Monday, December 15, 2003
Well, I haven't said anything about the wonderful capture of Saddam yet because I didn't think I had anything to add to what was being said. But it seems there's an expectation that everyone will opine even if they don't have an original opinion. Strange conventions this blogosphere has.
Anyhow, it seems to me there are now two open questions: how and where will Saddam be tried, and what will happen to the anti-occupation guerillas in Iraq now that Saddam has been captured? (And how can we use that capture effectively in responding to the guerillas?)
The first one is easy: he should be tried in Iraq, by Iraqis, because they'll stick his head on a pike and feel good about it. Seriously: handing him over to the Hague is just ludicrous, as his primary crimes were committed against Iraqis and the prosecution of Saddam is one of the few things the new Iraqi government can do that will lend it legitimacy - and it needs all the legitimacy it can get. American prosecution would be even worse than international prosecution in that regard, and the only real reason we need to keep a hand in at all is that Saddam is a potential intelligence treasure-trove, and to maximize his intelligence value we need to be in a position to dangle carrots in front of him, something we certainly can't do if he's out of our hands. But that's something that can be worked out with the Iraqis, no doubt.
The second one is harder to assess. The conventional view (articulated by the Administration) has been that the guerillas are Saddam loyalists, "dead-enders" who have now truly reached a dead end. That could certainly be part of what we've seen, but I can tell you this: there are no suicide bombers among the Baathist thugs, and it's hard for me to see how Saddam would have had time or ability to train them prior to the American invasion. Suicide terrorism is pretty rare and requires thorough indoctrination - I mean, you're asking someone to kill himself, to look forward to killing himself as the highest duty and noblest act he can perform. Not easy to do. The Japanese militarists managed it in the 1940s; Hizballah managed it in the 1980s; Hamas and al-Qaeda managed it in the 1990s; and now we have the Al Aqsa Martyrs who are, I think, the first Arab terrorist group to employ suicide bombing that is nationalist rather than Islamist in orientation. That example notwithstanding, I think it's notable that there's a religious or quasi-religious dimension to all these groups (including, I would argue, the kamikazis). I just don't see how Saddamism could provide the inspiration necessary to produce suicide bombers. I mean, Stalin didn't, Kim Il Sung didn't, Ceaucescu didn't. It's not so easy to get someone to strap a bomb on and blow himself up. It takes some dedication.
By the same token, I don't think Steve Sailer's "thug-entrepreneurs" theory accounts for the suicide bombers either. Sailer thinks that the attacks are primarily coming from younger Sunni Arabs who are making a play for power in a post-Saddam, post-occupation Iraq; therefore, he argues, we won't be able to decapitate the guerillas, because they have no single head, and we will face more attacks post-Saddam than we did when there was a chance he would come back. That's not a bad theory, and it's probably partly true. But freelance thugs are not going to get people to blow themselves up.
It seems to me that the group in the best position to organize these kinds of suicide attacks - which are the hardest ones to stop, and therefore the most threatening to the occupying forces and the Iraqis alike - is Hizballah, for three reasons. First, it's backed by Iran, who has the greatest geopolitical interest in the failure of the American occupation (Iran would likely dominate a Lebanonized Iraq as Syria has dominated Lebanon). Second, it's based in Syria, which is right next door to Iraq, and which has a fairly porous border. Third, Hizballah has been at this longer than anyone else in the region, and has a substantial store of volunteers. They are far better placed, in all three ways, than al-Qaeda, and far more capable of mounting these kinds of operations than the Baathist dead-enders.
However, they are a Shiite group, backed by Iraq's territorial enemies. Certainly Baathist thugs would work happily with them so long as their interests coincide. Do they still coincide now that Saddam is out of the picture?
I suspect not. Sailer may be right that there's a lot of freelancing going on, but the fact is without Saddam a random Tikriti thug is going to have a real hard time taking over the country. If America pulled out, Iran would fill the power vacuum, and there's no reason Iran would prefer to work with said Tikriti thug rather than with the folks of SCIRI - or even Ahmad Chalabi, who has been making kissy noises towards Tehran for a while now. (And before I get more nasty mail for saying bad things about Chalabi: I'm willing to entertain the possibility that he's an Iraqi patriot and not just a scheming opportunist, but even an Iraqi patriot would have reason to try to make friends with Tehran, since the Iranians are vastly larger and stronger and fully capable of subverting whatever government emerges in Iraq. That said, I think Chalabi is an opportunist. He's not the worst guy in Iraq; there are far worse. But conservative romanticism about the guy is just ridiculous, in my view.)
So let's post there are three elements to the guerillas: pro-Saddam forces, opportunistic young Sunni Arabs looking to move up in the post-war ranks, and foreign fighters largely controlled by Hizballah. If these folks were largely working together before, it's not clear they should be working together now that Saddam is out of the picture. Rationally, the first group should shift gears and be more friendly towards the Americans, and turn on their erstwhile allies from Hizballah. By the same token, Iranian-backed elements should now be bolder and more aggressive, because these folks are now the only ones substantially able to seize power in a post-occupation Iraq.
Watch what happens with the new militias (terrible idea), particularly those loyal to Chalabi and to SCIRI. Watch how the American occupation is viewed in Shiite areas versus Sunni Arab areas; it will be interesting to see if there are more attacks in the former than before, and fewer in the latter. And watch how America's relationship with Syria develops. Without their bases in Syria and Lebanon, Hizballah would be devastated. Normally America wouldn't care, because Hizballah hasn't attacked Americans specifically since we fled Lebanon; they've been more focused on Israel, and America is leery of destabilizing Syria, creating a bigger mess there than we have now. But if Hizballah is playing in big role in the Iraqi guerilla campaign, American attitudes might change.