Last Wednesday, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Richard Holbrooke testified before Congressman Lantos’ committee detailing his concerns about the conduct of the Iraq war. His testimony is illuminating inasmuch as he pointed out the cross-purposes and the internal contradictions of the Administration’s policies in the country. He testified that we cannot at once hope to forge a strong central government while at the same time support the aspirations of separate ethnic groups and religious sects. We have at once supported the Shi’ite control of both the southern regions and for majority control of the central government standing idly by and giving tacit endorsement to ethnic cleansing, the Shia control of the Health and Interior ministries as well as major parts of the Iraqi military. We have supported, in recent months, various Sunni Sheiks in their efforts to combat both the Shia majority in and around Baghdad and a growing Al-Qaeda presence in Basra province while chiding them for not embracing the idea of a majority-driven central authority. In fact it was Paul Brenner, Bush’s choice to manage the ‘pacification’ of the country after ‘mission accomplished’ was declared, who created the scheme of dividing the country along its major ethnic and religious fault lines in the first place. So lo and behold the Shia vote the mullahs into power, the Sunni’s boycotted the election, and the Kurds participated but have gone their separate ways.
Holbrooke pointed out that we now have a de facto Kurdistan. The Kurds now have their own flag, own government, own language, own currency, own economy. They have the most rigorously protected borders in the region with some six levels of security at the frontier. More worrisome is that there is growing conflict along the Kurdish/Turkey border with the Turks sending their army across the border on at least two occasions in retaliation for cross border raids by the Kurds into Eastern Turkey. Clearly the area is much more volatile and the prospects for a stable Iraqi regime in the absence of some strong man like Saddam grow more remote with the passing of time.
So is it simply that the President and his advisors are muddle-headed about the dynamics in the region? Surely Vice President Cheney had been able to see clearly enough in previous incarnations: as when in the aftermath of the first Gulf War he succinctly and accurately laid out the options before the administration if we had gone to Baghdad. Cheney said then that it was the right decision not go on to Baghdad for to do so would lead to occupation and an insurgency, and we would be mired in a civil war.
So it cannot be that top administration officials were blind to the consequences of grasping da Tar Baby. No, it appears that they knew quite well what would transpire. But to what end would we seek to create civil strife in such a volatile region? Tom Hayden in an essay entitled “The New Counterinsurgency” (The Nation September 24th edition) outlines American experience with counterinsurgency beginning with Kit Carson’s tactic of pitting the Ute and other rival tribes against the Navajo. It is Hayden’s thesis that immediately dividing the country along ethnic lines and then alternately and sometimes simultaneously (as when the Cons under Reagan simultaneously supported both Iraq and Iran during their war), pursue the goal of COIN (Counterinsurgency) “to replace Arab Nationalism with a fragmented culture of subservient informants split along tribal and sectarian lines”. We will keep them fighting amongst themselves, no Sa-Aladdin will emerge to liberate them and we can continue to keep pumping the oil. It is the age-old strategy of ‘divide and rule’, something the Rescumlicans had already worked to perfection back in the States.
There is method to the madness when seen in this light. Lost in the discussion is that many of the so called ‘bench marks” mandated by this administration and this congress, by which we are to judge ‘progress’ in Iraq, involve the country joining the World Trade Organization, the privatization of the oil fields, a free market economy; and if we cannot get the Sheiks and the clerics to sign on we will keep them fighting each other and create a de facto new order. If Iraq ever emerges from the chaos, if somehow we prevent the violence from spilling over into the region: or if, on the other hand, the country breaks up into three or four separate states the region will still be confronted with a fait accompli, a free-market capitalist order with foreign ownership and control of the country’s natural resources. Iraq will then be fully ‘liberated’, that is made a full member of the new world order. In the meantime we will keep our troops and our mercenaries in the country, hopefully maintain a lid on the violence, and keep pumping the oil with no meters on the wells. We turn on the spigots and it is high tide and green grass for Bechtel and Halliburton. Bob Dole said when we went into the region it was all about oil. Alan Greenspan, in his new book, says the same thing. These men have walked the corridors of power, and for Republicans, are quite candid. Not so the Usurper King and his court.
One must be careful to never underestimate the mendacity of this administration, for the Iraq debacle is fully consistent with how it has conducted itself domestically. Beginning with the ‘divide and rule’ stratagems dating back to the days of Pappy’s assaults on Dukakis, the Bush’s have never been reticent to drive a wedge into any historical fissure in the base of the republic if it meant short-term political gain. And so it was in 1988 along racial (Willie Horton ads), cultural (Pledge of Allegiance nonsense), and populist lines (the Eastern Establishment vs. the rest of the country). Likewise his 1992 campaign against Clinton where new wedges were driven into the old fissures: North-South, calling Clinton a governor from a small insignificant southern state; Generational, the campaign accusing Clinton of Draft Dodging and reviving the old rifts over Viet Nam; Economic, accusing Clinton of engaging in “class warfare” for his opposition to huge tax breaks for the rich ad infinitum, ad nauseum.
Dubya, of course, trumped Pappy by happily smearing decorated war heroes, and gaining political power by, in Al Franken’s words, “Fear, Smear and Queers.”
“You stoop so low
To reach so high”---U2
The point is that it is likely a gross misreading of the morass ‘Ol Two-Cows’ has made in Iraq to say simply that it is a consequence of blind stupidity. It may very well have been deliberate mendacity; the kind of pathology wherein Dubya creates yet another ‘win-win’ situation by making the worst of all possible worlds. We set the Iraqi’s out on the journey to statehood by creating and fostering the conditions of failure. We pledge to support the central authority whilst working to prevent the proper exercise of that authority. The result is that while we foster civil strife we present ourselves to the world as the defenders of order ensuring by solemn treaty obligation our license to remain. And while the Iraqi’s fight amongst themselves, we pick their pockets.
Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.