Once the shooting in the Middle East stops, the postwar diplomacy will begin. And in the process, the multinational coalition with which the United States is now allied in fighting Iraq will almost inevitably erode or fall apart.
That, at least, is the lesson of history--the history of the two other instances in which the United States has fought and won a war as part of a genuine multinational coalition.
After World War I, an unhappy American President Woodrow Wilson and leaders of the victorious European powers bickered with one another over maps of the world at the peace conference in Versailles.
Following World War II, the United States sparred with Britain and France over their efforts to preserve colonial empires. It fell out with Nationalist China because of American unhappiness with Chiang Kai-shek’s domestic policies. And, of course, it entered into a Cold War with the Soviet Union that lasted more than four decades.
After Americans die in battle, it seems, the United States tends to press hard for lasting solutions that could prevent further wars--even at the risk of alienating its wartime allies.
And sentiments in this country will be just the same after the war against Iraq.
“Because American blood is going to be spilled in this conflict, we will have the justification, the incentive, the interest and the opportunity to tell the parties in the region, and I mean all of them, ‘Guys, it’s time to settle your differences,’ ” says Martin Indyk, director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Last week, former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger argued that the defanging of Iraq by the United States will mean that “we’ve gained ourselves five years for constructive diplomacy” in the Mideast.
Others are not nearly so optimistic as Kissinger. Even after winning the war, “there’s no guarantee that we’ll be better off,” says Adm. William J. Crowe Jr., the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Critics say that the postwar era in the Middle East could witness new political instability, an upsurge of anti-Americanism, a wave of terrorist attacks and the need for a long-term American military commitments in the Persian Gulf.
What are the issues American postwar diplomacy will have to address?
Mideast specialists list five separate postwar problems. Settling each one could bring the United States into diplomatic conflict with one or more of its coalition partners in the current war. (The Bush Administration has already been concerned that the coalition might fall apart even during the war because of the possibility of Israeli involvement in the military campaign.)
Some of the postwar problems could also lead to controversy in American domestic politics.
Here are the five:
A Balance of Military Power
If Iraq is defeated, then other countries in the Middle East may try to fill the power vacuum Saddam Hussein leaves behind. Syria and Iran are the most frequently-mentioned candidates, but some experts also worry about other countries, such as Turkey.
Ultimately, in order to preserve the peace, some kind of international security force may have to be set up. But a number of U.S. officials and experts say either with or without such a force, American troops will have to be kept in the Persian Gulf for the foreseeable future. “I would expect a fairly sizable American contingent as part of (a) security regime in the Middle East for the indefinite future,” predicts Rep. Lee Hamilton (D-Ind.) of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, who plans to open congressional hearings next week on the postwar problems the United States will face. ". . . We would hope and expect that the countries of the region would furnish most of the defense effort, including personnel, but I would think an American role would be necessary. . . .”
However, a continuing American presence could cause political difficulties for friendly governments like Saudi Arabia. And it is almost certain to be opposed by at least some governments in the region, such as Syria and Iran.
“We strongly believe that the presence of outside forces in the region in the long term would destabilize the region,” Kamal Kharrazi, Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, said last week.
Moreover, a long-term American military presence in the Persian Gulf could touch off further controversy within the United States about the economic costs of America’s overseas deployments. And the stationing of troops in the Mideast could eventually expose American personnel to more terrorist attacks, such as the 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut in which 241 service personnel were killed.
U.S. and the Arabs
In a series of television interviews last week, Kissinger argued repeatedly that American postwar diplomacy should work closely with what he called “moderate Arab governments"--such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and perhaps King Hussein’s Jordan--to bring about a more lasting peace in the Middle East.
Such an approach is likely to appeal to President Bush, who places great stress on his personal ties with existing heads of state.
But critics argue that some of these Arab leaders lack legitimacy or are out of touch with their own people. If the United States ties itself too closely to leaders who lack popular support, they say, it will in the long run undercut its own position in the Arab world--particularly if there are popular uprisings against these leaders.
“The problem with Henry Kissinger and the whole school of thought that got us into the gulf is this view that you can just manipulate power around the world and that you don’t have to take into account local sensitivities. I think that’s a mistake,” says Henry M. Schuler, a Middle East specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“What does moderate mean?” Schuler asks. “It means those leaders who are willing to cooperate with the United States. We used to call King Hussein a moderate, but right now he doesn’t do what we want, so we don’t call him moderate any more. Well, we’re just going to have to learn to live with more assertive Arab governments.”
One of the touchiest questions for American policy-makers after the war will be whether, or to what extent, the United States should goad monarchies like Saudi Arabia or a restored emirate of Kuwait toward some form of democracy.
Some experts argue that the best way to ensure Mideast stability is to encourage more representative governments. Others warn that the United States ought to be cautious about pushing friends like Saudi Arabia’s King Fahd too hard; the result, they say, could be to destabilize these governments and open the way for more oppressive regimes like the Islamic Republic that followed the downfall of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi of Iran in 1979.
The Palestinian Issue
While Bush refused to permit any linkage between the gulf crisis and the Palestinian issue, everyone agrees that there can be no long-term peace in the Mideast until this problem is resolved.
But there is no agreement over whether the American war against Iraq will open new opportunities for American diplomacy, as Kissinger and some other foreign policy specialists believe, or will in fact make things harder.
“My impression is that the Palestinian issue has become even more intractable as a result of this crisis, that the Palestinians have become more extreme, that the Islamic fundamentalists have been strengthened, that the economic situation has hit rock bottom, and that the population in those areas (Israel’s occupied territories) is feeling desperate,” says Hamilton.
As always, diplomats will have to decide not only what kind of deal there can be involving Israel and the Palestinians, but also how, in what forum or under whose auspices a deal can be struck.
Other countries are likely to press Israel to attend some form of international conference aimed at settling Palestinian and Arab-Israeli disputes.
It is not yet clear how much the Bush Administration will press Israel in a postwar period to attend an international conference. But Israel and its supporters in the United States remain strongly opposed to the idea.
“We’re not going to have a lot of time to take advantage of the opportunity that will come from this war,” says Indyk, who is a former deputy director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the group which lobbies Congress for support of Israel.
“To go to an international conference in which Israel has made it very clear that it will not cooperate with what it says is a ‘kangaroo court,’ in which the French are going to be leading the charge against Israel, that’s just a recipe for stalemate.”
Weapons and Arms Control
The Scud missiles with conventional warheads that rained down on Tel Aviv and elsewhere in Israel last week were relatively harmless, compared to some of the modern weaponry which countries in the Mideast either already have or are trying to buy.
At least at the outset of the war, Iraq had the capacity to launch missiles with chemical warheads. So does Syria, another country armed with Soviet-made Scuds. Israel already has the capacity for nuclear weapons. And three years ago, Saudi Arabia purchased intermediate-range missiles from China, which have the capacity to hit Israeli targets.
That is merely a sampling of what’s already available in the Mideast. For the past three years, the Reagan and Bush administrations have been working hard to prevent China from selling a newly developed missile called the M-9, which is much more accurate than the Scuds. The potential customers include Iraq, Syria and Iran.
“To be effective over the long term, we will have to put into place some kind of control regime for these weapons--nuclear proliferation, of course, being the main concern,” says Hamilton.
Since last August, the world’s leading powers have worked together to maintain the embargo on new arms exports to Iraq. But after the war, they face the much more difficult task of establishing a more permanent, generalized framework for holding down the arms race in the Mideast.
Limiting exports won’t do anything about the weapons already present in the Middle East. Yet any postwar effort at arms control in the region will have to overcome one major problem: Arab governments won’t want to forsake their missiles and chemical weapons unless Israel gives up its nuclear capacity. And Israel will be extremely reluctant to do so.
“The asymmetry between Israeli nuclear and Arab chemical capabilities might preclude agreement,” concluded a report released by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy last week.
The Oil Supply
Even if military stability in the Mideast guarantees the industrialized world continued access to the region’s oil supplies, postwar diplomacy will still have to confront questions of price and production levels.
The price of oil was, after all, one of the issues which touched off the current Gulf crisis; Saddam Hussein complained that Kuwait was keeping prices low, thereby undercutting Iraq’s ability to increase its oil revenues.
Already, some American experts are voicing the hope that Iraq’s defeat could lead to cheap oil. The American Enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank which often represents the view of American businesses, last week distributed an article entitled "$15 Oil Without Saddam.”
But even the author of this article, AEI resident scholar Irwin M. Stelzer, conceded that keeping oil prices low will depend to a large extent on the cooperation of OPEC oil producers--particularly Saudi Arabia, the current host and ally of the American troops fighting Iraq.
“Having been saved from certain ruin by America and other oil-consuming nations, the OPEC producers might find it embarrassing to turn their oil weapon on their own saviors,” wrote Stelzer. However, he went on, “Odds are they will rise above any such embarrassment.”
In other words, it is possible that at some point after the war ends, Saudi Arabia and other, smaller Mideast oil producers will seek to curtail oil production and keep prices higher than the United States and its Western allies would like.
Some Mideast experts argue that the United States should not have unrealistic expectations about the postwar price of oil.
“We have to stabilize oil prices at a responsible level,” says Schuler.
“The United States would not be hurt by oil prices that were stabilized at $25 a barrel.”