The Empire’s second attempt at building the arbitrary Mesopotamian state of ‘Iraq’ may fall apart more quickly than their first. In 1920 the Anglo-Americans carved up the Ottoman Empire to their liking, making a political, ethnic and cultural nightmare in the process.

Eventually the Empire found the ‘Iraq’ province too rebellious and starved, bombed, invaded and leveled the country. Now Iraq is testings its independence from the Empire, while at the same time an independent Kurdistan – ignored by both Empires – rises in the North.

Syria has long feared the collapse of an Iraqi regime and the spread of Kurdish radicals into the failed state. The USG may be building AlQaedistan in the Middle East.


Antiwar’s Nostradomous: Pepe Escobar in 2002

Bush vs Saddam: The empire strikes back
By Pepe Escobar
Asia Times Online March 6, 2002

PARIS – It may be a geopolitical “window of opportunity”. In Washington’s calculations, Saddam Hussein has to go. As soon as possible. The devil, as usual, is in the details.

Geopolitician Francois Lafargue, professor at the Paris Group School of Management, sheds some light on how Washington’s view of Iraq and its leader changed from Bush father to Bush son. “Since 1980, Washington has had only one objective –  to destroy the emerging powers of the region, Iran and Iraq. Beyond the theological squabbles between Sunnis and Shi’ites, the main political issue in the region is the role of Saudi Arabia. Shi’ites as a whole deny the legitimacy of the House of Saud – which considers itself to be the guardian of the sacred places of Islam. That’s why Saudi Arabia in the 1990s was one of the main advocates in favor of Saddam Hussein remaining in power.”

The main groups of the Iraqi population are 20 percent Sunnis, 55 percent Shi’ites and 25 percent Kurds. During a Kurd rebellion 11 years ago, the aim was to establish an independent state north of Iraq. An independent Kurdistan would be oil-rich, and thus capable of financing other Kurdish independent movements, especially  in Turkey.

This was the immediate post-Gulf War period in the early 1990s. Although George Bush senior had stigmatized Saddam Hussein as “the new Hitler”, the last thing that Washington had in mind at the time was a fragmentation of Iraq and the rise of an independent Kurdistan.

Washington privileged the territorial integrity of Turkey against  Kurdish aspirations. No wonder. Turkey is the leading army in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization after the US. It is an essential strategic ally. Turkey offers the US strategic bases such as Incirlik, listening posts that cover the whole Caucausus, and it also controls access to the Black Sea.

Lafargue points out that “a democratic Iraq would most probably imply a Shi’ite Arab in power [because they constitute the majority of the population]. This would be an untenable situation to the monarchies of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, because a Shi’ite power in Baghdad could find many common grounds with Iran, where two-thirds of the population is Shi’ite”.

This was the post-Gulf War scenario. In the post-Afghan War scenario, Washington’s Iraq approach is something completely different. It is a two-pronged strategy, as Asia Times Online has learned. The first part is already in place: it could be designated as the “diplomatic solution”.  It involves renewing United Nations  sanctions against Iraq, and demanding  total access all over Iraq to UN nuclear-weapons inspectors. European diplomats widely agree  that this “solution” will inevitably fail. The road in this case would be open to the much-preferred “military solution”.

The UN Security Council meets in May to renew the already harsh sanctions against Iraq. But Washington does not want to wait until May. Already in mid-December 2001, the headquarters of the US 3rd Army was moved to Kuwait. And the target-planning activity in ultra-high-tech Prince Sultan airbase near  Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, has been nothing short of frenetic.

The White House and the Pentagon have been actively considering a “variety of options” – according to Secretary of State Colin Powell – to get rid of Saddam Hussein. Powell recently told the Senate that the US has no plans to start a war – at least for the moment – against two of the other “evils”, Iran and North Korea. But the breathing space allowed President Seyed Mohammad Khatami and Great Leader Kim Jong-il does not apply to Saddam Hussein.

Most of Washington is still in love with the “Afghan solution”: a quick and easy “victory” with practically no loss of American lives. The fact that this “victory” means that Osama bin Laden, all of the al-Qaeda leadership and all of the Taliban leadership are still alive, well and on the loose obviously is not taken into account.

Applied to Iraq, the “Afghan model” – Northern Alliance “freedom fighters” supported by US Special Forces and overwhelming aerial supremacy – has led the Pentagon to build the ideal scenario of an Iraqi nationalist – and Kurdish – uprising against Saddam, supported by the US agents who have been roaming northern Iraq gauging possible Kurdish support for this American-incited revolt.

A key player in the uprising will be the Iraqi National Congress (INC) – the opposition in exile. But the INC remains extremely disorganized, and is essentially controlled by a bunch of gangsters. The INC has been receiving a lot of attention in Washington lately, but still no promise of military training.

According to one particular Pentagon scenario, Kurds, Iraqi Shi’ites and at least 100,000 US troops would be involved in an also two-pronged invasion of Iraq. Half of the US troops would invade from the mini-Kurdistan area set up in northern Iraq, and the other half would invade from Kuwait – everybody of course supported by hellish aerial firepower.

The idea, though, is not exactly feasible. The US 3rd Army  commander, Lieutenant-General Paul Mikolashek, has already said he would need between 150,000 and 200,000 combat troops, plus another 200,000 for support and logistic operations. Military analysts agree the whole operation would need close to 500,000 troops – roughly the equivalent used during the Gulf War. The “street” in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan – not to mention Syria, Lebanon and everywhere else in the Middle East – would certainly go mad.

It took the greatest armada ever almost two weeks to establish “aerial supremacy” over a bunch of bearded mullahs with walkie-talkies. Saddam Hussein’s is no ragtag medieval army. According to the latest data, it may have 350,000 combat troops, 2,700 tanks, 90 fighter jets and 100 helicopters. Most of the troops, though, are no more prepared than fleeing Taliban.

The cream of the crop are 50,000 soldiers in seven Republican Guard divisions, and 26,000 Special Guards – tribals recruited by Saddam Hussein in his native Tikrit. These people hold 1,200 Russian T-52 tanks, and actually get paid: four times the salary of a regular soldier.  They also can lay their hands on 300 mobile anti-aircraft missile launchers – recently paid for with oil money: sanctions or no sanctions, smuggling remains an extremely prosperous industry between Iraq and neighbors Turkey, Syria and Jordan.

Saddam Hussein is not just sitting and waiting to be on the receiving end of American wrath. Lafargue says that in 2002, Iraq will export 560 million barrels of oil – two-thirds of its production in 1990. “Some of the revenue is deposited into accounts managed by the UN, but the war machine is back in place thanks to smuggling. And the international embargo was ineffective.”

Iraq, little by little, is coming back from isolation. Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri will meet UN Secretary General Kofi Annan next week in New York. Contemplating the perspective of American strikes, Iraq is now apparently interested in renewing dialogue with the UN.
Meanwhile, US Vice President Dick Cheney will personally advance the  groundwork for the military solution. This month he will visit three key Iraqi neighbors – Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Jordan – plus Britain, Egypt, Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar and Oman. Cheney’s targets: to muster political support and occasional access to airbases, essential for the whole operation.

The “Afghan General”, Tommy Franks,  head of the US Central Command and most certainly the man in charge in the case of an attack against Iraq, said that the Pentagon has not opted for a military plan – yet. Sources in Brussels assure Asia Times Online that the Pentagon would need at least a few months to wrap up the New Afghan War and start the New Iraqi War. There are insistent rumors in diplomatic circles that a strike against Iraq could happen as early as May. In this case, it will follow the  Taliban spring guerrilla incursions against the Hamid Karzai regime in Kabul. The US is already bombing eastern Afghanistan in an effort to prevent a buildup of opposition forces there.

George W Bush and the Pentagon may be itching to reduce one-third of the axis of evil to rubbish. But first they must consider three crucial issues. 1) A mad-as-hell Saddam Hussein may decide to unleash his fabled “weapons of mass destruction” against Americans – and Israelis – if he is attacked at home. 2) No one can tell for sure how many American ground forces are needed: the figure of almost 500,000 is considered exorbitant, and it would take months to assemble. 3) Turkey, the key US ally, is terribly worried about the possibility of an independent Kurdistan rising from the ashes of the Saddam Hussein regime and destabilizing the whole region.

To top it all: everybody and his neighbor cannot begin to imagine the fallout from a huge US military operation right “at home”. But this is peanuts when you’re sitting on top of an unlimited military budget, and you’re on a mission of Good against Evil.

America’s Inevitable Retreat From the Middle East

Published: September 23, 2012 NYT Op-Ed

THE murder of four Americans in Libya and mob assaults on the United States’ embassies across the Muslim world this month have reminded many of 1979, when radical Islamists seized the American mission in Tehran. There, too, extremists running wild after the fall of a pro-American tyrant had found a cheap way of empowering themselves.

But the obsession with radical Islam misses a more meaningful analogy for the current state of siege in the Middle East and Afghanistan: the helicopters hovering above the roof of the American Embassy in Saigon in 1975 as North Vietnamese tanks rolled into the city.

That hasty departure ended America’s long and costly involvement in Indochina, which, like the Middle East today, the United States had inherited from defunct European empires. Of course, Southeast Asia had no natural resources to tempt the United States and no ally like Israel to defend. But it appeared to be at the front line of the worldwide battle against Communism, and American policy makers had unsuccessfully tried both proxy despots and military firepower to make the locals advance their strategic interests.

The violent protests provoked by the film “Innocence of Muslims” will soon subside, and American embassies will return to normal business. But the symbolic import of the violence, which included a Taliban assault on one of the most highly secured American bases in Afghanistan, is unmistakable. The drama of waning American power is being re-enacted in the Middle East and South Asia after two futile wars and the collapse or weakening of pro-American regimes.

In Afghanistan, local soldiers and policemen have killed their Western trainers, and demonstrations have erupted there and in Pakistan against American drone strikes and reported desecrations of the Koran. Amazingly, this surge in historically rooted hatred and distrust of powerful Western invaders, meddlers and remote controllers has come yet again as a shock to many American policy makers and commentators, who have promptly retreated into a lazy “they hate our freedoms” narrative.

It is as though the United States, lulled by such ideological foils as Nazism and Communism into an exalted notion of its moral power and mission, missed the central event of the 20th century: the steady, and often violent, political awakening of peoples who had been exposed for decades to the sharp edges of Western power. This strange oversight explains why American policy makers kept missing their chances for peaceful post-imperial settlements in Asia.

As early as 1919, Ho Chi Minh, dressed in a morning suit and armed with quotations from the Declaration of Independence, had tried to petition President Woodrow Wilson for an end to French rule over Indochina. Ho did not get anywhere with Wilson. Indian, Egyptian, Iranian and Turkish nationalists hoping for the liberal internationalist president to promulgate a new “morality” in global affairs were similarly disappointed.

None of these anti-imperialists would have bothered if they had known that Wilson, a Southerner fond of jokes about “darkies,” believed in maintaining “white civilization and its domination over the world.” Franklin D. Roosevelt was only slightly more conciliatory when, in 1940, he proposed mollifying dispossessed Palestinian Arabs with a “little baksheesh.”

Roosevelt changed his mind after meeting the Saudi leader Ibn Saud and learning of oil’s importance to the postwar American economy. But the cold war, and America’s obsession with the chimera of monolithic Communism, again obscured the unstoppable momentum of decolonization, which was fueled by an intense desire among humiliated peoples for equality and dignity in a world controlled by a small minority of white men.

Ho Chi Minh’s post-World War II appeals for assistance to another American president — Harry S. Truman — again went unanswered; and Ho, who had worked with American intelligence agents during the war, was ostracized as a dangerous Communist. But many people in Asia saw that it was only a matter of time before the Vietnamese ended foreign domination of their country.

For the world had entered a new “revolutionary age,” as the American critic Irving Howe wrote in 1954, in which the intense longing for change among millions of politicized people in Asia was the dominant force. “Whoever gains control of them,” Howe warned, “whether in legitimate or distorted forms, will triumph.” This mass longing for political transformation was repressed longer by cold war despotism in the Arab world; it has now exploded, profoundly damaging America’s ability to dictate events there.

Given its long history of complicity with dictators in the region, from the shah of Iran to Saddam Hussein and Hosni Mubarak, the United States faces a huge deficit of trust. The belief that this deep-seated suspicion can be overcome by a few soothing presidential speeches betrays only more condescending ignorance of the so-called Arab mind, which until recently was believed to be receptive only to brute force.

It is not just extremist Salafis who think Americans always have malevolent intentions: the Egyptian anti-Islamist demonstrators who pelted Hillary Rodham Clinton’s motorcade in Alexandria with rotten eggs in July were convinced that America was making shady deals with the Muslim Brotherhood. And few people in the Muslim world have missed the Israeli prime minister’s blatant manipulation of American politics for the sake of a pre-emptive assault on Iran.

There is little doubt that years of disorder lie ahead in the Middle East as different factions try to gain control. The murder of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens in Libya, the one American success story of the Arab Spring, is an early sign of the chaos to come; it also points to the unpredictable consequences likely to follow any Western intervention in Syria — or Iran.

As in Southeast Asia in 1975, the limits of both American firepower and diplomacy have been exposed. Financial leverage, or baksheesh, can work only up to a point with leaders struggling to control the bewilderingly diverse and ferocious energies unleashed by the Arab Spring.

Although it’s politically unpalatable to mention it during an election campaign, the case for a strategic American retreat from the Middle East and Afghanistan has rarely been more compelling. It’s especially strong as growing energy independence reduces America’s burden for policing the region, and its supposed ally, Israel, shows alarming signs of turning into a loose cannon.

All will not be lost if America scales back its politically volatile presence in the Muslim world. It could one day return, as it has with its former enemy, Vietnam, to a relationship of mutually assured dignity. (Although the recent military buildup in the Pacific — part of the Obama administration’s “pivot to Asia” — hints at fresh overestimations of American power in that region.)

Republicans calling for President Obama to “grow” a “big stick” seem to think they live in the world of Teddy Roosevelt. Liberal internationalists arguing for even deeper American engagement with the Middle East inhabit a similar time warp; and both have an exaggerated idea of America’s financial clout after the biggest economic crisis since the 1930s.

It is the world’s newly ascendant nations and awakened peoples that will increasingly shape events in the post-Western era. America’s retrenchment is inevitable. The only question is whether it will be as protracted and violent as Europe’s mid-20th century retreat from a newly assertive Asia and Africa.

 Pankaj Mishra is the author of “From the Ruins of Empire: The Intellectuals Who Remade Asia.”

“The most extravagant idea that can be born in the head of a political thinker is to believe that it suffices for people to enter, weapons in hand, among a foreign people and expect to have its laws and constitution embraced. No one loves armed missionaries; the first lesson of nature and prudence is to repulse them as enemies.”

– Robespierre