Delivered in a near monotone, and written by someone with a tin ear, the president’s much-anticipated speech on the “new way forward” in Iraq has succeeded only in reinforcing the impression that he is deaf, dumb, and blind to reason when it comes to Iraq. As Republicans peel off in their support for his failed policies, and Democrats pile on, the president’s utter indifference to the results of the recent election indeed, that stunning rejection seems to have emboldened him have led many to speculate that he is, perhaps, a bit unhinged. Surely Republican party chieftains, contemplating the next election, must be questioning his sanity, albeit not out loud.
That is not quite fair, although it is quite understandable: after all, who wouldn’t begin to wonder about the sanity of a chief executive who can seemingly ignore the catastrophic consequences of a policy that embodies his legacy?
I say “seemingly” because this apparent evasion is only an illusion: he is, in fact, well aware that his policies have failed, so far, to achieve his announced goals. After giving us the party line about how wonderful the “purple fingers” election was, how we’re fighting them in Baghdad so we don’t have to fight them in Biloxi, and how freedom is (or was) on the march in Iraq, he averred:
“But in 2006, the opposite happened. The violence in Iraq, particularly in Baghdad, overwhelmed the political gains the Iraqis had made. al-Qaeda terrorists and Sunni insurgents recognized the mortal danger that Iraq’s elections posed for their cause. And they responded with outrageous acts of murder aimed at innocent Iraqis. They blew up one of the holiest shrines in Shi’ite Islam the Golden Mosque of Samarra in a calculated effort to provoke Iraq’s Shi’ite population to retaliate. Their strategy worked. Radical Shi’ite elements, some supported by Iran, formed death squads. And the result was a vicious cycle of sectarian violence that continues today.“
Not quite. It is untrue that the Shi’ite death squads were unleashed only “in retaliation” for the depredations of their Sunni archrivals they started their deadly work early on, and have been operating full blast ever since the Americans decided to tilt in their direction.
While the Mahdi Army of Moqtada Sadr is a relatively recent phenomenon, the existence of Shi’ite death squads predated the attack on the Golden Mosque: the Badr Brigade, now re-dubbed the Badr Organization the armed militia of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) was founded in Tehran in the 1980s. It is the military wing of SCIRI, the biggest political party in Iraq, and the major winner of the “purple finger” elections that Bush hails as a “stunning achievement.” The Badr Boyz are the biggest, most organized, best-financed death squad in the country: they are up to their turbans in sectarian killings, and have infiltrated the Interior Ministry on such a large scale that they virtually control the national police and other security branches. The Iraqi elections, far from being a countervailing influence to the death squads, served to empower them.
According to our president, who is clearly playing the Shi’ite card for all it’s worth, the sectarian strife that threatens to upend Iraq’s glorious “democracy” is entirely the fault of the Sunnis. Never mind that the Shi’ite’s desire for revenge is motivated by events that occurred during the reign of Saddam, and was just waiting to be unleashed by the “liberation.” What we liberated, it turns out, is a Pandora’s box of religious and ethnic hatreds that are now culminating in a Hobbesian war of all against all.
Yet we dare not withdraw, says the Prez:
“The consequences of failure are clear: Radical Islamic extremists would grow in strength and gain new recruits. They would be in a better position to topple moderate governments, create chaos in the region and use oil revenues to fund their ambitions. Iran would be emboldened in its pursuit of nuclear weapons. Our enemies would have a safe haven from which to plan and launch attacks on the American people.”
Islamic extremists of every sectarian orientation gained in strength and new recruits the moment we set foot in Iraq, and, as Michael Scheuer pointed out at the very outset of his best-selling Imperial Hubris:
“As I complete this book, U.S., British, and other coalition forces are trying to govern apparently ungovernable postwar states in Afghanistan and Iraq, while simultaneously fighting growing Islamist insurgencies in each a state of affairs our leaders call victory. In conducting these activities, and the conventional military campaigns preceding them, U.S. forces and policies are completing the radicalization of the Islamic world, something Osama bin Laden has been trying to do with substantial but incomplete success since the early 1990s. As a result, I think it fair to conclude that the United States of America remains bin Laden’s only indispensable ally.”
As for creating chaos in the region, the U.S. military presence is doing that all by itself. Yet Pat Buchanan, someone I have enormous respect for, seems to have been particularly impressed by this argument. Commenting on the speech on MSNBC, where he is a regular these days, Pat went so far as to say that, on this basis, if he were a sitting Senator, he would vote “aye” on the surge.
Pat is motivated by a desire to avert a real disaster for American interests in the region, and sees this as “Bush’s last chance” to undo what he has wrought. But there are no do-overs when it comes to war. Bad policies have bad consequences. As ye reap, so shall ye sow. It’s a principle ordained by heaven, and fully applicable to everyone on earth Americans included.
The war both Pat and I opposed is having exactly the effect we envisioned. The idea that a “surge” of some 20,000 troops will do anything but further irritate and inflame this open wound is a fantasy, and hardly a patriotic one. For it delays the necessity of looking reality square in the face, and worse prevents the public and the policymaking elites from absorbing the vital lessons of this radical misadventure: that interventionism leads to exactly the opposite of its stated intentions, and the business of Empire is a losing proposition.
What’s interesting, however, about this part of the speech is that Bush says he fears the creation of a terrorist state doubtless run by Sunnis that would “use oil revenues” to make trouble for the U.S. Perhaps by giving the proceeds to Osama bin Laden. It’s a fantasy founded on a fallacy: that the Sunni minority will ever again take power in a unified Iraq. What’s more likely is the consolidation of a sectarian Shi’ite dictatorship, one that will prove its lack of “radicalism” by allowing the U.S. to go after Moqtada and his Mahdi Army.
The administration, having abandoned the “moderate” secular Sunnis, represented by Iyad Allawi (remember him?), is now taking up the Shi’ite cause with a vengeance. This new turn is carefully clothed in the white raiment of non-sectarianism, but if I were a Sunni living in Iraq and particularly in Baghdad I would run for the exits while there’s still time. As Bush puts it:
“Only the Iraqis can end the sectarian violence and secure their people. And their government has put forward an aggressive plan to do it. Our past efforts to secure Baghdad failed for two principal reasons: There were not enough Iraqi and American troops to secure neighborhoods that had been cleared of terrorists and insurgents, and there were too many restrictions on the troops we did have.”
After all, why shouldn’t we go storming into private homes, shoot first, and ask questions later, just like we did in Haditha? All those bothersome restrictions e.g. morality, law, and everything that elevates us above the jungle floor really put a crimp in our sails. But no more! We’ve only killed according to some estimates between 50,000 and 650,000 Iraqis. Let’s start ramping those numbers up: then the “metrics” so beloved by Rummy will begin to chart an uptick in our fortunes.
Bush is giving the signal for the Shi’ite death squads in which our own troops will be “embedded” to redouble their dirty work: it’s the “El Salvador option” made manifest. And all in the name of fighting sectarian violence! That’s the beauty of it. Later on in his peroration, Bush avers that “even if our new strategy works exactly as planned, deadly acts of violence will continue. And we must expect more Iraqi and American casualties.” Given the objective consequences of his policies, what he really meant was especially if our strategy works exactly as planned.
I won’t go into all the ominous aspects of the speech here, for fear of elongating this column unto infinity. However, there is one aspect of all this that strikes a particularly dark note:
“Succeeding in Iraq also requires defending its territorial integrity and stabilizing the region in the face of the extremist challenge. This begins with addressing Iran and Syria. These two regimes are allowing terrorists and insurgents to use their territory to move in and out of Iraq. Iran is providing material support for attacks on American troops. We will disrupt the attacks on our forces. We will interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq.”
The last sentence ought to give us pause, because it underscores the real danger of remaining in Iraq one day longer, never mind four to six months or a year. Bush clearly sees the struggle in regional terms, and seeks to expand the conflict beyond Iraq’s borders. That has always been the point of our intervention in Iraq: to establish a launching pad for the “liberation” of the Middle East.
Why else are U.S. soldiers storming the Iranian consulate in Irbil, and taking six consular personnel hostage clearly an act of war?
This is the answer to Buchanan’s argument that the national interest somehow dictates support for the “surge.” The mistake he makes is looking at the war in Iraq in isolation: in invading and occupying Iraq, we set off a chain reaction that gets harder to stop as time goes by. Elsewhere he warns against the dangers of getting embroiled in a war with Iran, and/or an invasion of Syria, at the behest of the Israelis. Yet how does he imagine this will come about? We are a border incident away from a regional conflagration.
The longer we stay in Iraq, the likelier we are to get sucked into an Iranian quagmire that will dwarf our present predicament by several orders of magnitude. I would bank on a Cambodia-style incursion, a la Richard Nixon a maneuver that, executed in the volatile Middle East, is likely to cause a seismic explosion that would reverberate across the globe with tremendous force. That’s why we don’t need a “surge” and every moment we delay in getting out of Iraq takes us closer to the edge of the abyss.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
I did an interview with the remarkable Scott Horton, of Antiwar.com Radio, this [Thursday] morning. Scott was, as usual, full of perceptive questions and asides, whereas I it was eight in the morning was bleary with sleep. But its worth listening to: go here to do so.