WASHINGTON--Before the Iraq war even began, the critics were predicting that Iraq was going to be the Bay of Pigs (plus ``Desert One, Beirut and Somalia,'' said the ever-hyperbolic Chris Matthews). A week into the war, we were told Iraq was Vietnam. Now after the war, they're telling us that Iraq is Iran--that Iraq's Shiite majority will turn it into another intolerant Islamic republic.
The critics were wrong every time. They are wrong again. Of course there are telegenic elements in the Shiite community who would like fundamentalist rule by the clerics. But even the majority of Iranians oppose the rule of the mullahs, and consider the Islamic revolution a disaster. The Shiite demonstrators in Iraqi streets represent a highly organized minority, many of whom are affiliated with, infiltrated by and financed by Tehran, the headquarters for 20 years of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq.
These Iranian-oriented Shiite extremists are analogous to the Soviet-oriented communists in immediate post-World War II Italy and France. They too had a foreign patron. They too had foreign sources of money, agents and influence. They too had a coherent ideology. And they too were highly organized even before the end of the war. They too made a bid for power. And failed.
There is no reason to believe that Iranian-inspired Shiite fundamentalists will be any more successful in Iraq. Iraqi society is highly fractured along lines of ethnicity, religion, tribe, region and class. It is in the interest of all of them, most particularly the Kurdish and Sunni minorities who together make up about 40 percent of the country, to ensure that no one group wields absolute, dictatorial power over the rest. And, as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld correctly pointed out, America is there to make sure that doesn't happen. One man, one vote, one time is not democracy.
Moreover, Shiism is not a hierarchical religion like Roman Catholicism. It is extremely decentralized. Among the Shiite majority itself, there are myriad ideological and political factions. Islamic scholar Hillel Fradkin points out that Khomeiniism--the seizure of political power by clerics--is contrary to centuries of Shiite tradition and thus alien and anathema to many Iraqi Shiites.
Does this mean that Jeffersonian democracy is guaranteed in Baghdad? Of course not. But the United States is in a position to bring about a unique and potentially revolutionary development in the Arab world: a genuinely pluralistic, open and free society.
The administration erred, however, by going initially for an occupation ``light.'' It did so understandably at first, victory having come so swiftly and crushingly that there were no existing institutions such as police or army to fill the vacuum, and simply not enough American soldiers for adequate seizure of full power.
But there also appeared to be a conscious decision to downplay the occupation, lest we stoke Iraqi nationalism and resistance. This was a mistake, rooted, as are most Middle East mistakes, in the inextinguishable myth of the ``Arab street.'' The critics always predict that the ``street'' will rise at any show of American power. It invariably rises at any show of American weakness or indecision; it becomes quiescent at the showing of American power.
Our problem in postwar Iraq has been a paucity of force, rather than an excess. The way to succeed is with an occupation ``heavy.'' The administration is hurriedly sending in about 4,000 more soldiers, heavy with MPs, and not a moment too soon. Occupation light has permitted the ad hoc seizure of power in pockets of the country by various ambitious nasties. America needs to fill the vacuum, so it can then devolve power to those committed to a truly democratic outcome.
What the administration has done right, on the other hand, has been to exclude all the foreign latecomers and meddlers who want to get in on the reconstruction. The administration gave the perfect response to the United Nations claim that it alone can confer legitimacy on the running of Iraq: We ignored it.
It does not even merit a rejoinder. The idea that legitimacy flows from the blessings of France and Russia, Saddam's lawyers and suppliers, is on its face risible. Legitimacy does not come out of U.N. headquarters in New York; it will come out of the ground in Iraq, as more and more factions join in the construction of a provisional government.
Tellingly, even the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq sent a delegation to the last meeting with Jay Garner, our proconsul in Baghdad. Even the Islamic radicals know the Pentagon is prepared to move with or without them. They know who's in charge. We need to keep it that way.