Oh there are so many metaphors I could use. “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” “You can keep kicking a dead dog but it won’t get up.” But I think you get the idea. Our efforts to turn the situation in Iraq around to our liking ain’t gonna happen. No way. No how. Adding 10,000 troops to start as John McCain suggested yesterday won’t do the trick. Passing another mega-billion dollar supplemental spending bill (which looks like it will be needed before the election) won’t improve the situation either. The only safe bet is that the longer we occupy Iraq the more of our soldiers will die and be wounded. And for what? To try to make Iraq fit some fantasy neoconservative vision.
At this point you might as well try to make an egg whole again after it has hit the floor. This egg is in a thousand fragments. The stuff has spread all over the floor and the dog has been licking it up.
Even if we had another 200,000 troops to properly occupy Iraq, that wouldn’t work either. We might succeed in bringing a rough peace to Iraq, but we’ve already lost the battle for the hearts and minds of Iraqis. There is too much bad karma between us to expect we can ever reverse the situation.
But these costly neoconservative fantasies die hard. They still think that with enough of indefatigable American spirit and taxpayer money we can build this shining new example of democracy in the middle of the Persian Gulf. And sadly most Democrats are saying, at least in public, that we can do it too. Or they are saying it is something we must not fail to do. Never mind the minor problem that it can’t possibly happen.
If we were talking about bringing democracy to a lawless Kansas it would probably work. But we’re talking about Iraq. We’re trying to build a house on a foundation of shifting sand. The British tried to give Iraq democracy and the result was that it sputtered out. You’d think we’d have bothered to read our history books before we invaded Iraq. But of course you’d be wrong. Because no good neoconservative will let facts get in the way of his ideology.
Hey, I’d like to be able to force my daughter to bring home all A’s from school too. But my daughter is a unique and stubborn human being with her own agenda. Iraqis have their own issues and perspective and America is not part of it. The people of Iraq are insistent on being who they are in all their often messy glory. And the reality is they want as much to do with America as we would if the French were occupying our country. You can bet we’d not be tuning in French radio stations for our news. Iraqis are saying, “Hey, we’re not the least bit like Americans. They eat the wrong foods. They pray in the wrong temples. They follow the wrong prophet. And they have the wrong friends.”
There was a time early in the war when it might have worked. Perhaps if we had had those 300,000 troops to start with the Bush fantasy might have worked. But the reality was the odds were stacked against us before the war. The reason we can’t install a western style democracy in Iraq is really nothing more complex than this: America is a non-Islamic power occupying an Islamic country.
What’s particularly odd about the situation is that of all countries, Great Britain should have been the ones to have held us back. It was British occupation of these areas, then known as the provinces of Mosul, Baghdad and Basra that led to the state of Iraq in 1918. They won it as a spoil of World War I. But in less than two years Britain was embroiled in a situation much like our present one. There was widespread insurrection in Iraq that even a heavy occupation couldn’t wipe out. The British public got sick of occupying the country. The real struggle moved to Great Britain. Factions in parliament spent years deciding whether Iraq should be occupied or set free. The result was a big brother relationship with Iraq that never really worked and was widely resented by Iraqis.
Strangely our overlord in Iraq, Paul Bremmer, has a governance strategy that sounds very much like what the British tried unsuccessfully. Just as it is clear that come June 30th the Iraqis will really not be in charge of their own country, the British worked hard to make sure they were Iraq’s big brother, whether they liked it or not. Guided by the “sure” hand of Britain the long-term result was simply that their handpicked “King” was not accepted and their democratic state was half hearted. The Iraqi King and his family eventually suffered the same lovely fate as the Romanovs. And when their shell of a democracy died the Ba’th Party took over. And of course it was the Ba’th party that gave us Saddam Hussein.
At least the French remembered the lesson. They occupied Syria after World War I but it wasn’t long before they realized they weren’t wanted there. They wisely chose to leave Syria to the Syrians.
It seems that neither Bush nor Tony Blair bothered to study the history books before invading Iraq. So the more we try to impose a solution on Iraq the worse it gets. We seem to be clueless that in winning a battle we are losing the war. For example, attacking Fallujah to drive out insurgents makes military sense. But makes no sense whatsoever in winning the hearts and minds of Iraqis. As a consequence, hundreds of innocent Iraqis ended up as collateral damage. And since it looks like our marines are getting an itchy trigger finger the carnage there is probably not over.
At best our military prowess can only make Iraqis fear us. But many Iraqis don’t seem all that scared of us. Instead what seems to be happening is that we’re stirring Iraqis’ nationalistic feelings again. They have one common interest now: they want us out. See it in the pictures of the road to Fallujah. After our last military attempt there the roads were bumper to bumper with cars and trucks ferrying supplies to the inhabitants and rebels of Fallujah.
I would hope that the American people are sobering up. But lately the polls suggest many of us have gone back to the bottle. Bush’s poll numbers are creeping up again despite the upsurge in violence and despite the largest number of American casualties since the start of the war. When asked most Americans are still grossly ignorant of the facts. Most Americans still think that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq before the war. And they still think that Iraq was tied with al Qaeda and 9/11. And most bizarre of all, Bush is getting decent marks for his alleged leadership on this war on terrorism.
“Ignorance is Strength,” proclaimed Big Brother in George Orwell’s novel 1984. Apparently a lot of Americans think ignorance is patriotic. Ignorance in this case will be very costly. It will cause generations of pointless suffering. Iraqis are getting most of the suffering now. But sadly karmic forces are at work. We will eventually feel the sting of our ignorance. Let’s hope none of us are among the victims.