Reaping the whirlwind

Political Cartoons by Chip Bok

Set the trumpet to thy mouth. He shall come as an eagle against the house of the LORD, because they have transgressed my covenant, and trespassed against my law. 

Israel shall cry unto me, My God, we know thee. 

Israel hath cast off the thing that is good: the enemy shall pursue him. 

They have set up kings, but not by me: they have made princes, and I knew it not: of their silver and their gold have they made them idols, that they may be cut off. 

Thy calf, O Samaria, hath cast thee off; mine anger is kindled against them: how long will it be ere they attain to innocency? 

For from Israel was it also: the workman made it; therefore it is not God: but the calf of Samaria shall be broken in pieces. 

For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind: it hath no stalk: the bud shall yield no meal: if so be it yield, the strangers shall swallow it up. 

Israel is swallowed up: now shall they be among the Gentiles as a vessel wherein is no pleasure.

-- From the Book of Hosea, King James Bible

More than 11 years of grinding, terrible (if low-intensity) war.

6,675 American service-men and -women killed- and more than 97% of all casualties were male.

51,809 more wounded.

More than 150,000 cases of PTSD among current and former service members deployed to Iraq.

Over 287,000 cases of brain injury, ranging from mild concussions to actual penetration by shrapnel, among all branches of all services.*

And this is what we have to show for all of that blood and sweat and pain and suffering. Retreat in disarray. Panicked rout by the supposedly combat-ready armed forces that America's military trained. The American embassy evacuated. This is what we have to present to the spirits of the dead as evidence that they did not make the ultimate sacrifice in vain.

Somehow, I seriously doubt that they will be convinced:

As Iraq plunges towards civil war, it is worth remembering the dreams of those who thought they were building a better place. 

Emma Sky was one of them. Although opposed to the 2003 invasion, the British academic decided to put her experience of the region to use in the country’s reconstruction, serving first in the Coalition Provisional Authority, the temporary governing body installed following the US-led invasion, and then as governor of Kirkuk, one of the towns at the heart of the present rebellion by the rampant Sunni militia. 

“Iraqis had suffered for a decade under sanctions,” she told me a year ago for a radio programme marking the 10th anniversary of the war. “Before that, it had been the Iran-Iraq war, the Kuwait war, and all they’d lived with was turmoil and increasing poverty. So when America arrived in Iraq, people thought: 'Wow, our country is going to turn into Dubai overnight.’ They could see that they were going to be wealthier, buildings would go up everywhere and their economic wellbeing would increase.” 

But Iraq is no Dubai; it’s a disaster. The consequences of the dramatic events of the past few weeks could not be greater for the region and the wider world. The land grabs by the small band of jihadists from the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) have been stunning. City after city has fallen to a heavily armed and audacious band of little more than 1,000 men who make al-Qaeda seem tame by comparison. Iraq is falling apart. 

Entire populations are being internally displaced. Many are likely to end up seeking asylum in Europe or anywhere that offers a modicum of peace and prosperity. [Didact: And we all know just how swimmingly things tend to go when barbarians export their refugees to civilised lands.] A reverse journey is also being made; young men from the West are going to secret ISIS training camps to join the fight against the ruthless Bashar al-Assad in Syria and the hapless regime of Nouri al-Maliki in Iraq. Their leader and secretive poster boy, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, wants to establish a caliphate incorporating large chunks of both countries, both of which are artificial constructs courtesy of the British and French a century ago. From there, he hopes to extend further in the Middle East and beyond. The next brand of global terrorism will have ISIS competing with al-Qaeda. [Didact: Supposed "nutjobs" like me have been warning about the resurgence of a true Islamic caliphate for at least a decade. Sometimes it really does suck to be proven correct.]

Maliki, who has declared a state of emergency, is the author of much of his country’s misfortune. He has pursued a sectarian agenda against the minority Sunni population, turning his forces on largely peaceful protesters and forcing the vice-president out of the country (and slapping a death sentence on him, to boot). A Shi’ite with close links to Iran, he purged Sunnis from his government and disbanded some of their more moderate militias, breaking a promise to incorporate them into his regular army. 

Any analysis of what has gone wrong in Iraq inevitably begins with George W Bush and Tony Blair. Bush went to war to settle scores with Saddam Hussein on behalf of his father, who failed to remove him during the first war in 1991. Regime change was his goal and he was open about it. Blair’s aim was the same but he was required to use sleights of hand to secure the legal authority he required. The rest is dodgy dossiers, non-existent weapons of mass destruction and history. 

By the end of this year, Sir John Chilcot’s inquiry will finally report – after agreeing not to publish important correspondence between president and prime minister. This deal with Whitehall will deprive the report of some corroborating evidence, but the row is a largely confected one. The story is long known. Blair, while at Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas, in April 2002, gave his famous “I’ll be with you, come what may” assurance. He prepared for war among his tight coterie, but had to keep it a secret. 

That is no way to launch a reconstruction, and that is where British domestic politics collide with the streets of Mosul and Tikrit. The speed and success of the original invasion in March 2003 reinforced the hubris of the Americans and the British. They believed, absurdly, that their vague notions of installing democracy would trump all the problems. 

The US-led interim administration was a bickering mess. The removal of Iraq’s security and political elite spawned disgruntled and heavily armed militia. Bomb attacks began to take place daily. It took months for any proper public services to be restored, while chaos ensued on the streets. By this point, many Iraqis had despaired of their supposed liberators and were easy prey for factional groups. Having declared “mission accomplished”, Bush did not want to hear the detail. 

The murder in a Baghdad bomb attack in August 2003 of the UN special representative to Iraq, Sergio de Mello, was a turning point. The respected Brazilian envoy was seen as one of few international figures who could reconcile the different factions. 

It is not as if they weren’t warned. In the months leading up to the invasion, Blair received a stream of advice from experts warning of the potential conflagration. Arguments such as these were dismissed as defeatist. Instead, president and prime minister pursued the policy of the simpleton. 

Blair now admits he underestimated the complexity of Iraq. “The biggest single lesson out of Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere is once you lift the lid off these very repressive regimes, out come pouring these tribal, ethnic and, in particular, religious influences,” he told me last year. The most important difference between 2003 and 2013, he maintained, “is a recognition that once you do lift the lid off – as you can see in Syria today or Yemen or Tunisia, Libya, wherever, Egypt – a fresh set of problems begin. That doesn’t mean to say you leave the regimes in place, by the way, but it does mean you have got to be prepared for a far longer engagement.” It was intriguing to hear, after all these years, a little contrition. 

His logic of perpetual intervention has at least the merit of consistency. The only time order was properly established was between 2007 and 2011 during the American “surge”. The period from mid-2006 to mid-2007 had been the bloodiest in the conflict, with more than 1,000 US personnel and many more Iraqi civilians dead. The Americans had been holed up in their bases, making the occasional and invariably bloody incursion, but largely leaving the militias to wreak havoc. 

It took the deployment of an extra 20,000 US personnel – a deeply contentious decision – to reinforce security and bolster the Iraqi government.

There can be no clearer evidence of failure than this. There can be no more obvious indictment of the failures of the last decade to build a better world. There can be no stronger repudiation of the Wilsonian doctrine of an aggressive, democracy-promoting foreign policy. When America adopted such arrant libprog nonsense as its official foreign policy in the early 20th Century, it left behind the great wisdom of the Monroe Doctrine and did, indeed, go abroad in search of monsters to slay. 

It has become perfectly clear now that such a policy is a fool's gambit. American military might and power has been misused and squandered in the name of a nonsensical dream- that the supposed blessings of democracy can be brought to barbarians who show no inclination to adopt it, and lack any of the basic infrastructure needed to maintain it.

The American military was misused, completely and categorically. Its purpose should always have been restricted to the specific task of breaking the enemy's will to fight, through killing those enemies wherever they hide, and destroying their lines of supply. Instead, it was used for peacekeeping missions better suited to the otherwise useless blue-hats of the UN peacekeeping forces. Its strength and vitality was wasted away in fruitless nation-building exercises, while the enemy bided its time and grew strong again.

The American empire is crumbling before our eyes, and we are seeing its might in full retreat. This is NOT, by the way, an event to be celebrated. Much as I despise the use of military force for anything other than the express purposes of killing enemies and breaking their things, I will be the first to admit that the Pax Americana, like the Pax Britannica and the Pax Romana before it, brought great gifts to the world in the form of a stable, American-led global Anglosphere made up almost entirely of parliamentary democracies with historically deep cultural and philosophical commitments to individual freedom. (Never mind how skin-deep that commitment has become now.) This happy geopolitical accident has been one of the greatest blessings of our time. It has brought unprecedented peace and prosperity to the world. And now, its time is rapidly coming to an end.

The only good thing that I can see in this whole mess is that President Jackass has apparently refused to deploy any further American troops to stop the collapse of Iraq. For once, I actually find myself agreeing with that bonehead. There is absolutely no good reason why one more American should have to die in that hole.

(We go live now to the Pit of Tartarus, where our correspondents Lucy Fer and B. El-ze-Bub are bringing us up-to-the-minute reports of flying pigs and- would you believe it?- snow in Hell!!!)

Ahem.

The shades of the dead look back at us now with empty eyes, asking of us whether the sacrifice that you asked of them was truly worthwhile. The men and women who died for this country deserved better than this. They fought for victory; what they got was abject failure.

You have indeed sown the wind as a nation; now, you must reap the whirlwind.

* Statistics taken from Hannah Fischer's report published by the Congressional Research Service.

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