It is frustrating to watch the coalition fumble the war in Iraq. Let’s be as clear as possible about our goal: democracy of the Iraqi people, by the Iraqi people, and for the Iraqi people.
We should have let them know our intentions before we invaded. We should have encouraged a civil overthrow of Saddam before we invaded. We should have made our case to the Iraqi people even if that meant dropping leaflets before we dropped bombs. The communication would have been simple:
“Countries throughout the world are saddened to watch Saddam Hussein murdering and intimidating the Iraqi people. A new government must come to power or these countries will form a coalition to invade Iraq and assist in the election of a new government. Saddam Hussein must step down from power and an election must be held for new local and national leaders. Otherwise the coalition will invade and organize the election. Elections must be held on or before January 1, 2004. The countries in the coalition look forward to a time when the Iraqi people can be free from tyranny.”
Of course whatever communication we decided to use, it should have been translated into all the appropriate languages.
If the deadline comes and passes, the Iraqi people will know our purpose. We should strike only at Saddam. We should continue until he is captured or killed. We should openly bribe and coerce our way to him before we attempt to kill him. Once he is killed or captured, we should have announced the election immediately. (See Winning the Peace).
Without this communication, the Iraqi people see only the invasion of a foreign power. They may not understand that our purpose is their purpose, but instead they see us as the enemy. This is a top-level strategic mistake.
By approaching Iraq as a war instead of as a revolution, we have become one side of that war. In a revolution, it is the people who fight for change, and the coalition would simply be there to support the people.
On the day of the fall of Sadam’s regime in Iraq, the US should have announced an Iraqi election. On that day, voter registration should have begun. Voter registration should have included issuing social security cards. All citizens could receive social security cards and have photo-IDs made for access to social services. Children could use them to receive food, medical insurance, certificates from their schools, etc. All citizens could use them to register their property with the government and receive assistance from the government as policy and necessity will likely demand during their nation’s formation.
We need to recognize that every day we wait, we are perceived to be invaders. The problems will become larger as they grow momentum and organization around the resistance against our occupation. They will consolidate in their position that it is us against them. But from the moment of an election, the picture changes. It becomes them against them. And that’s democracy: different agendas contested in a vote.
After a short time, hold elections for local and national officials. Keep it open for a couple days so that fear can subside and last-minute voters can register. Announce the winners immediately. They will argue that the election was not fair. We should then hold a re-election and let them audit. The entire nation will become politically enraged and engaged, and voting turnout will likely be very high. Auditors from many factions should be allowed oversight. And we should assist them in media related to this oversight; let them be heard and seen together. Offer them meals together and a chance to build relationships across their many party lines. Bombings at voting sites would likely be less severe in the re-election because the national argument will be about fairness. This would be a milestone there.
After inaugurations, we should offer to help the iraqi government with defensive security for the government officials and generous social services for citizens. We should also offer to consult with the elected officials. By limiting our exposure to these functions, we put America in the position to demonstrate the role of the public servant. Leading by example, their government will grow to replace the American presence. Expect years of difficult power struggles that include exploitation and violence among iraq’s citizens. But know that we should never expect perfect peace in Iraq. Even in America we have terrorists and the unibomber, and violence and crime.
We can help them in their revolution. There is certainly one happening, and we have a choice: it can either be against us or it can be among their religious and political parties. Their rage with each other has social implications that are far different from rage against America. Fighting among the opposing religious or political parties is a necessary step toward democracy. Rage against America only encourages an insurgency based on violence, and it gives the wrong impression of democracy to the Middle East and to the world.
With this strategy, we probably could have allocated 1/4 the military force and 1/4 the money. It would probably have also cut the timeline of the current strategy by more than half.