Monday, September 26, 2005

September 25, 2005

History: What a Bitch!

I know you are wondering how it will end. Iraq I mean. When all the shooting, dying and fortune wasting is done, what will the final product look like?

I can tell with near perfect certainty. Just exactly when this result will gel is harder to pin down, but I'd guess it will materialize within the next five years.

How do I know? Because we've been here before. No, I'm not going to drag out the old Vietnam example again. Actually, we should be so lucky if Iraq settled down and emulated the post-war Vietnam of today. No, except for US lives lost for nothing, Iraq and Vietnam will take far different post-war paths.

To understand where we are heading you first have to understand where we've been before. I will make this as painless as possible. But there's no avoiding a short history lesson. I know, I know... boooooring... But hey, I've done all the leg work for you, sorted out the key facts and compressed it all down into a tasty bite. The least you can do is read it.

Here we go. (Hey! You with your finger on the delete key. There will be quiz, wise guy.)

History Part I: Once Upon a Yugoslavia
If you are older than 12 you probably remember a country called "Yugoslavia." Iraq and Yugoslavia are geopolitical twins. (Neither being a "good twin.") Both were warped at birth by forced ethnic engineering.

Yugoslavia first took form as "The Kingdom of Serbs, Croats." But, since that was a hard name to write on checks, the name was changed in 1929 to "Yugoslavia."

Like Iraq, Yugoslavia was invaded by several imperial powers over the years and it was only during such moments that the various tribes that made up the country showed any interest in a single national identity. The last such threat launched by Hitler. Hitler was defeated and Josip Broz ("Marshall Tito"), a Croatian Communist, became President in 1945.

Tito and Saddam could have been separated at birth. Each was good at just one thing: scaring the hell out anyone who opposed them. They both used whatever means necessary, the more brutal the better, to keep their artificial nation states in one piece.

Tito died in 1980 and Yugoslavia began to unravel along ethnic lines: Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina were recognized as independent states in 1992. Serbia and Montenegro declared a new "Federal Republic of Yugoslavia" (FRY) in April 1992 ruled by Saddam wanna-be Slobodan Milosevic.

The rest is history, so to speak. Once tribal identity trumps national identity it's straight downhill. Which explains why there is no Yugoslavia today. It's been replaced by five tribal nation-states that spend most of their time and energy arguing over property lines and who's mother is uglier.

And like Iraq's Saddam, Molosevic is cuurently cooling his heels in the slammer.

History Part II: Iraq, From Birth to Deathbed
At the very time Yugoslavia was being cobbled together in the early 1900's the British were busy playing midwife to another new nation in the middle east, Iraq. In their defense the Brits didn't even try to pretend they were trying to bring democracy to the poor Arabs. They were there for the oil and made no bones about it. "I do not care under what system we keep the oil," declared Arthur James Balfour, UK Foreign Secretary at the time.

British Forces landed at the port of Basra in November 1914 under oders to protect the oil fields against the Turks and their German allies. Once the Brits secured Basra, facing only light resistance, they figured, "what the hell, lets keep going." Taking Baghdad was viewed by British military leaders a way to restore British prestige in the Middle East in 1915 after the bloody debacle of Gallipoli.

US soldiers fighting in Iraq today would probably agree with an Indian soldier fighting for the British back then. As the soldiers trudged through the staggering desert heat an Indian trooper was heard to remark: "It passeth my understanding why the British Government should be interested in this Satan-like land."

As the British occupied more and more of what was then simply called "Mesopotamia" the natives started killing them in alarming numbers. Eventually the politicians back home figured out that they were never going to turn Iraq into a profitable member of the British Empire.

"We pay for these things too much in honour and in innocent lives," T.E. Lawrence wrote at the time. "We cast them by their thousands into the fire to the worst of deaths, not to win the war, but that the corn and rice and oil of Mesopotamia might be ours."

So the Brits, there prestige in the area now totally shredded, decided the best thing to do was to establish some kind of national identity -- any damn kind -- put someone in charge of it and get the hell out of Dodge.

And so it came to pass. The Iraq we know today was hastily cobbled together by carving up parts of the old Ottoman Empire. The Brits summarily annexed the provinces of Baghdad, Basra and Mosul. The result was a Frankenstein nation, stitched together by tailors in a haste to leave.

The new Iraq was less a nation than an imperial convenience that artificially shackled together Shias, Sunnis and Kurds, all of whom detested each other. All these tribes shared in common was their hatred for the British, a hatred that grew once the Brits "liberated" the area from the formerly hated Turks. Once the Turks were gone the Brits replaced them as the area's new imperial rulers and the locals duly transferred their hatred to them. Even as the Brits tried to enforce order, their newly minted Iraq boiled with insurgency and rebellion.

It was clear to the Brits that the Iraqis were not up to the complexities and subtleties of a parlimentary system, so they went with a monacry. They grabbed the first guy who looked like a leader, "King" Fisal, put him in charge and split.

On his deathbed in 1933 King Fisal summed up progress so far:

"There is still no Iraqi people, but unimaginable masses of human beings devoid of any patriotic ideas, imbued with religious traditions and absurdities, connected by no common tie, giving ear to evil, prone to anarchy, and perpetually ready to rise against any government whatsoever."

Sound familiar?

Okay, end of history lesson. Now that you know where we've been, it will be easier to understand were we are heading.

Yugoslavia is the template. Instead of splitting into five pieces, Iraq will become three; Kurdistan, Shiitistan and Sunnistan (or something along those lines.) Kurdistan will align with the West, Shiitistan with Iran and Sunnistan with Syria for military muscle and Saudi Arabia for money -- which they will need since Sunnistan may have the market cornered on sand, but no oil.

Will that end trouble in the area? Fat chance. Just look at the former Yugoslavia. There are still NATO troops there keeping the parties from killing each other for sport.

In the former Iraq Sunnis will fight for water and oil rights, both controlled by their traditional enemies the Kurds and Shiites. Islamic fundamentalists will make trouble for the Kurds and Shiites who will return the favor. Shiitestan will become for Iran what Lebanon, until recently, was to Syria, a defacto province.

So, now that we know how this is going to end, what's it mean to us? Damn little. Here's why:

* What I described above is how this misadventure will end no matter how long we stay or how many more Americans die. The country will not remain together because it's never been one country to begin with.

* If the US goal in invading was to create stability in the area, we created just the opposite. When Iraq lost Saddam it lost it's sole unifying force... and evil force, to be sure, but a force none the less. It's various parts and pieces have been shaking loose ever since, now with nothing to stop them from flying off entirely. By removing Saddam the US accellerated the inevitable break up of Iraq.

* If it's oil that drives our policy, that game has changed as well. First, Iraq can no longer even pump enough oil for its own needs, much less export any of the stuff. And sectarian warfare will keep things stay that way for at least a decade to come. ("If we (Sunnis) can't have the oil, no one gets it.")This comes at the very time it has finally dawned on the industrialized world that the days of oil are ending and there's a rush to develop new sources of energy. (Even British Petroleum has changed its company slogan to "BP - Beyond Petroleum") The bottom line: So what about Iraq's oil.

* When Iraq comes apart, Sunnistan and Shiitestan will become, (actually all ready are) magnets for Islamic fundamentalist terrorist types. But, there's a silver lining around that cloud. Terrorist always eventually end up causing more trouble for their hosts than their stated enemies. They will be more a problem to these new little countries than to us.

* But we still have to worry about terrorists. By spending a fraction of what we are now in Iraq on real homeland security, especially border security, we will be safer then – by a long shot – than we are now.

It's been 72-years since Iraq's first installed leader, King Fisal, gave himself a failing grade for uniting his country. His words then were spookily similar to those uttered just yesterday in Washington by a guy who oughta know:

"There is no dynamic now pulling the nation (Iraq) together. All the dynamics are pulling the country apart....This is a very dangerous situation."

That was Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister yesterday talking to the New York Times. He complained that he said he was so concerned that no one in the White House was listening that he had come to the US to bring this warning "to everyone who will listen" in the Bush administration.

So, there are. You now know how this mess began and how it's going to end. All that's left to do is what the British did 75 years ago, pack up and leave. That opportunity will offer itself this Fall after the Iraqis vote again. If Bush & Co. have an ounce of sense they will make sure the media has hundreds of photos of Iraqis holding up purple fingers and flashing smiles that make every dentist in the world cringe, declare another "mission accomplished," and split.

Because whether it's now or after another 2000 Americans die, that's how it will end anyway.

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