Winning in Iraq is important. And we need a return on our investment: 3,000 dead, nearly 25,000 wounded, about $700 billion so far spent or committed in future unavoidable costs, with estimates for the total ranging between $1 trillion and $2 trillion.
And winning can only be done if the definition of “victory” is first made clear.
What is the correct definition of “victory” for the United States? It is the Camp of Islam and Jihad rendered weaker than it was before. The Administration keeps saying that bringing “democracy” itself somehow weakens the appeal of what it inaccurately describes as “extremists who have hijacked a great religion,” but since those “extremists” or merely the more religious and less secular have only increased their power whenever free elections have been held — in Algeria, in Egypt, in the “Palestinian”-controlled territories — the clash of theory and reality is never explained. How can the Camp of Islam be weakened if American efforts are directed at ensuring a united, stable, and prosperous Iraq?
And if that impossible goal were somehow attained after another few years of expensive and depleting American efforts and expense, and focus remains on Iraq while every other matter is somehow pushed to the back or the side, including that of Iran’s steady nuclear project, how would this Iraq serve as a Model? How could an Iraq that was once the place of the Abbasid Caliphate be lost to the Shi’a? After all, that was where so much of that “glorious Islamic past” upon which Muslims like to dwell took place. It is a place so important to their sense of themselves and their rightful role in the universe, that if it were lost by the Sunni Arabs and came to be dominated by the Shi’a, those “Persians,” those Rafidite dogs, this would be worse in the eyes of both the Egyptian press and Saudi clerics than Jews and Christians dominating Iraq. Yes, that’s just how bad those Shi’a are.
How would the achievement of the stated goals of the Bush Administration in Iraq weaken the Camp of Islam?
The way to weaken the Camp of Islam, and thus to justify the incredible expense in men, money, materiel, and morale both civilian and military, is to allow a situation within Iraq to be created (and still better if that situation is entirely a creation of the people in Iraq — not “the Iraqis” who do not exist — themselves) in which Muslims who would otherwise be waging jihad against us are divided and demoralized. This will weaken the Camp of Islam. Two of the three major fissures within Islam — sectarian and ethnic — are pre-existing conditions. Their origins can be found in the first century of Islam.
The ethnic fissure is that between Arabs and Kurds. The Americans did not cause the mistreatment of the Kurds by both kinds of Arabs, but a not-impossible Kurdish state would serve American interests in two ways. It could weaken both Syria and Iran, that have circumjacent Kurdish populations. And in the case of Iran, not only Iranian Kurds but other non-Persian minorities (Arabs, Azeris, Baluchis) might be inspired by an independent Kurdistan. And the very existence of an independent Kurdistan could have effects far beyond the immediate area for other non-Arabs, including Berbers in North Africa and black Africans in Darfur. They might be heartened by the example of a non-Arab Muslim people throwing off the Arab yoke. And in the “war of ideas” that some like to refer to, anything that reveals Islam to have been and to remain a vehicle of Arab imperialism, cultural, linguistic, economic, and political, is to be encouraged — so that non-Arab Muslims will begin to view Islam in a new, more accurate, less attractive and more disturbing light.
The much larger fissure is that between Sunni and Shi’a. It goes back to the seventh century and the proper succession, after the Four Rightly-Guided Caliphs, to Muhammad. But it became a difference in ritual and in some doctrines as well, though not in the teachings about, and attitudes exhibited, toward non-Muslims. This too was not encouraged by the Americans. The war being conducted on Shi’a by Sunnis centuries ago led to the former adopting the doctrine of taqiyya (which is now essentially practiced by Sunni Muslims as well, relying on Qur’an and Hadith for justification), that is, religiously-sanctioned dissimulation about the faith. Sunni-Shi’a tensions, and Sunni discrimination against or persecution of the Shi’a, including deliberate campaigns of murder as in both Iraq and in Pakistan, will go on whatever the Americans do. These tensions can be seen in Saudi Arabia, in Pakistan, in Lebanon, in Bahrain, in Kuwait.
The “victory” in Iraq that would result from the continuation, and enlargement, even beyond Iraq’s borders, of ethnic and sectarian hostilities and warfare within the Camp of Islam, is the only kind of “victory” that makes sense. And though it was made possible by the removal of the iron regime and mailed fist of Saddam Hussein, the conditions that cause those fissures were none of America’s doing. All the Americans have done is try to prevent the very things that they should be deliberately not preventing, but exploiting.
A topsy-turvy strategy. A crazy quilt of plans and counter-plans that miss the essential point.
A mad world, my masters!