Iraqi Pandora

by , March 27, 2003
Oh, this war: one day it’s a “cakewalk,” the next it’s a quagmire. Where oh where is the truth? As Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld correctly noted yesterday [March 25], the media is claiming that we’re getting “bogged down,” yet here we are barely through Day Five and already U.S. forces are on the outskirts of Baghdad. Rummy is right. Aside from the purely human tendency to over-react, the news media is so focused on the minute details that their time-perception is always in danger of serious distortion. It is true that no one predicted the level of Iraqi resistance, but the low expectations tended to blow it out of proportion. In spite of the setbacks that I emphasized the other day, the underlying reality is undeniable. Relentlessly advancing to Baghdad, the U.S. is going straight for the Iraq strongman’s throat. Saddam Hussein is history. His regime is finished. The only question is: what will postwar Iraq look like?

Will the President be able to achieve his stated war aims, and establish a stable, democratic pro-Western regime that will prove to be a model for the Middle East? Or will the war simply go into low gear, with a barely-pacified populace seething under the Anglo-American boot?

Just as I was about to write this column, I received a letter that elucidates the journalistic problem inherent in simultaneously polemicizing against and reporting on this war. Jane from Arizona writes:

“My method for following the war news is a little bit of t.v. in the evening, and alot of Antiwar.com in the morning. The abundance of available articles from around the world seem to balance out what I am seeing on t.v. and give me a more factual accounting. However, I implore you, Raimondo, do not succumb to using the same tactics of sweeping generalizations, overemphasis and blowing up of facts, and emotionalism as the warmongers are currently using. I understand that your articles are ‘editorials,’ and you are free to vent and spew, but sweeping statements such as

“‘[This war's] whole history is prefigured in the first few days. We have gone from hubris to near humiliation in less than a week.”

lessen your credibility as a valid source of opinion and views, and in effect, place you in the same category as the obnoxious hawks spewing their justifications of the war. Even though it is true that this first week portends great tribulations to come, it is arrogant to assume that you can foretell the exact outcomes in a conflagration that changes dramatically from day to day. I am against the war wholeheartedly, and once again wish to convey my appreciation of having Antiwar.com to go to. I will be looking forward to your next editorial.

Jane is right. This is the chief occupational danger, here at Antiwar.com – and for any and all analysts with an ideological axe to grind. I should have written “We have gone from hubris to near humiliation in less than a week – and by next week we will have swung back in the other direction.”

I would, again, confess to overstatement in maintaining that the war’s whole history was prefigured in the first few days, but there is an important kernel of truth in such a grand generalization that, I believe, is being dramatically confirmed in the events unfolding in Basra.

The news of a rebellion in Iraq’s second-largest city lifted the markets, and the spirits of the War Party – but there may be much less, and also much more to this than meets the eye. Less because U.S. officials have played this down, while the Brits have touted it and declared that they want to “capitalize” on it. But NBC News reported that, while the rebels seem to be fighting Saddam’s supporters, they also may be taking on the “coalition” forces, too. This latter aspect of the Basra rebellion, if true, would hardly come as a surprise.

If this rebellion turns out to be real, and not just a phantom cooked up by British intelligence – which, when it comes to veracity, hasn’t had a very good record lately – then this is probably the work of the only anti-Saddam underground faction active in southern Iraq, the Iranian-backed Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). Based in Tehran, the Supremacists advocate an Islamic “republic,” as in Iran, founded on the strict application of Sharia law – and they want U.S. forces out. Their intention of rising in the predominantly Shi’ite southern part of the country had been announced on March 21, and recent reports have an “Iran-based” group taking credit for the rising.

This is the same group whose representative, Mr. Mohammed al-Hariri, recently said that the Shias and some of the Kurds may have to fight the Americans “if Washington behaved as an occupying power in Iraq.” SCIRI went on record against a U.S.-led war, but these hard-line Islamists are now taking full advantage, utilizing their unique position as the only opposition group with real fighters on the ground in Iraq. This, perhaps, is why the Anglo-American invasion force is hesitant to approach the city: if the “coalition” isn’t careful, the battle of Basra may turn out to be a three-sided conflict. That’s one reason why the Brits went in, instead of the shoot-first-ask-questions-later Yanks.

The military outcome of this phase of the war is not in doubt: the only question is whether the Americans can win this politically, as well. The second phase, however, is likely to be more volatile and less straightforward, as the Shi’a opposition has already made quite clear. Even as the Ba’athists are driven out of Basra, Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, SCIRI’s leader, declared:

“‘Coalition forces are welcome in Iraq as long as they help the Iraqi people get rid of Saddam’s dictatorship, but Iraqis will resist if they seek to occupy or colonize our country’…. Such resistance, the Shiite leader told a news conference in Tehran, would include ‘the use of force and arms.’”

Washington’s caution in dealing with SCIRI contrasts sharply with the British attitude, which is apparently more friendly. The Brits were playing up the Basra revolt: Tony Blair cited their UK representative at his Tuesday press conference, and his forces surrounding the city took out a Ba’athist Party headquarters as a show of solidarity. However, the Pentagon seemed to look on this development a bit more nervously, and with good reason.

For the U.S., the Basra rebellion is not an unmixed blessing. Its success can only increase the Iranian influence in postwar Iraq, and that, along with the Turkish threat in the north, is the principal danger to the postwar peace. The seeds of the next conflict are being sown as the present battle takes shape. Iran, which is reportedly developing a nuclear capacity, is a logical candidate for phase two of the neoconservative crusade to “democratize” the Middle East, but it doesn’t stop there….

Ha’aretz informs us that the Israelis are already eagerly anticipating our next move, lobbying for an escalation of what is fast turning into a civilizational war on Islam:

“After the war in Iraq, Israel will try to convince the U.S. to direct its war on terror at Iran, Damascus and Beirut. Senior defense establishment officials say that initial contacts in this direction have already been made in recent months, and that there is a good chance that America will be swayed by the Israeli argument.”

This is just the beginning, says Rumsfeld, and, again, one would have to concur. Having opened this Pandora’s box, the War Party is not too eager to snap it shut again – even if they could. The die is cast. Having set out on the road to empire, they are going to be carried along by the sheer momentum of events – and the rest of us are going to be dragged in their wake, whether we like it or not. The “creative destruction” so beloved by Michael Ledeen and his fellow neocons is about to be unleashed.

The Shi’a in the south, the Kurds in the north, the Turkmen and the Sunni clans of Tikrit: we will soon be more than well-acquainted with their complaints, which have already begun. Every faction and a few yet to be invented will come to the fore, claiming the mantle of “democracy”: the Iraqi National Congress, the constitutional monarchists, the Islamists, and the various Kurdish groups, ad infinitum. Their demands will wind up on the desk of an American viceroy, who will then be expected to side with this or that group – on what basis and with what sort of advice is impossible to say.

This administration has waded into Iraq with no clearly defined goal, and, clearly, no exit strategy. The conceptual tension between the twin goals of Iraqi disarmament and “regime change” will soon come back to haunt us. The former is easily achieved by the U.S. military, but the latter begs the question of what sort of change can be achieved by military force alone. The “nation-building” that candidate George W. Bush disdained is a task being pressed on him by the War Party, whose appetite will be stimulated rather than sated by the conquest of Iraq.

The longer U.S. forces stay in Iraq, the more easily we are sucked into the Mideast maelstrom – and that is precisely what the War Party is counting on. The sheer momentum of this military adventure, they hope, will carry us along to the next logical step: to Damascus, Teheran, Beirut, and beyond.

As Eric Margolis points out, the great “victory” of Afghanistan is no such thing. There, the veteran foreign correspondent says,

“The United States has ‘overthrown the government’ and ‘put the Afghan communists back in power in the north, and it’s got (Hamid) Karzai as kind of a puppet ruler in Kabul protected by foreign troops. But the rest of the country is in chaos. I see this as probably what will happen in Iraq. The U.S. will find some general or smooth-spoken person to put in charge in Baghdad with an American garrison, but the rest of the country will be sort of like a free-fire zone with the Kurds feuding up in the north and possible Turkish intervention, and chaos in the south.”

A more fertile field for Gulf War III is hard to imagine.

It is too late to stop this war. Now we can only minimize the damage – and work tirelessly to stop the next war before it starts.

WE MAKE THE BIG TIME

Antiwar.com’s increased visibility has provoked widespread comment, especially in the context of stories about increased web traffic. Writing in the Baltimore Sun, Andrew Ratner cites data from Keynote Systems, a Silicon Valley company that measures Internet performance:

“Among the Web properties that have struggled to process increased demand were those belonging to the U.S. Army and Marine Corps, a protest site called Antiwar.com and Al-Jazeera.net, belonging to the satellite television station in Qatar, Keynote reported.”

Yup, we’re up there with the big boys. The BizReport (Denmark) also noted the jump in traffic “at news, government and a few political Web sites,” and wrote:

“Traffic also jumped this week to antiwar Web sites, which have been coordinating peace protests for months. On average, three leading protest sites (www.antiwar.com; www.unitedforpeace.org; www.stopwar.org.uk) drew 160 percent more traffic than they did four weeks ago.”

But popularity has its price. The [UK] Inquirer, in a piece entitled “Net Holds Under Iraq Web Strain: Except for the Peaceniks,” by Doug Mohney, notes soaring traffic on military and other news sites, and remarks:

“Pity the poor anti-war crowd, however. Before March 20, the download time for the www.antiwar.com home page was two seconds on a high-speed line. On March 20, it was over 220 seconds, with it going down to ‘only’ 80 seconds on the morning of March 21 – maybe performance was improved by people going out into the streets to protest, rather than sit in front of a computer screen.”

Hey, Doug, since we’re not funded by the War Party, which has unlimited use of the U.S. Treasury, our capacity doesn’t quite equal that of the dot-mil crowd. But we’re working on it: by the time you read this, we’ll have already moved to a new hosting company – an expensive proposition, but entirely necessary.

Speaking of which, a friend of Antiwar.com’s who lives in the northeast is offering to contribute $500 in matching funds. However, his contribution is contingent on 2 other contributions of $500, or 4 contributions of $250. To help us pay for the bandwidth that we need to serve you better, go here.

FRUM FALLOUT

The controversy over ex-White House speechwriter David Frum’s vicious smear of renown conservative columnist Robert Novak, Pat Buchanan (for the 100th time) and this writer has been duly noted by Howard Kurtz, of the Washington Post, who reports it rather evenhandedly, while American Conservative Union honcho David Keene weighs in on the side of truth.

– Justin Raimondo

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