Tomorrow in Baghdad | The Nation


Tomorrow in Baghdad

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Even before US forces could establish order in the cities of Iraq and
bring humanitarian relief to its people, the Bush Administration
unleashed a barrage of threats against Syria, accusing it of aiding
Islamic fighters in Iraq and possessing chemical weapons. Administration
officials suggest they are sending an appropriate warning to Iraq's
neighbor that certain behavior will not be tolerated. To millions of
Arabs watching the events unfolding in Iraq, however, these actions are
confirmation that the United States has a larger agenda in the Middle
East that has little to do with the security and well-being of the Iraqi

Instead of rushing on to threaten its next potential target of
pre-emptive war, the US should focus its energy on the reconstruction of
Iraq, since it will be judged for years to come by how well it handles
that task. Judging by the first weeks, there are reasons to worry that
the Administration has failed to understand the nature of that
challenge. If it wishes to legitimize US military action, it will have
to draw on international support to bring order to the Iraqi people and
to make good on its claim that it will bring them democracy. Yet Richard
Perle revealed the arrant indifference of Administration hawks when he
said recently, "What we have won on the battlefield is the right to
establish consistent policies that are for the benefit of the people of
Iraq." Uncle knows best.

After the regime's authority collapsed, seething ethnic and religious
rivalries and festering hatreds boiled over. In a cultural atrocity
unparalleled in our age, looters vandalized the priceless antiquities in
Baghdad's National Museum and burned the National Library, where reposed
the records of the world's most ancient civilization. The US government
had been repeatedly urged by museum directors, archeologists and
cultural leaders to protect Iraq's archeological treasures as required
by international law. Yet the commanders who had immediately posted
guards at the Iraqi oil ministry somehow were unable to find soldiers to
stop vandals from plundering the irreplaceable heritage of humankind.
(Nor were they able to protect hospitals from pillagers of desperately
needed medical supplies.) The Washington Post reported that the Pentagon
had expected before the war that Saddam's fall "would usher in a period
of chaos and lawlessness," yet it chose to go with a light, fast-moving
invasion force unequipped to deal with civil disorders. Order is slowly
being restored, but the explosion of destructive anarchy and lack of
coherent US policies has stirred up distrust among the Iraqis, whose
support will be needed to restore services and build a stable

Although the US military rapidly secured Iraq's oilfields before
Saddam's troops could burn them, its technical specialists were unable
to locate any weapons of mass destruction during more than three weeks
of war, when they could have menaced US soldiers; nor was any evidence
uncovered of Iraqi links to Al Qaeda. Thus the claimed basis for the
invasion has yet to be established. Of course, WMDs may well be
unearthed, but the question remains: If Saddam didn't (or couldn't) use
them in self-

defense, how can it be said he would have pre-emptively launched them
against America or Israel?

If such weapons are found, under the Chemical Weapons Convention they
should be verified and destroyed by international inspectors. Inspectors
from the International Atomic Energy Agency should also be allowed to
return to Iraq and continue their work in accordance with the
nonproliferation treaty.

Those who opposed the war must refuse to be browbeaten or silenced by
the gloating "I told you so" chorus on the right (and center) and must
continue to hammer at the false premises that underpinned the war. The
reality is Bush deceived the American people when he said the war was
necessary to national security, and in so doing he has abused the powers
of his office, undermined the Constitution and flouted public opinion. A
recent New York Times/CBS News poll showed that a majority of Americans
oppose Bush's pre-emption doctrine. It has no basis or justification in
international law--as Arab and world opinion, and Kofi Annan, agree. And
it sends a message to states facing US threats that they should quickly
acquire nuclear weapons in self-defense.

The only claim of legitimacy the Administration can make for the war it
misled America into is that it was a humanitarian war to liberate an
oppressed people. But to sustain such a claim to a skeptical world, the
Administration must prove that its intentions for Iraq are honorable,
and it can do that only by inviting the UN Security Council's full
involvement--political as well as humanitarian--in the reconstruction of

Beyond that, the Administration should cool its threats against Syria.
It must rejoin the international community and work with it to bring
democracy, freedom and human rights to Iraq, and peace to the entire
region--starting with a vigorous push to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian

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