U.S. President George W. Bush's repeated statements that he wants a "regime change" in Baghdad is fueling a lively debate in Washington about the consequences of toppling Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. In the second of a two-part series, RFE/RL looks at the challenges the U.S. would face in seeking to foster a broad-based government in Iraq after Saddam.
Prague, 13 August 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Many regional experts agree that toppling the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein would risk sparking a period of unrest and score-settling.
The exact extent of the possible unrest is uncertain, but it could include revenge killings as members of tribes that were repressed by Saddam target members of tribes that supported the regime. The hostilities could be ethnic-based, as Saddam has showered privileges upon clans in his own minority Sunni Muslim community in order to maintain power over the country's Shiite Muslim majority and, in the past, over the Iraqi Kurds.
There could even be violence within some communities as relatives of those sent to jail or killed by Saddam's secret police use the opportunity of a regime change to punish those who cooperated with the authorities.
Rend Rahim Francke, director of the pro-democracy Iraq Foundation in Washington, D.C., says law and order is likely to break down temporarily if Saddam's government falls. This would pose two challenges for the United States, she says. One would be to maintain order with U.S. troops. The other would be to resist the temptation to immediately permit an authoritarian government to take Saddam's place, rather than pursue the more difficult task of fostering democracy.
"The temptation, I think, for the U.S. is going to be very high because it is quite possible that there are going to be defecting officers who will join the U.S. in unseating the regime.... And the temptation for the U.S. is going to be very strong to be persuaded that such a group of generals who have cooperated with the U.S. are the force that is capable of ruling Iraq and, indeed, is the only group that can maintain peace and security in Iraq."
To minimize the danger of a new authoritarian leader coming to power, some analysts say it is essential that Washington begin fostering a new order for Iraq now -- well before Saddam is toppled. That task, however, is complicated by the difficulty of bringing people from inside Iraq to participate in any planning for a post-Saddam order.
Instead, such planning has been restricted to meetings of exiled Iraqi opposition leaders, who have an unknown degree of authority within Iraq. What role Washington envisions for the exiled opposition groups -- and whether to arm them or not -- is still being debated. Some analysts predict that, at the very least, they will play a liaison role, helping U.S. troops restore civic services and establish law and order. Other analysts suggest that if the exiled groups reach a power-sharing deal among themselves, they might form an interim government that groups inside Iraq could later join to form a broad-based administration.
However, Iraq's own lack of experience with democracy leads many regional experts to warn that a prolonged U.S. presence would be necessary for any new democratic government to succeed.
Ted Galen Carpenter of the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C., says that ousting Saddam would make Washington responsible for Iraq's political future and entangle the U.S. in just the kind of nation-building the White House has said it wants to avoid. "Given the lack of strong indigenous democratic values or institutions in Iraq, the U.S. would have to undertake rather an extensive nation-building mission, an imperial mission, and we would be in that country for a good many years. At least, we would try to stay there. If we run into resistance from forces that dislike the U.S. occupation, we may find ourselves, as we did in Lebanon and Somalia, exiting prematurely, although that would not be the plan."
Other analysts also have said that the U.S. would have to make a prolonged and costly commitment in Iraq if it wants a broad-based and participatory government in Baghdad.
Phebe Marr is a retired professor from the U.S. government-run National Defense University, who has written extensively on Iraq. She says that "if the U.S. is going to take the responsibility for removing the current leadership, it should assume that it cannot get the results it wants on the cheap." She says that finding a strong, pro-Western replacement for Saddam would be difficult and that the best alternative would be for U.S. and its allies to occupy Iraq to help nurture a new, more democratic class.
At a U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing earlier this month, nongovernmental experts and former senior government officials sought to put a preliminary price tag on what prolonged U.S. involvement would cost. Scott Feil, a retired army colonel who studies postwar reconstruction programs, presented a detailed analysis showing that the U.S. would need to deploy 75,000 troops after Saddam is deposed to help stabilize the nation.
Feil estimated that this stabilization force would cost more than $16 billion a year and would be needed for at least 12 months. He said that at least 5,000 U.S. troops would probably be needed for at least five more years to maintain stability, and he recommended that the U.S. be prepared to contribute $1 billion annually to a reconstruction fund.
Samuel Berger, who was national security adviser to former U.S. President Bill Clinton, wrote recently in "The Washington Post" that total reconstruction costs for Iraq could range from $50 billion to $150 billion. Estimates of reconstruction costs vary widely because it is unclear to what extent Iraq could draw on its own oil earnings to cover part of the early cost of its reconstruction.
If the United States does maintain a force in Iraq to shape and protect a new Iraqi government, some analysts worry that a prolonged U.S. presence would cause widespread regional resentment.
Andrew Bacevitch, an expert in international relations at Boston University in Boston, Massachusetts, says that intervening in Iraq to create a secular democracy would antagonize other governments in the region -- including U.S. allies -- that do not share those values and fear their spread.
"The complications I am more concerned about are those that would result from the United States embarking upon a project to make Iraq the kind of country we think it ought to be, meaning a secular, liberal democracy.... That project is one that is going to be viewed with great concern by other regimes in the region that are not secular, liberal democracies and don't want to be. And one could list Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Syria among those."
The possibility that U.S. intervention in Iraq could have long-range consequences for not only Baghdad but other governments in the region has received increased attention lately.
Shilbey Telhami, a political expert at the University of Maryland, recently wrote: "[The U.S. is] capable of destroying many enemies, including Iran, Iraq, North Korea, and more, but we do not have the resources to bring stability or the desired outcome in every region after such wars. And instability is where terrorism thrives."
So far, outside of Washington and London, most government leaders have expressed opposition to any military campaign against Iraq. British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who has frequently warned of the dangers posed by Iraq's suspected weapons program, said recently that no new UN resolution would be needed for military action against Baghdad.
But German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder this month rejected any German involvement, saying, "I can only warn against playing around with war and military intervention -- we won't get involved in this."
France and Russia also have announced that they will not support any U.S.-led effort to oust Saddam without a clear UN mandate first.
In the Mideast, Saudi Arabia said this month that the United States will not be allowed to use the kingdom's soil in any way for a potential attack on Iraq. The other Arab states and Iran have called for a peaceful solution to the crisis with Baghdad, while Turkey has expressed concern over the prospect of a military campaign.
Unlike the 1991 Gulf War, in which Washington's coalition partners paid some 80 percent of the $60 billion bill, no foreign countries have yet offered to help underwrite a new war on Iraq. That led "The New York Times" recently to report that a U.S. attack on Iraq could profoundly affect the U.S. economy because it would likely have to pay most of the cost itself, as well as bear the shock of any oil price increases or other market disruptions.
But some political experts predict that foreign reluctance over a second Gulf War to rid Iraq of suspected weapons of mass destruction could change if the Bush administration makes it clear that it is determined to overthrow Saddam.
Speaking at a recent U.S. Senate committee hearing on Iraq, former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger said that if Iraq's neighbors and Washington's allies can be sure the U.S. is going to "stay the course and eliminate Saddam Hussein," then "you'll find a great many people swarming around and wanting to join the team."