Watching the Shiite Muslims marching through Karbala and Baghdad last week brought back uncomfortable memories. It was Iran in 1979 and 1980; Jimmy Carter was president, and the insufferable Walter Cronkite was counting off the number of days Americans were being held prisoner in the U.S. embassy in Tehran.
If one were to believe the Bush administration and the ''defense intellectuals,'' the United States would soon establish a democratic Iraq. But the marching and shouting Shiites wanted America to go home and let them establish their own Iraq: an Islamic state like Iran.
This wasn't the way it was supposed to be at all. The Iraqi people were supposed to be celebrating their liberation--especially the Shiites, who had been oppressed during Saddam Hussein's brutal reign. Now the leaders of the religious majority were demonstrating against us, without any hint of gratitude for their liberation.
U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told us that there would be no Islamic republic. Iraq would emerge as a democratic society. Yet democracy, if it means anything at all, means majority rule (except in American presidential elections). The Shiites are 60 percent of Iraq. If they get to vote, their mullahs will take over the country. Then they will impose an Islamic republic, and life will become very difficult for the 40 percent of Iraqis who are not Shiites. The choice seems to be either no democracy or another Iran.
An important Iranian cleric issued a ''fatwa''--a mandate for the Shiites to take control of the country and get rid of the Americans.
If any officials in the administration were aware of this development (which should have been a self-evident possibility), they certainly didn't tell the American people. President Bush celebrates victory and doesn't seem to grasp that the majority religion of Iraq is not grateful to us for liberation and wants us to go home so that it can quickly impose an authoritarian rule, which would be only marginally better than that of the Baath Party. Will the American occupation forces and military government have to fight off an Iraqi branch of the Hezbollah, the Iranian-supported terrorist suicide bombers who periodically blow themselves up in Israel?
It begins to look like Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz's dream of Iraq as a democratic ally in the Middle East was a pipe dream--and a dangerous one at that.
Somewhere in the government, someone must have known that--probably someone in the CIA or the State Department. The strong possibility of such a development ought to have been obvious to anyone who knows anything about Islam. Yet no one seems to have informed the president or the American people. In effect, those who did not warn us, lied to us--just as did the vice president, who assured us that the Iraqis had developed a nuclear bomb (or had almost developed it).
Most of the national media, especially the news networks, seemed serenely unaware of the Shiite problem in southern Iraq. Their talking-head experts informed the country that the Shiites were there, but never suggested that they might almost immediately begin their own theocratic revolution. They were supposed to dance in the streets and throw flowers on the American tanks. Instead, nervous American troops have to gun them down.
The victory celebrations are at best premature. They deceive Americans into believing that most problems in Iraq have been solved. More lies. There are a lot of ayatollahs between Baghdad and the Persian Gulf, and they are very dangerous people. It would appear that once again the U.S. government has made a major mistake because it simply cannot factor the religious dimension into its calculations. The mistake is particularly odd in an administration that seems to believe so strongly in divine guidance. Apparently, there are other leaders in the world who also believe that they have a direct line to God--men who, astonishingly, believe that we are infidels, although in fact we are a nation of pious, God-fearing evangelicals who, like the president, read their Bible every day.
One wonders if the time will come when Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Richard Perle and William Kristol will feel uncomfortably like Baron von Frankenstein.