At this writing, there seem only two big questions left in the war on Iraq. Will Saddam’s regime in its death throes resort to chemical weapons? How long will it take, and how much blood will it cost, to take Baghdad?
But after Baghdad falls, what next? Where does America go from here? In 1945, the answer was: The Americans are going home.
And come home we did. The 12 million under arms in 1945 had been almost all mustered out of the service by mid-1946. Then came the Moscow betrayal of the Yalta agreements, the Berlin Blockade, the coup in Czechoslovakia and the explosion of a Soviet atom bomb.
Then the Americans came back to Europe, and a third of a million headed for South Korea, following an invasion by a North Korean army and regime that did not even exist in August of 1945.
Here are but a few of the questions President Bush will have to decide soon after the Iraqi capital falls.
1. Who will rule Iraq? The Pentagon believes this is a job for the U.S. military, assisted by the Iraqi National Congress. Tony Blair and the NATO allies want to bring in the United Nations to play the lead role. Is the president prepared to go it alone?
2. Is Iraq the first, or last, war of the Bush Doctrine? Donald Rumsfeld is already threatening Syria for allowing supplies and Islamic warriors to enter Iraq. Pressing Bush to use his moment of maximum leverage to order Syria to pull its 35,000 troops out of Lebanon, and Iran to shut down its nuclear programs, will be the Israelis, the neoconservatives and the Pentagon. Opposing them will be Blair, Powell and the old national-security team of Bush 1.
3. Can NATO be saved, and should it? Secretary Powell is no unilateralist. He is a believer in institutions, and has begun to entice NATO into taking a role in the occupation of Iraq – to reduce the cost to America, minimize Arab hostility and repair the shattered alliance.
But many Americans believe France acted treacherously, and they will react viscerally to French or Germans doing any occupation duty in a country for whose liberation they were unwilling to fight and, indeed, actively opposed. Where does this leave the president, a man who does not easily forgive or forget?
4. What about the “road map”? Condoleezza Rice, speaking to the Israeli Lobby, informed them that the White House will publish the “road map” – the controversial step-by-step plan for a Palestinian state by 2005 – as agreed upon by the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia.
But Sharon’s Israel has already rejected the plan. Israelis argue that it does not follow the formula for peace laid out by President Bush. They demand a permanent end to all acts of terror before they even begin to negotiate.
On this issue, again, Powell, Blair and former aides to Bush I will be on the side of negotiations, while the Pentagon, the Israelis and their allies in Congress and the media will fiercely resist.
5. What about North Korea? This is the acid test of the Bush Doctrine. While Iran is challenging the doctrine by mining uranium and building nuclear reactors that Tehran insists are for peaceful purposes, North Korea is defying it. There is no peaceful purpose to Yongbyon. Nor is the uranium-enrichment facility, buried somewhere in the North, designed for any purpose other than secret production of fissile material for atomic weapons.
A reasonable analyst must conclude that Pyongyang is building atomic weapons to deter or blackmail the United States and, possibly, for sale to terrorist organizations. What are we going to do about it?
Thus far, the answer is nothing. A strike on Yongbyon appears to have been ruled out, as bombing could not destroy the underground nuclear facilities whose whereabouts are unknown. But that strike might trigger a devastating artillery barrage on South Korea, killing thousands. It might also provoke missile strikes on U.S. bases in Asia and on Japan with chemical, biological or even atomic weapons.
What about offering North Korea recognition, aid and a non-aggression pact – all of which it demands – for an agreement to demolish its nuclear facilities and give up its fissile material?
Most Americans would prefer that deal to war, as would South Korea and Japan. But if North Korea cheated on the 1994 agreement, why would it not accept the U.S. concessions, then cheat on this one?
If the United States turns its attention to Syria, and not North Korea, the message will be clear: The only way to avoid shock and awe from the United States is to build the only kind of weapons that seem to intimidate the Americans: nuclear weapons.