The current war, despite its success, might make us nostalgic for the good old days, when the United States achieved regime change quietly in hapless faraway countries by dispatching the CIA to organize a coup. That's how Saddam Hussein's Baath Party first came to power in Iraq in 1963. The previous strongman was deposed and killed with CIA assistance because Washington found him a few shades too pink.
Convenience was not the only benefit of the old method. It was usually done with a wink and denial, sparing us the pain of official rationalizations.
But somehow Saddam got Krazy-glued into Baghdad, and none of the usual tricks could get him out. So we turned to the modern high-tech method of regime change: invasion.
Invasion requires a good story line, even if the underlying motives and geopolitics are not so different from the old days. The current story line, propogated uncritically by the mainstream media, is the liberation of Iraq. It's a nice, noble story, consistent with American ideals. Unfortunately, it's not true.
For example, if the people of Iraq had a free choice, they might well split into three countries. The current borders, imposed by British colonial officials in 1919, were never chosen by the people. The Kurds of the north have a passionate, barely concealed desire for an independent state in the north, and the Shiite Arabs of the south might prefer to separate from the Sunni minority that has traditionally dominated the country.
But of course they will not have such a choice. The current borders will be maintained by external force because Iraq's neighbors fear the consequences of a breakup. The Shiites have a sizeable guerrilla army waiting in Iran to promote their ambitions, so stifling them will take more than a polite ''no.''
The Iraqis also won't have free choice of their own foreign policy because they would probably use that discretion to continue military and political support for the Arabs of Palestine. Stopping that activity is one of the main motives for the invasion.
Iraqis apparently won't even get to choose their own mobile telephone standard. That will fall under the purview of American pork-barrel politics. Multinational corporations are already involved in a shameless stampede to profit from Iraqi reconstruction, directed mostly, if not entirely, from outside Iraq, with some of the loot returning to Washington in the form of campain contributions.
Meanwhile, neoconservative officials and think-tankers in Washington will push for a long, unilateral, heavy-handed occupation in service of their broader ambition to change the political culture of the Arab and Muslim world, starting with Iraq.
Iraq will not be liberated under American military government. Iraq is being conquered and occupied to further the interests of other countries - the USA, the Gulf Arabs, Israel, and Turkey. If Iraq's people attempt to defy those foreign interests, even in the name of democracy, they will be promptly repressed.
This story ran on page E12 of the Boston Globe on 4/13/2003.
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