Bruce Jentleson: Use of War as a Tool of Politics

The director of the Sanford Institute discusses the difficulties facing the rebuilders of a post-war Iraq


Bruce W. Jentleson, director of Duke University's Terry Sanford Institute of Public Policy, advised the Clinton administration during the Middle East peace process.

As the Iraq war gets under way, media coverage and political discussion will focus on the bombings, special operations missions and other military. We also need to bear in mind the classical dictum from Carl von Clausewitz, the eminent 19th century Prussian strategist, that "war is politics by other means."

The objectives of deposing Saddam Hussein and disarming Iraq are likely to be achieved, although potentially at significant costs, both in the fighting within Iraq and terrorism in the United States and elsewhere. But even if the "shock and awe" strategy is relatively quick and easy, this is not sufficient for a full and lasting victory. Five critical issues arise from the politics that Bush has chosen as his other means:


* A STABLE DEMOCRATIC IRAQ: Regime change has been posed as not just the removal of Saddam, his sons and band of thugs but also the forging of a new Iraq that is democratic, stable and secure. The task is formidable. Comparisons to the successful U.S. military occupations of Germany and Japan after World War II are shockingly glib. Then, we acted with full international legitimacy, near total consent of the Germans and Japanese, and in a security environment that could be kept nonthreatening. None of those conditions holds in Iraq. And while there was not a single political killing of U.S. authorities in the 10 years of the German occupation or the seven years in Japan, it is highly doubtful we can go even a few months into an Iraqi occupation without terrorist reprisals.


We already have seen tensions both between the Bush administration and the exiled Iraqi factions with which it has been working, and among the factions themselves. One issue is how much power the Iraqi MacArthur will have and for how long. Another is who among the factions gets what political power and oil and other economic spoils.

And there are lots of factions: ethnic and religious groups such as the Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis with rivalries of their own, including intra-Kurdish splits that often have torn asunder their anti-Saddam alliance; the Iraqi National Congress as the U.S.-favored exile group but with its own internal fissures; and rival exile groups. I do not see Iraq splitting into separate states like Yugoslavia in the 1990s, but I do see divisions and inherent tensions that make national unity problematic and anything resembling democracy even more difficult.

* MIDDLE EAST DEMOCRATIZATION AND PEACE: Under the Bush "big bang" theory, the success of Iraqi democratization will send positive shock waves through the region, leading to democratization of other Arab states and getting the Israeli-Palestinian peace process back on track. This is a bold vision but not rooted in historical experience in the Middle East or the lessons of democratization elsewhere. Moreover, there is real risk of feeding into fundamentalism and anti-Americanism among Arab populaces. For the tens of billions this war will cost, many more democratically productive strategies come to mind. As to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, what is needed is a concerted effort to push the Palestinian leadership to do more to end the violence and to pressure the Sharon government to genuinely seek peace and security.

* WAR ON TERRORISM: In global security meetings last month in Germany as part of a U.S. congressional delegation, I was told by high-ranking NATO officials and diplomats that aside from the dispute over Iraq, we were getting A+ cooperation from the Germans in the war on terrorism, including intelligence sharing, law enforcement, breaking up financial networks and providing security to German-based U.S. soldiers and their families. Germany leads peackeepers in Afghanistan, and its navy patrols against al-Qaeda in the Indian Ocean. These and other forms of cooperation are key to enhancing our security against terrorists. If the dispute over Iraq impedes cooperation with Germany and other allies, we risk leaving ourselves worse off in the overall war on terrorism.

* U.S. STANDING IN THE WORLD: Hundreds of thousands of people in Europe, parts of the Arab world and in Asia took to the streets to express their empathy for Americans after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. A recent poll shows how much our image has plummeted: from 78 percent favorable in Germany in 2000 to 25 percent today; in France, from 62 percent to 31 percent; in Turkey, from 52 percent to 12 percent; in Russia, from 37 percent to 28 percent; in Britain from 83 percent to 48 percent. This affects the influence we can exert over others not only on Iraq and the war on terrorism but on many issues with impacts on our own interests.

* THE UNITED NATIONS: The United Nations can be a frustrating institution, but it is essential. Under Secretary-General Kofi Annan, it had been playing a more effective role. The French and others made it difficult for multilateralism to work and grossly downplayed the serious security threat that Saddam has posed for more than a decade. But the Bush administration did little more than go through the motions of diplomacy. The possible win-win strategy of imposing a tough inspections regime and disarmament strategy, combining U.S. power with U.N. legitimacy, was sacrificed to national rivalries. Now the United Nations is left with its credibility damaged, immersed in recriminations. In an age in which so few threats can be met by any one nation alone, the world needs an effective U.N.

The U.S. military has extraordinary power. Our forces are showing their courage, capability and patriotism. But this war cannot be won on the battlefield alone. For this is a classic case of war as politics by other means.



This article originally appeared in the "Q" section of the March 232 News and Observer.