Jihad Watch Board Vice President Hugh Fitzgerald continues his reflections on what to do in Iraq with this exploration of the prospects for Iraqi nationalism, on which so many place such high hopes:
There are hardly any people in Iraq who think of themselves first as Iraqis, though every single one of those who does has apparently spoken at length to high American officials.
Iraq was spatchcocked together out of three quite different Ottoman vilayets: Mosul (predominately Kurd before the Arabs had a chance to arabize it), Baghdad (where a Sunni elite, and a Jewish merchant and professional class, existed when the British entered in 1920 — and guess which group subsequently disappeared?), and Basra, which the India Office insisted be included, because it was seen as a potential breadbasket to supply the forces of the Raj.
In the 80 years since that happened, since Gertrude Bell noted the Shi’a unwillingness to be ruled by Sunnis, noted the mutual dislike of Kurd and Arab, what has happened? Have wonderful things happened that have made Kurds happy with Iraq, and created in them a sense of “nationalism”? Not at all. 182,000 Kurds were massacred by the Arabs under Saddam Hussein, and not a single Arab, including the opponents of Saddam Hussein within, and all the Arabs without, objected — not a single syllable of protest came. After the fact, a handful of Westernized, sophisticated, and altogether unrepresentative people from Iraq — a handful so tiny I can only offer one name, that of Kanan Makiya — seemed to deplore the Arab massacre (for Saddam Hussein’s orders were gleefully carried out, and enthusiastically supported, by all kinds of Arabs).
Are the Kurds likely, after this experience, to feel a new “nationalism”? All the evidence goes the other way. The same day as the ballyhooed election, when Shi’a trooped off to do what Al-Sistani told them to do, and the Sunnis stayed away, and the Kurds voted, those same Kurds also held a referendum on independence. It was not reported in the United States — a reference here and there, mention by Peter Galbraith, and that’s about it. And in that referendum 98% of the Kurds voted for independence. What does that tell us about the possibilities for the growth of “Iraqi nationalism”?
And the Shi’a? They now may prate about Iraq, and why not? They will rule that new Iraq. They can afford, now, to talk about Iraq, and “Iraqis.” Iraq is theirs, if it holds together. They are in the catbird seat, and are ready to dole out to the Sunnis just a little of what was, over the last 80 years (and the percentage of Shi’a in the population has grown — just as Muslims have far larger families than Infidels, in Iraq as in Lebanon, the Shi’a are simply outbreeding the Sunnis), doled out to them when the Sunnis were in control.
And the Sunnis? They only want an Iraq they can rule, or at the very least, an Iraq where they will not be left without any oil revenues (and the oilfields are in two places — the Kurdish or formerly Kurdish lands in the north, near Mosul and Kirkuk, and in the south, among the Shi’a). So in a sense the Sunnis must pretend to like the idea of Iraq because, should it split up, they are the ones who will be left with nothing. But this is not real “nationalism.” There is no Iraqi nationalism, whatever a handful of nice plausible bloggers from Iraq would have us believe, or would like to believe themselves.
As returning soldiers can tell you, those who worked closely with people in Iraq, those soldiers quickly came to refer to those people as “Kurds and Iraqis,” so different were the Kurds in their attitude toward Americans (who are seen as allies, not enemies, not least because while the Arab identity reinforces Islam, the Kurdish identity offers an alternative to Islam, and undercuts the otherwise totalitarian hold of Islam). And what’s more, the soldiers — the discerning ones, the ones who take in their experience and make sense of it — quickly realized that the Iraqi contractors and others were not out for Iraq, but demonstrated a fantastic “selfishness” (that is the word I have heard from soldiers), interested only in their own well-being, and after that, in that of their family, and after that, in their tribe, and that was the extent of their loyalty and interest. But even if that somehow were to go beyond the family and tribe to the ethnic or sectarian group, it is impossible to believe that a Kurd or a Shi’a or a Sunni Arab will work for something called “Iraq” and fight for “Iraq” (oh, that won’t prevent someone from telling the Americans what he knows they want to here — they want the Americans to stay, to fight for them, to lavish even more aid and of course, more military equipment on them — of course they will offer the appropriate jabber about “Iraq”).
There is no way to build real “nationalism” in Iraq. Instead, we should ruthlessly exploit the absence of such an identity, and take advantage — by doing nothing to prevent — of those natural fissures that stand permanently in the way of a stable, strong nation-state. It won’t happen. Why fight it, when allowing Iraq’s vilayets to re-emerge is in our interest, and not only in Iraq, but as a way to encourage fissures, and problems for Muslim countries, elsewhere.
We have to stop dreaming about the essential rationality and goodness of the whole wide world, and start calculating just a little bit the way we did in the Cold War, and in World War II. Or have we all become permanently stupid, unable to cast the necessary cold eye on men and events, and world-historical trends that can be used, or misused, in order to weaken and demoralize those who wish us only ill.
The ignis fatuus of a politically and morally healthy Iraqi nation-state, where Kurd and Arab, Sunni and Shi’a, all somehow get along in Rodney King-plea fashion, is being pursued at intolerable cost. It may not seem like a large cost, as Victor Davis Hanson keeps attempting to assure us by comparing it with the losses in World War II. But World War II made sense. The losses led to gains.
The losses in Iraq are in pursuit of a policy that does not make geopolitical sense. It is precisely because Islam, not “Wahhabi” Islam but Islam, is a world-wide problem, and that we must work to diminish all the weapons and instruments of Jihad, that we need to get out of Iraq and let nature take its course there. As long as major weaponry is kept out of Muslim hands (and Pakistan’s acquisition of nuclear weapons must never be repeated, and somehow must be undone), and Infidels stop all Muslim migration and oppose every demand by Muslims for changes in the political and social arrangements in Infidel lands, and work to make their own countries Islam-hostile rather than falling all over themselves to “integrate” their Muslim populations — an impossibility for almost all Muslims, except those who jettison Islam altogether, and they no longer count as Muslims) which will merely provide the linguistic and cultural know-how to better infiltrate, and plausibly conduct Da’wa, among those same Infidels who pay for those lessons in Western languages, and how to pick up Infidel girls, and suchlike absurdities. What do we want — an army of clever Tariq Ramadans, or do we prefer to have our Muslim propagandists a little less suave, a little more foreign-looking, a little easier to detect?
The danger is that the folly in Iraq will keep the American government from beginning to get a glimmer that it has no stake in this “Light Unto the Muslim Nations” Project, but does have a stake in creating the conditions — okay, here goes, verbatim, for the five hundredth time — where Muslims themselves can realize that the political, economic, social, and intellectual failures of Muslim countries and peoples (a recognition that of course the $10 trillion that has gone to OPEC countries since 1973 manages to delay, or prevent) are directly attributable not to the hated Infidel, but to Islam itself.
Something like that may be happening to some people (but not enough) in Iran. It doesn’t matter — we still have to destroy Iran’s nuclear capacity. That is a thousand times more important than “staying the course” or not “cutting and running” in Iraq. What are we, schoolboys in a schoolyard, showing we’re not chicken, or readers of history, students of geopolitics, observers of the real, as opposed to the imaginary brave-new-world rhetoric about “democracy being on the march” and “our brave Iraqi friends” and all the rest of it.
Spare us, please. If you want to continue to fool yourselves, do it. But don’t expect people to sign up for the National Guard or Reserves. Don’t expect people to be furious that $300 billion has already been committed — and what would sums like that do for nuclear and solar energy, to put Saudi Arabia back in the position it so richly deserves?
As more and more people learn about Islam, they will be less inclined to accept the nonsense about it from those who, out of ignorance, or fear of what to do next or how to handle it (this is what many call “denial”). The disaffection of people in Europe for their remote leaders who presumed to tell them what to do is obvious. The same thing may happen here. If one wishes to retain support for a very difficult, and varied, and essentially endless policy of confronting the Jihad in all of its instruments (that means counter-Da’wa, that means in Europe contemplating the necessity, as the Czechs once did, of mass expulsions) then the wrong policies must be jettisoned, not clung to, as soon as their wrongness has become evident.
It is evident. Don’t cling out of wounded pride to a policy that costs lives and money and equipment and morale and attention. Don’t.