Thursday, September 29, 2005

The Centrifuge

Iraq is not like Vietnam in the following way: the natural force at work in Iraq is centifugal, the natural force at work at Vietnam during the war was centripetal.

Iraq was created by the British; it is an arbitrary construct only held together by, in chronological order, British puppets, The Ba'ath Party, and the occupying US Army. Vietnam, in contrast, was a natural whole partitioned by imperial forces of first the French, then America.

Popular will, what I'm calling the "natural force", was in both cases at odds with American designs. Thus, resistance -- and the similarities begin. In both cases America put itself squarely opposed to the cause of native self-determination with disasterous consequences for all parties.

Juan Cole, in the wrecking-ball of an essay by which he demolishes Christopher Hitchens, writes:

The seventh benefit of the Iraq war, Hitchens says, are the "immense gains" made by the Kurds. But the Kurds had already made their gains, under the U.S. no-fly zone. Since the war, their situation has arguably worsened. They are faced with finding a way to reintegrate themselves with Baghdad, a process clearly painful for them (they keep threatening to secede at the drop of a turban). Their oil pipelines have been sabotaged, and they have been subjected to a wave of assassinations, kidnappings and bombings. And the petroleum city of Kirkuk, which they desperately covet, is still inhabited by Turkmens and Arabs who do not intend to go quietly. Turkey has threatened to invade to protect the Turkmens. Kurdistan is now a powder keg. These are not immense gains.

If the Kurds don't know if they are in or out, that means the Shiites have been out for a long time (and, of course, the Sunnis were never in to begin with).

Friend of centralisation, enemy of the centrifuge Tom Friedman throws up his hands and says:

That will become clear in the next few months as we see just what kind of minority the Sunnis in Iraq intend to be. If they come around, a decent outcome in Iraq is still possible, and we should stay to help build it. If they won't, then we are wasting our time. We should arm the Shiites and Kurds and leave the Sunnis of Iraq to reap the wind.

Face it: the three peoples of Iraq are secessionists. Fools like Hitchens and Friedman honestly believe that the people of Iraq can (and want to be!) centralised under a federalist or even devolutionist scheme presided over by whatever American puppet Bush decides on.

Please. Federalism is a tricky thing -- America had its own grave problems with it culminating in the great national argument we had in 1861-1865 -- and devolution only works when everyone involved thinks they are getting a square deal (see Switzerland). Secession and independence is the first inclination of societies coming out of colonialism; it is also usually the best option.

No one -- well, no one liberal -- wants more bloodshed in Iraq, but if Friedman and his ilk hadn't been such damn fools in getting everyone into this mess, I'd be more kind about his Axl Rose ("spend a hundred thousand dollars in a human grocery store/ ain't that fresh/ I don't need your civil war") act.

If we had waited to build a genuine consensus and UN security council action on Iraq, we and the Iraqis wouldn't be in this mess. I'd have prefered that, when the time was right (after, in other words, we concentrated our firepower on Osama bin Laden and killed or captured him), we -- if Saddam wasn't already dead by then -- helped the UN depose him and his sons. Had this happened, the transition team would have been largely Arab, and so eliciting of trust (though, to be fair, the UN has many deserved enemies in Iraq). It is less likely there would have been an oil puppet installed; perhaps more importantly, it wouldn't have been so righteously suspected. There would have been an Open Door policy for Iraq, rather than our Open The Door To Terrorists policy currently in place (a.k.a. Andrew Sullivan's beloved flypaper theory). Iraq could have been partitioned in an orderly way amenable to native wishes, and with far less bloodshed. Now, well...

Well, there is reality. It's a civil war; and while secession was an inevitability, open war was not. What insured it is our presence, which came as a surprise to some very important people, who should have known better, as they finally admit their error but then move on immediately to the next fuck-up:

The Prime Minister admitted he had underestimated the insurgency, but insisted his strategy was right. "I didn't expect quite the same ferocity from every single element in the Middle East that came in and was doing their best to disrupt the political process," he said. "But I have absolutely no doubt as to what we should do. We should stick with it."

Yes, stick with it. Here's another inevitability: we've lost. Now who's suicidal? The defeatist thing is to imagine that you can beat a majority-popular insurgency inspired precisely because the occupier has enforced policies that thwart the self-determination of the natives. We're ruled by defeatists; Iraq is menaced by them. The United States and Britain assumed they could, alone, contain the centrifuge as they saw fit; they thought they could manipulate it at will. Instead, their presence has made it an explosive, and they are responsible more than anyone for the shrapnel.

Responsible, for sure:

I don't have time at the moment to explain fully why and how this peek at the banality of evil changed my thinking, although I'll try to cover it in a future post. Suffice it to say that my visit to was a reminder of the genocidal skeletons hanging in the American closet. It left me with the conviction -- or at least an intuitive premonition -- that an open-ended war in Iraq (or in the broader Islamic world) will bring nothing but misery and death to them, and creeping (or galloping) authoritarianism to us.

We have to get out -- not because withdrawal will head off civil war in Iraq or keep the country from fallling under Iran's control (it won't) but because the only way we can stop those things from happening is by killing people on a massive scale, probably even more massive than the tragedy we supposedly would be trying to prevent.

Get out. Get out now.