The Mess They Made

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Over the past several months, while working on other projects and taking a quick vacation or two, I’ve been receiving a steady stream of emails from friends and readers concerning America’s deteriorating situation abroad. Mostly, they’ve inquired about my opinion of our various wars and of the future direction of the Middle East.

Simply put, in my opinion, things have taken an ominous turn for the worse.

Iraq

America invaded a sovereign nation based on lies and fabricated intelligence. The general goal seems to have been a form of militarized nation building. This ideology (which I call "Reconstructionism") is based on the belief that the Middle East must be destroyed to be redeemed. Like Sherman burning Atlanta or Truman nuking Nagasaki, the proponents of this theory believe that bombing the Middle East and leveling its cities will create, somehow, a new beginning for the region.

Once America has finished trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored, the neocons contend, a more just and modern Middle East will arise from the ashes.

This view is, of course, insane.

But nevertheless, it seems to have caught the fancy of our foreign policy elites.

After America destroyed Iraq’s infrastructure and disbanded its military, the country fell apart along sectarian lines. Anyone understanding even a smidgen of Iraqi history could have predicted this disaster. For all intents and purposes, the Sunnis and Shiites are now at war. Bombings, beheadings, and kidnappings have become so routine that they hardly make the news. Our troops are caught in the crossfire, undermanned and under equipped.

Other than partition or collapse into chaos, I don’t see a way out of the situation. In all probability, it will continue to degenerate until we withdraw.

While none of this is new, there is an interesting sideshow emerging that could cause even more trouble. This involves the Kurds, the Turks, and the American occupation forces.

The Kurds are now nearly independent in northern Iraq. They have their own militias and have been fighting side-by-side with American forces since the beginning of the war. Given that both the Sunnis and the Shiites hate us, the Kurds are our only major ally in the country.

Unfortunately, the Kurds also have longstanding hatred of the Turks. Southeastern Turkey has a large population of Kurds who have an extensive litany of complaints about their treatment. As our leaders should have predicted, the Iraqi Kurds are funneling support to their brethren in Turkey, who have begun launching guerilla attacks and bombings against the Turkish "occupation".

The Turkish government is, needless to say, very upset about this and is now threatening to send troops into Iraq to crush the Kurds.

But America has forbidden them to do so.

Turkey is our NATO ally. The Kurds are our only friends in Iraq.

How will it end?

I’m not sure, but it could get mighty interesting. In addition to the three-way war between the Sunnis, the Shiites, and the American occupation forces, Iraq may host an additional conflict between the Kurds and the Turks (or, if things get really exciting, between America and the Kurds…or even America and the Turks).

What will Iraq look like after a five-way free-for-all?

I don’t know, but we may soon find out.

Lebanon

Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to chat with folks who visited Lebanon in the ’50s and ’60s. With faraway looks in their eyes, they described a land of beautiful, pine-covered mountains and spectacular Mediterranean beaches. The glitzy hotels and casinos created a nightlife that was, they claim, extravagant and perhaps a bit racy.

In a way, I’m glad I never saw it. Such memories would make the current situation all the more painful.

Lebanon had only recently crawled out from under two decades of civil war and years of Israeli and Syrian occupation. It had a democratically elected government and a prosperous, modernizing economy. The major religious sects had finally come together again to build a better society. It was an exciting season of renewal.

I’m still haunted by images like this one of Lebanese who rallied only a year ago in that bid for freedom. Encouraged by America, thousands of them risked their lives in the streets of Beirut. They represented a modern, middle-class yearning to move Lebanon into the 21st Century.

What must she be thinking now?

Is she a refugee?

Is she even still alive?

And what did the Lebanese get in return?

What they got was systematic destruction of their country in retaliation for a border skirmish that was beyond their power to prevent.

A model of Arab democracy is being shattered before our very eyes. America encouraged Lebanon to hold free elections. America encouraged them to throw out the Syrians. But that policy is looking more and more like a cynical ploy designed to remove the Syrian military so Hezbollah could be more easily destroyed.

Without doubt, Hezbollah bears a large share of the blame for this disaster. But America’s machinations and Israel’s ruthless response have helped turn a border skirmish into yet another failed Arab state that will haunt us for years to come.

Afghanistan

While most people are focusing on the brutal wars in Iraq and Lebanon, I still believe that Imperial America’s Little Big Horn will occur in Afghanistan. The trajectory of our occupation is following the approximate timeline of Russia’s two decades earlier. They invaded in 1979, complete with propaganda about Islamic extremism, promises to liberate women, and plans to rebuild the economy. They set up a puppet government and held bogus elections. They even tried to eradicate the poppy trade.

It took about four or five years for things to unravel. By the late 1980′s, the Russians had had their fill of Afghanistan.

America has alienated the Pashtuns, the largest ethnic group in the country. We’ve angered the poppy farmers. We’ve offended the traditional Muslims. Our hand-picked president can’t leave his capital city.

Just about the only thing we’ve done right is dragging NATO along for the ride (they’ll take some of the casualties instead of us). The Brits, who never seem to ask themselves why they fight wars in Afghanistan every half-century or so, are involved in almost daily heavy combat in the southern provinces.

Slowly but surely, like creeping mildew, the Afghan war will fester and grow progressively worse. Our NATO allies will cut and run. The attacks will become bigger and more coordinated.

The country is too wild, the terrain too rough, and the people too fanatical for anyone to occupy it indefinitely.

Yet, like Mesopotamia, Afghanistan seems to draw imperial powers into itself like moths to a campfire.

Conclusion

Things aren’t going particularly well in the Middle East. It has been a bad summer, and the winter promises no respite (except in Afghanistan, where guerilla armies usually lay low and rearm until the mountain passes open in the spring).

Osama bin Laden’s plan was to use his attack on America as the matador’s cape. He hoped to draw America into a series of endless insurgent wars that would eventually demoralize the American people and bankrupt our government. In the process, he hoped to show his fellow Muslims that the West has nothing but ill intentions toward the Middle East.

His plan is moving along quite nicely.

Steven LaTulippe [send him mail] is a physician currently practicing in Ohio. He was an officer in the United States Air Force for 13 years.

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