Loose Canons

Forty Days and Forty Nights

It's not bloody likely that Iraqis will ever celebrate June 30 the way we celebrate the Fourth of July.

By 5.17.04

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It's just a little more than that number of days before we kinda sorta turn Iraq over to somebody. The new provisional government will be denounced as soon as it's announced. The Shia won't be happy with it because the provos won't impose Shari'a law, which would mean that none besides the Shia would have civil rights or political power. The Sunni won't be happy with even a modicum of Shia rule. They're terrified of it and perpetually inflamed by imported Wahabis from Saudi Arabia. In the north, the Kurds are still trying to keep their options open. They'd rather have an independent Kurdistan, but for the fact that Turkey would invade them to prevent the Kurds from annexing their brethren and their land in eastern Turkey. And -- unless the U.N. and France are given the exclusive license to loot Iraq -- there will be shouts of "illegitimacy" and "puppet government" heard round the world. (What was that term? Cluster-what?)

Has moderation fallen over the Sunni Triangle? Violence has abated in Falluja and -- according to a senior Defense Department source -- the Marines and Iraqi security force there are conducting joint patrols without getting shot at too often. But, I fear, that only means that the Wahabi-backed Sunni insurgents are reloading, and redeploying for a big push around Baghdad in June.

IT'S NOT BLOODY LIKELY that Iraqis will ever celebrate June 30 the way we celebrate the Fourth of July. It won't be independence day for them, because their dependence on American military power to keep them free will not end then, or for years to come. It will not even be "sovereignty day" for them, because their still-aborning government won't be able to take the helm, and we don't plan to turn it over to them. While American troops are engaged in heavy fighting in Najaf and near Karbala -- too close to the two holiest sites in Iraqi Shi'ism -- our ever-inept diplomats are sending precisely the wrong signal to our enemies.

Do you have any doubt about who is running Iraq? Ambassador L. Paul Bremer supposedly works for Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. (Please remember, dear reader, that within the Pentagon chain of command, there ain't no rank of "ambassador.") Big Dog is perceived to be weaker now because of the prisoner abuse micro-scandal that the media is still feeding. So while the Big Dog is busy, the poodles of State -- led by Ambassador Bremer -- have given voice to the idea that if the new Iraqi provisional government asks us to leave, we will. Not to put too fine a point on it, but are they nuts? Apparently so.

Even as a political expedient designed to strengthen the new Iraqi government, these statements are a reckless gamble that shouldn't have been made. What happens if the new Iraqi government sets a timetable for us to leave? A timetable that has nothing to do with the security of the country, or the interests we've spent American lives for? We'd have to refuse, which would immediately deprive that government of legitimacy and plunge the country into a religious rebellion against us. Or we could leave, which would be worse.

To leave now -- really, to leave in the foreseeable future -- without ensuring Iraq's new government is really democratic, and not a religious thugocracy like Iran, would mean that almost a thousand young Americans had died for no reason. To leave now -- as some of the neocons are advocating -- would be to abandon the job before it is done, just as we did in 1991. And worse.

Our departure before Iran is longer a threat to it or to us would leave Iraq open to easy conquest by Iran, which would happen in very short order. To have the central terrorist nation of the world -- which itself is almost a nuclear power -- enriched and emboldened by swallowing the Iraqi nation, its oil, and its strategic position would strengthen Iran enormously and pose a clear and present danger to America. This would require us to redo everything we did in 2003 and more. The President should make it clear to us, to the Iraqis, to the muddle-headed boys at Foggy Bottom, and their emissary in Iraq. We're not going to leave this half-done.

THERE ARE TWO GODS hard at work in Iraq. One is the American god called Freedom. We worship Freedom for its own sake, because of the bounties we know it brings to every aspect of our lives. But in Iraq, another god is at work, and he is a very jealous god. Islam demands obedience to a degree unseen in the West since the end of Spanish Catholicism's Inquisition. Islam -- at least the radical Shia and Wahabi varieties of it -- demands that its adherents accept not only its moral doctrine, but its political dogma as well. To fail in one is to fail in both. In Iraq, Iran, and Saudi Arabia -- as well as the other Arab despotisms -- the citizenry has been indoctrinated for decades that the freedoms Americans are willing to fight and die for are immoral and deadly to its religion. That's nonsense to us, but not to the Shia and Wahabi clerics whose political power depends on it, or to those who follow their every word.

To succeed against this religious force, the new Iraqi government will have to bridge the gap between the two gods. They will have to overcome the influence of Iran and Saudi Arabia, and the Iraqis' devotion to their own religious leaders. That's a pretty tall order. Initially, they will fail. How long we stay and how consistent we are in insisting that Iraq will not be a religious dictatorship will determine the outcome. This nation-building business is something we need to learn fast. We obviously aren't very good at it now.

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About the Author
Jed Babbin served as a Deputy Undersecretary of Defense under George H.W. Bush. He is the author of several bestselling books including Inside the Asylum and In the Words of Our Enemies. He is coauthor (with Herbert London) of the new book The BDS War Against Israel. You can follow him on Twitter@jedbabbin.