Between a Rock and a Hard place
22 January, 2007
By Adnan Gill
History is full of leaders who stood in the face of adversity and overcame it with courage and wisdom. Sir Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt are few of those giants who stared in the eyes of adversity and overwhelmed it with the perfect balance of valor and sagacity. Regrettably, history may not remember President George W. Bush as one of them. Most likely, he will be remembered for his zaniness, empty bravado, and misguided arrogance.
Not many American presidents would be remembered for getting stuck in quicksand of their own making; certainly not the kind that has placed President Bush between a rock and a hard place. His legacy will be of many missed opportunities and spectacular blunders. However, his decision to invade Iraq will leave the ugliest blotch on his legacy.
It was as if from the very beginning President Bush wanted to leave a lasting mark on history. He wanted to change, uproot, sabotage, or reverse almost every foreign policy initiative of his predecessors. Even before he was sworn into the Presidential office, he declared China to be “a competitor, not a partner.” In March 2001, after reneging on his campaign pledge to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, President Bush announced his opposition to the Kyoto Protocol. By December 2001, his administration notified Russia that it intended to pull out of the three-decade old Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.
Then came the 9/11. For a moment, when he convincingly stood on the still simmering rubble of the World Towers and assured the nation, “I hear you,” we thought, we were seeing another Roosevelt in making. Unfortunately, that is all it was, a moment.
The whole world lined up behind him when he decided to go after the terrorist organizations like Al-Qaeda. He was cheered on when he ousted the purist Taliban government in Afghanistan, even though they were routed out with the help of the Northern-Alliance savages. It was around that time when the Texan cowboy in him started to overcome the statesman in making. The cowboy wanted the whole world to hear the crack of his whip, as he mounted his high horse to roundup the nations whom he called the “axis of evil.”
Like a child who wants a new toy soon after getting bored with the toy he already has, President Bush too started to loose interest in Afghanistan and started to obsess himself with Iraq. Virtually every Taliban and Al-Qaeda leader on Bush Administration’s most-wanted list was still at large when the Neo-Cons in his administration embarked on a crusade to invade Iraq. Through hook or crook, the Neo-Cons tried to convince the world that Saddam was about to invade the world with his Weapons of Mass Destruction. Fake documents were circulated, spotty intelligence was artificially hyped, and pictures of Mushroom were painted to cement world opinion for the Iraqi invasion. The Neo-Cons posse’s stated objectives to invade Iraq were "to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, to end Saddam Hussein's support for terrorism, and to free the Iraqi people." Overruling every voice of sanity, the undermanned U.S military received its orders from its obsessed Commander-in-Chief to march into Baghdad.
Like a scene out of a Western/Cowboy movie, one fine day in May 2003, the Texan cowboy dismounted his Navy S-3B Viking on the deck of USS Abraham Lincoln. Behind him, the tower was adorned with a big sign that read, "Mission Accomplished." Like a victorious emperor, Bush announced in a nationally televised address that "major combat operations in Iraq have ended."
From that day onward, in ironic twists after ironic twists, the glorious victory in Iraq turned into violent chaos, and finally into a civil war. Led by the Baathist and Shi’ite groups like Muqtada al-Sadr’s militia the Anglo-American invasion was immediately followed by an Iraqi resistance. It was a nationalistic response to a foreign occupation. Slowly but surely the resistance turned into a bloody civil war. Like an ostrich with its head in sand the Bush Administration vainly tried to hide their failures in Iraq behind clichés like "freedom is winning", “Freedom's untidy”, insurgency is in its “last throes,” and “staying the course.”
Neither attacking nor occupying Iraq made the Middle-East a bastion of democracy, as claimed by the neo-cons, nor did Saddam’s death bring any respite to the chaos and mayhem spewing out of Iraq. Regardless of how sincere or respectable Bush Administration’s decision to invade Iraq was, the bitter truth is $300 billion, half-million dead Iraqis, and 3,000+ dead Americans later, the Iraqi misadventure is at the serious risk of turning into wars of sects and ethnicities; and by the virtue of Middle-East being the major energy supplier, perhaps its at the verge of Third World-War.
Some mess the Americans have created. Consider the following.
Everyone in control of their metal faculties knows that if Americans would leave Iraq in the middle of the civil war, the country would be dismembered into at least three states. A Kurdish state in the north, a Shi’ite one in the south, and a Sunni state in the middle and west. While the oil-plush Shi’ite and Kurdish states would cherish their "freedom," the Sunnis would lose more then just the oil income. Sunnis fear a Shi’ite Iraq would create a Shi’ite rule in a broad crescent across the Middle East and atop the most prized oil reserves. Shi’ite governments will stretch from Iran, through Iraq and Syria, and into Lebanon.
Iran and the Syria are already actively involved in turning Iraq into the first Arab-Shia state. Testifying before a House International Relations Subcommittee the (then) Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton insisted that there are strong indicators Syria is assisting the anti-coalition forces in Iraq. A 40-page security report by the Saudi National Security Assessment Project suggested Iran has effectively created a “state within a state” in Iraq providing both logistical support for the armed Shi’ite groups and funds for social programs. The repot said while supporting pro-Iranian Iraqi politicians in Iraq, the Iranian military forces are providing Shi’ite militias with weapons and training. The report described the Badr organization --the armed wing of the biggest political party in Iraq’s government Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq [SCIRI] -- as the “key vehicle Iran is using to achieve its military security and intelligence aims.” In 2006, SCIRI party even announced plans to set up a separate Shi’ite state in southern Iraq, modeled after the existing Kurdish state.
Likewise, Sunni states like Saudi Arabia have also announced they would support the Iraqi Sunni population, because they don’t want to see a contiguous Shia belt, starting from Iran and ending in Lebanon, encircling them. In a November 29, 2006 Washington Post article Nawaf Obaid, an adviser to the Saudi government, wrote that if America leaves Iraq uninvited, "one of the first consequences will be massive Saudi intervention to stop Iranian-backed Shiite militias from butchering Iraqi Sunnis." Month before that, the (then) Saudi ambassador to the U.S Prince Turki al-Faisal, in no-uncertain terms warned the Americans in a speech, that "since America came into Iraq uninvited, it should not leave Iraq uninvited."
The Kurds who live in Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Iran have long aspired for their own country, but none of the governments in the region support their ambition. Turkey and Syria have made it abundantly clear that they will not allow creation of a Kurdish state carved out of Iraq. Ankara fears that even an independent Kurdish state in Iraq could also engulf Turkey’s Kurdish regions.
Kurdish state stemming out of the fractured Iraq is a “red line” for Syria, too. In 2004, the Syrian Prime Minister Naji al-Otri warned that the creation of an independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq would mean violation of the “red line” for Syria, which also shares the same concerns with neighboring Turkey. While visiting Ankara, the Syrian President Bashar Assad also cautioned, "We condemn all approaches that pose a threat to Iraq's territorial integrity."
Turkey blames the war in Iraq for rekindling Kurdish aspirations throughout the region. It is disappointed by the U.S refusal to take on the PKK insurgents in Iraq despite Washington's persistent declarations that PKK is a terrorist organization. Matters had been exacerbated by the success of Iraqi Kurds in setting up a thriving autonomous state in northern Iraq. The Turkish Kurds in the southeast recently abandoned their unilateral cease-fire and resumed their fight for independence. Reacting to the abandonment of the cease-fire, the Turkish government, in the summer of 2006, ordered its military to prepare for an attack on 3,000 Kurdistan Workers Party insurgents living in Kurdish-dominated northern Iraq. This prompted President Bush to twice call the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in order to persuade him not to attack.
As recently as November 2006, the Turkish foreign minister Abdullah Gul issued a stern warning against the division of Iraq. "There are those who think that dividing Iraq might be better, that this chaos might end," he told reporters. "This is what we say: Don't even think of a such an alternative because that would lead Iraq toward new chaos." Then he alluded to the possibility of Iraqi conflict turning into an international one, "It would become not only Iraq's problem but the world's problem."
If the Iraqi mayhem is not brought under control in immediate future, no major country, including China and Russia, will be able to sit back and merely watch from the sidelines such turmoil in the heart of oil-supplying nations to spiral out of control. In a scenario in which events take a turn for the worst, the concerned nations will try to compose a global peace-force to safeguard the oil-supplies. Such a solution will be supported by majority of nations with the exceptions of the U.S and its closest ally the Great Britain who by most accounts will vigorously resist dilution of their influence in the region. If this level of confrontation is ever reached, all the bets will be off and it’s anybody’s guess where it will end.
The events unfolding in the Middle-East are matter of serious concern for the global community, but inevitably they are America’s problems as well. Iraq is in imminent danger of violent breakup. The breakup will drive millions of refugees across its borders. The refuges will bring with them their ethnic grievances, and their weapons. The Iraqi civil war has all the hallmarks of potentially setting off a chain reaction of regional conflicts that could draw in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran and perhaps other players as well. America cannot simply wash its hands off Iraq and go home.
It would be intellectually suicidal to argue against the fact that the Bush Administration is squarely responsible for the Iraqi mayhem. But what is done is done. In short, it’s in everybody’s interest to give a chance to the Americans to cleanup the mess they have created. Of course, they won’t be able to cleanup their mess, until President Bush accepts the reality and fundamentally change his Iraqi policy. And the changes will have to be consistent with the recommendations of ‘Iraq Study Group.’ All we can do is cross our fingers and pray that at the end of day President Bush will see the light. A reality check, admission of unrighteousness and a bit of humility on his part could turn out to be a good start.
Maybe, one day, the historians will be able to explain the influences behind President Bush’s decision to open the Iraqi Pandora’s Box, and most importantly, what clouded his judgment in imagining America was winning the war? For whatever its worth, he is smart enough to understand the pottery barn rule, ‘you break it, you bought it.’
Courtesy: Defence Journal