NOTE: Apparently I have a couple of Polish readers and I just want to say hello to Grazyna!
According to Bush and most of the Republicans US troops must stay in Iraq in order to deliver the functioning publicly accountable government, social and legal equality, professional, meritocratic defense force, progressive economy, improve quality of life and stabilize the region.
Otherwise, they say, terrorists “emboldened” by the US withdrawal will have Iraq’s resources at their disposal to launch devastating attacks against American “interests”, foment Sunni-Shia conflict throughout the region, and threaten US allies and conduct major attacks against America itself.
Could the Republicans be right, for once? Would staying in Iraq prevent a region-wide conflagration and facilitate more and larger-scale attacks against the US?
The essential problem with the Republican argument is that it assumes that the political and religious dynamics in the Middle East are monolithic—which they demonstrably are not.
In all the Middle East conflicts and radical political shifts in power since WWII each country has pursued its own particular interests above anything else. Alliances and opposition have shifted according to rational need more than emotional desire.
The 1967 Six Day War and the 1973 Yom Kippur War against Israel involved respectively Egypt, Syria and Jordan, then just Egypt and Syria. No other Arab nations got involved in any relevant way.
The 1975-1985 Lebanese Civil-War ostensibly pitted Christians against Muslims (the majority, but of many sects). The Sunni Syrians got involved for strategic reasons. The Palestinians in Lebanon goaded Israel into the fight. But all the other Arab nations in practical terms steered clear of the conflict.
In 1979 the Shah of Iran was overthrown and Shia rule began. The Shia population in Suadi Arabia was not inspired to overthrow the ruling family.
Also in 1979 Saddam Hussein became the president of Iraq. Iran did not then rush to the aid of its Shia brethren who were already being discriminated against.
The 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war was started by Hussein over control of waterway and not because of religious differences (Hussein favoring Sunnis of course). Egypt and Syria, having both Sunni leadership and Sunni public majorities and being political active, did not rush to the aid of Iraq as it struggled against the Iranians. Saudi Arabia, Sunni-ruled but with a Shia public majority, stayed out of the conflict.
Incidentally when Israel bombed Hussein’s Osirak Nuclear reactor in 1980 (finishing the job the Iranians had begun) no major action was taken by other Arab nations against Israel.
The Russian occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980’s was defeated by the CIA arming and training Afghanis with 50% of the costs secretly provided by the Saudis. No other Arab nations provided any significant aid to their Muslim Afghani brothers fighting against the godless Communists.
In the 1991 Gulf War Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait was either opposed by other Arab nations or garnered only mild and obtuse rhetorical support from some.
The 2001 US invasion of Afghanistan in pursuit of Bin Laden was overwhelmingly supported by Middle Eastern governments and significantly supported by the “Arab street” despite some cheering for the 9-11 attacks.
The 2003 US invasion of Iraq was not very well supported but it wasn’t that strenuously objected-to either as Hussein was quite the irritant and not much of a champion of Arab causes (certainly not religious ones). The subsequent occupation however is widely condemned but nonetheless there has once again been no significant action by Arab governments against the US.
The 2006 Israel-Lebanon War (it was NOT a “conflict”) only elicited rhetorical condemnations but again no action by Arab governments.
In all these conflicts and wars Middle Eastern nations have overall maintained a status quo in their governments and their societies. The Iranian revolution was not driven just by religion but more by social politics. The Lebanese civil war was driven by politics as well.
Religion is a tool of politics, something that allows politicians to exploit mass emotions for a particular cause and to conveniently identify supporters and opponents of a cause.
All the strife in the Middle East (or anywhere else for that matter) is a result of politics not religion. Does anyone really think that the average professional Iraqi or Iranian or Saudi really gives a damn about establishing a Caliphate or making the whole world Muslim? Does anyone really think the average Arab farmer or cook or shepherd or nomad give a damn about such ambitions? Did the average Briton demand an Empire that covered one quarter of the globe? Of course not!
The majority, anywhere and everywhere, has far more limited ambitions—to be able to get by at least and maybe enjoy life at best. That’s it. For the majority religion is personal—if it weren’t then everyone would be busy trying to convert everyone else to their faith or killing the faithless, or else refusing to interact at all.
So I really don’t see religious strife encompassing the Middle East should the US depart Iraq. And as to leaving national resources for terrorists to exploit—what exactly would be left? First of all the Iraqi’s would have to sort themselves out before they could exploit anything—there’s a few years right there. Other Arab nations have demonstrated their caution often enough so they aren’t likely to rush in to the mess—add another few years of cuatious low-key involvement .
Those with the ambition to attack the US and western interests will continue to do so with limited resources and limited support. How effective they might be has little to do with the Middle East and far more to do with US and western actions and reactions.
For six years the Republicans have painted everyone and every issue with the broadest brush possible and they are doing so again in their prognostications regarding a US withdrawal from Iraq. Not only is there no reason to believe them this time around, there is no reason to believe them according to historical and present evidence.
Leaving Iraq will mean leaving a bloody mess, one that will continue in that country. It’s a horrible choice but no worse than the choices that have been made thus far. But it’s not going escalate enmity towards the US (most Iraqis want the US to leave) and it’s not going to create any more terrorists than it already has.
The Republican policies have increased global terrorism not diminished it and it is not withdrawal but escalation on their part that would fulfill their dire scenario.
If Bush decides on even a limited strike against Iran under the guise of his "war on terror", that might well be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.