Don't Panic

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What's gonna happen in Iraq when Saddam is gone?

When Saddam is defeated, American troops will ride victorious into Baghdad. Because the soldiers'll be totin' guns and riding in Hummers, some Iraqis will mistake the spectacle for a desert-themed rap video. Doubts about what's happening will vanish once they flip on the radio: We will have replaced the usual pro-Saddam propaganda with the victory-themed mix CD, Now That's What I Call A Gulf War 2!!! featuring Kool & The Gang's "Celebration," performed by Lee Greenwood.

Overjoyed, everyone will break out Swiffers and start ululating while they begin tidying the country for its peaceful new democratic future. American troops will return home victorious in a couple months, and Saddam Hussein will go on trial in the Netherlands where he'll assert that "if I'm guilty of anything, it's that I love too much."

The above scenario is not too far off from what some Bushies are suggesting might happen post-Saddam. Speaking anonymously (for obvious reasons) to Newsweek, one government official involved in the post-war planning suggested American troops could leave a democracy behind in 60 days. Hmmm. A massive country with little linguistic, ethnic and/or religious homogeneity, no history of democracy, ruled for 30 years by a man so evil he makes Satan blush and you expect to build a new Switzerland there in 60 days?

Not quite as phantasmagorically, administration officials told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Feb. 11 that the U.S. military would occupy Iraq for two years before handing the keys over to Iraqi civilian leadership. When asked about the cost of rebuilding Iraq during the same presentation, they couldn't answer, describing the cost as "unknowable" because we don't know how much damage the upcoming war will do.

It's unknowable to me how the administration can be certain about outcome and timetable, but claim that uncertainty makes cost estimates impossible. Senate Democrats and Republicans have joined me in my skepticism; they're worried about Bush's don't-worry-we'll-take-care-of-it attitude. There are several serious and complicated issues that should have been thought through before we decided to go to war. Here's just some of the biggies:

Integrity — With no Saddam-like thug to hold it together, Iraq easily could break into four pieces: Kurdish north, Sunni Muslim middle, Shi'ite south, and creamy filling. What kind of democratic government do we think will hold the crumbs together?

Eliminating Iraq's weapons of mass destruction — Saddam or no Saddam, we want a WMD-free Iraq. With Saddam gone, this should be an easier task than it has been. Nevertheless, Iraq is twice the size of Idaho, so it's gonna take a while. That reminds me, when are we gonna disarm Idaho?

Kurds — Upon our invasion, 20,000 or so Turkish troops will invade Northern Iraq (with our approval) to make sure that Iraqi Kurds don't join Turkish Kurds and start their own country. We don't know how long they'll stay or if the Kurds will fight them. One thing is certain, if Turks treat Iraqi Kurds the same way they treat their own Kurds then that's a long whey from democracy, now isn't it?

Cleanup — When Saddam retreated from Kuwait, it took nine months to extinguish the oil fields he detonated. If Saddam does the same in Iraq and decides to throw chemical or biological weapons into the mix just to spice things up, it would delay the cleanup, balloon its cost, and generally screw up our plan to use Iraq's oil revenue to subsidize Iraq's recovery — not to mention all the Swiffers it would require.

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