When Serendipity Knocks
When Serendipity Knocks
© 2006 Ross Williams
Being right for the wrong reasons doesn't make you smart; it makes you dumb and lucky. That sums up the loyal opposition's common position on Iraq: vacate the premises.
Holding foursquare to a plan that is working ... kinda ... while reality is changing all around is blockheaded. That sums up the administration's position on Iraq: stay the course.
I'm going to be siding mostly with the Democrats now, but for reasons which will annoy most of them who might actually read the details: Iraq is two fries short of a civil war, and we'd be stupid to stick around while they fight it. No democracy creation is worth the time and effort involved in interfering in someone else’s domestic squabbles. It can wait.
If all things were equal, then deposing a Hussein government which violated the cease fire on a daily basis – hell, on an hourly basis – and replacing it with a democracy is a sound long-term goal. Using war to do it, even a conquest that requires occupation, is a sound if heavy-handed means of achieving it.
But all things were not equal, and many plans for long-term goals reach short-term impasses. I personally haven't seen a long-term plan that hasn't been massively edited yet. Doesn't mean that the plan was faulty, or the people creating the plan stupid ... although that is what the bulk of our nation's Democrats have been and will be saying about the Bush administration. I shouldn’t need to point out that the Democrats haven't created a long-term plan themselves that hasn't been massively edited either, and in the case of Iraq they don't have a long-term plan at all apart from playing National Gainsayer.
Indeed, from listening to many blue-mooded voters on the Democratic Street, the long-term plan for Iraq is comprised of hopping in the Wayback Machine, returning to the summer of 2002, and altering the debate leading up to the initial invasion in the first place. For every time someone brings up the pesky, pesky question “what do you propose we do now?” some administration critic chimes in with “we shouldn’t have been there at all” which is dutifully met with the Democrats’ secular version of the “Amen Brother!” chorus.
Those individuals who can be pressured into staying fixed in the present rather than jumping around time like an H G Wells character will say that because we shouldn’t have gone in at all, the best solution now is to just leave. …as if turning our backs, tiptoeing away and whistling nonchalantly will fake out the rest of the planet. “Ha! You thought we were involved in a war in Iraq, dincha?”
Yeah. That’ll fool ‘em, alright.
The plan to depose Hussein, throw democracy at Iraq and hope its sticks is a viable long-term goal, and is still on the table. But you don’t change a society’s entire cultural outlook overnight; it’ll be at least a generation before we see a meaningful democracy in the Cradle of Civilization. They’ve got 5,000 years of dictatorial bad habits to shed. These things take time. So while idealistic, the US plan was not, and is not, foolish.
But holding to that plan, as written, can be foolish if the path of the current plan is effectively blocked. We’re supposed to be fomenting democracy and cooperation between the tripartite factions within Iraq. And it seems to be working – if you look at Iraq with one eye closed, stand far enough back, and hold your hands just so. The same way a teenager with bad skin looks in the mirror.
The southern portion of Iraq is largely peaceful. But then the southern portion of Iraq is almost entirely comprised of Shi’a who are relieved to be rid of the Sunni, baathist Hussein. The northern portion of Iraq is mostly peaceful. But then the northern portion of Iraq is populated by ethnic Kurds who, while Sunni, had committed the unpardonable sin of not being Arab in a nation ruled by the racist Arab Hussein. The Kurds are also relieved to be rid of him. The western portion of Iraq is largely peaceful. But then the western portion of Iraq is largely composed of sand and rock and hovels built in the middle of nowhere which house pro-baathist revolutionaries coming from Syria which – shhhhhh – nobody is supposed to notice. See, the notion of turning around, tiptoeing away and whistling nonchalantly wasn’t invented by silly American political neophytes. It’s as old as the hills, and is a common diplomatic gambit.
Syria isn’t supplying pro-baathist forces in Iraq, wink wink. No, really, they aren’t, nudge nudge. And as soon as Assad uncrosses his fingers, he’ll sign a treaty saying so.
Which will greatly relieve and satisfy the silly American political neophytes, some of whom hold elected office – and have for years. After all, only Republicans lie for political reasons. Wink wink.
The impediment in the administration’s plans for Iraq lie in Iraq’s natural factionalism. Time was, Iraq was the foundation of Babylon. A unitary ethnic and [pagan] religious people, who did their best to conquer as many surrounding tribes as possible. It worked for a while, but then they were conquered, in turn, by the Persians, the Greeks, and the Romans; the Byzantines [the eastern Greek half of the Roman Empire] inherited it back from Rome, then the Arabs consolidated under islam, swept out and into central Asia, then the Turks swept back from Asia and held it for a millennium; then after World War One ended with the Ottomans being voted out of existence by a Europe bored with them, the British inherited it. French and British post-colonial meddlers then started drawing random lines on a world map and calling the lines national boundaries, and naming random tribal leaders within those borders King. That’s how Iraq was created. It has no modern identity other than what was pronounced upon it by bureaucrats in the British Foreign Office. It is a hodge-podge. I’ve seen things more coherent than Iraqi demographics barfed up by my dogs.
Most of Iraq is mostly quiet and peaceful. It’s only where those mostly peaceful parts meet in the middle that it’s mostly not peaceful. Unfortunately, the peaceful parts meet in the middle where most of the people live; it’s where Kurd meets Arab, and Sunni meets Shi’a. The belief is that he who controls this middle controls Iraq. This belief is not without merit; smack dab in this middle is their capital: Baghdad.
Almost four years ago, the US outraged the sensitive and peace-at-all-costs free world by invading Iraq. “Foster democracy” the US said. “Can’t impose democracy,” the world shouted back; “you’ll only create islamic hatred of the US.” “We’ve already got islamic hatred of the US, so what’s there to lose,” the US responded. “Mark my words: you’ll see!” the world prophesied.
And we have seen. It wasn’t a year later that the islamic hatred of the US, which sought to pick off American soldiers in Iraq like ducks in a carnival shooting gallery, switched from mainly targeting American soldiers to mainly targeting the Iraqi assistants to the American soldiers. “If we can punish Iraqis for helping the Americans, we can single out the Americans” seemed to be the rationale.
It wasn’t another year before the islamic hatred of the US manifested itself in free-for-all warfare. “If we can create a jumbled mess, then maybe we’ll kill American soldiers by accident” seemed to be their thinking.
Yes; we see. We see that the predictions of both sides failed to materialize.
It wasn’t only the sensitive West we outraged by invading Iraq. We outraged many islamic nations as well. And yet… two of those islamic nations – Syria and Iran, not to name names – were quick to pounce on a Hussein-less Iraq as an opportunity for furthering their own self-interest. While publicly wailing and bitterly denouncing the US, privately they rubbed their hands in glee.
With Hussein in charge of Iraq – baathist, Sunni Hussein – the baathist, Sunni Assad of Syria was second banana. With Hussein gone, Assad has visions of Assyrian Empire dancing in his head.
With Hussein in charge of Iraq, Iran was on the defensive. They’d fought a ten-year war to a draw. With Hussein gone and a virtual power vacuum in his place, Iran sees a chance to breathe life back into the Persian Empire which has been missing for lo these many centuries.
Syria is – shhhhhh – funneling weapons and guerillas into Iraq ostensibly to fight US occupation, but even a cursory glance through the newspaper shows quite clearly that the primary target for Syrian-backed Sunni-baathist insurgents is Iraq’s own Shi’a population.
Similarly, Iran is – shhhhhh – funneling weapons and guerillas into Iraq also ostensibly to fight US occupation, but the same cursory glance through the newspapers shows equally clearly that the primary target for Iranian-backed Shi’a militias is Iraq’s own Sunni-baathist population.
American soldiers who die in Iraq today are the true innocent bystanders to the real war in Iraq.
This notion isn’t going to sit well with huge wads of people, including those I’m going to agree with for better reasons than they have the ability to conjure up. Here we sit, having held a war in a foreign country, having been occupying that country for the nearly four years since, and when our soldiers die they’re the innocent victims?
What can I say? When you rudely crash someone else’s wedding reception, and the other guests get into an argument about whose side of the dining room you sit on, and get into a food fight between the two families, by and large leaving you out of it … you having crashed the party becomes the secondary squabble. And when you get hit in the face by a plate full of crackers and cheese, you’re the victim of their food fight.
So yes, we’re now the innocent victims of Iraqi violence in Iraq. Even though we caused the conditions that led to their current civil war. That’s the way it works sometimes.
There are several things going on all at once here. First and foremost, the US isn’t about to stay in Iraq. This flies in the face of America’s X-Files freaks, who see a nefarious government plot under every slimy rock, and a PNAC Republican in every board room. But keep this in mind: Republican wars of the past generation that were completed – Grenada and Panama – have no occupation forces; Democratic wars of the past generation that were completed – Kosovo – we’re still there. Do the math.
No, if America wants something, we’d prefer to buy it, even – and especially – other people’s oil. That way, if we don’t like the product, or the people who make it, we can shop elsewhere. If we own the product, or the people who make it, we have to fix it. And we’ve got repair problems of our own, thankyouverymuch.
Syria and Iran both know what silly American political neophyte conspiracists don’t: the US isn’t going to stay in Iraq any longer than we have to. They both squawk the obligatory pitiful, whining complaints of US imperialism, dredging up ghostly shadows of the Crusades that Ottoman imperialism created in the first place, but they know that the US isn’t a conquer-n-keep nation. Knowing this, they have spent the hours after the fall of the Hussein regime planning to use the circumstances to increase their own power and prestige.
Personally, I’d give the better odds to Iran, which is flush with oil revenue. Syria hasn’t got so much as a grease-stain to call their own. Even so, the two are vying to form a post-occupation – hell, even a mid-occupation – Iraq into their own satellite state. Bronze-age empires come to life in the twenty-first century!
Straight out of the Hollywood the pan-islamists love to hate.
Left to their own devices, making all things equal, both the Shiite Persians and the Sunni Assyrians would both clamor to take down the Big, Bad Great Satan US, and they’d cooperate with each other while they do so – as they cooperated this past summer on a coordinated Hamas-Hezbollah war against Israel. And scads of silly American political neophytes would all weep their crocodile tears about how it would all be our own fault for being better at national self-interest than anyone else, boo hoo.
But Syria and Iran aren’t left to their own devices, and all things are not equal. They have their own egos to deal with, for one thing. And those egos are whispering prideful things into their ears: “build the old Empire… build the old Empire…”. In both cases, Babylon was part of their old Empire.
Much of History is not the result of planned events. It is the result of serendipity, making use of plain old dumb luck. The US had planned to topple Hussein, replace him with a democratic government that would be able to parlay their domestic oil wealth into jobs for all, and Iraqis would be too busy making money to get bogged down in more politics than could be displayed on the op-ed page. Y’know, like America generally is. Rich people don’t revolt.
And that will likely be the ultimate result for Iraq. …eventually. But in trying to get there, we’ve hit the roadblock of competing insurgencies who have created what looks, acts, sounds and bleeds just like a civil war. If we’re smart, we can come out ahead in this. In other words, we tripped and landed on a feather bed. We dropped the egg and it fell into an omelet pan filled with cheese and ham. We lucked out.
Sorry to be the lone RealPolitik pragmatist in a national dialog of competing fantasies here, but if we don’t take this opportunity to let two groups of people who both hate us to fight amongst themselves – hopefully to the death of at least one, and without our involvement or presence – then we’re stupid.
Put away the idealism of creating a democracy in Iraq today; it ain’t gonna happen. Maybe in ten, twenty, fifty years. Today? they don’t want one. They prefer to kill each other. Let them.
Put away the competing fantasy of blaming America first for [sob sob blubber] daring to operate out of self-interest. If we didn’t we wouldn’t exist in the first place, and if we don’t continue to we won’t exist for long.
The lion’s share of Democrats are saying that we should leave Iraq – Democrats holding elected office, those who shape their party’s politics, and the vast majority of those ignoramuses who mopily wander the streets vowing an electoral takeover come next election. They are right. For once. They are like the stopped clock because they have become right by not changing their tune according to the wildly shifting circumstances – which is how the wise and intelligent are right – but they are right nonetheless.
We need to leave Iraq. Not because we shouldn’t have been there in the first place, and not because the Iraqi people don’t want us there, and not because a handful of American soldiers have gotten killed. But because the muslim extremists who have sworn to kill us are currently more interested in killing each other. They need to proceed apace.
Pan-islamism is the political theory that the world is to be ruled by islam. It is their eschatology, written into their scripture. It has existed under one name or another for almost 1,400 years.
There are many people preaching this political theory, and not all of them like each other. The one thing they have in common is that they hate The West in general and the US in particular. And as long as they remain focused on that, it’s what they’ll do: attack the west in general and the US – or Israel, what they virtually believe to be the 51st state of the union – in particular.
But they don’t stay focused for very long. When they lose focus we have to take advantage, and damn the pride which won’t let go of an idealistic plan to recreate five millennia of dictatorships as democracy during a single [or double] presidential term; and to hell with the faux-enlightened group hug harmony being preached from behind Blackberrys and Gameboys during commercials breaks in “American Idol”. America’s job is to serve America, not the theoretical good of the world.
In the anti-American pan-islamism which has dozens of groups and individuals claiming to speak for it, anytime two of them square off against each other, the only one who can win is us. If we allow it.