Sunday 12 October 2003

The Battlefield is the Mind (UPI)

M.D. Nalapat

MANIPAL, India, Oct. 13 (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 the United Kingdom 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 against what George Bush did to Saddamite Iraq. Almost none are anti-American except in a narrow political sense -- in other words, except in the same way as many Britons are "anti"-Blair and several U.S. citizens "hostile" to Bush.
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 1914-1919 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 that 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 that the formal respect paid to the Emperor of Japan and to the non-militaristic aspects of the culture of that civilization, together with an efficient MacArthurite democratization and integration into the modern economy of Japan, 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 horrors of Nagasaki and Hiroshima
Operation Enduring Freedom ought to have been conducted by giving the same billing to a "Free Iraq" leadership as was given to its U.S.-U..K participants. A Free Iraqi general conducting press briefings jointly with the non-telegenic Tommy Franks, four stars glistening on his lapel, would have had an effect similar to that created by projecting Charles De Gaulle as the heroic leader of a multitude 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 BBC and VOA, which was enough to preserve French pride in the postwar period, avoiding the kind of backlash that made Paris the prime mover behind 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 that 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 was used on the ground, no effort was made during the active phase of the 2003 Iraq campaign to associate even a screen of Iraqi forces, even though the Kurds, the Shias and the non-Tikriti Sunnis could easily have got mobilized in sufficient numbers to look effective on television, principally to the people in the Gulf region.
It was only the Americans and the British, with those experts on dealing with Arabs, the Australians, Poles and naturally a few Bulgarians, who were 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 Mindwar. Psywar "experts" in the Pentagon may see General Abouzaid as Arab. 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 Tommy 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 U.S. and the U.K., with no attention being paid to the need for generating images in Al Jazeera that would counteract the negative response created by the bombing and the one-sided 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 learnt. The U.S. and the U.K. 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 sent back numerous reports about the smiles and the warmth of the locals 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 Mindwar was the involvement of U.K. ground forces in combat. As any visitor to London can confirm, today's Britons are at least as tolerant and accepting of multiculturalism as "liberal" communities such as the Swedes or the Danes. However, this does not erase the mind-effect of the fact that the U.K. was the colonial power 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 minority -- U.K. forces are overwhelmingly white, in a world in which race still affects mental attitudes.
Involving U.K. forces in the ground offensive, rather than restricting them to a less visible sea and air role, may have won hearts in the State Department, but helped lose 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 worsened the Mindwar situation further by installing first Jay Garner and then 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 U.S. and the U.K. do not intend to hand over any part of the local administration to Iraqi control anytime in the foreseeable future. By accepting Resolution 1483, which in effect places Iraq under the unfettered control of the U.S. and the U.K. for an indefinite period of time, the UN Security Council has given a legitimacy to an authority that is unlikely to be accepted as legitimate by the only people who count: the pool of Middle Easterners 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 Detroit's Grosse Pointe or London's Mayfair, as few residing in such locations are likely to heed the siren call of those training suicide bombers.
Had there been any coherent Mindwar strategy on the part of the U.S., Paul 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 the objectives of the U.S. are carried out through it. Next, the US "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 (there are references to Iraq as early as 7 AD) as well as the wider Arab world over what is perceived as U.S.-U.K. re-colonization 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, 2003, these two groups had kept apart from each other, but subsequently they entered into an alliance that has enhanced the capacity of al-Qaida to strike Western targets.
Unlike in the case of 1945 Japan, where the U.S. -- while keeping alive the Emperor System -- imposed democracy on a country where the remnants of feudal attitudes were still strong, Afghanistan 2001 and Iraq 2003 are examples of appeasement of fanaticism. Hamid Karzai has in his administration accommodated the Saudi-Pakistan Wahhabi school, which has succeeded in diluting the innate moderation and secular spirit of the Pashtun. Even while the 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 Wahabbis 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 then-U.S. ally. No longer.
Today, there is a steady "Wahabby 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 Hamid Karzai by 2002 had begun a process of surrender to Islamists that is increasing in speed and scope. Should trends continue, the present Taliban Lite Afghanistan would revert to a Mullah Omar situation by the end of the decade. Indeed, in the south, thanks to the reliance of the CIA on the ISI, a crop of post-9/11 warlords has sprung up that are being funded by the U.S. even while they help "al-Qaida" elements.
In Iraq, elements in society dangerous to international security -- the Wahabbists 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 reinvent itself as an "Islamic" 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 given a chance to end in victory, not simply for the Coalition but for the people of Iraq themselves
Sept. 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 Wahabbism 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 Wahhab 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 more terrible than 9/11 awaits the democratic world.
Today, George W. Bush is going the way of Winston Churchill, who adamantly opposed self-rule in India and created a bitterness that to an extent overwhelmed memories of the often-beneficial impact of London rule in the Subcontinent. Churchill thought Indians were not "ready" for independence. The survival of India as a democracy proved him wrong.
Unless Bush hands back sovereignty to the Iraqis after they write a secular constitution on the India model, his country will have won the battle but lost the war. Freedom is indivisible. It belongs to the people of Iraq as much as it does to the people of the U.S. It is time for Paul Bremer to step away from the television cameras, before his presence on them converts a moderate society into another Talibanised state.
-(M.D. Nalapat is director of the School of Geopolitics at the Manipal Academy of Higher Education in India)

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