By Sreeram Chaulia
Jan 14, 2014
To recall Putin, there is not only no calm and no democracy, but no state authority left in the Islamic ‘badlands’ that the West set out to tame with its military and then reinvent as liberal democratic showpiece items
A catastrophic four-way war involving the Shia-dominated Iraqi Army, Sunni tribesmen loyal to the Iraqi government, antigovernment jihadis under the umbrella of Al Qaeda, and anti-government Sunni sheikhs is raging in Iraq’s Anbar province. Anbar’s shared border with Syria, where a foreign-fuelled Sunni jihad is challenging the Shia dictatorship of President Bashar al Assad, has added to the province’s woes and shattered it again after American military forces waged deadly counterinsurgency there a decade ago.
The cross-border spill over of Jihadi machines like the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is so total that Iraq and Syria are separate nation-states only in name. They are part of one uninterrupted war theatre which raises wrenching questions about the wisdom of Western military interventions.
The sectarian hatred driving the civil war-like situation prevailing in Iraq can be traced back to decades of abusive tyranny of the Sunni megalomaniac, Saddam Hussein. It was reignited by the partisan and exclusionary policies of the current Shia Prime Minister, Nuri al Maliki. But in the interregnum between Saddam and Maliki (slammed by critics as a “Shia Saddam”) came the most crucial phase of Iraqi history when the Sunni-Shia discord got militarised.
This was the period of US occupation from 2003 to 2011. Shocking violence leading to deaths of tens of thousands of innocent civilians in the name of sect occurred under American military’s watch in 2006-’07. The wholesale slaughter during those two years by Sunni and Shia death squads and suicide bombers happened in the context of an armed resistance movement against the American military’s occupation of Iraq.
American weapons and funds which went into splitting the Iraqi Sunni ranks and carving out a so-called “Awakening Movement” to oppose Al Qaeda in Anbar left Sunni tribes armed to the teeth and seething against the central government in Baghdad. Far from refashioning Iraq into a democratic role model for the rest of West Asia, the American occupiers stoked a devastating Sunni-Shia tussle that is burning with renewed vehemence in both Iraq and Syria.
Now that the US military has packed its bags and left Iraq to writhe in bloodshed, one would have wished for more soul-searching in America about the disastrous outcomes of the wars unleashed by President George W. Bush. Instead, hawks from the Republican Party, like John McCain, are insisting that the US Army should have permanently hunkered down in Iraq.
Mr McCain’s ideological soul mate, Senator Lindsey Graham, contends, “If we’d had a residual force of 10 to 12,000 (troops in Iraq), I am totally convinced there would not have been a rise of Al Qaeda”. The Right-wing in America harbours illusions that the US military is a stabilising power that can prevent security vacuums from being filled by extremists and fundamentalists all over the world.
The sight of Al Qaeda retaking Falluja or Ramadi in Anbar province is painful to American conservatives not due to the realisation that it was the illegal US military intervention which exacerbated the problem in the first place, but owing to a misguided reading of history that the US Army is a benign saviour that can fix broken societies.
Thankfully, President Barack Obama does not share this imperialistic worldview. Just imagine how much more atrocious Syria and Iraq would have been by now had
Mr Obama heeded the hawks and launched a direct military assault in 2013 on the Assad regime over allegations that it was using chemical weapons.
Russian President Vladimir Putin — a bête noire of the Republican Party’s militarists like John McCain and Lindsey Graham — has aptly summed up the pathetic outcome of Western military interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya as follows: “There is no calm, no such democracy that our partners (Western countries) sought, not even basic civil peace and equilibrium.”
Ever since France and Britain, backed by the US, illegally bombed Libya to overthrow the autocracy of Muammar Gaddafi, this strategically located North African nation has been reeling under the reign of terror unleashed by approximately 1,700 armed militias that have disparate religious, regional and tribal affiliations. Libyans got chaos as a gift from the West, which pretends that it brought liberation through its military’s “humanitarian intervention”.
If present-day Libya is liberated, the only people enjoying freedom are trigger-happy armed thugs who have parcelled out the whole country into respective fiefdoms. Look at the plight of a country whose notional Prime Minister, Ali Zeidan, gets kidnapped by militias at dawn to be released a few tense hours later. Zeidan re-emerges to thank the “real revolutionaries” (a different set of militiamen who freed him) for restoring him to power. To recall Mr Putin, there is not only no calm and no democracy, but no state authority left in the Islamic “badlands” that the West set out to tame with its military and then reinvent as liberal, democratic showpiece items.
Afghanistan is sadly going the same way as Iraq and Libya, i.e. a failed state that will struggle to attain peace after the American military exits at the end of this year. Even though the recently published memoir of former defence secretary, Robert Gates, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War, states that Mr Obama never considered the Afghan war “to be his” and that for the President “it’s all about getting out”, the damage of America’s longest foreign military intervention has already been wrought.
It is too late now for a reluctant Mr Obama to somehow fix a fragmented Afghanistan after US occupation forces stoked warlordism and bought off loyalties of heavily armed regional militias for one long decade in a bid to weaken the Taliban. If the writ of the state, centred in Kabul, does not run beyond a few urban centres, there is no hope for any security for Afghan people.
The consequences of America’s misguided military interventions in Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan are far from the lofty state intentions of promoting peace or democracy. Terrorism has spread instead of declining as a result of Western war-making in these countries. What Anbar province needs is not a return of the US military or America-supplied weapons in the hands of an intolerant Iraqi government. An ideational and policy break from Western “solutions” is the first step to rescue and heal it.
Sreeram Chaulia is a professor and dean at the Jindal School of International Affairs