By Patricia Lee Sharpe
By the U.S.? Nothing.
As unsavory as Saddam Hussain was, the U.S. had no call to invade Iraq in 2003 and should never have done so. As for the situation in Iraq today, if the current government in Baghdad is indeed facing an existential threat from an army of Sunni extremists, al Maliki and company will in fact be victims of their own blind sectarianism. Poetic justice may prevail.
Stop Paying Politics
This is the case that President Barack Obama should be making to the American public, a case that former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi seems to understand. However, no one listens to the Minority Leader, especially when the Republican majority is already harping on the theme of White House failure in Iraq.
It’s time for the President to stand up and resist this manipulative manoeuver. Instead of mumbling about not excluding any form of assistance, Barack Obama should say it loud and clear. No boots on the ground. No bombs. No undercover operations. No money. Nada. Nothing. Zip.
A Regime Worth Supporting?
The U.S., having foolishly invaded Iraq and precipitated its fragmentation, sort of glued it back together and left it in fairly good shape. An Army had been more or less trained, a workable new Constitution was in effect and well supervised elections had produced a government that could have made a go of a unified Iraq, if that government had so chosen. It did not. Ignoring American advice, the al Maliki government did everything it could to disenfranchise and marginalize the Sunni north, creating in Iraq what is, to all intents and purposes, a Shi’ite state. I repeat: they ignored us and now they want us to bail them out! Surely we aren’t that dumb.
Meanwhile, the Kurds have turned their corner of Iraq into an orderly, prosperous, quasi-independent country and built up a Kurdish Army to maintain that autonomy. Already they’re taking steps to defend Kirkuk from the insurgents, with the long term intention, no doubt, of absorbing that city into Kurdistan.
As for the Sunni sheikhs, those traditional clan leaders who had cooperated with the U.S. only to be scorned by Al Maliki, they are cooperating with (or at least not resisting) a particularly ruthless army of fundamentalists who have the zeal, the numbers, the weapons and the leadership to capture and hold major cities in the North, with the aim of creating a unified emirate including culturally similar parts of Syria. They are a truly ugly bunch from whom secular Sunnis are fleeing for their lives and their life styles, thus revealing another major rupture in the Muslim body politic.
A Morass to Avoid
By this I mean that uncivil debate and civil war are occurring on many levels simultaneously in Iraq and everywhere in the Muslim world. The secularly inclined vs. theocrats. Fundamentalists vs. modernists. Shia vs. Sunni, each having many sub-sects who may or may not get along with one another and some of which have been branded heretical. Tolerant vs. puritanical. Democrats vs. monarchists. Scriptural inerrancy requiring literal application vs. historical understanding allowing for interpretation. And these loyalties aren’t clear cut and watertight. They’re crosscutting. Plus this: all too many isms are absolutist: do it our way or off with your head! Literally.
Can any reasonably rational American leader honestly believe we should get ourselves entangled in the confessional contradictions that exist today in Iraq? Does the Republican leadership really think that this is a good idea, or are they merely playing games in order to gain some future electoral advantage? If the latter, it’s playing with fire. President Obama was foolish to draw red lines re the Syrian conflict, but his decision not to get directly involved was a very sound one. In the meantime, Syria is being reduced to rubble. Material history is being destroyed. Thousands and thousands of lives have been lost. The struggle has been prolonged by outside interventions. Russia helps Assad. The Saudis and the Emirates fund the Islamists. The West supplies the moderates. Without all this outside intervention and cheerleading, the Syrians themselves might by now have bloodied or exhausted themselves into negotiation.
Anyhow, take a good look at Syria and know that this is what Iraq will look like in a year’s time if the U.S. gets involved at any serious level. It’s time to let the Muslim world settle its own affairs. The wars of religion in Christian Europe were cruel, bloody and protracted. But they taught the Europeans the value of tolerance and pluralism. Muslims may also have to learn by bloody direct experience if the lesson is to stick longer than the effects of a boring sermon from the West.
The Line that Makes Sense
But there is a line that the U.S. can draw. The Cold War policy of containment should be resolutely resurrected. Within the Muslim world, Muslims must fight their civil wars and live with the consequences, perhaps for decades, perhaps for generations, as Iran has, as we will, but line crossing will not be tolerated. Should attacks be launched on the non-Muslim world, the response must be rapid and lethal. The killing of Bin Laden was justifiable. And drone strikes may be indicated.
If, however, a puritanical theocratic state is willing to join the community of nations and respect the sovereignty of others, it need not be ostracized or overthrown. Not acceptable, you say? Then answer this: Why should the U.S. continue to maintain friendly relations with a repressive theocracy like Saudi Arabia (which funds Islamist extremism) while potentially refusing to have similar relations with an equally patriarchal Islamist emirate in Northern Iraq?
Twelve hours later: It looks as though Obama is rushing to provide aid to Al Maliki. And so is Iran! Does that make the U.S. and Iran allies? Even leaving aside the irrisistible lol aspects of such a prospect after all these years of demonizing Iran, strengthen al Maliki will do nothing to heal the split between North and South, Shia and Sunni. At this point, I fear, it may even be much too late for a strongly federalist re-write of the Iraqi Constitution. Can you say Humpty-dumpty?