Napoleon would sketch out in an afternoon the new constitution and legal arrangements for one of France’s imperial conquests. In Washington today, there’s no such panache, no Jacques-Louis David limning Bush in imperial drapery and resplendent crown (though surely Josephine’s heart beats beneath Laura’s delicious bosom). But all over town, lights blaze far into the night as staffers in Pentagon, State and National Security Council pore over blueprints for invasion and the possible lineaments of a post-Saddam Iraq. You’d have to go back to Kennedy-era nation-building to find equivalent hubris and expectancy.
But as the war planners irritably deride Iraq’s 12,000-page chronicle detailing its abandonment of weapons of mass destruction, a briefer memo sets forth with sarcastic glee all the reasons that even now Bush and his inner circle should think again and perhaps shrink back, even as George Bush Sr. did, from seeking to install an American mandate in Baghdad.
On Washington’s carousel, Anthony Cordesman is a prominent fixture, currently headquartered at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, prime Republican think tank on K Street, where an elevator ride can confront you with museum pieces stretching all the way back to Reagan’s first NSC Adviser, Richard Allen. Cordesman has held down big jobs in the Defense and Energy departments, has served as Senator John McCain’s national security assistant and strides confidently before the cameras whenever ABC News summons him for analysis and commentary.
Unusually, given this sort of curriculum vitae, Cordesman is a pretty smart fellow. We must ask, therefore, why he felt impelled, from all his dignity as the Arleigh Burke Chair at CSIS, to issue a “rough draft” memo, dated December 3 and now sparking its way around town, that derides Operation Oust Saddam as the recipe for a bloody mess.
So? Bloody Mess has been a standing item on the American imperial menu for more than a century. It’s a specialty of the house. Maybe Cordesman wants an “I told you so” on record. Whatever his motives, he paints an unflattering record of all those blueprints being staffed out in Washington’s drafting studios.
Title of paper: “Planning for a Self-Inflicted Wound: US Policy to Shape a Post-Saddam Iraq.” Theme: Operation Oust Saddam is an “uncoordinated and faltering effort.” We should “admit our level of ignorance.” “Far too many internal ‘experts'” have scant working knowledge of Iraq, writes Cordesman, who actually knows a lot about the place.
The sales job for Operation Oust Saddam has been lousy: “We face an Arab world where many see us as going to war to seize Iraq’s oil, barter deals with the Russians and French, create a new military base to dominate the region, and/or serve Israel’s interest.”
Stigmatizing what he calls “the US as Liberator Syndrome” Cordesman warns that “we may or may not be perceived as liberators…. We badly need to consider the Lebanon model: Hero to enemy in less than a year.”