Nothing seems as important

March 25, 2003 3:16 p.m.

Nothing seems as important right now as the possibility of a civilian uprising in Basra. If it plays like the hawks have long predicted it would, it would prove a major victory for the whole military endeavor.

Here’s the key, as I see it, to the current situation. Nothing that has happened is really that troubling from a purely military point of view. The US-UK forces have advanced to the edge of Baghdad in just a few days. This isn’t really good or bad, really. As we’ve noted before, the story will be told when we fight for Baghdad itself.

The problem isn’t with the military strategy. It’s rather that what we’ve seen so far on the military side of the equation has thrown into some doubt our political strategy.

We can subdue Iraq militarily. That’s really not a question. But if we have to subdue it in that sense our political strategy will be in a shambles. The strategy which the administration is following amounts to a grand politico-diplomatic carom shot. We can ignore the protests from around the world, they argue, because we assume that when we’ve finished with our plan the results will prove our diplomatic opponents wrong.

In other words, if we get into Iraq and we find tons of WMD and the Iraqis are praising us to the stars for liberating them, then France and Germany and Russia will have egg on their face. It really won’t matter how much they griped on the way in because we’ll be retrospectively justified. And with a pro-American Iraqi civilian population we’ll go about setting up a democratic polity which will be the envy of the Arab world.

On the other hand, if we have something more like an angry and restive civilian population, then, from a political standpoint, we’re really up the creek. We won’t have happy Iraqis making our case for us to the world community. And it will be very hard for us to set up a democratic government while we’re ruling the place with our fists.

The real outcome will almost certainly fall between these two extremes. But the Bush administration’s approach to changing the regime in Baghdad banked almost everything on a picture perfect response from the Iraqi people.

This reminds of a phrase they repeat over and over again in the Army: “Hope is not a plan.”

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