Iraq, Saudi Arabia, & Prayers for the Assassin
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Page updated 17-Jun-2006

Categories: politics, books

[This started out as an email to a guy who thinks in Orwellian terms, that (1) "the purpose of a war is to keep it going", (2) people are supporting the Iraq war only for Halliburton's sake, (3) all Iraqis think the US is the problem and we should leave now, (4) Saudi Arabia is just as bad as Saddam was, and (5) we should just reinstall Saddam or another dictator because that's the only kind of leader they're capable of living under.]

There are several things happening in Iraq. Saying all Iraqis think the US is the problem and should leave is just false. A small contingent (maybe 20 percent) feel that way -- and even they do not want us to pull out immediately without warning. The majority of Iraqis are exasperated with the US failure to keep the electricity running and the streets safe, but that's different from saying the US is the problem and if we leave things will fix themselves hunky-dory.

To unravel this, one must look at people's own motivations -- why they are doing things. Different people have different motivations, and some people have multiple or contradictory motivations. This goes for both the Iraqis and the various US/coalition players. Saying "follow the money" and it's all a matter of Halliburton contracts is wrong. A few people are motivated by Halliburton -- but the majority aren't.

Iraq has three ethnic groups: Kurds, Sunnis, and Shiites. (There are also Christians and Jews, but relatively few.) The Kurds absolutely support US intervention because we're the ones that kept them safe from Saddam for ten years via the no-fly zone, and because they want more representation in the government which we're giving them. Saddam favored the Sunnis; the Shiites are the majority population, so the Kurds lose on both counts -- thus they need friends in high places. We haven't heard much from Mosul in recent months, Iraq's second- largest city, and that's because there's not much violence in or near the Kurdish-land.

Likewise, there's relatively little violence in the Shiite-dominated south where the oil is. So where is the violence? It comes from the Sunni Triangle in the middle and it focuses on Baghdad and the mixed- ethnic areas in the middle of the country.

The "insurgency" is a coalition of religious nutters and Baathist restorers, both Sunni. Their goals are very different so they can't remain together long term. There are a few ppl in the insurgency who belong to neither and just hate foreign invaders. The Baathists want to restore a secular Saddam-like state with them in power. The religious nutters want to form an Islamic calphate in Iraq similar to the Taliban in Afghanistan, and they ultimately want to take over the entire Middle East. That's where I have a fucking problem with them: they want to beat others into religious submission and take over countries, regardless of whether the other citizens want that. The religious nutters showed their true colors a few months ago when they stopped targeting Americans and started targeting Shiites. They say they hate Western occupation, but they've got a whole other agenda too.

Now, who is laying bombs, who is blowing themselves up, and who isn't? Suicide bombings are an al-Qaida trademark -- none of the other factions are doing that. Just like nobody blew themselves up in Northern Ireland: it's against their religion. Conventional bombs were first laid by the Baathists against the Americans, then by the religious nuts against Americans and Shiites, and now there's some (lesser) retaliation by Shiites against Sunnis. But are American soldiers laying bombs? No. They attack when they're attacked, they go after insurgent leaders, there's some collateral damage, there are some soldiers that went off the deep end, but that's it. The Sunni factions are leading the violence; if they stop, there would be no violence.

The American soldiers are there mainly because they're ordered to. There's a small percentage who are always spoiling for a fight and pull strings to get deployed anywhere in the world there's action, but they are mainly in the Special Forces and Marines -- i.e., not active in day-to-day Iraqi operations. Most soldiers are so preoccupied with daily operations and survival they don't have time to think about whether the war was "right", whether Republicans are better than Democrats, or all the stuff we argue about back home. In My War: Killing Time in IraqColby Buzzell says in his unit in 2004, most people didn't vote because they didn't like either Bush or Kerry. They are certainly not Halliburton lackeys, or supporting the war because it means more defense contracts. If anything they are cynical about that.

Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz saw a chance to bring a glorious capitalist vision to the Middle East via Iraq. In addition, Cheney won't admit what everybody knows: the Iraq war was very convenient for Halliburton and his buddies' oil interests. ("Gosh, that's just a coincidence!") This is the crux as far as I'm concerned. I can't do anything about what happens in Iraq. But I want to see Bush and Cheney held accountable for lying to the public and Congress, for not admitting to their conflicts of interest, and for refusing to allow information out that would show us what the soldiers really feel about the war. Otherwise it sends a message to future presidents that this is OK. So, part of Cheney's and Bush's motivation is Halliburton's well being, and they aren't coming clean about that, but it's still only part of their motivation.

Nowadays (ever since the insurgency started targeting predominantly Shiites rather than Americans) I see Bush in "damage control" mode. He just wants to extricate us without admitting he was wrong. As long as he's preoccupied with that, he has little ability to harm the country (the US) with his other agenda items, so that's a good thing.

Saudi Arabia, well, they are not killing or imprisoning people en masse like Saddam did. They are imprisoning individuals for questionable reasons, but so are most of the countries in the world. Saudi Arabia also has the problem of, "What if you do have a democratic election and the majority chooses a Wahabist (Taliban- style) government?" The reason Saudi Arabia is so religiously repressive is to placate the Wahabists, not because the royal family likes it that way. The royal family would rather drink and gamble, and I doubt they'd mind if women drive.

I just don't think Taliban-style governments can respect the minorities' rights enough to be legitimate. There is such a thing as universal human rights, and the world has a responsibility to intervene when they are violated. Thus we supported the Bosnian Muslims against Milosovich's ethnic cleansing, and we are failing to halt the genocide in Darfur. Surely the right to life is the most important right the world should stand up for? (Sidestepping the abortion issue.) Note I didn't say the US should choose unilaterally to replace some obnoxious regimes while retaining others. It has to be a worldwide decision, "Respect the rights of your own people or you're history." Currently the UN is the only forum for making such a decision. Even if the UN is flawed, I don't see anybody proposing anything better. The US sucking up to China is pathetic: China clearly represses dissadents and has no business in Tibet, but we ignore it due to the large market for Boeing planes.

A Taliban-style government might be acceptable if it supported freedom of religion, and education for those women who want it, and freedom from Sharia law for those who don't want that, but I have yet to see any Taliban government even consider these. I don't know what you do in Afghanistan where many of the women themselves prefer Taliban rules.

I'm not saying we should go solve the problems of the world. Clearly we can't solve all of them, and clearly our government has impure motives for intervening in some of them. But I'm uncomfortable saying we should never intervene anywhere. That gives malicious rulers a blank check to do whatever they want.

If we leave Iraq, either the religious nuts will succeed and take over the entire country, or more likely they will continue fighting Shiites and start a full-scale civil war. There's not much point in staying because we're barely accomplishing anything now, but that is what will happen. But it still remains true that most Sunnis do not condone the horrific killings, they are getting fed up with the extremists, and they don't want the Shiites to be abused. They just want a house and a job and security. Same for most Shiites. So that is the hope, that the moderate majority will tell the extremists where to get off. It's possible without reinstalling a dictator. I don't know how likely it is.

You don't think much of the British but I admire the way they've been holding Blair accountable the entire time, rather than rolling over and listening to the happy talk like many Americans did.

Read an interesting book, Prayers for the Assassin by Robert Ferrigno, about a future America where most people convert to Islam, except the South which becomes a separate Christian country. Food for thought. Some of the details are implauable (Americans buying trinkets of the burning Twin Towers), but the book is a good insight into what it would be like if Americans were doing daily prayers en masse, if the various Islamic factions (fundamentalist and moderate) were doing their thing in our society and clashing -- and it's a good adventure story in any case, told from the viewpoint of an ex-Fedayeen (=special forces soldier).

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Sluggo is Mike Orr, a helluva friendly guy in Seattle. Email me if you have feedback.