Saddam is dead

December 30, 2006

Saddam Hussein was executed in Iraq Friday evening (U.S. time) at 10pm EST. People of Iraqi descent in Michigan celebrated.

It was interesting listening to the analysis of this event and its implications. Charles Krauthammer predicted on Fox News that it would remove an incentive for the U.S. to stay in Iraq, now that the mission of deposing Saddam is finished. A terrorism expert whom I have seen before on Fox News typically (though I didn’t catch his name) appeared on MSNBC saying some very interesting things. All the analysts I listened to predicted in so many words that the execution will have little effect on the sectarian problems in Iraq. This man on MSNBC was no different. He said that Saddam mattered little to the Sunni or Shia insurgents, because they’re both being fomented by radical Islamic forces. He said in fact both sides in the conflict are happy Saddam is gone because he went against some of their goals. Plus, contrary to what’s been reported previously, Saddam didn’t really live to benefit just the Sunnis. He practiced nepotism on a grand scale. He did things that benefited his family and his particular tribe, but everyone else, even other Sunnis, didn’t get much. He ran things like a mafia don. This MSNBC analyst said that Saddam was a figure who stood for Islamic Arab nationalism. The Islamic radicals on both the Sunni and Shia sides stand for sectarianism–not for a unified Iraq, but rather a Shia nation, and a Sunni nation. The Shia violence is being driven by Muqtada al Sadr and Iran. The Sunni violence is being driven by Al Qaeda in Iraq and other Sunni groups.

Now that I think about it, a few weeks ago I heard an analyst say that it looks like Iraq is devolving the way Yugoslavia did. It did not stay whole, but instead separated into independent states along sectarian lines, after their communist dictator died, and after the Soviet Union collapsed.

This analyst on MSNBC said that there are some flaws in our tactics, which are allowing the situation in Iraq to get worse. He said that al Sadr’s militia needs to be confronted and disbanded, and that Shia insurgents need to be put away or killed. That is the only way the Sunnis will continue to cooperate with the Iraqi government, if their security is insured. He said what’s happening now unfortunately is that more and more Shia and Sunni communities are allying themselves with their own sectarian militias. The Shia are aligning with al Sadr or some other Shia groups, and the Sunnis are allying with Al Qaeda. This is exactly what they want. Both sides in the conflict want to delegitimize the Iraqi government.

It seems from what I’m hearing that the Shia and the Kurds have formed an alliance of sorts, perhaps only on some issues, and the Sunnis are getting the short end of the stick. This is understandable since the Shia and Kurds were both oppressed by Saddam, and they probably perceive the Sunnis as being the beneficiaries of Saddam’s largess. They probably feel there’s no love lost with them.

Historical background

What I’m learning bit by bit from various sources is that Iraq historically has been a difficult place to govern. So what we’ve been experiencing is not without precedent. About a week ago I happened to hear something written by Winston Churchill, read by someone on C-SPAN. What jumped out at me is Churchill said, “I hate Iraq!”, and expressed frustration about how disorderly the society was. This was read in front of an audience, and as this particular passage was read, I heard laughter, probably out of a common sense of frustration. The article I link to here says that back in the day when the UK occupied Iraq, during and after World War I, a similar thing happened then that’s happening now. The Kurds, Shia, and Sunnis each hated each other. So it was difficult to get them to cooperate. Churchill even advocated pulling out of Iraq a couple times, and at one point suggested using poison gas bombs on the Shia, though it sounds like they didn’t get around to doing this in a big way. Just so you know, chemical weapons were used in various battles during WW I.

Comedian Dennis Miller expressed a similar frustration to Churchill’s, during one of his stand-up routines: “I’m growing tired of the Iraqi people. I don’t think they’re loyal to us. I mean, one day you think they’re on board, the next day they’re ratting us out to the enemy. It’s very unpredictable. It’s like playing Stratego with Charles Manson. You know, he makes 7 good moves in a row, and you’re thinking, ‘Wow! Look at that. Charlie is getting it together.’ The next thing you know he jams the dice up his a**. That’s the Iraqi people to me.” Though he sounds hopeful that somehow Iraq will be a success story. Hat tip to American Soldier for this.

To provide a little context, The UK and France partitioned the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I into separate nation states, in 1920. The Ottomans were Muslim, ruled by the Turks, and an ally of Germany during the war. The Ottoman Empire was also the seat of what was called in Muslim tradition the Caliphate. The story of Lawrence of Arabia is set in this time.

In the process of breaking it up the Caliphate was disbanded, and Turkey (where the Turks ended up), Syria, Lebanon, Jordan (then called “Transjordan”), Iraq (which was otherwise known as Mesopotamia), and what was called Palestine were created to break up the empire. Most of these had a monarch installed by the allies.

Palestine and Iraq were occupied by the UK. Syria and Lebanon were occupied by France. It’s interesting to note that these places remain trouble spots today. Not to say that the UK and France are to blame for this. It’s just interesting to note that both of them had reasons to stay in these places, probably because they were unstable. These occupations lasted to varying degrees until just after WW II ended (in 1945). The U.N. in 1948 called for Palestine to be partitioned, creating the Jewish state of Israel.

In case anyone thinks we’re repeating history and should’ve known better than to go into Iraq, recent history has shown us that things can turn out differently than in the past. Before going into Afghanistan, in 2001, people in the U.S. had great fears about taking it on. Past history had shown that great powers had been defeated there, including England, and the Soviet Union (the latter was with our help). Afghanistan used to be known as “The Great Game”. It was a place wracked by war, and a place where different countries had come in competing with each other for “a piece of the pie”, probably because it was on a major trade route. Now it appears that Iraq is becoming such a place. People can point to the UK and it’s past experience with Iraq, look at George H.W. Bush’s own reservations about it (which were probably based on the UK experience), see what’s going on there now, and say, “See? We told you so.” However, if we had followed that line of thinking, we never would’ve gone into Afghanistan either.

Things turned out to be the opposite of what we expected. We expected Afghanistan to be like Iraq is now, perhaps worse, and we expected Iraq to turn out like Afghanistan did. You never know how a war is going to turn out until you get into it. Different strategies probably had something to do with it though.


Boulder has a thing for Lord Of The Rings

December 24, 2006

A couple years ago I came upon an editorial in the Daily Camera where Clay Evans was talking about a letter exchange he had with a reader, discussing parallels between the Lord Of The Rings and what was happening with the Bush Administration and Iraq. I thought of it as typical Boulder quirkiness. The editor went on at length about why the reader’s interpretation of current events in the context of the Lord Of The Rings was wrong, and then went on to correct it, as though he was having a discussion about some religious text. After a while I stopped reading it. What was the point? Lord Of The Rings is fictional, and while it had architypal characters, it didn’t relate to real life. Mostly what I got from watching the movies (which were very good, by the way) was a battle of good and evil, knowing who your friends were, and the triumph of good over evil via. great personal sacrifice and transformation. A good story.

But there are some who can’t help but see current events in the context of Lord Of The Rings. Yesterday I saw a bumper sticker that said “Frodo failed: Bush has the ring”. Wow. Er…how profound. Alright. Who’s up for forming the Fellowship of the Ring to go to Washington, D.C., sneak past the Secret Service, go into the President’s residence, get the ring from Bush, and throw it into the volcano at Mount Doom? Where’s Gandalf when you need him? (snicker) Hey, er, buddy? Come join reality…please.

Merry Christmas

December 24, 2006

I’ve been busy this holiday season, so I haven’t been writing as much. I figured I could get this in though.

We got hit with a whallop on Wednesday. It was the worst winter storm I’ve seen in 10 years, though I’ve heard that Denver and areas south of there got hit by a similar storm 3 years ago.

Here are some things I’ve heard on the news tonight.

People are still stranded at DIA, though it sounds like the airlines are doing the best they can to get things back to normal. They’re pulling in extra airplanes and personnel from across the country to make up for the temporary shutdown. Unfortunately some people may not get to where they’re going for Christmas. This storm came at a really bad time. For some, I’m seeing images from the movie “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles”. I hope that doesn’t happen to anybody, but I’ve been hearing that some have given up on trying to fly where they’re going and are taking cars and buses. I hope they have a safe trip.

A young lady I saw interviewed was trying to get from California to her parents’ place. She said she is heading back to California, because she didn’t want to spend Christmas in the airport. I felt sorry for her, but I don’t blame her either.

I applaud the road crews who have been working long hours to plow the roads all over Colorado. You’re making it possible for us mere mortals to not be snowbound this Christmas, and we can finish up our shopping. Thank you!

The Post Office in Colorado was working limited hours on Wednesday, and was closed down on Thursday. So mail and Christmas packages have been getting backed up as well. I heard on the news tonight that the Post Office is allowing 2,000 Post Office workers to volunteer to deliver mail and packages on Sunday and Monday–Christmas day! That is dedication! Thank you, Post Office! I really wasn’t expecting this.

Merry Christmas everybody!

The Iraq Crossroads

December 8, 2006

A lot has been happening lately. A few weeks ago Gen. Abizaid gave his testimony to the Senate. Robert Gates was confirmed in record time to be the next defense secretary. And the Iraq Study Group (ISG) headed by James Baker (Secretary of State in Bush Sr.’s administration), and former Democratic congressman Lee Hamilton, presented their report to the President and congress.

I expected the ISG report to provide some ideas for a change in strategy to deal with the insurgency, fostered by Iran and Al Qaeda, and help promote the goal of a stable government in Iraq that is reasonably self-sustaining, that will not be a haven for terrorists, and will be an ally against our enemies. What I’ve heard is disconcerting. It looks like something the State Department would propose–an entirely diplomatic solution. It is marketed as promoting success in Iraq, but I think we need to be careful what “success” means. The point that Baker and Hamilton drove forward, which caught my attention, was that the U.S. is very divided right now, and that it needs to be united to fight this war. I agree the country is very divided, but what is the true objective here? To be united? To win the conflict in Iraq, meaning that we achieve our objectives? I’m not sure. The sense I get from some on the panel is the primary goal is to take realpolitik actions to hopefully end the conflict in Iraq, and thereby end the political conflict at home, with “ending the conflict at home” being the true objective. It’s a polite way of saying, “It was a mistake to go into Iraq. Let’s extricate ourselves while saving some face.” Is this what you consider to be “success”, the term the ISG report uses? Is this a “camel’s nose” into the tent of abandoning Bush’s “drain the swamps” strategy?

Conservatives and even some moderate Democrats have expressed varying levels of discomfort with this report. They are dubious of the idea of doing a deal with Syria and Iran, especially Iran, because it complicates efforts to stop them from developing nuclear weapons. I heard from a military analyst yesterday who ridiculed the recommendation that most U.S. forces get out, with only some trainers left behind, embedded with Iraqi units, plus some special forces for backup. That strategy reminds me too much of Somalia.

A few pundits and/or political commentators I’ve heard from have characterized this as thinking coming from the September 10th world, before 9/11 happened. My gut feeling agrees with that assessment, and for that reason I am very skeptical of the report’s recommendations.

Some Democrats and a few Republicans on Capitol Hill seem to love it. I’m sure they’re saying to themselves, “Finally someone else is saying what we’ve been saying for years! Listen to the growing chorus, Mr. President! We need to get out.”

Having said this, I think some of the recommendations are worth pursuing, like economic development in the stable parts of Iraq. One of the reasons we used to see insurgent attacks in Iraq is it was one way for people to make money. Just like in Afghanistan, investment needs to go into things that will involve people in constructive activities for their own country.

Defense officials, who testified the same day as Gen. Abizaid to the Senate, said that currently there is no court of competent jurisdiction to process insurgents who are captured. This is the reason that whenever insurgents are captured, they are released. In my opinion this is a matter of the utmost urgency. The government cannot be seen as effective if it cannot prosecute, imprison or execute insurgents. This is a no-brainer. Just getting this set up would go a long way towards solving the problem.

What I find frustrating about the discussion that goes on these days about “how to get out” is people act like Iraq is like Vietnam during the Cold War: we can turn the country over to whoever is the most powerful, and they will stay in their box. The Iraqi people have blown it, and it’s not our responsibility anymore. The problem is it’s not that simple. The U.S. was successfully able to pursue a policy of containment and deterance against Communism, even though we had some losses. Neither of these strategies work against Al Qaeda, and Al Qaeda is operating in Iraq right now. Even the ISG admits as much. Leaving Iraq to regional forces is not a solution, in my opinion. That’s just a return to the status quo ante, without Saddam, but perhaps with someone worse.

The goals at this point should be to stabilize Iraq and stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, not “get out now”. Quit playing defense! There is absolutely no reason we should be on the defensive. None. If we adopt a defensive posture then the Islamists are right. We have the most powerful military in the world, but we don’t have the will to use it for its intended purpose.

The ISG report dreams of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by “flipping Syria”, as if Syria ever had an interest in ending the conflict with Israel. Could Syria be induced to promote the end of conflict with Israel? Maybe, but something about this feels too good to be true. In my opinion Syria’s leader has not shown himself to be trustworthy. We have to ask ourselves, is Assad like Egypt’s Saddat (who was assassinated for making peace with Israel, by the way), or is he like North Korea’s Kim Jong Il? The reason I make the comparison is the U.S. had made deals with Kim Jong Il in an effort to induce his government to stop doing things that were against our interests, like pursuing nuclear weapons, which they now have. Did diplomacy work in that case? No. What people should remember is it takes two to tango. It takes both sides of a conflict being reasonable people, who while having grievances with each other, and dealing with their own problems, are mature enough to come to compromise, and respect each other. If only one party has these qualities, no deal is going to succeed, even if the more mature party believes that an agreement has been reached.

What I mean to say is the goal should be a solution that eliminates the Islamist threat. Anything less is, while well intentioned, a capitulation to those in the Middle East who promote extremism.