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Bronner writes: "Albert Einstein once famously described insanity as the belief that doing the same thing over and over will ultimately produce a different result."

Heading to Iraq again? (photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Heading to Iraq again? (photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Iraq Yet Again

By Stephen Eric Bronner, Reader Supported News

26 June 14


lbert Einstein once famously described insanity as the belief that doing the same thing over and over will ultimately produce a different result. That definition seems to hold when considering American policy toward Iraq. President Barack Obama won the Democratic nomination in 2008 on the basis of his opposition to a misguided invasion that led to the fall of Saddam Hussein and the emergence of what was conceived as an illegitimate puppet regime of the United States. Obama had fulfilled a campaign promise in withdrawing American troops from Iraq, though even before their departure the conflict between Kurds, Shia, and Sunni had already taken shape. Paramilitary organizations were united only by their hatred of the United States and its attempts to prop up a parliamentary government unwilling to integrate the once hegemonic Sunnis into its Shia-dominated hierarchy and unable to deal with the dynamics of Kurdish separatism. The situation appears to have deteriorated. Saddam Hussein is gone, but civil war is on the agenda – as if this were not previously the case – and it (only?) now seems evident that the government of President Maliki cannot provide stability. With Iraq imploding and civilian death tolls rising, therefore, Obama seems to believe that a change of policy is in order. Thus, he has decided to send back 300 military advisors and provide small arms to prop up what has become a completely dysfunctional parliamentary regime and mitigate the growing chaos.

More than a half million Iraqis have become casualties of a genocidal policy that leads back to the doorstep of President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and their coterie of neo-conservative advisors. But the list doesn’t end there. These unindicted war criminals (to put it bluntly) were enabled by supporters of the invasion in the Democratic Party like Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Susan Rice, Samantha Power, and others stalwarts of the Obama administration. None of them have publicly dealt with (or, more importantly, publicly reconsidered) what was obviously a disastrous decision. That is because (for equally obvious reasons) both the liberal and conservative media has given them a free pass. This leaves them content to follow conventional ways of thinking about foreign policy, whether in the name of human rights or geo-political advantage, that somehow always culminate in the need for military intervention. They seemed to have learned little, because for all the talk of new circumstances, the old assumptions that originally landed the United States in the Iraqi quagmire are still in place.

No less than their Republican colleagues, they assume that the United States is the key player in the conflict and that its interests constitute the point of reference for judging all other interests. Their political world is based on the sovereign state with its fixed boundaries, its legitimized monopoly over the means of coercion, its hierarchically organized bureaucracies predicated on economic rationality, and its secular capitalist ethos. In Iraq as in so much of the Middle East, however, the state is not necessarily sovereign, and its emotional appeal is far less than that accorded family, tribe, and religion.

Little wonder then that the Iraqi parliamentary elections of 2014 were denounced by virtually all candidates other than President Nouri Kamal al-Maliki. Each candidate represented only particular regional or religious interests – Shia, Sunni, etc. – and lacked a national constituency, if not necessarily a mass base or paramilitary organization. Even President al-Maliki is well known for favoring the Shia and repressing Sunnis in the policies he has pursued. The United States consequently lacks a reliable domestic partner in Iraq. Amid vote fixing and corruption, therefore, its policy wavers between a half-hearted attempt to stabilize an inherently and structurally unstable situation and old fashioned nation-building by support for a corrupt regime.

Liberal champions of human rights still refuse to recognize that in Iraq the state is a Western import, arbitrarily and artificially created by and for imperialist powers, and thus always viewed with suspicion and sometimes with loathing. The borders of Iraq also bear no relation to the organic development of tribes, religious affiliations, and other pre-modern institutions. The idea that conflict will “spread” misses the point; it never was contained. Sunni militias spawned in the slums of Baghdad and headed by Moktada al-Sadr, disaffected Shia, and the existing state are all engaged in an escalating civil war. Its bloody evolution, which began with the fall of the coercive sovereign Saddam Hussein, was quickened by religious zealots from supposedly foreign organizations like Hezbollah and neighboring nations like Iran who transgressed Iraq’s borders and chose sides. Iran well remembers its border war with Iraq, which resulted in more than 1 million casualties, along with the support extended by the United States to Saddam Hussein. Their concern with the new initiative by President Obama, which puts US troops next door and reaffirms US desire for regional influence, only makes sense. The transnational civil society that marks the Middle East helps explain the appeal of a transnational terrorist vanguard like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which has already captured swaths of territory to the south and which is rapidly extending its influence in Iraq. Outlines appear of what should prove the strategic goal of American policy, namely, cooperation with Iran in opposing ISIS and a regional solution to the conflict in which not states but religious institutions and civic organizations take the lead.

Except in setting a precedent for further American intervention, President Obama’s decision to send 300 military advisers and small arms to prop up the al-Maliki regime lacks connection with any broader strategic purpose. His new policy sets the stage for a new form of “mission creep” that unsettles the political left while the small scale of the intervention angers the political right. No less than in Syria, the president had been experiencing enormous pressure from Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham as well as remnants of the Bush administration like former Vice President Dick Cheney who never encountered a crisis in which they did not wish to intervene. Worrying about the appearance of American “weakness,” unconcerned with the rank distrust of American ambitions by all parties to the conflict, their only strategy involves the intervention of more troops in a completely misguided attempt to reassert American hegemony over the region.

As for President Obama, however, he has already acknowledged that his mini-intervention will not impact the outcome of the conflict, even should the use of drone strikes increase. Once again, therefore, the United States finds itself in the position of intervening militarily in support of a corrupt regime that is losing control of its country and incapable of expressing the general will. Even more striking is that, once again, there is no clear articulation of the American national interest and no exit strategy. Costs will once again be born by the Iraqi citizenry, and once again the meddling of American troops will further undermine the prospects for a genuinely sovereign state amid the environmental and economic devastation, the chaos brought on by massive immigration, the destruction of the nation’s infrastructure, the collapse of civil society, rising infant mortality, and other legacies connected with the American invasion by a previous administration. A bit of political modesty is necessary to prevent the United States from becoming enmeshed in yet another proxy war. Belief that its policymakers have either the wisdom or the knowledge to intervene in every crisis reflects nothing more than the arrogance of power. There are other powers like Iran with a stake in the Iraqi civil war. Unless it involves extending humanitarian aid, calling upon the United States to “do something” (once again) rings hollow. The Bush boys and their fellow travelers have done enough. Sometimes it is better to do nothing – especially when there is so little clarity about what is to be done.

Stephen Eric Bronner is Distinguished Professor of Political Science at Rutgers University and Senior Editor of the online journal Logos. The second edition of his “Moments of Decision” has just appeared with Bloomsbury. your social media marketing partner
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