Tuesday, May 29, 2007

This is a piece solicited by the New York Times in March 2003

In March 2003, a week or so after the U.S.-led invasion, the New York Times "Week in Review" section asked me to contribute a short piece reflecting on the initial lessons of the war. I submitted this piece, which the editor liked but then rejected. Her comment was I was a "couple of news cycles ahead." I suspected then that the tone of my little piece was too pessimistic.

“As for the reaction of the Arab street, the Middle East expert, Professor Fouad Ajami, predicts that after liberation the streets in Basra and Baghdad are sure to erupt in joy in the same way throngs in Kabul greeted the Americans.” Cheyney at VFW, August 26, 2002.

Surprises (266 wds)

by Augustus R. Norton

Military planners are prudently addicted to worse case analysis. Yet, the unfolding events may suggest that the architects of the war in Iraq were woefully naïve in planning the war. U.S. forces were thrust into a combat zone where the potential use of horrific chemical and biological weapons was a major focus for worry. Much less effort was spent on the possibility that America’s political assumptions were dreadfully off the mark.

There are two Iraqs. One exists in the minds of the Washington officials who planned the war and who expected that as Saddam’s despicable regime was systematically dismembered liberated Iraqis would rise up anxious to taste the elixir of freedom. The second Iraq is a tougher, more complex place that defies inside-the-beltway theories. Iraqis may not only hate all that Saddam symbolizes, but also be deeply suspicious of America and its mantra of freedom and democracy.

Iraqi opposition figures have spoken, sometimes poignantly, about the savage cruelty that the Baghdad regime inflicted upon its populace. The brutality is incontestable, but what these same voices do not explain is how a society bereft of a civil society and devoid of democratic traditions and institutions could be converted in short order into a democracy.

As the war crunches forward, there is no doubt that many of the opposition men will be propelled into privileged positions in the colonial apparatus that America will erect. We shall discover soon enough whether these heralds of a democratic Iraq truly know the land of the Euphrates and the Tigris or have spent too much time on the banks of the Potomac.

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