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Re-thinking Iraq

By Alan Caruba
web posted March 27, 2006

Americans are at a place roughly analogous to the end of World War II. They wanted to demobilize the huge military machine that defeated our enemies and there was much opposition to the Marshall Plan to save Europe from Soviet domination. It was "mission accomplished" and to hell with the rest of the world. Only the rest of the world was not about to comply.

President Bush has between now and January 20, 2009 to secure a miracle in Iraq. If, by then, Iraq has not established a fully functional, independent government, his legacy is likely to be perceived as an ill-conceived effort to remove Saddam Hussein's regime and replace it with one that will provide a base from which U.S. military forces can threaten the Iranian leadership of the Islamic revolution.

The irony of this is that the United States did in Iraq what the Iranians most wanted done, the removal of Saddam Hussein. They had fought Iraq for eight years during the 1980s, losing about 300,000 with a million more wounded and captured. That would have been the population equivalent of a million American war dead and 4 million wounded and captured.

As George Friedman suggests in a March 21 intelligence analysis published by Stratfor, "Not to put too fine a point on it, but the real players in Iraq are now going to sit down and see if they can reach some decisions about the country's future." The Iranians have concluded the situation is too unpredictable and that Bush needs a deal. They're right.

Support for our current occupation of Iraq is diminishing as Americans, unmindful of how long and how costly it was to replace the regimes of WWII Japan and Germany, and influenced by the U.S. debacle in Vietnam, begin to rethink their view of the actions taken in Iraq. Part of the problem was that the U.S. expected to find an intact Iraqi government, but discovered there wasn't one. A year was lost in improvisational efforts and, yes, mistakes.

Despite growing evidence Saddam was just waiting to revive his plans for weapons of mass destruction, impatient Americans have already forgotten that he invaded Iran and later invaded Kuwait. Had nothing been done in the latter case, Saddam would surely have invaded Saudi Arabia next and controlled the vast bulk of Middle East oil. The U.S. was not about to allow that.

In the aftermath of 9-11, it is conjectured that the neoconservatives in the White House saw an opportunity to take a strategic leap to transform the Middle East by asserting the military power of the United States. Only the future will tell us whether this bold effort will "connect" the Middle East to the modern world by the introduction of democratic reforms. I think the President and his advisors believed the region's Arab population could or would put aside the debilitating internal animosities of Islam to embrace Western-style "freedom."

There are four words that every pundit loves to say. "I told you so."

On August 17, 2005 I penned "The Iraq Illusion", a commentary that offered a sober look at the situation at that time. "In the midst of our desire to see a happy outcome in Iraq, we must never lose sight of the ability of Arabs to reject every opportunity to join the modern community of nations, i.e., the industrialized West and those in Asia who are working toward a more peaceful, integrated worldwide marketplace."

Even with the great wealth generated by oil, the nations of the Middle East have little to offer to their people and the world. They are, collectively, the most backward in the world, save possibly for those of northern Africa where Islam is also the dominant faith. Despite oil, largely under the control of a few "royal" families or a handful of demented Iranian mullahs, you have a region whose population is defined by its great poverty, ignorance, and long history of oppression.

I wrote that "The present post-Saddam Iraq is a Humpty Dumpty sitting on the narrow edge of a proposed new constitution in a place where the rule of law has never really existed, let alone notions that include the equal status of women or even the concept of private property."

In a world where the United States maintains diplomatic and back channel relations with nations that are every bit as inhospitable to freedom and democracy, the invasion and occupation of Iraq has the look of an act of hubris based—at least publicly—on the notion of an American Empire whose global responsibility is to spread freedom and democracy.

In theory, that may seem like a good idea. In practice, you get Iraq.

In practice, you have the thugocracy of Syria that has no interest in a modern, democratic Iraq. Others like Turkey have a long history of hostility to the Kurds, so they see no reason to encourage their success. The British have already announced a timetable for the withdrawal of their troops.

It's been three years since the U.S. invaded and swiftly deposed Saddam Hussein. As this is being written, while much of the nation of Iraq is relatively peaceful, the chaos roiling in Baghdad, Samara, and other urban centers continues. It's the kind of insurgency with which our military is not designed to deal. Swift battles and swift victories are our métier. Today the emphasis is on developing an Iraqi armed force and that takes time.

Despite the daily reports in the mainstream media, if one visits the blogs by Iraqis reporting on events there, one comes away with the impression that things are going better than what we are being told. Compared to life under Saddam, I suppose anything is better, but what hasn't changed is the endemic corruption of that society. What hasn't changed are the antagonisms between Islamic sects that date back centuries. That's not an especially good platform for modernization.

For Iran, though, the uncertainly about Iraq's future is even worse than it is for Americans. As Friedman says of the public agreement between the U.S. and Iran for talks about Iraq, "…the fact is that Tehran will work on nukes as and when it wants, and Washington will destroy the nukes as and when it wants. The nukes are non-issues in the real negotiations."

The Middle East is a very ancient part of the world. It has resisted change for a very long time. It is likely to continue resisting change. Arabs, in particular, live in a continual state of denial, preferring a mythic past to the future. The Islamic Revolution is a constant threat to drag all of us back to the seventh century.

Increasingly, we're told, Americans deem the Iraq invasion and occupation a mistake. The bigger mistake, however, would have been to do nothing after the United States was attacked on 9-11. That's how we responded to all the attacks that preceded 9-11 since the late 1970s. Islamists concluded we were weak and vulnerable. After the Holocaust, the Jews vowed "Never again." Americans must do the same after 9-11.

The question we all must answer is whether, like our parent's and grandparent's generation, we have the patience to wage a long war against an ideological enemy as evil as the former Soviet Union?

Alan Caruba writes a weekly column, "Warning Signs", posted on the Internet site of The National Anxiety Center. © Alan Caruba 2006

 

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