Monday, March 25, 2002

Iraq - and the real Cheney

To quote from the Weekly Standard (no less):

A year and a half ago, Tim Russert asked Cheney if he ever regretted not taking Saddam out during the Gulf War. "The fact of the matter is," Cheney told Russert, "the only way you could have done that would be to go to Baghdad and occupy Iraq. If we'd done that, the U.S. would have been all alone. We would not have had the support of . . . the Arab nations that fought alongside us in Kuwait. . . . Conversations I had with leaders in the region afterwards--they all supported the decision that was made not to go to Baghdad. They were concerned that we not get into a position where we shifted instead of being the leader of an international coalition to roll back Iraqi aggression to one in which we were an imperialist power, willy-nilly moving into capitals in that part of the world taking down governments."

=> Actually, this is bullshit, as I have pointed out in the past. If the Bush administration had really wanted to bring down Saddam Hussein and his regime, there was no need to "go to Baghdad." All they had to do was knock out the Republican Guard (which was almost trapped, but allowed to escape) and ground the Iraqi helicopters as part of the cease-fire. Then the Ba'ath regime would have been swept away by the massive revolt that broke out right after the defeat in Kuwait, backed by the great majority of the Iraqi population.

Instead, the decision was made to let the regime put down the revolt (with great slaughter, the destruction of the cities of southern Iraq by the Republican guard, more than a million Kurdish refugees fleeing over the mountains to Iran and Turkey in the middle of the winter, etc.). What terrified the Bush people (and the Arab "allies" of the
U.S.--Cheney is right about that) was precisely the idea of Saddam Hussein's regime being overthrown by a genuine popular revolution. They wanted the regime to survive, with the forlorn hope that Saddam himself would be overthrown by a military coup from within the regime. (This represented, of course, a disastrous misreading of the KIND of regime they were dealing with; clearly, they had no idea of how totalitarian regimes work--as opposed to run-or-the-mill dictatorships, oligarchies, simple gangster regimes, and the like.) Or, if Saddam Hussein wasn't toppled bu a coup, they preferred having him continue in power to having him be overthrown by a revolution.

Now, part of the reason that Bush & Cheney & the rest (along with the Arab regimes, the Turks, and most of the Europeans) were unenthusiastic about letting the regime be overthrown by a revolution was that they were frightened that it could lead to uncontrolled and unpredictable chaos, civil war, the disintegration of Iraq, and independent Kurdistan (horrors!), and so on ... and that the consequences were potentially "destabilizing" and disastrous. I think the decision was wrong (not just cynical but, it's now clear, self-defeating as well). But these were not obviously stupid concerns, and if Cheney (and Scowcroft, and Powell, and the rest) were honest about it, he could have said to Russert: "Well, given everything, we thought it was just too dangerous to let Saddam Hussein's regime be overthrown by the Iraqi people in a revolution. And if a post-revolutionary Iraq had collapsed into chaos, how many Americans would really have been willing to make a long-term commitment to helping reconstruct the country--which might well have included the need for some kind of military occupation to maintain order?" That, at least, would be the basis for a serious discussion.

But the argument that the U.S. would have had to "go to Baghdad" to overthrow Saddam Hussein is just baloney, and I'm sure Cheney knows it. Saddam Hussein was about to get blown away by the Iraqi people, and they saved his regime. (Yes, they probably hoped that he, individually, would get replaced by some other Ba'athist thug ... but he had the last laugh.)

Jeff Weintraub