Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Iraq—Searching for the Real Story, Volume 4 – What Have I Learned?

For better or worse, the next President will inherit the mess of the ongoing occupation of Iraq. In this volume, I look at what I have learned and what the Administration should have learned.

What Have I Learned?
This should be titled “what have we learned” but I fear that the Bush Administration, the Republican and Democratic Party Platforms, and a vast number of Americans have not learned much for these years of US occupation in Iraq. The politicians still view events through the strong lens of partisan policy. Americans are tired of the endless war and clearly interest is waning.

So here are my conclusions. I believe these are the realities that the next President must come to grips with to work towards the goal of eventual US withdrawal.
  • We can’t trust the Bush administration to learn from experience – they are guided only by neo-conservative think tank theory with no need to understand any details of the Iraqi people, particularly the objectives of the constituent factions.

  • Though unjustified, ill-conceived and poorly executed, the invasion/occupation did achieve two objectives aligned with Bush Administration policy (but don’t expect the Administration to be as frank as I will be about this):

    1) The extremist terrorists function as alpha male primates. The lack of any retaliation would be interpreted as weakness. Direct retaliation against al-Qaeda in Afghanistan was needed. The invasion of Iraq (though it was unjustified) can be seen as another retaliation in the testosterone-based dance to establish dominance among alpha male primates.

    2) The placement of American troupes in the Middle East acts as a lightning rod – saving would-be extremist terrorists the cost of air fare as they only need travel to Iraq for the opportunity to kill Americans.

    In these 2 aspects, there may have been some reduction in the possibility of terrorists attacks against the US homeland.

  • On the other hand, the invasion/occupation was one of the greatest recruiting tools for anti-American terrorist groups.

  • The invasion/occupation has greatly benefited Shia Iran, deposing a hated enemy, replacing a hostile Sunni regime with a more desirable Shia majority government, while pacifying the Kurds who are generally happy with the invasion/occupation.

  • The Bush Administration chose Iraq because it was the weakest nation to invade and there was and remains a high level of pro-American feelings in the general population.

  • The terms “enemy” and “victory” cannot be easily defined as it was in the wars of old, fought by nation-state against nation state. Factions and militias change alliances from time to time. One month, they are firing on US troupes, the next they are aligned in the fight against a common enemy.

  • The violence in Iraq is at times closer to the gang violence of LA: in the post-Saddam era, rival factions are positioning for the issues are turf and creating a new pecking order. Even attacks on US troupes may be less about hatred of Americans and more about self-boosting.

  • Success (i.e., the lessening of violence) in Iraq requires the constructive engagement of the major factions and militia.

  • The non-indigenous “al-Qaeda in Iraq” is an oppressor of the Iraqi people and is opposed by most factions.

  • Most Iraqis want the US to withdraw, sooner than later.

  • Democracy, at least as we understand it in the US, is not the “magic potion” to unite Iraq.

  • Despite the violence of the last 4 years, the Sunni and Shia in Iraq generally don’t hate each other. During the iron rule of Saddam Hussein, many Sunni were close friends of Shia and vice versa. The opening of Pandora’s Box resulted in a power vacuum which was filled by violent power struggles among militias and factions.

  • There is hope.

Where Do We Go From Here?
To be continued……………..

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