[ltr]2021.04.23 - 10:30[/ltr]
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People - Baghdad
The National Interest website has published an article by an American professor and writer discussing a possible scenario in the event of the killing of Saddam Hussein, the former president of the regime, in 1991.
The article "Robert Farley" translated by "People" (April 23, 2021) indicates that the occurrence of such an event "could have led to power struggles between various actors (including Saddam Hussein's vase), which could create instability. And greater opportunities for insurgencies in the north and south, "and gives the international community greater flexibility regarding how to manage Iraq.
In the early days of the 1991 Gulf War air campaign, the United States made a concerted effort to track down and strike Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. This effort was based on the belief that eliminating Saddam Hussein would have two effects: This would throw the Iraqi military hierarchy into disarray, and make the surviving Iraqi leadership more amenable to a negotiated solution.
The effort to kill Saddam Hussein was but one link in the US pursuit of "decapitation" as a political and military strategy. In the post-Cold War era, the United States faced a variety of dictators and terrorists. The American leaders justified this by saying that the steps to crush the head of the snake might make it unnecessary to kill the entire body, thus sparing much damage and civilian death.
The beheadings in 1991 and similar attacks in 2003 failed. What if they succeeded? The former receives more attention than the second, as Hussein made only a minimal contribution to the Iraqi fighting and resistance after March 2003. But the issue of eliminating Hussein in 1991 is interesting. How would the US interaction with Iraq differ from 1991 to 2015 had the decapitation succeeded?
The United States has historically struggled over how to evaluate dictatorial leaders. Frankly, the United States government tends to overestimate the influence of individual players in the system (such as Saddam Hussein), and underestimate the broader structure of regime power in authoritarian countries. Perhaps the most insignificant aspect of this struggle is the repetition of the mind-numbing "time machine to kill the child Hitler".
This is partly due to the need for effective publicity and messaging; The American media find it much easier to understand the idea of a villain, rather than dealing with the complexities of a broad-based government structure with deep roots in certain societal groups.
The United States also works on the assumption that imposing liberal democracy in states is near-normal, and that states will back down from government once unpleasant actors are removed. This belief is deeply ingrained in American political thought, despite centuries of practical political experience and decades of academic work.
Neoconservatives believe that the United States can create democracy by removing dictators, while left-wing critics of American foreign policy regularly imply that authoritarian regimes only survive because of US support.
The belief was demonstrated from an operational military perspective in the form of the neoclassical air power theory that dominated the US Air Force in the 1980s; The "Five Rings" theory by John Warden.
The "five rings" theory suggests that hitting highly influential targets at the heart of the regime (including the leader himself, but also facilities that enabled political and military control) could lead to the collapse of the regime. Indeed, Warden argued that the United States should avoid hitting the deployed Iraqi army, preferring to focus on the regime's goals.
He expressed his belief that the army itself can return and restore order in Iraq after the destruction of Hussein and his surroundings.
The course of the war
How could Hussein's death affect the course of the 1991 Gulf War? Had Hussein's death resulted in a new leadership that could surrender through negotiation and withdraw from Kuwait, the war could have been avoided. But this outcome does not seem particularly likely. The invasion of Kuwait was relatively popular with the Iraqi people (who had deep doubts about the legitimacy of the Kuwaiti state), and was very popular with the military and political hierarchy.
While Hussain tried to impose tight control on Iraqi military movements during the Gulf War, it is not clear that these moves would have differed in any way from the theoretical reality, nor is it clear that Hussein made correct decisions in response to the success of the coalition air campaign, or to The "left hook" threat to encircle the Iraqi forces in Kuwait. Moreover, there is no reason to believe that the United States would have been more willing to push toward Baghdad if Hussein had died in the early hours of the war.
Impact on Iraq
The better question is how Iraqi politics would continue after the war. Hussein's absence may have been felt in the immediate aftermath of the war, when the Iraqi government needed to deal with the uprisings in the north and south. Any successor to Hussein would likely have come from the same Sunni Ba'athist elite, and would have had the same interest in putting down those uprisings. At the same time, a regime less focused on the survival of Hussein himself may have had more flexibility in dealing with the international community and with domestic opponents alike.
Inside Iraq, the Ba'athist power structure would have remained largely intact, despite Hussein's death. And power struggles may erupt between the various actors (including his sons), which could create instability and greater opportunities for rebellions in the north and south. However, without international support, these revolutions lacked the ability to topple the regime, Hussein or not.
Indeed, Hussein's death may have given the international community greater flexibility in how Iraq should be managed. As Charles Dolfer said, the biggest problem the United States faced in interacting with Iraq was its inability to trust Iraqi claims. US negotiators and inspectors have been unable to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Iraq has not maintained chemical, biological, and nuclear ambitions, even as the evidence points to the destruction of Iraqi programs, and even as the Iraqis claim they have moved on.
It is conceivable that the rise of an Iraqi leader did not implicate in playing the role of the same villain that Saddam Hussein was able to alleviate this problem. In particular, a leader with a better sense of international public opinion may have responded with less deafness to the attacks of September 11, 2001, which made it difficult for the Bush administration to rally support for the invasion.
As with any counterfactual, the full effects of Saddam Hussein's death during the 1991 Gulf War are difficult to deal with. A successful decapitation is likely to have little impact on the course of the war, or the immediate consequences. But over time, the replacement of Saddam Hussein could have had major implications on both sides of the relationship between Washington and Baghdad. More importantly, it may have given the United States an opportunity to absorb itself for the survival of the Ba'ath regime, which could have prevented the disastrous 2003 war.
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