True Victories Need Diplomacy, Not Just the Military

IT is absolutely right that Americans should remember the superlative victory of military planning and execution that was D-Day. But we should also find a way to memorialize the triumph of American diplomacy that was represented by the Marshall Plan and the transformation of Germany and Japan into stable democracies. For it was the inspired politics of the postwar administration put in place in areas controlled by the Western Allies that made the reemergence of militarism in Germany and Japan impossible for the rest of our century.

I say this not just because my father was involved, on the British side, in both parts of the planning - for the interservice coordination required for D-Day, and for the postwar administration of Germany. I say it also because the essential lesson about the linkage between military and political operations seems to have evaded today's national-security planners in Washington.

That was brought home to me when, even as the American TV networks filled my home with images of a windswept Omaha Beach, 50 years on, an Iraqi Kurdish friend called to deplore the deterioration of the situation in Kurdistan.

Remember Kurdistan? Remember the pictures of the Kurds of northern Iraq slipping their wretched way through muddy mountains as they fled in terror from an Iraqi military that our forces had left, inside Iraq itself, essentially intact?

Responding to international pressure, the Bush administration finally agreed, through an operation called Provide Comfort, to give military protection to these Kurds within a portion of their former homeland. In June 1991, that protection was formally handed over to the United Nations.

Since then, the mainly Kurdish population of the protected areas has existed in limbo. (For Arab opponents of the Baghdad regime in southern Iraq, the situation has been more clear-cut and much more horrifying. Their traditions, habitat, religious institutions, and thousands of their lives have been systematically wiped out in a campaign that can only be called genocidal.)

But back to the Kurds. Within their fragile bubble of international protection, they tried to build a decent administration. In May 1992, they held orderly elections for a ``regional parliament.'' But their experiment in institutionalizing democratic norms within Iraq has never received adequate backing from the West. Taking their lead from Washington, the Western allies have starved Iraqi Kurdistan of funds, including it alongside the Saddam Hussein-controlled areas in the economic embargo. Instead of working with Iraqi democrats to plan for the extension of democracy to the whole of Iraq, the West has focused on technical military issues in most of its dealings with Baghdad.

Kurdistan's experiment in democracy is in big trouble. The two main Kurdish parties have been fighting each other for weeks, with many casualties. Turkey, which sits astride the logistics routes for Provide Comfort, has always been wary of anything that might provide an example to its own vast Kurdish population in the way of successful Kurdish self-rule. Some Iraqi Kurds report that Turkey is urging them to work out their own reconciliation with Saddam.

Meanwhile, at the south end of the Arabian Peninsula, the unresolved contest of wills between pro-Saddam and pro-Saudi forces is further fanning the flames of hatred and warfare within Yemen.

Truly, the political aftermath of Desert Storm looks much more bloody, unpleasant, and just plain unstable than the political aftermath of D-Day.

Does this matter? Yes. It matters because the United States is still the biggest power in the world. For too long now, American strategy has been run by narrow, cold-war militarists rather than the broader-gauged strategists of yesteryear. Not just Kurdistan, but the whole international system, is in a dangerous, rudderless state of drift.

President Clinton would be much more impressive if he had a strong foreign-policy team that produced a convincing picture of precisely how, as the world's largest power, the US plans to work with others to build a stable and hopeful world for the next 50 years. Slogans about ``enlarging democracy'' remain just empty pieties unless we can see that active democrats in Haiti, in Bosnia, in the former Soviet Union, and in Iraq will be effectively supported.

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