Our March of Folly in Iraq





Mr. Astore is an associate professor of History at the Pennsylvania College of Technology. He also served for twenty years in the U.S. Air Force.

This week’s two-part series on Frontline, “Bush’s War,” reminded me of Barbara Tuchman’s warning (The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam) about the persistence of “wooden-headedness” in history, attributable in our case to the limits of our country’s historical and cultural imagination. A telling moment came as the Frontline commentators discussed what was euphemistically termed “regime change.” Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of Iraq’s history and culture could have predicted, and in some cases did predict, the chaos and struggle for power that would ensue once Saddam Hussein was overthrown and his army disbanded. Yet, as Michael Gordon notes, an American diplomat described the Bush administration as subscribing to the Wizard of Oz school of regime change, as captured memorably by the lyric, “ding-dong-the-witch-is-dead.” As summed up nicely by Gordon, “We go in, we kill the wicked witch, the munchkins jump up, they’re grateful, and then we get in the hot-air balloon and we’re out of there.”

Well, that sunny scenario obviously didn’t happen. Instead, majority Shiites, suppressed by Saddam, saw a chance to grab power. Minority Sunnis, generally favored under Saddam, saw little reason to work with the U.S. and its viceroy, L. Paul Bremer III. Iraqi Kurds to the north supported our presence in so far as it helped them to develop a semi-autonomous Kurdish state. In the absence of a strong leader, Iraq quickly became embroiled in sectarian violence, with U.S. troops caught flatfooted in the middle. Recognizing an opportunity, Iran moved to exploit it, arming Shia militias and fomenting attacks on rival Sunnis as well as U.S. troops. Al Qaeda then moved into Iraq, rising to Bush’s cowboy challenge of “Bring it on,” and recognizing it was easier to fight and kill U.S. troops in Iraq than to mount risky operations against our mainland.

All this is well known. But how did our leaders not see this scenario coming? Why did they envision simplicity and Iraqi gratitude (those munchkins singing and jumping up to embrace us), and not the complexity and violent resentment that resulted? Could it be that our leaders had impoverished historical imaginations? Could they also have believed—as President Bush appears to have believed—that they could create an entirely new culture in Iraq, one that would embrace democracy, diversity, and tolerance of dissent, even though there were few recent historical underpinnings to support such a culture?

If our historical imagination was impoverished, so too was our ability to understand and relate to Iraqi culture. This lesson was brought home to me by a Peter, Paul, and Mary song, although not in the way you might expect. While I was the Associate Provost at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, we received an urgent request early in 2004 from a U.S. official working with Iraqi schools. The official wanted help translating the song, “Don’t Laugh At Me,” from English to Arabic. The song, which appears on the Peter, Paul, and Mary CD Songs of Conscience & Concern, is used in U.S. elementary schools to promote tolerance. Its first lines are “I’m a little boy with glasses/The one they call a geek/A little girl who never smiles/’Cause I have braces on my teeth.” The refrain urges: “Don’t laugh at me/Don’t call me names/Don’t get your pleasure from my pain/In God’s eyes we’re all the same.” Rather safe and innocuous lyrics, one might think.

Yet, translating this song into Arabic was neither safe nor easy. After gathering our best Arabic translators, we quickly learned that even the simplest lines posed problems. What about that geeky boy with glasses, the one being taunted for being bookish? Our translators, many of whom hail originally from Middle Eastern countries, explained that he would most likely be admired and praised for his smarts. How about that poor little girl with braces, so reluctant to smile? Well, most Iraqi kids would be fortunate indeed to be able to have access to, or even afford, orthodontia. In an Iraqi context, laughing at geeks or kids with braces just didn’t translate. And if such seemingly simple lines as these were untranslatable due to the culture gap, what about lines like “I’m gay, I’m lesbian, I’m American Indian,” or even more treacherously, “A single teenage mother/Tryin’ to overcome my past”? Best not go there, we concluded.

I learned much from this experience. If we can’t translate song lyrics to promote diversity and tolerance, how can we “translate” democracy? It seems as if the Bush administration assumed no translation was necessary: the Iraqis would embrace democracy because it was “the end of history,” in the Francis Fukuyama sense, the unchallengeable culmination of our political evolution as humans. More than anything else, I think, such a conclusion reflects the administration’s ignorance of Iraqi history and culture, and perhaps its arrogance as well. After all, in other contexts, Bush has recognized that democracy does not inevitably triumph. For example, he’s been generally supportive of Vladimir Putin’s dominance of Russian politics, stating that you can’t change the Russian people’s DNA, by which I assume he meant Russia’s long history of autocratic rule.

When historians examine the failures of the Bush administration in Iraq, they would do well to look for absences as well as blunders and hidden agendas. A lack of historical imagination is one such absence; so too is a sophisticated understanding of the cultural gaps that separate American from Iraqi culture. Both have contributed to our “march of folly” in Iraq, as illustrated so soberly by Frontline.



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omar ibrahim baker - 4/5/2008

Mr Friedman
Your "ought to" and "error" theories, so much typical of your writings of late, will always stand out as IDIOCY incarnate by a master idiot non pareil.


R.R. Hamilton - 4/5/2008

From the sounds of the silence from two others, we can hope that already Mr. E and Ms. G have gotten a room.

Btw, Mr. F, do you notice that he never argues with me? It's because he knows how to fight you.


N. Friedman - 4/4/2008

Omar,

You write: "AS to idiocy cum blindness cum hypocrisy it certainly is becoming increasingly abundant in most of what you write particularly when the topic is American imperialism and/or Zionism!"

You will notice that the topic of the article is Iraq, not Israel and not Zionism. So, I do not understand your point in writing what you have written.

You write: A timely example is your ridiculous assertion :"...that the US ought to have known that Iraq is made up of tribes and religious... "; a deliberate and useful over sight at best by and to the Bush/Wolfowitz Administration, BUT fail to note the disbandment of the Iraqi Army and ALL Iraqi security and policing services as the major cause of lawlessness now prevailing in Iraq and since the arrival of the USA!

You will note, however, that lawlessness began before any disbandment of Iraqi forces had occurred. Nice try.

Now, you could say that the disbandment did not help the situation and may have made it worse. But, the fact is that your major evidence - which relates to the looting of museums - occurred before any disbandment had occurred. So, there is that magic thing called cause and effect. You have the effect coming before the alleged cause.

In fact, the disbandment led to major infighting between British and American planners on the whether or not disbandment would tend to abate already ongoing the lawlessness. See BBC reports on the topic, if you do not believe me.

You write: Both your assertion "ought to have known.." , simpleton at best, and your failure to touch on the other more crucial point are IDIOCY par excellence and bare faced hypocrisy with a prevalence of the latter!.
You, self-righteously assert:" Governments are error prone,.."(WOW for this earth and History shattering observation).
However if you consider what went on and what is going now in Iraq as an "error" ( were is the innocent?) then it is one more example of the hypocrisy and cheap pandering to “fellow” Americans that has come to be your trade mark of late.


Omar, you misinterpret my argument. I am not asserting why events have unfolded as they have. I am asserting that you have no evidence to support your theory. Which is to say: there are any of a number of possible theories that can explain the facts on the ground in Iraq. Yours happens to be a theory that flies in the face of common sense and logic, so I point out the obvious.

Again, Omar, if the US really wanted to create chaos - which, at this point, is diminishing due to the so-called surge -, the US could do so far effectively and efficiently and without placing US troops in the middle in order to attempt to quell the violence. In this regard, it is worth noting that Americans value their soldiers to the extent that the loss of 4,000 such soldiers is considered a big deal. It is likely the sole reason that the popularity of the war abated. So, if the plan is to sew chaos, the plan is too stupid for words, given how the US works. So, I think that yours is simply a theory that can be dismissed as wrong.

Occam's razor is normally used to judge theories of the type you assert - i.e. to explain events on the ground based on a logical analysis. According to Occam: all other things being equal, the simplest solution is the best. Your solution is not simple because it assumes, among other things, that the US would place its soldiers in harms way when such is not necessary to the achievement of the goal you assert - and, to be blunt, is counterproductive toward achieving that supposed goal.

Now, your assertion that the fact of the disbandment of the Iraqi establishment proves the US intent to cause chaos is, to me, not even logical, even if the chaos had begun after, not before, the disbandment. The fact of the disbandment could have been pushed for a number of possible reasons, including the one actually stated by the US government. This is not to say that the reason asserted by the US government was the truth; rather, it is to state that there could be any of a number of possible explanations - your being almost certainly an impossibility.

You write: Pray tell us all about the Jews that :

“teach Islam to Muslims "


You are now misquoting me. What I stated is: "In fact, much of modern scholarship about Islam is the result of the work of Jewish scholars, to the extent that the works by such Jewish scholars are used in the Middle East to teach Islam to Muslims! I note in particular the work of Ignaz Goldhizer."

My comment about teaching Arabic was in reply to this idiotic comment by you:

ZIONISM being the blatantly racist and colonialist movement with declared ambitions and designs to establish a Jewish presence first in Palestine, in lieu of its indigenous Arab people , then in the Middle East (from the Nile to the Euphrates) should harbour plans to eradicate all outstanding features of its ARAB (Moslem and Christian) intrinsic nature such as cultural institutions!
( Just a reminder about the inescapable outgrowth from colonialist ideology and history: France forbade the teaching of Arabic in official schools in Algeria during its presence there.)


Note that you brought Algeria and France and the teaching of Arabic into a comment by you about Zionism and the Middle East. Mine was to note that your comment about the teaching of Arabic had nothing to do with Jews or Israel or Zionism. In other words - and speaking bluntly to you in the hope that you will note how foolish and bigoted your writing is - yours was a stupid comment.


omar ibrahim baker - 4/4/2008

Mr. Friedman
AS to idiocy cum blindness cum hypocrisy it certainly is becoming increasingly abundant in most of what you write particularly when the topic is American imperialism and/or Zionism!
A timely example is your ridiculous assertion :"...that the US ought to have known that Iraq is made up of tribes and religious... "; a deliberate and useful over sight at best by and to the Bush/Wolfowitz Administration, BUT fail to note the disbandment of the Iraqi Army and ALL Iraqi security and policing services as the major cause of lawlessness now prevailing in Iraq and since the arrival of the USA!

Both your assertion "ought to have known.." , simpleton at best, and your failure to touch on the other more crucial point are IDIOCY par excellence and bare faced hypocrisy with a prevalence of the latter!.
You, self-righteously assert:" Governments are error prone,.."(WOW for this earth and History shattering observation).
However if you consider what went on and what is going now in Iraq as an "error" ( were is the innocent?) then it is one more example of the hypocrisy and cheap pandering to “fellow” Americans that has come to be your trade mark of late.

Pray tell us all about the Jews that :

“teach Islam to Muslims "

and DO NOT comeback with an inane riposte that Moslems read what Jews write about Islam; which they do.(Your key words are "Teach Islam")
You, unfortunately, seem to have been Ecksteined when you sanctimoniously assert that :
"Israel never forbid the teaching of Arabic " strongly implying that I claimed that!
You know perfectly well I did NOT claim that.

Sadly, Mr. Friedman, you are echoing the style of the Professor and abandoning your ex veneer, the camouflage of fair mindedness and objectivity that you strove too long to project, which I never doubted nor had any allusions about, but could possibly did deceive some other readers.
That is OK with me!


N. Friedman - 4/3/2008

Omar,

1. I have not justified the actions of the US in Iraq. That is in your head. I have said that your interpretation of the events is not shown by the evidence you assert. I stand by that as exactly nothing you have said to support your argument has any merit at all. Instead, you have asserted propaganda and, in some instances, foul, bigoted propaganda.

2. Governments are error prone, just like people. While there is certainly a case to be made that the US ought to have known that Iraq is made up of tribes and religious groups who think only their own ought to rule, that does not mean that the US intended to create the chaos that has ensued in Iraq. Were it the intention of the US to create chaos, then the US would simply arm all involved and withdraw, instead of risking the lives of Americans in the "surge."

3. Zionism has exactly nothing to do with Iraq - except, of course, that Jews in Iraq were killed by means of the instigation of vile hatred by the Nazi bigot al-Hussayni.

4. Whatever France did in Algeria, Israel never forbid the teaching of Arabic anywhere. In fact, much of modern scholarship about Islam is the result of the work of Jewish scholars, to the extent that the works by such Jewish scholars are used in the Middle East to teach Islam to Muslims! I note in particular the work of Ignaz Goldhizer. Which is to say, what you write is not only wrong, it is idiotic.


omar ibrahim baker - 4/3/2008

Mr. Friedman
I do NOT "confuse cause and effect”; I interpret events in the light of the general declared and undeclared policies, the
ambitions/designs/practices, the historical and overall record and the basic character/nature of the decision maker behind those events.

You on the other hand have a possible “explanation" for every act/effect/outcome, which is invariably a "justification" and tacit defense of, for every act of which you approve and deem as ultimately beneficial to your cause.
Possible "explanations" ="justification"="defense" are easy to come by particularly that you assume, correctly, that the general reader is not sufficiently knowledgeable/interested and, naturally, more liable to accept the “good" rather than the "real/actual" interpretation and significance of acts/events committed or brought about by an imperialist/Zionist infused USA!

However it is inescapable to conclude that:

The proliferation of CRIME and SECTARIAN fighting in IRAQ, which led to horrendous human suffering, was/is the direct and inevitable outcome of the state of LAWLESSNESS brought about by the USA DISBANDMENT of the IRAQI ARMY and of ALL IRAQI SECURITY and POLICE FORCES.
To contend, as you are liable to in your relentless
“explanation=justification” mood, that the US authority did not or could not FORESEE/PREDICT that would be utterly ridiculous and insulting to elementary human intelligence.

Similarly it is inevitable, to conclude that:

ZIONISM being the blatantly racist and colonialist movement with declared ambitions and designs to establish a Jewish presence first in Palestine, in lieu of its indigenous Arab people , then in the Middle East (from the Nile to the Euphrates) should harbour plans to eradicate all outstanding features of its ARAB (Moslem and Christian) intrinsic nature such as cultural institutions!
( Just a reminder about the inescapable outgrowth from colonialist ideology and history: France forbade the teaching of Arabic in official schools in Algeria during its presence there.)

Obviously your failure to concede the all too obvious innate nature of Zionism ,and its outgrowth Israel, as a racist, colonialist, supplanting, Arab by Jewish, movement forecloses the possibility of your admission of its ultimate ambitions and designs.
That, however, neither changes the intentions nor the designs and policies that consciously led to those events such as the invitation/freedom to loot the Iraqi Museum of Antiquities and the looting and burning of the Baghdad Library..


R.R. Hamilton - 4/2/2008

The only way one can make that case is to contend that the U.S. "planned" that the Iraqi police would completely and spontaneously abandon their duties.

On other thing, on public services: I said before the 2003 invasion that the only thing the Islamo-wackjobs would hate more than a Jewish democracy in the area would be an Arab one. My prediction has come true, in spades, as thousands of foreign fighters have flooded in to attack -- not U.S. forces, who they fear -- but Iraqi civilians and the fragile Iraqi infrastructure. I can assure you as a former soldier that the easiest thing in the world is to blow up things like electrical stations and water pumping stations. Give me 600 Tim McVeigh-types supported by 1/10th of the general population and I can make New York City look like Baghdad in a matter of months. Taking and holding ground -- that's a whole lot harder.


N. Friedman - 4/2/2008

Omar,

Now you are heading to hyperspace. What Zionists wished to destroy the Iraqi museum? Names, specific statements and context, if you expect anyone to believe your statement. If, for one, think it is a bald faced lie.

You write: 2- To contend :"that the US did embark on a plan to dismantle certain institutions (only/my addition) in Iraq. " is belied by the facts on the ground.
Baghdad and many other heavily populated areas in Iraq DO NOT have, until this very moment,drinking water of an acceptable standard.
(Suitable drinking water must be a Baathist vice to be uprooted!!!)


Again, Omar, you confuse facts on the ground with intention and with error and with happenstance. There are many potential explanations for the lack of potable water other than an intentional act to deprive Iraqis of such water. You merely assert an explanation without a stitch of evidence to support it. Here, Omar, is another possible, far more likely, explanation. It is not possible to fix the water problem due to the ability of insurgents to undermine all repair efforts.

You write: One has only to compare human conditions in Iraq, including the number of deaths and popular uprooting brought about by the USA imposed and nurtured
lawlessness, pre and post USA conquest to gauge the extent of the barbarism deliberately inflicted on Iraq and to realize the real objectives and scope of the invasion.


Again, Omar, you confuse effects with their causes. You require facts to know the causes. You have none.

You write: One has only to cosider, inter alia, the Israeli daily routine of general puplic oppression, relentless denial of basic inalienable human rights, political assasinations of "suspects"
, collective punishment in the demolition of the inhabited homes of "suspects" and freedom fighters, expropriation of cultivable land and uprooting of tress ie the systematic destruction of every thing Arab in occupied Palestine to see Israeli, and the innate Zionist colonialist, barbarism at work .


Whatever fault the Israelis may bear for their actions, Israelis are not at work in Iraq. The US is and the US is not Israel. So, what you are spouting is propaganda.

But, even if it were not propaganda, you are again pointing to effects - assuming, which I do not do, that your list of events were accurate - and treating such efects as if they were causal. That is a serious mistake because it assumes that what occurs is always intended.

So far as investigating the looting, I see nothing wrong with it. What I see as wrong is your "knowing" the reason for the looting. Which is to say, if we already "know" what you assert, why do we need to investigate? Obviously, we do not know what you claim. Or, do you think that it is a good idea to throw money that might be used to help people to discover what we already know?


omar ibrahim baker - 4/2/2008

Mr Friedman
1-RE the Iraqi Museum and Baghdad Library no less was expected from you considering that the destruction of Iraqi cultural institutions is one of several ages long Zionist dreams that was realized by the USA!

2- To contend :"that the US did embark on a plan to dismantle certain institutions (only/my addition) in Iraq. " is belied by the facts on the ground.
Baghdad and many other heavily populated areas in Iraq DO NOT have, until this very moment,drinking water of an acceptable standard.
(Suitable drinking water must be a Baathist vice to be uprooted!!!)

However your denial was only expected and true to form.
Never the less your, and yours, efforts to carry favour with the USA in the most shamelessly blauant forms for obvious reasons is noted.
Decent American citizens, I believe, DO note that also!

3-The worst forms of "barbarism" in Arab countries are presently , and have been in the recent past,practiced by Israel and the USA.

One has only to compare human conditions in Iraq, including the number of deaths and popular uprooting brought about by the USA imposed and nurtured
lawlessness, pre and post USA conquest to gauge the extent of the barbarism deliberately inflicted on Iraq and to realize the real objectives and scope of the invasion.


One has only to cosider, inter alia, the Israeli daily routine of general puplic oppression, relentless denial of basic inalienable human rights, political assasinations of "suspects"
, collective punishment in the demolition of the inhabited homes of "suspects" and freedom fighters, expropriation of cultivable land and uprooting of tress ie the systematic destruction of every thing Arab in occupied Palestine to see Israeli, and the innate Zionist colonialist, barbarism at work .

4- I note that you do NOT lend your support to my appeal to HNN to initiate a discussion of the looting and the looting and burning of the museum and library.
Patently the lesser said publicly the better for the USA!
I did NOT expect you to support my appeal but was curious to see your reaction .
All exactly as expected.


N. Friedman - 4/2/2008

Omar,

You write: The fact that the US Army protected the Iraqi Ministry of Oil and Natural Resources from day one and took it over intact BUT FAILED to protect the Iraqi Museum and Baghdad Library for several days after the day and night on going looting started is my "proof".

Such, of course, does not show what you allege - which was a conscious plan, much less a conscious plan to harm Iraq. The facts you allege in the quoted material are consistent, among other things, with (a) an error in judgment regarding what would happen in Iraq - which is very likely -, (b) the inability to react effectively and/or quickly to a problem which was not foreseen and/or (c) greater concern for economic issues than archaeological history - which also seems likely -. None of these explanations is, of course, shown by the noted facts either. They are merely consistent with these explanations.

You write: Another "proof" is that the USA embarked on an undeniable, except possibly by you, conscious and deliberate plan to dismantle Iraq and destroy all its institutions starting with the disbandment of the Iraqi army ,ALL security and policing services and its civil administration.
Rationally that would, should from an American (Bush/Wolfowitz/Perle) perspective, include its major cultural institutions!


I think that the US did embark on a plan to dismantle certain institutions in Iraq. We dismantled the military, not to mention most of everything involving the Ba'ath party. That, of course, is a different thing from saying we sought to dismantle Iraq. We may have but your facts do not show such to be the case.

For what it is worth, I doubt that US had any plan regarding museums - and there is no evidence that such is the case - or the religious institutions - which have more influence now than under Saddam - or universities - which have suffered greatly but for other reasons. I suspect it more likely that most of that happened was not remotely by design.

My view on all of this is that Iraq was a mistake for the US. Such is not because it was a bad thing to get rid of Saddam or Ba'athist influences in Iraq. Clearly, ridding the world of fascistic influences such as those I have noted is a good thing.

Rather, the Iraq war is bad because it is folly to place an army in the middle of the Arab regions and expect to calm that region down - as it relates to itself or to the US or any other countries - and because it had only a small chance of strengthening the US, even economically. So, the blood being shed serves no purpose for the US.

That is not to say we know the real impact the war may eventually have. It is still not clear what impact the war will have, most especially on the Middle East. Clearly, abating the influence of Ba'athism would be a good thing. Clearly, placing the idea of democracy onto the list of ideas discussed in the Middle East could be a good thing, if not in the near future then someday.

One concern is that someday, given that the current trends in the Arab regions are mostly toward barbarism and worse, is a long time from now and does nothing to help me or my family or my fellow countrymen. So, the best I can say is that the war, at least for the US, is a folly - something I have said a number of times on HNN.


omar ibrahim baker - 4/2/2008

Mr Friedman
The fact that the US Army protected the Iraqi Ministry of Oil and Natural Resources from day one and took it over intact BUT FAILED to protect the Iraqi Museum and Baghdad Library for several days after the day and night on going looting started is my "proof".

Another "proof" is that the USA embarked on an undeniable, except possibly by you, conscious and deliberate plan to dismantle Iraq and destroy all its institutions starting with the disbandment of the Iraqi army ,ALL security and policing services and its civil administration.
Rationally that would, should from an American (Bush/Wolfowitz/Perle) perspective, include its major cultural institutions!

Should you wish me to present the minutes of the meeting in which that was decided I am afraid I can not oblige.

However if you are so keen on the subject why do not you, and others here, JOIN ME in my appeal to HNN to launch a discussion of the subject here at HNN?

Your erudition, eloquence and unrelenting “lawyerly” search for "proofs", in such cases where material "proofs" are extremely hard, practically impossible, to come by, as you would, should?, know might convince HNN to do just that!


R.R. Hamilton - 4/1/2008

I actually opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq, but I agree with Colin Powell who said, "If you break it, it's yours." We broke it; it's ours.

The 2003 invasion that overthrew Saddam was an inevitable outgrowth of the end of the 1991 invasion -- another war I opposed -- that pointedly failed to overthrow Saddam. The end of Gulf War I led to Gulf War II even more surely than World War I led to World War II.

When the Elder Bush ended the 1991 invasion after just 100 hours, I think most Americans felt that, in the end, failing to overthrow Saddam was a mistake that would need to be rectified at a later date. I've read polls showing -- contrary to received wisdom -- that 9/11 caused little to change in this regard: polls over the years consistently showed Americans favored, by large majorities, the use of military force to overthrow Saddam.

I would like to make one correction to the Professor's chronology -- the one posited in the paragraph just before he asks (four times) "How could we not have foreseen this?" The Professor's chronology seems to skip the first three years of the occupation and jumps straight to the Spring of 2006. I offer mine as an alternative:

Having destroyed the Ba'athist power structure organizationally but NOT PHYSICALLY (i.e., we didn't inflict millions of casualties in a years-long drive to Baghdad as we had to Berlin and Tokyo), we were faced with a well-financed and amply-manned pro-Ba'athist insurgency. Remember, Saddam's son grabbed $1 billion in dollars and euros the night before the 2003 invasion began.

Then, within weeks, Al-Qaeda foreign volunteers began arriving. (Why the Syrian border in particular was not heurmetically sealed is another question for Rumsfeld.) Al-Qaeda, hating Shi'ite "heretics" as much or more than American "infidels", began offering $1,000 rewards for the death of any Shi'ite man, woman, or child. To my surprise, for nearly three years, the Shi'ites had little response to the murderous attacks on them.

That all changed in 2006 when AQ blew up the Samarra mosques. There was a collective holding of breath, and when nothing immediately happened, many pundits thought a civil war had been avoided yet again. What was actually happening is that the Shi'ites after the Samarra bombings had made a strategic decision to begin fighting back against the Sunnis. They just needed a couple of months to bring their militias up to strength -- in part no doubt with Iranian weapons.

In the Spring of 2006, the civil war all had feared finally broke out. Suddenly Sunnis were being pushed out of neighborhoods and made exiles in their own lands -- just as had been happening to the Shi'ites for 2-3 years. I recall one prescient well-known Arab commentator saying at the time that the "Shi'ite Uprising" might be a "good thing" because it would show the Sunnis that "two can be hurt at this game."

Within a year, the Sunnis came to this conclusion: Even with AQ's help, we cannot defeat a combination of U.S. firepower and Shi'ite numbers. They therefore made the rational decision to change sides. (Yes, this means I don't buy the American propaganda that the "Sunni Awakening" resulted because the Sunnis were simply "horrified by AQ atrocities". Horse-hockey. These guys supported Saddam; AQ wasn't much worse. The Sunnis changed sides because they calculated, like rational men, that they were on the losing side.)

Now that the Sunni "Sons of Iraq" are keeping the Pax Americana in Sunni-dominated areas, it is the remaining Shi'ite militias -- at least the most "politically incorrect" of the bunch -- whose turn it is to "get with the program" or face being on the losing end of a fight. America is now in the position of Britain in 19th century continental politics: America can't defeat united Iraqis, but the Iraqis hate each other more than they hate the Americans. Thus, America is now the "balance of power" in Iraq: Which ever side we join, wins. Therefore, I conclude that violence in Iraq will continue to subside.

P.S. I wouldn't worry too much about "Iranian influence in Iraq". The notion that there is some sort of "alliance" between Iranian and Iraqi Shi'ites forgets that Iranians are Persians and Iraqis are Arabs. It would be rather like worrying about an alliance between Mexico and American Catholics.


N. Friedman - 4/1/2008

Omar,

You write:

All was consciously fore planned:
- the looting and destruction of the Antiquities Museum and the Public Library which housed artifacts, manuscripts and old books of invaluable cultural worth TO BETTER COMPLETE THE DESTRUCTION of IRAQ and its hugely valuable cultural heritage
and
-the protection of OIL related data at the ministry of OIL to better plunder it.


Do you have actual evidence for this? If so, post it.


omar ibrahim baker - 4/1/2008

Re US Army failure to prevent looting after the fall of Baghdad.

The looting of the Iraqi Museum went on for days by, what later turned out to be, internationally well connected professional antiquities gangs with a ready waiting market who went into Baghdad, one way or another, with the advancing US army.

An other conscious act, or rather another deliberate failure to act, was to give looters a free hand for several days at the Baghdad Public Library and then allowed it to be to burnt down!

However what should be known is that the US Army acted, concurrently with its inaction, immediately and effectively to protect the Iraqi Ministry of Oil and Natural resources.

All was consciously fore planned:
- the looting and destruction of the Antiquities Museum and the Public Library which housed artifacts, manuscripts and old books of invaluable cultural worth TO BETTER COMPLETE THE DESTRUCTION of IRAQ and its hugely valuable cultural heritage
and
-the protection of OIL related data at the ministry of OIL to better plunder it.

Both inaction and action being integral parts of the overall major objective of the American conquest:
-the Destruction of IRAQ
and
-the Plunder of IRAQI resources.

(Should any reader know of any, US or international, civil or military, investigation of the looting of the museum and the looting and burning of the library; kindly supply link or reference thereto?

Perhaps HNN should initiate a debate on the subject since both the museum and the library were the depositories of materials of tremendous HISTORICAL value to all humankind. )


R.R. Hamilton - 4/1/2008

The author asks four related questions in a single paragraph:

"But how did our leaders not see this scenario coming? Why did they envision simplicity and Iraqi gratitude (those munchkins singing and jumping up to embrace us), and not the complexity and violent resentment that resulted? Could it be that our leaders had impoverished historical imaginations? Could they also have believed—as President Bush appears to have believed—that they could create an entirely new culture in Iraq, one that would embrace democracy, diversity, and tolerance of dissent, even though there were few recent historical underpinnings to support such a culture?"

The answer is pretty simple, Professor. The CIA failed the military planners again. The CIA had told the military that Iraq was like Iowa -- only with better food and more colorful people. To be specfic, when the military asked about the character of the Iraqi police forces, the CIA said that is was "professional". Thus, the military was entirely unprepared for the complete collapse of order that attended their overthrow of Saddam. Ba'athist Iraq was a Potemkin's Village of order, and when U.S. troops entered Baghdad, the facades fell down.

In defense of the CIA (by me, only grudgingly), the CIA might be excused for not understanding the depths of disorder in Iraqi society, given the experiences we have had in overthrowing governments in Germany and Japan in 1945, and more recently in Grenada and Panama -- and even the Kurdish region of Iraq which became an American protectorate after 1991. In those places order was quickly restored. Nevertheless, the CIA's cheery 2003 reports of the "professional Iraqi police", etc., led to an Army in Baghdad that probably had no more than a battalion or two of military police -- barely enough to police ITSELF, not enough to police a city of 5,000,000.

Nevertheless, should the military have done something to stop the looting which began simultaneously with Saddam's fall? I think it should have, but I can understand the arguments against it. After all, as you know from your military experience, Professor, the only similarities between combat soldiers and police is that both wear uniforms and carry guns. Combat forces have no training in or facilities for police work. Suspects would be shot, not arrested. Still, had I (or I suspect you, Professor,) been the SecDef in 2003, I would've had the military commanders issue notices at the earliest practical moment that looters would be shot on sight. Of course, hindsight is usually 20-20.


Jules R. Benjamin - 4/1/2008

Yes, we know very little about the culture of Iraq. But that ignorance only matters because of our desire for hegemony over that nation. We are as ignorant of the history, language and culture of dozens of other nations but few commentators lament that fact; our soldiers do not die because of it; our huge war machine does not grind to a halt because of it; our national pride does not hurt because of it. We are in no "quagmire" in, say, Indonesia; despite our ignorance of that nation. Our ignorance does not place us in the midst of "asymetrical warfare" in Angola; it does not leave us without the necessary tactics and weapons to prevail in Pakistan; etc. We do not desperately need Hindi speakers, knowledge of Buddhism, or tribal Ecuador. Until the 1960's, as I recall, our leaders did not lament our failure to train speakers of Vietnamese. About that time, however, our ignorance in that regard suddenly seemed to matter. A call went out to our universities to produce "area experts" on Southeast Asia. Our military was called upon to adapt counterinsurgency tactics to rice paddies and jungles. Within a decade, such knowledge no longer seemed to matter. Now we have to master the inticate tracery of an Islamic society. Our grasp needs to be tighter principally because our reach is so long. Perhaps the "digital" battlefield of the next war will relieve us of the need to "know our enemy" at all. What we realy need to know is ourselves.


N. Friedman - 3/31/2008

This article is an absorbing examination of the cultural issues that distinguish different countries and societies. I highly commend it.

One issue to ponder is the language which, in an Iraqi setting, might foster the sort of tolerance that is necessary if the goal is to create a liberal style democracy in the Arab regions. I take the author's view to be one of extreme skepticism or, at the very least, one that sees two societies working in very different frames of reference, making easy translation from our manner of thinking to the Iraqi setting very difficult.

The Arab regions have been affected by very different historical and cultural and religious forces than has our region, the difficulty in translating songs being an easy example. Translating a song, compared with the issue of understanding the issues that divide Shi'a from Sunni, much less the role of religion in society, is a cake walk.


omar ibrahim baker - 3/31/2008

It is too simplistic and fundamentally wrong and misleading to attribute the all too evident failure of the US conquest of Iraq to:"..the failures of the Bush Administration in Iraq".
This hugely unfortunate demarche, for the USA, for Iraq and the Middle East, has its roots in the ever present US imperialistic tendencies: to dominate other nations and plunder their resources, which in this, include the super precious and abundant oil resources of Iraq.
This ever present US hunger coincided with the AIPAC fostered and nurtured recent US total identification with Israeli tactical and strategic regional interests, policies and objectives as being of equal vitality to US interests. The symbiosis of both these two driving forces brought the USA to the point of no reflection
With Perle, Wolfowitz, Feith, Abrahms etc etc in key administration security/foreign policy positions the Cheney/Rumsfeld axis ,with the support of a Zionist infused US mass media, easily led the USA into what it thought would be a successful concurrent realization of both objectives: oil control and Israeli regional predominance.

It is equally wrong to claim that "Iran saw an opportunity…”.etc as Professor Astore contends.
Iran came into Iraq, in the form of the Badr army of the (Shiite/Hakim) Islamic Council for the Revolution who marched into Iraq from Iran, with the USA army and was allocated its theater of operations and overall influence, mainly in the South, by the invading USA army command .For the greater part of the time elapsed since the invasion, and until very recently, Badr/Hakim and the USA has worked in very close coordination and cooperation.
In its “blind” ambition to dominate Iraq it was the USA that brought in Iran into Iraq.
That unfolding events turned that particular US move into a spectacular Iranian victory and an equally spectacular, and dangers fraught, US failure re Iran only demonstrates the “blinding” effect of Zionist influence in the US administration and its ever present imperialistic ambitions.
Unless and until the USA realizes the vastly pernicious outcome on USA interests of both policy forming factors the USA will move from failure to failure while dangerously destabilizing the Middle East to the ultimate benefit of both Israel and Iran and the ultimate loss of both the USA and the region.

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