Iraq Nightmare

Given the situation of sectarian/ethnic warfare in Iraq, I am posting an article that originally appeared in 2011. It’s amazing that academics like me are routinely pilloried as doing shoddy research and skewing everything they write about for political/ethnic reasons. But that does not apply at all to academic activists like Bernard Lewis, the much praised Princeton University professor who promised George W. Bush that all that was needed for a flourishing of Iraqi democracy of multiculturalism and human rights was a little military nudge. Iraq will never be like the West. 

This logic continues with Tony Blair who absolves himself of any blame because “the sectarianism of the Maliki Government snuffed out what was a genuine opportunity to build a cohesive Iraq. Blair writes as if to say, “if only they had a better leader, all would be well.”

Who could have possibly known that Maliki would simply reverse Saddam’s modus vivendi and  start oppressing the Sunnis? Bernard Lewis, for one. But Lewis was far more intent on  carrying out Israel’s foreign policy interests than telling Bush the truth. A fragmented Iraq or an Iraq torn by war were equally attractive possibilities. Win-win. 

Of all the lies that the neocons came up with to get the U.S. to invade Iraq, the one that most angers me was Bernard Lewis’s lie that Iraq just needed a little nudge in order to unleash the popular surge for democracy and republican government.

Lewis … argues that Arabs have a long history of consensus government, if not democracy, and that a modicum of outside force should be sufficient to democratize the area—a view that runs counter to the huge cultural differences between the Middle East and the West that stem ultimately from very different evolutionary pressures. (see here, p. 50)

I agree that the WMD lie created and promoted mainly by Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith and Abraham Shulsky was critical. But Bernard Lewis deserves a special place in academic hell because he used his position as an elite academic to influence policy on behalf of his ethnic brethren in Israel and his close friends in the Likud government.
I assumed that Iraq would implode quite quickly after the U.S. left, but the pace is breathtaking. The LATimes report (“Iraq bombings kill 60, revive old fears“) shows that nothing has changed after 8-1/2 years of occupation, over 4400 U.S. armed forces dead and almost 32000 wounded, and over 100,000 Iraqis dead (see here). The Times article shows that the fundamental social structure hasn’t changed. The country remains divided along ethnic and religious lines.

The scenes of devastation were all too familiar after more than a dozen explosions ripped through the Iraqi capital Thursday, killing at least 60 people and injuring nearly 200, just days after the last U.S. troops left the country.

The attacks, some of the worst in Iraq this year, came in the midst of a political standoff between the country’s main Shiite Muslim and Sunni Arab factions. The dispute threatens to unravel a U.S.-backed power-sharing government, and is spreading anxiety over the prospect of a return to the sectarian bloodletting that devastated the country in recent years.

All the violence has not changed the basic fact that Iraq, like every other Arab culture, is a low-trust society:

“This crisis really is caused because there is pervasive distrust and an absence of institutions that can carry this kind of transition,” said Joost Hiltermann, an Iraq expert at the International Crisis Group. Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, a Shiite, has never trusted the Sunni politicians with whom he has been forced to share power, Hiltermann said.

Western societies have uniquely been high-trust societies, a point made, e.g., by Francis Fukuyama and a basic corollary of the psychology of Western individualism (see here, p. 27ff). The problem is that we think that everyone is “just like us”—willing and able to set up individualist societies with democratic and republican institutions. As Ian Morris writes in his Why the West Rules—For Now, people are pretty much the same the world over (see Brenton Sanderson’s review).We want to believe this so badly that it was easy to pull off the big lie. It’s the foundational lie of multi-culturalism. Of course, the same goes for IQ. We are supposed to ignore the findings that the average IQ in Iraq is around 87.

The Sunnis want more autonomy under the Shiite government, and the Kurds will doubtless continue their drive for autonomy. Iraq will be fractionated, politically weakened where the only solution is a heavy-handed dictatorship a la Saddam Hussein, or partition into three states.

In the ideal neocon world, the U. S. would have remained in Iraq indefinitely. Since that didn’t happen, they are doubtless not unhappy to see Iraq’s current turmoil—except that it will be more difficult next time to sell attacks on Israel’s enemies as a crusade for democracy.

I suspect that the neocon strategy will now be to blame the Obama administration for premature evacuation and use this as a trump card in the current campaign for a war against Iran. Already, “Republican leaders have sharply criticized President Obama for not trying harder to keep a U.S. military presence in Iraq. Sen. John McCain of Arizona said on CBS television Thursday that Iraq was ‘unraveling tragically.’ ‘We are paying a very heavy price in Baghdad because of our failure to have a residual force there.'”

It is unclear what price we are paying, since it’s unclear what threat Iraq poses or ever posed to the U.S. But it is certainly the case that this will be an issue in presidential politics in the months ahead. One can imagine the Obama administration being more willing to do the bidding of the Israel Lobby on Iran in order to counter the inevitable charges that he “lost Iraq.”

In a sane society, the neocons would have been executed for high treason for their involvement in the death and maiming of thousands of U.S. citizens under false pretenses, not to mention the trillion dollar price tag. In the U.S., they are preparing for their next war.

And the Israel Lobby has their back. Any intimation of Jewish influence related to Israel policy remains off limits. Thomas Friedman recently had the temerity to write, “I sure hope that Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, understands that the standing ovation he got in Congress this year was not for his politics. That ovation was bought and paid for by the Israel lobby.” But it wasn’t long before he mollified his remarks and said he didn’t subscribe to any “grand conspiracy theories.”

I don’t subscribe to any grand conspiracy theories either. It’s all out in the open. In your face. Just don’t say so in public.

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