Why We Lost in Iraq


Asheville Citizen-Times, March 27, 2007

Vice President Cheney maintains that victory in Iraq is possible, and Democrats will be responsible if we lose. The al Qaeda strategy, he says, is to “try to persuade us to throw in the towel and come home, and then they win because we quit.” Link Most Americans have serious misgivings about Iraq. But like Cheney, many still cling to a hope of avoiding the Defeat word.

The realism of that hope is a minefield for politicians opposing the war. To discuss it is to tap dance around the big D. “We lost” might translate to “I lose” on Election Day. But yours truly isn’t running for anything, and I’m not shy. Let’s talk. If a victory for coalition forces was ever possible in Iraq, the lights went out on it when Paul Bremer arrived in Baghdad.

Since then all we’ve done is pump money and the lives of American sons and daughters into a brain dead idea. Those infusions delay the decomposition of Victory’s corpse, but no amount of military or economic treatment can resurrect it. Our country faces essentially the same horrendous choice as the family of a brain dead patient. How long before we pull the plug and suffer the next set of consequences?

We lost Victory in 2003 for several reasons, but a recent historical example and a thought experiment tie many of them together. Even today, the ink isn’t dry on the disintegration of Yugoslavia. Like Iraq, Yugoslavia was a conglomeration of fractious ethnic groups held together by a strongman. When Tito died, Yugoslavia was doomed. The ensuing civil strife was abetted by foreign supporters of the warring factions. UN forces, including a strong US presence, helped restore a semblance of peace. That happy outcome was never in the cards for Iraq. Why?

Reverse the war roles. Suppose Saudi Arabia invades and occupies South Carolina. Maybe the Saudis fear lumber shortages, and the government in Columbia is hostile to the interests of the royal family. Also, the Saudis don’t appreciate the apocalyptic anti-Muslim saber-rattling of some fanatical Christian groups suspected to be operating within the state. Saudi planners remember the evolution of the Taliban and al Qaeda. They’re determined to nip the next crop of militants in the bud.

To ensure that occupied South Carolina functions along Muslim rather than discredited secular lines, a Saudi proconsul is dispatched to Columbia. He cashiers the former regime, from governor to lowliest dogcatcher, and disbands the National Guard. New Saudi bureaucracies are chartered to handle reconstruction and essential services. Saudi security forces, who speak no English, invade South Carolina homes at will, shooting first and asking questions later. Thousands of ex-military personnel are jobless along with a majority of the civilian population. Electricity and drinking water remain scarce. Saudi promises of improving conditions fail to materialize.

What grace period will the clean-cut altruism of Saudi troops buy in Aiken? Can we expect South Carolinians to get on their prayer rugs and learn to face Mecca? Will North Carolinians, even Asheville liberals who distrust Republican extremists, sit on their hands? I think not. The Saudis might resort to a Roman-style reign of terror and hold South Carolina for a while, but it can’t last in an interdependent world. Sterilizing the state with Pakistani nukes is no good either. It would mobilize all of North America, not to mention Christian communities around the globe.

That’s our situation in Iraq. The adventure has been a grotesque miscarriage of a legitimate campaign against al Qaeda criminals. We’re paying for the mistake of credulously following our leaders. The prices of that folly go nowhere but up as time marches on. It’s an inevitable consequence of defeating ourselves in 2003 and fertilizing the seeds of militant Islam in our ongoing struggle against recognizing the dismal truth. Terrorist attacks might decrease soon after we pull out of Iraq, but don’t bet on it. The only certainty is that our continued presence there bears increasingly nasty fruit.

What makes me the smarty-pants? Nothing. Veteran foreign correspondents such as Robert Fisk have been trying to tell us about this since the war began. Fisk lives in Beirut, has covered the region since the Algerian Civil War, and has interviewed everybody—including Osama, three times. Tariq Ali is another Middle Eastern observer who got it right from the beginning. The list goes in the archives of alternative media outlets such as DemocracyNow!

“But,” right-thinking friends may snipe, “you’re no general and have no access to classified material. Who cares what—INSERT EXPLETIVE HERE—defeatists like you think? Ditto your Fisks and Alis. They may have a sterling prediction record, but they’re not looking at things from the US perspective.”

Point well taken. We await the further wisdom of Dick Cheney.

-- Michael Hopping © 2007 All rights reserved



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Asheville, NC