Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Iraq and the war on terror...

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Cindy Sheehan's protest at George W. Bush's Crawford, Texas retreat is starting to get widespread media coverage, much of it very sympathetic. It is hard to argue that a mother who has lost her child to war does not possess the political right to argue her opposition to that war and how it has been fought. IMO, her association with prominent left wingers like Michael Moore doesn't undermine her credibility. Her motivations are explicit and, whether you disagree with them or not, she has every right to express them and be heard.

But, it just makes you realize the way in which the discourse on Iraq has changed. The expediency of Saddam's conquest feels like such a distant memory that it is becoming increasingly hard for the case against his brutal dictatorship to retain its resonance in people's minds. Fear was the emotional fulcrum for the widespread support of the invasion. In my opinion, a justified fear. And yet, it is now difficult to reconcile that fear with the weak, fragile man we see on television and in newspapers, inevitably awaiting his execution at the hands of the Iraqi people. Support for the war continues to slip further and further into the myre... and many people, from both sides of the political spectrum predict that it will be a political liability for the Republican party at the 2008 election.

As somebody who supported the war in Iraq I think a lot of people's feelings are misplaced. There is an emerging "the war was a mistake" consensus defining, as I wrote previously, the legacy of Tony Blair in the UK and clouding the debate and analysis of Iraq in the US media. An examination of the Bush administration's approach in Iraq is inherently wrapped up in partisan bickering. Consequently, there is an analysis vaccuum. I think that popular opinion has been entrenched so vitriolically into two competing corners that the American people have become disenfranchized on the issue... No one person can stand up, and from an intelligent, objectively critical standpoint, argue alternative solutions for the problems that we are experiencing without being stigmatized as either a neo-con imperialist or an anti-war pacifist. Ironically, considering my previous statements on this blog, Bill O'Reilly has been the only person to really impress me with some very fierce analytical pieces about where the situation in Iraq is going wrong.

The war in Iraq has transformed from a battle to liberate a nation from the throes of its tyrannical government and to iradicate the threat that it posed to the wider world... into a battle to craft and sustain the rebuilding of Iraq in the face of terrorist insurgents, who are attempting to undermine those efforts.

I'm no expert. For me the main mistakes have been obvious ones: the disbandment of the Republican guard, disabling an already established mechanism to retain civil order in the country... and the economic decisions made early on by Paul Bremer to dramatically remove trade restrictions which has destablized, and antagonized individual Iraqi's in the short term, regardless of whether it will serve their interests in the long term. We should have recognized the importance of stability in the wake Saddam's removal, and the subsequent power vacuum.

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But there is a larger issue on the horizon that concerns me. I read a story from the AP today about Arab television stations widely showing a video from Iraqi insurgents portraying them plotting to attack US troops while proudly displaying US equipment they'd obtained in battle. It also featured a man yelling "As you bomb us, you will be bombed!" showing a group of individuals packing explosives into bombs. It is not naive of me to state that within the Arab world these men are increasingly viewed as freedom fighters and many, even in parts of the West would reach the same conclusion, considering these insurgents reactionary responses of the Iraqi populace to the massive loss of civilian life they have suffered in the war.

But these men are not simply freedom fighters. They are Islamic extremists and part of the intangible, fragmented and complicated network of terrorists who we are at war with as a consequence of September 11th and attacks in Bali, Madrid, and London. Anyone who has had the misfortune of watching one the beheading videos widely available on the internet will be aware of the relish with which these "freedom fighters" are devoted to violence, and a general hatred for all things Western. These aren't men simply endowed with the political objective to end the "US occupation" in Iraq.

The problem is that political terrorism, as opposed to this brand of fundamentalist terror, is a different sociological phenomena. There is a difference between Basque seperatists, the IRA, and Al Quaeda whether you like it or not. The difference isn't a moral one, it is a difference in terms of the threat they pose, and the potential remedies at your disposal to fight back.

The IRA had clearly identified objectives, their existence could be intricately charted throughout the history of conflict between Britain and Ireland, and their success thrived from the sectarian unrest in N. Ireland. This definable threat posed by terrorism motivated by clear political objectives has now been met and arguably conquered by the British Gov't. If anyone is unaware, the IRA released a statement two weeks ago declaring an end to using violence as a means to accomplish their objectives.


The peace process in N.Ireland worked because it helped, in a small way, to reconcile the sectarian divide by reaching out to the Catholic community. Issues they had with policing were dealt with. The police force, a Unionist symbol, was disbanded and re-established as an authority representative of both communities... And ultimately, a clear political process was established via which the political objectives of the IRA could be pursued peacefully. At every step of this process the IRA's advances towards laying down their "armed struggle" were a pre-requisite to moving forward. This was not, by an stretch of the imagination, the appeasment of terrorists. This was a concerted effort to transform the environment in N.Ireland that was allowing the IRA to be viewed by the catholic community as their safeguard and protection from apparently despotic Unionists.

Inspite of the new convenient political designs of Islamic extremists, as declared by the London bomber caught in Italy, "to end the US occupation of Iraq," none of the possibilities that exist in confronting political terror can potentially remedy the threat we are faced with. The rules of N.Ireland, and perhaps other parts of the world, do not apply to a brand of ideological extremism that demands its own supremacy... because its supremacy is undermined, not by our military acitivities... but by our mere existence. Freedom is the reason why Islamic facistic theocracies will not exist in a hundred years time. Freedom and self determination and free expression and democracy... the natural course of humanity... it's where we are all heading... it's what empowers us all as people and poses a threat to the institutions and ideas of the past that exist fundamentally to empower the few at the expense of the many. As I've said before, Islamic extremism is about a crumbling ideal of Islamic supremacy flailing in its last throes, attacking its bane (freedom) on the streets of London, and, of course, in the world trade center buildings. Islamic extremism is not political terrorism. It is pure, unadulterated facism, emboldened by the ferocity of their religious orthodoxy.

My point is that the political objectives of terrorists in Iraq is the means by which terrorism in the wider world is flourishing... because it now has the moniker of "freedom fighting" against an "occupation."

One of the things that I think a lot of people in the U.S. don't understand is the importance of international legitimacy in terms of how an action is perceived in the rest of the world. And this is a problem that has plagued the action taken in Iraq from day one. Do you have any idea the difference if it were United Nation and Nato forces keeping the peace as opposed to US troops on the streets of Baghdad, Basra, and Najaf? The entire operation would be transformed... And before anyone dares to imply that the U.N. and Nato would not be as capable in this task as the U.S. please refer to Eastern Europe and the remarkable peace keeping missions that have been successful over the past decade in the wake of their war torn savagery.

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It's one of the reasons why I talked about multilateralism before. Unilateralism is a failed notion. The proposition of John Bolton, that only the US matters in world affairs, is inherently flawed. No individual nation can singlehandedly intervene in parts of the world for the good of the world efficiently without encountering the types of problems that the U.S. has suffered in Iraq and Vietnam. Where it must act, as in Iraq, it should. And, unfortunatley, because of the preposterous attitude of the French on the UN security council we were left with absolutely no choice. But the reality is, where there is an opportunity to internationalize the military activities in Iraq we have to do so as a matter of the greatest urgency. And, to the extent that nations are unwilling to co-operate, the Bush Administation must start to take some responsibility for its tone in international diplomacy. You can not send someone as offensive as John Bolton to the United Nations, who seeks to undermine the influence of the rest of the world in world affairs, and then bemoan the rest of the world's disinterest in taking part in the peace keeping struggles in Iraq.

At some stage this will have to happen... because the United States, with a splattering of UK and Australian forces, the latter of which are so few they barely deserve mention, cannot halt the Iraqi insurgency. They cannot do this because their presence in Iraq is the fundamental cause of the insurgency and the magnet which draws militants from all over the Arab world to fight there. It doesn't matter how many you kill, or how many organizations you disrupt, they will keep coming, and coming like an endless, never ending stream of fighters, and suicide bombers. And by just training Iraqis to keep the peace themselves all we are doing is simply rebuilding the Republican Guard that we disbanded, so we can leave Iraq in a state of civil war to fight amongst itself, with financial aid and support for the side that we want to win. Is that the exit strategy? Is that the ethical basis upon which we say that Iraq has been a just war?

Or are we instead going to try and win this war and leave Iraq as the beacon of democracy and prosperity that will be a force for change in the region?

John Kerry was right, in my opinion, during the 2004 election when he said:

"Last spring, after too many months of delay, after reluctance to take the advice of so many of us, the president finally went back to the U.N., and it passed Resolution 1546. It was the right thing to do, but it was late. That resolution calls on U.N. members to help in Iraq by providing troops, trainers for Iraq's security forces and a special brigade to protect the U.N. mission, and more financial assistance and real debt relief. But guess what? Three months later, not a single country has answered that call, and the president acts as if it doesn't matter. And of the 13 billion that was previously pledged to Iraq by other countries, only $1.2 billion has been delivered. The president should convene a summit meeting of the world's major powers and of Iraq's neighbors, this week, in New York, where many leaders will attend the U.N. General Assembly, and he should insist that they make good on the U.N. resolution. He should offer potential troop contributors specific but critical roles in training Iraqi security personnel and in securing Iraqi borders. He should give other countries a stake in Iraq's future by encouraging them to help develop Iraq's oil resources and by letting them bid on contracts instead of locking them out of the reconstruction process. Now, is this more difficult today? You bet it is. It's more difficult today because the president hasn't been doing it from the beginning."

The biggest failure in Iraq has been a failure of international diplomacy. A failure that is intentional and that many who read my blog I know agree with. But it is a failure that is endangering all of us, and will prolong the US efforts in Iraq indefinately. Sadly, after the appointment of John Bolton I don't see any measures being taken by the Bush Administration to redress this. We must wait until 2008 in the hopes that a Democrat, or the next Republican President might recognize the importance of multilateralism and diplomacy in international affairs. Like I said, an individual nation cannot seek to unilaterally make military interventions in the world, for the sake of the world, without incurring these types of consequences. As a basic principle, we need each other. Whether it is in three years time, or in ten or twenty years, eventually the peace keeping force in Iraq will be internationalized. The time it takes will simply be the means by which Islamic extremism can sereptiously thrive off the perceived "occupation" of US troops in Iraq.

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