The Power of Independent Thinking


Stay Connected
Get the latest updates straight to your inbox.

The Future of Iraq: Democracy or Quagmire?
June 17, 2004
George Bisharat, Ivan Eland, James H. Noyes, Christopher Scheer


David Theroux
President, the Independent Institute

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. My name is David Theroux and I’m the president of the Independent Institute. I’m delighted to welcome you to our Independent Policy Forum event this evening.

The Independent Policy Forum is a regular series of lectures, seminars, debates, and panel discussions held here and elsewhere in the Bay Area. We’re delighted to have our program at our conference center this evening.

As you know, our event this evening is entitled, “The Future of Iraq: Democracy or Quagmire?” It’s an event of our Center on Peace and Liberty, and in your package, you’ll find some information about tonight’s program and the speakers.

As you may know, we are featuring two books this evening. The first one is a book called, The Five Biggest Lies Bush Told Us about Iraq, which is co-authored by Christopher Scheer, Robert Scheer, and Lakshmi Chaudhry. We’re also featuring the book, Putting “Defense” Back into U.S. Defense Policy, by Ivan Eland, who is one of our senior fellows.

The Independent Institute, for those of you who are unfamiliar, is a scholarly public research organization. We have about 140 research fellows and we produce many books. We have a quarterly journal. There are copies upstairs if you’re interested in taking a look. The journal is called The Independent Review.

Our Website is and you’re most welcome to visit there. You’ll find it’s a cornucopia of studies, and commentaries, and research articles on a whole range of public policy issues, not the least of which is foreign affairs. We also have a weekly e-mail newsletter called The Lighthouse and you’re all welcome to receive that. It’s complementary and I think you’ll find it’s very timely and always quite lively and provocative.

In your packets, you’ll also find information about two forthcoming books from the Independent Institute. One is a book called, Against Leviathan, by one of our senior fellows whose name is Robert Higgs.

You’ll also find information about another book by Ivan Eland that’s also coming out shortly, called The Empire Has No Clothes. This is actually the uncorrected galley—so I can’t sell it to you, but the book will be out in mid-August and Against Leviathan will be out in mid-July.

The other thing I want to point out in your packets is a flyer on a video of ours called, Understanding America’s Terrorist Crisis. There’s a handful of you, I believe, who attended an event we held about a year-and-a-half ago in San Francisco with Gore Vidal, Lewis Lapham, and a panel of scholars, including Dr. Higgs. I recommend those publications to you.

As you all know, the spectacle—of what has been transpiring, leading up to, and currently—in Iraq, is truly astounding. It seems like not a day passes when we do not learn yet another detail of some incongruity or scandal in U.S. policy.

Most Americans, who trusted what they were told by government officials, are having an increasingly difficult time squaring that with the information that’s coming to light.

At the Institute, at the time of 9/11, we began raising questions about U.S. policy and other policies around the world. Many people were surprised by the questions we raised, but the issues that were raised at that time and since, have since been verified on many fronts. And of course, we’re delighted to be hosting our special program tonight on the situation in Iraq, what may happen, perhaps what should be done instead of current policies.

Before I introduce the Director of the Center on Peace and Liberty, I want to point out one snafu we had in tonight’s program that we just learned about this evening while people were having the reception.

Bob Scheer, who is co-author of one of the books, was to be one of the speakers here. His wife had an emergency appendicitis this afternoon and had to go into hospital in Santa Monica so I just got off the phone with him. His co-author, Christopher Scheer, will be here in a few minutes and will be speaking. Christopher, actually, was the main author of the book, by the way.

But I’m sorry and I apologize for that. And Bob sends his regrets and I hope that you’ll understand about the situation that he’s been involved in. Apparently, his wife is doing fine but they’re not sure they actually solved the problem. So anyway, Christopher will be here shortly, and again, I apologize for this problem but sometimes these things do happen.

To chair this evening’s program, I want to introduce Dr. Ivan Eland, who is director of our Center on Peace and Liberty, which has organized this evening’s program.

He received his MBA in applied economics and Ph.D. in national security policy from George Washington University. He’s been a director of defense policy studies at the Cato Institute. He was principal defense analyst at the Congressional Budget Office. He was Evaluator-in-Charge for national security and intelligence for the U.S. General Accounting Office. And he was investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

As I mentioned, in addition to his book Putting “Defense” Back into U.S. Defense Policy, he’s the author of our forthcoming book, The Empire Has No Clothes, so I’m delighted to introduce Dr. Ivan Eland. (applause)

Ivan Eland
Director, Center on Peace & Liberty, Independent Institute

Thanks for coming tonight. This is a great crowd that we have here tonight, a capacity crowd, and I hope the program won’t disappoint. We have three other speakers beside myself who are going to be here tonight, and I’ll introduce the speakers, and then I’ll start off, and then I’ll moderate the questions afterwards.

But following me will be George Bisharat on my left who is a professor in the Hastings School of Law at the University of California. He is also author of The Palestinian Lawyers and Israeli Rule: Law and Disorder in the West Bank. He’s also got his Ph.D. in anthropology and Middle East studies from Harvard University.

By the way, I’m shortening up these biographies or we’ll be here all night, but I hope our panelists don’t mind me doing that a little bit. He’ll be our second speaker.

Our third speaker is James Noyes who is a research fellow specializing in Middle Eastern affairs at the Hoover Institution. He served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Defense for Near Eastern, African, and Southern Asian Affairs, and his books include, The Persian Gulf after the Cold War, and The Clouded Lens: Persian Gulf Security and U.S. Policy.

And our fourth speaker, as David mentioned, is Chris Scheer, who is the main author of this book here, The Five Biggest Lies Bush Told Us About Iraq.

So I’ll start off here and I’m going to sort of propose a new solution to the problem. You don’t hear many solutions these days. You hear a lot of commentators criticizing the current policy, and certainly, there is a lot to criticize. But I decided that I would try to offer a solution.

And of course when you offer a solution, everybody takes shots at it, but nonetheless, I don’t see a lot of other solutions out there so, when anybody takes a shot at the solution, I just say what’s your solution? And you usually get blank stares.

I was just at a program in New York City last where somebody in the crowd asked what the solution was, and so I told them mine, and the other panelists just kind of didn’t really offer much. But I’m sure that tonight we’ll have a variety of proposals here.

So I’ll just start out by saying that prior to the war, there were two camps, invade or don’t invade, and now we have two camps, stay or leave. But these camps are not necessarily the same people. Some people were against the war but now say that we must stay to maintain U.S. credibility or prevent Iraq from becoming a haven for terrorists.

I was in the don’t-do-it-to-start-with camp, and now I’m in the leave-soon camp. So—(applause) and I’m—well, don’t applaud yet until you hear my solution. OK? (laughter)

I believe those who want to stay are misguided because, after Vietnam, we should have learned that we’ll have less credibility and prestige if we leave later rather than sooner.

It’s like an investor who buys a bad stock. All of us have this psychological aversion to admitting that we made a mistake. But many investment analysts and consultants will tell you, if you buy a bad stock, you should get rid of it, admit you made a mistake, and take that money and put it into something that is going to do better.

Of course, this is sort of like the investor who bought a bad stock and just keeps a hold of it, hoping it will go back up, but it’s probably a stock in Enron or something like that.

So the longer the U.S. stays, the more Islamic radicals are going to be converted into anti-U.S. terrorists. So I think we’re endangering our own homeland by staying any longer than we have to.

Now, I’m going to propose a course of action that would reduce the possibility of an Iraqi civil war or instability that could provide a haven for terrorists. So I think that argument is somewhat specious.

And lastly, even if the violence in Iraq continues and the terrorists take advantage of it, they would no longer have as much motivation to attack the U.S.

Now, many people would dispute this. Of course, the Bush administration says that it’s fighting terrorists in Iraq so we don’t have to fight them on the home front. And they adopted this rhetoric after some neo-conservatives decided that they had to come up with a rationale for why we were still in Iraq after all the other reasons went by the wayside.

So I think before I propose my solution—I think anyone who proposes any solution really needs to examine why the people are fighting there.

Now, Bush can brand the terrorists as Baathist holdovers, or terrorists, or whatever he wants to call them, but I think the al-Sadr movement in the south should make us somewhat skeptical of those labels. This guy doesn’t really fit into any of those categories.

And although some Sunnis are Baathist holdovers, many are fighting, not to bring back Saddam necessarily, but because they’re especially fearful that the Shiites will give them payback. Of course, the Sunnis under Saddam oppressed the Shiites and the Kurds, and now these groups may pay the Sunnis back. And many of the Sunni fighters are fighting for that reason.

And of course, the Shia have been oppressed by the Sunni minority for decades and they want to use their majority power to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.

Now the Kurds, of course, have been historically oppressed by everybody and they want to keep the autonomy that they got after the First Persian Gulf War and they’re not going to give it up easily.

They’ve been the most friendly group to the United States, but, of course, they could also become opponents—as we’ve seen in the last week, when they pushed back at the Shiites who were trying to flex their majority muscles and get the Kurdish autonomy written out of the interim constitution, which, of course, they did, and the Kurds were mad about that.

Now of course, some Shiites and some Sunnis are fighting because the foreign invader has occupied their land, and those with an Islamist bent among them are fighting to throw the infidels out of the land of the Shiite holy sites.

So I think analyzing some of the reasons that people are doing what they are doing is very important before we start down on the road to a solution that will work.

Now of course, withdrawing U.S. forces will obviously stop the violence against them.

The Sunnis who are fighting, and also the al-Sadr group, could no longer justify their violence as being against the occupation. As noted earlier, a U.S. withdrawal won’t necessarily create a failed state that’s a haven for terrorist attacks against the United States.

In fact, the U.S. force has done a lousy job in stabilizing the country so far, so one might ask, Can it get any worse if the U.S. leaves, given the fact that much of the violence is against U.S. forces?

So the assumption that, if we do leave, it will get worse, is not necessarily so. A new poll taken by the occupation just recently, which is kind of embarrassing to the U.S. occupation, shows that Iraqis believe that they would be safer if U.S. forces left. The poll also showed that the American occupation is very unpopular, which I think is the understatement of the year.

So one might ask, what moral right do we have to invade a sovereign and then stay when the population wants us to leave?

President Bush, in commenting on this poll, took the imperial and undemocratic position that, over the long run, the Iraqis will be grateful for the U.S. occupation, even though they don’t see the light now.

Even some who are opposed to the invasion think we have a moral obligation to fix what we’ve broken. I think it’s hard to make this argument when the U.S. occupation is so unpopular. At minimum, it’s a paternalistic argument. More likely, these people also have a hidden neo-imperial motive for staying in Iraq.

But while exiting, the United States could help the Iraqis set up a mechanism for self-determination. And this mechanism would do a lot to reduce the chances of civil war among varying groups that would be around after the U.S. left.

The key is that Iraqis should be allowed to determine their own fate, as shocking a solution as that might seem. Now, of course, that might mean that they don’t do exactly what the United States wants. But I think we’re at the stage now where we need to find a way to get out rather than a way to make the Iraqis fulfill our geostrategic fantasies on the Middle East.

So I’ll first introduce my proposal and then explore the implications.

As I say, most people are stymied when asked what they would do, even though they’re criticizing the current policy. And I don’t want to be one of those people, so I think I’ll propose a solution here. But many conservatives even realize that the administration has mismanaged the occupation and that it threatens to become a quagmire. But analysts are paralyzed by the situation and have no plan.

Now, my proposal is this. A constitutional convention should be held with delegates from each Iraqi locality sending a representative or representatives. No U.S. governing council, or interim government representatives, or U.S. forces, or occupation personnel would be present.

This is the only way that the convention would have any legitimacy in Iraqi eyes. The delegates would negotiate Iraq’s future governmental structure, and the results of the convention would be put to the Iraqi people for their approval.

More than likely, a constitutional convention in which tribes, ethnic, religious groups, and/or regions negotiate with each other would result in a decentralized government structure, either a confederation, a loose federal system like the Swiss Canton system, or the secession of some parts of Iraq. Or even, number four, a partitioning of the country into three or more segments or independent states. Such a result is likely because Iraq has always been an artificial state created by the British after World War I.

Now if this result occurred, the convention would also negotiate the sharing of the all important oil revenues. Now, decentralized government should make it less likely that any tribe, ethnic, religious group, or region would think that any other such entity could get control of the central government and use it to oppress everybody else, which is what all the groups are really scared of. But if you have decentralized local rule, it’s very difficult to do that when you only have control of your local government.

So in this scheme, the groups would largely govern themselves.

Now, the prospect of decentralized government should make everyone less fearful, lessen the violence, and make negotiations more fruitful.

Now if anyone doubts that decentralized government, the potential for it, has these effects, one should merely look to the recent framework for peace just concluded to end one of Sudan’s brutal civil wars, a civil war which has resulted in two million casualties. I mean, this makes what’s happening in Iraq look like a picnic.

Yet, these rival groups in Sudan—and they have more bad blood between them than the groups in Iraq, because they’ve had a hot civil war going on for many years—you would think that they would have a hard time in reaching a settlement. And if decentralized government or the potential for it can be arranged in Sudan, why not in less bloody Iraq?

The Sudanese agreement isn’t perfect because it doesn’t deal with the civil war in Western Sudan, only the one in Southern Sudan, but, that said, it does allow power in Sudan to be devolved to individual states, thus effectively allowing the Christian rebels to govern in Southern Sudan independently of the Islamic government. The framework for peace also allows an eventual secession vote for some regions of the country.

Finally, both factions have agreed to share oil revenues—which would need to also be arranged in Iraq—and Sudan’s arrangement could serve as a model for the one in Iraq. It wouldn’t have to be exactly the same because it’s, of course, a different situation, but nonetheless, I think the ramifications of decentralized government need to be explored, and I think it’s the only shot left with any hope of ensuring peace and prosperity in Iraq.

Now of course, there’ve been several criticisms of decentralized government. One, that the Turks will go crazy because they would invade an autonomous Kurdish area or even an independent Kurdish area because they’re jumpy about their own Kurdish minority wanting to join the newly liberated Iraqi Kurds.

But in fact, the Iraqi Kurds have been liberated for more than a decade under U.S. and British air power- and the Turks have lived with a de facto independent Kurdistan for during this period. And of course, any negotiated settlement that the groups would arrange in Iraq would have the Turks looming over it because they’re more powerful than the Kurds, so perhaps the Kurds would even stop at autonomy rather than secession because it would be less threatening.

Another fear is that the Iraqi Shia would become dominated by the more radical Iranian Shia. I think that that fear has somewhat dissipated by the fact that the Shia in Iraq consider themselves Arabs, and they also seem to have much more moderate views on the separation of church and state than the Iranian Shiites.

Now in the worse case, what if Iran did gain influence over the Iraqi Shia? So what? Critics of the decentralized government in Iraq should be forced to explain how that threatens U.S. security, and I think they need to flesh that out a bit more. Furthermore, the Al-Sadr group would no longer be able to claim legitimacy on the basis of fighting the infidel invader and might be forced to negotiate with the revered Ayatollah Sistani for a place in any governing Shiite areas.

This leads to the invisible elephant in the room—oil. Some critics believe that Iraq can’t be split up or decentralized because of its oil reserves. Yet, the constituent parts of Iraq need to sell oil just like the unified Iraqi government would. In fact, they would have less market power in the world oil market than a unified Iraqi government.

Furthermore, if the centralization or partition is needed to quell the violence so that Iraqi oil can be pumped out of the ground, then the world would be better off than with a civil war in a unified Iraq disrupting oil production. And if anyone thinks that oil production won’t be disrupted by a civil war, we already have this major oil terminal closed down for 10 days by a recent terrorist attack. The oil pipelines are attacked all the time during this conflict, which is short of a civil war now.

Now, my plan is not perfect, but the Bush administration has dug itself into such a hole in Iraq that it’s the best shot for some semblance of peace and stability. I’m trying to look at the incentives that the various groups would have to do various things. And I conclude that they’re on a collision course unless you have a decentralized government.

And if Karl Rove were smart, he would be the biggest advocate of my plan within the administration. Bush could truthfully say that he’s bringing American troops home while giving Iraqis the best chance for future peace and prosperity. And he could say we deposed Saddam and now we’re letting Iraqis have genuine self-determination.

Now, will Bush adopt my plan? I kind of doubt that, but I’m putting it forth anyway. Bush’s foreign policy advisors are part of the foreign policy establishment, and the foreign policy establishment worships nation-states, and therefore, even artificial ones such as Iraq.

My prediction is that Bush will continue to muddle through. He’ll try to convince Americans of the fantasy that Iraq is getting better. He did that in a speech yesterday at McDill Air Force Base. And even though the violence is increasing in Iraq, he’s been cutting deals with the insurgents in Fallujah and the southern towns, the Al-Sadr group down there, to reduce U.S. casualties before the election.

So this is a muddle-through strategy, and I think the U.S. forces have been pulled back from these cities so they don’t incur as many casualties. We make deals with the opposition so the casualties are held down. And of course, Bush will attempt to continue fooling the Iraqis with this handover of power, which is not really much of a handover of power at all.

And I think this is delusional—that anyone in Iraq is going to be fooled by this—but the administration seems to continue along this, what I would call, fantasyland, especially after overruling the U.N. envoy and appointing a -former CIA asset as prime minister. They have a tin ear for what the Iraqis are thinking. (laughter)

So I think this attempt to keep a lid on Iraq until the U.S. election is not a long-term strategy for a peaceful Iraq. The country is awash with armed groups who are unfriendly to each other and the U.S. occupation, a sure recipe for eventual civil war. And I think this strategy—this election-driven muddling-through strategy—is going to fail. Thank you. So I’ll let George take over. (applause)

George Bisharat
Professor of Law, Middle East Affairs, UC Hastings

Thank you, David and Ivan, and all of you for coming out tonight. I would imagine that the two questions that are foremost in your minds and in the minds of many Americans are, first, what are the prospects for the emergence of a stable, independent, and democratic state in Iraq? And secondly, what role will the United States play in the unfolding future of that country?

Well, I aim to address those two questions, but let me first give you sort of the punch line first.

The short answer is that the prospects for democracy in Iraq are slim. In part, this is due to internal factors, some of which Ivan has already touched on. In part, this is due to the fact that the United States is determined to manipulate events in that country to our perceived advantage at the expense of true democracy and the interests and the aspirations of the Iraqi people.

I expect, both in the short term and in the medium term, at least ongoing violence and instability in that country. Whatever else June 30th stands for, it will not stand for the return of full sovereignty to Iraq; 160,000 troops running around in a country, not under the command of the government of that country, is not a picture of true sovereignty. That is not what real sovereignty means.

The internal challenges to Iraqi democracy, I think, are probably fairly well known to you. At least, they have become known to you over the last year or so. Ethnic and religious divisions, that 60 percent of the country are Shia Muslims, about 23 percent are Sunni Muslims, and about 17 percent are Kurdish, an ethnic minority, some of whom are Sunni, some of whom are Shia. And essentially, an incomplete sense or feeling of Iraqi national identity really is the sort of the result of these divisions.

Secondly, the country has a history of political violence, and coups, and assassinations, of political repression, and great political instability.

Third, there is the absence of know-how. It is not enough to have simply the will, the desire, the aspiration for democracy, the rule of law, in these things. There’s a certain amount of technical knowledge that has to be developed in order to effectuate these things, and that takes time to develop.

Of course, the Iraqi people are highly educated, very capable. They have a certain amount of administrative skill, but they don’t have all of the skills that they need at this time to immediately produce a democratic system. It’s going to take some time.

Why, you might ask, am I not more trusting of U.S. intentions with respect to fostering true democracy in Iraq? Well, first, it would be entirely counter to U.S. tradition in the region, generally, and with respect to Iraq itself.

We have a long history dating back at least to the 1960s, when we supported the Baath coup in 1963, when we aided in the suppression, really essentially bloody purges, of the Iraqi Communist Party. And we have essentially an uninterrupted series of interventions and interferences in the affairs of that country, supporting at one time Kurdish insurgency against the central government, abandoning it when it no longer suited our purposes, urging Iraq to attack Iran in 1980, supplying much of the weaponry for the Iraqi military, the chemical precursors that were used to manufacture chemical weapons, and the like.

Now, you might chalk much of this up to sort of Cold War realpolitik, and you might see the Bush administration’s talk about democracy and democratization in the Middle East as sort of turning over a new leaf.

That would not be indicated, however, in the Bush administration’s policy of sidelining Yasser Arafat who was, after all, in 1996 elected with 88 percent of the vote of his people. He may be a leader that we don’t like. He may be a leader who promotes policies that we don’t agree with, but he’s a democratically elected leader, and we’re doing everything to subvert and neutralize him.

This is second in my reasons for not feeling trustful of American intentions: I see at least four major points of potential friction. There are others as well, but at least four major points of potential friction between a democratic Iraqi government, one that genuinely represents the interests of its people, and American policy makers.

One has to do with the structure of the economy. It’s very clear that democracy, according to the Bush administration and its current policy makers, is not simply having elections, and freedom of the press, and the like, although those are part of it. Another big part of it is free enterprise, is capitalism.

And the coalition government has already enacted a number of laws in violation of international law, not that that has really evoked much notice, but has enacted a number of laws which have fundamentally transformed the character of the Iraqi economy, privatizing a number of industries, permitting foreign investment, and 100 percent foreign ownership of Iraqi companies, and other similar changes.

Now, you know, assets in Iraq and in other countries of the region were nationalized at a particular stage in these countries’ history for a reason. And that was because of the perception that these natural resources—oil in particular—were being controlled and exploited for the interests of outside powers, and not for the people of the region, not for the people of the country in whom these resources were set. So this may be a bone of future contention and difference.

A second possible area of friction is one, again, that Ivan touched on, having to do with the emergence of a Shia majority, or, I should say, a government that reflects the reality of Shia domination, of numbers anyway, in the population.

Now, I think Ivan is probably right that an association between Shia Iraq and Iran may not be such a terribly threatening thing after all. However, I believe it will be perceived by our current policymakers as tremendously threatening.

Iran, after all, is seen by the neo-conservatives as the most consequential state in the region, the one most threatening, ultimately with, perhaps, a growing nuclear program, and the like. And so whatever the reality, I think the perception in Washington is going to be that this is a very threatening development.

Third, another point that Ivan touched on, the future of the Kurds. I think in any truly democratic state in Iraq, the Kurds are going to have to be afforded some meaningful form of autonomy at the very least. I’m not irrevocably against Ivan’s suggestion of the possibility of actual independence for the Kurdish people but autonomy at a bare minimum.

And I think that this is going to be very disturbing to Turkey, as Ivan suggested, and that in turn, I think it is going to upset the neo-cons again because Turkey is, after Israel, our most important ally in the region. I mean, it will be an interesting thing to see how our leaders finesse the question of Kurdish demands for autonomy and Turkish demands for policies that ensure that Kurdish policies don’t excite similar demands within Turkey itself.

And then the final major point of potential friction between a democratic Iraqi government and the U.S. and current policymakers has to do with Israel. Any truly democratic, truly representative government in Iraq is not going to be a government that is friendly to Israel in the way that U.S. policymakers have obviously desired.

The reason is that Iraqis closely identify with the Palestinians, even more so, of course, these days, as they experience occupation and as they compare their situation to that of the Palestinians under occupation. But there are long roots to this association and many reasons for it.

Let me now give you my third reason for having distrust of American intentions. There are a number of indications that the United States is already moving to ensure ongoing influence over Iraq. I’m going to be quick here, because I’m taking a little bit more time than I intended. Let me just list a few indications.

First of all, there’s the personnel that have been selected to sort of manage affairs. On the Iraqi side, Iyad Alawi, the CIA—Ivan kindly described him as an asset. This is the guy who was at least the conduit, if not the author, for the claim that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction that could be readied within 45 minutes. So query to what extent he was truly an asset. (laughter)

But this is a man who headed an organization, the Iraqi National Accord, which received CIA funding and engaged in a program of insurgency in Iraq, including car bombings in a number of southern Iraqi cities that caused hundreds of civilian casualties. In other words, if we were to be fair about it, he’s a terrorist.

On the American side we have, of course, our soon-to-be ambassador, John Negroponte, who, as some of you may know, has a history in Latin America and elsewhere of managing counterinsurgency activity. And of course, he will have at his disposal the largest U.S. embassy in the world in Iraq, with somewhere between 12 and 15,000 employees. And so these are not developments which instill great confidence.

In recent weeks, the Coalition Provisional Authority has rapidly been setting up a number of commissions and agencies that will assume functional control over the activities of virtually all of the Iraqi ministries, and are being staffed with people, of course, chosen by the CPA, and for five-year terms.

So these people are going to be operating in these capacities, and essentially, they will have say over what all of the Iraqi government ministries will be able to do. And their terms extend considerably beyond the contemplated tenure of the transitional government.

I mean, the coalition provisional authority has also been rapidly concluding a number of contracts, over $2 billion worth of contracts, in the last month or so, which will commit the funds for Iraqi development in particular directions.

And then of course, there’s the obvious fact that we are maintaining 130,000 of our own troops and another 30,000 or so of other troops in the country. We are now in the process of building 14 military bases in the country, and that does not suggest a short tenure for these troops. (laughter)

Now, it is possible to have stability without democracy, and I’ve also suggested to you that I foresee, not just a lack of democracy, but also a lack of stability, so I need to explain why.

The main reason is very simple and that is that no people, including Iraqis, like foreign occupation. As long as we have substantial numbers of troops in that country that are not under the command of the Iraqi government itself, we are going to have problems.

Now, foreign occupations are susceptible to a particular dynamic. And you know, it’s been a long time since soldiers have run around in this country speaking foreign languages and wearing uniforms other than our own, so we’ve forgotten about this.

But, you know, people don’t like foreign occupiers. Popular insurgency almost inevitably develops. Insurgents resort to guerilla tactics, because they don’t have the firepower to do otherwise. And they, of course, melt into the population.

This creates fear and suspicion on the part of troops of the occupying power, and often overreactions.

And we’ve seen, of course, many examples of these. If you’ve read the news closely, I’m sure you’ve read about the many occasions in which U.S. soldiers have fired on cars that failed to heed call to stop at a checkpoint and eliminated an entire Iraqi family.

This dynamic between occupier and occupied has a particular edge in Iraq. It does so, I think, because we have sent over there young Americans, good people, good, young people, but people who are ignorant of the language and customs of the people of Iraq.

They are imbued with a sense of cultural superiority. After all, they are there to bring democracy to the dark masses. And there’s very little question in my mind that there is a strong sense of disappointment that many of them are experiencing over the absence of that welcome that they were promised by their leadership.

So this combination of fear, this sense of cultural superiority, this sense of resentment over the way they’re being treated and received by the people—all of these things are just one step away from the kind of racial contempt and hatred that was exemplified in Abu Ghraib.

And I predict that we are going to hear much more, not just about abuses of detainees—you’ve probably heard reports about the looting, and theft, and other abuses that American soldiers have committed against Iraqi civilians. I personally have heard some other anecdotal stories of treatment of our troops of Iraqi civilians, and I think we’re going to hear a lot more about it as time goes on.

Now from the Iraqi side, it’s impossible not to see this foreign occupation against the backdrop of the Arab world’s experience with Western colonial ventures. We are, after all, not the first to promise liberation to the people, not even the first to promise it to the Iraqis. The British, when they went into Iraq in 1920 or so, said exactly the same things that we’re saying to them now. “We’re coming to you as liberators, not as oppressors.”

And of course, I alluded earlier to the growing parallels between Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and the American occupation of Iraq. And of course, these parallels are growing stronger and stronger. Some, I’m sure, coincidentally, some not so coincidentally. Israeli advisors have been instructing Americans in urban counterinsurgency tactics.

So now, I know that people throughout the Arab world, when they saw the pictures from Abu Ghraib said, “We know those tactics. That’s what the Israelis do to the Palestinians. That’s what they’ve been doing for 37 years to them in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip—the positional abuse, the hooding, all of those things.” These are very commonly known tactics. Now, they’re probably used by torturers all over the world, but the association between these two kinds of occupation are particularly ruinous to our credibility and legitimacy in the region.

And Ivan alluded to the poll, which was done by the CPA itself last month. It wasn’t released to the American public, but the number of Iraqis who considered us occupiers was 92 percent. Two percent of the people polled thought of us as liberators, 3 percent as peacemakers, the like. But 92 percent of the people viewed us as occupiers.

And something like 79 percent of the people polled believed that violent attacks, in other words, the insurgency, have increased because people have lost faith in the coalition forces. And 65 percent of those polled thought that they would be safer, or at least as safe, if the coalition forces left immediately.

Now, nothing but a decisive break from former policies is likely to end this dynamic, in my view. As for Iraq, I think there are few attractive options but there are some things that can and should be done.

First of all, our military forces should immediately halt offensive actions in that country. Secondly, we should renounce any intention of maintaining long-term bases in that country. And third, we should announce a date certain, certainly no greater than one year from now, and probably less, for the withdrawal of U.S. troops.

Now, I do think that there are other things that we can do in our policies with respect to the region generally that will aid us—that will provide us with some currency with some political legitimacy to operate and deal more effectively in Iraq. I’m just going to list them very quickly, and perhaps we can discuss them more in the discussion period.

One of them is to support regional democratization. Now, this is already part of our policy in a sense, part of U.S. policy. Of course, the ultimate image of what democracy is is something that we have essentially defined and foreclosed ourselves. And that’s not, I think, the kind of support for democratization that we really need.

In other words, we have to be open to the emergence of forms of government in the region which are reflective of the interests, and the desires, and the aspirations, and the indigenous conceptions of democracy, and not simply impose our own. We also have to understand that democracy is not imposed at the point of a gun. It is a gradual, painstaking process of years and cannot be affected quickly and forcefully.

Secondly, I believe we have to support regional disarmament. This is one of the most arms-saturated regions in the world. The reason that we had problems with Saddam Hussein was that he was amassing arms, and others were amassing arms, and they were all amassing arms because the others were amassing arms. And of course, we and many European countries were selling arms to all of these countries, and the results have been damaging to everybody.

Thirdly, we need to strongly push for consistent application of international law, and I’ll be quite frank here. I have in mind Israel. Israel is the greatest offender against Security Council resolutions and international law in the entire region, and the United States has never taken effective action to curb Israeli misbehavior. And this double standard is apparent to everybody else in every other part of the world. And it, of course, creates tremendous cynicism about our policies, about our intentions.

And then last, and relatedly, we have to support a just resolution of the Israel/Palestine conflict. Second to Iraq and historically, this conflict and our involvement in it, essentially as a supporter of Israel, is responsible for the greatest hostility towards this country in that region, and increasingly, throughout the world.

We refuse to look at this. People protest and deny, and it’s time for a really open and frank discussion about our role with respect to Israel/Palestine, and the ways in which a more constructive engagement in that conflict could aid us in other areas including in Iraq. So thank you very much. I look forward to our discussion. (applause)

James Noyes
Research Fellow, Persian Gulf Security, Hoover Institution

Let me thank the last speaker, except for the fact that he practically said it all, and I’m not quite sure what’s left there.

But I appreciate this opportunity, so will try to keep within bounds. I’ll put my clock up there. The idealistic movements for change have a way of turning very sour in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East. The founders of the Baath Party tried to unite the Arab world as an antidote to communal and ethnic separatism plaguing Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere.

Iraqi Baathists employed this pan-Arabism as a device to bolster Sunni control by symbolically making Iraq a part of the broader predominantly Sunni Arab Middle East. This effort to manage Iraq’s sectarian diversity gave way shortly to Saddam’s cruel Sunni military dictatorship shorn of idealism.

Will the current U.S. attempt to create instant democracy fare better? I hesitate to classify our effort as idealistic at base. It is so unrealistic to think that a military occupation—particularly of an Arab country that has been a center point of Arab nationalism—to think that a military occupation of such a country can mentor democracy, that I have difficulty believing that the U.S. architects overseeing change really believed in it.

By necessity, greater realism is evolving in Washington bit by bit and a bit late. Bush’s April 14th press conference contained only a few quick references to democracy in Iraq. Instead, there were over 20 references to free Iraq and many to independent, stable, sovereign, self-rule, advancing freedom, reform, and free and secure. This rhetorical shift reflects plans under the UN resolution to hand power to a so-called sovereign Iraq government on June 30th and to be followed by democratic elections by January 2005.

These excellent plans, on the surface they’re excellent, are at the mercy of many spoiling forces. Among these, threats to security and order are the core. In trying to withdraw physically and politically from Iraq’s turbulent transition, we are training Iraqi police and military, spending millions on uniforms, vehicles, new weapons, and facilities.

If this could be achieved successfully, U.S. forces could withdraw as targets. But where will all these newly trained men direct their loyalty? Will they fire on fellow tribal members or religious compatriots if ordered?

Men can be trained as soldiers or police in months, but for indoctrination sufficient to die for a cause, it takes great leadership and often many years. The U.S. has experience in this process that suggests skepticism. We worked with this in Lebanon, for instance, over many years.

Our withdrawal from urban centers of government, moreover, will be delayed by the urgent need to protect the new leaders of Iraq, some of whom have already been targeted successfully for assassination by the resistance. This highly visible protection requirement will continue to engage our forces to a degree that paints these leaders as lackeys of the US. Pressures will build in two ways.

In the US, there will be mounting political pressure against combat casualties, and I think this is regardless of the election or who wins the election. From Iraq, new leaders will need to be free of visible U.S. protection. New Iraqi security forces are unlikely to be ready to step in.

The likely result, I fear, will be a return to the old militias, who are cohesive within themselves, motivated, and effective militarily, however inimical to the development of a broadly representative government for Iraq. A worst-case projection would see this trend snowball into warring militias leading to the disintegration of Iraq into Kurdish, Sunni, and Shiite statelets battling over the allocation of oil income and other resources.

But this may be much too pessimistic. We are all operating on the basis of scanty knowledge of what the Iraqi people are really made of at this point.

Well, all of this above that I discussed is, unfortunately, quite plausible. We need to be very humble about assessments of Iraqi society. This society, remember, is traumatized by decades of dictatorship, eight years of war with Iran, the defeat of Desert Storm, years of sanctions, and now another military defeat and occupation.

It is not impossible that an Iraqi nationalism has emerged that is now much stronger relative to the sectarian and ethnic pulls that we think about. Iraqis are united today by a desire to see their occupation end. They have had a taste of losing their country to a foreign invader.

There just could be enough wise leaders who can seize the moment to submerge old divisions. Cooperation from the Sunni minority Saddam used to rule Iraq is the most problematic element among factions. Principal Shia and Kurdish political parties are represented fully on the current Iraqi governing council of 25 members. But of the five Sunni Arabs on the council, only two belong to political parties, neither of which have much importance.

But some wise Sunni leaders are stepping forward. Last year, Sunnis representing Islamists as well as urban professionals and tribal leaders convened a national consultative council, or shura, for the sake of focusing fractured and radicalized Sunni politics.

Whatever the case, the U.S. is not capable of engineering the outcome. We are caught in contradictions that might be called a quagmire, at least temporarily.

On the one hand, we need to remain engaged, first, to protect the new leadership, second, to protect the infrastructure-rebuilding that will make or break Iraq’s new government, and third, to provide border security against Iraq’s neighbors, who all have proxy allies at work within Iraq, who in turn have subversive motives designed to block the development of a democratic Iraq.

I can’t imagine our simply pulling out as has been suggested. Can you imagine the rage in the Arab world and throughout the world that we created this mess and we walk away and leave the country probably in chaos? And can you imagine the political backlash—created by the families of the military, our military, who have died over there and have been injured over there?

On the other hand, as long as U.S. forces remain active in Iraq or even poised in these remoter bases in the desert, there will be an Iraqi resistance, and any new Baghdad government will be deemed “not sovereign.” Although under the new regime, I understand the Iraqi government can demand that our military leave at any time, I can’t quite see that happening if it were an unfriendly government—I mean, unfriendly from our point of view.

The force of Iraqi nationalism that we want to have emerge as a unifying factor will, in this context, work against us. This is a bleak outlook, but Iraq’s outlook under Saddam was certainly bleak. In long-range terms, our presence has at least broken that logjam of terror and many of the good things our soldiers have done in Iraq may bear fruit in a way not evident today.

Today we cannot leave successfully and we cannot stay without great cost. How we proceed will prove one of the great tests of our imagination, courage, and diplomacy. Thank you. (applause)

Christopher Scheer
Co-author, The Five Biggest Lies Bush Told Us about Iraq

Hello. I’m Christopher Scheer and some of you may have been expecting Robert Scheer tonight. Well, he sends his sincere apologies for not being able to be here. He’s in the hospital with his wife tonight, but she’s OK. She had her appendix out last night. Since he’s not here, I will be trying to channel him sometimes. We wrote a book together called, The Five Biggest Lies Bush Told Us about Iraq.”

And this book is really not so much about Iraq. And the previous speakers have done a wonderful job talking about Iraq and the many, many, many complexities of that country, and how hard it is to guess which is worse, the U.S. leaving or the U.S. staying. I could make my own arguments. I think they’ve laid out quite well what the different issues are.

What I guess I’d like to talk about more is the future of the United States -democracy or quagmire, in a way, as it relates to this war and other wars like it that may be in the offing.

There are two things which I draw from this experience which echo things that I have been hearing from my father for some decades. In the mid ’60s, my father wrote a pamphlet called, “How the U.S. Got Involved in Vietnam,” which was one of the first looks at how did we get into this before all the protests started. Ended up distributing a million copies.

And it was sort of sadly ironic to be doing this book and realizing that we were covering much the same ground of how people assume, wrongly, many, many times, over and over again, that a) there are adults watching the store, in his expression. (laughter) And b) that the ends justify the means if you only have ends that sound good on paper, or sound good in the State of the Union Speech, or that use words, as somebody mentioned here, like you drop in the word “freedom” every other line.

We certainly had many good, noble ends on paper for the war in Vietnam, and we were given a whole bunch of great ends for this war as well, and we keep falling for it.

It’s interesting to note that many of the same players have been around in the foreign-policy establishment in this country for decades now. Some of them go between Democratic and Republican administrations. Some of them are career types, and, of course, we know some of the ones come from Reagan, to Bush, to this Bush. And we know about the neo-conservatives and their sort of slow, and now in the last few years, meteoric, rise to the top.

But these two experiences are, for me, what is the larger rubric. There are not adults watching the store. Even under their own realpolitik or neo-conservativism, depending on which branch you’re looking at, even under their own goals, they do not achieve them. They do not seem to have the ability to see things through. They do not have the ability to trust democracy here, much less in Iraq. They do not trust us to tell us the truth.

And I was shocked this afternoon to see, only a day after the 9/11 Commission tells us that there was not any good evidence that Iraq and Al-Qaeda ever had any relationship of any meaning, Bush comes out today and says, The reason that I’m insisting that there are ties between Al-Qaeda and Iraq is because there are ties between Iraq and Al-Qaeda. (laughter)

The frustrating thing is that, even as recently as last Monday, several months ago, and so on and so forth, these guys keep putting out stuff that tells us that we are there for a reason that we are not there for. And so, how can we have an honest debate in this country about this war when our government still will not level with us?

And what we dealt with in our book, which is as true today as it was a year ago and two years ago, is that the stated goals of this occupation and this invasion have nothing to do with even the goals that were written down on papers that were signed by the leading advocates of this war inside the administration and outside the administration.

And what I mean by that is, the goals that were stated on paper. We are there, for what? We are there for a win-win-win-win fantasy hatched in think tanks that said, well, we don’t have to pick and choose whether this will be good for Israel, or good for energy, and oil companies, and for our supply of cheap oil, and because we can get the troops out of Saudi Arabia, and blah, blah, blah, and for Israel, and for opening new markets in, as somebody mentioned here, mostly nationalized economies.

We will open new sources of revenue for the military-industrial complex to sell weapons that are now going to be used and expended in various battles. We see the other day that Halliburton told their employees to just burn these $85,000 trucks if they get a flat tire. Right? It’s all fun stuff to spend all this.

So the war in Iraq combined all of these things, and yet, none of those things were the basis of the marketing campaign over a six or eight week period in the fall of 2002 for why we went to war in Iraq. And we’re still not getting it.

And the lies that we were told are so serious -they’re not lies of fibbing or twisting a number here or there. They basically told us this country here attacked us when that country didn’t attack us. We were told this country was an imminent threat when it was not an imminent threat. We were told it would be a cakewalk to occupy the place, that we would be greeted as liberators. We were not told about the dangers.

And most of all, we were told that this was all for democracy and freedom which the architects of this war thought might be a possible by-product, might not be. They also said, as Richard Perle said, this is an incredibly risky gamble; this is playing craps on a grand scale.

And what we see now, with this June 30th handover, is the Bush administration trying to set re-set on the video game button: “Say, boy, the neo-con thing. It looked really good on paper and now it looks really, really bad so the election’s coming up. We’d better scramble around and cut deals in the old fashioned way with every tough guy who’s got a militia.” And that’s what these guys have already laid out for you.

Right now, at least for a few months, we are going to go back to the more pragmatic, brutal approach to dealing: “If you can deliver, we’ll cut deals with you in Iraq.” And that’s why you see pulling back, allowing Sadr to move around, and allowing Saddam Hussein’s old guys to come in and be the heavies.

All you have to know about how things are going in Iraq is that you’re going to have to find out for yourself from things like this because, if you see the recent visit by Hamid Karzai, President Bush told us everything is hunky dory in Afghanistan now.

It is shocking when you actually are following this stuff to see what will come out of his mouth. Things in Afghanistan are far from hunky dory. Things in Iraq are far from hunky dory and you guys know that.

I think that it’s also really important to remember though that this war was not just brought to us by the Bush administration. And we will not solve these problems simply by removing the Bush administration in the next election. (applause)

Audience Member

It’s a start.

Christopher Scheer

It’s a start. (laughter). No, I mean, in a sense Bush in the last month, anyway, or the last few weeks, has done quite a bit to adopt the John Kerry platform of going and getting a new UN resolution, and cutting deals, and actually trying to hand over a little bit of sovereignty. And I hope that continues because it could turn this into a little less of a disaster.

But it’s been very apparent, for the last year and a half, that this war could have been stopped. And it could have been stopped if the conventional wisdom and liberals had really looked at these conceptions that there is somebody watching the store and the ends justify the means. If we didn’t look at the War on Terror as a rubric to run around like chickens with our heads cut off and allow these radicals that are really running our country the opportunity to try their experiments, we wouldn’t be in Iraq right now.

I’ll give you some examples of how lazy the conventional wisdom is. One, everybody has assumed now that if we had sent 400,000 troops, everything would have been a lot better. And the Democratic Party has announced in recent months that they think that that should have been done, and maybe even now should be done—we should send another couple hundred thousand troops.

I don’t know where we’re going to get them because we’re already doing a sort of backwards draft right now by keeping people from leaving their service after their time is up. But in any case, that’s one of the ideas.

I think what some of the previous speakers have noted is that having more troops simply means more targets, more people that you antagonize at checkpoints, more people running raids in the middle of the night, dragging old women out of their houses in their pajamas, and enraging people.

And we shouldn’t imagine that everybody in Iraq, then, or now, or in the future, is some kind of ideologue, religious fanatic. Most of these people are poor, extremely poor. They want to figure out how to be secure, how to get fed, how to not be abused and degraded, how to practice their religion.

One of the things that is shocking, and has continued to be shocking, and why Abu Ghraib was not a surprise, is that since the beginning of this occupation, it has almost seemed as if we want to antagonize people as much as possible. And that’s why I think the previous point of questioning the stated motives of the occupiers—because for example, I would think it would be a no-brainer that, if you were going to go in and occupy a country that was going to predisposed to be suspicious of your motives, that there would be some things that you would really take note of, and which we have never, to this day, done. For example, accountability.

Accidents are going to happen. You have a bunch of highly armed 19 year olds at checkpoints, and you have people who don’t speak the same language running into each other in highly tense situations. What’s going to happen? People are going to get shot by accident. The wrong people are going to get shot. The wrong people are going to get arrested and so on. Inevitable, right?

But at least, you could have accountability. If something happens, it would be investigated. If somebody’s arrested, their name will go on a list. The family will be notified. If somebody’s killed accidentally, the family will be paid something.

None of that has happened in this occupation. It is shocking. So until America takes seriously what it is doing, and levels with the American people, we will keep getting into disastrous situations that go against our fantasy that we are infallible.

And we can’t even do the things that we think Americans are doing perfectly in countries like Iraq. For example, get the electricity running. The electricity is still not on in the same way it was on before we invaded.

So now it’s June 30th coming, and we’re told there’s nothing to see here anymore. Look away. The whole world doesn’t have to look here anymore. Go back to whatever you’re doing and let’s talk about some job creation.

As people before me have pointed out, if you’re building 14 military bases and so on, this is an ongoing issue. Our own military already has accounted for the fact we’ll be there through 2005 with this many troops. The Democrats are talking about wanting more troops. Nobody in the world in their right mind is going to want to send anything more than a token amount of troops to help us at this point. NATO has said they’re not coming.

And we still can’t talk honestly about 9/11, which, after all, is what got us here supposedly. We still can’t talk about how we invaded a country that didn’t help Al-Qaeda and threatened a country that did, Saudi Arabia.

We can’t talk about how our policies in the Middle East are hopelessly twisted by the fact that we need to support countries like Saudi Arabia that ensure the price of oil won’t spike overnight, that have incredibly tight ties with our own United States energy industry, as well as our military-industrial complex, and our President, and his Vice President, and so on down the line.

Until we can have an honest debate, we will keep stumbling around in the dark. We will invade countries that we say have weapons of mass destruction which don’t, even though we supported them when they did. We will have allies on the War on Terror like Pakistan that do have weapons of mass destruction and sell them to everybody that wants them, (laughter) including Iran, which was part of the triad of terror, or whatever it was called, the axis of evil.

So there’s this inconsistency and all of this has to do with this fantasy that there are adults making sure that this all makes sense.

And the only way you can assume that this all makes sense is if you really decide that democracy has outlived its usefulness. Because if democracy has outlived its usefulness, then we are irrelevant because it’s just too complicated for us.

Like you hear a lot now about oil peaking: “There’s not going to be enough oil, so maybe these wars are justified.” And we can’t be told as Americans that we’re in Iraq to secure oil reserves, because we just wouldn’t get it. It would go against our national mythos of who we are. And maybe that’s the case. Maybe we’ve gotten beyond that point where we have anything useful to add.

However, the facts don’t really back that up. Things aren’t going that well. People are dying and there’s no sense of anything great is going to come out of this.

The best-case scenario for Iraq, I think—these guys know more than I do about Iraq—but I would guess the best case scenario for Iraq is that you end up with authoritarian, yet semi-democratic, leaders who don’t murder and torture as much as their neighbors, and there’s not a wild civil war in Iraq. I hope it will turn out much better than that, but it is likely that we will end up with another Saddam Hussein. After all, that has been the result of U.S. policy in the region for the last 45 years.

I’m running out of time. I’ll just give you a couple of prescriptions that have to do with avoiding these types of things in the future. One is, I’ve already mentioned several times, start telling the truth to Americans, and the opposite is that, as Americans, we have to start demanding the truth.

And we have to start demanding the truth not five, or six, or eight years later, or when the Nixon tapes come out 30 years later, but at the time it matters, like before we send 200,000 troops to a country in the Middle East.

And the only way we can do that is if we hold our representative’s feet to the fire so they stand up at the right moment, and not say, like John Kerry did in Rolling Stone magazine, “I wouldn’t have voted for the authorization using force in Iraq if I’d known he would F it up so badly.” Except he used the whole word and got a lot of trouble for that because we didn’t want a swearer. (laughter)

We have to stop posing false choices. I’ve heard a lot now from pro-war generals in various testimonies lately about something called “Fortress America.” Apparently, if you’re not for the war in Iraq, you’re for Fortress America. You’re for isolationism. You’re against helping people. You’re anti-human rights. Have you heard that one? And some liberals believe this. There are some liberals who tell us now, a) that the war in Iraq was for human rights, and b) that torture is justified because it saves lives. (laughter) I won’t name names.

We have to stop providing support for the most extremist elements in the world because of our policies. I think it’s shocking that, even if you look at the alleged goals of our occupation of Iraq, we have actually done the opposite in almost every area.

We have greatly increased the influence of Iran, as somebody here has already mentioned. Iran is probably the preeminent power in Iraq right now, because of their ties with the Shiites and Sistani. We have given great support to somebody like Sadr. Sadr is nobody until the U.S. comes and is the perfect Goliath to his David.

Many of the people in Iraq are moderate. However, when we come into Fallujah, which is another story, which nobody has really reported in the United States in the way it should be, and massacre hundreds of people, including women and children, you don’t think people will remember that?

So we have to stop doing things that only encourage the most extreme elements, whether it’s in Israel, whether it’s in the Middle East, whether it’s in Colombia or anywhere else.

I’ll end there. I’m very sad today that this same lie keeps getting repeated, so I guess there’s a lot more work to do so thank you. (applause)

Ivan Eland

OK. Now the fun portion of the program starts. We’re going to have Q&A. We have a microphone so please wait for the microphone before you ask your question. And please don’t make speeches. Please ask a question. And please keep your questions brief so we can get in as many questions as we can during the period, because we’re only going to be able to go to nine o’clock here so let’s—this gentleman right here.

Audience Member

I just had a point of contention with Mr. Scheer. Did you say there were no dolts minding the store or no adults minding the store? (laughter)

Ivan Eland

OK. Let’s keep it to questions, please.

Audience Member: I’d like to ask the panel about any comparison they’d want to make with the position of the United States today and what happened in World War II.

After all, Japan had had what? Twenty years of authoritarian government and had no tradition of democracy. It’s arguably not even a democracy today. Germany had had 20 years of authoritarian government and the people had suffered greatly under that government.

And I was thinking, as I heard you talk about what has happened in Iraq, that there is a note of arrogance too, which says that these people aren’t capable of being democratic, and I’d like you to comment on that.

Ivan Eland

Who would like to take a stab at that first? I’ll do so if no one else wants to.

You know, we’ve always heard that. I don’t think anyone’s saying that the Iraqis can’t create a democratic society, but what we were doing is superimposing it from the top. I think it’s better if we act as an example in the world, and not only for Iraq, but for other countries, and let them get democracy through their own processes from the ground up.

Now of course, Americans live in a society that wants instant results and there’s not going to be instant results but, frankly, the way we’re approaching this, taking democracy to other countries at the point of a gun, kind of undermines our own values. And I’m not sure, when you see all the secrecy and the—if you want to call it lies, or you want to be more gracious to the Bush administration’s misrepresentations—you see that our own democracy is often the greatest casualty of these imperial, what I call imperial adventures; that is, wars of choice.

I also certainly I believe that the Iraqis have the best chance of pulling the situation out of the fire for the Bush administration if they are allowed to try it. It may not be perfect, and they may not be able to do it. But I think to assume that we’re going to have a democratic society, a liberal democratic society, meaning rights for the minorities as well as the majority, et cetera on a Western model, is just fantasy overnight in Iraq. But I think the Iraqis should be given the chance to try that since we’ve gone ahead and done this.

I don’t think all the President’s analogies with Germany and Japan really apply to this. I think both Japan and Germany did have some prior experience with democracy. They had highly educated and advanced industrial societies. We’re dealing with the developing world here, so I think there’s a bit less progress on the learning curve.

And most important, I think the Japanese and the Germans had unified societies. In fact, that was the problem. Their nationalism was tromping all over other countries. And what we see in Iraq is a fractured society.

So for all three of those reasons, I don’t think that the Japanese and the German model is the right one here.

Audience Member

Could George respond to that?

George Bisharat

OK. I agree that the major difference is the one that Ivan just touched on last and that is the relatively strong sense of cohesive national identity in the cases of Germany and Japan, and the absence of those things in the case of Iraq.

Now, I made the comment that democracy, and developing a system of law, and the like, takes time and skills. And I say that partly on the basis of my own experience working with the Palestinian Legislative Council.

I mean, if I came to you and said, “Write a law on the independence of the judiciary,” unless you’re a lawyer and you’ve worked on these things, you’d have a hard time doing it. And so did these people.

And there is simply an amount of expertise and experience that’s necessary in order to build the fundaments of a political system, and of a legal system, and of an economy.

And again, these are very capable people. They are very proud people and they will be able to do it in time, but they—they’re not in the position to do it instantly. That’s what I meant.

Christopher Scheer

I’d like to add. I think in some senses this is a red herring question because, while I’m not an expert on Japan and Germany, after the war, the fact is we have 50 years of history since, of interventions in countries using this American model of coming in and deposing one group.

What has always happened in the past 50 years is that we put somebody else whose more malleable to us until that person gets some kind of a greed factor, or something goes off the reservation, and we recall them for whatever reason.

So that’s been the last 50 years. Now what is different here is that these neo-conservatives had a different kind of idea, and what they’ve done in Iraq is something like a cultural revolution. They came in and they dismantled the military. They disbanded the whole civil service.

So it’s just another example to me where things are out of control; they are not because Iraqis can’t handle themselves or because Iraqis aren’t potentially capable of having democracy. It is my personal belief—I can’t back this up, because it’s in the future—that Iraqis will do better, and would do much better if there were UN peacekeepers just keeping out-and-out civil war from happening, while they were able to broker their own kind of peace.

The fact is in Iraq, the most peaceful parts of the country have been places where people have been able to get together with town elders, even different militias, cut their own deals, broker their own disputes, and have special interests compete for different things.

And it’s the United States which has its own agenda, which has nothing to do with democracy in Iraq, and has nothing to do with fomenting it that most means that along the path we’ve been going, Iraq cannot develop a real democracy.

And I would echo, having spent time in Cambodia that Iraq is, by most accounts, a failed state after 10 years of sanctions, after 15 to 20 years of war, after Saddam Hussein’s raping and pillaging of the place.

This is not a place, even though Germany and Japan were horribly damaged, that was in any way ready for this kind of instant transformation.

Ivan Eland

OK. This gentleman right over here. Yes.

Audience Member

Thank you. I believe that the United States will continue to have problems in the Middle East until it addresses the problem of our unequal treatment of Israel, or unequal support of Israel.

And until we have a debate in this country about our policies towards Israel and the rest of the Middle East, I don’t see how we can prevent the antagonism that exists there from coming over here as well, in the form of 9/11.

Do you think it’s possible to have a real debate among the American public concerning our relationship with Israel, and Iraq, and other places in the Middle East?

Ivan Eland

Who wants to take this?

George Bisharat

Well, I think it is increasingly possible and it is absolutely necessary. I believe that there are many who would prefer that this discussion not occur. And there are many who are willing to take action to ensure that it does not occur. And I think the rest of us have to have the courage to speak up.

I think we have to be very careful. We have to be very principled and we have to be honest. But I think we have to be courageous as well.

And I believe that there are many, many, many Americans who are anxious for this discussion, and who are intimidated because they don’t believe that they have sufficient knowledge and because they see the treatment that others receive who speak out, that generally being charges of anti-Semitism, whether founded or not.

And I think that this is a deplorable state of affairs, but one that I see beginning to change. So I think it’s a very, very important discussion and I think that we just have to make it happen. (applause)

Ivan Eland

I’d like to add one point. The way policy usually works in our society, no matter whether it’s healthcare or foreign policy, is that, when the public isn’t paying much attention, various interest groups co-opt whatever policy you’re talking about because they have concentrated efforts in lobbying and that sort of thing. And only when there’s a crisis or only when the public, for whatever reason, takes note do we start getting this debate.

And I think the 9/11 Commission report was very telling. Among the experts on Al-Qaeda, they used to think that the main reason that bin Laden attacked the United States was our military bases in Saudi Arabia, which we had which we’re now pulling out of, and also our support for a corrupt, secular Arab governments, and that he just added this thing about economic sanctions against Iraq and our support of Israel to get wider support.

But it seems like, from what the 9/11 Commission reported yesterday, that bin Laden was very keenly aiming his terrorist attacks as a symbolic counterpunch to Ariel Sharon’s activities in going to the mosque originally and visiting the US.

And so I think, if Americans are confronted with the fact that perhaps supporting Israel so closely endangers all of us here at home, the public may start paying more attention to this issue. Who knows? But whenever we have sort of a crisis, and this is linked to some policy, I think that opens up the debate. And so we’ll see if it does open up the debate.

But I think if the public makes this connection that perhaps we’re being attacked, at least in part, because of our one-sided support for Israel in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, you may see a more robust debate in the domestic arena.

Because I believe that this is a domestic issue, not a foreign-policy issue. And in the United States, many of our foreign-policy issues are domestic issues. It’s not just the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

David Theroux

Did you want to say something? Anybody else want?

Christopher Scheer

Yeah, I’d like to say something. Do you want to say something?

James Noyes

No, go ahead.

Christopher Scheer

It is another thing where we have to say don’t confuse what’s being sold with the thing itself because we’re often under the assumption, again, that these guys know what is best for Israel.

The fact is, there are many people in Israel that are who are very upset with the war in Iraq, with the way we’re handling the War on Terror. There is a strong movement of people in Israel who are pragmatic, again, who are not fanatical on any side. And we’re again being driven, in Israel, and here, and in the Arab world, by extremists, many of them fundamentalists.

And so, when the neo-cons are represented as some kind of pro-Israel lobby, for example, the question is, are they really helping Israel? Is Israel really better off now? Are we any closer to a peace settlement because we went to Baghdad? Is life going to be any better for Israelis if we promote and incite jihad throughout the Arab world?

So I think one thing we can do is to question people who stand up and say we know what’s best for Israel. You don’t have to be opposed to Israel—its existence. By the same token, you can still question what is right for Israel.

Ivan Eland

Now, this gentleman right back here. No, this—I’ll get you next.

Audience Member

I was a little surprised that there was only a very passing reference to Ayatollah Al-Sistani whose probably got the biggest single say in the outcome of what’s going to happen in Iraq overall. And I was wondering the general opinion on, if he says tomorrow, “America out and I want an Islamic republic of Iraq,” is that the way it’s going to be, and should we just actually ask him what he wants because that’s what, at the end of the day, is going to occur?

Ivan Eland

Anybody want to take a turn?

Christopher Scheer

I’ll take it. Yes, I mean, he has said what he wants. I mean, his position is fairly well known. He’s more moderate than a Khomeini but he definitely thinks that clerics, standing just offshore from a government, should have an enormous say and almost a veto power.

He’s laid out his whole vision of how an Islamic state should work, that the clerics shouldn’t actually be in government but that they should provide this role of making pronouncements, and statements, and those should be heeded by the politicians so there should be a real strong give and take.

And this is, generally, sort of in the middle somewhere where a lot of Iraqis say in polls we don’t want a theocracy but we want clerics to have great influence over our national politics.

And the question you raised is the $60 million question all along is: if Iraqis are able to express what they actually want, it will not be stomached by the United States, because it will be nationalized oil, and it will be, if not a fundamentalist state, at least one where Islamic clerics play a major role.

Ivan Eland

Also we should say that Sistani’s influence may wane if more radical elements become more popular, either because the United States is staying and it becomes more popular to fight against the U.S. More and more people are actively resisting rather than just complaining about the U.S. occupation.

So he’s a relative moderate. He either may be forced to become more radical himself or he may lose respectability or legitimacy because he’s not radical enough against the Americans. OK? Oh, yes. You sir.

Audience Member: Yes, in light of the domestic politics, I’d like to know if the panel could make some comments about the apparent cracks in the consensus that started a while ago with the Paul O’Neil book and Richard Clarke’s book. This week we have a series of diplomats and former military people coming out making statements. How do you read these developments?

Ivan Eland

Anybody want to comment on that?

Christopher Scheer

I don’t want to hog the floor.

James Noyes

I don’t quite understand the question.

Christopher Scheer

I think you’re seeing the establishment fight back. The radicals have taken over the White House, and I guess, whether out of being cowed by 9/11, or sort of wanting to let them hang themselves on their own policies, they were allowed to run pretty much rampant.

And what you see now is a series, starting even earlier with Joe Wilson and with many others who you can see in the movie Uncovered, which is a great expose of whistleblowers talking about Iraq, is people, whether they’re career types, or whether they’re even Republican senators, saying, “Hey, this is crazy; this is out of control.” And better late than never.

James Noyes

May I? I assume that you’re talking about the breakdown of consensus on the right, essentially, and within the Republican Party.

Audience Member

It seems like the political center, if you want to call the folks at the New York Times the center; they were cheerleaders for this campaign.

James Noyes


Audience Member

And now even today, there’s an editorial in the New York Times highly critical of the Bush people. So it’s not just the consensus on the right but they can’t have a consensus, from our perspective, unless the center lends them support, and so that’s what I’m asking about.

Ivan Eland

OK. Had your question been about consensus on the right (laughter)—

Christopher Scheer

Let me just say quickly, I think that, obviously, there is principled concern and there is politically driven concern over the impact that this will have on the presidential election and on congressional elections, obviously.

And I think that, if Bush succeeds in being re-elected, that, unfortunately, we may see again a closing of ranks, and the neo-conservatives who are currently cowering in their offices in the Department of Defense and elsewhere, may come right back out, and may have for us another ambitious program of radical change in the Middle East, maybe focusing on Syria, maybe focusing on Iran.

So I think we are not out of the woods yet and I think we have to be very wary of the possibility that this group has not been chastened in the way they now appear to have been.

Audience Member: Could I? I had one analogy there. I kind of go back to Iran-Contra and see that Iran-Contra forced the purging of Abrams and all those guys, and more pragmatic people were brought in, but Reagan stayed there on the pulpit.

Ivan Eland


Audience Member

So that is the potential scenario as well.

Ivan Eland

Yes, right back here.

Audience Member

I read one reference a couple of months ago and I only saw it one time that the US, in its zeal to impose democracy and all the accoutrements of that. They had also imposed, for the first time, on Iraqi people a 17 percent tax.

It was a very small reference. It didn’t say on what basis the tax is but it seems to me, if they have imposed that, who’s collecting it? And it would also seem to me that, if the U.S. is profiting from that, that that’s one good reason why they won’t want to get off the money tip.

Ivan Eland

Anybody know anything about that?

James Noyes

Never heard of that.

Christopher Scheer

I haven’t heard anything about that tax but I can say that there have been many times, and this gets back to, “are we just being impatient about democracy there?”

Because of the security situation, many of the blueprints in the first few months of the occupation were not able to be enforced. But if you look at what that blueprint said for those first few months, it’s pretty shocking because it basically makes major, major decisions about the way Iraq should be.

For example, it was going to be an immediate privatization of the country. It was going to be immediately opening the country to full, 100 percent opportunities for foreign investment. Most countries, you have limits on how much foreigners can own in the country or how much percentage of a company and so on. That was all going to be wiped out.

So when you say we’re going to go into a country and make decisions like that, you are basically saying, we’re not going to come in there and in good faith create security, have elections, let people go, and more on. We’re going to dictate the way this state’s going to end up looking for the next 50 years, and that’s not democracy.

George Bisharat

Well, let me just add parenthetically,—I said this very quickly. This is all in violation of international law. The law of belligerent occupation does not permit these kinds of radical transformations of states by foreign occupiers. Neither the Hague Convention of 1907 nor the Geneva Conventions authorizes this kind of thing, so this is just another form of our rather flagrant disregard of international law and our treating of that country.

Ivan Eland

And I think it’s even worse than just allowing a flood of investment, because it wouldn’t be as bad if you had competitive investment where it was decentralized. What you have is the administration sort of throwing sole source contracts to its cronies, so you don’t really have the benefits of competition either.

What you have is monopoly—state-sponsored monopoly -and profiteering- war profiteering on the part of corporations which are in tight with the political leadership. And I don’t think we can confuse that necessarily with truly free enterprise. So we need to make a distinction there I think.

David Theroux

Ivan, can I just add one thing? Yes, I think it’s important to make this distinction between, for example, some proposals that have been made by a number of economists of how to reform the Iraqi oil system and industry. And this relates to Ivan’s talk about essentially devolving power to the citizenry, so they can develop their own separate autonomous, governmental institutions and so forth. And the center proposal also dovetails with that as far as vesting the ownership of the oil industry to the citizenry directly.

And instead what, of course, traditionally happened during colonial interventions, is that the invading power would then expropriate the wealth and give it to its cronies back home—essentially the opposite of what Adam Smith and others talked about.

Ivan Eland

OK. This gentleman right back here.

Audience Member: Hi. I wish maybe all of you could think a little bit about your best guess, not what you’d like to have, but what you think will happen. We talked in Vietnam about dominoes. And I look at the Middle East and I say after Afghanistan, after Iraq, then what? And it seems to me the one biggest question is, what’s going to happen in Saudi Arabia.

The other one, of course, is what are we going to do? And I see you have a position of advocacy. Get out, in some cases, but what will we most likely do? Stay there and dissipate both our wealth and our men?

Oh, I’m looking for an honest guess at a prediction with some of the important things that are going on. If you could each address a little bit of your ideas of what will happen. Thanks.

David Theroux

Want to start this?

Ivan Eland

Well very briefly, I’ll just reiterate what I said to start, which is that I expect that we will forge ahead, more or less, in the manner that we have in the past, and that that will not produce democracy in Iraq. That will produce ongoing instability and violence.

As to what happens elsewhere in the region, I don’t foresee our making major changes in our policy with respect to Israel-Palestine, not withstanding my views on the matter. And I think we’re going to further antagonize people, and I think we’re headed in an extremely dangerous direction. And that is why I am deeply alarmed for our future, and I anticipate that we, here at home, are further going to be targeted for our conduct in that region.

Audience Member

A civil war in Saudi Arabia? War?

Ivan Eland

I wouldn’t go that far, no. I think that the security apparatus there probably still has the upper hand. And of course, you know the great silent majority; it’s never, never possible to read their position on the matter. But I don’t see indications, at this point anyway, that there’s going to be a mass popular insurrection in the country.

David Theroux

Yes. Second.

James Noyes

I see the situation in Iraq evolving, as one of the speakers said, to a point where we more or less declare victory, and the country will be turned over to probably a junta of military men, who will have power, and we will depart. The place that I do think the neo-conservative’s wings are clipped permanently—I do not see the realistic possibility that they’re going to go on into Syria, which was certainly their original plan.

I’m extremely worried about Saudi Arabia if that breaks down, if there’s a dispute mounting further within the royal family. Given the current people in power in the foreign policy establishment in Washington, I believe we will seize the oil wells, and we will have another horrendous insurgency problem that will inflame the Arab world to a degree that we never even dreamed of.

Christopher Scheer

I think Bush is going to lose the election and the reason I guess is because I’ve met too many people in the last four months on this book tour who voted for Bush and didn’t like being lied to.

The problem is what does John Kerry, if he wins, do with Iraq? And first of all, I think we’ll have troops there for a long time. They’re going to hide as best they can. We are building these enormous bases. There is a road in Iraq, I’ve been told, where you go there, and it is just these huge trucks carrying huge machinery to build this giant base.

So we will hunker down there the same way we do in Saudi Arabia. Try and stay out of people’s way in the desert—have the Vietnamization of Iraq go forward.

It’s been a total disaster so far but, presumably, what they’re doing now, instead of trying to train a perfect military, they’re trying to cobble together out of all the militias something that can hold the peace in various places “OK, You’re the militia for Fallujah; you go. OK, Sadr, if you can keep your slums peaceful, we won’t arrest you.” That kind of thing.

So that will continue and I suspect you’ll see some form of stability, just in the sense that there’ll continue to be bombings. There will continue to be deaths but it will slowly recede, probably off the front pages. And I hope that’s not the case because I think that will mean that this whole concept of doing a handover and somehow we can all turn away will have worked.

But, yes, I could see two, three, four years down the road having very much the status quo, continued small number of deaths, continued small number of deaths on the American side, large numbers of Iraqis dying in violence, and basically, military men running the country, and very little of what you’d call democracy.

Ivan Eland

I’ll just chip in with one last thing and then we have to end it because time is up. Of course, my view is that we need to get out as fast as possible. And to those who say, “well, in the Arab world we’re going to be blamed for going in, and invading the country, and then leaving it broken—there will be some that will blame us, but we assume that by staying we’ll improve things there, that we are fixing Iraq, and I think that is a bad assumption. I think our troops being there increase the violence and I don’t think it’s going to get any better, so my view is cut our losses instead of repeating the Vietnam episode were we got in, we couldn’t get out, and we couldn’t win, and we just kind of muddled along until the popular pressure brought the troops home.

I think it’s happening much faster now because of 24-hour news. It took years for the Vietnam War to become unpopular. This has happened in a couple of month. It’s accelerated, and I don’t the American public is going to stand for this. And frankly, I think, if Bush doesn’t get out and declare victory pretty soon, he’s going to lose the election. Because there’s only one thing that can trump the economy in a presidential election and that is a war gone bad.

But I think we’re incapable, because of foreign-policy inertia, of doing that. So I think they may just ride it down beneath the waves, and Kerry will have to deal with it when he gets to be President, and we’ll experience the Johnson/Nixon phenomenon, whereby Kerry won’t end the war either, and it will take a while.

But I think that there’s going to be more pressure more rapidly to get out, so Kerry’s going to have to deal with that much sooner than they did in the Vietnam War.

That will have to end it. David would like to say one last thing here.(applause)

David Theroux

I want to thank each of our speakers. I want to thank George Bisharat, Ivan Eland for organizing tonight’s program, Jim Noyes and Chris Scheer, especially, for stepping up to the plate on emergency family, short notice for his dad.

Chris was, as I mentioned, actually the principal author of the book, so I don’t think anyone was shortchanged in the slightest, but we miss having Bob here. Copies of Chris’s book are upstairs as are copies of Ivan’s book.

We usually, at our receptions, have the opportunity to have your copies autographed and Chris will be delighted to do so now for those of you who have copies. And I hope you’ll all get a copy and the same thing with Ivan with his book.

The Institute, as I mentioned, puts on events like this on a regular basis. If you’d like to be advised about coming events, please make sure that you leave your address and e-mail address. We’d be happy to keep you posted. And I want to especially thank all of you for joining with us to make this such a successful program. Thank you so much. (applause) Good night.


  • Catalyst
  • Beyond Homeless