13 September 2007

Have We Met the Enemy?

I've been watching the Petraeus Report hearings via C-Span's web site. For some reason it wasn't working on my PC last night, so I couldn't finish the Senate portion, but I have watched all of the Joint House committee hearings. I'll make some comments over the next few days about some of what was said.

I'd like to start with something that bothered me about some of the House members. One or two seemed to have no clear idea about who the enemy was in Iraq. And then, I thought, it's actually not all that clear because even Petraeus himself admitted that the situation had changed during the time American forces have been in the country.

Let's review the players briefly:
(1) American forces attacked Afghanistan, whose government declined to extradite Osama Bin-Laden on American terms. Enemy: Al-Qaeda and Taliban.
(2) Coalition forces attacked Iraq, out of fear that the government possessed weapons of mass destruction and that they might form an alliance with Al-Qaeda. Enemy: Saddam Hussein.
(3) Coalition forces in Iraq become the target of a resistance movement of unreconstructed Ba'athists and al-Qaeda opportunists. Enemy: Ba'ath Party Iraqis and al-Qaeda.
(4) Iraq, under occupation, teeters toward civil war, as Moslem rivals of Sunni and Shia traditions began sparring. Meanwhile, al-Qaeda opportunists continue to attack a large concentration of American forces in Iraq. Enemy: Extremists and al-Qaeda.
(5) Once large-scale terrorism breaks out in Iraq, Sunnis in other Arab countries and Iranian Shias send assistance to their co-religionists in Iraq. America decides Sunni helpers are good and Shia ones are bad. Enemy: Extremists, al-Qaeda, Iranians.

You can see the problem here for a congressperson whose time is taken up with fundraising for the election war chest, getting federal funds for his constituents, and fretting about the young state politician with an eye on going to Washington. They cling to the idea that the enemy in Iraq is al-Qaeda, because that's the only consistent thread, and it plays well with the folks.

However, one cannot go through that list without realizing that the French government was right all along. Overthrowing Saddam without anything coherent to put in his place would only make matters worse, because he was a force for stability in the region, despite all his troublemaking. I'm hard-pressed to come up with a parallel for this from American history, or even the history of other countries.

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