Hoarding Power in Iraq

Why the continued resistance by Bush Administration officials--especially in the Defense Department--to "internationalizing" the burdens of the occupation of post-Saddam Iraq?

Why the continued resistance by Bush Administration officials--especially in the Defense Department--to "internationalizing" the burdens of the occupation of post-Saddam Iraq?  Despite the welcome arrival of the Polish-led international division, it is unlikely that estimates of 30,000 non-U.S. troops to be in place by fall can be met.  In other words, despite the rhetoric, significant burden-sharing among America's friends and partners for the stability and welfare of Iraq is not occurring.  Just this week, Pakistan and a number of Arab states declined to offer troops to assist in the stabilization of Iraq.  The reality is plain: we cannot expect any major help from other powers--in terms of troops, specialists or funds--as long as the United States is not prepared to share responsibility for the occupation.

Yet sharing the burdens is in the fundamental interests of the Bush Administration.  Afghanistan remains unsettled, and costs from the Iraqi operation continue to mount.  The U.S. has to pay increasing attention to what is occurring on the Korean Peninsula--a subject that has received a good deal of attention in these pages over the last few weeks. What is so important about keeping other leading powers from having substantive roles to play in post-war Iraq that it is worth risking American blood and treasure?

After all, the principle objectives have been met.  Saddam Hussein's regime has been decapitated and removed from power.  The United States military has operational control of the country, facilitating both the search for weapons of mass destruction and the elimination of any remaining terrorist cadres associated with the former regime.  What further objectives does the United States hope to achieve?  The United States removed a threat--but establishing a regime capable of promoting additional U.S. objectives is far more difficult.  And what are these additional objectives? A preponderance of influence in Iraq's oil industry, use of Iraqi territory as a new strategic jumping-off point for projecting U.S. military power in the greater Middle East, or facilitating an Iraqi-Israeli peace agreement, perhaps on terms envisioned by the Sharon government?

But a heavy hand is not required.  U.S. companies exercise such a degree of clout and influence in the international oil business that American firms will play a major role in the restoration and expansion of the Iraqi hydrocarbons industry--it is not necessary to micromanage the creation of a new Iraqi administration to ensure that outcome.

Nor does close supervision over Iraqi reconstruction ensure that a viable agreement could ever be reached between Israel and Iraq.  Take the lesson of Lebanon in May 1982.  A carefully-crafted treaty (again, one in which General Sharon played a role in drafting) could not survive the political reality that conditions were not ripe for any sort of comprehensive agreement.  The United States would have to remain involved in Iraqi affairs for years to try and prop up such an agreement.  (It is a telling statistic that in Jordan--a stable, pro-American, reform-oriented Arab monarchy--that more than 80 percent of the populace would support abrogation of the 1994 Treaty if it ever were submitted to a popular vote.)  The most important thing, from Israel's perspective, is that Saddam's financial support for Palestinian rejectionist forces have been cut off. 

So, by continuing to insist on a high and close degree of U.S. control over Iraqi affairs, it raises the suspicion that Iraq was a not a country to be liberated but a prize to be seized. Do we still hope that we can use Iraq as some sort of laboratory for testing out our theories on nation-building and democratization in the Middle East?  Are we afraid that our vision for Iraq will be compromised by involving other actors in the reconstruction process (in anything other but slight, supporting roles)? 

It is troubling that many of the same people who now insist on maintaining very tight and unimpeded U.S. control over Iraq are the same ones who so badly underestimated postwar pacification needs--in other words, that U.S. forces would be greeted as liberators and that it would be relatively easy to create a post-Saddam government.  Now, the great worry seems to be that power not be transferred to the Iraqi people in general, but to specific and tailored groups of Iraqis prepared to serve as American clients.

But whether such an effort is sustainable and serves long-term American interests has not been addressed.  Meanwhile, U.S. lives, resources and prestige continue to hemorrhage in Iraq.


Nikolas Gvosdev is editor of In the National Interest. He serves as Executive Editor of the print version of The National Interest and is a Senior Fellow for Strategic Studies at The Nixon Center.