Editorial: Two differing views on U.S. military involvement in Iraq

When former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice delivered a speech at Norwich last Thursday, she stayed true to the tune played during President George W. Bush’s eight years in office from 2000 to 2008 — that U.S. intervention in international affairs is the purview of the United States and our duty to make the world a safer place.
As Iraq devolves into another military crisis, Syria continues to be a bloodbath of Muslim-against-Muslim, Iran posing a nuclear and military threat, and much of the Middle East in crisis, her response to the latest crisis in Iraq is to send the troops back in. “You’ve got to knock them back,” Rice told the crowd of nearly 3,000 at Norwich University. “You do not want those people in a swath of territory the size of Indiana. That will be a real problem…. The United States has to step up. Why? That’s because we are the most powerful country in the world, the most powerful military, the most powerful economy. But also because we represent an idea, the idea that ‘we the people’ can be an inclusive concept.”
It’s a nice theory, but it’s disappointing Rice is in denial of the consequences of that very strategy in Iraq. Disposing Iraq’s dictator Saddam Hussein and trying to put a democracy in its place did not work. Rather, the policies of the government led by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has split the nation further apart and by favoring the Shia majority over the Sunnis and Kurds, and has led the country to the brink of civil war, again, with Iraqis fighting each other.
That Rice would continue to espouse the very beliefs of neo-conservatives that got us into this problem in the first place (with a price tag of about $2 trillion) is a telling character of the political party she represents. It’s a belief that military might makes right. It is also a belief that flies in the face of recent reality that strongly suggests the presence of power causes resentment, which breeds animosity toward the nation in power, which in turn prompts terrorist actions against that military and against that country’s civilian population, and which rarely succeeds in establishing stable governments in nations which do not have a tradition of self-rule.
Vermont-based political columnist Haviland Smith, a retired CIA station chief who served in Eastern and Western Europe and the Middle East and as chief of the counterterrorism staff, summed up the scene with a very different approach than that proposed by Rice:
“Make no mistake about it, what we are watching in Iraq today is the direct result of our invasion of that country in 2003, an invasion that was conceived and carried out either because the Bush administration did not understand realities in that country and region, or because it chose to overlook them for its own political reasons.
“Either way, uninformed or arrogant, the result we are watching today was a foregone conclusion from the start.
“The net effect was that we liberated Iraq’s inherent violence.
“Iraq, like so many other countries that languished under the boot of European imperialism in the 19th and 20th centuries, was never a real country. In fact, Iraq, with its populations of Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis jammed into one country without their consent, is about as hopeless a choice for a country as exists anywhere. Over the centuries, since 6,000 B.C., what is now called Iraq has been a part of 18 empires, most of them foreign.
“Since 1920, when its modern boundaries were established, Iraq has been ruled by the British Empire, by its own monarchy and then from 1968-2003, by the Baath Party dictatorship under Saddam Hussein. From 2003 until 2011, the United States was the effective ruler of Iraq through our own military establishment.
“Iraqis have virtually no experience with self-rule. For roughly 8,000 years, they have been ruled by their own monarchies and dictators or by foreigners. That might be hopeful if they shared any real harmony in their ethnic and religious makeup with their Muslim neighbors. But they do not… Iraq isa “country” at war with itself. Its diverse residents have long been waiting for the opportunity to unify into independent Kurd, Shia and Sunni groups. It is an almost perfect candidate for partition and reassembly into three or more parts. The problem clearly is that they all want to rule, and none of them wants to be ruled — the perfect circumstances for the creation of new countries in what was Iraq.
“It is unreasonable to believe there is a future for self-government in a single Iraq. The extraordinary current performance of the Iraq army in deserting en toto in the face of a vastly inferior attacking force tells the story, the outcome and the future. The Sunni private will not take orders from the Shia lieutenant.
“There will be no peace between these Iraqi factions until all of them can get some sort of satisfaction — most probably in the partition of the “country.” Any attempt by any entity, particularly one that is not indigenous to the region, such as the United States, to thwart or influence such an outcome by force, is only going to make the situation longer lasting and worse than it already is.
“If there ever was a fight that wasn’t ours, this is it, even though our invasion started it.”
Angelo Lynn

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