Sign Up

Divvying Up the Spoils of Iraq — The Pentagon's Vision

What might Washington have in store for a post-Saddam Iraq?

September 12, 2002

What might Washington have in store for a post-Saddam Iraq?

The world has not been offered such a radical change in the political landscape of the Middle East since Iraq and Jordan were created by then British Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill. He did it by “a stroke of the pen” — as he liked to say — at the Cairo Conference in 1921.

The comparison with Churchill is an apt one. Why? Well, daredevilish Mr. Churchill is the venerated inspirational hero of the top Pentagon planners centered around Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz.

The most influential Middle East analyst at the Pentagon at the moment is Harold Rhode. Previously, he was part of the team that proposed the 1987 opening to Iran — an initiative that eventually led to the Iran-Contra scandal.

Like his patrons Paul Wolfowitz and Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith, he is an enthusiastic proponent of building up Turkey as the main power in the Near East — and ultimately in Central Asia.

Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz, for his part, is convinced that the Turks remain the most militarily formidable nation in the Middle East. He clings to that belief even though Turkey has not fought a major war in 80 years — and has only won a single one in the past 350 years, its war against Greece in 1920-21.

None of the Pentagon's grand designs have been proposed in public. But according to department insiders, Turkey can look forward to Iraqi oil spoils through greatly extended pipelines.

And that's not all. Turkish companies would be central to the development of Kurdistan — if Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi dictator, were to fall.

“Rewarding” Turkey with oil revenues would also, the Pentagon civilian planners believe, provide the country with a benefit of historic proportions. An oil-rich Turkey would, for example, be much less dependent on the IMF in order to secure the country's economic and social stability.

Turkey’s present civilian leaders, however, are extremely nervous. They are well aware that the most popular political party in their nation is currently the Islamic Justice and Development Party (IJDP).

From their point of view, going along with these plans could easily cause a raging popular backlash in their country — both in the nationalist and religious camps.

Turkey’s powerful generals are well aware of the dangers, too. But the generals are going along with these ideas. In part, this is because they believe the current rulers of the Pentagon are their last serious friends in the world.

And that's not all. Turkey's generals — long the key force checking the omnipresent threat of an outburst of Islamic fundamentalism in their country — see political benefits as well.

As they view it, the sudden appearance of oil riches for their nation may trigger a popular nationalist and economic bonanza of such proportions that it could drain popular support from the fundamentalist Islamic Justice and Development Party.

In short, control of northern Iraqi oil exports would save the current shaky status quo — rather than handing over the political reigns to the fundamentalists, as now seems likely after Turkey's next elections.

The leaders of the Islamic Justice and Development Party regard the secular army, which has repeatedly intervened in domestic Turkish politics and imposed its will on the nation, as their real and ultimate opponents.

As a consequence, they will be only too ready to try to whip up popular resentment against the army if the war goes wrong — or if it causes significant suffering and collateral damage to Turkey.

But there are a few other major flaws in the Pentagon's grand design. For starters, senior U.S. Army officers are well aware of the threats of early attacks by Saddam’s armored forces — that is, before they have built up their own forces sufficiently.

They also worry about strikes by weapons of mass destruction delivered against U.S. troop concentrations.

Another major real-life complication are the 17 million Kurds in Turkey itself. Tensions between them and the majority 44 million or so non-Kurdish Turks are high — and rising. And this raises a key contradiction in the Pentagon’s policy.

After all, the Pentagon's civilian hawks also count on the support of the Kurds of northern Iraq. They view them as a major force in setting up the bandwagon-style rapid progress that they believe will topple Saddam as quickly as the Taliban fell in Afghanistan.

U.S. military leaders have already been forced to assure the Turkish generals that they will not allow the city of Kirkuk to fall under Kurdish control — though the Kurds demand it.

The Turks have made clear to U.S. officials that they will regard any Kurdish seizure of Kirkuk — located only 120 miles from Turkey’s border — by the Kurds as a casus belli against them.

But Kirkuk’s proximity to Turkey is not the only reason that the Turks are loath to see Kirkuk fall under Kurdish control. If that happened, Kurdistan — not Turkey — would gain control of Iraqi oil.

After all, the Kirkuk field is the second largest in all of Iraq. It has an extremely favorable or “sweet” level of 2% sulfur crude, although the Energy Information Administration (EIA) of the U.S. Department of Energy reports that the field’s API gravity has reportedly fallen in recent years.

A United Nations report last year warned that production in the Kirkuk field, which had been at a million barrels per day, could drop by half within a year.

But there is no question that northern Iraqi oil from the Kirkuk field remains a fabulously valuable asset.

Besides oil, the Turks have also made it clear that they are determined to protect the two million or so Turkomen living at present in northern Iraq. The Turks want to protect them from any majority Kurdish control.

For Iraq itself, U.S. political views are even more ambitious. An article published in National Review on August 22, 2002 by David Pryce-Jones, Senior Editor at that same journal, argued the merits of restoring the Hashemite monarchy.

Toppled in a frightful massacre and coup in 1958, he would like to see it revived in the form of Prince Hassan of Jordan — or one of several other possible claimants.

Mr. Pryce-Jones has maintained the idea is entirely his own — and he is undoubtedly speaking the truth. But the concept of “rewarding the Hashemites” as pro-U.S. — and pro-Israeli — allies and semi-puppets is far from his alone. State Department officials have privately confirmed it is being seriously considered.

In fact, expanding the Hashemite presence in the region has long been the dream of David Wurmser, a prominent adviser to U.S. Under Secretary of State John Bolton.

Currently, Secretary of State Colin Powell and almost all of the State Department are frozen out of decision-making on Iraq by Vice President Dick Cheney and the National Security Council staff led by Condoleezza Rice.

As a result, Mr. Wurmser — the former head of Middle East studies at the conservative, free-market American Enterprise Institute — has more direct influence on U.S. policymaking in the Middle East than the entire staff of the State Department’s Near East Affairs bureau.

In the past, Mr. Wurmser has advocated “rewarding” the Hashemite kingdom of Jordan with parts of both Syria and Iraq. He regards both of them as “unviable” states — once the centralized control of their current Ba’ath Arab Socialist authoritarian regimes vanishes.

However, ever since Jordan's late King Hussein was succeeded by his son King Abdullah II, Mr. Wurmser appears to have soured somewhat on this “solution.”

The reason is clear. Abdullah has repeatedly taken stands on key policy issues contrary to those that Mr. Bush and his Pentagon hawks would have wished him to.

In conclusion, the changes now being seriously contemplated by the Pentagon's new grand wizard of global strategy are not only unprecedented in over 80 years for the Middle East. They also represent a degree of micromanaging and a crusading ambition undreamed of by any U.S. President for even longer.

In fact, it has not happened since Woodrow Wilson. At the time, he was enthusiastically assisted by the young Walter Lippmann and a motley crew of fellow idealistic, ambitious young aides resolved to end the ancient controversies of Central Europe.

To realize their rigorous vision, they were prepared to redraw the frontiers of Central Europe in its entirety at the 1919 Versailles Peace Conference.

Their grand design, suffice it to say, took almost a century to work itself out. As the continuing conflicts in Kosovo and Bosnia indicate, it is far from completely worked out even now.

The Versailles Conference and Peace Treaty proved to be a political and human catastrophe that spawned a second world war even more destructive than the one it ended.

Despite this tragedy, we are apparently back at a time when another resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW dares support — or contemplate — similar ambition.

Messrs. Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and their advisors seem oblivious to the possibility that the wildly ambitious schemes they are contemplating could set off a comparable Armageddon in 20 days or 20 months, let alone 20 years.

They might, however, consider reflecting on the wisdom of poet and writer Rudyard Kipling. He was the one whose poetry immortalized the following words, “Here lies the grave of a fool who tried to hustle the East.”

It should be added that no such scheme has ever succeeded in Iraq. In short, getting so involved in the innards of this country means literally to open Pandora's box.

As the British, who created Iraq, learned soon thereafter, such schemes quickly center on tricky issues such as protecting Iraqi minorities. Perhaps wisely, they abandoned any pretensions to be able to do so there almost as soon as the new state was set up.

More on this topic