Wednesday, October 25, 2006

War fatigue

This is not a political blog, but I could not help noticing the recent White House admission that they were dropping "stay the course" from their political talking points. (NPR audio here.

We know that the rationale keeps changing. First it was weapons of mass destruction, but there were none. Then it was regime change--agreed, Saddam Hussein was a bad guy. And "bringing democracy." And "fighting terrorism." I think the public is growing weary, but the elections next month will show just how weary.

More to the point, yesterday's panel on NPR's Morning Edition focused on language (which I do blog about) and how simply calling the Iraq situation a "civil war" would force us to re-think our approach. (Audio here) Why language matters.

Iraq, in a sense, is not a nation. "Iraq" is not "Arabic for Vietnam," as some antiwar people suggested in 2003. It's more like "Arabic for Yugoslavia."

Yugoslavia ("Land of the South Slavs") was created by the Great Powers in 1918, following the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian empire. It contained several small nations that had, at times, independent existences when they were not controlled from Venice, Istanbul, or Vienna as part of larger empires.

After World War II, Marshall Tito and the Communists kept them glued together. In 1991 the lid came off for good, and the whole former "nation" exploded into war.

When we got rid of Saddam's government, we unwittingly took the lid off Iraq. And Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfield were so historically ignorant that they did not see the trouble coming.

Iraq, too, was created by decree following the defeat of the Turkish Empire in World War I and the loss of most of its Middle Eastern holdings. Some Englishmen drew some lines on the map and lo, Iraq! And they put some homeless Arab king in charge and called it a nation.

Bush & Co. thought they were liberating France--like going into Baghdad was Paris 1944, with people throwing flowers and pretty girls kissing the brave GIs, followed by a government-in-exile being installed and things eventually getting back to normal.

As we see now, they were clueless. We keep talking about building up the Iraqi police and army, but I think that those forces chiefly draw recruits who sign up to get uniforms, pay, and lots of guns and ammo with which to slay their religious, ethnic, and tribal enemies. Where is the sense of nationhood?

Polical blogger Steve Sailer quotes columnist John Tierney:

The problem is that [Iraqis] have so many social obligations more important to them than national unity. Iraqis bravely went to the polls and waved their purple fingers, but they voted along sectarian lines. Appeals to their religion trumped appeals to the national interest. And as the beleaguered police in Amara saw last week, religion gets trumped by the most important obligation of all: the clan.

The deadly battle in Amara wasn’t between Sunnis and Shiites, but between two Shiite clans that have feuded for generations. After one clan’s militia destroyed police stations and took over half the city, the Iraqi Army did not ride to the rescue. Authorities regained control only after the clan leaders negotiated a truce.

So let's just call it a civil war and make our plans based on that fact. I've wondered for a long time if Iraq, like Yugoslavia, was not fated to break into at least three smaller countries--and if that might not be a good thing.

OK, back to the usual blogging.



Anonymous George Hunt said...

The article about Iraq and its slight similarity to the Yougoslav's responses, was a delights. Clear and easy to comprhend, you did a good job Mr. Clifton.
George Hunt

7:39 PM  

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