Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Iraq: where did it all go wrong? Part 1

Civil war in Iraq? Bush's popularity at an all time low? Where did it all go wrong?

It has been a long term United Nations maxim that the internal affairs of a country are its own business and not to be interfered with by other countries. The fact that both the USSR and China had nuclear weapons probably had something to do with the fact that neither the US nor the UK sent an army to those countries to correct their despised forms of government.

It was not always so. Palmerston's means of conducting foreign policy was to send a gunboat, and until 1945 most nations saw war as a more active branch of diplomacy. The formation of the United Nations established a natural stalemate, with the Soviet Union unwilling to agree to any American-led war. Modern air travel would have prevented the Korean War since it was only approved by the Security Council because the Soviet representative arrived too late to say no.

War thereafter was largely a by-proxy practice. When Britain and France were made to back down over Suez by America's economic threats there seemed little chance of any nation starting a war of acquisition, or even to retain what they had bought and paid for.

The second half of the 20th century was marked by a series of small wars of independence as new nations threw off their erstwhile colonial powers. It was strange to see America, a nation formed by a revolution against the colonial power, again and again taking the side of the bosses against the little man. This had the effect of throwing the revolutionaries into the hands of the Soviets, who imposed their brutal form of totalitarianism on them. Was it necessary for Cuba to become hardline Marxist? Heaven knows the Batista regime was evil enough to need overthrowing. The unsavory picture of Kennedy, the Massachusetts liberal, in bed with casino-owning Mafiosi is unedifying enough, but the sort of foul governments supported by the US in South America during this period in the name of stopping communism is shameful.

The culmination came in Viet Nam. What started as a war of independence in French Indo-China became a surrogate hot-spot in the cold war. In retrospect the wisdom of the British in leaving India and Burma in 1947 is apparent. The capitalist societies in Viet Nam and even China demonstrate that Soviet style uniformity and oppression holds no attraction for ordinary people.

In the fifteen years after World War II communism became a colossal boogie-man to America. Several strands contributed to this. The stealing of the nuclear secrets by Klaus Fuchs, the outcome of the Potsdam conference, allowing Stalin to run Eastern Europe as vassal states, the McCarthy hearings, Churchill's iron-curtain speech, the Korean War, and the launching of the first Sputnik in 1957 all contributed. I suspect that America's isolation was a major factor. Such a vast country, so self-sufficient, so ignorant of the outside world; Americans were unable to assimilate communism into their political spectrum, in the way that France or Italy did, and unable to ridicule it in gentle way that Britain did.

So, the Domino Theory demanded that Viet Nam was defended and became America's nemesis. Defeat in Viet Nam did not happen on the battlefield, but on the University Campus. Young Americans became disgusted by what the military was doing. This defeat lodged in the American psyche and emasculated the country for a generation. It was reinforced by Carter's abortive attempt to rescue the Iranian hostages and by the Black Hawk Down defeat in Somalia.

Meanwhile, Britain had discovered a new virility. After a failed experiment with socialism which left the dead unburied and rats in the street nibbling at uncollected garbage, Mrs. Thatcher put backbone back in the nation by defeating the Argentineans in the Falklands.

This was a clean war. It was in response to a call for help from the indigenous people who were of British extraction and willing colonials. It was fought against a regime widely recognized as evil, a dictatorship kept in power by brutal police action against its own people who had modern weapons sufficient to destroy several British warships. It was won by the heroism of tough soldiers who marched across rough terrain in filthy weather to defeat the occupiers in hand to hand combat when the helicopters that were meant to allow them to fight like Americans were sunk with the Atlantic Conveyer, a container ship that the Argentinean pilots mistook for an aircraft carrier. Not only were the Falklands secured, but the Argentinean tyranny was overthrown at home.

In some ways the first Iraq war was similar. The invading power had long claimed the invaded land as its own. It was ruled by a sinister dictatorship. In the circumstances it was not difficult to put together a huge coalition that even included Syria. This war was different from the Falklands, though. It was won not by individual heroism but by overwhelming fire power and military superiority. It was won by the Americans; her allies were make-weights, there to give the semblance of world unity. The invaded country was not populated by poor farmers but by oil-rich Arabs and contract workers who had no say in how the country was run.

Colin Powell stopped on the road to Baghdad when it got too much like shooting fish in a barrel. Saddam survived. To have removed him would have had the Arabs deserting the coalition. In retrospect I think this was a mistake and one that would not have happened if Mrs. Thatcher had not been deposed during the build up to the war. She was adept at pulling the strings.

Just as Thatcher had restored Britain's self confidence, so Reagan restored America's. The defeat of the Soviets in the cold war was done by bravado. It was a poker game in which America kept upping the ante until the Soviets folded.

In the nineties small nations started behaving badly. Perhaps the Russians had been restraining their client states during the cold war. A free hand was given for ethnic cleansing. In Yugoslavia, Indonesia and Africa atrocities abounded. The West was shamed into intervening. In East Timor the Australians went in to protect the Christians from the Moslems, in Kosovo Clinton and the EU went in to protect the Moslems from the Christians, but nobody had protected the Catholic Tutsis from the Catholic Hutus and nobody had protected the Bosnian Moslems from the Serbian Orthodox and no-one had intervened between the Catholic Croatians and the Orthodox Serbs, and still nobody intervenes between the Shona and the Matebele in Zimbabwe or between the Moslems and the Christians in Sudan.

Who should police the world? From Pax Romana to Pax Britannica it has been the role of the strongest nation to act the magistrate. America had been reluctant to do so. After 9/11 things changed.

Attacking Afghanistan had near universal support. Bin Laden had sought sanctuary there and he was behind the Twin Towers disaster. The Taliban would not give him up and in any case they were a repressive, intolerant regime that cut off the hands of thieves and destroyed ancient statues of the Buddha. The success in Afghanistan must have encouraged Bush to go on down his list. Saddam was unfinished business. In those days everybody believed in WMD even if they were only believed to be a battlefield threat.

Regime change was the real motive behind the Iraq war. Saddam was indeed an evil tyrant. The destruction of the Marsh Arabs after Gulf War I was something that America felt guilty about. Encouraged to rebel they had been abandoned by the coalition. Saddam's retribution was harsh. The UN had instituted sanctions, but they were being evaded. Saddam was building palaces while children starved and the UN, not Saddam, was getting the blame. There was a movement to lift the sanctions.

Saddam was in a cleft stick. He had no WMD, but his hold on power depended on the pretence that he did. He stalled the weapons inspectors so as to keep up the pretence as long as possible. The UN passed resolution 1441 threatening worse than sanctions if the weapons inspectors could not do their job. But if he let them do their job and they found nothing then for him it would be worse than sanctions. Besides he did not believe that the Security Council would vote for war. Too many permanent members were benefiting financially from sanctions busting. He stalled and stymied and bluffed it out.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Impressive summation of modern world history. I would expound on a few details though.

Vietnam was not lost because of campus protest necessarily. Vietnam was very much a political war run by politicians - namely Johnson. He micromanaged the war into an American defeat, and just like Bush today, attempted to cover-up atrocities and war crimes. The men returning from battle will always report to some extent what they saw (and Iraq is no exception.) When this occurred in Vietnam, campus protest was increased exponentially. Remember there was a draft that fueled the anti-war effort - unlike today. That is the main difference in my opinion why we arent seeing a more organized and vociferous anti-war effort today.


I would also take issue with regime change as the primary motive behind the Iraq war but admittedly only by splitting hairs. Saddam threatened to trade his oil for euros instead of dollars which would completely undermine the American economy (there is no gold standard - only oil backs the dollar.) After many years of refusing to play ball with the IMF and WTO, this was the proverbial straw. We have to remember who hoisted Saddam into leadership in the first place and provided him with the chemical WMD he used against the Iranians and the Kurds. It wasnt long after the gassing of the Kurds that Rumsfeld was shaking Saddam's hand on camera. Saddam could have become fabulously wealthy had he played ball so one wonders what his motivations were in snubbing the US corporations. Perhaps he had seen the destitution wrought on S. American countries by US monetary policy. Perhaps he knew that his grip over Iraqi sovereignty and natural resources would be lost forever. I dont really know what he was afraid of. But my point is that even though he is an evil man and deserves an ignominious fate, he got that way with the help of some equally infamous people who are not suffering an equal fate.

They say that the first casualty of war is truth. I say that the second casualty is universal morality. The victors can commit equally atrocious horrors as did the vanquished and never answer for their actions. Means do not justify the ends - that is how empire begins its slow but inexorable decline. We need to remember that as far as we can tell, no other empire in world history ever owned up to the events that led to their downfall until it was too late.

I am afraid for my country.

pancheaux said...

you guys type too fast.in iraq:"where did it all go wrong?" i'd start with a 1000yrs. of inbreeding. that's on their side. on this side you have 30yrs of influence peddling by cheney/rumsfeld, the puppet-masters. viet-nam, eisenhower's puppet-masters, the dulles brothers took the ball from the french because of known oil reserves in the spratlin island chain. the first corporation into hanoi after the helicopters flew out of saigon was exxon. cuba, they represented the nickel mine owners. they overthrew a democracy in iran for anglo/american oil interest and another in guatemala for united fruit. today, bacardi sets u.s./cuba policy, word for word. they want their sugarcane and slaves back. the bushes owe bacardi for the engineered 2000 florida election.
cheney/rumsfeld were underlings of nixon, escaped the guillotines and peddled influence. they both had to reveal their worth at between 200 and 300 million dollars each in 2001. halliburton is the 'grandson' of brown and root, lyndon johnson's war monger/profiteer who engineered 'the gulf of tonkin incident'. if this had happened on reagan's watch, the multi-billions would have gone to bectel. schultz was their influence peddler. reagan was the perfect puppet, he had alzheimer's. gorbachev ended the cold war after chernobyl. the puppet who played golf said it best: "beware the industrial/military complex." and someboby else said:"people get the leaders they deserve."

Anonymous said...

well said

Anonymous said...

First of all, it hasn't 'all gone wrong" in Iraq. So far, Iraq is a success story with multiple elections and a population with the first taste of democracy in centuries.

That some wish to re-impose a dictatorship is not hard to understand. There are neo-Nazis alive and well in Germany today.

Perhaps we should ask, "where did it all go wrong?" in Germany.

Vietman was lost because Americans have no stomach for war. When you have a rich society, such as America, the UK, and Europe, everyone has a lot to lose. In the third world, they don't.

The first poster is wrong on so many levels, I don't have time enough to refute it all. But I'll try!

The first anonymous poster wrote that Bush as lost the war because of micromanagement. Any thing to back that up besides an opinion? Nope!

The dollar is backed by the general American economy, not by Arab oil.

We did not put Saddam into power in the first place. We did back him in the war he started against Iran because we hate Iran due to their taking our hostages.

What can I say about the idiocy of the statement that American monetary policy distroying South America. It was the International Monetary Fund that lent those countries money, which the squandered. South America is a basket case because of its own internal politics and frequent political upheavals.

"I fear for my country." What country is that? Brazil?

Perhaps you should find a better country to live in.

The second post is so filled with spelling and grammatical errors I suspect the author is a non-English speaking person.

In any case, his arguments are straight from the 'grassy-knoll' school of paranoia, and are utterly forgetable.

As for Terry Hamblin's original post, it isn't strange at all to see American support politicians abroad who are identified as anti-communist. Should America have sided with Marxists rebels against our allies? Did we do that in Greece after WWII? No.

It's called realpolitik, and, while regrettable in some senses, as they say, politics make for strange bedfellows.

America could not and would not have incorporated communism into our politics. There was an American Communist Party. Did real well in elections, not.

America is a two party system. You really have to be a Republican or Democrat to get elected. That's the beauty of our form of government. No coalitions necessary.

If the Falklands war was necessary to dislodge a brutal dictatorship, why is it not a good idea to get rid of Saddam?

The first Gulf war was stopped because we had no 'mandate' from the United Nations to do anything but remove Saddam from Kuwait. Mrs. Thatcher wouldn't have swayed the first Mr. Bush.

I agree regime change was behind the war. I also believe that it was, and is, an attempt to bring democracy to a part of the world where it has not flourished.

Our enemies know the one way to defeat America is to get the soft civilians to give up when victory is in its grasp. That's what happened in Vietnam.

Nixon brought a grand strategy into play, one that would support the South Vietnamese government and military with US dollars and advice, rather than troops.

The Democrats surrendered South Vietnam to the Communists. The blame for the defeat of the South Vietnamese lays squarely at the feet of the Democrat party.

American voters know this, and that's why after September 11, the Republicans have been seen as the best party to protect America from her enemies.

Anonymous said...

The fourth anonymous poster did not correctly atribute the first poster (or misunderstood the statement) - Bush is not micromanaging Iraq or even managing Iraq for that matter. But he is attempting to cover up the atrocities being committed by denying torture in the face of overwhelming evidence. And the evidence I am referring to is not simply photos but memos from the Bush admin approving the use of techniques that are considered torture the world over.

It is a highly ludicrous statement to say the dollar is backed up by the American economy. The American economy is saddled with over 7 trillion in debt much of it foreign. This is a much larger threat to national security than a bunch of desert dwellers half a world away. Wake up - Bush policy is not aimed at protecting anything but the bottom line of his contributor's companies.

S. America was never given any money to squander. If you knew what you were talking about, you would understand that the debt that is incurred by these countries takes the form of loans 90% of which goes to American corporations to build infrastructure projects for other American corporations to come in and use to strip the area of natural resources. A few S. American politicians and businessmen become fabulously wealthy by supporting and selling these initiatives to their people (which accounts for the other 10% of the loans). The frequent political upheavals you allude to are the people revolting from being saddled with enormous debt that does not benefit them in any way. Their environment gets destroyed, their markets undercut, and the vast majority of the new jobs pay slave wages with little or no worker protections.

And I do fear for my country because of people like you who are unwilling to question the status quo. Your smug sense of superiority which is based solely on where you happen to be born easily places us - the people - in the postion of allowing the small number of people with motives that are never spoken of or publicly announced but highly marketed as something other than what they are to get away with rape and murder for profit. I realize that such a thought is just too uncomfortable for you to imagine what with the obvious superiority of your way of life and all, but your lack of imagination and utter astonishment at the mention of such things doesnt change the facts.

Iraq is far from a success story unless your definition of success happens to be smoldering civil war and low-level ethnic cleansing. I understand the desire to talk about freedom and elections and painted schools and all. Elections in and of themselves dont mean anything. Saddam had elections. The Soviet Union had elections. Elections are easy but they are not always fair and one certainly has to wonder about elections during a war. Americans dont show up on a sunny day with absentee ballots - they dont even have to dodge bullets or IED's. Saying that Iraq is a success because of elections is highly ignorant of reality. You should try doing some research and read some of the blogs coming from that country and stop using Fox News as your source of "fact". That is just plain lazy.

It sounds so odd when some Americans talk about removing Saddam as some altruistic event worthy of thousands of innocent lives - American and Iraqi. These are undoubtedly the same people who think we went to Iraq because they attacked us on 911 and had WMD (Saddam hid the WMD in Syria right?) There are scores of people who should be removed from power but arent. Some if not many of which have powerful American business interests backing them up. Our history is replete with friends who turn foe. Just ask yourself why before you start waving your pom-poms and do us all a favor.

The poster mentions Nixon as if he isnt the poster boy of the paranoid right. Amazing. Almost as amazing as saying that our lack of choices due to the two-party apparatus is the beauty of our system. Makes about as much sense as saying "Be glad you are free - now shut up!!"

David Arenson said...

Good grief. The fourth poster, the one who said "The Democrats surrendered South Vietnam to the Communists," is historically challenged, and I am being polite here. The "loss" of Saigon occurred during the administration of Republican President Gerald R. Ford.

Nixon's "grand strategy" was a failure because 1) the American people were exhausted by undending war and there was no desire, by either political party, to send the troops back when it became apparent that South Vietnam was going down; and mostly 2) because the Vietnam War was a war of national liberation. One may not like the Communists, but they were the nationalists, the ones who had stood up to the French and then to the Americans. It was not a black/white, evil/good war, despite the myopic glasses through which America's right wing saw it (and continues to see it, evidently).

Ho Chi Minh made overtures to the US in the 1950s, after the French defeat. Castro did the same after the defeat of Batista. Had we acted with more foresight, things might have, ironically, gone our way instead of the opposite.

Anonymous said...

It is sad to think there are people who are so ill-educated as to believe that it was Gerald Ford who lost the Vietnam war. It was the Democrat-controlled Congress.

If you remember your political science, it is the Congress, and only the Congress, which can authorize spending in the United States.

No one ever considered putting American troops back in. Where did you find that nonsense?

The Democrats chose defeat because they were, and are, controlled by fuzzy left-wing 'thinkers' who believe that white males are evil, America is evil, and that all forms of government are equal, and it's only bias which makes us believe that democracy is superior to theocracy or dictatorship.

To claim otherwise is to deny history and reality.

As to the left-wing foreigner who I suspect lives south of the border, the IMF loaned money to the corrupt South American governments, who then squandered the money, and repudiated the debt. America was, as usual, left holding the bag.

The first poster said, "He (Johnson) micromanaged the war into an American defeat, and just like Bush, attempted to cover-up (sic) atrocities and war crimes."

Like I said, Bush has not micromanaged the Iraqi war.

I suppose this person believes that America is the same as Nazi Germany, right? There were, regrettably, some excesses, as there always are. The difference is in America, these people are identified and punished.

Why don't you just come out and say that you prefer living under Saddam than in America?

Not only is it not 'highly ludicrious' that the American dollar is backed by the American economy, it is folly to think otherwise. Do you think there are gold reserves backing the greenback? It is the confidence that debts will be repaid that supports the dollar; i.e. the strength of the American economy.

You belief that American corporations control George Bush is sad and pathetic.

Don't you think that GM and Ford and, yes, the oil companies give to Democrats as well? How do you square that, then?

As for South America, and elsewhere, they get the kind of government they deserve.

America can't rescue everyone. The defeatist Democrats have seen to that! Sorry, Charlie!

Your paranoia is breath-taking. Why don't you stop voting, since it is pointless anyway?

Leave the important decisions to people such as myself. You can go back to the sandbox, muttering to yourself about the conspiracies that abound in America, and that are the only reason little guys like you are kept down.

Communism beckons to you! Vote communist! Please!

BTW, Nixon was not a conservative. A conservative would NEVER endorse wage and price controls. Bush is not a conservative, either.

Reagan was more of a conservative than both of those guys put together.

Anonymous said...

"leave the important decisions to people like myself".....unfortunately that is what happened, and our country finds itself in a sad state of affairs. As a registered Independent, it is vitriolic and unfounded remarks such as yours that ensure those of us who "straddle" the political fence, not to vote Republican.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous right-wing poster - you are an angry and embittered person for someone who has claim to being a winner. Your ranting about Democrats losing the Vietnam War is sad - you have said nothing about the original point which if you were paying attention is about America losing the moral high ground in these wars due to the sanctioning of torture. The American people eventually come around on torture and do not tolerate it. Who secretely bombed Cambodia? Who was President during the My Lai massacre? Who fabricated the Gulf of Tonkin incident? I am calling you on your BS. If you say anyone else but Johnson & Nixon both Republicans (your conservative argument is convenient if not pointless), you will only confirm your foolishness in writing for all to see. What is important about these incidents? Johnson fabricated the reasons for war, allowed atrocities to occur unheeded against civilians, women and children, and then Nixon picked on a country too weak to keep the VC out thus enraging an E Asian political s***storm.

You seem to agree with my statement that I made that Bush has not micromanaged Iraq. Apparently to avoid the real point above - America is not in Iraq because of democracy and freedom. Bush doesnt care about these things. Here is a direct quote of his:

We support the election process, we support democracy, but that doesn't mean we have to support governments that get elected as a result of
democracy. President G. Bush

Bush has abdicated any claim to altruism in Iraq or anywhere else by making this statement. Your lack of attention to important detail and overall willingness to stumble on about conspiracies and weak-kneed democrats isnt proving anything except your blind fealty to false idols.

You say that liberals think America is evil. Then this is a false assertion because Bush does not equal America. He is just one man. America is not evil - Bush and his handlers are evil. Liberals think Bush is evil. Your universal statement bespeaks of ignorance.

Your stereotype of me could not be farther from reality. Face it for all our sakes - you simply have an undeveloped opinion on subjects you have neither studied nor understand. When someone doesnt understand their adversary, the first response of the ignorant is to attribute qualities and stereotypes in order to degrade their "enemy" and puff themselves up. Schoolyard language soon follows and the next thing you'll be doing is throwing sand in my face.

OK tough guy. You the strong one here who will protect us from the boogie man. Those lily-livered liberals!!

Come on brother... you think that way for real?! Aint nobody going to kick my ass and to prove it I am not scared of anyone the Republicans are scared of and that includes bin Laden. Who are you scared of that you are willing to see innocent American men die for your excess and comfort? Tell us what you are afraid of. People who advocate war are afraid of something or they wouldnt be throwing punches. Tell us what you are afraid of friend.

Well - I'll tell you what you are afraid of --- truth. Because it hurts. It wounds your pride. It lays bare your soulless existence. Us liberals dont have that problem you see. We arent cheering for the godless and warlike. We arent participating in the hypocrisy - doing one thing while saying the opposite. We arent playing to the base banalities of man - his pride and prejudice. I dont care about your pride because I have none of my own. Pride is not a virtue - it is a vice and a weakness. Pride will bring a man down - hell, pride will bring a country down.