Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Father Knows Best

George Gedda of the Associated Press, via Juan Cole, recalls the "eerily prescient" predictions of George H.W. Bush regarding the likely results of an invasion of Iraq, as some had argued for during Gulf War I.

"Incalculable human and political costs" would have been the result, the senior Bush has said, if his administration had pushed all the way to Baghdad and sought to overthrow Saddam Hussein after the U.S.-led coalition ousted the Iraqi army from Kuwait during the Persian Gulf war in 1991.

"We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect rule Iraq," Bush wrote. "The coalition would have instantly collapsed. . . Going in and thus unilaterally exceeding the United Nations mandate would have destroyed the precedent of international response to aggression we hoped to establish.

"Had we gone the invasion route, the United States could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land. It would have been a dramatically different - and perhaps barren - outcome."
The elder Bush's analysis was seconded by James Baker, who served as Bush's Secretary of State. Baker wrote in a September 1996 opinion piece:

"Iraqi soldiers and civilians could be expected to resist an enemy seizure of their own country with a ferocity not previously demonstrated on the battlefield in Kuwait.

"Even if Hussein were captured and his regime toppled, U.S. forces would still have been confronted with the specter of a military occupation of indefinite duration to pacify the country and sustain a new government in power.

"Removing him from power might well have plunged Iraq into civil war, sucking U.S. forces in to preserve order. Had we elected to march on Baghdad, our forces might still be there."
Juan Cole adds his always valuable insight:

One thing Gedda neglects in his account is the enormous pressure the first Bush administration received from Middle East allies not to go in. The Saudis were afraid the Shiites would take over, strengthening Iran and perhaps becoming influential in the oil-rich al-Hasa province of Saudi Arabia, which traditionally had a Shiite majority. The Turks were afraid of Kurdish nationalism being unleashed, such that it might spread back to Turkey. The Jordanians were also afraid of chaos, which might blow back on them. The Egyptians objected to a Western army invading a Muslim country.

Even more recently, in 2002 - 2003, King Abdullah II would have much preferred that the war had never been fought. He warned Bush that it might cast the entire region into flames. Egypt's Hosni Mubarak warned that it would produce a thousand Bin Ladens. Was he wrong?
Unfortunately, it appears that Mubarak was right, as was Bush Sr. and James Baker. Come to think of it, the Saudis were also correct in their prediction of Shiite ascendancy and the related increase of Iranian influence. The fears of the Turks also appear dangerously close to fruition, as the Kurds are pushed ever closer to declaring independence. Jordan's concern for chaos reverberating back home, and Abdullah's subsequent warning of widespread regional conflict also seem far from the ravings of a scaremongerer. All the voices of these various interests, some in historic internecine conflict and some historically aligned, had the foresight and vision to understand the wider implications and reach the correct conclusions in a rare display of unity of message. In fact the only people who seem to have gotten this wrong reside in the current Bush administration.

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