MISGUIDED RECONCILIATION WITH BAATHISTS
By Dr. Michael Rubin
Many single out Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) head L. Paul Bremer's orders disbanding the Iraqi Army and implementing de-Baathification, the removal from their jobs of members of Saddam Hussein's political party, as reasons for the current quagmire. They say these orders left trained, armed cadres no choice but to fight. Through repetition alone, this analysis has been defined as reality. Too bad, then, that facts get in the way.
Bremer was the wrong man at the wrong time, but his dissolution of the army merely confirmed fact: Tens of thousands of Iraqis conscripted by Hussein had abandoned their uniforms weeks before. Top-level officers were complicit in gross human-rights violations. Mid-level officers? Bremer recruited them to staff the new Iraqi security forces. There were mistakes, though. Before the war, the U.S. State Department stymied plans to train a vetted Iraqi officer corps to take charge of the army and maintain postwar security. Training Iraqis to maintain security, they argued, would undercut diplomacy.
Condemning de-Baathification is also counterproductive. The Baath Party's ideological roots lie in World War II Fascism. While many of the two million members joined only to qualify for jobs, de-Baathification affected only the 40,000 complicit in abuse. The idea that de-Baathification hampered reconstruction is false. Under Hussein, promotions were not based on ability, but on loyalty. That Iraqi schools and hospitals had become so decrepit was the result of poor management. Don't blame sanctions: Iraq had billions to spend on food, medicine and infrastructure, but chose instead to build palaces and prisons.
While it's fashionable to say de-Baathification caused the Sunni insurgency, in reality, terrorist violence is proportional to that policy's reversal. In order to maintain security after the April, 2004, siege of Fallujah, the Coalition restored former Baathists. Car bombings increased 300 percent within a month. In Mosul, once deemed a model city of reconciliation, General David Petraeus appointed senior Baathist General Mohammed Kheiri Barhawi to be Police Chief. Petraeus' decision was a triumph not of pragmatism, but of na´vetÚ. Barhawi provided intelligence, equipment, and arms to terrorists, finally handing over every police station in the city to the insurgents in November, 2004.
Far from winning the hearts and minds of Iraqis, re-Baathification antagonized them. Not all Iraqis had joined the party, and the refuseniks suffered for their morality. Non-Baathist PhDs could not even work as schoolteachers and had to beg for food. After Saddam Hussein's fall, they joined schools in droves, eager to rebuild their country. Re-Baathification meant firing competent new teachers to reinstall corrupted predecessors who, as the Baath Party archives show, had created blacklists of 14-year-old students under their charge.
Realists may say foreign policy should be centered on U.S. interests, not justice. Here, too, though, re-Baathification has failed. It has not assuaged insurgency. Not only does offering concessions to violence encourage violence, but also, by extending an olive branch to unrepentant Baathists, diplomats may have furthered Iranian influence and worsened militia violence. Many Iraqi Shiites distrust Washington, not for occupying Iraq in 2003, but for failing to do so 12 years earlier, when the Shiites rose up to oust Hussein, only to suffer retaliatory massacres. It should not surprise that Iraqi Shiites look at U.S. outreach to Baathists as a sign that the younger Bush will betray them, just as his father once did.
Tehran exploits such fears. On September 2, 2006, an Iranian news agency reported that President Bush visited Saddam Hussein to talk about his restoration. That the story is false is irrelevant; many Shiites see re-Baathification as evidence of the story's plausibility. They turn to the Shiite militias as a hedge against a repeat of 1991. For the sake of appeasing 40,000 Baathists, proponents of reconciliation risk antagonizing 16 million Shiites.
Amid great American sacrifice, the decision to liberate Iraq has come to symbolize the dangers of unintended consequences. Critics say the Iraq campaign increased terrorism and not constitutional democracy. History will decide. But unintended consequences are not limited to the decision to initiate war. Sometimes, premature reconciliation, no matter how well-meaning, can do far more harm than good.
The Problem of Rogue States:
Iraq as a Case History
National Strategy for Victory in Iraq
Middle East -- Arabs, Arab States,
& Their Middle Eastern Neighbors
The Middle East & the Problem of Iran
Islamism & Jihadism -- The Threat of Radical Islam
Page Three Page Two Page One
War & Peace in the Real World
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Islamist Terrorist Attacks on the U.S.A.
Osama bin Laden & the Islamist Declaration of War
Against the U.S.A. & Western Civilization
Islamist International Terrorism &
U.S. Intelligence Agencies
Counterterrorism & U.S. National Security
U.S. National Security Strategy
Dr. Michael Rubin, a Ph.D. in History (Yale University) and a specialist in Middle Eastern politics, Islamic culture and Islamist ideology, is Editor of the Middle East Quarterly and a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research. Dr Rubin is author of Into the Shadows: Radical Vigilantes in Khatami's Iran (Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 2001) and is co-author, with Dr. Patrick Clawson, of Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005). Dr. Rubin served as political advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad (2003-2004); staff advisor on Iran and Iraq in the Office of the U.S. Secretary of Defense (2002-2004); visiting lecturer in the Departments of History and International Relations at Hebrew University of Jerusalem (2001-2002); visiting lecturer at the Universities of Sulaymani, Salahuddin, and Duhok in Iraqi Kurdistan (2000-2001); Soref Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (1999-2000); and visiting lecturer in the Department of History at Yale University (1999-2000). He has been a fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations, the Leonard Davis Institute at Hebrew University, and the Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs.
The foregoing article by Dr. Rubin was originally published in the Philadelphia, October 19, 2006, and can be found on the Internet website maintained by the Middle East Forum.
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