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.
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."
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.
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...