Revisited – Iraq Analysts

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Various Authors

Some organs of the major media, such as The New York Times, are expressing regret that they did not examine more closely the Bush administration’s rationale – or the underlying evidence – for war. Likewise, the administration’s characterization of the political, financial, social and human consequences of the invasion and occupation of Iraq went largely unchallenged in these media sources.

In fact, the views of many thoughtful and informed commentators who questioned both the stated purposes and predicted outcomes of this undertaking found their way into print in the run-up to war. Middle East Policy and the Council’s Capitol Hill Conferences were two sources for this type of responsible analysis. Here are some samples:

Quotes from Past Journals
We have discovered that we cannot conduct policies toward the Middle East without the help of our European allies, the Soviet Union, the United Nations, and Japan (as a source of economic support). We cannot afford to conduct complex and expensive foreign policy without the support of others in the world. In that sense we are not a superpower. The United States cannot expect, despite its very powerful position, to snap its fingers and impose its will.
– William B. Quandt, After the Crisis: Challenges for U.S. Policy MEP, Winter 1990-91
In terms of our overall policy, not only can we say today that Saddam Hussein’s regime is not a threat to its neighborhood and that we have the means to prevent it from threatening its neighborhood again, but also that, over time, the pressure that we are bringing to bear is beginning to have its impact.
– Martin Indyk, Symposium: Dual Containment, 2/24/1994
In some circumstances the collapse of a regime will not lead to the kind of desirable outcome that we hoped for. It can lead to a lot of chaos and a lot of internal turmoil. We should be very cautious about deliberately undermining the structures that exist today until there is a reasonable notion of what might take their place. 
– William B. Quandt, Symposium: Our Long-Term Vision 2/24/1994
The real threat with weapons of mass destruction is from terrorism. If you take military action against Iraq, I think it is very likely that Saddam could retaliate through some terrorist group on the United States. We have to watch where we intervene not only in the Middle East but everywhere because of the terrorist threat.
– Ivan Eland, Symposium: U.S. Gulf Policy: How Can It Be Fixed? 4/22/1998
If bombing Iraq has intense congressional support, and significant public support and if in implementing the policy by bombing we are worse off than before, what kind of policy is that?
– Chas. W. Freeman Jr., Symposium: U.S. Gulf Policy: How Can It Be Fixed? 4/22/1998
Iraq’s navy is virtually nonexistent, and the air force is just a fraction of what it was before the war. Why then, in early 1998, when Iraq had only a tiny percentage of its once-formidable military capability, was the United States suddenly portraying Iraq as an intolerable threat?
– Stephen Zunes, Confrontation with Iraq: The Bankruptcy of U.S. Policy MEP, Volume VI, June 1998
Even absent the economic distress that Iraqis are currently feeling, many Iraqis probably do support a form of leadership and governance that does not meet Western standards of democracy. We should not, for example, deduce from reports of anti-Saddam sentiment throughout Iraq that Iraqis therefore seek a democratic form of government. What they may want is simply a less cruel version of what they currently have. Over time this may change, but I think we should bear in mind that the Iraqi political culture is not like our own.
– Ellen Laipson, Symposium: After Saddam, What Then? 1/28/1999
The odds are strong that Iraq after Saddam will not be stable. I think there are too many imbalances that need to be addressed, economic, political and social. Some groups will want to settle scores. Will Iraq after Saddam be democratic? Almost certainly not, at least for many years. Islamists are strengthened by the period of sanctions, due to a perception widely held among Iraqis that the West is at least in part responsible for the trouble they’re in.
– Ellen Laipson, Symposium: After Saddam, What Then? 1/28/1999
Patrick Clawson has presented a plan for liberating Iraq that is rooted in dubious assumptions about the situation in Iraq, the strength of the INC (the main Washington proponents of the plan), and the extent of the American military commitment required to make it work. In my view, it borders on irresponsible to propose policies based upon false expectations, especially when American and Iraqi lives may be at stake.
– Andrew Parasiliti, Symposium: After Saddam, What Then? 1/28/1999
However Saddam is removed from power, the transition period is bound to be chaotic. Few of the conditions thought to be necessary for a relatively smooth shift from authoritarian to democratic government are present.
– James Moore, Speculating on Post-Saddam Iraq MEP, Volume VI, February 1999
I don’t think there’s a regime in the region that doesn’t love terrorism. It enables every regime to dispense with democratic process and brand almost anybody a terrorist who attempts to oppose the regime. Some regimes even provoke terrorist acts. Is there terrorism? Yes. Is it a threat? Yes. But it doesn’t help when one of the major agendas that the United States pursues in the region is counterterrorism. Every leader of every country will come rushing up to shake our hand because it justifies their suppression of democratic rights and processes.
– Graham Fuller, Symposium: The Peace Beyond the Peace: What role for Iran and Iraq?5/4/2000
Are we going to see the emergence of home-grown versions of democracy compatible with the basic principles of Islam? At least we ought not to interfere with that process. With luck it will be nurtured and grow. But democracy is not an export product. We can’t impose it on anyone.
– Ted Galen Carpenter, Symposium: The Peace Beyond the Peace: What role for Iran and Iraq? 5/4/2000
There has never been a greater degree of alienation from the United States than at present. Countries in the region are not in tune with our Iran policy, our Iraq policy, or our Israel or Palestinian policies.
– Chas. W. Freeman, Jr., Symposium: Iraq, Iran and Smart Sanctions, 6/20/2001
We think there are more and more people in the United States who have come to appreciate the EU point of view that dialogue is actually a better way of bringing about change than isolation and unilateral sanctions.
– Fraser Cameron, Symposium: Iraq, Iran and Smart Sanctions, 6/20/2001
Who’s going to pay for the war? The answer is, we are. This is not the Gulf War, to be fought on other people’s money. It is not a joint enterprise with the Arabs or with the allies. We cannot expect full or even partial reimbursement from the Gulf Arabs, the Germans, the Japanese, as was the case in 1990 and ’91.
– Chas. W. Freeman Jr., Symposium: War with Iraq: A Cost-Benefit Analysis, 10/09/2002
  We will not be judged by how we go to war. We will not be judged by how we fight this war. We will be judged by what happens after this war and by the way we deal with Iraq in the region once the war is over. The president as yet has provided absolutely no leadership on this issue. The most that he has done is make reference to words like democratization, which has become a four-letter word in the region, a synonym for imperialism, for seizing control of oil, for going on from Iraq to other countries and for dictating the political future of the region. It has become a symbol for alienation of the states we need most, a case where neo-con fantasy has been transformed into neo-crazy.
  If it is not clear that there is a moral and ethical goal to this war that serves Iraq’s needs and not our own, and if we are not prepared to act on that from the day we go in, in terms of peacemaking, humanitarian relief and other activities, all of the other issues relating to whether we should go to war are moot. Our military victory will be a grand strategic defeat.
  The lessons that you would draw from past peacemaking are, if you’re going to try to secure Iraq at all, get a peacemaking presence in as soon as possible. Establish order in all of the areas before people consolidate power and while the sheer shock of what you’ve done is still important.
  Another lesson is the need to create a climate for partnership. Do not go in as an occupier. Convince people that if they move with you, there is a real future and that it is their future and their goals you are meeting. Solve the humanitarian problems thoroughly and immediately, not in token terms. Don’t wait on promises of aid and support from the international community or the United Nations. They’re never kept. If you’re going to do anything, you’re going to have to spend the money and get the assets in right away. Be prepared to stay as long as it takes, so that people can evolve a stable regime and government and make necessary adjustments in the economy – no longer, but that long, and not simply in the capital but in the country.
– Anthony Cordesman, Symposium: War with Iraq: A Cost-Benefit Analysis, 10/09/2002
  An occupation and rebuilding exercise in Iraq, is problematic, given the makeup of Iraqi society and its own history.
  I fear greatly that a regimechange approach essentially means a ground invasion into Iraq, which I am quite sure that our military forces are fully capable of executing and executing well. A pacification, an occupation and rebuilding exercise in Iraq, is far more problematic, given the makeup of Iraqi society and its own history. This is not going to be Grenada, as Caspar Weinberger testified, and it is not going to be a revolution as in Portugal, with Iraqi citizens cheering wildly from the rooftops and putting flowers in the guns of the Sunni soldiers who are still around.
  The likely outcome will be a very, very nasty affair. There will be revenge killings against the Sunnis, against the Tikritis, against the Baathis. There will be Shiia grabs for power in the south and probably Baghdad. There will be Kurdish grabs for, at a minimum, Kirkuk as well as likely a rekindling of their historic ambition for an independent Kurdistan, which opens a whole other can of worms. In the middle of this will be an American occupation force.
  I worry that we will get bogged down when we don’t necessarily need to, and that we will get involved in something much more akin to our experience in Lebanon and turn the potential for victory into defeat.
  Those who mentioned the 56 years in Germany and Japan ought to take a look at the Marshall Plan for some guidance as to what it’s going to take, not just in Iraq, but also to create political incentives within the region for this new, flowering democracy that Mr. Wolfowitz likes to talk about.
  On the odds of the army caving in, there are those who have argued that thousands, as in the Gulf War, will capitulate as soon as they see Italian photographers. But, even if the army does decide not to overtly fight against an American invasion, this war is not going to be over when we get to Baghdad. In fact, the war will have just begun. The pacification and occupation and rebuilding of Iraq is going to be a much more time-consuming and difficult task, and it will be conducted in an environment that is not benign. We will see, in the bloodletting that occurs afterwards, that among those who are most at risk will be those who are tied to the old regime, including its military and security apparatuses. So, even if they are not prepared to fight for Saddam, when the guns are turned on them, or when the Shia and the Kurds come after them, they’re going to fight for their own lives, the lives of their clans, the lives of their tribes, the lives of the Sunni. In the middle of all this will be inserted 50,000 or 250,000 American occupation troops trying to adjudicate what could be the blowup of a country that has always been very difficult to hold together.
– Joseph Wilson, Symposium: War with Iraq: A Cost-Benefit Analysis, 10/09/2002
  We’ve got to go back to this cabal of neoconservative warriors who’d been around for a decade before 9/11 and who have been fully committed since the early 1990s, as they are now, to an American military-enforced new order in the Middle East with pretensions and fantasies of democratization of the region under American rule. This vision includes the expectation of U.S. exploitation of the oil wealth of Iraq, the establishment of large, semi-permanent military bases in the heart of the region, and the elimination of all pressures on Israel to withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza.
  This fantasy of this small cabal required then, as it does now, a war to overthrow Saddam and to gain control of Iraq. In the view of this group, rebuilding Iraq as a democracy will be emblematic of the sheer greatness and overwhelming power and responsibility of the United States in the post-Cold War world as the irrefutable sign of the possibility and rewards of grand-scale unilateralism. If the irrationality of Star Wars pushed the Soviet Union over the brink and liberated Eastern Europe during the first Bush administration, this group believes it will do the same with a war in Iraq and cascades of democracy through the Middle East.
  What we’re really doing is an Israeli Lebanon in Iraq. Israel entered Lebanon with the slogan, “Bang and we finish with it.” That was the idea, to use massive force to finish this annoying problem once and for all. But it doesn’t work. You go in there militarily, and it seems to be working, but then the complexities arise. Israel’s chosen leader was killed. They were left with refereeing a bloody fight among a wild array of factions. After fifteen years of casualties, they withdrew with nothing to show for it but embarrassment and encouragement to terrorism.
– Ian Lustick, Symposium: In the Wake of War: Geo-Strategy, Terrorism, Oil and Domestic Politics, 1/10/2003
  The difference between what we were able to do in Germany or Japan, for example, and what we might be able to do in Iraq arises from the very different levels of inter-ethnic conflict. You could take a Hessian, a Saxon, a Bavarian and an Alsatian picked at random in 1945 and bring them into an office and put them to work on the administration of the new Germany. They’d work according to orders, but they would begin from a basis of German interests. They would work as Germans. It is not true that there is no Iraqi nationalism, but in a new situation where it’s all broken open and there are opportunities and threats, randomly selected southern Shia, Arab Sunni, Kurds and Turkmen will default to their ethnic position.
  And we have far fewer resources for addressing the problem. When we went into Japan and Germany, we had started in 1941 and early ’42 stripping out from all the draftees who showed up at induction centers German and Japanese speakers. We sent them off to camps, where they spent the war preparing to occupy Japan and Germany. When we won that war, there was a postmaster for Essen; he’d been picked and trained. I don’t think we’ve got the postmaster in the Iraqi case.
– Frank Anderson, Symposium: In the Wake of War: Geo-Strategy, Terrorism, Oil and Domestic Politics, 1/10/2003
There is no doubt whatsoever about the enormous capacities of the U.S. armed forces and their ability to prevail in any battle in Iraq. And there is no doubt, therefore, that our armed forces can go in any direction to any location we wish in Iraq, except for one – out. Once we’re in, we don’t come out. The biggest problem with this, is that, at present, things happening in and around Iraq are someone else’s problem and someone else’s fault. But when the United States is there, we will be accountable for what happens.
– Chas. W. Freeman Jr., Symposium: In the Wake of War: Geo-Strategy, Terrorism, Oil and Domestic Politics, 1/10/2003
It is clear that there is a group of people in Washington, some in the administration, who are absolutely determined to have a war. They argued in the beginning that, if Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, that would justify invading Iraq. Then they argued that, if he denied having weapons of mass destruction, that would mean he was lying and therefore we would be justified in invading Iraq. And now they argue that, because the inspectors cannot find weapons of mass destruction, that means they’re so well hidden that the only way we can find them is if we invade Iraq. And so it goes. More likely than not, given the determination of this group and the influence they have in our government, we will invade Iraq. 
– Chas. W. Freeman Jr., Symposium: In the Wake of War: Geo-Strategy, Terrorism, Oil and Domestic Politics, 1/10/2003
The Bush administration has so far failed to make it clear to America that this will not be a “free” war. $350 billion is the staggering price tag that U.S. tax payers will be called upon to pay for the elimination of Iraq’s WMD and the removal of Saddam’s regime from President Bush’s “axis of evil.” And the president has yet to offer convincing proof that it’s worth it.
– Donald F. Hepburn, Is It a War for Oil?, MEP, Volume X, Spring 2003
  This arrogation of moral authority and the right to make decisions about war and peace unilaterally carries very high potential costs. It undermines the consensus underpinning the post-Cold War international order, thereby beginning the process of its de-legitimization. The French and German opposition to the American attempt to get the Security Council to hold Iraq in “material breach” of its obligations was largely an expression of deep concern about the American proclivity for unilateralism and not the result of visceral anti-Americanism….
  America’s alienation of major European states as well as the deep sense of unease felt by Russia and China at Washington’s unilateralism are likely to lead over the next two or three decades to the emergence of a new global balance of power that would spell the end of American unipolar hegemony.
– Mohammed Ayoob, War Against Iraq, MEP, Volume X, Summer 2003
The sense that the United States has invaded and now occupies Iraq, an ancient pillar of Islamic culture and Arab civilization, is likely to replace any gratitude for chasing out the regionally troublesome and much-despised Saddam Hussein. The more toxic combination that dominated Arab politics following the 1948 and 1967 wars – humiliation, powerlessness and rage – is more likely to set in, possibly stimulating greater Islamic extremism, challenges to existing regimes, especially the pro-American ones, and a resurgence of active rather than passive rejection of Israel.
– Martha Neff Kessler, Symposium: Aftershocks of the Iraq War, 6/20/2003
There is an emerging contradiction between our professions of democracy and support for the rule of law in other societies as we suspend habeas corpus for Muslim Americans or Muslim residents of the United States accused, rightly or wrongly, of terrorism. I don’t believe we can simultaneously promote the values of our Constitution and violate them at home. Whatever we do abroad, we should never forget that we need to maintain the strength of our traditions and our own values.
– Chas. W. Freeman Jr., Symposium: Aftershocks of the Iraq War, 6/20/2003
The pervasive difficulty of the reconstruction process will be that those who have a monopoly over the use of force control choices. This was exactly the basis of authority of Saddam’s regime. The U.S.-led transitional administration may be no more legitimate and so may be equally incapable of delivering peace and development. A reconstructed Iraq that serves U. S. security interests may not be an Iraq in which there is much human security.
– J. Barnett, B. Eggleston, M. Webber, Peace and Development in Post-War Iraq, MEP, Volume X, Fall 2003
What the United States has to be able to do in order to make the implied threat of the use of its forces effective in the region is to prove that it can pacify the territory occupied.
– W. Patrick Lang, Symposium: Imperial Dreams: Can the Middle East Be Transformed?, 10/3/2003
The administration has focused on the destruction of terrorists and terrorist groups as the solution to terrorism. Certainly, we must do this, but terrorism is a symptom of deeper conflicts. If destroying terrorists is all we do, it’s only a palliative. Unless we understand and try to eliminate or a least contain the problems that breed terrorism, we’re going to fail, and the virus of terrorism will continue to grow and spread. Some have called this approach appeasement, but it’s not. It’s common sense.
– Philip C. Wilcox Jr. , Symposium: Imperial Dreams: Can the Middle East Be Transformed?, 10/3/2003
Our entire program in Iraq is based on the idea that we can reorganize Iraq to our heart’s content and then we’re going to move on to reorganize other places. Who is next on the list? Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, you name it, and there are people in all of these countries who think that’s a wonderful idea; you know why? Because they haven’t experienced it yet, that’s why. They haven’t experienced the chaos that will ensue when we pull the keystone out of the arch and all the blocks fall down just as they have in Iraq today.
– W. Patrick Lang, Symposium: Iraq, Afghanistan, and the War on Terror. , 01/11/2005
There is no guarantee that a negotiated withdrawal strategy would succeed in leaving behind a stable and peaceful Iraq. The depth of mutual fear, suspicion and hostility between Sunnis and Shiites should temper optimism about the possibility of a peace settlement. If such a diplomatic effort were to fail and the two sides continued to descend into civil war, however, it should be clear that the United States would not continue to leave its troops to fight on behalf of one side in a sectarian struggle. It could withdraw its forces to safety in the knowledge that the civil war was not the result of the withdrawal but precisely the opposite. Nevertheless, the negotiated-withdrawal approach is the only one that offers realistic hope for achieving all three main elements of a responsible exit strategy: an end date for the U.S. occupation, avoidance of a sectarian civil war, and the elimination of the foreign-terrorist haven in the country.
– Gareth Porter, A Responsible Exit Strategy, MEP Volume XII, Fall 2005
We tend to think of the United States, at least since the end of the Cold War, as a hegemonic power, implying that if can control conditions in almost any area of the world. But the structure of the economic system is such that even a hegemon cannot rationally expect that deliberate political action can secure oil supply, influence price setting, or even control production.
– Dag Harald Claes, Making Sense of the Oil Factor, MEP Volume XII, Winter 2005
Were the new Iraq to fail and succumb to civil war, the Kurds would face stark choices and be left to their own devices to survive in a hostile atmosphere, surrounded by states and groups opposed to their independence. At the same time, because they, of all Iraq’s social and ethnic groups, have been the most open about having options outside of Iraq, the Kurds’ demonstrated willingness to work for a unified Iraqi state will matter the most – more than that of the majority Shia – when it comes to achieving and sustaining that goal.
– Henri J. Barkey and Ellen Laipson, Iraqi Kurds and Iraq’s Future, MEP Volume XII, Winter 2005
There are serious problems in training Iraq’s security forces. They are not truly national Iraqi forces. In the north, they are largely Kurdish Peshmerga from the Kurdish Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. In the south, they are largely Shiite, often from the militias of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), the Dawa party and Muktada al-Sadr. Basra’s largely Shiite police force is penetrated by Shiite militias and may be executing Sunnis and secularists. Baghdad’s Shiite-dominated police force may be executing Sunni civilians. Interior Ministry forces, again largely dominated by Shiites, many from SCIRI’s Badr Brigade and Wolf Brigade, are accused of killing and torturing Sunnis.
– Thomas Mattair, Exiting Iraq: Competing Strategies, MEP Volume XIII, Spring 2006
Military occupation simply is not an instrument that will help us to damp down sectarian violence. It failed utterly in February and early March to do anything about the escalation of Shiite violence and retaliation for the bombing of the Shiite mosque in Samarra. American troops stood by, the Iraqi military stood by as, apparently, Sadr’s militia wreaked vengeance against Sunnis in the Baghdad area. This means to me that we can forget about the rationale for continued occupation, which is that the U.S. military must remain there in order to prevent civil war.
– Gareth Porter, Symposium: Is There a Responsible Exit From the Strategic Ambush in Iraq?, 04/21/2006
Once again, the United States does not need to change its core policies, but it needs to give the highest possible visibility to aiding the Iraqi people, deferring to a sovereign Iraqi government, and showing that Iraqi oil is for the Iraqis and that Washington has no intention of maintaining any military presence that the Iraqi government does not need or want.
– Anthony Cordesman, Winning the “War on Terrorism”, MEP Volume XIII, Fall 2006
Both the war in Iraq and the war on terrorism are religious, political and ideological battles. Every American abuse of the values the United States stands for does far more harm in losing this battle than any direct act of treason.
– Anthony Cordesman, Winning the “War on Terrorism”, MEP Volume XIII, Fall 2006
The debate about ‘withdrawal’ is in reality about troop reduction in Iraq and a concession to public opinion in both the United States and Iraq… It appears that the U.S. envisages three simultaneous phases: drawdown of troops, training of the Iraqi army and retreat to bases. In any case, the United States will need bases of some kind in Iraq for a long period of time.
– Walter Posch, Staying the Course: Permanent U.S. Bases In Iraq?, MEP Volume XIII, Fall 2006
While democratic elections may be held to determine who ascends to political office, the promise of broadly representing government in the divided countries of the Middle East is a mirage.
– Stephen Day, Barriers to Federal Democracy in Iraq: Lessons from Yemen, MEP Volume XIII, Fall 2006
Iraq has, to the concern of many in the region and here, produced a significant increase in Iranian influence throughout the region, not just in Iraq – with which Iran now enjoys an unprecedented intimate relationship – but also in Lebanon, thanks to the Israeli intervention, which empowered Hizbollah as the dominant political force in that country, and to the continuation of Iran’s relationship and alliance with Syria, which no one seems to be seriously attempting to undermine.
– Chas. W. Freeman, Symposium: Iraq, Iran, Israel and the Eclipse of U.S. Influence: What Role for America Now?,01/19/2007
The only way to preserve some influence would be to join with the international community at large to encourage and pressure where possible all parties, both inside and outside Iraq, to help ratchet down the levels of violence and to seek a desperately needed political solution inside Iraq and in the region generally.
– Wayne White, Symposium: Iraq, Iran, Israel and the Eclipse of U.S. Influence: What Role for America Now?,01/19/2007
The vast majority of those opposing us in Iraq are opposing us just because we are present in Iraq. If we leave Iraq, the average Sunni Arab insurgent is not getting on a plane for New York. He probably never would have become an insurgent if we hadn’t come near his village.
– Wayne White,Symposium: Iraq, Iran, Israel and the Eclipse of U.S. Influence: What Role for America Now? ,01/19/2007
  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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