Sunday, February 4, 2007

Truth or Consequences about Iraq

Senator Edwards should not be counted out, in all the hype surrounding Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.  If Paul Street’s article on Obama in the latest issue of Z magazine is right, Edwards may be closer to the rank and file ethos of the Democratic Party - and those to the left of it - than Obama.
One can fault him for thinking that health care, while universal, should still produce a profit, or that keeping American troops in the Middle East will not complicate efforts by the countries located there to settle their differences. But in the absence of Paul Wellstone, and given Dennis Kucinich’s lack of mass name recognition, at this stage of the game, Edwards appeared this morning on “Meet the Press” as a more genuine person than either of the two who are getting most of the media attention.
When it comes to Iraq, I think he’s on the right track, but his thinking is still a bit fuzzy, even assuming he isn't’ ready to take on big oil.  I don’t think any major figure has thought through what would be likely to happen if we pulled out.  Here’s how I see it:
1. Since the end of colonial rule, the various religious and political factions in the Middle East have been vying for supremacy within the different countries colonialism bequeathed them.  American involvement is correctly seen as succeeding to the British presence, which succeeded five hundred years of Ottoman, i.e., Turkish, as opposed to Arab or Persian Islamic rule (historians, don’t nit pick my figures, it’s the gist that counts).
2. The principal religious factions, Sunnis and Shias, overlay political tendencies, which, as elsewhere, fall into two groups, the elites and the underclass, with members of a rising intellectual and professional class siding with one or the other.
3. Each individual country has to evolve some kind of reasonably democratic rule in order to be be a more effective participant in the international political order.
4.  This task cannot be entirely divorced from the presence of neighbors who either share the dominant religious orientation, or belong to the opposing one.
5.  Invasion and occupation by the most powerful nation on earth inflicts great damage on infrastructure, and turns populations against everything that nation represents.
6. Retreat by that nation will strengthen sense of worth, and favor internal and cross border cooperation.
7. Fighting between Sunni and Shia in Iraq might elicit support from Sunni and Shia neighbors, but all the contenders will sense that they are fighting their own wars.  And they will not be able to inflict the kind of massive infrastructure damage our sophisticated weapons do.
8. Help from the United States, China, or the Soviet Union will be comparable to that given client states during the Cold War: it will not determine outcomes.
9. Support for secular moderates will be more important, but the United States will have to recognize that these moderates may be socialists, as is the Kurdish PUK, or the Ba’ath, which -though run by a brutal dictator in Iraq - brought development and women’s liberation to that country (the development President Bush cited when imagining what adding democracy would mean).
10.  Only grass roots pressure can persuade the American political class to return to the ideals of the Founders, who, in the 21st century, would support international democratic socialism over feudal  - or imperialist - capitalism.
11.  Bottom line: the Middle East is going to have to sort itself out: it’s going to be a bloody mess for a while, but our presence only protracts the agony.
12.  We will not be allowed to take over the oil, but they will just as soon sell it to us as to others, on condition that we stay out of their affairs.

So the Iraq war, like most other political issues, boils down to the question of equity, haves vs. have-nots, whether it be at the local, national or international level.
The question now is whether the specter of climate change that is stalking the planet will be more persuasive than “morality”.

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