In the frenzy to keep up with the invasion and the whirlwind of speculation and second-guessing that wars always generate around them, a few simple realities need to be noted, and some basic questions need to be asked.
First are the bad predications. Let us recall them before the dust of history thickens and we conveniently forget. We were told that France, Germany, Russia, Turkey, and even the Arab world, would sheepishly jump on board the American war-wagon as soon as the war broke out. That, clearly, has not panned out. We were told that NATO, after a bit of capricious wrangling, would also join the US-UK fold and authorize the war. Again, a bad predication. The UN, we were told, would bend the American way when push comes to shove. Nothing of the sort has happened. (The UN is now being pressured by members to issue a condemnation of the US invasion.) We were told that southern Iraq would rise up against Saddam in a swell for freedom as soon as news of the US invasion reached them. Again, a clear bad prediction. We were told that the Iraqi regime would implode from within. Another wrong prediction. We were told that the “Arab street” would watch quietly from the sidelines, and even pray for Saddam’s downfall. The latest news, according to the New York Times, is that even Saudi businessmen are now cheering Saddam Hussein on, praising him and praying for his safety whenever he appeared on television. Meanwhile, anger in the “Arab street” é let alone the “Arab basement” é against perceived American arrogance and hypocrisy is surpassing the Jenin height of exactly one year ago: an explosive mix is being fueled by images of American fire power unleashed against an already devastated people in the name of upholding UN resolutions, while Israel continues its assault on the even more devastated Palestinians, in defiance of dozens of UN resolutions. Add to that the powerful nationalistic feelings against a clear-cut act of invasion against a sister country é something that incredibly enough was altogether left out of US pre-war calculations é and there you have a stunning misreading of how the Arab world and the world at large would react to the invasion.
Second, it is now clear, no matter how this war ends, that it takes a whole lot to get Saddam Hussein to use his weapons of mass destruction. His country is under invasion by forces bent not only on removing him, but on killing him, his family, and anyone else who stands in the way. And yet, he has refrained from using the weapons. Whether he will use them or not when US and British ground troops begin storming Baghdad remains to be seen. But what is clear is that the notion that Saddam Hussein was simply beyond containment, let alone that he would have used weapon of mass destruction for offensive purposes given the American Damocles over his head, has now been decisively discredited. (Of course, the other explanation is that Saddam Hussein does not have weapons of mass destruction to use in the first place!)
Third are the basic questions. First, should the Americans and the British remove the current regime, who will recognize the new Iraqi government once it has been installed? In the Afghanistan invasion, few countries cared about how the new government was installed, or who was part of it, and fewer still had an interest in challenging it. The Iraq invasion is an altogether different story. The French and the rest of the opposition are standing up against the invasion not only because they oppose the war solution, but mainly because they oppose the new world-order that this war is meant to usher and impose. Their struggle against this new order has just begun, and you can be sure that it will be waged on various fronts after the military conflict has stabilized. One of those fronts is the debate over the legitimacy of the new Iraqi government and who will recognize it.
Another basic question: what does “military victory” mean, and how will we know that one has truly obtained? Clearly, the Iraqi regime has decided that it will simply not be shocked and awed into surrender. If no official ceremony takes place, where the leadership sits down in a tent with Tommy Franks and signs a cease-fire, how will we know the military conflict is over? All the scenarios so far from the White House and its supporters have divided the time-line into two: first the war, and then the post-war. What if the war never really ends, and the US-UK forces are trapped in guerilla warfare against forces fighting to repulse an invader? What then?
No doubt, a host of other basic questions will come up as this tragic episode unfolds. What is clear, however, is that whoever has been advising the president has done a studding job of misreading the intensity of international opposition, of underestimating Iraqi resolve to fight back, has over-estimated how much can be achieved through brute force, and has simply not thought through what it means to win the war, let alone the peace that must follow. Perhaps the president should consider doing what he did to his economic team: fire his foreign policy advisers and start all over again.