Saturday, May 19, 2007

Lesson from Iraq's History

By Robert Fantina in Counterpunch.

Fantina quotes a letter from Lawrence of Arabia in 1920 when the British after promising to give Iraqis freedom in the uprising against the Ottomans were occupied and extensive killing took place. Read Lawrence's words and see if your eyes don't bug out of your head. Remember this is from a letter written in 1920!!!:

"We said we went to Mesopotamia (Iraq) to defeat Turkey. We said we stayed to deliver the Arabs from the oppression of the Turkish Government, and to make available for the world its resources of corn and oil. We spent nearly a million men and nearly a thousand million of money to these ends. Our government is worse than the old Turkish system. They kept fourteen thousand local conscripts embodied, and killed a yearly average of two hundred Arabs in maintaining peace. We keep ninety thousand men, with aeroplanes, armoured cars, gunboats, and armoured trains. We have killed about ten thousand Arabs in this rising this summer."
Now to be fair Fantina goes way overboard in his analysis. He cites that Saddam Hussein killed 20,000 Iraqis. 20,000 WTF? Where did he get that number? I might only add the Iran-Iraq War (which Hussein started granted with US backing) and the First Gulf War when he unilaterally invaded Kuwait. I think more than 20,000 got killed from that. Not to mention the murders of the Shia and gassing Kurds.

Still the basic point via Lawrence holds. We need not keep comparing Iraq to Vietnam. We need only look to Iraq's own history and see that the cycle is repeating with the US playing the part of the British.

Fantina then summarizes the views of Martin Walker (a much smarter writer than Fantina) on Iraq from a piece in 2003 (again prescient):

In the spring, 2003 issue of The Wilson Quarterly, Martin Walker drew the following conclusions based on his study of Iraqi history:
Governments too closely identified with foreign influence, no matter how well intentioned the foreign power may be, will generate intense domestic opposition.

The Iraqi national identity that the British tried to foster from the 1920s remains at constant risk from the ethnic and religious tensions among the three dominant elements of Iraqi society: the Sunni, Shia, and Kurds.

The political stability of Iraq should never be considered in isolation but within a broader context of developments throughout the Arab world and in Iran.
On all three points Walker has been right. The Maliki government is seen as a stooge of the Americans. The sectarian and ethnic divides have led to the civil wars (more than one) in Iraq. The Baker Report said that Iraq has to be part of a broader Middle East strategy. Particularly Turkey, Iran, and the Sunni Gulf States. Bush has foolishly moved the US to this anti-Iran/Syria alliance.

In other words, the policy of a unified central government is a failure and no surge will make a difference in that regard. The surge had to be, needs to be still, connected to salvaging what can be left of the mess and protecting as many as possible from the further carnage to come.

I did not support the war because I believed (correctly I must say) that Bush did not know what he was getting the military into and that when I looked at Wolfowitz, Rumsfield, Cheney, these were not people who struck me as ones who could pull this off.

Once the war started (and especially once it shifted to the peacekeeping effort phase) I did not support war protests. I never took part in one for the record. It's not my style for now. Two I think there are ineffective. Three, I thought it was just wrong in this case. My criticisms were launched only into mistakes made.

This is where Walker and the Lawrence of Arabia issues would have helped. The history, the culture, the religions, the politics.

But I don't support arguments that go so far as to say it is better than under Saddam. I do think if we can imagine a world in which this war was started by a Democrat (President Gore?) then Republicans would have jumped ship long ago. You would not see Townhall types making victory websites.

Sen. Santorum famously opposed (and still does) the Clinton-era Balkans operations. When asked he said we never belonged there in the first place, what interest does America have a local genocide. I imagine they would have been singing the same tune if a Democrat had started this war.

A really interesting question would be whether if Kerry had been elected in 2004 how long the Republicans would have supported his efforts in Iraq.

But anyway, that is done and academic at this point (and yes I am glad Hussein is gone) and the real issue is what to do now.

Whatever the merits/demerits of the surge strategy, the simple fact is that an extra 20-30,000 is not enough troops. The parties have no incentive to deal.

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