From Berlin to Baghdad

Article published on Jan. 18, 2008
Article published on Jan. 18, 2008
From Berlin to Baghdad 1. The end of history The convenient beginning is the end - the famous "end of history" of Francis Fukuyama - the convenient end being the beginning, the real beginning of a new era of democracy, tolerance, respect and freedom.
The crumbling of the Soviet Union surprised the vast majority of the observers and experts that had to struggle to find a convenient explanation for the sudden end of the longest war ever fought without a single shot (that is, if we only think of the main direct battle field). Some saw the wisdom in Ronald Reagan tough stance, some others on the long containment policy - trying to forget how disastrously it failed in Southeast Asia, Africa and the Middle East - and Mr. Fukuyama decided to amuse himself using the philosophical Hegelian dialectics of Marxism to explain the failure of its own creation. Somehow, what can only be read as an act of humour, became the most significant masterpiece on the "post - Berlin wall" doctrine, and most in the West decided to believe in the charade that made the advent of democracy so dead certain as the socialism and communism had been in the historic determinism of the Hegel-Marx cocktail (whose main cook was actually Stalin). So democracy was to rule everywhere, if you would just allow the forces of history to carry out their job.

2. History refuses to end In general terms, in the absence of any political strategy, democracy basically flourished where it had old roots but did not prevail where these roots did not exist. Some important exceptions and qualifications need however to be highlighted. The number one successful exception was clearly in East-Asia, with Taiwan and South Korea becoming fully fledged democracies and several of their neighbouring countries giving important steps in this direction; The most important qualification has to do with India, to a certain extent Mexico and Brazil, where democracy existed before, but was particularly reinforced afterwards; Other successes can be pointed out; the most spectacular to me (perhaps because I know it personally) is Cape Verde. Although a very poor country with no natural resources whatsoever, the democratic system in this small archipelago state is first class. Russia, Central Asia, nearly all of Sub-Saharan Africa, a large chunk of East Asia and a disturbingly growing slice of Latin America failed the democracy test. Of particular importance was the democratic failure in China, as it is the best example of the failure of the conventional wisdom. Here, the historic deterministic logic assumed that one just had to wait for the average Chinese to get sufficiently rich for the totalitarian state to be abandoned like a snake abandons its old skin. The possibility of this wealth becoming the motor not only of dictatorship in China but in the rest of the World was never considered as a strong possibility, but this was indeed the case. Recent events confirming China as one of the champions of World dictatorships from Burma to Zimbabwe are an evidence of how wealth did indeed become the driving force for dictatorship rather than democracy.

3. Democracy out of the Greater Middle-East Even before the fall of the wall, but particularly afterwards, democracy had a no-go area: the Greater Middle-East. Saudi Arabia and other conservative regimes in the area were believed to be the guarantee of the flow of oil to the World economy. To destabilise them - even in the name of democracy - appeared as a non-starter. Secondly, the relation between Islam and the region was and is not particularly well-understood. There was a vague idea that they could be incompatible or that there could be a sort of "Islamic democracy" as it existed in Iran, which actually is worse than all other existing dictatorships. Thirdly there was this preposterous idea that the main problem of the region had to do with the Israeli-Arab conflict and that the solution for it (presumably by the extinction of the only democracy existing in the region) would somehow be a condition for establishing democracy. In fact I believe quite the reverse: the intolerant attitude of the Arab World regarding the Jewish minority can be argued to be its most important obstacle in the way to democracy.

4. September eleven September eleven put an abrupt end to the Berlin dream of the "end of history". History was not only still going but it had really very nasty actors present in its making. After all, democracy did need a push to impose itself and certainly the Greater Middle-East could not be left out of its equation as the exceptionalism of Islam could not be accepted. The West - especially the US - suddenly found a renewed interest in promoting democracy in the Middle East and started acting correspondingly. However, as the Iraqi experience was to prove in the cruellest way, the West did neither understand the nature of the problem it faced in the region, nor did it create an intelligent way to deal with the democratic challenge in it.

5. The Iraqi disaster planning Some partially and other completely flawed arguments were used to justify the Iraqi operation and, more important, some real arguments behind the operation were hidden. Let's make a review of them. a) Imperial Iraq The first partially flawed argument was the Imperial nature of the regime, exemplified by the invasion of Kuwait or the start of the war against Iran. The invasion of Kuwait had a similar rational to the invasion of Lebanon by Syria or of Western Sahara by Morocco: the borders were an artificial heritage of colonialism and existed only to prejudge the greater country. It is true that - however powerful to the Iraqi public opinion - the argument of the "XIXth province" does not make much sense, as eventually all of the existing borders in the region could be equally contested on similar basis and arguments. It is necessary to keep in mind, however, that Saddam's occupation of Kuwait in itself was not very different from these two other cases. Regarding the war with Iran it is rather simplistic to describe it as an act of aggression of Iraq against Iran. Fred Haliday (The Middle East in International Relations, Power, Politics and Ideology, Cambridge University Press, 2005, p. 52) among others, makes the point. As he was lecturing in Baghdad's College of Law and Politics in the first of April 1980 during the attempted assassination of Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz in the Mustansariyah University of Baghdad by an Iranian agent, he understood than that the Iran-Iraq war was inevitable. Already by then, Iran's sponsored terrorism was mainly targeting Iraq, as it did ever since. b) The ruthless character of the regime It is obvious that Saddam Hussein was a ruthless dictator, and that he repressed brutally any dissent. Furthermore, it is true that he was the only dictator that used poison gas against its own people. However, one should put this qualification under context. Repression of Kurdish rebellion was not unique to Saddam's Iraq. Whenever confronted with open revolt, the other countries in the region - Syria, Jordan and even Egypt - did act fundamentally in a similar way to Saddam Hussein's repression of the revolt in the South and Centre of the country in 1991 or the Ramadi revolt in 1994. Furthermore, the question here was rather to know if an alternative regime to Saddam would be more respectful of human-rights than Saddam was, and of course the answer to this question given by post-2003 Iraqi reality is a clear no. c) Existing policy regarding Iraq was failing and it had to change This is quite true. The sanctions were punishing the Iraqi people and to some extent reinforcing the grip of the ruling dictatorship in the country. In any case, the sanctions were applied in a very corrupt form. The question however, is to know if there would not exist better alternatives than the one chosen by the Western coalition, and indeed there were. d) Iraqi oil could finance the operation The real difference between the Iraqi's invasion of Kuwait and other invasions that happened in the region, as well as the real difference between the character of Saddam Hussein's regime and other totalitarian regimes around the globe, has only to do with oil, and this was perceived by the majority of the political actors in the Iraqi scene. From the start, the Iraqi oil could not be thought as being part of the solution as Mr. Wolfowitz and others thought, but exactly as part of the problem, as it would raise doubts on the "democratic" intentions of the Iraqi operation and would constitute a powerful incentive for perverse forces to derail the process. The question here is not mainly that the calculations behind this reasoning failed completely, the question is that oil may have played a major role in the Iraqi disaster. Here, I have as yet no certainties on the role of oil in the decision that led to the operation. e) No alternatives to military operation There were clever and pro-Western Iraqis that had explained the possible ways forward for a Western intervention in Iraq, such as Adnan Al-Pachachi and Ayad Allawi. They understood that the Baathist ideology had crumbled, Iraq had been decades before perhaps the most advanced country in the Middle-East (with better economic, social and even political indicators than my own country, Portugal) and it became a disaster with Saddam. If not a fully-fledged democracy, it would had been possible at least to establish an authoritarian (like Jordan or Egypt) but benign state over there, which would not threat his neighbours, would give a better life to its citizens and could constitute a platform to face the fanatic beasts. To do so, you did not need much, as they correctly assessed that the Tikrit clan was ever more isolated and the bulk of Iraq would feel relieved to get read of Saddam Hussein. US departments that have often been accused of being responsible for the major blunders of the country's foreign policy, like the CIA, were backing this perspective. Why did the US prefer to embark in a very costly and risky military operation instead of this reasonable course of action? f) Weapons of Mass Destruction and links with Al Qaeda This is, as we now know with certainty, one of the biggest blunders behind the Iraqi operation. The question is clearly how was it possible for the US and UK to be so wrong and what was the reason f this tremendous error? It is useful to review here the most widely publicised Iraqi WMD fabrications. The most fantasist one did not only precise the nature and the existence of the weapons, but described in detail its storage location. It was publicised by both Human Rights Watch to the press and Baroness Nicholson in official records (see PMOI, Mission Report, l'Harmattan, 2005, Brie et al, pp. 29-32). The inspiration of the Iranian secret services to this story is quite obvious. A second famous story came out in the "The New Yorker" on March 25th 2002 and is authored by Jeffrey Goldberg. The source is an Iranian held by the secret services of the PUK in Suleymania. The story also included proof of the links between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. The story and the informant were widely described as fabrications by Charles Glass, (The Northern Front, A wartime diary, SAQI, 2006), Guy Dinmore (Financial Times, May 22nd 2002) and Jason Burke (Observer, February 9, 2003). Keeping in mind the long-time co-operation of the PUK with the Iranian regime, it is not difficult to guess who originated this fabrication in the first place. The majority of the stories regarding both WMD or Al Qaeda links with Saddam Hussein's regime were investigated by Thomas E. Ricks (Fiasco, The American Military Adventure in Iraq, Penguin, 2006) and were all established as being spread by Ahmed Chalabi and associates. As the US forces seem to have understood only too late, Ahmed Chalabi was working in close co-operation with Iranian secret services. The most famous of all the fabrications on WMD - not because of its relevance, but because it got into a "State of the Union" Bush speech - was the one on Saddam Hussein's purchasing of uranium in Niger. As it was already established, the very same network that made the 1985 "Irangate", namely the Iranian agent Manucher Ghorbanifar, was responsible for this charade (the literature here is immense). The vast majority of the observers see the fantasies on Saddam Hussein's WMD and links with Al Qaeda as a perfidious plot from the Bush Administration or specific sectors within it (such as the so-called Zionist lobby, neo-conservatives, Cheney business interests or all of them together). When confronted with the fact that a lot of the sources to the fantasy have no clear connection with these groups (Human Rights Watch, The New Yorker, Collin Powel, Baroness Nicholson, PUK) these critics tend to assume being victims rather than actors of misinformation. Otherwise, when confronted with the fact that the plot revealed to be so amateurish, the same critics unanimously blame the plotters for being incompetent, apparently not understanding that this claim is inconsistent with the former ones. For such outlandish fabrications to be able to pass the scrutiny of the vast majority of the public opinion of the US (and beyond), someone not at all incompetent must have been in charge of its dissemination. There are two other strong motifs for seeing the Iranian regime and not the US administration as the ultimate source of this fairy tail. The first is that the Iranian regime is the only common denominator to all these stories, the second is that it was the Iranian regime and not the US Administration to profit from the story, all the other presumed culprits being ridiculed. g) The hidden member of the "coalition of the willing" It was only with the publication of the US Congressional report on September eleven that the international media started to pay attention to what should have been obvious from the start: the link that could be established with "modern terrorism" - that the Congressional committee considers to be identifiable almost only with Al Qaeda - was rather with the Iranian regime than with the former Iraqi one. This was quite an understatement. In what I consider to be the best and in any case is a widely respected work on terrorism, Bruce Hoffman ("Inside Terrorism", Columbia University Press, first edition 1998) identified already the "Superior Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq" and "Al Dawa" to have been the precursor of both religious and suicidal terrorism. Bruce Hoffman considers "modern terrorism" to have been born before, with the Palestinian attacks, but personally I think that what he calls religious and suicidal terrorism is indeed the new terrorism, that some authors call jihadism and include into a larger context. As Ali bin Talal Al-Jahni states in an article published December eleven 2007 in "Al Hyatt" and translated by The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) special dispatch number 1789: "Indeed, resistance that fails to distinguish between civilians – including children, the elderly, and the sick – and combatants is not legitimate. Such resistance is nothing but terrorism. Murdering human beings – even if politicians, both Sunni and Shi'ite, try to excuse it using the slogan of Islam – is forbidden. This was a consensus in all Islamic schools of thought until the arrival of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in Iran" The creation of modern terrorism - that is, the religious benediction of mass murder by suicidal killings - is in fact a creation of the Iranian Islamic Revolution. Even the distant Shia predecessor of modern terrorists, the famous Shea assassins from Lebanon and Syria, were targeting their victims and did not sponsor mass murder of civilians. Al Qaeda in particular, got into the modern terrorism business through the co-operation of the Iranian terrorist off-spring in Lebanon, Hizbullah (Lawrence Wright, The Looming Tower, Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2006, page 173). Irrespectively of all this, no US or UK political responsible for action in Iraq could argue that they did not know that, according to indisputable evidence, according to the most reliable sources and analysts, both Al Dawa and SCIRI - as well as their Lebanese counterpart Hezbollah - were not only terrorist organisations, but actually the most important in creating modern terrorism. To organise a war in the name of the fight against terrorism in Iraq to place in charge of the country the most vivid examples of terrorism as Al Dawa and SCIRI defies imagination, but this was exactly what has been done. Moreover, the Iraqi war that was made also in the name of fighting WMD was instrumental in making possible the development of the only real running programme of WMD. 6. The Iraqi disaster on the making The implementation of the Iraqi operation was done according to the logic of its planning. Iranian demands were rapidly and consistently fulfilled, from bombing and killing of its opponents in Iraq; to dismantle the Iraqi State (beginning with the Armed forces and the police); to classify Tribes as "back warded"; and to lavishly subsidise religious structures. The West promised democracy, but instead, it imposed an Islamic Revolution in Iraq. The autopsy of this blunder is yet to be made, but some sketchy traits are already clear. Going through recent bibliography about the Iraqi specifically or the US and the UK in relation with the Iraqi operation, one gets an image of a leadership deeply ignorant, incompetent and hooked on action at any price. This is certainly the fundamental factor to explain how things turned out so badly, but it is not enough. To find out the real dimensions of the problem, the UK may be a better playground, as the UK leadership can be taken to suffer less of these three diseases. "Occupational hazards" from Rory Stewart is a first hand account of a top civil servant acting as Governor and assistant Governor in two Southern Iraqi provinces in 2003/2004. It shows how the UK actively backed the Iranian occupation of the country, for which the author does not feel any remorse anyway. It is my conviction that only a large Iranian penetration in the main decision centres of the West can explain what happened. In other words, for understanding the dimension and reason why of the disaster, one has to assume that, besides the now jailed former Congressman Bob Ney, there are others in the central structures of power (power in the political, media and civil society dimensions) acting on behalf of the Iranian regime. Actually, how can we understand that the official policy of the US is still to back Mr. Maliki as Prime-Minister of Iraq after all the evidence he gave that he obeys to Iranian interests? One can doubt the reports that show him, already in 1983, as the master minder of his party's terrorist attacks against the US Embassy in Kuwait, but one cannot ignore the reality that US Generals are witnessing and transmitting from Iraq. 6. US new policy and beyond In the beginning of 2007 with the nomination of General Patraeus as the high commander of US forces in Iraq, a long term strategy based on common sense and knowledge of realities seemed to have finally made its way to Iraq. Although the old appeasement policy towards the Iranian regime and its representatives in Iraq continued, as its continuation ultimately did not depend on the new US military command, a new policy confronting Teheran in Iraq and approaching Iraq nationalists can be clearly identified. From the beginning of the Allied intervention one could perceive that the Iranian Pasdaran - the mother of all terrorist organisations - was behind most of the troubled faced by the coalition, but only in 2007 was this fact repeatedly stated by the US leadership, that in reality, went as far as to include the Pasdaran in the list of the terrorist organisations. Regarding the Iraqi nationalist insurgent forces - that is, those who acted because of their national convictions rather than of their international sponsorship - the US leadership developed a truce and dialogue, both in the so-called Shea as in the so-called Sunni sectors. This action did not only allow for a significant improvement of the security situation but it also helped to isolate the international sponsored terrorist movements such as Al Qaeda and the Badr Brigades. However, this is only the beginning of change, and the process might derail at any moment. While a Government dominated by Iranian stooges is in place in Baghdad it will be impossible to find any reasonable solution to the urgent problems of Iraq, be it in settling refugees and displaced people, increasing the level of security to tolerable levels or starting the economic activity.