TCS Daily

Explain Game

By Jean-Christophe Mounicq - April 15, 2003 12:00 AM

Saddam Hussein's regime has collapsed and Americans and Britons are welcomed as liberators by Iraqis. The coalition forces have not only defeated Saddam Hussein but also the anti-war camp led by Jacques Chirac and Dominique de Villepin. But from Europe's perspective, Bush administration's failure since the start of the war in Iraq to clearly articulate its goals has raised a lot of doubts about the impending end game. Even after a US victory, the lack of popular support around the world may render the peace fragile. Washington has to address the concerns of the international anti-war movement.

In our view, the US could win public support simply by explaining that the war in Iraq is a momentous foreign policy initiative that aims to re-shape the entire Middle East and strike at the core of Islamist terrorism.

In the Middle East, the US and the West in general have for too long relied on the duplicitous Saudis for guidance. Meanwhile, the region has become the most dangerous on the planet and threatens global civilization. It seethes with economic inequality, violence, and xenophobia. Bush's policy recognizes these errors and seeks to bring this area back into the world community by breaking through the spreading obscurantism.

This policy is linked to 9/11. The world's superpower discovered itself vulnerable to Islamist and state-sponsored terrorism. Bush's administration believes that the day an enemy state possesses weapons of mass destruction, terrorists will be able to get their hands on them. Therefore it would have been irresponsible to wait for a biological, chemical or nuclear 9/11, and the concept of preventive strikes appeared logical.

In the wake of 9/11, the administration could have used demagoguery to convince a traumatized American public it would be necessary to destroy countries that play a double game with terrorism and whose populations are largely devoted to Islamism and fanaticism.

Instead, the President rejected the facile "clash of civilizations" argument, considering Wahhabism, Islamism, and Muslim integrationism as degenerate forms of a religion, Islam, which has its place in the world. "Islam is peace," proclaimed Bush, preferring to rely on the prowess of the American military to conduct a series of relatively "clean" actions that would minimize the number of casualties.

Beyond Afghanistan and Iraq the ultimate objective is to pacify and democratize the Middle East, the forge of terrorism and the financial center of Islamism. A US victory in Iraq will redefine the geopolitics of the Middle East. Bush's gamble hinges on the hope that a liberated Iraq will be the precursor of a renewed region, more open to the exterior, more prosperous, and more likely to take its place in the global community.

To ensure the success of this ambitious plan the US must install military camps and air bases in Iraq and keep them there for a while. The US would become the primary regional military power. From such a vantage point the Americans could control every country in the region that plays a double game with terrorists.

A US victory also would assault the Saudis' privileged position. It would have been difficult to militarily engage the land of Bin Laden and most of the 9/11 terrorists, because it is also the land of Mecca and Medina. But a victory in Iraq will diminish Saudi influence. Regeneration of Iraqi petroleum exports under a pro-Western regime in Baghdad could break OPEC, deprive the Saudis of their control over the price per barrel, and stabilize the price of energy. It would also confine the sources of Islamist financing.

Winning the war will not be that easy. Winning the peace will be difficult. But those who believe that the intervention in Iraq will provoke a new outbreak of Islamist terrorism are no different from those who did not want to provoke Hitler in the 1930s. The retreat of the American army would have been seen as a victory by Saddam Hussein and by Middle-Eastern terrorists. If the pacifists had won, the world would have harvested more terrorism, war and dishonor. There was no real alternative plan to encourage the evolution of the Middle East and weaken Islamist terrorists.

France and other members of the UN Security Council should have understood that the risks of inaction are greater than the risks of action. To say no today to relatively clean wars is to risk that tomorrow terrorists acquire weapons of mass destruction...and leave no other choice but massive retaliation.

The diplomatic game in the UN was leading to a dead end. The Bush Administration had the lucidity to surpass this obstacle. It still needs to explain its policy to the world.

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