Iraqis haven't forgotten the aftermath of Desert Storm. With Saddam's troops forced to retreat from Kuwait, Shia Arabs throughout southern Iraq rose up against Saddam's tyranny. Kurds in the north also rebelled. Many Sunnis in Baghdad anticipated the end of Saddam's "Tikiriti" despotism. Numerous Iraqis tell me post-Desert Storm they anticipated liberation. Instead, they got a dose of so-called Realpolitik -- mass murder and a return to dictatorship.
In 1991, Saddam did not fall. His Republican Guards attacked the Shia towns and massacred their inhabitants. At least 50,000 Iraqis were murdered by Saddam's defeated army.
In April 2003, America toppled Saddam. This aftermath promised something better than tyranny and mass murder. Still, many Iraqis doubted America's commitment to sticking with them through the trials of escaping a terrible past and building a better future. Pundits can point to Vietnam and Somalia as American bug-outs (al-Qaeda alludes to both), but the failure to act after Desert Storm -- the failure to act in the face of mass murder -- is by far the most pertinent to Iraqis.
An Iraqi cultural adviser I worked with in 2004 insisted Iraqi doubts about long-haul American commitment were an immense political problem. He was a Shia, and he himself vacillated between pessimism and optimism. During one late-night discussion (we were standing in front of a shower-trailer), the personal anguish of 1991 was particularly evident. But he was upbeat the day he returned from a week-long visit with his brother in southern Iraq. "They think you (America) may stay this time," he told me.
What the translator meant was "stay long enough." America never intended to stay. America's post-9/11 strategy has been to help foster nation-states where the consent of the governed creates legitimacy and where terrorists are prosecuted, not promoted.
In an essay I wrote for the Dec. 9, 2002, issue of The Weekly Standard, I outlined the rough path to that "end state" in Iraq:
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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