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Sunday, March 22, 2009

Iraq, Six Years On

This weekend we note the sixth anniversary of the US attack on Iraq.  There were two commentaries that I found of interest.

The first commentary is by MSNBC Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel.  It is titled "Analysis:  The sixth war in Iraq."  It can be found here.  I found his tracing of the six stages of the war to be interesting and informative (the original, on line, has more detail for most of the bullets).
  • War One: Shock and awe (March-April 2003)
    The first war was the ferocious 21-day drive to Baghdad. It was the “left hook” as U.S. troops crossed the berm in Kuwait, swerved into Baghdad and seized the airport.  U.S. troops pushed into the center of Baghdad, and Saddam’s government simply was no more.

  • War Two: Nation-building (2003-2004)
    For a year Iraqis waited while the new U.S. administration in Baghdad tried to rebuild Iraqi society, purging Saddam’s Baath Party and dissolving the army.  It was a peaceful time, but it was disastrously mismanaged.

  • War Three: Insurgency (2004-2005)
    Iraqi Sunnis, the backbone of Saddam’s regime and security services, lashed out in the spring of 2004.  Sunnis had waited peacefully for a year—confused but seething in quiet—as the U.S. administration in Baghdad bungled its attempts at nation-building. By the spring of 2004, many Sunnis decided they’d had enough.

  • War Four: Civil war (2006-2007)
    After two years of abuse from Sunni radicals, Iraqi Shiites started to fight back.  From 2004 through the end of 2005, many Shiites sat quietly as Sunni radicals killed Shiite religious leaders, bombed Shiite pilgrimages and husseiniyat (small Shiite mosques) and carried out suicide massacres in Shiite neighborhoods.  But in February 2006, Zarqawi’s al-Qaida in Iraq went too far.  The radical group destroyed the Shiite “Golden Mosque” in Samarra.  The mosque is linked to the Shiite savior, the Mahdi.  It is the place where many Shiites expect the Mahdi to emerge from his Divine Occultation and redeem the world in a similar way that many Christians see the Second Coming of Christ.

  • War Five: The surge (2007-2008)
    Sometime in mid-2006, the Bush administration decided to change course.  Despite public assurances from the White House that the war was going well—and attacks on journalists who claimed otherwise—President Bush and several of his military and political advisers came to the conclusion that more troops were needed, along with a new strategy under a new commanding general, David Petraeus.  In February 2007, Gen. Petraeus (then Lt. Gen. Petraeus) took command in Iraq and implemented what came to be known as “the surge.”

  • War Six: The exit (2009-2011)
    President Barack Obama set a course to end the war in Iraq. Elected with a promise to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq in 16 months, Obama modified a plan worked out at the end of the Bush administration.
The second item is by Fouad Ajami, writing in The Wall Street Journal, "Obama's Afghan Struggle."  Mr. Ajami is a professor of Middle East Studies at The Johns Hopkins University and has associations at Stanford University. (I don't have a link to the full article and after considering just publishing the whole thing rejected that idea on the grounds that there might be a copyright in there somewhere.  While I think current copyright laws cover way too long a period, I would think from Friday to today is a reasonable time period to honor.  The article is in the Friday, 20 March 2009 edition.)

Here is the last paragraph from Professor Ajami's opinion piece:
George W. Bush answered history's call -- as he saw fit.  The country gave him its warrant and acceptance, and then withdrew it in the latter years of his presidency. Say what you will about his call to vigilance, he had a coherent worldview.  He held the line when the world of Islam was truly in the wind and played upon by ruinous temptations.  He took the war on terror into the heart of the Arab world.  It was Arabs—with oil money, and with the prestige that comes with their mastery of Arabic, the language of the Quran, among impressionable Pakistanis and Afghans—who had made Afghanistan the menace it had become.  Without Arab money and Arab doctrines of political Islam, the Taliban would have remained a breed of reactionary seminarians, a terror to their own people but of no concern beyond.  It thus made perfect strategic sense to take the fight to the Arab heartland of Islam.  Saddam Hussein had drawn the short straw.
I like the last sentence, in that it is like my summation, which uses the Goldilocks theme—Libya was toooo small and Iran was toooo big, but Iraq was juuust right.

From the long view of history, it is much too early to say that President Bush has been vindicated in his selection of Iraq as the place to take down an ugly regime.  Lets check back in 20 years.  It is possible another strongman will be in power in Iraq, and we won't be interested in contesting that usurpation of power.  At its best it may not be Switzerland.  The closest things to a friendly democratic state in the Middle East are Israel and Turkey and in Turkey the military is the protector of the Constitution and a couple of times has done that through a coup.  On the other hand, any democracy is a step in the proper direction. While there may be inadequate democracies, there are no good dictatorships.

Regards  --  Cliff

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