I appreciate the opportunity to talk to you about combating
insurgencies. I'd like to start off by explaining what I
believe is the Bush Administration's overarching strategy in
the war for freedom, to briefly discuss both what I believe went
wrong with Iraqi reconstruction and what I believe is going right
with Iraqi reconstruction.
Iraq and the War on Terrorism
First, an oft-debated subject is Iraq's role in the War on
Terrorism. If you look at a map, however, it is very difficult to
dispute that Iraq is not a central front in the War on Terrorism.
Iran rests directly between Iraq and Afghanistan, and consequently
it has severe problems with the concept of democracy going forward
in both countries. If a democracy is successful in Afghanistan,
this brings Iran no comfort.
In short, what President George W. Bush is trying to do is to
replicate the Cold War containment strategy of Harry Truman
combined with the rollback doctrine of Ronald Reagan in the
Our Founding Fathers established the United States as a
revolutionary experiment in human freedom. Even to this day,
Americans who are well grounded in their history understand that
America is a revolutionary nation still. What Americans have
difficulty understanding is that the Iranian ruling elite believe
they are a revolutionary nation as well. As a result, what we are
seeing in Iraq, and increasingly in Afghanistan, are these two
revolutions in direct competition.
If the American Revolution is successful in bringing liberty to
Iraq and Afghanistan, the totalitarianism and extremism of the
Iranian revolution will be blunted from its expansion. People in
the area will have hope, the Iranian revolution will be contained,
and it is my belief that the people of Iran--a proud people who
throughout civilization have played a momentous role in human
advancement--will no longer be condemned to live under a
tyrannical regime, causing it to implode as the Soviet Union
If we reverse these prospects and yield to the calls for
"changing course in Iraq"--which is nothing but a euphemism
for "retreating in the face of an enemy"--the Iranian revolution
will spread first to Iraq, and then with al-Qaeda's assistance into
Afghanistan. How we leave Iraq is how we will leave Afghanistan. If
these events were to unfold and Iran successfully acquired a
nuclear weapon, Iran would then try to destabilize Pakistan and
depose the government of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.
I would point out that they already have nuclear weapons in
Pakistan. And the prospect of a Taliban without the United States
being able to assist a sovereign Pakistani government in
protecting itself would be a nightmare the likes of which I hope we
are all spared.
In terms of Iraq particularly, it has been a source of
increasing frustration for both myself and others who have always
believed that in any successful reconstruction effort--either
post-conflict or, as we tried to do in Iraq, during a
counter-insurgency that was not at the time recognized
sufficiently--you have to build from the grassroots up. It is
particularly appropriate that I am here at The Heritage
Foundation because I believe that Russell Kirk was right:
Every society has traditional roots of order. As a conservative,
this is a deeply held principle for me.
Democracy from the Top Down?
For the United States government, under the direction of a
"conservative president," to try to create a model democracy
in Iraq from the top down through a highly centralized bureaucratic
state was absolutely inexcusable. What we are seeing now is the
success of General David Petraeus's plan-- already, I believe,
ahead of schedule, if you consider that the lifetime of a general
counter-insurgency typically is seven to 12 years just to quell it.
This is because he has adopted a counter-insurgency plan that
relies upon gathering the support of the traditional roots of
order--the local tribal and religious leaders--just as the United
States did with our town councils as we built up to states, as we
built up to the Articles of Confederation, and as we built up to a
As early as 2003, I was urging the Administration to create an
oil fund for the Iraqi people. I had hoped it would be enshrined in
their constitution based upon the model we have in the United
States, the Alaska Oil Fund. A portion of revenues are put into a
centralized fund and distributed per capita to individuals
throughout the state. It could have been replicated in Iraq. There
could have been conditions placed upon it so that if you
participated in the insurgency and did not throw down your arms,
you would lose your entitlement. There could also be conditions
that if you turned in insurgents, you would receive their share as
long as you lived. There is a multiplicity of beneficial outcomes
that could have occurred, and yet today we still see the
problems associated with the distribution of oil funds in that
A Transactional Benefit
I believe General Petraeus's plan will work precisely
because he has inverted the top-down approach and made it
bottom-up. We've seen this in Al-Anbar and we will continue to see
this throughout Iraq. What we've seen is America trying to
protect its own liberty by extending it to others. In the
process, what we have to remember is that this is a
transformational change for the Iraqi people. I hotly dispute the
concept that some people are unfit for freedom; I believe all human
beings equally yearn to breathe free. I know that in my own
district back home, the Iraqi-Americans that live there have
certainly taken to democracy quite well. The reality is that
if you do not provide ordinary human beings with a transactional
benefit from a transformational change, they will consider, as the
Iraqis have always done, that their government is like the
weather-- rarely good, sometimes exceedingly bad, and
sometimes mortally dangerous, yet it remains beyond your
control. General Petraeus is giving the average Iraqi an immediate
transactional benefit that links him or her to the transformational
change that is occurring in the nation.
As Americans, it is easy to be an armchair quarterback and
say they should be more idealistic, but as an Irish Catholic whose
father escaped the Democratic Party, I take my hat off to them. If
you think about the greatest engine of social assimilation in
the United States, it was the big city machines of the Democrats
and a handful of Republican mayors that brought these new
immigrants into the American system, providing them shelter,
helping them find work, and bringing them into the political
system. This was not done by the federal government at that time.
In fact, I would argue that some of the recent attempts we've seen
at a comprehensive "immigration plan" and the failure of
assimilation prove that if you provide an individual a
transactional benefit in their hands, they will understand why
liberty is so essential and eventually will outgrow their
dependence, as my father's generation did.
With that, I'll take your questions.
Questions and Answers
Question: You mentioned that democracy in Iraq is
something that Iran is not looking for, but I guess the logical
comeback to that is, of course, the Shia majority and the extensive
influence that Iran has throughout government and municipal
governments throughout the south of Iraq.
Rep. McCotter: One of the long-term problems in Iraq
is how to prevent the Iranians from subverting the Iraqi
government. If General Petraeus's plan works perfectly and the
Iraqi government becomes stabilized, our troops withdraw after
being victorious. How do you prevent the Iranians--given their
proximity, given their relationships, kinships between the
Shia in Iraq and Iran--from subverting a constitutional Iraqi
I believe you have to hearken back to the Iran- Iraq War, where
I believe close to one million people were killed. The Iraqi
Shia fought in that war. If you look at the celebration--I know it
is a vignette, but it remains valid--of their nationhood after
their soccer victory, the vast majority of Iraqis who remain in
Iraq identify themselves with Iraq. Why they did not seal that
border remains beyond me.
When the Iranian revolution occurred, Ayatollah Khomeini's
people immediately viewed the secular Baath party as an enemy. They
had to get rid of Saddam Hussein's regime. They wanted to
export their revolution, very much like Trotsky believed you had to
export Communism. Shia who were friendly toward the Iranian
revolution then tried to destabilize the Iraqi regime by
trying to perform assassinations on Baath party members,
including Tariq Aziz. Those Iraqi Shia were then chased out into
Iran, where they were housed for 20 years.
The first step would have been to ensure that they did not come
back in as the United States troops removed the Saddam Hussein
regime. Now that they are there, we start to see the bitter fruits
of that, such as with the Mahdi army, Muqtada al-Sadr, and others.
But it is my belief that the Shia who have stayed in Iraq, who
stayed through the Iran-Iraq War, do not want any part of that
Iranian regime and are going to be the ones--if we are successful
through the Petraeus plan--who are empowered to bring forth both
the transformational and transactional benefits to the Shia
people. If you look at what Muqtada al-Sadr is doing in parts of
Baghdad, he's performing much like a big city ward boss would. If
you look at what Hezbollah and others did in the wake of the
Israeli war, this is what they're doing. Why the United States,
which actually perfected this strategy back at the turn of the
last century until the Progressive Movement, does not
understand this is beyond me.
I believe General Petraeus is taking a similar approach and
showing that liberty will work. As it provides benefits to you and
your family's material well-being, and eventually to your political
and spiritual well-being, the lure of the short-term benefit
from people aligned with Iran will diminish. I truly believe that.
The concept of Iraqi sovereignty has been derided, but I think it
is far stronger than most people would believe.
Again, the Iraqi Shia were loyal to Iraq under Saddam Hussein
during the Iran-Iraq War. They consider themselves Iraqis. There is
also some semblance of Iraqi secularism. Although small, it
can grow over time.
Question: How do you gauge your caucus's temperature on
Iraq? Do you think that it's going to stay together in
Rep. McCotter: Early on I advocated, and I continue to
advocate, that this is not a political matter for our party.
If we descend to the level at which national security and elemental
questions of right and wrong become an issue on which we can be
coerced or cajoled, then we have not done our job as
representatives of the sovereign American people. We would then
descend to the level of those who view everything as a political
matter in relation to national security.
As the son of a former Truman Democrat (although he never
admitted it) and an Eisenhower mother, I guess that makes me a
Truman Republican. When your nation is engaged in warfare
overseas, you retain your right to dissent. But you also have
the responsibility to put forward constructive solutions to further
the cause of victory. If you do not like what the President is
doing, then you should tell the President how we can best achieve
our goal, be victorious, and allow our troops to come home to their
loved ones. I think that when you treat this as a political matter
you stray from that fundamental principle and you get into all
sorts of trouble. We have not whipped our caucus on this, and we
will not. It is a matter of conscience and we believe that in the
end this is the best approach. I know how I will be voting, my
constituents know how I will be voting, and I think that's right
and proper. But if they do not ask, I will not force it upon
Question: I recently came back from Iraq, and I stayed
with a secular Shiite there. The problem, as he tells me, is
that the Sunnis--as you say, the traditional order--have dominated
the Shia for hundreds of years, first with the Ottomans and then
the Hashemites. How do we, by staying within that traditional-order
strategy that you seem to advocate, overcome that momentum that the
Sunnis have developed?
Rep. McCotter: Well, I'm talking about the local
traditional roots of order, not a perversion of a governmental
system by a minority that captures the majority. That would be more
akin with Saddam Hussein's Iraq or apartheid South Africa,
where the minority whites suppressed the majority black
Ultimately, while people have talked about the division of Iraq
into three separate nation-states, if you continue to build from
the town council level up and have a process that empowers people
at the local level through their tribal leaders, through their
mosques, through others, what you will see is a strong provincial
system based upon the town councils with a more loosely organized
Remember, what the Sunnis did with that government? They
used the powers of a centralized government to kill and oppress
Shia, who were the majority. If you were a Sunni, whether you
participated in that or not, when the United States comes in
and says, "We are now going to have a centrally organized national
government and we're going to hand it to the people you killed and
oppressed for generations," your first reaction would be, "This
might not be in my best interest."
That put up an enormous red flag when combined with the
horrible mistake of abject de-Baathification as opposed
to a rational de-Baathification. You turn back into a very
nervous, anxious population of Sunnis. If you look at the growth of
the insurgency since then, it seems to make sense. I would argue
that the first assuaging of the Sunni Iraqi spheres would be to
have the redistribution of those oil funds decided and to have the
per capita proceeds directed to them. This would alleviate the fear
that they are now going to have the Shia take all the oil money and
leave them with nothing, which would then lead to the next step in
their minds--their ultimate and perhaps genocidal eradication
by a Shia government. And again, you have to go back to the
question, "How are they materially better off?"
On my second trip to Iraq I got into a bit of a dust-up with a
British general. He mentioned that the local population was irate
because foreign contractors had been brought in to work on a
major project in their town. I looked at the general and said, "Why
does this surprise you?"
I'm from the city; I was born in the city of Detroit, I live
near the city of Detroit. I can imagine what my membership in the
United Autoworkers would think if we brought in people from around
the world to do their jobs right in front of them. Those types of
things upset a population. General Petraeus's strategy of fostering
the grassroots will mollify the Sunnis and success will occur.
People who have a vested stake in the future, who believe there is
hope, who see material progress for their wives, children,
husbands, and parents occurring on a daily basis will understand
that this system works. I believe that will work.
This is where we get into the difficulty, because there is a
political dimension to this. Distribution of oil funds would be a
major step in resolving this issue. However, the concentration of
oil fund revenues is a temptation for any strongman to seize
power and then fund whatever flights of fancy that he may want
to inflict upon the rest of that region or the world. This does not
preclude, I point out to my free market friends, foreign companies
being able to participate in the production of oil from Iraq.
It just ensures that the proceeds that come from whatever country
does it, be it Iraqi or a foreign national, be allowed to be shared
by the Iraqi people.
That is something Saddam did not do. At the expense of the Shia,
Saddam took all the money he could for electricity and any type of
programs in the Sunni areas. This is a critical resolution, so I
would say we have to continue General Petraeus's
grassroots-up-to-the-central-government strategy. We must
ensure that there is a quick resolution of the proper and equitable
redistribution of those oil revenues to ensure that stability
begins to take hold and is cemented.
Question: What role do you see for economic development
in our current counter-insurgency operations in Iraq?
Rep. McCotter: The role is to allow the Iraqi people the
means to build the economy. In America, the largest engine of
economic progress is small business. It's not Franklin Roosevelt's
Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA).
If you think about what was done with the Coalition Provisional
Authority, they tried to come in and build little TVAs all over
Iraq with foreign contractors, and the local economies were in
shambles. Instead, I think you have to go in and try to create
conditions. This is where the surge is mischaracterized. The
surge in troops was required to help bring this down to a more
manageable level of counter-insurgency so that security could be
established, and the reconstruction from the ground up could
occur. That's what this is all about.
The people who say there's no solely military solution to this
are right, and General Petraeus understands that. Finally, the Bush
Administration understands that. We're on the right track. But in
terms of economics, one of the fundamental mistakes we made
was when we allowed the commanders' emergency funds to run
out. The military was in contact with Iraqi people on a daily
basis, from necessity and of circumstance.
As a result, Baghdad began to centralize everything. When
the funds ran out, the military commanders on the ground were
no longer allowed to make decisions that would bring harmony to
their areas or to help mute some of the differences that were
beginning to emerge. Instead, everything was going to Baghdad and
nothing was getting done, including land distribution to people who
were trying to come back and stake their claims to ancient
lands that Saddam had chased them from.
I've also argued with some of my friends that say the State
Department was proper in conducting this reconstruction from the
start. I would argue they were wrong, and my simple response is
that it wasn't Ambassador Eisenhower and Ambassador MacArthur
who rebuilt Germany and Japan after World War II. This is not to
say that the United States military should develop social
workers rather than soldiers, but the direction of a
reconstruction team should be directed by the military. I base that
upon the past success of what we've done with other conquered
nations that have had to be reconstructed.
Question: As you're talking about counter-insurgency in
Iraq, and we are seeing the beginnings of success, to what extent
is the Partiya Karkaren Kurdistan (Kurdistan Worker's Party, or
PKK) on the radar screen? That's proving to be another
unpleasant outgrowth of this, and they are unfortunately
operating in the one part of Iraq that is, in general, very
friendly to us. At the same time, it's pushing away one of our
closest regional allies.
Rep. McCotter: I would hope that our closest
regional ally, Turkey, does not use this as pretext to go in there
and try to grab the oil revenues that come from the Kurdish north.
Again, the fundamental problem right now is not the PKK; we
agree on that. And the Turkish government, if they believe the
Kurdish north is the greatest problem, is blind to the reality of
the situation. I will also say that I don't mind some of their
consternation in Turkey, given how little help they provided us in
making sure that our troops came through Turkey on the way in,
during the initial hammer-and-anvil strategy. Perhaps if they
had allowed us to do that, I'd have more compassion for their
discomfiture. I do not at the present time.
The Honorable Thaddeus McCotter, a
Republican, represents the 11th district of Michigan in the United
States House of Representatives, where he also serves as chairman
of the Republican Policy Committee.