The Magazine

Be Careful What You Wish For

From the September 15, 2003 issue: Depending on foreign troops in Iraq is asking for trouble.

Sep 15, 2003, Vol. 9, No. 01 • By REUEL MARC GERECHT
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IN THE DEMOCRATIC and Republican stampede to find foreign troops to join American GIs in Iraq, virtually no regard has been paid to whether the deployment of these soldiers is wise given the history, culture, and prejudices of the Iraqi people. Both Secretary of State Colin Powell and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld seem to believe that the United States and Iraq would be much better off if a wide array of foreign soldiers--especially Muslims from such countries as Turkey, Morocco, Egypt, Pakistan, and Bangladesh--backed up American GIs. Secretary Powell's views, of course, have been quite constant. He has essentially mirrored the opinion of the Democratic foreign-policy elite, which shares, on most issues, the preferences and reflexes of the foreign service.

This professional foreign-policy crowd wants to internationalize the conflict because liberal internationalists define success first and foremost through an institutionalized multilateral process. Consensus-building for them is in itself a moral good. Their generally Eurocentric lib-left disposition also makes it difficult for them to see success in any undertaking that seriously distances the western Europeans from Americans, as have both of America's Iraq wars. The truths that Osama bin Laden articulated in his manifestos--that America under Clinton had been, in the holy warriors' eyes, afraid and in retreat--understandably do not sit happily with Democrats. They'd much rather believe that American assertiveness and unilateralism provoke ill will. Most of the Democratic foreign-policy elite would have instinctively inclined toward the Brazilian U.N. diplomat Sergio Vieira de Mello when he remarked, a few days before he was slain by a suicide-bomber, that the Iraqi people viewed the United Nations positively, but not the Americans.

Foreign troops in Iraq will, the Democrats fervently hope, give us "cover" from increasing Iraqi violence and discontent. They will make an American occupation of Iraq seem more legitimate to the world and, ipso facto, more legitimate to Iraqis. International cooperation is thus pragmatically and spiritually the only way out for America in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East.

What the right believes about Iraq and foreign troops is much less intellectually consistent and generated more by panic. The recent bombings in Baghdad and Najaf have convulsed the Defense Department and the White House. Slowly but surely, the U.S. military and its civilian leadership have begun to contemplate an ugly possible truth: that most Iraqi Arab Sunnis, who were the power base for Saddam Hussein's rule, don't want to let go of Sunni domination of Iraqi society. It had been hoped in Washington that Arab Sunnis, who, after all, had also suffered under Saddam's totalitarianism, wouldn't actively support former Baathists and other potentially violent anti-American forces.

However, it appears that Arab Sunnis in Iraq have not collectively and in decisive numbers rejected the past and embraced a nonviolent path to some kind of democratic order--as have the vast majority of Kurds and Shiites. An increasingly sophisticated insurgency by these anti-American Sunni forces seems to be under way. This insurgency may prove short-lived; it certainly will if an overwhelming majority of Iraqi Sunnis reject the violence of the Baathists, the native jihadists, and the foreign holy warriors crossing the Syrian and Iranian borders. Hundreds of foreign holy warriors couldn't clandestinely live for long in Iraq's Sunni belt without a significant number of the surrounding population acquiescing to their presence. One of the main reasons why these same foreign holy warriors have not been crossing the Iran/Iraq border in the Shiite regions of the country is surely that the Shiites are hostile to their intentions.