Monday 23 June 2003

U.S. losing Mind War in Iraq

M.D. Nalapat 

MANIPAL, India, June 23 (UPI) -- After World War I, the consequences of the Versailles "peace" were the rise of the National Socialists and World War II. That conflict was followed by the Marshall Plan, the democratization of Germany, Italy and Japan and their bonding with the United States and Britain into both a security alliance as well as an economic partnership. Both British values and American culture permeated the three former Axis powers, vacuuming away the hostility in the minds of their populations to the victors. Today, some Germans (as indeed many Britons and more than a few French) may be anti-Enduring Freedom. Almost none is anti-American except in a narrow political sense.
Why did the peace imposed after World War II create a benign backlash while that which followed World War I create the Hitler-Tojo-Mussolini monster? The reason was that conquest was achieved in the 1914-1918 conflict only on the ground, over physical territory. In the second, it won over the mind of the "enemy" population pool as well. It can be argued the extremely liberal treatment given to the Germans after they had backed the most loathsome dictatorship in history, a policy of forgiveness that took within its fold more than 95 percent of those who had been active in the NSDAP, helped avoid a second Hitler. It is now clear the formal respect paid to the emperor of Japan and to the non-militaristic aspects of the culture of that civilization, together with ruthless MacArthurite democratization and integration into the modern economy, transformed a power that had been first suspicious of and then hostile to the West (at least for the previous two centuries) into a reliable ally, despite the horror of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.
Forget that Operation Enduring Freedom ought to have been conducted by giving equal billing to a "Free Iraq" leadership as was given to U.S. participants. A Free Iraqi general conducting news briefings jointly with the non-telegenic Tommy Franks would have had an effect similar to that created by projecting Charles De Gaulle as the heroic leader of a horde of "Free French" when the reality in German-occupied France was that the level of resistance was far lower than that found in the eastern theatres, while active collaboration was high. The "Free French" were, however, wonderful in cinema newsreels and on the British Broadcasting Corp. and Voice of America, which was enough to preserve French pride into the postwar period, avoiding the kind of backlash that made Paris craft the Versailles Treaty.

In contrast, the Iraqis have thus far been treated as little children. While some, including the ubiquitous Ahmed Chalabi, have been trotted out at rare intervals, it has been made clear they play not even a secondary but an insignificant role in the situation developing about and within their own country. Unlike in Afghanistan, where the Northern Alliance dominated the ground, no effort was made during the active phase of the 2003 Iraq campaign to associate even a screen of Iraqi forces, though the Kurds, Shiites and the non-Tikriti Sunnis could easily have got mobilized in sufficient numbers to look effective on television, principally to the people in the region. It was only the Americans and the British, with those experts on dealing with Arabs, the Australians, Poles and naturally a few Bulgarians thrown into the mix. There were indeed a few brown faces on the television screens from the coalition side, but they belonged to Americans, and hence had little value in the mind war. Psywar "experts" in the Pentagon may see Lt. Gen. John Abizaid as an Arab, but the Arabs see him as Western, and they form the pool that needs to be won over, not voters back home in Texarkana.
Of course, the handlers around Franks saw little need for their man to share billing with a "Free Iraq" officer. It was almost as though the entire media strategy was crafted with an eye on public opinion in the United States and Britain, with no attention being paid to the need for images in al-Jazeera that would counteract the negative responses created by the bombing and the ground offensive. War is never pretty. A war conducted wholly by alien forces operating with impunity in one's own country is even less bearable. Unfortunately, the lessons of Afghanistan seem to be still waiting to be learned. The United States and Britain expected the same public response in Iraq that the anti-Taliban forces got in Kabul, without involving locals in their war the way they had done in Afghanistan.
Indeed, so credulous has the Western media been that most of the "hard-bitten" (if embedded) correspondents of major television and newspaper outlets have sent back numerous reports about the smiles and the warmth as coalition forces swept into a town, rifles pointed, tank cannons and helicopter gunships at the ready. After three decades of Saddam Hussein's benevolence, the people of Iraq have become adept at putting on a smiling face when confronted with an entity that they hate, but which has overwhelming power over their lives.
Apart from not giving any role to Iraqis themselves in Operation Enduring freedom -- especially its public face -- the other major strategic error in the mind war was the involvement of British ground forces in combat. As any visitor to London can confirm, today's Britons are much more tolerant and accepting of multiculturalism than several "liberal" communities such as the Swedes or the Danes. However, this does not erase the effect of the fact that the British were the colonial powers in Iraq, that it fought a war of conquest there as late as 1918 or that -- unlike the U.S. Army, which is 38 percent non-white – British forces are overwhelmingly white in a world in which race still affects mental attitudes. Involving British forces in the ground offensive, rather than restricting them to a less visible sea and air role, may have won hearts in the U.S. State Department, but lost them in Iraq. Indeed, Tony Blair's decision to send troops to Iraq has already begun to cost Britain the goodwill that it has enjoyed within the Arab "supermarket," the region's professional and business elite, which is usually sharply distinct in its views from the Arab "street."
As if refusing to involve the Iraqis themselves in the liberation of their homeland from Saddam's thugs was not enough to help Osama bin Laden and other enemies of the West, Washington and London have worsened the mind war situation further by installing first Jay Garner and now Paul Bremer as viceroy of Iraq. Whatever other faults this State Department warhorse may have, diplomacy is not among them. He has made it explicit that the United States and Britain do not intend to hand over any part of the local administration to Iraqi control anytime in he foreseeable future. By accepting U.N. Security Council Resolution 1483, which in effect places Iraq under the unfettered control of the United States and Britain for an indefinite period of time, the U.N. Security Council has given a legitimacy to such an authority that is unlikely to be accepted by those that count: the pool of Iraqis and Arabs generally that are susceptible to manipulation by anti-Western influences. And ultimately, it is only the impact on the population at risk of infection that counts. There is little point scoring brownie points in the rich Western neighborhoods, few in such locations are likely to heed the siren call of those training suicide bombers.
Had there been any sane and coherent mind war strategy on the part of the United States, then Bremer would have got styled as "adviser" to a Council of Free Iraq, which would technically enjoy administrative control over the country. It would not have been a difficult task to set up such a council, and to arm it with powers on paper, even while ensuring that U.S. objectives are carried out through it. Next, the U.S. "diplomat" would have had to sacrifice the pleasures of media coverage, by operating out of sight, behind the screen provided by the Free Iraq government. In this way, the anger within both that ancient country as well as the wider Arab world over what is perceived as U.S.-.U.K. recolonization of the country would have got dampened enough to have prevented the alliance between political terrorists and religious terrorists that has got forged as a consequence of the first phase of the war. Till U.S.-U.K. forces entered Iraq on March 20, these two groups had kept apart, but today they have entered into an alliance that has enhanced the capacity of groups such as al-Qaida to strike Western targets.
Unlike in the case of 1945 Japan, where the United States, while keeping alive the emperor system, imposed democracy on a country where the remnants of feudal attitudes are still strong, Afghanistan 2001 and Iraq 2003 are disappointments. Hamid Karzai has come after conditioning from the Saudi-Pakistan Wahabi school, which has so succeeded in diluting the innate moderation and secular spirit of the Pashtun. Even while the (once U.S.-encouraged) Taliban regime was in power in Kabul, the Northern Alliance was a haven where women had no need to wear a veil, and could even dress in Western attire. Films and music that had been proscribed by the Wahabis further south were freely available, and in both education and work, women enjoyed a status far better than that given to their sisters in the territory controlled by the Taliban.
Today, there is a steady "Wahabi creep" in Karzai's Afghanistan. Bollywood and Hollywood movies are being discouraged, the veil had made a comeback, and most ominously, school curricula are filled with the gibberish that Saudi-funded teachers across the world pass off as education. Just as Yasser Arafat doomed the 1993 Oslo Accord in 1995 itself by executing Palestinians "guilty" of doing exactly what the accord mandated that they should -- help Israel defend its security -- so Karzai by 2002 had begun a process of surrender to Islamists that is increasing in speed and scope. Should present trends continue, the present Taliban-lite Afghanistan will revert to a Mullah Omar situation by the end of the decade.
In Iraq, elements in society dangerous to international security -- the Wahabis and the Khomeinists -- are emerging from underneath the rocks and pebbles into which they had disappeared during the thuggish but secular rule of the Saddamites. Should Iraq follow the Afghanistan pattern and form itself as an "Islamic" (read Islamist) republic, then the best chance for igniting beneficial change in the Middle East would have been lost. Only by pursuing the secularization and democratization of Iraq as enthusiastically as Douglas MacArthur implemented anti-feudal reforms in Japan after World War II can Operation Enduring Freedom be said to have ended in victory, not simply for the coalition but for the people of Iraq themselves.
September 11,2001, made clear that a new World War was raging, one that began in 1979 when the ancient civilization of Iran succumbed to the Khomeinists and the House of Saud began the reckless increase in funding of Wahabism that has made it a major threat to international security, one needing to be replaced with a House as committed to moderate values as the House of Saud is to the primitive, atavistic creed created by Abdul Ibn Wahab in order to subvert Islam from within so as to ensure public acceptance of the parasitic dictatorship of the Al Sauds. In this war, the battlefield is not territory but the mind. And while the U.S. has been winning territory after territory, it has simultaneously been losing millions of minds to the enemy. Unless policy gets altered so as to avoid fighting this war the way the last was fought, a harvest far mire terrible than 9/11 awaits the democratic world.
-(M.D. Nalapat is director, School of Geopolitics, Manipal Academy of Higher Education)

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