How to Make Friends in Iraq: Americans Will See Anti-U.S. Demonstrations in Iraq and Ask Their Politicians, 'Why Are We in This Country If No One Wants Us There?'

By Zakaria, Fareed | Newsweek, June 23, 2003 | Go to article overview

How to Make Friends in Iraq: Americans Will See Anti-U.S. Demonstrations in Iraq and Ask Their Politicians, 'Why Are We in This Country If No One Wants Us There?'


Zakaria, Fareed, Newsweek


Byline: Fareed Zakaria

The news out of Iraq sounds grim--killings, chaos, instability. But these problems are likely to be temporary. As the Pentagon reverses course and admits to the reality of a long occupation, the Baathist resistance that is currently on the front pages will be defeated. Over time the United States will be able to assert fully its authority in Iraq--and that's when the real problem begins. An effective American occupation will produce order, stability and basic services. But if history is any guide, it will also produce nationalism. And that nationalism will likely be defined in opposition to the United States and its presence in the country.

The administration made a crucial mistake in asserting authority too lightly, both militarily and politically. Militarily, the results are plain. Politically, they may be more damaging and long-lasting. Every time Jay Garner announced that he was "not in charge," Iraqis must have wondered: then who the hell was? And when American officials explained that they were staying just long enough to get the country's services working, they initiated a succession contest. Iraq's political forces have been revved up, searching for ways appeal to the public. Instead of writing constitutions, figuring out how best to decentralize power, creating courts and central banks, they are waiting for the Americans to go home.

Paul Bremer is trying hard to reverse previous errors, asking the military to use force aggressively and signaling that the United States and Britain will be governing Iraq for a while. But as troops hunt down and kill Baathists, they also terrify ordinary Iraqis. Virtually every newspaper account of American encounters with Baathist guerrillas notes that ordinary Iraqis seem dismayed or scared at the sight of American troops, and that the public's mood is souring on Americans.

As Bremer rightly postpones empowering an interim Iraqi authority, the country's ambitious new politicians--even the Pentagon favorite, Ahmed Chalabi--have begun grumbling about American imperialism. Some, of course, are not just grumbling. Senior religious leaders and clerics are beginning to preach that resistance to America is a religious duty. It doesn't take a soothsayer to see that as Iraqi politics develop, there will be a vibrant market for anti-Americanism. Americans, in turn, will watch these demonstrations and ask their politicians, "Why are we in this country if no one wants us there?"

There is a growing cottage industry in Washington of new imperialists, people who argue that America should embrace its role as a liberal, imperial power. …

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