Thursday, September 04, 2014

"They Will Like You When You Win..."

In the Spring of 1991,  I was a student  at the University of Wisconsin,  one day I was  asked to come to the University  housing director's office. I was told the  Chancellor, and the Dean of Students  needed to speak with me.    Normally, my reaction to such an invite would be to ask what was it that I had written in the Student Newspaper that had upset them that week.    But in this case,  I was told they needed to "brief me" on a new resident who would be moving onto my floor in the Dorm, specifically moving into the same suite I lived in.

When I arrived at the Chancellor's office,  I was introduced to a man from the US Department of State, who explained my new suitemate was Kurdish,  from Northern Iraq.  He was a refugee who had fled his country after his entire family had been executed by the. Saddam Hussein regime.  His family had been killed because he, was working  on a book, detailing the atrocities committed by the Iraqi government against the Kurds.

When the next day,  I met  Hassim, , he  stuck me as a typical  Graduate Student.  Friendly, studious and eager to settle in to his new routine.  I found  we had a lot in common,  we had read number of the same books, and had a shared love of. Star Trek.   We would  spend  many evenings that  semester talking politics, culture and SciFi.    Until one evening   we were sitting in the lounge on our floor, and I got up the courage to ask about his home, and  the war that was currently going on there.

Hassim smiled sadly,  and  told me he would be right back.  He returned a few moments later with a battered old atlas.   He opened  to  the map of. Iraq , Turkey and Syria.  He took a pencil and drew borders around an area including Northern  Iraq,  part  of  Southern Turkey and  Eastern  Syria.  He pointed to the area he had just highlighted and said ; "This is Kurdistan.   It is what should be my country had history not turned out the way it has."

I said  that the countries that make up that area probably would have a real problem with the borders he  had just drawn.  He  nodded, but then turned serious and  said that the current conflict in Iraq (Operation. Desert Storm) was extremely risky .  I asked him if he felt the coalition forces should remove Saddam Hussein from power.   He smiled sadly and said that no one would be happier  to see Saddam dead and gone than he would be.  But removing him from power had "huge risks".

 I asked him what he meant,  and he said Americans really didn't understand the different groups in that part of the world,  He asked if I knew the difference between Shia and Suni Islam.  I admitted I did not.    He then made what,  now years later is a chilling prediction.   He said;  "For America to go into Iraq and remove the Hussein dictatorship means you will have to stay  for 20 years and literally occupy and run the country.  Iraq will have to be. The 51rst State.  Otherwise it will be a civil war between Shia and Sunil and anyone who isn't one of those two will be caught in the middle and just killed."

I asked if there wasn't some way to  negotiate a power sharing deal between these groups.  He laughed and said; "You are thinking like an American". These groups  don't want to get along they want to win or die fighting.   If you want democracy in the middle east, you will have to conquer it first.  They will like you when you win."

The world is still recoiling in horror over the beheading of two American Journalists, and the mass murder of ethnic minorities in Iraq and Syria  at the hands of the. "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria".  A group so barbaric and savage that even. Al Qaeda, has distanced themselves from it.

 Looking at the landscape of this part of the world,  like many people I am deeply troubled at the prospect of America and our Allies fighting yet another war in Middle East.

Yet  the alternative seems to be to stand aside and  let chaos, genocide and  terrorism take over a part of the world sitting atop 20% of  global oil reserves. Like it or not,  we  are  all  directly affected by what happens there.    

 So let's be honest and admit on thing;  Yes, this is largely (but not entirely)  about Oil.  Those who decry this fact are not wrong,  but they are hypocritical.   If you don't want to be affected by what happens in the Middle East,  then don't complain when it costs more than  $100 to fill up your gas tank.   Our crack-addict like dependence on Oil  remains our greatest strategic weakness.   It drives our foreign policy in the Middle East, and  causes all of the different groups there, to mistrust any efforts we make to engage with the region as oil-driven and therefore suspect.

Sadly, history doesn't do much to dispute that.

But also lets be clear.  It is not only about oil.   If we truly mean what we say in documents like our own Declaration  of Independence,  or the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Then how can we not  fight the  barbarism of. ISIS or ISIL or whatever they are calling themselves.   Hindsight is always. 20/20, but Hassim  was right.    In removing. Saddam Hussein without a plan for what came next.  The West created the vacuum into which these terrorists  have stepped.   

The horrific murders of the two American journalists, along with the promise of murders of other Americans and British nationals to come, combined with the  genocide of ethic minorities  both Muslim and non Muslims, paints a very clear picture.    We can't reason with them, they don't want to talk,  they want to win or die fighting,  taking as many of  the rest of us with them as they can in the process.

America cannot and must not  fight these animals alone.   The threat to our allies is just as great.  So their engagement in this fight must be equal to that threat.  But the fact is,  the only way this  blood-soaked part of the world will ever have a chance to move forward is for ISIS to be destroyed.  Not marginalised,  not to have their "Capacity Limited".  Not to have, their command and control centres "neutralised". They must be destroyed,  beyond the ability to ever reconstitute.

Is that right, ethical or moral?  No.    Is it necessary?   I find myself  regrettably having to agree with my old friend.

They will like us when we win...

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