The invasion and occupation of Iraq is turning out to have been the worst idea in the history of American foreign policy, far stupider than the Vietnam debacle, and potentially even more destructive and futile than our entry into World War I.
Up until now, the scale of our mistake has been masked by the prominence of the Sunni insurgency in central and northern Iraq. This has kept the conflict contained to the infamous “Sunni Triangle,” which has so far been the focus of the revolt against Anglo-American power. But now the opposition is shifting, ideologically and geographically, in the direction of the majority Shi’ite Muslims.
The spark that set this blaze to burning was the closing of a newspaper associated with the radical Sadrist faction, followers of Muqtada al-Sadr. The charge was “inciting violence,” although no specific article in the weekly Al Hawza was cited by the occupation government. In any case, the closure invigorated the Sadrist movement, which had been pushed to the sidelines recently by more moderate forces: this edict, combined with the arrest of a key Sadrist aide and rumors that Sadr’s house was surrounded by U.S. troops, provoked pitched street battles in Sadr City, outside Baghdad, and, more significantly, in the Shi’ite south.
They’re still counting the casualties, but a battle in the streets of the holy city of Najaf appears to have killed at least 19, with hundreds wounded. Sadr’s supporters also demonstrated in Basra, Nassiriya, and Amara, where they clashed with authorities. Earlier, British troops had fired on Iraqi protesters in Basra, killing one and wounding two: a crowd of unemployed had gathered at Coalition facilities demanding jobs as policemen.
The knowledgeable Juan Cole, Middle East scholar and commentator, estimates that anywhere from one third to half of Iraq’s Shi’ites support the Sadrists,. He sees the crackdown as an American attempt to shape the post-“handover” era, which commences on June 30, the day Iraqis supposedly get their sovereignty back. Except, of course, they won’t really be getting anything of the kind.
As Naomi Klein points out in the Guardian, the CPA is working overtime to promulgate a whole series of edicts that can’t be reversed by the “sovereign” Iraqi government, if and when it ever comes into office: and don’t forget about those 14 “enduring bases,” the hardened residue of a war that began with “Operation Enduring Freedom,” and should have but didn’t end there.
What is being spun as an “exit strategy” is, in reality, a stealth occupation, a public relations campaign designed solely for home consumption: that it is being pushed amid calls by powerful politicians in both parties for sending more U.S. troops only underscores the War Party’s current dilemma.
On the one hand, the Bush administration has got to make it seem as if we are disengaging, slowly but surely, from Iraq, and handing the country back to those on whose behalf we “liberated” it. On the other hand, events in Iraq are reaching a crisis point: the long-delayed confrontation with the Shi’ite majority is looming ever larger, and the fighting has radically escalated. March was a bad month for the U.S. and its allies in Iraq, not only in terms of casualties but also politically.
The biggest blow came when the Ayatollah Sistani, spiritual leader of Iraq’s Shi’ites, called for resistance to the U.S.-imposed “interim” Constitution and threatened to boycott meetings with UN officials over the transition to an elected government if it isn’t amended. Without the Ayatollah’s imprimatur, the Iraqi Constitution, and the government that emerges from its implementation, will lack legitimacy with the Shi’ite majority. But if the conflict provoked by U.S. heavy-handedness escalates into a full-fledged civil war, that will be the least of Washington’s worries.
Yet the intellectual authors of this war, the neoconservative faction inside the administration, and ensconced in a multitude of well-funded Washington thinktanks, are not at all worried. Everything is going according to plan: the bloodshed, the chaos, the spillover effects of the conflict in Europe and elsewhere. It’s all part of the World War IV scenario sketched out by leading neocon theoreticians. Are tens of thousands of Shi’ites now taking up arms against their supposed “liberators”? Chalk it up to the “creative destruction” so beloved by Michael Ledeen, the neocons’ mini-Machiavelli. Ledeen touted the phrase in his book, The Terror Masters, as the real goal of the wars of ‘liberation” advocated by him and his comrades.
Joshua Micah Marshall, writing about the neocons in the Washington Monthly last year, was fairly prescient in a short preface to his piece:
“Imagine it’s six months from now. The Iraq war is over. After an initial burst of joy and gratitude at being liberated from Saddam’s rule, the people of Iraq are watching, and waiting, and beginning to chafe under American occupation. Across the border, in Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, our conquering presence has brought street protests and escalating violence. The United Nations and NATO are in disarray, so America is pretty much on its own. Hemmed in by budget deficits at home and limited financial assistance from allies, the Bush administration is talking again about tapping Iraq’s oil reserves to offset some of the costs of the American presence talk that is further inflaming the region. Meanwhile, U.S. intelligence has discovered fresh evidence that, prior to the war, Saddam moved quantities of biological and chemical weapons to Syria. When Syria denies having such weapons, the administration starts massing troops on the Syrian border. But as they begin to move, there is an explosion: Hezbollah terrorists from southern Lebanon blow themselves up in a Baghdad restaurant, killing dozens of Western aid workers and journalists..”
Marshall’s predictive powers, measured by the accuracy of the above, are more on the mark than not, and, in any case, his analysis is essentially correct, if not right in all its specifics. The U.S. has yet to move any more forcefully against Syria than the imposition of economic sanctions, but the chaos inside Iraq is even greater than he assumed it would be. And while the terrorists blowing themselves up are in Uzbekistan, and are not Hezbollah, suicide bombings are now a regular occurrence in Iraq. With the pending withdrawal of Spanish troops, and rumblings from lesser allies, we are pretty much alone, as Marshall predicted, and the casualties are mounting, with no end in sight.
“To most Americans,” Marshall wrote, “this would sound like a frightening state of affairs, the kind that would lead them to wonder how and why we had got ourselves into this mess in the first place. But to the Bush administration hawks who are guiding American foreign policy, this isn’t the nightmare scenario. It’s everything going as anticipated.”
Forget about the costs, in lives and treasure: forget about the unwillingness of the “liberated” to agree to the terms of their “liberation,” the fueling of Al Qaeda’s agenda in the region, and the certainty that the West will be visited with yet more terrorism. None of this matters to the cabal that lied us into war, as Marshall points out,
“Events that may seem negative while unfortunate in themselves, are actually part of the hawks’ broader agenda. Each crisis will draw U.S. forces further into the region and each countermove in turn will create problems that can only be fixed by still further American involvement, until democratic governments or, failing that, U.S. troops rule the entire Middle East.”
Ah, so that‘s what the War Party’s pet pundits mean when they whine and complain that we’re ignoring the “good news” from Iraq. Because, you see, in the Bizarro World we entered on September 11, 2001 via a rip in the fabric of the space-time continuum “good” news is bad news. And vice-versa. (I think). So the next time you glance at the headlines, and see that Iraq is collapsed into chaos, just remember: It’s everything going as anticipated. Full speed ahead!
It was the worst idea in American history to turn our foreign policy over to these neoconservative maniacs, whose power-lust is exceeded only by their complete ignorance of (and contempt for) the Middle East they seek to subjugate. This nation will forever rue the day we let them deceive us into an unprovoked and unjustifiable war, and launched America on a course that, it seems, can only end badly.