Monday, September 20, 2004

Has the war in Iraq become unwinnable?

By Patrick Seale

When the police in any country investigate a crime, the first question they tend to ask is: Who gains from the crime? The same question may be put about the invasion and occupation of Iraq, which has turned into a crime of vast and mushrooming proportions.

Last week's ferocious battles in Baghdad point to a sharply deteriorating situation in which the initiative has passed to the insurgents. American troops, aided by interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's ill-trained and battered security forces, control little beyond the heavily protected Green Zone. Hostage taking is rampant and the war looks increasingly unwinnable. It therefore seems highly unlikely that national elections in a country of 25 million people can be held in January 2005, a mere four months from now; or, if they are held against all odds, that a credible government will emerge from them.

The prospect of a stable and legitimate Iraqi government extending its authority over the whole country seems increasingly remote. But if the prospect of "victory" fades like a desert mirage, so do American hopes of making a dignified and honorable exit from the Iraqi quagmire. The alternative is to "stay the course," with all that this means in terms of mounting American and Iraqi deaths, terrible material destruction and soaring costs.

For this policy to have a chance of success, many more American troops on the ground would be required - and they would need to be ready to fight their way into insurgent areas and subdue them. But, with the U.S. military already over-stretched, there is little political will in Washington to extend the war. The most likely outcome is a bloody stalemate, in which the main losers will be the sorely pressed Iraqi people. Conservative estimates put Iraqi civilian casualties at between 30,000 and 40,000, but the dead and wounded are piling up so fast that no accurate count can be made.

Amazingly, the war does not seem to have damaged President George W Bush's lead in the polls. This is probably because many Americans have swallowed the administration's lie that Saddam Hussein was linked to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Bush has cast himself successfully as a "war president" who is fighting in Iraq to protect them. But opinion could swing against him in the coming weeks if fighting - and American losses - continue to escalate.

There are different ways of describing what is taking place in Iraq. Bush's argument is that America is fighting to "liberate" Iraqis from a repressive Oriental autocracy and introduce them to the joys of "democracy," in the expectation that this will serve as a model for the whole region. As if oblivious of the horrific setbacks, he continues to rant about "the forward march of freedom." A very different opinion is that this is an old-fashioned colonial war. According to this view, imperial America is seeking to defeat the forces of Arab nationalism and militant Islam in order to extend its hegemony over the Arab world - and especially over Arab oil. Yet another way of looking at the war in Iraq is to see it as a transposition of the Arab-Israeli conflict - a war in which the U.S. is fighting on Israel's behalf.

Although the struggle continues, it is not too early to ask who has gained from the war and who has not. Who are the winners and losers?

It is well established that the main advocates for America's war in Iraq were Israel's friends in the U.S. - the so-called neoconservatives present in large numbers in the Pentagon and several other government agencies, in think tanks, war colleges and the press. In the words of General Anthony Zinni, a former chief of the U.S. Central Command, "the worst-kept secret in Washington" was that the neoconservatives pushed the war in Iraq for Israel's benefit.

Zinni's remarks, made on the American network CBS, is part of a swelling backlash against the neocons - especially against those often referred to as the "civilian leadership of the Pentagon." A recent example of the backlash may be found in the Sept. 23 issue of the highly influential journal, The New York Review of Books, in which Arthur Schlesinger Jr., one of America's most respected historians, points an accusing finger at Israel and its American supporters. "Surely," he writes, "American identification with [Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon's Israel is a major cause of Arab hatred of the United States."

He cites approvingly a book to be published next month by an American political theorist, Anne Norton, under the title Leo Strauss and the Politics of American Empire. Strauss, a German refugee philosopher who, until his death in 1973, taught at the University of Chicago, is regarded as the intellectual inspiration of the neoconservatives, including Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, the chief architect of the war. Schlesinger quotes Norton's judgment that Wolfowitz's strategic plan after Sept. 11 was "built conceptually and geographically around the centrality of Israel ... This strategy could be understood as advancing American interests and security only if one saw those as identical to the interests and security of the state of Israel."

Israel's interest in the war - its strategic aim - was to destroy and permanently enfeeble Iraq, so as to eliminate any future potential threat from the east. This aim was achieved in the two wars of 1991 and 2003. Iraq as a strong, unitary Arab state no longer exists. It has effectively been dismembered. The best that can be hoped for under present circumstances is that it will eventually re-emerge as a loose federation. This is a far cry from the hopes of all those concerned that the Arab world might one day be able to assert its strength and independence.

America's interest was by no means identical to Israel's. The U.S. wanted to get rid of the person of Saddam Hussein, whose ambitions and recklessness were seen as a threat to the American-sponsored political order in the Gulf. But the U.S. did not wish to destroy Iraq altogether. It has no interest in a weak, dismembered Iraq becoming a source of instability for the whole region. It did not foresee that a power vacuum would emerge in Iraq that would be far more threatening to America's overall regional interests than Saddam had ever been.

On the contrary, the American vision was of an Iraq reborn as an American client-state, a strongpoint of American influence, hosting American bases, its vast oil reserves exploited by American companies, its reconstruction in American hands, a country strong enough to serve as a counterweight to Iran and Saudi Arabia. American strategists envisaged that the seizure and remodeling of Iraq would consolidate America's political and military control over Middle Eastern oil and affirm its supremacy over all rivals, regional and international.

It is evident that, while Israel got what it wanted, American strategic aims have not, and will not, be achieved. Instead of a U.S. client state, Iraq has become a hotbed of violent anti-Americanism. The insurgents - whether Iraqi nationalists, former Saddam loyalists or militant Islamists - seem intent on forcing a Western withdrawal from Iraq. They appear to want to push the U.S. out of the Arab Middle East as it was pushed out of Iran in 1979. Meanwhile, America's dilemma remains as cruel as ever: It cannot comfortably stay, nor can it easily withdraw. The trap is closing on its hopes - and on its forces - in Iraq.

-Patrick Seale, a veteran Middle East analyst,wrote this commentary for THE DAILY STAR of Lebanon...
Itwas publshed on Monday, September 20,2004........



Post a Comment

<< Home