A tragicomedy of errors

By CRAIG UNGER  |  November 20, 2007

One by one the contradictions behind America’s Middle East policies emerged — and with them, the enormity of its catastrophic blunder. Gradually America’s real agenda was coming to light — not its stated agenda to rid Iraq of WMDs, which had been nonexistent, not regime change, which had already been accomplished, but the neoconservative dream of “democratizing” the region by installing pro-West, pro-Israeli governments, led by the likes of Ahmed Chalabi, in oil-rich Middle East states.

Now that Chalabi had been eliminated as a potential leader amid accusations that he had been secretly working for Iran, and the Sunnis had opted out of the elections entirely, the United States, by default, was backing a democratically elected government that maintained close ties to Iran and was linked to Shi’ite leaders whose powerful Shi’ite militias were battling the Sunnis.

Professing to train Iraqi soldiers to “stand up,” so Americans could “stand down,” the United States was in fact training soldiers who were loyal to the Shi’ite cause, rather than to any concept of Western democracy. “[T]hey weren’t really Iraqi security forces,” explained journalist and author Nir Rosen. “They were loyal primarily to Moqtada al-Sadr, to Abdul Aziz al Hakim [the Shia leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq], but not to the Iraqi state and not to anybody in the Green Zone.” As shown in a PBS Frontline documentary, Gangs of Iraq, Iraqi soldiers, even when accompanied by Americans who were training them, intentionally kept the Americans away from large weapons caches that could be used against the Sunnis. Unwittingly, America was spending billions of dollars to fuel a Sunni-Shi’ite civil war.

Even worse, in the larger context of the region, by deposing Saddam and supporting the Iran-leaning Shi’ites, the United States had inadvertently empowered Iran, its biggest foe in the Middle East. And Iran’s ascendancy posed problems for Israel and Saudi Arabia as well. Potentially, the Sunni-Shi’ite conflict could spread throughout the entire region.

By 2005, for tens of millions of Americans, it was increasingly impossible to ignore the realities of what was happening in Iraq — the absence of WMDs, the escalating sectarian violence, the vast expenditures of blood and treasure in pursuit of a mission that was unclear at best, constantly changing, and had never been accomplished at all. Polarizing the nation more profoundly than at any time since the Vietnam era, the war had become a litmus-test issue that defined and linked whole sets of belief systems — red state America versus blue; evangelical Christians, anti-abortion activists, NASCAR dads, and other denizens of the Bible Belt versus the secular, post-Enlightenment America that has long been on the cutting edge of science and the embodiment of modernism. Those who questioned US policies in the Middle East, as their foes saw it, were cut-and-run traitors who aided and abetted the enemy. On the other side were Neanderthals waging a holy war in the Middle East, shredding the Constitution, destroying civil liberties, rolling back not just the New Deal but the Enlightenment, all in the name of God.

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