BY ALEX GORDON
Due to the heroic efforts of our men and women in the armed forces, the military campaign in Iraq is nearing a close. However, the military victory may prove to be the “easy part” relative to the next phase of the operation. Now that Saddam Hussein’s regime has fallen in a barrage of bunker-busters and thrown shoes, what will the U.S. do next?? For approximately the next 18-24 months, a U.S. military presence in Iraq will be necessary to maintain stability. After stability, or a reasonable approximation, is achieved, those troops are expected to leave and let the Iraqis govern themselves.
Many believe the U.S. must uncover weapons of mass destruction in order for this war to have been justified. I disagree. I think the U.S. must withdraw and allow Iraqi self-governance as soon as possible, not just to show that the war was justified, but also to show that the U.S. can be counted on to be true to its word. If the U.S. attempts to hold Iraq under indefinite supervision, finding of weapons of mass destruction will not assuage the anger and resentment of the Iraqi people who were repeatedly promised their freedom.
My hope is that the U.S. will take advantage of its successful liberation of Iraq to bring about dramatic change in the Middle East. This will not necessarily require additional major military intervention, as it may well be that shock and awe managed to affect some indirect targets. Having seen the swiftness with which coalition forces laid waste to Saddam’s regime in Iraq, it is doubtful that officials in Damascus or Tehran are eager to be next. Thus the threat of potential military intervention may give the U.S. leverage in winning concessions regarding terrorism from Syria and nuclear capabilities from Iran Just last week, North Korea backed down from its refusal to engage in multilateral discussions about its nuclear programs, possibly an early dividend from the successful military campaign.
Perhaps the greatest possibilities for change exist in Israel. Prior to Gulf War II, I never thought it possible that a permanent peace arrangement could be reached between Israelis and Palestinians. However, it now appears that both sides are making substantive moves towards such an agreement. Last week, Sharon stated in an interview that although it pained him, he understood that Israel would have to abandon some settlements in contested areas. While this may not sound like much, Sharon had previously been adamantly opposed to any sort of stoppage to settlement. The Palestinians have a new Prime Minister who is now trying to put together a government, although it remains to be seen how much real power he will be allowed to wield. Nothing about this process will be easy, and no outcome is certain, but the time for the U.S. to push this process forward has arrived. Having intervened militarily in an Arab nation, the U.S. needs to demonstrate even-handedness by squarely addressing this issue. While it would be folly to force either side into a faux peace, it would be nearly as damaging to take a passive attitude toward the conflict any longer. Washington can’t impose peace, but it should bring sufficient pressure to bear on both sides to negotiate peace for themselves.
Having flexed its military might in Iraq, the U.S. has shown its willingness and ability to swiftly dispatch regimes that either possess weapons of mass destruction or support terrorism. Now the U.S. must take advantage of this window of opportunity to bring much-needed change to one of the most unstable regions in the world. The U.S. cannot solve all the world’s problems, but that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t try to help solve some problems when it can. If it wasn’t clear before, it is obvious now that no multinational organization can be counted on to deal with substantive problems of this nature. The only nation in the world at this time that can influence such seemingly intractable situations is the United States. Let France and Russia prattle on about the dangers of American arrogance and power. The U.S. is arrogant and it is powerful. Arrogant or not, the U.S. should use its power to help bring change to the places that need it most. The images of Iraqis dancing in the streets of Baghdad belie the notion that such power cannot be used for good. As long as the U.S. keeps its word and “exits the stage” once its work is done, there exists the very real possibility that it could bring peace and stability to a region that has rarely known either. If the price for that achievement is a label of arrogance from duplicitous foreign ministers, then that’s a price well worth paying.