Election Blowback: Has US Policy Created 2 Talibans in Iraq??

December 21, 2005

Comment #544

The author of the attached report, Patrick Cockburn, is one of the most astute observers of events in Iraq. If his assessment is correct, the concept of preemptive war will have elevated the question of "blowback" (i.e., the unintended consequences of preemptive policies "sold" under erroneous or covert pretenses) to the center of Middle East politics for another generation, and we are again sowing the seeds of hatred by fomenting the rise of religious extremists in what used to be the most secular state in the Arab world.

Blowback is a particularly good fertilizer for the seeds of hatred, and it has a long, black history in the Middle East:

  • Iran is what it is today, in part, because of long-term consequences of our intervention to oust Premier Mossedeq in 1952 and replace him with a puppet Shah. We preempted because Mossedeq, a secular politician, wanted to nationalize Iranian oil production. (see http://www.nytimes.com/library/world/mideast/041600iran-cia-index.html - subscription may be required )

  • Israel's ill-starred preemptive policies created its most capable and fanatical enemies, Hamas and Hezbollah, while steadily weakening the secular PLO [see Clyde Haberman's article "Backfire," Reference 1].

  • What is not widely understood is that the Soviets invaded Afghanistan preemptively to prevent the rise of religious extremism in its Central Asia "republics." But that threat was fanned in part by US policies aimed at seducing the Soviets into a quagmire. The US fanned the fires of extremism by providing arms and advice in the late 1970s to Afghan Islamists based in Pakistan. President Carter approved this secret aid in July 1979, before the Soviets invaded. In an little-noticed French language interview with Le Nouvel Observateur (January 15-21, 1998, p. 76), Zbigniew Brzezinski, Carter's National Security Advisor, bragged cynically that these policies had the effect of drawing the Russians into "the Afghan trap." "We didn't push the Russians to intervene," he said, "but we knowingly increased the probability that they would." This view was reinforced in a letter he claims to have sent to President Carter on December 27, 1979, the day the Soviet army entered Afghanistan. "Now," he said, "we can give the USSR its Vietnam War." [see Pankaj Mishra,"The Making of Afghanistan," The New York Review of Books, November 15, 2001]

Among the unintended consequences of the Soviet "Vietnam" so gleefully sought by the US was the rise of the Taliban and Osama bin Laden and the propagation of Islamic fundamentalism throughout the Arab world  Now we have poured gasoline on the fire we help to light 30 years ago by waging yet another preemptive war in Iraq.

Let us all hope Mr. Cockburn is wrong for a change, because if his assessment is close to the truth, yet more blowback may finally answer the question: Why do they hate us? this time by giving the United States two Talibans in Iraq. Where such an evolution would end, no one can say.

Iraq's election result: a divided nation

By Patrick Cockburn
21 December 2005


Religious fundamentalists now have the upper hand. The secular and nationalist candidate backed by the US and Britain was humiliatingly defeated.

The Shia religious coalition has won a total victory in Baghdad and the south of Iraq. The Sunni Arab parties who openly or covertly support armed resistance to the US are likely to win large majorities in Sunni provinces. The Kurds have already achieved quasi-independence and their voting reflected that

Islamic fundamentalist movements are ever more powerful in both the Sunni and Shia communities. Ghassan Attiyah, an Iraqi commentator, said: "In two and a half years Bush has succeeded in creating two new Talibans in Iraq."

Ironically, Mr Bush is increasingly dependent within Iraq on the co-operation and restraint of the Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has repeatedly called for the eradication of Israel. It is the allies of the Iranian theocracy who are growing in influence by the day and have triumphed in the election. The US will fear that development greatly as it constantly reminds the world of Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Another victor in the election is the fiery nationalist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose Mehdi Army militia fought fierce battles with US troops last year. Mr Sadr will now be one of the most influential leaders within the coalition.

The election also means a decisive switch from a secular Iraq to a country in which, outside Kurdistan, religious law will be paramount. Mr Allawi, who ran a well-financed campaign, was the main secular hope but that did not translate into votes. The other main non-religious candidate, Ahmed Chalabi, won less than 1 per cent of the vote in Baghdad and will be lucky to win a single seat in the new 275-member Council of Representatives.

"People underestimate how religious Iraq has become," said one Iraqi observer. "Iran is really a secular society with a religious leadership, but Iraq will be a religious society with a religious leadership." Already most girls leaving schools in Baghdad wear headscarves. Women's rights in cases of divorce and inheritance are being eroded.

The elections are also unlikely to see a diminution in armed resistance to the US by the Sunni community. Insurgent groups have made clear that they see winning seats in parliament as the opening of another front.

Reference 1

How Not to Win the Battle but Lose the War
By CLYDE HABERMAN, New York Times [Week in Review],
September 2, 2001


From the Israeli government's vantage, it got rid of a man it says was responsible for a string of car bombings. But critics, in Israel and outside, had a question. Even taking for granted that the charges against Mr. Zibri are true, they asked, is the perceived short-term gain from doing him in worth potentially dire long-term consequences?

At the man's funeral, Palestinian factions that are normally at odds came together in a new spirit of anti-Israel unity. And in the emotional cauldron here, each high-profile killing by Israel has produced dozens of young Palestinians pledging to go forth and blow themselves up in as thick a crowd of Israelis as they can find. Considering how many suicide bombings Israel has endured, their threats cannot be shrugged off.

There you have the Law of Unintended Consequences. "It's a recurring problem for policy planners of any sort," said Mark Heller, a senior researcher at the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University. "For some reason, it seems to be more pronounced in military affairs."

Unintended consequences have long dogged Israel. Until its army stormed into Lebanon in the early 1980's to root out Mr. Arafat and the P.L.O., it had no real issue with Hezbollah, or the "Party of God." Now, Hezbollah is seen by Israelis as a constant menace on their northern border.

Also in the 1980's, searching for a political counterweight to the P.L.O., Israel nurtured a new group called the "Islamic Resistance Movement," known by its Arabic shorthand, Hamas. Guess which group became the bigger threat for Israelis.

Then in December 1992, in retaliation for the murder of several Israelis, the army rounded up some 400 Hamas members and dumped them in a barren stretch of southern Lebanon. There they stayed for many months.  And there they learned bomb-making techniques from Hezbollah guerrillas, returning to Gaza and the West Bank bigger and badder than ever as far as Israel was concerned.

Chuck Spinney

On the Politics of Fear:

"The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary." - H.L. Mencken

"Naturally, the common people don't want war...but, after all it's the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship...Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country." - Herman Goering at Nuremberg trial in 1946

"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." - Franklin D. Roosevelt

On Religious Fanaticism:

"Their credulity debased and vitiated the faculties of the mind: they corrupted the evidence of history; and superstition gradually extinguished the hostile light of philosophy and science." - Edward Gibbon

On Checks & Balances:

"A popular government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives." - James Madison, from a letter to W.T. Barry, August 4, 1822

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