Thursday, December 23, 2004

133. The War in Iraq

Now the USA is involved in a full-time foreign adventure which is turning out to be a lot more than what the government bargained for. A Pandora's Box has been opened in the Middle East, a non-winnable development of political and military circumstances which the American public has slowly begun to comprehend, but which the current administration is determined to overlook in its thrust for Final Victory, whatever that means. To do otherwise, for them, is not a realistic political option.

In the meantime people die, often horribly. Americans take note of their own casualties and worry far less, if at all, about the toll on the local people. In the end, as always, it will be the mounting number of American casualties that will turn the people at home against this war.

Iraq is not Vietnam. We have heard this so many times, it has become like a mantra -- say it often enough and you might even start to believe it. Perhaps the reason we hear it so often is because the government and the trained puppies of the media (occasionally frisky but aware of who's boss) don't want us to look at the parallels with what happened 30-40 years ago, when a previous government made a similar disastrous mistake.

Who suffers when the US sends in the military? First of all the local civilians in the unfortunate target area, then the soldiers themselves (mostly poor kids from deprived backgrounds), then the middle class at home who have to pay for all these fun and games with increased taxes. The rich and connected seem to come out of these affairs with even more money.

Iraq is Vietnam all over again, don't believe otherwise -- the same old nightmares revived after a quarter century. Just enough time to forget them, one would think, which is exactly what happened. People forgot. The young soldiers today weren't even born at that time and the war in Vietnam is as distant to them as World War One. Now we are ready to make the same old mistakes all over again, in the delusional belief that this time it will be different. It is never different. Ignore the lessons of the past at your peril.

The bottom line for any occupying force (however well-equipped, however well-meaning, however brutal) is that your days are numbered once the locals turn against you. From that time on you are on the defensive, you have lost the initiative, and you will come under constant attack and harassment. For the troops, the general reaction is to treat all the locals as enemies and to take out their fear and resentment on the people around them. This happened in Vietnam and it is happening in Iraq.

If it is any consolation, the same phenomenon took place in other armies at other times when they found themselves operating among hostile locals: a general massacre from time to time made the grunts feel good starting with the Assyrians, Persians, Greeks and Romans and moving through to more recent times with the European Powers machine-gunning natives in various parts of Africa. It's an old military tradition.

It was the Brits, don't forget, that put down a serious revolt in Iraq in 1920-21, when the country had been handed over to them as part of the spoils of World War One. Fallujah, Najaf, Kerbala, Basra -- all these familiar city names crop up again in the archives. Aerial bombing of "disaffected areas" started with the fledgling Royal Air Force in Iraq, a form of early training for the carpet-bombing of Germany in World War Two, and it was Winston Churchill himself who advocated using poison gas on the insurgents. These assertions are little-known but true, and can be documented.

Why are the Iraqis so ungrateful to the Americans? I think it is because the Americans came in without a plan and made things even worse than they were before. That's about as simple as I can put it.

Toppling Saddam was popular, but there were not enough troops to establish an organised handover of power. So what happened? The wholesale looting of museums, hospitals, and public buildings happened, and a general atmosphere of lawlessness prevailed. The middle-class backbone of the country (pro and anti Saddam professionals alike) were paralysed by fear and uncertainty. The Army was dissolved -- under American orders -- and hundreds of thousands of unemployed soldiers went home to form the foot soldiers of the anti-American resistance.

Added to the collapse of the Saddam regime and its hangers on (one strand of the growing resistance) were the frustrated hopes of the majority Shia population who had been suppressed under Saddam Hussein. Natural allies to any opponent of Saddam, they were soon at loggerheads with the heavy-handed tactics of the Americans and this found popular expression with the support for the young cleric al-Sadr in Najaf. The more senior Shia cleric Sistani put him on the long finger (he checked into a hospital in London) until he could see which way the wind was blowing. Now Sistani is back and al-Sadr has been reined in for the moment. Sistani is all for the January elections because he knows the Shia groups will win big.

The resistance (mostly Sunni, but the Shia are not always patient guys waiting for election results) are going all out to prevent the election going forward. They are killing election workers and targeting candidates as well as intimidating people from going to the polls. Nobody in his or her right mind wants to line up in public on a street in Iraq to cast a vote for very obvious reasons. Voting is fine, but surviving is better.

The American administration is putting a lot of weight on the forthcoming elections. It's the only way it can justify its continuing armed presence to the voters at home. We've introduced democracy, see? But the elections are not going to solve any problems at all. In fact, they are just going to create new problems, and, if anything, help delineate the sides for the upcoming civil war. That there will be an Iraqi Civil War is pretty much a foregone conclusion. The bombs in Shia areas this week were an introduction to the dance. Everyone is simply waiting for the Americans to go away.

But will the Americans go away? Not anytime soon, I wouldn't think. Bush and his crowd are going to use the military to throw their weight around even when things get more hopeless than they are already. Eventually -- depending on the next presidential election, depending on public opinion in the States -- the Americans will pull out, just as they did from Vietnam. It could take about ten years. There is no way Bush can pull out of Iraq without admitting the war was a mistake. According to Bush himself, he doesn't make mistakes, so this means some other president is going to have to do it -- like Gorbachev pulling the Russians out of Afghanistan after Bhrezhnev (who died) refused to consider it. Not much fun for Iraqi civilians for the next few years; not much fun for American kids getting sent over there, either.

This is a ridiculous war. It is a ridiculous war for two very straightforward reasons:
1. The real enemy _ Al Quaida _ is still out there
2. Iraq was never a threat to the United States.