A wise man, Thomas “Tip” O’Neill – a longtime speaker of the U.S. House – once said, “All politics is local.”
This time-tested adage has proven to be true, and has played out to the determent of foreign governments who haphazardly seek to occupy or use so-called “hard power” tactics to subdue or subjugate another independently sovereign nation.
Such has thus far been the case for the Bush administration’s problematic military foray into both Iraq and Afghanistan. And if we take into consideration the significantly debatable premise for the “how” and “why” of this “global war on terror,” it might give us pause as to how we should proceed in seeking an end to our military occupation in Iraq – focusing more attention on Afghanistan while continuing to deter hostile regional powers like Russia, Iran, Palestine and Syria.
Contrary to reports from the Bush administration and from the likes of presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., al-Qaida is not the primary problem in Iraq or Afghanistan.
According to many academic experts in the field, the main problems are: knowing who the enemy is, the overwhelming number of Iraqi resistance fighters or insurgents, recognizing not everyone in Iraq or Afghanistan needs to be confronted violently, that the insurgency in Iraq is several tens of thousands in number and supported by several million people and lastly that this is a political problem, where only the Iraqis can ultimately defeat al-Qaida in Iraq.
U.S. forces can help and up to this point have taken on the lion’s share of the burden, but, even if al-Qaida were to be completely wiped off the map, there would still be Sunni and Shiite confrontations. According to Brian Fishman, senior associate professor at West Point Military Academy, “At the end of the day, many of insurgents operating in Iraq are operating out of very local concerns. Not even just concerns about the U.S. occupation, they are concerned about local neighborhood security.”
These sectarian conflicts are what noted political scientist Samuel P. Huntington refers to as “the clash of civilizations.”
Huntington writes, “It is my hypothesis that the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural Ö but the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations.”
According to Huntington, these clashes between Sunni and Shiite are the most important problem in Iraq.
These are the type of quarrels that have the potential to hold U.S. military forces and policy hostage to local players in Iraq – much like the British government was held hostage during the formation of Iraq in the 1920s.
It is with this argument in mind that Fawaz A. Gerges, a professor of Middle Eastern and International Studies at Sarah Lawrence College in New York comments, “As a person born in Beirut, Lebanon and having spent several years doing field research in support of my two books, I have found that the way the American military occupation of Iraq is perceived in the Middle East, is that this is not about democracy, this is not about a fight against al-Qaida, this is a fight to subjugate the Arab and Muslim world and control its resources.”
Gerges goes on to say, “al-Qaida’s ideological claims are finding receptive ears in a part of the world where they are telling Muslims the United States is waging a war against Islam and Muslims. And what the war itself has done is to radicalize and militarize a tiny segment of mainstream public opinion.”
The United States is coming to a crossroads in Iraq. My biggest worry is that Iraq has taken the place of the jihadist proving ground that Afghanistan was in the early eighties. Many better trained, better equipped and highly technical fighters are coming from Iraq with capabilities to wreak havoc.
This is a battle for hearts and minds in the Middle East, and they can’t be won with just an M-4. Thus far there has been an over-expansion of the “global war on terrorism” and an over-reliance on militarism.
At the end of the day, knowing what we do now about false CIA and British intelligence reports concerning Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction capabilities, what in fact did Iraq have to do with al-Qaida and the terrorist camps located in Afghanistan?
President George W. Bush has made arguments that we need to stay in Iraq to defeat al-Qaida but what if the exact opposite is true?
Paul Hamilton welcomes comments at [email protected]