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Unstick the tarbaby

"...declaring that the United States was too tied down in Iraq and Afghanistan..."
-- from Haaretz

The harm that would result from the acquisition of nuclear weapons by the Islamic Republic of Iran far outweighs any conceivable good that could come from the construction or re-construction of a country called "Iraq" from American efforts to keep the Sunni and Shi'a forces apart, or, still more fantastic, keeping them somehow together, fighting side by side, against the same perceived enemies of the new nation-state of "Iraq."

Those who would prefer that United States avoid, if possible, the use of planes and missiles to stop the Iranian nuclear project should naturally wish that the American government do whatever it can to impress upon the Iranian regime, or individual Iranians who work on that project and might sabotage or give more detailed reports on it, that the threats to use force are serious.

The best way to ensure this is to withdraw, within the year, from Iraq. The Iraqi government's hopeless dithering -- hopeless not because everyone is incapable, but because the situation is hopeless, for the Sunnis will not reconcile themselves to the loss of power which became inevitable when Saddam Hussein was overthrown -- provides the excuse for that withdrawl, for those who think some excuse is necessary. Why the American government believes it needs such an excuse is another matter. In any case, such withdrawal would concentrate the minds of Iranian rulers, and also of those described as "Iranian nationalists" who are making a mistake in parroting the line about how "Iran has a right to have nuclear power (i.e., weapons." No it doesn't, and it doesn't because Iranians are Muslims, and Infidels cannot, any longer, tolerate -- and most understand why they cannot -- any Muslim people or polity acquiring dangerous weaponry. It is not merely a question of the present regime, but of the regime that might follow, or the regime after that. Nor is it a question even of a regime, but possibly of a group within that regime that can acquire, or hand off, such weaponry. To the anti-regime Iranian "patriot" who is offended by this view of things, the correct answer from Infidels is -- too bad. That's the problem of Islam, and what it inculcates, and what a sufficient number of its Believers either believe, or can so easily be made to believe when they, for whatever reason, become more deeply faithful in their Faith.

The American presence in Iraq is taken in Tehran not as threatening, as some loyal boosters of the Iraq the Model business appear to believe, but as a sure sign that the Americans will not use military force. The Iraq tarbaby to which the American military is being forced to cling by obstinate civilian leaders, and by some (not all) generals who are unused to questioning the entire strategy (not least because they do not know enough about Islam and Jihad to be sure of themselves in questioning that policy for the right reasons), is doing all kinds of damage. Young officers resign their commissions. Standards for new recruits are lowered. The numbers of those signing up for the Reserves and National Guard (whose own equipment often ends up being left in Iraq) declines. The morale of those who actually compare their own experiences in Iraq, and with Iraqis, with what the official line of the generals, merely parroting what the civilians in Washington tell them to say and think, goes steadily down. How could it not? The more aware one is, the more one thinks about the whole thing (usually when one has left Iraq, and had the leisure and distance to make sense of things), the more likely one is to be appalled by the squandering of resources based on a false notion: the notion of a widespread consciousness of being "Iraqi" that transcends such ideas as being "Arab" or "Kurd," and if Arab, than Sunni Arab or Shi'a Arab.

Soldiers and officers in the end discover that only a handful in Iraq think that way. This has obvious consequences. One cannot train an "Iraqi" army or "police" unit that will have a force of Sunni and Shi'a Arabs and of Kurds, and find that the recruits will trust each other, or could together mount an attack on targets that were 1) Sunni Arabs 2) Shi'a Arabs 3) Kurds and expect that all the officers and men could be trusted to carry out, rather than undermine, the mission. The Americans cannot distinguish which few Iraqis can be trusted, and which cannot. Nor, of course, can they trust the Sunni Arab officer to tell them the truth about Sunni recruits or for that matter about the Shi'a recruits, nor the Shi'a Arab officer about the Shi'a and Sunnis, or either about the Kurds, or the Kurds about the Arabs. It is a hopeless entanglement, of a kind that the Americans simply cannot unentangle.

And those who think that the mere existence of that Yankee-can-do attitude will see everyone through, and that somehow good will triumph, and it will all come right in the end, and history will absolve George Bush (he certainly thinks so -- the amount of time he spends alluding to this "history-will-absolve-me" theme reminds one of Fidel Castro, who has taken the same line), are not to be trusted. These are True Believers, not rational calculators of likelihoods, of possibilities, of the finiteness of resources that need to be husbanded, not squandered.


The existence of the odd Chalabi or Allawi or Kanan Makiya (to use his alias) means nothing. These are unrepresentative men, the very best that came out of Iraq, and who furthermore spent decades in the West and there became to a great degree, Western, rational, entirely secular men (even if some of them still become defensive -- as Kanan Makiya does in invoking memories of his pious, and kind grandmother -- when sensing that Islam itself is under attack). Policy cannot be made on the basis of this handful, any more than policies for other Muslim countries can be made on the basis of those clever and appealing people (from Egypt, from Iran) who have their own fish to fry, their own aims in inveigling the Americans to help them -- aims which do not correspond to those that should be ours, as Infidels, which is not to improve matters for the camp of Islam, but everywhere to force the camp of Islam to be divided and demoralized, to be kept constantly on edge, and to be made aware that Infidels everywhere are being immunized, through knowledge, to the siren-songs of Da'wa, and the mountebank's patter of the apologists with their careful handful of Qur'anic quotes, their reliance on taqiyya and tu-quoque and above all, on the continued ignorance and willful naiveté of the Infidel audiences they encounter.

What are the "Iraqis"? The Kurds may be genuinely grateful, but that reflects not only the American aircover from 1991 to 2003, but also the understanding that only the United States can be a midwife to an independent Kurdistan. The Arabs are essentially irredeemably hostile. This does not mean that the Shi'a do not, for now, want the Americans to stay so as to keep doing the dangerous work of suppressing both kinds of Sunni rebels -- the Iraqi kind, who simply do not want to lose power to the Shi'a or to the Kurds, and are prepared to fight, and the outside-Iraqi kind, who under Zarqawi are fighting the Infidel Americans and the Infidel Shi'a, those "Rafidite dogs." But if the impulses are different, the end result is the same.

It might be that tomorrow it will be the Sunnis of Iraq wanting the Americans to stay to protect them, and the Shi'a who will now want them to go, if they get in the way of the death-dealing Shi'a militia. It hardly matters. And it hardly matters that some Iraqis, both Sunni and Shi'a, would like the Americans not to leave quite yet because they are hopeful of obtaining still more American money, rebuilding, and of course, hope as well that if the Americans have to leave in a hurry, they will leave behind all kinds of highly desirable military equipment. There is no end to this.

And there is no end, apparently, to the belief of many at the top of this Administration that somehow in this ill-named, dangerously-named "war on terror," a "victory" can be achieved in Iraq by creating this permanently on-edge nation-state, with the Americans staying another year, or two, or four, or whatever Bush appears to hallucinate is still possible. That time frame is nonsense, of course, because the candidate elected in 2008 will be the one who promises a 1952-style I-will-end-the-war-in-Korea which helped elect Eisenhower, and all hell will break lose if that new President fails to honor that commitment). But why should we wait until then? Why should hundreds of billions more, that might be spent on nuclear plants (starting now), solar and wind energy, on subsidies for mass transit, on all the things that could be done to diminish one of the key weapons of the world-wide Jihad -- the money, the damned oil money?

Meanwhile, in Iraq, there is widespread hostility by the "Iraqis" toward the American soldiers who are there, so those soldiers are told, to help the Iraqis, to rebuild Iraq, to make Iraq into a functioning, even thriving nation-state. Theirs not to reason why -- but they are beginning to reason, and they cannot quite fit the reality they experience into the pseudo-reality of the generals and civilian leaders. And this pains and confuses and in the end demoralizes them. For too often they have seen civilians waving sweetly at them, civilians whom they realize know exactly when an attack is planned. Too often they have seen those civilians dancing around in celebration after attacks on American soldiers, sometimes even mutilating the corpses of soldiers, or helping to kill downed pilots who were alive when they reached the ground. They have heard stories, too, about Americans "embedded" with Iraqi units who do not trust, for one minute, the soldiers in those units not to attempt to kill them, the Americans. There are even reports that this feared event may already have occurred. But the officers and men are not allowed to speak about this, not allowed to speak or write or question this whole policy, even if it is they who are risking their lives in this futile, dangerous, expensive effort, still underway only because of the crazed stubbornness, the inability to admit that one was wrong, completely wrong both about Islam (for if Islam is the problem, then helping Muslim countries is hardly a quasi-solution; one wishes instead to contain Islam, in the first place by dividing and demoralizing the camp of Islam), and about Iraq (the inability of Bush, Cheney, Rice, or for that matter outside advisers, such as Bernard Lewis, to focus on the resentment of Shi'a for Sunnis, and on the fantasy-world of the Sunnis who will not, cannot, give up their claims to political and therefore every other kind of power in Iraq, should be the focus of everyone's attention. It is clear why they cannot discuss or recognize this: it would show that they had made war, made grand plans, without understanding Iraq. Criminal negligence in the study of Iraq, the willingness to be inveigled by assorted chalabis waving away any pre-war worries -- who now wishes to admit that the whole Iraq the Light Unto the Muslim Nations notion, whereby a state now ruled by Shi'a would somehow become a model for Sunni Arabs, was madness from first to last? Who?

So the best the Americans can hope for is a limping-along Iraq, constantly propped up by more than a hundred thousand American soldiers, and $100 billion a year in expenses to American taxpayers, just so that Bush can end his term without having had to "change course" or admit that he got two things wrong: Islam, and Iraq. Meanwhile, the best the soldiers can hope for of their "Iraqi" friends is a kind of greedy (always angling for, snatching at, whatever American dollars or other aid may be available), watching indifferently the American soldiers fight and die, and save for a handful of largely Kurdish troops, being entirely unwilling and incapable of doing much fighting on their own, adopting in military as in reconstruction efforts a "wake-me-when-it's-over" attitude. And of course, the Sunni Arabs and Shi'a Arabs are unlikely to exhibit what no Muslim peoples have ever exhibited -- a spirit of rational compromise that would require something more than the conspiracy theories, inshallah-fatalism, inculcated aggression, and habit of mental submission, all of which are the natural products of an Islamic society. That some who were in exile for decades have managed, at the very top, to exhibit the features of rational, Western man is not enough; a handful do not make a country.

I have over the past year been calling this tarbaby Iraq. But Uncle Remus, and Joel Chandler Harris, I now realize, do not do paint the matter in colors as dark as deserved. For no longer is it merely a tarbaby. No, as the American policymakers move back and forth trying to unstick itself here, and now getting stuck there, that tarbaby now dissolves slowly into something more menacing. As policies toward the world-wide Jihad remain fixed and prematurely fossilized, and the American military, whatever its purely military accomplishments, is being turned into that powerful, but essentially helpless mammoth, twisting to extricate itself, and no longer knowing how, from that tarbaby of Iraq that has now become the La Brea Tar Pits.

And this is something that Iran knows, and takes delight in, and believes will guarantee that it can proceed, without further ado, toward its nightmarish -- for Infidels -- goal.