The War in Context
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Beyond the war
Paul Woodward, The War in Context, April 9, 2003

The suggestions that war against Iraq would lead to a Vietnam-like quagmire or that attacking Baghdad would end up as a rerun of the siege of Stalingrad will now be used to dismiss the credibility of this war's opponents. In as much as the movement had a narrow focus -- no to war -- it was a movement that sooner or later was destined to become irrelevant. On the other hand, the proponents of war who only a week ago were being mocked for their predictions of a "cakewalk" and streets filled with jubilant Iraqis, will now surely find it hard to resist saying, I told you so.

Nevertheless, while the peace movement was a coalition united in its opposition to war, the underlying sentiment that drew people together across the globe was a broad fear of America’s far-reaching power. The fall of Saddam should only add fuel to that fear. Success in toppling the Iraqi regime will now further embolden Washington's messianic neo-conservatives whose ambitions always extended far beyond regime change in Iraq. Already, Syria, Iran and North Korea have been put on notice and told that they should, in the words of Undersecretary of State, John Bolton, "draw the appropriate lesson from Iraq."

If the erstwhile anti-war movement is to regain its relevance it must redefine its mission starting first with Iraq. In as much as opposition to war on Iraq was an expression of concern for the welfare of the people of Iraq, our attention to their needs should not diminish once the fighting abates.

The spirit of triumphalism that is soon likely to infect the Bush administration diminishes the chances that the United Nations will play a leading role in the reconstruction of Iraq. Tony Blair, however, as much as he has been derided for having supported the war has been resolute in being an advocate of internationalism and pressing for linkage between promoting democracy in Iraq and renewing efforts to resolve the festering conflict that pits Israelis against Palestinians. Though several administration officials have stated that it is the "coalition" (which in this case means the United States) that will have the final say in administering reconstruction, Britain is now the sole power that can have any hope of challenging U.S. unilateralism. Blair failed in his attempt to act as a bridge that might hold together the international community. He now deserves support in his efforts to make the reconstruction of Iraq an international effort. It behooves the administration to pay attention to Middle Eastern perceptions that see American occupying forces in Iraq as a counterpart to Israeli occupying forces in the West Bank and Gaza. A genuine effort to democratize Iraq will require that the reconstruction process rapidly becomes de-Americanized.

A few days ago, Deputy Defense Secretary, Paul Wolfowitz asserted emphatically that, "we do not come as a new colonial power, we do not come as an army of occupation. We come as an army of liberation, and we want to see the Iraqis running their own affairs as soon as they can." The United States has demonstrated its willingness to exert power, but does it also know how to relinquish power?

Freedom is now at hand for the people of Iraq. We must therefore listen carefully to the Bush administration's advocates of a New American Century and see whether having wrestled power from Saddam they are now willing to quickly deliver that power back into the hands of the people. Will Iraqi "freedom" require a long-term U.S. "security" presence? Will reconstruction "necessitate" the privatization of the Iraqi oil industry? Must "democracy" signal friendly relations between Iraq and the United States and Israel? Have Iraqis truly been liberated, or are they soon to discover that freedom comes with strings attached?

© 2003 Paul Woodward