A Teachable Moment in Basra

It should come as no surprise that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s disastrous offensive against the Mahdi Army of Moqtada Sadr in Basra has had the exact opposite effect of that intended — strengthening rather than weakening Sadr, and making clear that he, and the Iranians, have far greater influence of Iraq’s future than does the Iraqi government or the U.S. That’s because Maliki’s shared the fate of pretty much every similar initiative by the Bush Administration and its allies and proxies since the onset of the “war on terror.”

The pattern is all too common: The U.S. or an ally or proxy launches a military offensive against a politically popular “enemy” group; Bush and his minions welcome the violence as “clarifying” matters, demonstrating “resolve”, or, in the most grotesque rhetorical flourish of all, the “birth pangs” of a brave new world. Each time, the “enemy” proves far more resilient than expected, largely because Bush and his allies have failed to recognize that each adversary’s power should be measured in political support rather than firepower; and the net effect of the offensive invariably leaves the enemy strengthened and the U.S. and its allies even weaker than before they launched the offensive.

Recent examples would include

* Last year’s U.S.-orchestrated Ethiopian invasion of Somalia in order to drive the Islamic Courts Union out of Mogadishu. This operation, based on the narrowest U.S. concerns to apprehend a handful of Qaeda men, was blithely oblivious to the reasons why the residents of Mogadishu might actually support the Islamists for having established a predictable social order after vanquishing the extortionist warlords with whom the U.S. was in league. So the offensive, like Basra involving U.S. Special Forces, scattered the Islamists, but they’re coming back. The Ethiopian occupation, and the Somali government it is meant to support, are simply not tenable without the political support that the Islamists continue to enjoy.

* Last year’s disastrous U.S.-backed coup attempt in Gaza in which security forces loyal to Fatah warlord Mohammed Dahlan sought to militarily eliminate the democratically elected Hamas government, provoking the counter-coup in which Hamas took full security control over Gaza. The U.S. and Israel followed up with a collective punishment regime targeting ordinary Gazans in the hope that they could be starved into turning on Hamas; the result has been to strengthen the Islamists, particularly after they blew a hole in the border with Egypt and with it in the Bush strategy.

* The summer 2006 Israeli campaign — at U.S. urging — to militarily eliminate Hizballah in Lebanon, which not only produced a military debacle for Israel but gave Hizballah a major political boost, effectively killing off the misguided U.S. strategy of seeking a zero-sum victory by one half of Lebanese society over the other.

* The 2004 U.S. campaigns against Sadr’s forces in Iraq, and the siege of Fallujah and its Sunni insurgents in the same year.

* The campaign against the Taliban in southeastern Afghanistan and northwestern Pakistan.

In all of these instances, the lesson is clear: overwhelming force may be an effective tool against a criminal gang, but against an armed movement rooted in popular sentiment and support, it usually has the opposite effect. The Bush Administration has had plenty of experiences of this lesson, and plenty of time to digest it, but, apparently, to no avail. Instead, Maliki has weakened himself, perhaps fatally, while Sadr once again emerges as the Iraqi politician most likely to go the distance.

And, of course, the U.S. position in Iraq has been further jeopardized by antagonizing the most powerful community in Baghdad.

An equally important lesson from Basra, though, was that it took Iran — in fact, by a senior Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander on the U.S. list of most wanted terrorists to rescue Maliki and the Americans from a very nasty situation once their offensive had stalled and the Sadrists had joined the battle elsewhere in Iraq. Not only does this affirm the reality that Iran’s influence is considerably greater in Iraq than that of the U.S. — Tehran was able to resolve the Basra standoff precisely because it has backed both the Supreme Council, which dominates the Iraq security forces and also enjoys U.S. backing, as well as the Sadrists. The idea that the U.S. can stabilize Iraq while in conflict with — or even on terms opposed by — Iran is now a pipe dream.

To the extent that the U.S. mission in Iraq includes the notion of rolling back Iranian influence, the U.S. is in for a long, and ultimately futile mission. And the idea that it can remake the political landscape there or anywhere else through the application of force is a dangerous delusion.

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19 Responses to A Teachable Moment in Basra

  1. Spyguy says:

    Better ideas …

    – Why not pay Iran and Saudi Arabia to “manage” Iraq for us and keep the place quiet and the oil flowing? Sure Iran and Saudi Arabia are already rich, but even rich people always appreciate a few extra dollars (actually we might have to offer them Euros to get them interested considering how worthless dollars are).

    – And to make the stealth, overnight exit of the US troops go smoother, why not give several hundred Sacagawea Golden Dollar Coins to each and every man, woman and child in Iraq. Given how worthless the dollar actually is, it would be an extremely cheap way to bribe our safe passage out.

    Why coins you ask? They are cheaper to manufacture than dollar bills and the bulkiness would minimize the ability of a war lord to steal tons (literally) of them from the people before the people had a chance to spend it on the necessities of life.

    Financially paying our way out of Iraq would be the best thing for the US economy we could ever do.

    What a great way to actually “win” in Iraq!

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  3. Morris says:

    Spyguy, Good Idea, The drain on the US is even more than the $. It’s also all the brains being diverted into an exercise in futility. Wasted lives, wasted economy.
    No more going it alone, hopefully.
    The whole thing from the beginning was insane.
    And it’s too late to save the economy. But saving lives, and reusing them for something sensible would make sense.

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  5. KB says:

    Well what still amazes me is that we still have bozos in America from the Republican and conservative wings that believe we will win the war in Iraq.
    It just makes me laugh and cry in the same time.
    For example Anhormen such as Sean Hannity, Mark levin, Mike Reagan,…..etc
    It is so sad
    We just will never learn.

  6. Tony says:

    Human never learn their lesson. War in Iraq will never be won.

  7. Morris says:

    Please tell me, when the Soldiers leave Iraq, you don’t want them going to Afghanistan or any other far away place.
    This is the danger now ….

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  9. wil says:

    “That was why the world he knew was poor, for it insisted that morality and caution were identical.”

    Norman Mailer

  10. wil says:

    “That was why the world he knew was poor, for it insisted that morality and caution were identical.”

    Norman Mailer

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  12. Peter Principle says:

    Human[s] never learn their lesson. War in Iraq will never be won.

    You can make a plausible argument that the war was “won” within 9 days of the original invasion, with the fall of Baghdad. But the problem is that in Iraq you have to “win” over and over and over again, each time against a different enemy or combination of enemies.

    Only a complete monster like Saddam could do that (and his luck probably would have run out sooner or later).

    But you’re right about the not learning our lesson part. The Brits also “won” in Iraq quite a few times before they finally gave up and went home.

    I sometimes think, with only a modest amount of exaggeration, that the best thing that could happen to US policy in Middle East would be for the Iranians to take over Iraq. Let THEM flail around in the quicksand for a while.

  13. Roger H. Werner says:

    The lessons mentioned in this article should have been learned 40 years ago in Southeast Asia. The US military and its South Vietnam client state outgunned the North Vietnamese and their VC allies throughout that misbegotten conflict. Yet because the opponents of US policies had the support of the majority of the Vietnamese people, both north and south, they ultimately prevailed at a horrendous cost in life and money. I cannot imagine why the obvious lesson of Vietnam is so difficult for American leadership to grasp. I have to believe that US leadership is more interested in perpetuating an American myth than in understanding and dealing with reality. Teleological thinking of this sort in a military conflict must eventually lead to political and military disaster.

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  15. izmir escort says:

    Why coins you ask? They are cheaper to manufacture than dollar bills and the bulkiness would minimize the ability of a war lord to steal tons (literally) of them from the people before the people had a chance to spend it on the necessities of life.

  16. mersin emlak says:

    Human never learn their lesson. War in Iraq will never be won.

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