What U.S. and West Should Do About Iraq: Absolutely Nothing

Dear Virtual Editor,

For the Western nations who gave birth to Iraq and have been performing surgery on it for 94 years, the time for “first do no harm” in Iraq has already passed. The new oath should be “do no further harm”. There is a civil war underway there and its origins go back much further than the disastrous decisions of Cheney, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, and the other neocons who are being treated once again by a fawning media as if they know anything. TV interviewers listening intently to Cheney is like delegates to the National Right to Life Convention taking notes from keynote speaker Jack Kevorkian.

From here, I have to apologize for getting a bit professorial. But if someone had made the effort to put a few of the following simple facts into the head of George W. Bush, difficult as that task might have been, perhaps he might have noticed that he was being advised by charlatans. However, even these charlatans only sought to take advantage of what the British, French, Americans, and Italians had created decades ago.

The origin of the current civil war can be found in western imperialism and early Muslim religious infighting. Here we go.

Iraq: Never a Nation

EuropeThe World War I victors met in Paris in 1919. They were effectively the government of the world. They created new countries, drew new boundaries for existing ones, and generally filled in the spaces on the map formerly occupied by Germany and the Ottoman Empire. They made quite a mess of it in Europe, drawing lines that enclosed peoples who did not want to be part of the same country and helped to ensure there would be another war. In most instances, they did not make these mistakes out of any evil design. The task was simply too difficult. People wish to associate with, or be separate from, others for a myriad of reasons: language, culture, religion, ethnicity, geography, and many more.

It would have been difficult to create the right borders in any event. Sometimes, however, those reshaping the world used the wrong criteria. Who gave the Allies more help in the war, for example, was no way to decide who got what in the redrawn map. Neither was honouring secret agreements made during the war, which the victors also did. In the 1990’s, the destructive legacy of these mistakes brought the names of Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia, Monte Negro to the world’s attention.

The Middle EastAs bad as the redrawing of Europe was, what was done in Africa was far worse. When it came time to divvy up Africa, Woodrow Wilson’s famous Fourteen Points and all the rhetoric about self -determination simply did not apply to blacks, to Asian colonies, or to Arab territories that had oil. PM Lloyd George left to confirmed imperialist Sir Alfred Milner much of the task of carving up that part of the Ottoman Empire that the U.S. and France had decided the British could have.

With nothing but oil as the driving factor, Milner drew a line around three disparate regions. Presto! Iraq! For readers who might wish to learn more about the poison pills left to the world by the western nations in the Treaty of Versailles, and the foolish war that gave Britain, France, the U.S. and Italy the opportunity plant them, I recommend Margaret MacMillan’s Paris 1919 and Adam Hochschild’s To End All Wars.

Oil was also the driving factor 80 odd years later for Cheney and his group of Latter Day Imperialists. Their effort to reshape the artificial country simply built on past failures. Build they did, however, and the mess they created was aggravated by ignorance or arrogance or both with respect to the region’s culture and religion.

Religion and Culture: No Iraq Here Either

religious-distributionThere was never any reason other than oil for the Kurds to be included in the faux nation created by the British. For the rest of their creation, the Brits might well have looked to the religious strife they were leaving the world. I would wager the farm that in 2003 George W. Bush could not tell you the difference between Sunni and Shia Muslims. I doubt he gave the matter a thought. I would still wager the best of the back 40 that he cannot do so today. Yet, I do not wish to be hard on Mr. Bush. He has comported himself fairly well since leaving office, in contrast to the nattering nabobs of neo-conservatism to whom, for reasons beyond me, CNN would still like you to pay attention. It is a bit late, but maybe it would still be worthwhile to understand that basic division. Lots of Muslims seem to take it very seriously. With further apologies for being professorial, here is a brief outline.

The prophet Muhammad died in 632, without naming a successor. The leadership chose his good friend and father-in-law, Abu Bakr, who was a pretty good guy. This chain continued until it was the turn of Ali, Muhammad’s cousin. A man named Mu’awiya disputed Ali’s right to leadership and in 661 his supporters assassinated Ali and his sons. The faction (shi’a) of Ali became the Shi’ites. Those who supported the caliphates set up by Mu’awiya became the Sunni. The Sunni eventually became the majority in the Muslim world, including Iraq, but not including Iran.

I have no idea why members of the two factions occasionally go about killing one another in large numbers, as they are doing today. Neither do I know why Muslims had to endure the murderous early Christian Crusades or the torture and murder that compelled Spanish Jews to become Catholic or die, or why English Catholics and Protestants beheaded, burned and hacked each other up, or why French Royals used Huguenots as a personal shooting range in their gardens, all in the name of Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace. Yes, I know that was a long time ago, but remember that Christians had a 600 year head start on Muslims to conduct their sectarian violence.

One thing of which I am certain is that all religions are subject to being hijacked. Whatever is causing the sectarian bloodshed, it is not the basic creation of Muhammad. Islam is a beautiful faith tradition and one where the term “fundamentalist” is not at all a bad word. Muhammad himself was respectful of women and motivated by concern for the poor, as well as for building a peaceful inner relationship with God. That is one reason the 5 Pillars of Islam are: Confession, Prayer, Alms-Giving, Fasting, and Pilgrimage.

Thus endeth the theology lesson. For anyone wishing to learn more, I recommend Karen Armstrong’s A History of God and Theodore Ludwig’s The Sacred Paths.

Do No Further Harm

How is it that the time has come for the West to stay out of other people’s civil wars? Let me count the ways.

A true, though harsh reason: “You broke it. You own it.”

There are three other reasons that can be more charitably stated.

First, there are no options beyond another invasion and indefinite stay. In spite of the huffing and puffing of John McCain, even the gullible American public is not going to go for that, or the “off the books” financing of it that all the Republicans who are now so concerned about deficits supported the last time around. Drones and air strikes will do nothing except create more enemies.

iraqEven if there were not such military impotence, on what side should we intervene? When Cheney and his lot further messed up the mess created by the British, they cleansed the government of its Sunni majority and installed Shi’ite Nouri al-Maliki, who began almost immediately to exact his revenge against the Sunni for his persecution under Sunni Saddam Hussein. That Sunni majority is now getting in its licks in retaliation. What to do? Sticking it out with Maliki will require help from Iran, where Shia are the majority.

Even if Iranians forget about the 1953 CIA coup that put them under an oppressive Shah until the 1979 revolution, which they are reminded of daily not to do by their current oppressive government, they will have to get beyond the current policy and rhetoric of the U.S. and its Israeli ally. That would include overlooking Republican screaming over talking with them at all about nuclear matters, and Israel’s numerous threats to bomb Iran. That is a lot to ask. The other options, of course, are to support the Sunnis and overthrow Maliki or intervene on all sides. I can see McCain maybe going for that.

The second reason is that the only remotely conceivable justification for getting involved is phony. It is the fear of the most powerful nation in the world has that it will be struck by a terrorist organization that is fighting with weapons mounted on pickup trucks and trains it men on monkey bars. CNN is already reporting the battlefield progress of the entire Sunni force under the names “terrorist troops” and “militants”. There is no doubt that a segment of the Sunni fighters have no use for Americans. That should come as no surprise. But success in combatting terrorism is and has always been primarily a matter of good international and domestic police work, not cruise missiles. I remain confident that the American people are not a nation of cowards. Prove it. Suck it up.

Absolutely the most important reason of all is that the U.S. and its allies have already caused the death of enough civilians in Iraq. 9/11, which the Iraqis had nothing to do with in the first place, has been avenged 10,000 times over. More civilians are already dying. They do not need another intervener to add to the total.

The “global war on terror” has already become a giant game of Whack-A-Mole.

“Do no further harm.”

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