In early 1991, as a debate was raging about the desirability of a U.S. intervention against the Saddam Hussein regime, I wrote a couple of cautionary articles about the prospect of U.S. forces occupying Iraq, "with Schwartzkopf Pasha ruling from Baghdad." They make for interesting reading over a decade later. The first, "What Kind of Peace?" came out in March in the National Interest:
an American military occupation of Iraq lasting for more than some months would probably lead to one of the great disasters in American foreign policy. …
the Iraqi populace can be counted on to resent a predominantly American occupying force. Occupying troops would find themselves victimized by suicide attackers, car bombers, and other acts of terror; the scene in Iraq would recall, on a much grander scale, the depredations suffered by the multinational forces in Lebanon during 1983-84. The Syrian and Iranian governments would actively sabotage the foreign presence (again, as they did in Lebanon). The populations of Saudi Arabia and Egypt would probably force their governments to turn against their non-Muslim allies. As the ignominy of sniper fire buried the prestige of high-tech military superiority, the famous victory achieved by Tomahawks, Tornadoes, and Patriots would quickly become a dim memory. The brilliant General Schwartzkopf would turn into a humiliated Schwartzkopf Pasha. …
The phobia about non-Muslim forces makes the Middle East fundamentally different from other foreign regions in which the United States has fought large-scale wars; it presents the greatest single obstacle to American efforts to stabilize the region. These considerations lead me to conclude that the first imperative of U.S. strategy is not to keep large numbers of American ground troops for long periods in the Persian Gulf region. There must be no American occupation of Iraq, no NATO-like alliance with the Saudis and Kuwaitis, no permanent military bases in their countries.
The other article, "Why America Can't Save the Kurds," came out in April 1991 in the Wall Street Journal:
It sounds romantic, but watch out. Like the Israelis in southern Lebanon nine years ago, American troops would find themselves quickly hated, with Shi'is taking up suicide bombing, Kurds resuming their rebellion, and the Syrian and Iranian governments plotting new ways to sabotage American rule. Staying in place would become too painful, leaving too humiliating.
Unfortunately, that last sentence – "Staying in place would become too painful, leaving too humiliating" – only too well describes the situation American forces are finding themselves in today in Iraq. (July 21, 2003)
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