One of the things that always puzzled me about the Iraq war was the decision that was taken immediately after the fall of Baghdad to disband the Iraqi army and send them all home. This was a radical break with past US policies because the standing armies of other countries have always been the key element of past US attempts at changing the governments of other countries.
It is no secret that the US military industry provides a vast amount of the hardware for foreign armies. A large fraction of the warplanes, tanks, ships, armaments, and the other paraphernalia that foreign armies love to accumulate are sold to them by the US. On one level, this can be seen as a huge taxpayer subsidy to the defense industry. Much of the US taxpayer provided ‘aid’ to other countries (and this also applies, on a smaller scale, to other major weapons suppliers such as Britain and France) comes in the form of funds that are designated for weapons purchases that have to be bought from the aid ‘donor’ countries. So essentially much of US taxpayer ‘aid’ money ends up with US defense contractors, by being used by the foreign military to purchase US-made weapons.
But there is more to this transaction that just money and weapons transfers. When a foreign military purchases US weapons, it allows the US to build links between the foreign armies and the US military. Their officers need to be trained to use the weaponry and so form links with US trainers, to the extent of coming for regular visits to the US (such as to the notorious School of the Americas in Fort Benning, GA) and having US military and defense contractors visit those countries. The net result of such exchanges is the building of close relationships between the US and the foreign military, and this allows the CIA to relatively easily penetrate their ranks and either recruit agents or identify people they think would be sympathetic to US interests.
Having such links is valuable when the government of that country does things that the US strongly disapproves of because then the US can use those friendly officers to engineer a coup against the government and take over the reins of power. Since the military culture is to follow the command structure, the presence of a senior military person taking over the government enables the government to marshal the armed forces in support and crush any opposition to the coup by using brute force. The backing of the armed forces enables them to immediately take over the newspapers and radio and TV stations, arrest or kill opposition figures, and impose martial law and curfews until they have consolidated power over every aspect of that society.
This is what happened in Iran in 1953 when President Mossadegh was overthrown and Reza Pahlavi (the Shah of Iran) was brought in to rule, in Vietnam in 1963 when Ngo Dinh Diem was overthrown by the military, in Indonesia in 1965 when President Sukarno was overthrown by General Suharto, and in Chile in 1973 when President Salvador Allende was overthrown by General Pinochet, just to name a few of the more recent cases. Many of the military officers who supported Pinochet were graduates of the School of the Americas.
This was such a smoothly working system that it is not clear why it was not repeated in Iraq when Saddam Hussein went against US interests. After all, Hussein himself had achieved considerable power (though not the leadership) as a result of a coup in 1968, and finally took over in 1979 after forcing the 1968 coup leader (and later President) Ahmad Hassan al-Bakr to resign. There is evidence that Saddam Hussein was himself supported by the CIA from the early 1960s until the first Gulf War in 1991.
So why did the US not go back to its old playbook and find a cadre of junior and senior Iraqi officers who were friendly to the US to stage a coup against Hussein? One possibility is that they tried to do this and failed. It may be that Hussein, himself a protege of the CIA, knew only too well how it operated and was able to ferret out those officers whom he perceived as potential threats and eliminated them.
Another possibility is that the US was after bigger fish this time and that it was not really that concerned with Iraq itself except as a gateway to the grander prizes of Iran and Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Installing a puppet leader in Iraq via a military coup would merely give it control over that country’s oil supplies but would still leave Iran under a government the US did not control, Saudi Arabia in the hands of a friendly but unstable oligarchy, and Egypt with a future that was uncertain once the current strong man Hosni Mubarak dies or is overthrown or leaves office.
The ultimate goal may have been to achieve control over all these countries and though them the entire Middle East. At least this was the vision presented to the Defense Policy Board, “a committee of foreign policy wonks and former government officials that advises the Pentagon on defense issues,” that was headed by leading neoconservative Richard Perle in 2002 when it was briefed on this grand world view by Laurent Murawiec, a Rand corporation analyst who used to work for Lyndon LaRouche.
So perhaps it was this vision of Middle Eastern dominos (Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Egypt) falling one by one to US power and influence, giving the US total control of the world’s major oil reserves, and at the same time neutralizing all the potential threats to Israel, that led the US to abandon its old policy of coups to change disliked regimes and go for the big invasion of Iraq as a dramatic show of US power. This would also explain why the attempts to form a broad UN military coalition for the invasion of Iraq (like that done for the first Gulf war in 1991) were so half-hearted. This long-term strategy was meant to establish exclusive US control of the Middle East in order to control the destiny of rival economic powers, and thus having other major powers come along for the invasion of Iraq would not be desirable.
It is probable that this heady vision of remaking the political map of the world led the Bush administration to indulge in wishful thinking, to actually believe that they would achieve a quick victory in Iraq and be greeted as liberators, and that a grateful Iraqi public would welcome them and quickly set up a new government friendly to the US that would allow the US to maintain a huge military presence. With the crippling sanctions dismantled, the US would then be able to use Iraqi oil revenues to create a prosperous country, and that combination of US military power and rapid improvement in the lives of the Iraq people in a stable country with relatively free political structures would be the trigger for the people in neighboring countries to realize that they could have something similar. They would then also rise up against their own governments, confident that the massive US presence in nearby Iraq, along with the other major regional power Israel, would support them and deter their governments from retaliating with a brutal crackdown.
All this is admittedly speculation on my part, though not without evidence. But one can see how it could be a heady brew to a visionary with particular a type of ideology, such as the neoconservatives. Such ‘big picture’ people tend to see things in terms of the grand sweep of history. They are almost always so convinced and entranced by the magnificence of their own vision that they think that others will immediately embrace it too, and they do not want to listen to naysayers who see potential problems. They feel that they are on the crest of a wave of history that will sweep away all opposition, both domestic and foreign.
But if this surmise of mine is true, then that plan ganged seriously agley, as the poet Robert Burns might say.
Next: What went wrong with the grand plan?