Everyone is wrong -- from the arrogant neo-clowns who brought you this war to the mindless bureaucrats who maintain it to the well-intentioned intellectuals that are grasping for a decent and humane way out. Humpty Dumpty has fallen off the wall and all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Iraq back together again.
Whether people want to leave or stay, the assumption is that they have what is best for Iraq in mind. But there is no Iraq.
Today General Casey and General Abizaid admitted in the United States Senate that after two and a half years, they have only been able to train one Iraqi battalion. One! You could blame this on the incompetence of the Pentagon or the administration – and one is tempted to because that is usually the correct answer these days – but there is a better explanation. The Iraqis have no allegiance to their central government. They do not wish to serve in its army or to die for its goals.
That is because the West misunderstands the local culture of Iraq. An Iraqi Sunni is a thousand times more loyal to his fellow Sunnis than to some theoretical Iraqi government. The same is true of Shiites and even more true of Kurds. They don’t care about Iraq – we do.
The Iraqis are perfectly capable of fighting with passion and effectiveness. Just look at the insurgency – those are Iraqi fighters (at least 90% according to the various Pentagon sources). Look at the Kurdish peshmarga militia that maintains order in the north. Look at the Badr brigades and the Mahdi army of the Shiites in the south. All of these forces are perfectly capable and willing to fight – just not for the Iraqi army.
They are ready to fight for their sects. The only thing keeping them together in the short run is the US occupation. But the US occupation won’t last forever and can only keep a lid on sectarian ambitions for so long. At some point, the levees will be breached.
The Sunnis have already rejected the constitution and the Shiites don’t appear to be overly concerned about their lack of approval. It is wishful thinking bordering on fantasy to think that these different sects will get back together and live peacefully ever after. Eventually, the Shiites will have just as much trouble controlling the Sunni areas as we do. Their occupation will not be any more effective than ours. The Kurds will drive the Arabs from Kirkuk, and the separation will be complete.
There is no Iraq. It does not exist in the minds and souls of the Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds. There will be three different countries in the place we call Iraq, whether we like it or not.
Now, the question isn’t whether our troops stay or withdraw. Neither action would help towards a long term solution because we are headed the wrong way. If we stayed a thousand years, we couldn’t keep Iraq together. If we left now, there would be instant, horrific bloodshed. Neither accomplishes anything.
What we should be doing is working towards a realistic goal – a relatively peaceful transition towards three different countries in the area. We might not be able to keep these people together but we could probably help them to separate.
Of course, there are tremendous downsides to this solution. Allies like Turkey will be enraged, the Sunnis will rebel (so, what’s new) because they will be left without oil, there will be displacements and small massacres. Believe it or not, that is now the best case scenario. If you don’t believe me now, you will believe me many years from now after thousands more have perished trying to do the undoable. And then we’ll go through the painful transition I’m referring to anyway, because it is inevitable.
Of course, the real downside to this solution that is going to prevent us from doing what is necessary has nothing to do with Iraq, and everything to do with American politics. If we say now that we should split up the country, we will look like we made a mistake by going in the first place. It will be a major admission that we were wrong in thinking we could keep the country together. Our politicians would lose face. And that is the one price they are not willing to bear.
That is why we must make them bear it. The longer they protect their pride, the longer we keep on dying. All the while, going the wrong way.
As any sports player or fan knows, if your team’s heart is not into it, you will lose the game. Right now, the Iraqi army – all one battalion of it – doesn’t have its heart into it. They keep running from fights and battles because it is not their battles. Nor is it ours.
Let’s start fighting a fight we can win. Let’s create countries that people care about and are willing to protect not only through violence, but also through peace. The Sunnis might not care about keeping Basra or Mosul safe because they are Shiite and Kurdish towns, but they will care about bringing peace to Ramadi and Tikrit once they have ownership of them. Let’s give them a reason to care.
This war is a disaster of epic proportions. Iraq presented no threat to the United States before the invasion, now it presents a tremendous threat. There was almost no al-Qaeda presence in Iraq before the war, now there is a tremendous presence. Iran was in a position of weakness before the war, and now it has a powerful new ally in Shiite led Iraq. Terrorism is on the rise. Osama bin Laden has been left alone to pursue his new attacks. There is instability in the Middle East. And this administration has absolutely no idea how to make it better.
George Bush still talks about freedom and democracy, as if they have relevance in the complicated sectarian strife in Iraq. Whose freedom, George? Whose democracy? It doesn’t feel like freedom to the Sunnis when they have been squeezed out of the Shiite and Kurdish controlled Iraqi government. That’s why they are fighting us – not because they hate their freedom but because they want it back.
In this quagmire full of nuance we have a president who is proud that he “doesn’t do nuance.” We’re in a lot of trouble. Our president is overmatched. Not by the Iraqis, but by the gravity of his office. The man is a simpleton in complicated times.
Our only recourse is to elect a completely new Congress that will force him in the direction of reality. The people who voted for this war and brought you this debacle are not going to be the ones who bring you out. We need new direction here at home so that we can have a new direction in Iraq, or what’s left of it.