As time moves on, we shall hear more and more the cry, “Let’s get out of Iraq!” from the American public, press and the media commentators. Meanwhile, government spin-masters will extol the progress in Iraq, the new government taking control, the Iraqi army being successfully trained and taking over, etc… Billions of taxpayer dollars will be sunk into questionable projects enriching a select few, while our soldiers will be targeted day and night by an elusive enemy. Americans stateside will face the dilemma of supporting our troops, while unable to extricate them from the trap.
At the peril of repeating myself regarding some comments in the past issues of the OBSERVER, I would like to take another look at the origins and reality of the situation.
How did we get there? The origins of our problems do not go back to 9/11 or our invasion of Iraq in 2003. Our original involvement dates back to the discovery of oil in Saudi Arabia and small Arab countries along the Persian Gulf in 1930s, with eventual guarantee of Saudi sovereignty by President Roosevelt toward the end of World War II in Europe. However, our full commitment can be traced directly to the mid 1950s, when President Eisenhower guided the United States into the political arena of the Middle East. Until then the quagmire had been the domain of British and French interests and intrigues. While the young state of Israel proved annoying to her Arab neighbors, the rickety infrastructure created by the two colonial powers after World War I still prevailed. We needed the Saudi and Iranian oil and a safe way of moving it through the Persian Gulf and the Suez Canal.
In his political innocence President Eisenhower had the U.S. displace the colonial powers, filling the Arab states with vague ideas of American democracy, while allowing the buildup of a political vacuum. The Soviet Union was quick to move in. The Cold War went into high gear. The Arabs were saturated with Soviet anti-Western propaganda, the anti-colonialist feelings were channeled into terrorist ambitions and America made into the “Great Satan”. Our later involvement in Afghanistan against the Soviets helped the Taliban to gain power and unintentionally provided Osam Bin Laden with the means to create Al Qaida.. To this day our political efforts in the region have been based on total ignorance of the deep seated historical, ethnic and religious principles governing the area.
Iraq’s strategic location. By now most Americans are aware of the differences between the Sunni and Shiite Muslims. The Sunnis, being a majority in the Muslim world, have ostracized the Shiites. The Shiites, in turn, have resented the Sunni control of the Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina .
The majority of Iranians are followers of the Shia version of Islam; they also are not related to Arabs ethnically. Historically Persia, as present Iran used to be known, has been at odds with the rulers of the lands along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, known as Mesopotamia, for thousands of years. Also, it has considered the shores of the Persian Gulf within its sphere of influence. For centuries, until the end of World War I, the Arab territories in the Middle East were part of the Turkish (or Ottoman) Empire, which curbed any Persian ambitions. The redrafting of the geo-political map of the Middle East after World War I by Britain and France, made Iraq a buffer state between Iran and the Arabs.
The vast oil fields along the Persian Gulf have exacerbated the Iranian interest in the region. Our huge sales of arms to the Shah were not only intended to strengthen Iran against pressure from the Soviet Union, but also to feed Iranian political ambitions in the Gulf area. After the ouster of the Shah and Iran’s takeover by Shiite ayatollahs, we switched our support to Iraq and its dictator Saddam Hussein and his Sunni dominated regime. Meanwhile, Saddam started a war against Iran, which suited us just fine. We provided arms, deadly chemicals etc. to further feed the flames of hate by the ayatollahs.
The Arab states along the Persian Gulf, in turn, invested billions of dollars in Saddam’s ventures. Prior to the Kuwait invasion, they had felt comfortable that they could buy him off and be left alone. Saddam’s cruelty did not bother them. The Kuwait invasion gave them a scare, with the resulting First Gulf War.
Could we have avoided the invasion of Iraq? No! Saddam’s mentality paralleled that of Hitler in 1938. Both played the game of blackmail to the hilt. Left alone, Saddam might not have become an overt partner of Al Qaida terrorism or an ardent Islamist, because both represented to him a political competition. He would have done, however, everything in his power to destabilize the Middle East and endanger the West’s access to oil. He knew that his hope of success lay in the lack of unity among the Western nations and their greed and dependence on Middle East oil. Thus, President Busch’s decision to invade must have hit Saddam like lightning out of a blue sky.
Where did we goof? In their pathetic ignorance of history and Middle East, our bureaucrats in Washington failed to comprehend that they could not build American style democracy by destroying a centuries old infrastructure of tradition, religious differences and autocratic rule.
Gone was the wisdom of the past generation which, after World War II, preserved the infrastructure of West Germany and even allowed the emperor to remain the figurehead of defeated Japan. A president has to rely on his advisers and it is they who must be blamed for our failure. To this day they have remained confused about the difference of the meaning of “liberation” and “occupation”.
If we had gone into Iraq as liberators pure and simple, we should have eliminated only the very top echelon in power and preserved the infrastructure. An interim federalist Iraqi government should have been placed in power and American military presence reduced to minimum. Incidentally, I mentioned the viability of a federalist system in the May 2003 issue of the OBSERVER; and only recently has Washington shown a recognition of the system as not the best but the only practical solution.
Can we get out unscathed? No! We are trapped and the world knows it. The reasons are the following:
1. Oil and the Suez Canal. Like it or not, we depend on an unrestricted flow of oil for our economy. We are the unofficial guarantor of unrestricted oil flow to our allies in Europe and the Far East. The same applies to the freedom of shipping via the Suez Canal, even though super tankers cannot pass through it due to width and depth.
2. Stability of Arab regimes in the region. Without exception, these are antiquated and oppressive to their people. Unfortunately, over many decades, the countries involved have developed a revolutionary and Islamist underground, which is anti-American and anti-Israel. Like it or not, we are forced to support the regimes in power by our military presence, to prevent their collapse and replacement by extremist elements.
3.State of Israel. If the political set-up of the Middle East would change in favor of the Arab and Islamist favor, Israel would become our only ally in the region and a target of concentrated Arab effort to drive the Israelis out. Current Arab rulers have learned through bitter experience that Israel will not be intimidated. However, Islamist fanatics placed in power might venture a suicidal Jihad, embroiling the Middle East in a war, which might involve nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction, with worldwide repercussions.
Can we create a durable government in Iraq? No! Like Marshal Tito in former Yugoslavia, Saddam Hussein kept the ethnic and religious factions under central control through sheer terror. Even though the federalist solution might result in temporary peace, the system would fall apart without our involvement. Here are some reasons:
– Shiites. No matter how they may deny it, the Shiite majority is not only intertwined with Iranian Shiites, but also considers Iran their protector from the Sunni Arab persecution. They will keep digging in and be financially and spiritually supported by Iran. Being in the south of the country, they will be the gate to potential Iranian expansion toward Arab (Sunni) Persian Gulf states.
– Sunnis. As a minority in power under Saddam Hussein, Sunnis feel marked in the face of the much more fanatical Shiite majority. Blood was spilled between the two groups and the Sunnis know that revenge is the code of the Middle East. Arab Sunni regimes in the region are and will continue to pour money and weapons to shore up the Sunni faction and keep Iraq a buffer zone against Iran.
– Kurds. Although a minority, Kurds are the most explosive faction. They have sought independence for centuries. They do not owe the other two factions any favors and will fight all and anyone to achieve their traditional goals. Knowing that, the other two factions might agree to live with Kurdish autonomy, but there are serious international issues. The fly in the ointment are large Kurdish populations in Turkey and Iran, as well as quite a number in Syria. Granted autonomy, Iraqi Kurds would quickly declare independence. Turks have fought Kurdish resistance for decades, often attacking them in Iraqi territory with Saddam’s blessing. Feeling threatened by the possible separation effort of Turkish Kurds, Turkey would immediately attack. This upheaval might involve both Iran and Syria.
– Iraqi Army. The lesson of Vietnam has been forgotten. There we trained a South Vietnamese military recruited from masses joining for the sake of escaping unemployment and hunger.
They lacked motivation and support of the population. They also were heavily infiltrated by Vietcong sympathizers and agents, making them largely ineffective and a risk to our supporting troops. Similarly, the “new” Iraqi army would be factionalized, ineffective and unpredictable.
No matter what our leadership in Washington may tell us, we are stuck in Iraq for the duration. It is important to continue to SUPPORT OUR TROOPS; it’s not their fault they are in the quagmire.
While we are stuck in Iraq our economy will suffer. Ironically, the only solution lies not in the Middle East, but right here at home. Our greatest asset is the American economy. We must reorganize our economic structure by minimizing our dependence on foreign energy sources, guard our borders, restore our railroad system and bite the bullet by cutting imports of foreign consumer goods. If we fail to do it voluntarily, it will be forced on us by unavoidable and tragic consequences.