Ok, I’m feeling in a wicked mood today, so how about something really controversial (just for a change). It’s now as near to official as we’re going to get it that Sadam Hussein wasn’t making any serious advance towards the development of WMDs.
So, this being the case, what exactly is going on in Iraq?
Now the first serious runner to be considered would be the idea that we were busily trying to introduce democracy. But as American strategic thinking seems to have recognised from the days of Bush the father, this is not a very realistic objective. To put this in some ‘fair-and-balanced’ context, we are here in the EU still hotly debating whether Turkey will by 2015 be able to meet the democratic criteria for full EU membership. Now Turkey is one hell of the way further down the road than Iraq is. So what exactly would be the timescale for having a functioning democracy in Iraq? A long one, I would suggest.
Now I find it hard to believe that major Bush administration advisers would not have been aware of this difficulty. One thing is what the spin specialists say in public, and another is what is actually said behind closed doors. Dick Cheney may be many things (depending on your point of view), but one think I think he isn’t is stupid.
Then there is oil. Of course Iraq’s oil reserves and their geopolitical consequences inevitably form the backdrop of any ‘Iraq policy’, but I personally have resisted the idea that this was all simply about oil. And if I look at what is happening to global oil markets right now I can see why I thought this. With oil currently pushing above the 52 dollar a barrel mark, it is hardly credible to see what is happening in Iraq as a viable petroleum policy. Sure the underlying cause is a secular rise in the demand for oil from growing economies like India and China, and sure the proximate causes in recent weeks have been hurricanes, shenanikins in Russia and insurgency in Nigeria. But the reason the markets are so sensitive is cleary ‘political instability’ in the Middle East with Iraq its centre. And with nothing but uncertainty on the horizon going forward this problem is in all probability only going to worsen. So it’s really hard to see a rock-bottom oil justification.
The idealist in me had considered the possibility (possibly my rational expectations prejudice) that bringing peace nearer in the Israel-Palestine situation might have played a part. Taking out Saddam should have given greater security to Israel, and this might have made it easier to impose one of those ‘road maps’, but again there is little evidence for that hypothesis.
But there is one area where Bush policy might be considered to be working: it’s called Homeland Security. Whatever the reservations about the efficacy of policy prior to 09/11, one thing is clear: the US has remained free from internal terrorist attack since. This is obviously one of the strong claims about his leadership that ‘Bush the son’ is making in the context of the upcoming elections. Now what am I getting at here?
Well, let’s step back a bit and pick up another thread that has long been puzzling me: just what was OBL up to when he launched the attack on the WTC in September 2001?
Well obviously here there are no clear answers. We are all reduced to guessing. It does seem plausible, however, that he anticipated the forthcoming strile against Afghanistan, and the remarkable thing about that strike, with the benefit of hindsight, was how little resistance was actually offered, and how little ongoing violence – apart from the odd skirmish – has actually ensued.
Now the interesting, 1 billion dollar question, is: did he also forsee a US lead Iraq invasion? If he did, and it is of course a big if, then a lot of other things suddenly become a lot clearer.
Now Joseph White, Director of the Center for Policy Studies at Case Western Reserve University, in a really interesting guest editorial on Informed Comment (which really started me thinking about this post and which I will now quote at length) has obviously been asking himself similar questions:
The U.S. was attacked by Al Qaeda, not Saddam Hussein. That?s a truism, though apparently unrecognized by the Vice President. The larger context is that Al Qaeda is part of a Sunni fundamentalist movement that, for lack of an agreed term, I?ll call the jihadis. This movement believes the Arab world would be restored to greatness if it was governed by a medieval vision of Islam. It has tried to seize power in many countries across the Arab and Muslim worlds. But it had been defeated everywhere except Afghanistan ? partly because of repression by regimes allied with the U.S., and partly because, though many people in those countries hate their governments, they also did not want such an extreme Islamic government.
So Osama bin Laden decided to change the subject. By attacking the U.S., he wanted to turn widespread resentment of the U.S., a feeling of humiliation by the westerners, into a reason to support the broader jihadist agenda. His message was that fundamentalists were standing up to the western infidels, so all good Muslims should support them.
Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with that. Saddam Hussein is a Baathist, an Arab Nationalist. Osama bin Laden called Saddam an ?infidel? and Saddam brutally repressed the Sunni fundamentalists, along with everyone else. Saddam was one of a bunch of people in the Middle East who didn?t like us but didn?t like Al Qaeda either. The Iranian Mullahs, for example, are Shiite fundamentalists. Sunni extremists like Osama view the Shia as heretics or schismatics. It?s much like how Catholics viewed Protestants during the Reformation ? which led to over a century of religious wars in Europe. Even in Iraq some of the bombings have been Sunnis blowing up Shia.
So attacking Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with attacking Osama. In fact, it was exactly what Osama would want. First, it got rid of one of his enemies in the Arab world. More important, the American invasion of Iraq gave him an opportunity to get allies in the Arab and Muslim worlds.
Whilst emphasising that this is purely speculative I will now let myself go one step further than Joseph White and ask: could OBL have imagined that by drawing the US into Iraq he could also have created the conditions where Al Qaeda operatives would have the opportunity to engage US ‘assets’ in a high profile environment which would be more favourable than any other which was available at the time?
It is certainly striking how at the same time as Al Qaeda violence has been remarkably contained in many parts of the world, the spiral of violence as gone onwards and upwards in Iraq. Could Iraq be a kind of magnet which is drawing in would-be Jihadists from all over the Middle East?
Which brings me back to the main topic of the post: is all the above also really obvious from the priviledged vantage point of the oval office? Is ‘the battle for Iraq’, by attracting much of the global terrorist potential to one venue, now an integral part of US Homeland Security policy?
If it is, it could be seen as being remarkably effective. Of course, the ethics of ‘fighting this out’ in someone else’s country are another question entirely.
I said I was in a wicked mood.