Back from Baghdad

In other words, Iraq is trying to pull down the whole house of cards.
Absolutely. They're playing for enormously high stakes in the whole region. The monarchies know this. We hear all this talk about restoring the legitimate government of Kuwait, but there's no Kuwaiti that I've spoken to that wants the Al Sabah back. There are negotiations going on right now in which the Kuwaitis are coming out and saying to their government, "If you're going to be back in power, we want a parliament, we want representation," and so on. They blame their government for what's happened. They know there was no reason that the [government] should have behaved the way that they did in negotiations with Iraq. And now they're on the wrong side of the Palestinian issue, too!

I find Saddam Hussein's adoption of the Islamic fundamentalist line pretty amazing, given that he's supposed to be a godless socialist.

Saddam Hussein has no religious credentials. The core of Ba'athist ideology is secularism. It's not just tangential to Ba'athism. It is the very base of it. It's not a coincidence that Ba'athism arose in Syria, a country just riddled with sectarian differences. It was an ideology that gave a vision of how a state with so much diversity could be set up.

But Saddam Hussein seems to have been very successful at making the connection in the minds of Arabs between his cause and the cause of Islamic fundamentalism. Credentials or no, it seems to have worked.

The response of the Muslim world and Islamic fundamentalists - from Iran to Pakistan to North Africa - is not a reflection of how valid they think his claims to leading the Islamic world are. It's a reflection of a very deep-seated hatred and mistrust of the West. Anybody who comes out confronting the West is going to be a hero in that region, and at some level, we have to ask ourselves why that is.

So if you think we've been pursuing the wrong policy concerning Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, what would you think was the right one?

Our first mistake was sending the troops over there without letting the Arab League pass a resolution against the invasion. If that resolution had preceded our troop deployment, we would simply be there helping the Arab leaders implement their policy. In other words, we'd be just technicians. As it turned out, we assumed the vanguard. That was our first mistake, and from then on it just deteriorated.

Is there any chance that Saddam could win this?
No. A political victory is very, very, possible. But not a military one. If Saddam Hussein survives, he'll emerge, probably, as a hero - not perhaps in Iraq, but in the Arab world and the broader region, because he stood up to the West. It's somewhat similar to the Suez crisis where Nasser confronted the French and the British and took them on. He lost, but he emerged as the pre-eminent Arab leader simply for not backing down against the superior military power that the Western countries had at that time. So Hussein can have a military defeat but a phenomenal political victory.

So what happens if we destroy Iraq? I mean, besides a lot of people dying. What happens to the political balance of power in the area? Iran or Syria's Assad: not great choices.

If Assad manages to survive this politically, or even if he doesn't, Syria will emerge as the short-term winner. And certainly Iran will emerge as the long-term winner, because Iran is one of the countries in that region that has human resources, as well as other resources.

And if we manage to kill Hussein and rout his regime, what is left in Iraq?
That's the question that no one in the Bush administration seems to be asking. One of the things that the Ba'ath party under Saddam Hussein has managed to do is destroy every civil institution in Iraqi society. There is nothing to fill the vacuum except the organizations of the Al Da'wa, which is the Shiite fundamentalist party based in the south. Even its members have been pretty much routed out. Iraq will, without a doubt, descend into a civil war. There's a lot of pent-up violence in that society. There are vendettas that people want to settle. Saddam Hussein, by his repressive apparatus, has kept a lid on all of these forces. And one of the things that nobody has even thought about is what happens after the war. How long is it going to take to put Iraq back together again? There's no vision of what Iraq should look like after the war. We have no medium and long-term goals in this. We're working day to day. And that is very dangerous in this region. I heard someone say that what's going to happen in Iraq after you remove Saddam Hussein is going to make Lebanon look like a picnic. And I agree with that. How equipped are we to deal with something like that?

Given that we still have 500,000 troops sitting over there, it seems like a good thing to think about.

I imagine there'll be a little less than 500,000 by then.

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