US prepares for a post-Hussein Iraq
American officials debate how to rebuild a battered Iraq - and who will do it.
With unanimous passage of a Security Council resolution demanding Iraq's disarmament, the calendar of events in Iraq speeds up - making the question of what happens should Saddam Hussein be ousted suddenly more urgent.Skip to next paragraph
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Until now, say many analysts and exiled Iraqis, a post-Hussein transition has been left to second-rung importance and squabbles among power factions. Indeed, with a key conference of Iraqi opposition forces later this month in Brussels, some observers are worried that the US still appears undecided on what opposition groups or model for a post-Hussein Iraq to stand behind.
Of course, it remains to be seen what course of action Mr. Hussein chooses. Privately, however, US officials are convinced that he is extremely unlikely to give up his weapons and weapons programs voluntarily - thus accelerating the war drumbeat.
In this environment, the White House, State Department, and Pentagon are advancing ideas for handling Iraq after Hussein. So far, officials appear to be falling in behind two basic visions: a "light" nation-building option, and a "heavy" US-led occupation and refashioning of the country.
"There is no question there is going to be change in Iraq," says Laith Kubba, an Iraqi and senior program officer for the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington. "The question now is how."
The "light" option envisions the US role in Iraq more as a "liberation" than as an "occupation." It has the added advantage in supporters' eyes of costing less and risking less anti-American backlash from nationalistic Iraqis. The idea would be to quickly call on Iraqis themselves to rebuild their country.
One historical example of this would be the liberation of France in 1944, when Allied commanders decided to allow French soldiers under Gen. Charles de Gaulle to lead victorious forces into Paris - even though it was Yankee boys who had done the liberating. The idea was to pave the way for France's quick stabilization by building confidence among the French that they were not a conquered people and had leadership ready to rebuild the country.
It should be noted that this idea builds from lower expectations for Iraq's transition - and sets up a clash between the goals of a merely better, weapons-free Iraq, and an Iraq endowed with a full democracy that serves as an example for the Middle East.
"There are people who contend we should be ambitiously defining democracy, and for whom the only acceptable objective [in Iraq] is perfection that bowls over the region," says Patrick Clawson, deputy director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "But our target should be something less ambitious," he believes, "where our role gives Iraqis a chance for a much better government but accepts that the outcome may not be everything we hoped for."
Critics of the "light" approach say only a military occupation with a heavy commitment of US forces and resources, at least in the first years following Hussein's ouster, will be able to avoid chaos and the possible breakup of the country - something the US is promising edgy neighboring countries it won't allow to occur. Experts who believe a "heavy" occupation will be required foresee a need for at least 100,000 foreign troops in Iraq for several years, at a cost of tens of billions of dollars a year.