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Trouble in Paradise
December 4, 2003
By Michael Shannon

It is difficult to pick the one lie that is the most intractable of the lot out the torrent continually flowing from the Bush Administration concerning Iraq. However, for the sake of this discussion let us focus on the oft stated pledge to "to build an Iraqi democracy." This lie is, by comparison with some of the bald-faced whoppers emanating from this crew, more of a misrepresentation. But it still is a falsehood: The Bush administration does not want a democratic Iraq, they want a compliant Iraq.

This variation on the truth has been very well received in both Peoria and Basra because it has the luxury of being exactly what people want to hear. After all democracy/freedom is America's gift to the world. That's not a toe-the-line talking point, it happens to be true. We have demonstrated the incalculable benefits of a lawful democratic society. But as is plainly obvious from events here in the world's oldest over the past several years, the democratic process is not without its flaws. The primary one being that unless you cheat, you can never be 100% sure of how it is going to turn out.

And that is where it gets tricky over in Iraq - suppose the wrong guys win? When the wrong guys win in America it is usually no more than a political inconvenience; the wrong guys win in Iraq and the whole purpose of our interjection in the first place could go straight down the tube. An eventuality that is just not in the cards.

The United States of America is going to be directly involved in the political, military and economic affairs of Iraq for a long, long time. Not only did we not go to all this trouble, didn't spend all that money, leave that many arms and legs on the highways and wastelands of Iraq and ship that many of our people home in aluminum boxes to just turn around and give it back, we won't do it because we fear the worst of what might happen if we did.

We are going to stay in Iraq not just because of the huge financial - granted, the distribution of these vast sums of money will be extremely concentrated - and strategic payoff if we do, but for the even larger financial and strategic calamity if we do not. We left Vietnam after close to 15 years because it became obvious that in order to completely crush what had proven to be a remarkably tenacious enemy we would have had to rachet the military effort up far beyond what was politically supportable, and because we finally came to the conclusion that the cost outweighed the benefit. We left Lebanon after a very brief stay because at that moment in time it was even more hellish than today's Iraq and because we came to the conclusion that the cost outweighed the benefit. We left Somalia after the relatively small loss of American life because we very quickly come to the conclusion that the cost outweighed the benefit. This historical record is often cited as encouraging by those opposed to our presence in Iraq, but it is a mistake to think it will carry through to the same conclusion. In Iraq we are and there we will stay because we have determined that the benefit is worth almost any cost.

So to get back to our lie du jour; how are we to maintain our military presence in order to secure the continued flow of Persian Gulf oil - and insure that Islamic fundamentalist do not take power in Iraq or anywhere else in the region - and yet give the appearance that the Iraqis are in control of their own political destiny? It's a tough question.

It may be that the worries are unfounded; it could all turn out to be another brilliant success in "nation building" as it was in Germany and Japan. The often-bandied notion that Arabic peoples lack due to cultural hardwiring the proper aptitude for democratic development is theory and nothing more. The peoples of the Arabian peninsula did miss out on the first go-rounds of the democratic movements but who's to say now that the opportunity has presented itself that they may not turn out to be great at it? The Iraqis may end up with the highest voter turnout and greatest degree of grassroot participation outside of New Hampshire. And who knows, they could vote in a government that is in complete agreement with a continued large-scale American military presence. But they also might elect a government that would like nothing more than to see us pack our bags and get the hell out and not let the door hit us in the derriere doing it. Then what?

In the old days it was all so much easier. An occupying power didn't have to worry about such niceties as public and world opinion. Then the conqueror had two simple choices, either directly rule the land in question or put in a government that was beholden directly to them. Ah, but that was then and this is now. Now thanks very much to our own rhetorical track record such things simply aren't done. Now accommodations need to be reached in a far more discreet manner.

A cursory analysis of Iraqi demographics is all it takes to see that the key voting block is the Shia. Considering that they make up approximately 60% of the population, no deal with them means no deal at all. Cutting the deal is where it gets dicey.

The Shia broke with the more populous Sunni branch of Islam before the Protestant Reformation split Christianity. Although there has been far less blood spilled between the Muslim factions than amongst their Christian counterparts, the split retains a legacy of acrimony and the two groups do tend to act independently. Considering that the Shia in Iraq have been excluded from positions of power by the minority Sunnis since the country's formation, it fair to say that they consider this an opportunity not to be passed by.

So where else is there another majority Shia populace to turn to for communal help and guidance in their time of great fortune? Well happily for the Shiites of Iraq the answer to that question lies directly over its eastern border: Iran. Realizing that denying the Iraqi Shia a relationship with their brethren in Iran could ignite a revolt that would make the insurrection in the "Sunni Triangle" look tame by comparison, the Bush administration has been quietly coming to a re-evaluation concerning the importance of Iranian influence on the whole region.

To say that going public with this detente-like arrangement would cause Mr Bush no small amount of political embarrassment is putting it as delicately as possible. After all Iran is not only a charter member of his Axis of Evil, they are a perennial top five finisher in the State Department's annual listing of nations which most directly support terrorism. Iran has had such a horrendous relationship with the US since the fall of the Shah and the rise of an Islamic fundamentalist regime, that it was with one American eye shut and the other one winking during the entirety of Saddam's eight year war with them that the when, where, why and how much of whatever WMD's that that lunatic ever possessed came to be.

To think that Team Bush has overthrown Saddam out of its stated desire to inflict maximum damage on the Islamic terrorism movement only to have the majority of Iraqis align themselves with the very nation that has been at the cutting edge of that movement for the past twenty five years is quite a turning of the tables. Proving once again that politics truly do make for very strange bedfellows and that all things political are rarely what they seem.

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