Sunday, January 14, 2007

Sunday editorial

In reading about Iraq, you need to keep two things separate. One is to understand the writer's preferred configuration for a resulting Iraqi government, and to make the necessary adjustments in what he has to say. Saudi writers, generally speaking, think of any Shiite-dominated government as pro-Iranian and therefore as to some degree an enemy. By contrast, to take one example, Juan Cole thinks a SCIRI/Kurd government is the natural result, and consequently he has had the tendency to associate the Iraqi Sunni population with terrorists and Baathists (adding lately some concessions to the Sunnis). These are natural human attitudes (for those who take a sectarian approach, that is), but when reading what these people have to say, it is important to see what other points or attitudes they are giving voice to, apart from advocacy for one side or the other.

This is particularly important now, because with the new Bush plan, there is starting to be a shift in Arab perceptions of what the United States is up to in Iraq, and this shift has nothing to do with which side you are on. It has to do with the nature of the American aims and objectives in and of themselves. Up to now, one of the prevailing views has been that America has been manipulating the sectarian forces in Iraq to weaken the Iraqi state and keep all sides off balance, against the backdrop of the US military presence. All-out attacks on Falluja and other places were seen as strategic anomalies in what was essentially a divide-and-conquer political strategy. This is where the new Bush plan comes in.

Under the new Bush plan, the dominant picture for some Arab commentators is no longer to see the US as essentially involved in a divide-and-conquer political scheme. Rather, the picture is now of a US plan is military domination of an entire population plain and simple, without regard to local politics. It is a horse of a different color, and people in all of the otherwise-competing camps are coming to see it that way.

The pan-Arabs see it that way: For instance, the Lebanese opposition paper Al-Safir showed a picture on its front page on Thursday of a bulldozer working on an earthen wall around the city of Barwana, and the caption read: "Photo distributed by the American occupation showing a bulldozer building an earthen rampart around the town of Barwana in western Iraq, part of a plan copying Israeli methods for sealing off the resistance." An opinion writer in Al-Quds al-Arabi wrote, also on Friday, about the LA Times scoop on Pentagon plans for "gated communities" as part of the Iraq strategy. He said the idea is closer to that of the ghettos of Eastern Europe in the Nazi era, and the idea symbolizes the American strategy of pure military domination.

Shiites see it this way: For instance a Fadhila Party spokesman said "We view clauses of this [Bush plan] with apprehension and dread." (See the prior post)

Saudis see it that way too: This morning there is an opinion piece in Asharq al-Awsat by Bilal al-Hassan, in which he says the new Bush strategy actually started a few hours before the actual speech, with the joint American-Iraqi attack on the Haifa Street area, involving American aircraft and many killed and wounded, and he asks:
If the fight for control of one street required this kind of military effort, then what will be the case when we start talking about the internal neighborhoods of Baghdad, densely populated and practically closed? And what about the outlying neighborhoods in this city of around 70 kilometer diameter? And there is another important question. If control is to be achieved by fighting and by aerial bombings and by killing and destruction, then what will be the resulting relationship between the occupation and the Iraqi population?
He isn't talking about Sunni versus Shiite, he is talking about the ambition of overcoming all political sectors of the population with military force.

In terms of preferred configuration of a resulting government, all three of these classes of people differ: The pan-Arabs favor a non-sectarian nationalist government; the Shiites a Shiite-led government; the Saudis one that doesn't have connections to Iran. But they are now all starting to agree on one point: The US aim is military domination of Iraq pure and simple.

It is an important change in the way people in the region are looking at this.

10 Comments:

Anonymous Veronica said...

In my opinion, the US plan has always been "military domination of an entire population plain and simple, without regard to local politics." I will extend it to "domination of" populations of the entire region - not just Iraq - that do not bow to USA demands. To achieve this, US chose the "divide and conquer" step to weaken the population in order to lead to the US ultimate goal. I see no shift in US policy or plan. US is merely escalating the process.

The numerous permanent military bases and the self-sustaining city called "the largest embassy in the world" being built in Iraq are indicative of US military domination policy. US plan is to kill and displace as many Iraqis as possible until no one is left in Iraq to resist its military domination.

The so called "moderate" states are synonymous with traitor and puppet states controlled by USA. "Terrorists" and "insurgents" are synonymous with freedom fighters resisting and trying to free their country and their population from foreign occupation and military domination.

1:01 PM  
Blogger badger said...

Fair enough.

But my point wasn't about US policy. It was about different ways US policy is seen in the region. And in particular that the new approach has made people start to picture this more as US versus a hostile population like Israel in Palestine, than as a regime-change exercise. What was always clear to you can gradually dawn on other people, and vice versa.

1:55 PM  
Blogger annie said...

this Israeli/palestine model is one that has been observed on a few other sites i frequent as a reaction to the latimes article. gated communities, id checks for exit and entrance, segragated and controlled. the neocon model of subjugation. gloves coming off.

the timing doesn't surprise me. since i found out last summer about the december deadline for the signing of the oil contracts i knew something austere was going to take place as revenge if the process wasn't completed on schedule. just wasn't sure what form it would take. gloves coming off and of course iraqis are to blame. everytime they 'act up' there will be reprisals as their resources are sucked dry. glad to see the press in the ME is shedding pretense of candor.

2:20 PM  
Anonymous Rosemary said...

What Vironica succinctly describes agrees with what I have suspected for awhile.

In my opinion, it is healthy that all of the other Arab countries seem to be coming together in recognition of this reality.

Can we assume that the Iranians are coming (or, more likely, have already come) to the same conclusion?

This leads me to wonder what surrounding states like Turkey, Russia, China and Pakistan will decide to do (or not do) about it?

12:08 AM  
Anonymous Rosemary said...

I want to add one thing.

I think we should keep our eye on the financial markets. There are two major players that could make important moves there -- China and the House of Saud. The moves they might make could be very damaging to the United States.

12:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

badger,

posts like this make you "the badger". Your distillations of the arab press and connections to the western press are most apperciated.

anna missed

1:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If these people are just coming to understand that the US goal is military occupation, I wonder were they have been the last 4 or is it 5 years since the invasion.
It has been well documented in public records (e.g. press and congressional record) and on the ground that since day 1 the US has been building 20 "permenate" bases in Iraq. The only change over the years is the means to the end of military domination. While the Arab "analyist" have been debating the means, they still so far as I can see have not engaged the end - what is the implication of US military and economic domination for Arab culture?

4:15 AM  
Blogger JHM said...

(1) Pan-Arabs, (2) Shiites, (3) Saudis -- where did those pigeon holes come from? Aren't a number of important pigeons going to be surprised to learn that they are honourary subjects of Riyadh, say M. Siniora and General Mubarak and perhaps M. Abbas in Palestine? Indeed, even M. Olmert may qualify!

Didn't I read as recently as 30 December in the Daily Badger that pan-Arabism had at last gone extinct in 2006? -- although to be sure that was in an op-ed piece, not an editorial. M. Hakam al-Baba's view seemed to be that the former pan-Arabs have become "pan-jihadists" now: all in the path of Hizballáh, as it were. If we just stick that term in as item (1) instead, however, the whole argument would be wrecked, would it not?

Well, on second thought, maybe it wouldn't. It largely depends on what "nationalist" means in the sentence "The pan-Arabs favor a non-sectarian nationalist government [in Iraq]." If the reference is to the Islamic Nation, the substitution would work, ruling the Kurds in and firmly ruling out Juan Cole and George Bush and me. But if it is either the Arab Nation or the Iraqi "nation" that the ideal Green Zoners are to champion nonsectarianly, M. al-Baba must have been using a different system of pigeon holes. I think.

Unfortunately when the matter is discussed in English, pretty well everybody pan-human would agree to "a non-sectarian nationalist government" for the Green Zone, including everybody in pigeon holes (2) and (3). Al-Qá’ida (&c.) are the only unmistakable rejectionists that come to mind. Very few are simply lying when they claim to favour it, yet obviously they cannot possibly all sincerely mean the same thing when they utter the same words.

I appreciate that the pigeon holes are not the main point of the editorial, which is rather "But they are now all starting to agree on one point: The US aim is military domination of Iraq pure and simple. It is an important change in the way people in the region are looking at this." Well, maybe so, but even in the case of the Shiite pigeons, there are problems about figuring out what they changed from. Did the folks at Qom and Tehran ever take any other view of the object of the aggression? Najaf, meaning Ayatollah al-Sistani, clearly did, but how about Sadr City? The Kurds must assent to the proposition only with a mental reservation that they are not part of "Iraq," but then of course they really are not. The Saudis proper appear to be contemplating a non-American military domination of Iraq if they can't get the Republicans to handle things for them, which especially interests me, seeing that they know their Crawford better than any of the others do. If there is serious worry at Riyadh that Bush is going to stop aiming at the target in question, I should hesitate to say that they are "starting to agree" to this supposed consensus. They may even be knowledgeable enough never to have agreed to such error at all, although perhaps until recently it was rather a matter of not anticipating that the Arab Sunnis of Iraq would fragment as badly as they have.

Certainly there has been "an important change" in the last three or four months, but not so much in "the way people in the region are looking at this" as in how much it matters to GOP occupation policy what people in the region think. The Lone Ranger impersonation has vanished. All of a sudden the Crawfordites need real allies in the region, natives who can actively do something for the Party, not just be passively blessed by it with "democracy" and "moderation" and "Freedom means peace."

Whatever else may come of this development, it ought to increase the circulation of the Daily Badger.

Happy days.

8:27 AM  
Blogger helena said...

Badger, nice job.

I think it would be good to explore the links/connections between the concepts (broadly conceived) of Arab nationalism and Iraqi nationalism. My feeling is that while AN has gone through many travails etc and is weaker than it used to be, IN may well be the new emergent force. Can non-Iraqi Arabs (and Iranians) have sympathy for the anti-US content of Iraqi Nationalism? even if it is not full-blown "pan-Arab" nationalism?

Do you have any chance to look at that?

1:27 PM  
Blogger badger said...

something to think about...

12:34 PM  

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