As stories circulated of Iraqi cities falling to Sunni militia groups, I was struck by the words of Former Marine Staff Sgt. Keith Widaman, who spent a tour in Iraq: “When I left in April 2009, I said, ‘In five years there’ll be a civil war.’”
Mr. Widaman was right, as we’ve all seen over the past few days, and the “high officials” were wrong. The result – and I say this with sympathy for the dead, injured, and traumatized – is that the fighting, “nation building,” and trauma were all for nothing.
When it comes to war, always believe the men and women who spent time on the streets, not the politicians and generals.
Iraq is not going to become a Western country. Afghanistan is not going to become a Western country. There is no foundation for Western life there, and as soon as overwhelming force pulls back, life there will return, more or less, to its usual ways.
If you want to change a way of life, you have to change the deep cultural assumptions that give it its shape. Armies and corrupt sycophants won’t cut it.
Saddam Was Necessary
Please understand that I think Saddam Hussein was a monster, and that I’m pleased he’s no longer running around on this globe killing people. But that said, if you want a country like Iraq to hold together, you need more than the usual level of coercion; you require a tyrant.
The borders of Iraq were drawn by the Brits in about 1920. In other words, a conquering power (the Brits ‘won’ World War I) drew lines on the map as it suited them. But when they did, they ignored the fact that they were forcibly grouping Sunnis and Shiites together, and that they hadn’t learned how to mix.
Forced grouping is a very important subject, and one that is almost totally ignored by rulers. They control the borders and they expect everyone to get along. They have scribbles on papers called laws, after all!
But when you force humans together against their will, all sorts of frictions, insults, and misunderstandings arise… and there is no way to escape them, because the grouping is enforced.
If you leave people alone, they generally learn to co-exist. For example, there is a street in my old neighborhood lined with stores owned and run by both Indians and Pakistanis. These people – bloody enemies in their old countries – have learned to get along for one reason: No one forces them to live or work on that street. If they want to open a store or rent an apartment there, they can. If they don’t want to, they don’t have to.
The result of freewill grouping is that people eventually learn to get along. The result of forced grouping is resentment, sectarianism, and all too often, blood.
If you want a nation of Shias and Sunnis and Kurds to function as a single unit, overwhelming force – permanent overwhelming force – is required. Without it, things fall apart, and civil war is the typical result. So, if the Foggy Bottom Gang (that’s the State Department) is religiously committed to sacred, unchangeable borders, the US must become a colonial dominator. That means a permanent military occupation and our sons and daughters spending years, openly and knowingly oppressing people, “for their own good.”
Afghanistan is a more homogenous country than Iraq, but it’s not going to become a Western nation either. I spent time in Afghanistan in 2007, outside of the safe bases where politicians and media show up, take a few photos, and leave. I dealt with real Afghans, from the lowly to high military.
I saw a tremendous amount during my short stay, including the worst corruption I’ve ever seen, anywhere. Everything was corrupt, from the lowest levels of bureaucracy and police power to the Western aid agencies. It was a riot of domination, bribery, poverty, skimming, and dirty deals. That place is not going to become normal in any way that we understand. Not for a long time.
A Few Have Done Well
Seeing that the US government has spent about $2 trillion on these escapades (it was officially $1.283 trillion in 2011), someone had to make money on them.
Those people were Dwight Eisenhower’s military-industrial complex (MIC), with the new mega-intelligence complex tacked on for good measure. The people who make killing machines have done very, very well. As have the people who build spying machines.
Certain engineering and private military contractors have done very well too, but only those who had contacts inside the MIC. Independents got nothing.
The people who were in positions to hand out contracts made a lot of money. Perhaps the oil companies and Middle Eastern royalty did well on it too, but that’s beyond my direct knowledge.
Who Lost Badly
The worst losers, of course, were the dead. I’m not sure how many Iraqis died; estimates range from 100,000 to over a million. That’s a lot of dead people – all of them sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, and friends. The fact that these deaths were far away doesn’t make them any less tragic. The number of injured must be much higher, of course.
On the Westerner side, only a number of thousand died, but that’s not trivial either, nor are the many more thousands of injured. And not only that, but returning soldiers are committing suicide in surprising numbers.
Aside from the military-industrial-intelligence complex, everyone has lost, and the situations in both Iraq and Afghanistan are “reverting to the mean.” And there they will stay, unless Americans commit their children to serve as international oppressors.
It really was all for nothing.