Disengagement

Streetlights

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I was impressed at how much attention my summary post on Iraq received, especially from the right end of the blogosphere. The number of posters who linked to my post — who I don’t think would typically agree with me on a normal day — made me wonder if I’d dished up soft serve. But there were kudos from the hard left as well, and everybody said nice things about me and debated my points respectfully, so I’ll take the accolades and say thanks.

One post in particular caught my attention. Damian at Babbling Brooks took the time to respond to my post and post in detail why he thought the Iraq invasion was the right thing to do. He was thoughtful and well-reasoned. But I was struck by one particular line:

I’m one of those people who thinks at some point you need to drain the swamp and kill the alligators. And I believe that the most sensible way to do that is by reaching for low-hanging fruit first. Iraq was low-hanging fruit: a brutal dictatorial regime whose pursuit of WMD’s was consistent (although his stockpiles were nonexistent), whose willingness to use them was documented, whose ties to terrorism (though not to Al Qaeda) were established, whose hatred of the U.S. was unquestioned, whose defiance of international law was ongoing and on record, and whose threat to neighbouring countries was feared. If you’re going to start changing things anywhere in the middle east, I think you can make a good argument for starting with Iraq.

Which leads me to paraphrase Churchill.

Some tree. Some fruit.

I’m sure that some will be disturbed by Damian’s implication that, at some point, Bush or some other American leader is going to have to start a war to remake the Middle East. I’m sure that some people right now are wondering if the sabre rattling between the United States and Iran is leading to invasion. Other posters in the American blogosphere (albeit, not recently) have implied that it would have been nice if the invasion of Iraq had continued on into Syria. Some of you think this is a recipe for endless war. Some of you think that this is a sure sign that America sees itself as the world’s new Rome. Some of you are probably already brushing off the phrase “America, the world’s largest rogue nation” — not that the sign was particularly dusty.

But fundamentally, I understand Damien. The Middle East is a mess. There are few, if any, democratic nations in there. The rights of women are in retreat. There is a wide gap between rich and poor. Some nations’ rulers are brutal in their attempts to stay in power, and the people they are fighting against hate the West in general and America in particular because, either we’re backing some of these brutal regimes, or we (and Israel) are being used as convenient excuses for why things aren’t the way they should be.

The situation has been a mess since at least 1919, largely thanks to us. It has been held together by various deals with lesser and greater devils and several incidents the British, French and the Americans, not to mention the Soviets, would rather forget. And the Middle East holds the key to our continued economic wellbeing, by virtue of the amount of oil these nations happen to sit upon.

Africa has as many dictatorships oppressing their people, and we don’t care. The Sudanese government is committing acts of genocide, and we don’t move to invade. This is because Africa in full-blown revolution does not have the impact on the Western economy that the Middle East does by sneezing.

The invasion of Iraq was not about oil; it was about power. Straight from the first Gulf War, the amount of oil reserves commanded by Iraq, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia was used as a reason to contain Saddam. Back in 1991, the chance that Saddam might invade Saudi Arabia and control nearly a third of the world’s oil supply was cited by pundits in the United States as the big concern (that and the suffering of the people of Kuwait). Given how dependent the world is on oil — for the fertilizers for the food we grow, for the power that lights our homes and the fuel that makes our cars move — the amount of oil in the Middle East represents a lot of power.

And it’s in the hands of a collection of dictatorships and absolute monarchies.

How very frustrating.

So, I can understand the temptation to knock each and every country over, give the whole society a good shake, and rebuild everything from the top down in the great American way. Unfortunately, I don’t think it would work.

I’ve said before that Rumsfeld was consistently warned that far more than 100,000 American troops were required to win the war in Iraq and secure the peace afterwards (despite elections, the country still hasn’t stabilized). However, 100,000 troops was sufficient to win the war… against a national army that had been decimated by a huge, multi-national coalition a decade before, and intervening years of strict sanctions.

As the Bush Administration casts its eyes on Iran, has anybody warned them that this country is larger than Iraq? That it didn’t have its army crippled by the Gulf War? That there hasn’t been a decade of strict sanctions in the interim? That it is the centre of a major branch of the Islamic religion? (Perhaps somebody has) Or does the Bush Administration believe that a few quick hits will be enough to mobilize the precarious reform movement within the state to topple the theocratic thugs and that American liberators will once again be welcomed with garlands?

Some say the American military is already overstretched. Some alarmists are talking about reinstating the draft, and the truth is that soldiers are seeing their tours of duty doubled and semi-retired soldiers are being called back to the front. Could the United States topple the Ayatollah in Iran and occupy this country, while keeping the peace in Afghanistan and Iraq? Not without international assistance, I don’t think. And the problems in Iraq has led the world community to question whether the Bush Administration really knows what it’s doing or where it’s going.

And this doesn’t even begin to answer the problem of Saudi Arabia.

As much as we would like to clean up the mess in the Middle East, the fact remains that the reach of our military is limited. And as big as our bombs are, and as good as our personnel are, the sword the Middle East wields will always be bigger. They control the grease that keeps our economy moving. I like this as little as the next person. It is wrong that a country which refuses to let women drive and bans red roses on Valentine’s Day should have such control over our way of life, but that’s not going to change easily, and it’s not going to change with bombs. Our interference has typically only made things worse. Our best solution may be to walk away. Remove the control these countries exert over our economies, take off the kids gloves, and push for real democratic reforms.

So how do we walk away? (Next Article)

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