Sunday, February 26, 2006

If they're killing each other, it's a civil war, stupid

Reading some of the right-wing blogs one would think that Iraq had suddenly turned into a picture of peace and love in the last 72 hours. Nothing could be further from the truth.

All of them are breathing a sigh of relief that they don't have the dreaded civil war which so many others have been predicting but has, in fact, been undulating between hot actions and moments of harmony between warring factions. Most are basing their interpretation of an easing of tensions on this, which only serves to prove that neither the New York Times nor the Bush supporting bloggers have the slightest understanding of the Arab mind.

Of course, the right wing doesn't want to admit to an Iraqi civil war for one reason: It is an indictment of Bush's adventure in Iraq and further serves to highlight a lack of preparation, a failure to understand the situation in the Middle East generally and a lack of sensitivity for the welfare and safety of the population for whom the US is now responsible. Indeed, the ground is being prepared by the right-wing to blame the Iraqis themselves for failing to behave in a way prescribed by the Bush/Rumsfeld/Cheney plan. As was pointed out here, both ends of the right-wing intelligence scale are claiming the Iraq adventure was, and remains, a noble idea but which was destroyed by the actions of the Iraqis - not the Americans.

That civil war was inevitable seems to escape Bush and his supporters, despite repeated warnings from various quarters. Indeed, General Norman Schwarzkopf said in 1996, when asked why we didn't go all the way to Baghdad during the 1991 Gulf War:

And, oh by the way, I think we'd still be there, we'd be like a dinosaur in a tar pit, we could not have gotten out and we'd still be the occupying power and we'd be paying one hundred percent of all the costs to administer all of Iraq. (Frontline PBS interview)
The problem with the statements coming out of the right-wing punditry is that the only view of civil war they seem able to accept is that of two armies squaring off in set-piece battles, a la the American Civil War. While a few historians would argue that form of warfare is what constitutes a civil war, most would disagree. Warfare between religious factions is just as much civil war as is warfare between political enemies. Indeed, if they had any grasp of Arab culture, they would acknowledge that religious dominance and political power are intertwined in the Arab world and are often indistinguishable.

The fact that Muslim clerics of both the Sunni and Shi'ite sects have called for their followers to stop the violence should be taken as cold comfort. Along with the admonition for a truce was the escalation of blame and statements justifying the acts of the militias. And, as any arabist will tell you, the call to withdraw is only temporary. That the pundits and news outlets are viewing this as a real withdrawl or even a cooling-off period is a mistake.

Iraq is essentially a British creation. It was also a British headache. From the time they placed Faisal on the Iraqi throne in 1921, until the 1950s they were faced with a resistance movement that would not die. Part of the problem was the fact that Iraq was created around three vilayets: Baghdad, Mosul and Basra; Sunnis, Kurds and Shi'ites with a good number of Jews and Christians in the mix. Based on tribal and religious influence, Iraq's borders were unnatural and bound to create difficulty. In fact, the only times Iraq has been held together as a country is when rule was applied with an iron fist.

One right-wing blog produced this:

But if Iraq is allowed to split apart, it will inevitably be seen in the short run as a catastrophic failure on the part of the United States and all those involved in the reconstruction effort. And so, regardless of the long term benefits it may bring to allow Iraq to split apart, we are pretty much committed to keeping it together.
That's a reason?!! Allow the thing to go on, and continue to degenerate into a larger civil war so the US can save face? How many people get killed in the process of saving an already failed experiment? Or don't they count?

It is beyond comprehension that the Bush administration believes it can achieve something in Iraq that the British failed to resolve in 30 years, and it is now faced with failure no matter what action they take.

Increasing US military presence in an effort to prop up a faux government will result in endless warfare, fighting a never ending resistance, requiring enormous financial resources (you think it's expensive now?), spanning several generations of Americans and Iraqis and forcing a return to compulsory military service for American youth. Not to mention incurring the outrage of the combined Arab world.

Total withdrawl will result in a bloodbath of unbelievable proportions. The destabilization of Iraq with an invasion simply acted as a catalyst for various factions which had been held in check by a brutal regime. As noble as the elimination of Saddam may have seemed, failure to research and understand the power distribution in the religious and ethnic sectors of Iraqi society led to a complete misunderstanding of emerging leadership and its sources. The Bush administration had identified their own leaders; the Iraqis had different people in mind. Should the US withdraw, those emerging leaders will draw upon resources from outside Iraq and, what is now a contained civil war, will likely spill over the borders and erupt in a general, regional war.

The reality that needs to be faced is that Iraq is now embroiled in a civil war, and the US is standing in the middle of it. There is no escape. In the words of the man who was my combat theater commander fifteen years ago, the United States is now like a dinosaur in a tar pit.

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