Back to the Future in Iraq

We have bombed/invaded or otherwise initiated violent actions in Iraq 17 times in the last 24 years, starting with funding the coup that installed Saddam Hussein as dictator. This is hardly a record number of violent actions, especially compared to the ones we have committed in Latin America, but the scale of carnage is becoming worthy of historic note.

Now, President Obama is about to metaphorically ski down the Iraqi slopes again, claiming to be only doing the minimum to prevent genocide. On one side are the neo-con chicken-hawks who created the disaster we are now dealing with, arguing for another invasion. On the other side are the neo-isolationists who mid-wived the ascent of ISIS (ISIL), arguing for ignoring reality. It is remarkable that there seems to be no one anywhere in a policy making position who acknowledges the hopeless reality that is Iraq and the wider conflicts in the Middle East.

Dick Cheney, possibly the most celebrated war criminal at large, recently admitted that Bush-Cheney knew that social chaos would result when they overthrew Saddam Hussein. This is a remarkable comment, given their absolute failure to plan to preserve social order after the invasion and the profoundly ignorant policies that nurtured the rise of violent chaos. It is a crime of historic proportions, and we are only beginning to pay the price that over a million dead Iraqis have already experienced.

The entire Middle East is an artifact of European colonialism that created artificial countries with politically defined boundaries. The social reality of that area for millennia has been tribalism, not nationalism. The defining identity of people there is their tribe or their sect. The Caliphates briefly united the area under Islam, but the conversion never took and Islam is now as divisive a force as tribalism. Even Israel’s veneer of democracy is paper thin worn by the very reason of its existence: Chosen People in their Chosen Land.  The entire region is the tar pit of democracies.

Historically, only dictatorships have kept the area’s violent nature in check. There isn’t any proven political movement that is their salvation, and every military action we undertake virtually ensures the need for future violence. These people hold blood grudges for centuries. There doesn’t even appear to be any economic salvation either. In our country, economic opportunities have helped transformed past divisions somewhat. We may still hate “those people,” but if we can make money from them, well then welcome! This is not the case in the Middle East, where, even on those rare occasions of economic prosperity, the tribal animus continues unabated.

It seems the best we can do is start to play the intransigent divisions to our advantage: paying them off to kill our enemies (a strategy that worked to end the Sunni insurgence after the invasion), or at least not come after us. A friend of mine has two sons who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and they both recount the same lesson: “They shoot at each other all day long until the Marines come along. Then they both shoot at the Marines until we are gone and go back to killing each other again.”

That is the only lesson we need to remember and base our policy on that.

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