(My apologies for the long delay between posts, but I had a lot of distractions. I hope to return to a post every week to week and a half.)
The Romans often fought series of wars, returning to the same battlefield because of unfinished business or a failed settlement. Examples abound in the later Republic: three Punic wars over a century, four Macedonian wars in sixty-six years, three Mithridatic wars in a quarter century. (During WW I there were twelve battles of the Isonzo River in Italy in two and a half years, surely some sort of record.) America has fought two Iraqi wars: driving Saddam out of Kuwait in 1990-1991 and destroying the Saddam government in 2003-2011. And now we are creeping towards a Third Iraqi War, as the US desperately searches for a way to repair the damage resulting from a completely botched post-war settlement.
Invading Iraq in 2003 was utterly pointless in terms of American interests. Saddam had absolutely nothing to do with 9/11; he was in fact second only to the Saudi Royal family on Al-Qaeda’s to-do list. His was a thoroughly secular administration, one of the places Gulf royalty went to in order get a drink and get laid. His government was oppressive, but it was stable and anti-Islamist, and when was Washington ever troubled by oppressive governments? He was an implacable enemy of Iran, for which we have a hatred bordering on the completely irrational, and he was zero threat to anyone except his own people.
Why the Neocons were so determined to go to war with this character is not at all clear. Frustration from the government’s inability to strike back at the actual terrorists? Embarrassment from seeing our accusations against Saddam prove baseless? Israeli interests? Whatever the case, we were forced to invent hidden weapons of mass destruction in order to create some threat to the United States and ultimately justified our invasion with the claim that Saddam had violated provisions of the armistice or 1991. In effect, we declared war on a country that had done us no harm and was not threatening us. This is the sort of thing that makes our demands that persons like Vladimir Putin observe international law ring a bit hollow.
The war, which was not to be paid for by Iraqi oil as promised, was easily won, but as is generally the case, the peace was not. Not only did the Bush administration have no plan for securing a stable post-Saddam Iraq, apparently presuming it would just spring into being, but it sometimes seemed that they were trying to plunge the country into chaos. Disbanding the Iraqi army rather than co-opting it left Iraq with no indigenous force to police the country, presenting the American military with a task for which it was not really prepared. The Americans would consequently look more like occupiers than liberators, especially when the Pentagon began hiring foreign mercenaries for many policing duties. Dismissing every public servant who was a member of the Ba’athist party was utterly foolish, immediately robbing the country of much of its human infrastructure. Most of these people were Ba’athists simply because it was a requirement for keeping their jobs; even the Nazis were not treated to such a drastic measure.
Seemingly the only plan for post-war Iraq was to make it a democracy, which all Iraqis would eagerly embrace, as did the Germans and Japanese after WW II. At least that is what Cheney and friends kept reminding us, conveniently ignoring the vast differences between those countries and Iraq. Germany and Japan were actual nations with relatively homogeneous populations, and they had centuries of history as established communities. Iraq has never been a nation. For millennia it has simply been the center or part of a variety of empires, most recently the Ottoman, and it only became a “state” in 1920, when according to the Sykes-Picot Agreement it became a British mandate under a client king, Faisal. It became an independent kingdom in 1932 and a republic in 1958 after a coup. The borders of this state, determined by the French and British according to their interests, enclose three distinct and generally hostile populations: the Kurds in the north, the Sunni Arabs in the center and the Shiite Arabs in the south.
This is not a country. It is an arena, and with the removal of the authoritarian regime of Saddam the games began, even while the American military was still present. A devastating civil war was prevented only by sending in more American troops and massively bribing Sunni leaders. It could easily be predicted (as I and others did) that with the withdrawal of American forces the society would begin to unravel. Washington’s man, Nouri al-Maliki, immediately began establishing a Shia dictatorship and taking action against the Sunni minority (35%). He established relations with Hezbollah, designated a terrorist organization by the US, and Shiite Iran, considered an enemy by the US since 1979. Democracy is crumbling, sectarian violence is on the rise and threatening to break up the country and Baghdad now courts Teheran and aids their interests.
Now, Dick Cheney, in a flight of fancy that even by his lofty standards is mind-boggling, is blaming the whole crisis in Iraq on Obama because he pulled out our troops. Cheney of course ignores, as do other Republican critics, that Obama had absolutely no choice inasmuch as Malaki refused to agree to the Status of Forces conditions required by the US, namely, that American troops be granted legal immunity. So what do Cheney and other right-wing idiots think Obama should have done? He could have agreed that American forces were subject to Iraqi law, which would have had the conservatives howling, or he could simply kept the troops there on American terms, which would have made the American army an occupying force, which the hawks probably would not have any trouble with. (Why does the media waste time interviewing Cheney the Undead and providing a soapbox for his nonsense and outright lies?)
And through our utter mismanagement of Iraq we have helped create ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), a Muslim fundamentalist group so despicable and cruel that even al-Qaeda will have little to do with them. One of the circumstances that led to the emergence of these barbarians is the Syrian civil war, but their spectacular success in Iraq is clearly due to Malaki’s Shiite dictatorship. The average Iraqi Sunni wants nothing to do with the ISIS murderers, but the enemy of my enemy is my friend and Sunni communities are supporting them, a deal with the devil.
This places Washington in a very tough spot, one reminiscent of Vietnam’s invasion of communist Cambodia in 1978, which presented the US with a choice between two unpleasant regimes. Obviously, ISIS is the far more disgusting group (as was the Khmer Rouge) and threatens America with terrorism, but supporting Maliki presents some serious problems. Propping up a dictator has never been a problem for Washington, and this is a dictator we pretty much created, but the Maliki government is aligned with Iran, which is supposedly the big threat in the region and a country we have despised since they had the temerity to overthrown the oppressive regime of the American-installed Shah. We would consequently be indirectly working with a country that Israel thinks should be bombed immediately. Malaki has also joined Iran in supporting Hezbollah, designated a terrorist organization, and is sympathetic to Bashir Assad, currently the biggest mass murderer in the region. More important, helping Maliki means taking sides in the growing sectarian strife between Sunnis and Shiites and can only lead to more trouble, since anti-America terrorists are all Sunnis, as are our “friends” in the gulf.
Well, it seems we will be helping Maliki, though constantly trumpeting that the price he must pay is to create a more inclusive government, which absolutely no one believes he will do. The advisors are already arriving, though what they can do for an army that is riddled with corruption and lacking any motivation, at least in the case of the Sunni soldiers, is not at all clear. Of course American involvement in Vietnam also began with advisors, but popular disgust with our recent wars should keep actual fighting forces out of Iraq, though you never know how stupid politicians will be. Air strikes then, and according to the President, airstrikes without collateral damage, which I suppose means declaring that anyone killed by a strike is by definition the enemy.
And why are we getting involved at all? Because ISIS clearly represents a threat to American national security, which in reality of course means little, since it appears that virtually everything is a threat to national security. If they prevail, they will establish an Islamic state that will be churning out terrorist to send to America. I have written previously on why I feel the terrorism threat has been stretched completely out of proportion in the interest of enhanced government power. 9/11 was the Reichstag fire for the Bush administration, and Obama, as would be expected of any administration, is not about to surrender any of the powers gained by his predecessors. Has not more than a decade of homeland security made us any safer? No one, even those armed with firearms, will ever again be flying planes into buildings, and how does one get a bomb onto a planes these days?
It is quite easy to put together a car bomb in this country, and that can happen whether or not ISIS rules in Iraq. Yes, an American citizen could get training from ISIS and then reenter the US, but it hardly takes a genius to build a bomb (see Timothy McVeigh or the Zarnaev brothers) and in any case one can get instruction in plenty of places, including our ally Pakistan. And one cannot fail to notice that the people crying the loudest about terrorism and national security seem completely unconcerned about the now regular shootings in American schools. (One might also notice that while our intelligence apparatus is snooping on virtually everyone on the planet, it failed completely regarding the Crimea and ISIS.)
Oh, there is the oil, but I thought we were on the edge of energy independence.
What to do then? Jordan must receive serious aid and be protected (a useful job for Israel) but otherwise ignore the whole thing. Why are we so damned concerned that Iraq not break up into three states? Because it would further accentuate the total failure of our ill-considered invasion of Iraq? Iraq is manifestly not a real state and the hostilities are simply too great, especially for a culture that seems to slip so easily into violence (which is perhaps hypocritical for an American to say). The Kurdish north is essentially now an independent state, and if anything, this has created more stability in the area. Given the history of Iraq in the past half century, it is simply impossible for us to guarantee peace without occupying the entire country for a very long time.
ISIS actually establishing a “caliphate” of any permanence is a bit hard to believe. The Iraqi Sunnis have already made it clear that they do not like the ISIS fanatics, and one can expect a violent falling out should this Sunni alliance actually topple the Malaki “democracy.” It is difficult to see how a group with essentially no real support among the Iraqi (or any other) population can erect a state with any hope of lasting. Political entities based solely on terror are incredibly unstable; ask the Assyrians. Meanwhile, the moment the caliphate begins training terrorists for a campaign against America, we blow away every government/military facility we can identify, while pumping resources into the hands of the opposition. We can pretend they are clients of the Soviet Union – it will be like old times.
A final note: Syria has just bombed suspected ISIS positions inside Iraq, apparently killing for the most part innocent Iraqis. Assad versus ISIS. Now there is a great choice, reminiscent of choosing between Hitler and Stalin. In any case, Assad has now attacked another country, which used to be an act of war, but this is something the US can hardly complain about anymore. It would be wonderful to shoot down Syrian warplanes, but then we would be aiding both Malaki the Thug and ISIS. The Middle East is certainly an interesting place.