Sat, 05 Jul 2003

Winning the peace harder than winning war

Sayidiman Suryohadiprojo, Former Governor, National Resilience Institute (Lemhanas), Jakarta

The Americans are now facing difficult and complicated problems in the management of postwar Iraq. Not only are administrative problems causing them severe headaches, but so are security problems. According to AFP, about 57 members of the U.S. military have become victims of postwar skirmishes since May this year.

Only by winning peace can the U.S. build a new Iraq in accordance with its national interests. The Americans have already stated that the new Iraq will be a democratic Iraq. Although not formally stated, the U.S. is also interested in making Iraq an important -- if not the most important -- player in maintaining peace and stability in the Middle East, in accordance with U.S. interests.

This means that the new Iraq should safeguard the continuity of the state of Israel in an environment of intense Arabic hostility.

However, winning the peace in Iraq is not an easy nor simple matter. It looks as if the U.S. has misjudged or underestimated this problem, and it seems that Americans believe that the U.S.' success in rebuilding Germany and Japan after World War II can be repeated easily in Iraq. If so, there is not enough acknowledgement of the differences between the German and Japanese conditions of the past with the present Iraqi situation.

America's success in rebuilding Germany after World War II may, in large part, be attributed to its conflict and competition with the Communist East.

The majority of Germans did not like communism nor the Soviet Union, and this sentiment was a strong motivator for them to rebuild West Germany to become the wealthy Federal Republic of Germany and a strong ally of the Americans. The Marshall Plan was a very significant factor in changing the German people's minds in becoming friendly with the Americans. A no less important factor was the sense of unity among the German people and their patriotic character. The wise and effective leadership of Konrad Adenauer also cannot be underrated.

The success in Japan, on the other hand, stemmed, in principle, from two factors. The first was General Douglas MacArthur's great ambition to not only be a successful military general and war leader, but also an administrator and statesman who will be renowned throughout history.

The second was the Japanese's recognition that they had lost the war because they were far behind America in industrial management and technology, and that Japan must dramatically change its stance vis-a-vis the Americans, pleasing the Americans to acquire the necessary knowledge to improve its shortcomings.

Then came the rising danger of communism, when the People's Republic of China replaced Kuomintang China. MacArthur wanted to make Japan a strong U.S. ally in Asia and so supported all Japanese requests to rebuild their country. The unity of the Japanese people was also very important for this purpose, so MacArthur did not take any action against the Japanese Emperor, although many in the West wanted him to be incriminated as Japan's Number One war criminal. The result was that Japan recovered within five years, making the dramatic change from an enemy into an ally.

In Iraq, we have entirely different conditions. The most important factor is the division of the Iraqi people into the Shia and the Sunni, the Kurds and the Baath Party. Winning the peace in Iraq means the reestablishment of Iraq as a national entity, and this requires a national leadership that can unite the people and overcome their differences.

It seems that Bremer, the U.S. administrator, is not a MacArthur, and it is far from easy to unite all the factions and gaining their confidence. Moreover, the Kurds have their own agenda of becoming the independent -- or at least separate -- political entity of Kurdistan. Also, nobody among the Iraqi leaders can exert strong leadership and has the confidence of all factions. It is therefore understandable that until today, we have not seen any political progress in the new Iraq, let alone the emergence of a democratic Iraq.

Facing the lack of national leadership among the Iraqis, the U.S. appears to have decided to prolong its presence in Iraq and the dominant role of the U.S. administrator. It is also possible that the U.S. does not want to leave Iraq so soon, and may want to use its position for other political and strategic maneuvers in the Middle East.

Most of the Iraqi people do not like the idea of a long U.S. presence, and have reminded the Americans that they came to Iraq to liberate the Iraqi people from Saddam Hussein. They are happy with the end of Saddam's dictatorial rule, but now the Americans should leave Iraq to rule itself. This situation will only sharpen the controversies between the Iraqi people and the U.S. occupation forces further, and will lead to more violence and victims among the Iraqi people, as well as the U.S. military.

The Americans' underestimation of the consolidation problem has also caused many shortcomings in daily managerial problems, like the shortages in electricity, medical supplies and other daily necessities. These will definitely create an atmosphere of discontent and distrust that could exacerbate the political problems. Further, there seems to be no prospect for a speedy improvement of these administrative activities.

Meanwhile, the wish to turn Iraq into a nation with a single religion, like Iran, seems to be developing among the Shia. This will result in additional problems that did not exist before, because during Saddam's rule Iraq was a secular state that recognized all the different faiths among the Iraqi people. If the Americans are to deny this development, it will definitely be viewed as a Christian move against Islam. It is all too easy to imagine the potential dangers of a religious conflict, which will invite Muslims and Christians from other areas to join the fight.

It will be very interesting to see how the Americans handle this delicate issue.

With all these problems to be resolved, we must agree that the U.S. still has a long way to go before it can turn Iraq into a useful ally for promoting its interests in the Middle East.

Although President Bush has declared that the Iraq war is over, America still has yet to win the peace.