US Ignored Politics in War Plans

Bush's unpreparedness for Desert Storm's aftermath presages more policy failures in Mideast

FROM one end of Iraq to the other, that country's people scream to us in agony and reproach. President Bush had given them ample reason to believe that the United States would welcome a challenge to Saddam Hussein's dictatorship. His frequent use of the ``Hitler'' analogy implied that. And by last February, Mr. Bush was openly calling on the Iraqis to topple their regime. But when a majority of Iraq's 16 million citizens tried to do just that, our president turned a blind eye as Saddam sent his helicopter gunships to drown their rebellions in blood.

The administration's betrayal of the Iraqi people is much more serious than mere ``business as usual'' in the annals of diplomacy. Remember, we are standing at the dawn of the uncharted post-cold-war era in global politics. So what principles will be guiding the world's nations in what Bush likes to call the ``new world order''? Will we have a reliance on collective security, international law, and respect for everyone's human rights - or just a return to the old law of the jungle: Might makes right?

Since last fall, Bush has made the whole structure of world politics dangerously dependent on his own personal preference. Within the United Nations coalition that he had put together, he arrogated to the US a disproportionate power to make the crucial military decisions. And within the US, he exercised presidential power to its unilateral utmost as he led us into and through the war. His circle of advisers was small. And by tipping his hand early in favor of war, Bush virtually ensured that advisers wo uld not bother him with opposing points of view. (The contrast with President Kennedy's leadership during the Cuban missile crisis has been noted.)

Now we are stuck with what some military people describe as ``the annoying untidiness in Iraq and Kuwait.'' There, and elsewhere in the Middle East, I hear a discomforting swish of wings as some the US's Mideastern chickens come home to roost.

The cardinal sin in the Gulf crisis has been the shocking disproportion between the planning that went into the military aspects of the war and the planning for its politics. Folks in the Pentagon often quote Clausewitz. But none took to heart that military theoretician's most famous dictum: ``War is an extension of politics by other means.''

From August until the battlefield victory in late February, our military planners worked round the clock fine-tuning their preparations for war. And our diplomats? Were they at work on effective plans for war termination or the building of the postwar order in the region? They were not.

IF there was a plan for war termination, it never went beyond the hope that some mysterious Iraqi Colonel X would shoot Saddam and put us all out of our misery. The idea that the 75 percent of Iraqis who do not belong to Saddam's Sunni Arab clique might put an end to minority rule once and for all in Iraq never figured in the administration's calculations.

Well, Colonel X never made an appearance. And our allies (and paymasters) in the House of Saud made sure that democratization made no appearance on the American agenda - in Iraq or anywhere else in the Middle East. So we are stuck with Saddam Hussein. And with a Gulf region dominated on one shore by vindictive and anti-democratic monarchs and on the other by the ayatollahs. And with the chances of Arab-Israeli peace slipping further away each day, mired in the quicksand of the Gulf.

What is to be done?

The Middle East is too dangerous a region to be left to stew in its own juice. The president should move speedily to correct for past errors. That includes:

Restoring the political aspect of planning to its rightful place in the forefront of strategic decisionmaking.

Returning to the collective authority of the United Nations to deal with vast challenges remaining in Iraq and the Gulf and possibly also with Arab-Israeli peacemaking.

Pushing hard to secure an exchange of land for peace between Israelis and Arabs, and the Palestinians' national rights.

Returning to President Reagan's stress on democratization as an integral part of American diplomacy - no exceptions.

A total pause on arms transfers to the Middle East.

If these steps are taken, we might yet stabilize the situation in the Middle East. Bush's military crusade against Saddam might still look as though it was all worth doing.

If such steps are not taken, however, the many well-armed cliques of the Middle East will have learned only that, in the new world order, might makes right. The bloodbaths that will ensue will bring further death and destruction in the region. They could also fatally stain the resume of candidate George Bush.

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