Monday, September 03, 2007

Initial Victory in Iraq Now Takes on the Flavour of Defeat

3 September 2007

Upon reflection, I note that something more needs to be said with respect to George Friedman's plan for Iraq (available by free subscription only), about which I commented on August 27, 2007.

It goes without saying that Friedman's plan would be unnecessary now if US action had not destabilized the fertile crescent of Mesopotamia in the first place.

At face value, eliminating a ruthless dictator like Saddam Hussein seems eminently justifiable on ethical grounds at many levels. I will acknowledge that this was my own first impression upon learning of Mr. Bush's surprising plan to invade Iraq in 2003. However, the aftermath of the US invasion illustrates clearly how such appearances can be deceiving.

By eliminating Hussein, the US certainly removed an aggressive presence in the region, one that had threatened Kuwait and by implication Saudi Arabia, as well as persecuting Christian and Kurdish - not to mention Shi'a - minorities and sponsoring Palestinian terror (remember, Saddam financially rewarded the families of Palestinian suicide bombers).

But in ethics, the debate is not done until arguments "on the other hand" are considered. As a Sunni, Saddam served as a counterbalance to escalating Shi'a militancy in the region (think of the Iran-Syria-Hamas alliance). As a secularist, Saddam was actually a force against Islamic extremism - which, since Saddam's demise, has become our greatest concern throughout the Islamic world, and which is now resurgent in Iraq itself. Finally, as a pariah even amongst his peers, Saddam weakened rather than strengthened any move towards Sunni extremist unity (that is, Saddam's Sunni movement was hardly compatible with the Wahhabist Sunni elements of Saudi Arabia, for example).

Thus, the short lesson is that it is best not to intervene in uncertain situations, particularly those we do not understand in cultural milieus that are utterly foreign to our own. In striking off one head of the nine-headed hydra, two more grow back to replace that one which has been severed.

It now falls to the US to do the job that Saddam had done for us with no expenditure of our own precious and finite resources. With ample assets and consolidated political power in the region, counterbalancing Shi'a belligerence was something that Saddam was naturally predisposed to do. It is easy to forget how recently the US was itself a funder and backer of Saddam in his hostilities with newly fundamentalist Iran.

For the US, the task of resisting Shi'a militancy will now be much more difficult in Saddam's absence.

Islamic extremists view the US as Israel's primary sponsor in the region. Further, every value that is championed in the west is despised by the resurgent Islamic extremist movement. Tolerance, equality, secularism, free markets, consumerism, feminism, democracy, open public debate - all are disdained as immoral and apostate by the born-again Islamists who are riding a rising star in the Middle East and South Asia.

In my view, while the US may be able to contain Iranian aggression by stationing military bases at a relatively neutral location in the Iraqi hinterland, it will be apparent to all that the US has declining influence (and credibility) in urban/national politics, let alone the domain of broader security issues, in the Middle Eastern region.

It is also obvious that any western power that maintains military bases in the Middle East in the 21st century will inevitably be targeted by extremists, who can cite our presence as proof that we are heathen and meddlesome interlopers (
Kafir or Kufr in Arabic).

Thus, while the US may be able to introduce stopgap measures in Saddam's absence, US military bases in the Arabian peninsula will remain a highly vulnerable symbol and an ongoing target for Islamic extremists, and our unenviable role as provider of police services to the region will be undertaken from a standpoint of weakness rather than strength, indicating profound loss of face in this cultural milieu - albeit that this last ditch measure now appears to constitute our only remaining option.

Would that we could only turn back the clock to the era of the lesser evil that has passed. The evil that was - in the form of Hussein - has now been replaced by the fulminant evil of a destabilized Middle Eastern region - a reality which plays into the hands of the region's most unscrupulous and dangerous agonists, for whom the present hamstrung US tactical arrangement is in fact a central strategic objective.

Note (30 August 2008): A combination of the US troop surge and disastrous tactics on the part of Iraqi insurgents seem now to have turned the tide in the Iraq War in favour of stabilization. I admit that I was unprepared for this turn of events, but it is very pleasing now to report that my earlier pessimism appears to have been incompletely founded. Thanks to Michael Yon for being one of the first to report the favourable news - independently - from the front lines!

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