Let’s begin by looking at WWII. Initially, Japan and Germany conquered a few, weak nations or territories nearby, and the conquered citizenry meekly submitted to overwhelming firepower and massive troop deployments. Germany and Japan were able to consolidate their control over those earliest conquests before moving on and growing their Empires. As the two nations expanded their aims for conquest, other populations refused to submit. Those other, stronger, more determined national identities forged underground insurgencies. Their ultimate victories showed that persistent resistance cannot be defeated. In the many decades since the end of WWII, other national identities would express their desire for self-determination against colonial and imperial overlords. What history reveals is that, whenever resistance persistently opposes occupation and oppression, that resistance will always emerge victorious.
One can argue that a two-headed dragon of Chinese resistance arose to repel Japanese Imperial occupation through two leaders’ separate efforts: Chiang Kai-shek’s Democratic Nationalist movement and Mao Zedong’s Communist vision. Let’s look at the story of this dynamic more closely. After Sun Yat-sen died in 1925, Chiang Kai-shek became Chairman of the National Government. In 1931, Japan invaded Manchuria and Chiang stepped down from his post for a year. Chiang returned to “power” in 1932 under the slogan, “First internal pacification, then external resistance.” Between 1931 and Chiang’s kidnapping (in what has been called the Xi’an Incident) by some of his own generals (former warlords who had been forced to surrender to the Japanese) in 1937, Chiang’s military efforts were spent attempting to subdue Communist influence within his nation.
Chiang believed that before Japan could be engaged, the Chinese army and China’s communication systems required modernization. However, his generals found far greater distaste for submitting to Japanese occupation than for the presence of Communists within the nation (many of those generals confronted Chiang on the basis of his appearance to be collaborators with the Japanese since he preferred to fight Mao’s Communist movement rather that the Japanese, and is so doing, made the Japanese efforts to consolidate power in China that much easier). The result of Chiang's kidnapping expressed itself as Chiang's generals coerced him into agreement, and a united front was engaged to fight Japanese occupiers. Chinese nationalism swelled with a rising tide. The cessation of internal fighting by Chinese among themselves combined with that nationalist spirit. The only individual who possessed both the requisite popular support and international acceptance necessary to lead the Chinese war effort against Japan was Chiang. It was as a result of these developments Chiang was empowered to initiate the Second Sino-Japanese War in July of 1937. Still, Chiang's engagement tactics depended in large degree on the cooperation of Mao's network spread across the nation's massive interior.
Chiang’s troops lost battle after battle throughout WWII. The defense of Shanghai with 600,000 of Chiang’s best troops ultimately led to losing the battle, the city and 200,000 troops as casualties. Generalissimo Chiang, however, during WWII, wrote much of the initial “how to” book on conducting an insurgency against foreign occupiers who possess an overwhelming arms advantage. Chiang’s policy of “trading space for time” strung out much of the Japanese army (which otherwise could have been used in other areas of the Pacific Theater against British, American and French Colonial forces) over China’s broad expanse in a futile attempt to chase down and eliminate Chiang.
As history quickly jumps up in the aisle to testify, as long as the indigenous Chinese population fought amongst itself, faction against faction, brother killing brother, they were unable to expel the overwhelming strength of the occupying Japanese Imperial Army. However, when they set aside their petty differences, the two combined their strength and united their people in one common cause - the end of occupation. In so doing, the indigenous spirit for self-determination expressed a will which is impossible to defeat.
As long as people are willing and determined to struggle against occupation, no occupying force will ever prove sufficient to quell a common culture – based on a common language, history, roots, family ties, economic interdependence, values and close geographic proximity – from asserting its ultimate need and right to express self-determination in common affairs. For eight long years, Mao’s and Chiang’s cooperating forces pestered the Japanese war effort at its back door while the Americans and British fought at the front gate. The final outcome could never be other than Japanese Imperial designs’ defeat, with or without the Allies’ efforts in the Pacific.
Once Japan surrendered, Chiang sought to consolidate his national, political authority. By usurping control over cities in eastern provinces in an unpopular power grab, he alienated the local public who supported Mao Zedong and his Communist movement. Assuming control as replacements for the departing Japanese placed Chiang’s new governors in low public esteem, seemingly replacing one occupier with a new one. American assistance led to legitimizing the installation of Chiang’s authority in the coastal cities. However, widespread corruption ran rampant through Chiang’s government. As the corruption was exposed, Truman withdrew all aid to Chiang from 1946 to 1948. This was a critical period in Chiang’s struggle against Mao Zedong’s People’s Liberation Army.
The rampant corruption combined with a rapid economic inflation and led to the implosion of Chiang’s government on the mainland. Contemporaneously, Mao led the next revolution as the People’s Liberation Army persisted in dogged guerilla warfare against Chiang’s Nationalist forces. The will of the people, who backed Mao could not ultimately be overcome by any amount of armed might or internationally conferred legitimacy. The Communists defeated Chiang’s forces and expelled the Nationalists from the mainland to Taiwan. Mao soon spread his influence over Chinese culture as he assumed authority for the government and extended his hand’s shadow over the entire national culture as well.
The insurgencies led by Chiang and Mao against Japanese domination (and Mao’s against Chiang’s desire to force his corrupt government on China’s entire population) are additional examples of how popular resistance to occupation, when it never gives up, ultimately emerges victorious. Each of the factions continues to exist to this day as Nationalist Taiwan remains independent of the Communist mainland. However, the picture I seek to paint is that while the Far East fell to Imperial Japan quickly, the inhabitants only provided the outward appearance of submitting fairly easily like Eastern Europe did to Germany’s Third Reich.
Indigenous populations with strong ties to self-determination will always want control of their homeland unless their spirit is broken or the size of the occupying force is overwhelming. However, having a history of expressing self-determination is a necessary precursor to building an effective resistance to occupation. Arms, ammunition, supplies and sponsors willing and able to funnel munitions in a clandestine network to insurgents are also prerequisites to the development of an effective insurgency against foreign occupation.
In Eastern Europe, succumbing to new invaders and submitting to their authority seemed to be the historical model upon which Eastern European populations acquiesced as the Nazi invasion asserted its influence given their long history of having been occupied by one Empire after another from the Romans to the Mongols to the Holy Romans to Napoleon and on to the Austro-Hungarians. Obviously, the nations fell to Hitler’s overwhelming firepower. The populations were not sufficiently affluent for individuals to commonly possess the modern weaponry perceived to be necessary to overcome German occupation. The populations conquered were also, generally, used to living under autocratic rule (Kings and Emperors) and their lands had been conquered many times in history, so they had not developed the level of investment in self-determination needed to yield a resistance, at least not without possessing arms with which to fight the occupiers. Furthermore, unlike China, France, Indochina and the Asian subcontinent, Eastern Europe lacked sponsor nations to assist with the arms and provisions necessary to fuel an insurgency. This combination of factors yielded a public which provided only the meekest resistance to Nazi occupation.
England refused to capitulate so easily. Even after France was occupied, a resistance to Nazi (and Imperial Japanese in French colonial holdings in Indochina) control pervaded the populations within France and its colonial holdings. Sufficient affluence did exist for the French population to find arms with which to engage in a resistance. The United States and Britain both assisted the French Resistance as much as possible. England fought and suffered mightily, too, but still refused to capitulate. Likewise, the proud tradition of national identity that fostered a sense of self-determination among Russians catapulted the Soviet Union to persevere.
Meanwhile, another movement for self-determination insisted its desire as India began a long, non-violent stand against occupation. Eventually, the persistence of the population forced the British to withdraw and grant “home rule,” another example of the will of the people, again expressed by an irresistible and unrelenting dedication to a populist cause.
The events of the post-WWII period are even more illustrative of the tides of change, that Populist movements cannot be suppressed.
The Vietnamese refused to submit to French colonial rule after WWII. Eastern Europe, sold out by the self-absorbed myopia which Roosevelt, Churchill, Truman and De Gaulle entertained and promoted as they placated Stalin, succumbed to Soviet domination. Again, the triune impediments to resistance found expression through lack of commitment to self-determination, a lack of sponsor nations willing to finance and arm a resistance to the Soviet land grab, and lack of sufficient arms amid a history of submission to autocrats, Kings and Emperors. The Soviets also proved willing to do what the British were not in India, slaughter anyone and everyone who resisted. Eastern Europeans knew that and were not prepared to be slaughtered en masse for freedom.
Almost immediately after Populist movements in China led to the formation of two Chinas, Communist China and The Republic of Taiwan, the world sparked aflame with a commensurate rise of populist movements throughout regions which were previously colonial holdings of France and Britain, expelling colonialism as a way of life on the globe from Indochina to South America to the Asian subcontinent to the Near East to the Middle East and even to Africa. Sometimes these movements were Communist, sometimes not, but there is no denying all originally erupted from legitimate, populist causes.
The second half of the 20th century was marked by the struggle for influence between Capitalism and Communism. The first incidence of conflict occurred in Korea, each side seeking to impose its will and influence over the other. Neither has ever been able to succeed.
In Vietnam, a populist movement led by Ho Chi Minh demanded freedom from French colonial influence. Once accomplished by Ho after a long war led to the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu, the United States attempted to deny the people their right to consolidate under one roof. The resistance of the people proved to embody an unbreakable will, determined to express self-determination.
The U.S. completely misread the political climate in Vietnam in 1954 because the nation was caught up in the McCarthy complex of believing that all Communists were the enemies of Americans. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Ho was seen by the Vietnamese people as their George Washington who led his nation to defeat an oppressive colonial European power (France) for the nation’s independence. The Vietnamese have an ancient enmity with the Chinese dating back nearly 1000 years. Ho would rather have entered into trade agreements with the Russians and Americans rather than turn to the Chinese.
However, the U.S. decided to back the wealthy elite and rich landowning classes who had proved to be the running dog lackeys for the French bourgeoisie in the South and provide them with arms to fight against Ho’s legitimate government (legitimate in the sense that it was popularly backed by the people). Consequently, Ho turned to the Chinese for most of their military and economic aid as they battled the Americans and the leaders of the South Vietnamese government who were seen by most of the public as their versions of Benedict Arnolds.
No amount of bombing (the U.S. dropped more bombs during the Vietnam war than had been dropped during WWII) and no degree of firepower (even including the use of the WMD, napalm) could break that will and force the Vietnamese to submit to what they perceived as yet another attempt by a Western nation to impose colonial dominion. The Vietnamese people fought a dogged fight. The North Vietnamese regulars were backed in the South by the local insurgents, the Viet Cong, in a battle of attrition. The Vietnamese spirit intended to fight as long as it took until the U.S. finally left. That unbreakable determination proved to be undefeatable. The Nixon Administration was forced to admit defeat and pull out all American troops. Nixon left behind a large number of troops missing in action (MIAs), as he presided over his final policy – America turned tail and ran.
In the same way, evidence of the inevitability of populist movements abounds plentifully, just consider: the revolution overthrowing the Shah in Iran; the victory of Castro in Cuba and the inability of the U.S. to ever subvert Cuba’s government since Castro’s emergence; Pakistan’s acquisition of independence from India; the disintegration of the former Soviet Union, the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet “bloc” of economically and politically integrated satellite Communist states; the victory of Islamic fundamentalists in ousting the Soviet Union from Afghanistan; the persistence of the Taliban since the American (and now NATO) occupation of Afghanistan; the persistence of the resistance in Iraq in the face of the American occupation; the inability of any Arab coalition to defeat and occupy Israel; the inability of Israel to defeat the Palestinian resistance movement in over forty years of occupation, hostility and repressive tactics; the rejection and defeat of Apartheid; the rise of a new, militant Islamic fundamentalism which seeks to expel what it sees in the U.S. as an occupying infidel presence from their holy territory; the civil rights movement in the U.S. of the ‘50s and ‘60s; the international movement to promote basic human rights since the ‘80s, and the contemporary rise of the belief among disenfranchised people of their right to cross land or sea, irrespective of borders, in the way humanity has always spread itself throughout the globe as those people migrate in search of what they believe is a basic human birthright, the reasonable opportunity to live in comfort and abundance where ever they want.
Example after example magnifies the point: no amount of force can overcome a populist movement when that movement refuses to give up. Even Eastern Europe learned the lesson and threw off Soviet domination. Since 1989 (with the foundations laid by Vietnam at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, through Tet of 1968 and the eventual completion of American troop withdrawals in 1973, Castro’s Cuban Revolution of 1959, and the Iranian Revolution in 1979), no populist movement has feared the apparent strength of an aggressor, and none of the populist movements who have persevered have failed, ultimately, to emerge victorious with the exception of those who continue their struggle today, and one cannot say they have failed unless and until they relinquish their struggle.
This trend to populism: to the demands by the many for equitable distribution of possessions, opportunity and entitlement through the assertions from individuals amid mass movements for their basic rights to self-determination; even to the broad international peace movement that sees the right to live free of armed conflict as a basic and inalienable human right; yes, all of these trends to populism are here to stay.
Social scientists and professors may inform you that the great trend in human history is the growth of science and technology, human mastery over nature, and the development of communication and information based tools. The real trends in human history are found in the ever-evolving needs of humanity: to find self-worth through external acknowledgment of accomplishment; to feel vital, significant, valued and included; to discover greater freedom of opportunity and self-determination; to find a fair and equitable balance between the needs and authority of society versus the rights, choices and opportunities of the individual; and every individual’s desire to realize a fair share of prosperity with which to enrich their lives. The continued efforts to homogenize subcultures into one great global culture as a means of facilitating the spread of the global economy so all wealth can be consolidated into the treasuries of multinational corporations and super-wealthy individuals run right into the face of the entire tide of human social development at the same time as those global designs are slowly destroying the sustainability of the planetary ecosystem.
Power can no longer be exerted without resistance. The modern economy proliferates the availability and possession of modern weaponry so widely across the globe that every indigenous population now not only possesses the tools to resist any occupier, but has seen that victory follows persistent and uncompromising resistance as the breadth of examples previously provided testifies. Thus, all occupied populations are emboldened to mount an armed resistance. The best any occupier can hope for is a stalemate of perpetual resistance such as the 40 year cycle of violence in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Is that really any way to live and prosper?
Attempts to occupy and pacify Iraq and Afghanistan are being met by the same resistance which has faced the Israelis since the end of the 6 Day War in 1967; the same resistance which the U.S. could not defeat in Vietnam, and which the Soviet Union could not overcome in Afghanistan in 1980. Just as in Vietnam, in Afghanistan and in Palestine, no local population will be overcome by any amount of force or intimidation. This is the status of the real new world order, built upon the ready availability of contemporary weaponry.
In the future, governments seeking to address their grievances against other territories must learn to accept this new reality and realize war is no longer going to be a viable option for solving differences. Look at the impasse between the United States and Iran and the differences between North Korea and its neighbors. When pushed up against the wall, Iran and North Korea do not fear the consequence of war. They know the United States can never pacify and control either of their populations. No amount of saber rattling by the United States offers sufficient threat to force either of those nations to submit to American demands. The great technological might of the United States military can wreak immense doses of havoc, destroy infrastructure and kill millions in bombing or missile attacks, but even “Shock and Awe” was unable to break the back of indigenous resistance to occupation.
While the North Koreans need investments and aid, the United States and the other neighbors of North Korea involved in multinational conferences through 2006 and 2007 needed new markets and a climate of respect amid expectations of peace. Those complimentary circumstances formed the basis which diffused the threat of North Korea’s persistent pursuit of nuclear arms. Notice, the effective means for reaching an agreement incorporated diplomacy and included the involvement of all the neighboring nations. Notice also the interlacing of both the circumstances, needs, assets and moment of opportunity. These diverse elements provide a clue into how to arrive at agreements between otherwise antagonistic or hostile countries or cultures.
However, Iran can’t be bought, and the Bush Administration remained unwilling up to the final day of Bush’s Presidency to have just about any kind of dialogue with Iran, even when the Iraqi government pleaded for the U.S. to meet Iran in dialogue on measures concerning Iraqi internal security. The continued failure to engage in a diplomatic relationship including the common decency of communicating to one another, like two adult individual’s would be expected to do, creates enmity between Washington and Tehran and avoids the kind of desirable enmeshing between the countries’, economically and geopolitically, which would invest each with a stake in a peaceful, respectful, and prosperous co-existence.
General Petraeus’ strategy of the “surge” in Iraq exemplifies my argument against the possibility of effectively maintaining and “winning” an occupation. The U.S. military sent in more troops – the surge. These troops covered less ground more intensely. While this reflects the only effective strategy to an occupation: having an overwhelming troop presence to intimidate the people, that kind of presence has to be huge as Germany and Japan found out during WWII. Essentially, what is required is about 1 trooper for every 5 to 10 citizens. That kind of force, solely devoted to occupying a foreign territory, is impossible to raise, fund and maintain.
It is impossible to quell an insurgency in either a free environment or chaotic bedlam. Freedom to act only encourages action by insurgents, and bedlam creates such a state of chaos that even repressive tactics cannot sort out the real perpetrators or the true threat to occupation’s tyranny.
Petraeus’ Plan intended to impose order on a door-to-door basis, invading every home looking for weapons, disarming every resident in Baghdad (and I suppose eventually the entire country, as if that kind of strategy would even be possible). Meanwhile the occupational authority imposed (and continues to impose today under Obama’s watch) dusk to dawn curfews until all weapons have been rounded up (meaning perpetually). The continued imposition of curfews disarms honest citizens who need to protect themselves in a hostile environment, while real insurgents remove their weapons as they leave the area before U.S. forces march in at the same time as it makes a mockery of the so-called democracy allegedly flourishing under Nouri al-Maliki in Iraq. Since the area to be covered by the increased (surged) force was condensed into reduced vicinity, there were ample outside areas available to insurgents for shelter and cover which offered new opportunities to unleash their tactics in those new areas. Perpetuation of Marshall Law in Iraq will only drive more and more Iraqis into the insurgents’ camps as the continued ability of the insurgents to recruit a steady stream of suicide bombers and other operatives testifies.
All one need do to realize the ineffectiveness of the Petraeus' Plan is consider that as it was prosecuted, there were equally violent escalations in Anbar for a time, then back in Baghdad, as well as an escalation of the war in Afghanistan by the Taliban, Al Qaeda’s ally in this so-called War on Terror . The War on Terror is really a euphemism for a war between Western corporate and military interests, each treasure hunting after oil, butting heads with the desire of an indigenous population to be left to live as they see fit without external interference. Isn’t that their sovereign and inalienable right?
What the Pentagon, Bush and the Department of Defense all failed to recognize is that, to conduct an effective war strategy in a multi-front war, one must coordinate all efforts in each front so the gains on one front do not yield corresponding losses on another. The Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan border areas launched an increased offensive against US/NATO forces in Afghanistan (and Pakistan as well by the summer of 2008), and by July of 2008, targets were expanded to include areas within Kashmir and India. The U.S. concentration of forces as narrowly as into specific blocks of downtown Baghdad, which was the concept behind the surge, left the entire remainder of the battlefield wide open to counterattack. Petraeus' Plan was the equivalent of putting one's finger in a leaky dike only to see 5 more leaks appear as a result.
Bloodshed, however, was only modestly abated within the region Petraeus’ Plan allegedly "pacified," while that plan had no coordination to the necessary responses in fronts outside of Iraq. The Petraeus Plan never even took into account potential countermeasures Al Qaeda could, would and did take outside Iraq. The myopia of the American military strategists in dealing with each American regional occupation arising from the illegal invading incursions into Iraq and Afghanistan as separate and distinct from one another left the U.S. with no unified and effective war policy in the region.
Meanwhile, Hezbollah gained an equal footing in Lebanon’s government (and especially among the hearts of its countrymen because of the aid they doled out in the aftermath of the Israeli incursion into Lebanon in 2006), while Hamas gained favor among Palestinians. Olmert hoped to deal with both diplomatically before his government started unraveling under charges of corruption and ineffective war prosecution.
Clearly, while the extremely localized view of Petraeus’ occupation gave it an appearance of turning some small corner in Iraq (which can only be discerned if viewed as the mirage that it is and with blinders on so one only views the few blocks in Baghdad it affected), the reality is that the surge had the exact opposite regional effect. In a geopolitical sense, the neocon strategies and tactics, both militarily and politically, are losing on every front. Yet, the American government, critics of that government, governments of U.S. allies, other parties in the region, so-called experts and the American press all fail to draw attention to this failure of American military strategists to devise a unified strategy for the entire region instead of ratcheted up hostilities toward Iran (primarily, but Syria as well) in the apparent hope of inciting Iran into a first strike on U.S. interests.
Throughout the election cycle leading up to Obama’s election in November of 2008, Democrats harped at the failure of Petraeus’ Plan to create a climate of security out of which cooperative political efforts could arise in Iraq. It is only through such cooperative efforts of the people that the world’s hopes can be realized in a true unification of the Iraqi people. A rapprochement cannot occur until Iraqis finally convene an effectively functioning government, working together, without fear or coercion, for the benefit of the people while simultaneously providing the people with a climate of real freedom without the continued presence of curfews and Marshall Law.
Petraeus’ approach was a half-hearted acquiescence to the neocon point of view that an occupation can not only be maintained successfully, it can win the hearts of the people, defeat both sides in a civil war, and positively affect the region toward the American point of view through militaristic intimidation. Even Gates rejected that notion when he said in his 2007 speech at Kansas State University that the military, alone, cannot win the war.
What neither Democrats nor Republicans see is that no indigenous population will ever allow an occupier to control their soil and their people without incurring the response of a violent insurgency against the occupier, and that the lessons to be learned from the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, the Vietnam War and the attempts of the Israelis to subjugate the Palestinians in areas Israel has conquered and incorporated into the Israeli state prove that no such occupation can ever be successful.
Politicians also fail to see that no unified strategy to win the “War on Terror” has ever been developed, only smaller, sub-strategies exist to respond to specific insurgent tactics after they arise. This is not a strategy to win a war, it is a strategy to respond to whatever tactics the opposition decides to initiate, and as long as those tactics are on Iraqi and Afghani soil, they are second and third fronts for the terrorists. Face facts, folks, fighting U.S. men, arms and interests outside of the U.S. territory is not even Al Qaeda’s main operation. Those conflicts are just additional fronts Bush handed to Al Qaeda and the Taliban which Obama has failed to take away (which was the real will of the American public as expressed during the election of 2008), and which provide Al Qaeda and the Taliban with continued public relations bonanzas and recruiting tools within the region.
Petraeus’ Plan, just like all of Bush’s operations since he walked away from Osama at Tora Bora, allow the head of the organization to live and operate and continue to plan future events. A perfect symbiotic relationship results from how pursuing the neocon agenda continues to enrich the wealthiest Americans who both fund and are financially enriched by the military-industrial complex which has grown to become exactly the danger against which Eisenhower warned us to remain vigilant in our oversight during his Farewell Address.
Eisenhower prophetically counseled, “This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every statehouse, [and] every office of the federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals so that security and liberty may prosper together.” It is important to remain aware, our wars of convenience continue to produce huge accumulations of wealth for American super-capitalists and the largest multinational corporations, both of which are intricately enmeshed in financial endeavors with the military-industrial complex, as young Americans die and kill poor people on foreign lands who only want to protect their homelands, just as would anyone.
Petraeus’ Plan, just like Bush’s occupation was nothing more than a tyrannical attempt to force an entire population to submit to the will of occupiers. That goal will always be impossible to reach because no insurgency will ever give up and accept such an intolerable conclusion as acquiescing to foreign invaders. This has proven true since 1940 everywhere in the world, as well as in Iraq – even amid occasional periods of relative quiet in the insurgencies. Often, the quiet had less to do with the relative military strength and tactical advantage of the occupier but perhaps more to do with the need to recruit more insurgents or their desire to coordinate a new strategy.
Petraeus and Bush, knowing this, preferred to create the appearance of a calmed climate allowing them to hand off responsibility for maintaining control of the oil fields to a puppet Iraqi government (and/or a new American Administration). That kind of policy guaranteed continued resistance into the foreseeable future. Any government which promotes U.S. goals will be seen by locals as collaborating with the occupiers every bit as much as Vichy France was seen as collaborating with the enemy by loyal French freedom fighters (ironically using some of the same terrorist tactics as used by those in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Afghanistan and Baghdad today).
As soon as the U.S. leaves, insurrection can be guaranteed to ensue. The longer the U.S. stays, the longer it delays Iraqis in taking action to decide their own future in their own way just as Americans did during the American Civil War. Let us fervently hope Iraqi differences do not yield as violent a reaction. But, clearly, it isn’t anybody else’s business to dictate to them the kind of future they may pursue or how they may go about determining what kind of future to pursue.
To whatever degree the surge offered an illusion of having worked, one can attribute the illusion to a few factors: the focusing of U.S. forces into larger units of operation but in reduced area concentrations, thereby posing an overwhelming presence in which insurgents couldn’t act within that specific area, the perception by Iraqi insurgents that the U.S. would leave soon after Obama’s election, the fluidly changing alliances between Washington and various factions in Iraq and the press’ willingness to accept government statistics and claims at face value.
In the aftermath of the fall of Saddam, Paul Bremer initiated the policy of “de-Baathification” of Iraq. Baathists were Saddam’s Party loyalists who were also primarily Sunni. Hence, the Bremer policy excluded most Sunnis from inclusion in the future Iraqi government. The large popular majority of the Shi’a population guaranteed that Shiites would dominate the first elected government. Al Qaeda in Iraq offered the primary arm for Iraqis to join who sought a way to express their nationalism and desire to repel the occupiers. The insurgency drew heavily in its membership from former Baathist nationalists who wanted to expel the American occupiers as well as non-Iraqis who believed in the Al Qaeda cause. The apparent U.S. alliance with the Shi’a government drove the Baathist Sunnis into the insurgency as a means of self-preservation and forced what would otherwise have been an unnatural alliance between secular Baathists and Al Qaeda fundamentalists (who indeed are Sunni, so they, at least, didn’t seem like a group who would later want to exterminate the Sunni population as was feared by Baathists that the Shi’a would in retaliation for decades of Saddam’s discriminatory policies toward the Iraqi Shi’a population).
However, Maliki’s Shi’a government came increasingly under fire from U.S. political interests during the advanced Presidential election cycle which began in 2007. The surge sought to change the equation by changing sides in the civil war. Petraeus forged ties with former Baathist-Al Qaeda in Iraq members among Sunni tribal leaders in Anbar. These former Baathist elements were perfectly willing to switch sides for the time being in order to gain American favor in opposition to Maliki’s failing and ineffective Shi’a government which they feared would eradicate them once the U.S. left. In addition, as Iran inserted more and more influence into internal Iraqi governmental affairs through the Shi’a, the U.S. grew more nervous.
Suddenly, we were potentially watching the beginning of the assent of Saddam all over again. Just as the U.S. did in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s with Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan (countering Soviet interests) and with Saddam in the ‘80s (posing an impediment to the spread of the Iranian Revolution), they seemed to be doing in 2007 and through the end of the Bush Presidency: making a deal with the enemy of their enemy – but who, as the Bush Administration, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the American public all fail to recognize, will never be America’s friend. As Bremer, Petraeus, Rumsfeld, Pace, Gates and Bush should all have learned by now (and which Americans must pray Obama realizes soon), we have no real ally in Iraq to whom power can comfortably be relinquished. That was why Bush, McCain and neocon theorists did not want to end the occupation.
Further complicating American military intentions in Iraq are layers of presumed legal authority for the American presence and occupation. Soon, the original Security Council authorizations will expire. For American troops to remain on Iraqi soil legally, according to international law, the U.S. government requires an agreement with the Iraqi people, through their government, as if the Maliki government can represent the will of the Iraqi people. The Iraqi Parliament faced the dilemma of whether to enter into such an authorization, and if so, for how long. The Bush Administration pushed for three years, until 2011. Meanwhile, President-elect Obama pledged in his campaign to have U.S. troops out of Iraq in 16 months of taking office (May 2010). The Maliki government entered an agreement with the Bush Administration to allow the occupation to continue into 2011, however, they are now having to face the new realities that Obama will have American troops out early in 2010, and the plans for troop reductions are already being incorporated into the American military strategies in Iraq.
The United States finds itself: 1) a nation which defeated the Baathists because Bush claimed they wanted to do us harm, 2) a nation who placed the Shi’a population in political power, and discovered in so doing the U.S. increased Iranian influence in the region, 3) a nation aiding the faction in the civil war which it defeated in the invasion - those same Baathists who were alleged to want to do us harm. Why? Because the U.S. could not accept a new government of the Iraqi people since the people appeared more sympathetic to Iran than the U.S. All this just proved true the conventional wisdom prior to Bush’s contemplation of invading Iraq, “Don’t topple Saddam or the region will descend into a hellish nightmare and Iran will grow stronger.”
In response to heightened U.S. patrols in Sadr City, and in accordance with the Petraeus Plan, Muqtada al Sadr told his militia to suspend further counterinsurgent activity in 2007. The U.S. saw his group’s counterinsurgency efforts as being counterproductive and as perpetuating and escalating the sectarian violence. Ironically, that is what most in the region argue is the result of the U.S. occupation. Al Sadr suspended his militia from acting, probably at least in large part, to help hasten the departure of U.S. forces, and also to diffuse any potential alliances between the U.S. and Sunni Baathists. By early 2008, a rival faction splintered off from al Sadr’s militia, and by spring of 2008, the two factions were fighting among themselves.
Both Iraqi sides know deep down somewhere, once the U.S. is gone, the Iraqis will finally be free to figure out their own differences, maybe by fighting, maybe not, but I’d estimate fighting will likely occur to at least some degree.
The year 2008 saw the rise of inner turmoil in Iraq among various factions of Shiites fighting among themselves for control, which then, they would wield over Sunnis in the aftermath of consolidating power. The basis for this inner conflict stems from the positions of the various Shi’a groups vis-à-vis the U.S. Some, like those loyal to Maliki, cull favor from the Americans, like the Vichy did with the Germans during WWII. Nationalist spirit drives al Sadr and other Shi’a, like the French Resistance before them, to see the current government as collaborators who have no real right to their authority, so they openly, vociferously and sometimes violently oppose it. Each side senses a need to begin establishing their relative strengths as the U.S. departs with the idea being to gain an advantage which could aid that faction in gaining ultimate control in Iraq (and general support of the Shi’a majority) once the U.S. has finally completed its withdrawal.
In the aftermath of the American occupation, either the current government will step aside quietly and passively in election after election, or it will fight to stay in power, or some group, like Muqtada al Sadr’s, might wrest governmental control, either violently or popularly. However, once a faction emerges victorious, the Sunni could face heavy retribution for decades of Saddam’s atrocities perpetrated upon Shiites since such is the usual result of the sick permission groups give themselves when they sanction revenge.
Saudi Arabia and other regional Sunni governments will never permit this. A conflict could grow in the region with brothers fighting one another: Iran in concert with Hezbollah and Syria against a Sunni coalition headed by Saudi Arabia. Such an outcome would put the greatest quantity of the world’s oil reserves in peril, frightening multinational corporations and the nations who depend on the economy they wield. This is the real reason neocons were unwilling to quit the war and why they sought to establish permanent bases in Iraq. It is also the reason the U.S. and Saudi Arabia have had such strong ties over the decades.
However, those U.S.-Saudi ties are exactly what irk the Islamic fundamentalists, because it “stains their holy ground.” At the same time, members of the international Al Qaeda network wish to keep the U.S. in Iraq. The U.S. occupation is the greatest recruiting tool they have. It is even better than Israel’s occupation of Palestine.
While Bush claimed he led us into Iraq to fight world terrorism, the reality is that the U.S. presence in Iraq became and continues to be the most effective, significant contributor to perpetuating and fueling bin Laden’s movement. It is impossible to kill an idea. The best strategy to confronting a clash of philosophies is to remove the causes for the disagreements. In this case, the U.S. must: rethink its complicity in the continued Israeli occupation of Palestine; end the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan; respect the sanctity, the right to exist and the right to self-determination of other nations, cultures and societies; remove its military bases from around the world at the very least to the degree of removing them from where ever they are no longer wanted; and stop destroying everyone’s planet with its unilateral energy consumption.
One of the greatest opportunities for diffusing the clash between interests is to make room for everyone to live the way they desire through mutual respect, discussing differences, and finding compromises which empower all people at the same time as they elicit cooperation and mutual acceptance. Cultures must stop trying to exert domination over new and neighboring areas. Economic interests have to stop seeking to expand their spheres of influence at the expense of others. Corporations will have to give up their prized agenda of perpetually increased income through perpetually increasing their position in the marketplace. When we leave space for everyone to each be who they want to be, when we value each other and respect the right of self-determination, and when we do this in a way that is kind and cooperative, we diminish the reasons for conflict while simultaneously building a stronger, more harmonious and more enduring humanity.
We build this sense of community by fostering mutual respect. This is only accomplished when all parties feel secure in the trust they share. That kind of trust cannot exist if factions persist on either or both sides, because that leaves the possibility open for disruptive actions by rogue members of such a faction.
For example, the U.S. approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been to bring together moderates from both sides, offering the point of view that only moderates are able to arrive at the compromises necessary to reach an agreement. However, the result of such an approach will continue to be what has occurred over the last 40 years in spite of the best intentions of men like Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. Without suggesting the idea of freezing out Hamas was originated by Carter and pursued by Clinton to work along the lines of the “divide and conquer” strategy we see commonly employed by neocons since the election of the Nixon Administration, the fact is Carter’s and Clinton’s approach did have that effect and, because the policy was promoted by the U.S., Israel has consistently demanded that approach be the only avenue to negotiation which Israel has ever been willing to enjoin.
The inherent failure in this approach becomes obvious by viewing the lack of progress in the aftermath of both: the Israeli conflict with Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank in the summer of 2006 as well as the conflict with Hezbollah in Lebanon at the same time. The Bush Administration, Condoleezza Rice, and the Olmert government in Israel, all appeared to work in concert with the express object of dividing the Palestinians and forcing a showdown between Hamas and Fatah among Palestinians and between Hezbollah and the Lebanese government. Those showdowns took place in the first half of 2008. The traditional Western thinking promoted by Bush, Rice and Olmert hoped the factions would weaken themselves while Israel prepared to deal with the winner, who the West hoped and believed would be Fatah and the moderates in the Lebanese government, because they are the only factions within Palestine and Lebanon recognized by the West, who receive aid from the West and who Israel will engage in diplomacy. Additionally, because of the anticipated power struggle both Fatah and the moderate Lebanese government were expected to endure, the U.S. and Israel expected both to emerge as weak adversaries needing any kind of agreement with Israel in order to bolster their positions with their populations. However, showing conventional thinking to be lacking, by July of 2008, Hezbollah and the other factions in Lebanon combined to form a coalition government, severely complicating Rice’s and Olmert’s aims. By April of 2009, Hamas and Hezbollah both are well on their way to establishing permanent partnerships in their respective governments.
The Bush Administration also pursued the “divide and conquer” strategy in the way some of Bush’s speeches (which came off more like Khrushchev than Kennedy, Reagan or Gorbachev) often tried to cajole Iranian, Cuban, Venezuelan and North Korean citizens to rebel against their governments, as well as through the policies in Iraq which maintained and exacerbated violence between Islamic sects.
More recent observations reveal the entire region dividing up into Sunni and Shi’a camps, each seeking power over the other, each anxious to control all the governments in the lands which comprise traditional Islamic nations. These events are the realization of Al Qaeda’s aims. Consequently, our presence and policies are winning the war for Al Qaeda.
Certainly, it is true that accords between Israel and the PLO have been reached easing tensions by incremental degrees over periods of time. However, each time an accord was reached between the Palestinians and the Israelis, the trust between the parties was violated by a rogue operative from a faction disenfranchised through a failure to include them in the negotiations. The operative reintroduced violence and the cycle was reborn.
Pursuing diplomacy without including the most hard-line and antagonistic factions to a dispute in negotiations between political and cultural adversaries so their differences might be addressed as well, and they can feel like respected, valuable, real partners in the agreement, impedes any real progress because the seeds of resistance always remain since most of the root causes for the dispute are never be addressed.
The path to an effective conflict or dispute resolution strategy lies in the inclusion of as many factions to the dispute as possible. Each faction will bring its own set of concerns to the table for discussion. Certainly, the ability to generate a consensus will be more challenging and necessitates greater patience, understanding and support. However, once all parties are included and all grievances are addressed, every party to the agreement will feel invested in the agreement and can be counted upon to preserve that agreement. This is the path to lasting peace, a path beyond tolerance, but which leads to mutual acceptance and understanding.
For instance, let’s take the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as an example. Bringing Fatah and Olmert to a negotiation while leaving Hamas, Netanyahu and Peres away will not legitimize any resulting accord. However, if all parties are brought together by a truly neutral and concerned mediator, all will have invested a stake in seeing the resulting agreement succeeds. When everyone has a stake in success, then agreements are upheld. When anyone feels their concerns have been overlooked, accords will be violated. It’s really that simple. It takes a dedication to inclusion, to persistence, to cooperation, to understanding, to respect among and between all in order to best solve conflicts and disputes between nations or other kinds of emerging coalitions which express the will of masses of people. Agreements reached arising out of the inclusion of all parties and opinions involved in the conflict, and which address every issue in the conflict, will yield a sense of cooperation between all parties, invest each with a desire to make the agreement work, and give every party to the agreement a stake in seeing the agreement succeeds. The longer these agreements endure, the more the neighboring societies are encouraged to pursue harmony in relationships among and between the neighboring populations. This is the path to propagating peace on the planet.