Key Figure in Iraq Administration Delivers "Half-term Report" to Europe
J. Sean Curtin (Fellow, GLOCOM)
A week has now elapsed since the dramatic news of Saddam Hussein's capture was broadcast around the world. It was an event that completely dominated the global media, easily overshadowing an important visit to Europe by the UK Special Representative to Iraq, Sir Jeremy Greenstock. The former British diplomat is a pivotal figure in the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), the body which currently runs Iraq. Greenstock made a brief visit to London from Baghdad in order to deliver a key-note address on Iraq to a fairly skeptical European media. Despite giving an upbeat assessment of the CPA's progress and robustly defending President George W. Bush's Iraq policy, the unflappable Sir Jeremy could not quite shake off the ghostly echoes of Vietnam, which arose near the close of his presentation.
Within 24 hours of the press conference ending, Saddam was in US custody. This meant that the CPA's important self-assessment was lost in the media frenzy created by the dictator's surprise arrest. Now the excitement has diminished, it is worth examining the CPA's own self-evaluation. This document is likely to have a greater long-term impact on Iraq than the confinement of Saddam.
At the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Sir Jeremy delivered an optimistic account of the CPA's progress up to November 2003, which is the official half-way point of the scheduled occupation. The midway milestone was the reason why Greenstock titled his lecture "Iraq: A Half-term Report." The Coalition Provisional Authority assumed control of Iraq in May 2003 and is due to dissolve itself in June 2004, when it is scheduled to handover power to a semi-elected Iraqi Council.
After his speech, Greenstock robustly defended the CPA's analysis of the situation. As UK Special Representative to Iraq, Greenstock works closely with CPA chief Paul Bremmer and is at the heart of the policy-making process. Before his present appointment as Britain's top man in Iraq, Greenstock was UK ambassador to the United Nations. Thus, Sir Jeremy's credentials make him the perfect choice to act as CPA spokesman for both Europe and the United Nations. His previous role also allows him to try to bridge the deep divide that separates UN and EU policy on Iraq from that of the US.
Coalition Provisional Authority's "Half-term Report"
According to Sir Jeremy, the CPA's prime objective in Iraq is "to deliver the Iraqi people the foundations of a free, unified, democratic, prosperous and stable Iraq." In order to achieve this goal there are seven key foundation blocks that need to be laid. These are (1) internal security within secure boarders; (2) a transparent and representative political structure to serve a unified Iraq; (3) effective state, local and civil institutions; (4) essential services; (5) the basis of an efficient market economy; (6) equality for all Iraqis regardless of gender, religion and ethnicity; and (7) respect for individual, community and religious rights and for justice and the rule of law.
The list of the seven basic requirements for successfully reconstructing Iraq makes one understand the sheer enormity of the task that lies ahead of the CPA. In effect, the CPA is attempting to create a brand new Iraq from the smashed ruins of the old. Greenstock outlined the gradual steps the CPA intends to take in order to accomplish its objectives by the end of June 2004, when power is scheduled to be passed to a semi-elected Iraqi Council ahead of full elections in 2005. While Sir Jeremy acknowledged the difficulties lying in the way of achieving these objectives, his overall assessment of the likelihood for success was positive. This contrasts sharply with many highly critical European media reports coming out of Iraq, which highlight the problems hindering the rebuilding process.
Greenstock insisted that the overwhelming majority of Iraqis were in a much better position now that Saddam had been deposed and that their long-term prospects are infinitely better. However, he did concede that opinion polls show almost 80% of Iraqis have none or very little trust in the US-led occupation forces. This he said was regrettable, but understandable because coalition forces were seen as occupiers. It was in order to change this image that the original timetable for handing power back to the Iraqis had been accelerated.
Media Challenges Greenstock's Assessment
The media had many questions for Sir Jeremy, the very first of which was about weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs). The initial questioner said that since the urgent need to disarm Saddam of his WMDs was the primary reason given for going to war, could Sir Jeremy explain why none had been found? Why did President Bush and Prime Minister Blair mention WMDs so infrequently these days? Greenstock replied that he believed the WMDs existed, even if they could not be found now or in the future. Moreover, it was the future that counted most for the Iraqi people and the inability to locate WMDs was not as important as humanitarian aid at the present juncture.
Several questions came up comparing the tactics of the coalition forces with those used by Israel in the Occupied Territories. Why were coalition forces demolishing the homes of suspected guerillas and Saddam-sympathizers? Greenstock replied that under the current difficult circumstances, coalition forces had no choice but to show the full force of their military strength. This must be done to maintain order and scare off potential attackers. He rejected links between coalition forces and Israeli security advisers, describing them as "just rumours."
The most disturbing question for Greenstock came from an elderly American questioner, Leyton Van Nort, who reflected on his own personal memories of President Johnson's Vietnam policy team. He likened Greenstock's present assessment of Iraq with one given by Ambassador Fredrick Nolting, a former US ambassador of South Vietnam. He recalled Ambassador Nolting sounding just as optimistic about South Vietnam as Greenstock was about Iraq. The questioner's final comment awoke the ghost of Vietnam in the minds of many in the audience. Comparing the two situations, the softly spoken American observed, "The main difference seems to me to be the people dealing with Vietnam in the Johnson administration were considerably more sophisticated than the people dealing with Iraq in the Bush administration. Do you see any parallels with Vietnam?"
For an instant, the practiced poker-face of the veteran British diplomat slipped, then Sir Jeremy's highly trained reflexes reasserted themselves. He rapidly dismissed the comparison with Vietnam as a false one. Greenstock methodically argued that the two situations were so completely different that they did not in any meaningful way warrant comparison.
Even though Sir Jeremy's response was well-reasoned, many left the gathering with the spectre of Vietnam swirling around in their thoughts. Vietnam and Iraq may be totally unlike countries, but in some respects the current situation makes certain comparisons seem potent. It is the massive scale of the CPA's stated mission combined with the difficulties of assisting a people who do not really want the CPA's help, even if the coalition did rid them of an evil tyrant. It is these two elements of the equation that help conjure forth visions of Vietnam.
The tragic Vietnam experience reminds us that no matter how noble one's stated objectives, good intentions can be defeated by a ruthless foe and a disaffected population. The task of rebuilding any war-ravaged country is an immensely difficult one and some would argue a near impossible one when under constant attack.
In just seven months, the CPA's end of term report is due and Sir Jeremy will be judged by his accomplishments, not his words. For the sake of the long-suffering Iraqi people and the coalition troops and their families, I personally hope that Greenstock and his colleagues succeed in their stated objective of creating a free, unified, democratic, prosperous and stable Iraq. It is certainly a great and hopeful vision for the land of ancient Mesopotamia and the consequences of failure are too dire to contemplate.
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