Shattered Illusions


Iraq’s developing civil war couldn’t have surprised the Pentagon

This photo of a sandstorm hitting Iraq on April 27 reminds me of Arizona. That’s the only reason I ran it.

The Bush regime and its pals do more than their share of hiding. Don’t want to reveal information, sure, but it goes deeper than that. Remember Halliburton’s invisible meals served to troops?

Here’s some more food for thought: Back in the summer of 2002, when Bush’s handlers were plotting the invasion of Iraq, the Pentagon neocons were warned of the consequences: chaos, a fractured country. All we heard about was the propaganda about “liberation.”

In June 2001, James A. Russell, a Persian Gulf expert in the Department of Defense, was assigned by Doug Feith, Don Rumsfeld‘s undersecretary for policy, to the National Security Affairs Department at the Naval Postgraduate School. Just a guess, but I would imagine that meant that Russell was not part of Feith’s inner circle.

Anyway, the Naval Postgrad School, a slice of governmental academe, formed something called the Center for Contemporary Conflict and started pumping out research papers, posting them in an electronic journal, Strategic Insights. They make for interesting, and relatively jargon-free, reading. In June 2002, for instance, Russell produced “Shibboleth Slaying in a Post-Saddam Iraq,” a nice little report that charted our options for Iraq while we were already planning to invade it. “As the United States marches inexorably towards regime change in Baghdad,” Russell wrote, “the critical issue facing policy makers is determining what happens after Saddam is removed from power.”

Russell noted that Iraq is an unnaturally unified country—and he concluded that maybe it shouldn’t even stay that way:

U.S. policy today continues the approach taken over the last 20 years. U.S. officials want to preserve the territorial integrity of Iraq, however artificial its borders may have been when they were created by Winston Churchill in 1921. The continued banding together of Iraq’s three incongruous components—a minority Sunni center, a Kurdish north and a Shiite south—is deemed essential to regional security and stability.

The U.S., he noted, propped up Iraq in the ’80s, a fact widely noted but one that the Bush regime always plays down. As Russell put it:

During the 1980s, a consensus existed between the United States and its Gulf partners that a strong and viable Iraq—even a heavily armed one—served the region’s interests. The main purpose of a Sunni-led Iraq was to provide a counter balance to the more populous and potentially dangerous Shiite Iran. The understanding during the 1980s—and it was a mantle taken by Saddam willingly and aggressively—was that Iraq would serve as the bulwark against any military expansion of the Islamic revolution by Iran into the Tigris and Euphrates valley and onto the Arabian Peninsula. The Gulf States consequently provided Iraq with billions of dollars in support during the Iran-Iraq war, and the United States provided intelligence to assist in the war effort when it appeared that the Iranians were winning.

But by the summer of ’02, things had changed. Everyone in D.C. knew the Bush regime had made up its mind to go to war. Russell wrote:

A potential ouster of Saddam provides U.S. officials and their partners in the region a unique opportunity to review the assumption that Iraq serves as a bulwark against Iranian aggression and to reach a consensus on the makeup of a post-Saddam Iraq and the role that Iraq will play in fostering regional security and stability.

That assumption, he said, is in fact wrong. Here’s what he said:

A compelling argument can be made that a unified Iraq under Baath-strongmen, most notably Saddam Hussein, has been a primary cause of regional insecurity and instability for the last 30 years.

Now here’s the scary part:

It further remains unclear whether and how Iraq’s Sunni, Kurdish, and Shiite communities can function together in any sort of “modern” political context.

Iraq has been led by an authoritarian Sunni-led minority regime since its inception, starting with the Hashemite monarchy imposed by Great Britain, which was followed by a Sunni-led Baath party apparatus and its series of military strongmen.

Thus, the country has always been held together by coercion and force—not by an underlying congruence of interests among Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds that translated into common consent of the people. In fact, quite the opposite has been the case. The Sunni minority has been openly hostile to the Shiites and the Kurds virtually since the inception of the Iraqi state.

You’re wondering why the Iraqis have done nothing but squabble since the January 30 election? How could they have done anything else? Russell called it back in ’02:

Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds present contending histories and circumstances that limit their ability to cooperate in a more representative form of democratic government. Each of these groups has more of an interest in governing themselves than in cooperating with each other.

As Bush criticizes how the spoils of Europe were divided after World War II, we might want to remember how parts of Europe broke apart after the Cold War. Russell wrote:

When confronted with the breakup of the states in Europe at the end of the Cold War, the West gave in to the inevitable—no matter how hard U.S. officials and their European partners tried, they could not keep artificial entities together if the people in them could not or would not live in peace.

The same kind of Balkanization could very well happen in Iraq. Russell concluded:

Whatever the practical difficulties of keeping Iraq together, the United States must declare its intention to preserve the territorial integrity of Iraq to attract what political support it can for regime change in Iraq. But we should be under no illusions about the difficulties of unifying the three groups.

U.S. officials should consider that by allowing the breakup of Iraq, the United States may find a viable path toward realizing its overriding policy objective, which is to prevent the re-emergence of another military dictator who will continue to develop WMD and threaten his neighbors if not the entire international community.

But who gets the oil? Hmmm. It seems hard to imagine that Dick Cheney would let us withdraw from Iraq without trying to make sure we were going to wind up with a hell of a lot of its oil. That’s why we embarked on this in the first place, isn’t it?

But maybe Bush’s handlers saw all along that a post-Saddam Iraq could never function as a unified country. Maybe this is the sort of de-stabilizing—a fractured, split-in-three Iraq—that the neocons, and their pal Ariel Sharon, hoped for all along. Hmmm.