The news brings word that ISIS has sacked Palmyra and Ramadi. To what degree they control these cities and their populations is disputed. There are reports that Ramadi is mostly in the hands of the Iraq government with some terrorism from ISIS fighters. I’m not sure it matters a whole lot as the main story is the collapse of Iraq into anarchy and sectarian war.
If you look at a map, it is not hard to see why Iraq is nearly ungovernable as a single state. Arabs are highly clannish, with primary loyalty to their lineage-based tribe and a natural hostility to those outside the tribe. Layer on this map and you see that Mesopotamia is additionally riven by deep religious differences. Those Sunni – Shia difference may seem small to us, but they are everything to them.
Just to make things interesting, according to this post from HBDChick, Iraq has very high levels of cousin marriage. They have cousin marriage rates as high as 50%, including double cousin marriage, which is when the children of one man marry the children of his brother. That may explain why Iraq has a national IQ of 87.
The assumption of most Americans, including the people in charge, was that Saddam was a ruthless dictator because he was a sadist or evil. Saddam simply liked doing horrible things to his people, like using poison gas on them. Reality, of course, was more complex. To run Iraq requires overcoming the tribal and sectarian hatreds, along with the limited smart fraction. That means murderous force.
In fairness to all of the neo-cons who championed the Freedom Agenda in the Bush years, getting rid of Saddam sounded good and was well intentioned. They truly believed that they could arrange things in such a way that the Arabs of Mesopotamia could join the modern world with modern governance and modern economics. Their analysis was not all wrong, in this respect. It was simply naive.
But, they were wrong and removing Saddam was a terrible mistake that resulted in the current mess. Maybe we should have kept troops in country longer. Maybe we should have blown up more stuff and killed more of their males. No amount of who struck John arguments will change the fact that the region is a disaster and mostly because of American policy the last 25 years, particularly the last 15 years.
Note that the timelines here are becoming generational. Assuming a generation is 20 years, we are now into the second generation of mucking about in this region. The typical Iraqi is 27 years of age, which means he has known nothing by the US dropping bombs on him. That’s a long time to engage in any public policy. At some point, people expect to see some positive results and that’s not the case with the Near East.
That’s what I found a bit strange about the reaction to Rand Paul’s latest riffs on ISIS. This bit from Roger Simon jumped out at me because he has always struck me as a level headed guy. In this case, he appears to have thrown his dress over his head and ran screaming into the night.
Alas Rand (I had higher hopes for him), like father Ron, has a mega-chauvanistic view of the world. The USA is so big and strong it causes everything, including, at one point, 9-11, and now ISIS, if you can believe that. Never mind that the Islamic State is just another avatar of Islamic imperialism’s desire for a world caliphate that has been going on for centuries, long before our country was in existence — the Battle of Tours (732), the Siege of Vienna (1683) and on and on. The violence has been there forever, too. As any literate person knows, it’s in the Koran and the Hadith. Beheadings were part of Mohammed’s game plan. It’s what he did and what he called for. This was not invented by a cabal of neocons in Chevy Chase, Maryland, in 2003.
I take a backseat to no man in my disdain for libertarianism and I’m no fan of Rand Paul. His comments on ISIS are not measured, but they are not outlandish or even wildly incorrect. They are simply incomplete. A long series of mistakes and general stupidity by US policy makers gave us the current mess. No one intended for it tot happen. No one intends to hit a tree with their car, but we accept blame for it when it happens.
That’s what makes Paul’s comments incomplete and careless. He leaves the impression that it was intentional. We did create a Muslim force in Afghanistan in the 1980’s and it did become Al Qaeda. That’s indisputable. It was not, however, the intent of guys like Clarence Long and Charlie Wilson who pushed for arming the Afghans. They simply could not see over the horizon and know where their schemes would lead.
Similarly, breaking up and disbanding the Iraqi military sounded like a good idea. No one thought about what would happen when all of those paranoid and unemployed Sunnis who used to work for Saddam decided on what to do next. No one thought about how the new Shia government would react to those Sunnis. No one imagined ISIS or anything like it.
Lack of foresight, however, is not a blameless act. If I don’t know what is behind door number two, I am obligated to consider the possibilities. If I just blunder through it, I have no one to blame but myself for the results. We expect our rulers to look down the road and consider the possibilities. Very serious men cautioned that removing Saddam would lead to chaos.
Team Bush and the mainstream conservatives rejected those warnings and ran off the old paleocons from the Reagan years. The great schism that plagues the American Right to this day was caused by the rift over Iraq. It is what causes Roger Simon and The Weekly Standard crowd to fly into hysterics whenever one points out that this mess in Mesopotamia and the Near East is due to the mistakes of American policy makers, primarily the hawks in the GOP.
Now, none of this should be taken to mean I don’t think ISIS is a problem. It is a problem and a significant one. How much of this problem we need to address and how to address it starts with understanding why this problem exists in the first place. That means owning up to our own mistakes and avoiding a repeat of them going forward. That also means putting the light on the hawks who were so terribly wrong and knocking that smug look off their face.
That’s really what the hysteria over Rand Paul is about, I suspect. Any discussion of the past means revisiting the predictions and polices of those who turned out to be all wrong about Iraq after Saddam. It’s hard to remain in the debate if you are, to some degree, responsible for creating the mess. Roger Simon, I suspect, would like to everyone to forget he was all wrong about this.
The result is a strange moral panic on the Right anytime the issue is raised. If you are not fully on-board with forever war, then you get labeled a Neville Chamberlain who is insufficiently tough on terrorism. In other words, it is all about shifting the focus away from the errors of the past and onto the lack of faith of the person trying to discuss the past. Simon even resorts to the old Progressive trick of projecting their racism onto others.
Rand, again like father Ron, is essentially racist in blaming this on America and not recognizing other cultures have belief systems to which they truly adhere and that those belief systems may be dangerous, even evil. America did not evolve Islamist ideology anymore than it did Nazism, but the Islamists have the potential to wreak just as much havoc if they are not stopped.
The undeniable fact is the forever war types like Simon cheered on the Iraq invasion arguing that Arabs were just like us, loving what we love and hating what we hate. Implicit in their claims was a denial that there is even such a thing as being Arab or Muslim. The whole point of the invasion and occupation was to erase the Arab identity and replace it with a Western one.
For that reason I hope Rand Paul continues his critique, but polishes it up a bit by dropping the conspiratorial tone so common amongst libertarians. It was not a conspiracy by the Deep State, the military-industrial complex and the Israel lobby that caused this mess. It was a combination of ideological irrationality, triumphalism and misplaced American optimism. I’d throw in a failure to appreciate the diversity of the human animal.
The only way to arrive as a solution is to cast the spotlight on guys like Simon and their wrongness with regards to the region going back two generations now. Otherwise, they will keep hooting down everyone that wishes to try something different in an effort to put the lid back on the cauldron that is Mesopotamia.