and even some Republicans
have attributed the disaster in Iraq to the way in which the war was fought.
There have been calls for
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's resignation. Certainly the Pentagon
in fighting this war has made serious errors. From the beginning, when looting
broke out, the
military had no plans to bring order to the country. In fact, Rumsfeld and
other high Defense Department officials had no plans for what to do after the
conquest of the country. The dismissal
of the Iraqi army has also been blamed for the outbreak of chaos and violence.
Many observers, including some who were strong supporters of the invasion, have
attributed the inability to stamp out the insurgency to an insufficient
number of troops. Rumsfeld,
who has been actively pushing a lean military dependent on high-tech weapons
rather than boots on the ground, has resisted calls for more soldiers. Without
doubt, lack of planning and errors in judgment have contributed to the growing
Many military experts have attributed the growth and strength of the violence
to the failure to employ valid counterinsurgency
tactics. Little effort was made, they argue, to win the minds and hearts
of local inhabitants. Shooting first and asking questions later may be the safest
tactic in the short run, but it builds hatred and anger as innocent women and
children are killed or maimed. Whether it would have been possible to win over
the public is open to debate. The coalition forces did not occupy the Kurdish
north, and the Kurds
have remained largely supportive of the Americans. Some of the Shias who had
suffered from Saddam Hussein's reign did initially welcome the toppling of his
regime. To this day, a number of them still support the coalition forces. The
contingent, concentrated in the southern part of Iraq, which is primarily
Shia, have bragged that they have been able to patrol without helmets and have
had a good relationship with the local people. Unfortunately, this benign occupation
has become more violent; no longer is the south peaceful. The level of violence,
however, is still less than that in the Sunni areas. Whether the relative success
in the south is attributable to better efforts at winning the hearts and minds
of the population or whether it is that the local people gained greatly by the
overthrow of Saddam Hussein's Sunni regime is again open to argument. The answer
is probably both; but, as we are seeing, violence is increasing in Shia areas
as well, and leading figures from that sect are calling for resisting the occupation.
In the sections of the country that are primarily Sunni, violence
has been unrelenting. The Sunnis have been strongly opposed to the occupation
and the toppling of their leader, Saddam. No matter how hard the military tried,
the chances that American troops could have won the hearts and minds of many
Sunnis seem remote.
Another school of thought claims that Iraqis
are not ready for democracy. There is nothing in their history to suggest
the willingness to compromise and allow others to exercise limited powers that
characterizes a democracy. Most countries with multiple ethnic, religious, or
tribal groups have difficulty managing a democratic government. Typically, one
of the groups will seize power and put down the others. Switzerland
is one of the few multi-ethnic societies that work and it does so by relegating
most powers to the various cantons; the central government handles mainly foreign
affairs and defense. Iraq is made up of various groups, but the largest is the
Shias, who have been dominated by the Sunnis in the past. Thus the tensions
and simmering conflicts make a working democracy very improbable. Only a federal
state whose central government had weak powers would have much chance of being
Blaming the chaos in Iraq on a failure of planning or on a failure to use the
correct tactics is similar to the effort by some Marxists
to blame the fall of communism in the Soviet Union on a failure to practice
communism correctly. It never addresses the root issue: the war could not be
won, because it was a colossal mistake.
While all the factors listed above make the occupation more difficult, they
ignore the basic problem: that is, a foreign power occupies Iraq. Not only is
it foreign, but it is from a predominantly Christian country, and Iraqis are
almost all Muslims. Many Muslims, if not most, see the U.S.-led invasion of
Iraq as a modern version of the Crusades.
While to most Westerners, especially Americans, the Crusades are simply an episode
in ancient history with no relevance to today, most Arabs feel quite differently.
They see the foundation of Israel as an effort by the West to retake the Holy
Land of Palestine using the Jewish state as a proxy. The Muslims see the Jews
expanding from their original mandate to occupy more and more of Palestine.
The recent invasion of Lebanon confirms their perception of the advance of Christianity/Judaism
into the Middle East.
Christians adhere to the view that Jewish occupation of greater Palestine
will lead to the Second Coming, in which those who do not accept Christ, Jews
and Muslims alike, will be damned to eternal Hell. These fundamentalists therefore
support Israel's expanding settlements in the West Bank. Muslims point to those
American religious groups as proof that the U.S. invaded Iraq to subjugate Muslims
who oppose the Jewish state and its efforts to occupy the Holy Land.
For most Americans, products of the largely secular West, it is hard to understand
the depth of feeling that the occupation of an Arab/Muslim country generates
among the inhabitants. The history of the British
experience in Iraq indicates that holding that country would be a bloody
and violent enterprise. When the British put Iraq together at the end of World
War I, they experienced a growing insurgency, which ultimately forced them to
withdraw. The U.S. is simply following in their steps with the same result –
violence directed against the occupier. Sooner or later, we will have to follow
the British example and pull out. Later means more deaths and more violence.
The sooner we get out of this disaster, the better.