served in numerous overseas posts. He was a member of the U.S. Delegation to NATO and a Director on the NATO International Staff, working on Middle Eastern security issues. He served in Egypt, Iran, Lebanon, Turkey, the UK, and West Germany. He has been an advisor to the Commander-in-Chief of U.S. Forces in Europe, and has traveled extensively in the Gulf and North Africa.