Saturday, June 14, 2014
The New Crisis in Iraq
In what can only be described in terms of Vietnam, thousands of US trained, financed, and equipped Iraqi soldiers tucked tail and ran in face of the onslaught of "The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISSI). Those of us old enough to have fought in Vietnam, or at least remember the unwhitewashed version of events will recall how, after announcing the gradual withdrawal of US combat troops from Vietnam, the US military undertook what was called the "Vietnamization" of the South Vietnamese troops ("ARVN"), starting with the development of a core of group leadership within the South Vietnamese military, followed by upgrading of equipment, which included weapons, tanks, artillery, helicopters, and training of regular soldiers. However, as North Vietnamese regulars ("NVA") and Viet Cong, the guerrilla irregular forces also known as the "NLF", advanced, the South Vietnamese military crumbed and fled; throwing away weapons and uniforms along the way. Not much different here.
The ISSI is an extremist Sunni Moslem guerrilla force with a history of fighting in Syria's long and bloody civil war, which makes them battle hardened. It's goal is to create a strictly interrupted Sunni oriented Islamic state. What sets them apart from other Islamic groups, including Al Qaeda, is their brutality; so much so that even Al Qaeda (which is also Sunni) has disavowed them and Iran, which is predominately Shiite, may intervene. When Al Qaeda and Iran are nervous, that's worth noting. With Obama's announcement of a US withdrawal timetable from Iraq, a tactical mistake, groups are rushing in to fill the void in light of a highly unstable, untested, and corrupt government (much like Afghanistan). You will recall that the US trained Iraqi (and Afghani) soldiers have proved to be unreliable, especially in light of their sudden attacks on fellow US soldiers, much like the Viet Cong did after infiltrating the South Vietnamese military (in both cases, usually reported by the corporate media as "friendly fire").
In quick succession, the ISSI has overrun towns and cities that took months for US forces to bring under control, not including the hundreds if not thousands of US and Coalition troops wounded, maimed, and killed in the attempt. Thus far, thousands of retreating and deserting of Iraqi soldiers and civilians have been executed or wounded, with hundreds of young girls and women reportedly raped. United Nations observers report a stream of some 300,000 refugees pouring into neighboring countries, which are already overflowing with refuges from previous wars. Their economies are already stretched to the breaking point (the US had previously taken in some 85,000). And, as in all situations such as this, food, water, shelter, medicine, and sanitation become very real life or death issues. Meanwhile, the ISSI have captured several weapon depots full of US military equipment and material; much of it expected to see action in the seizure of Baghdad and the rest of Iraq and perhaps even in Syria or against neighboring Iran or Jordan;. While their goal is nothing short of establishing a strict Sunni oriented Islamic State, the Shiite majorities in Southern Iraq and neighboring Iran may still have something to say about this. However, if there's one positive in all of this, the much maligned Kurds have use this opportunity to seize areas long claimed in the north.
While many will be quick to jump on the Obama Administration for this latest crisis, let's not forget that it was George W. Bush and Dick Cheney who got us into the quagmire in the first place. Under the guise of "weapons of mass destruction", Bush decided to pick up where his daddy, George Bush Sr. left off in the first Gulf War ("Desert Storm"). There was no need to invade Iraq as we all now know. Saddam Hussein had no "weapons of mass destruction". His ground and air defenses had been decimated previously by coalition troops. There was an effective "no fly" zone in place, and what's more important, Hussein, for the tyrant he was, kept the religious extremists in check. He ruled Iraq with an iron fist. He had demonstrated repeatedly that he could be far crueler than his enemies; an important treat in a maniacal dictator. The main reasons I suspect were to install a regime friendly to US and Western corporate interests and to gain some measure of control of Iraqi oil facilities, and to be able to put US troops on the doorstep of Iran. Hussein, the US installed strongman, had become to unreliable. The invasion of Iraq and subsequent death of Hussein will long be remembered as a tremendous intelligence and political blunder and perhaps the turning point in US global dominance. As the old saying goes, "the devil you know is better than the devil you don't know".
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently said that the ISSI and its rapid success was a total surprise. If she really means that, then her competence in strategic analysis is truly lacking. Given the history and instability of the region, there was no way a political void would be tolerated. The Iraqi (and indeed, the Afghani and Syrian) government is ineffective. It has little to no credibility with the majority of the people. While the West and other nations may think the democracy is the greatest thing since sliced bread, democracy is not for everybody. In fact, of the nations around the world that have embraced democracy, not a single one has embraced the American form of democracy. Instead, they adopt the English form of proportional representation . Some societies, however, prefer a "strong arm" government. They feel secure. Crime is not much of an issue since these types of governments have a serious "zero tolerance" attitude toward crime (except their own). The economy is generally stable and they're free from fear of the types of uncertainty that a democracy can bring. Theocracies, on the other hand, have often proven to be the most oppressive and retardant forms of government.
Of course, I'm not praising dictatorships. Not at all. But what I am saying is that we have to have a foreign policy which respects the traditions and desires of other peoples. Too many times the US has intervened to overthrow a democratically elected government because it didn't fit with our foreign policy objectives (but ironically, we've usually supported the installation of right wing military juntas; most of which have proven to be very brutal), which is more often than not dictated by corporate interests rather than humanitarian interests.
As of this writing, Obama is trying to figure out how to salvage the situation. It should be an interesting decision for him. Obama's Presidency has been, up to now, a near complete failure (he's likely to go down in history as America's worse, and perhaps most divisive President). He desperately needs "something" to show that he can be a tough and effective leader (he could learn much from Russia's Vladimir Putin in that regard). This crisis in Iraq may well be that "something". He didn't start the war. It was something he inherited from the previous administration. But how he resolves it may show whether or not this rather politically inexperienced former community organizer has the right mettle. But, as always in such matters, at what costs to the American People will his legacy be forged?
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