Sunday, July 17, 2005

1991 - Policy of Shame

I recall one conversation with an Iraqi interpreter, and a friend. This was when I just arrived to Iraq and was still learning. I asked why Iraqis, despite being majority Shiites, and suffered immensely under Saddam, did not become more proactive in Post-Saddam Iraq. I question him why the Coalition receives so little assistance from Iraqi Shiites. He looks at me amazed and promptly reminded me of 1991. After the first Gulf War, the George Hebert Walker Bush called on Iraqis to rise up against Saddam. Shiites in the South responded to the call and rose up against Saddam. Iraqis security service responded brutally and crushed the insurrection. Between 100,000 to 200,000 Shiites died, many were innocent women and children. I recalled a story being told to me by a US sergeant who saw atrocities committed against civilians but was ordered to do nothing. The incident haunted him for many years afterward. As this interpreter recounted a few stories of atrocities he himself witnessed, I was overwhelmed with shame. I thought to myself. How could we the great United States of America call on ordinary people to rise up against a tyrant, and when they bravely did so, fail to provide them with any assistance? These people rose up because they believed in us. For their naivety, they paid dearly with the blood of their children.

I also understood then that our mission in Iraq will be hard and difficult. Much is depended on the cooperation of Iraqis. But Iraqis were bitter and cynical by 2003 and no longer wanted to cooperate. They were uncertain of our intention, our willingness, and our trustworthiness. The US have the option of leaving Iraq, Iraqis do not have this option. So the majority of Iraqis became fence-sitters, unwilling to work with the US and unwilling to actively oppose the insurgencies. Their calculus is that if the US repeated the betrayal of 1991 and the Baathists return to power, they (and their families) will spare of death of destruction. This is the price we paid for the so call “realist” foreign policy. The policy that Brent Scowcroft and his fellow travelers advocated result in an atmosphere of distrust and cynicism in Iraq as well as most of the Arab world. It paints the US as spineless unprincipled opportunist and provide our enemies with propaganda.

Here is a concrete negative effect of this policy. Muqtada Al-Sadr used the 1991 massacre (quite effectively) to flame anti-American sentiment which allowed him to stage a bloody insurrection throughout 2004. Many supporters of Sadr believe that the massacre of 1991 is the result of a conspiracy between the US and the government of Saddam Hussein. This is of course conspiracy nonsense but in an area full of conspiracy nonsense, the action of the US during 1991 was indeed odious.

Our action in 1991 was based on grossly false premises. (1) The first faulty premise is our incorrect assessment of Shiites. Many at the time (and many still do) were fearful that the successful Shiite uprising in Iraq would result in a theocratic Shiite state allied to Iran and hostile toward the US. The current situation in Iraq proved that the fear is unfound and irrational. No doubt there are Shiite political parties with theocratic aspiration, but most are not. Iraq Shiites are religious but are not fundamentalists. (2) The second faulty premise is that Saddam Hussein will be compliant and the benefit of keeping Saddam in power outweighs the cost. Saddam behavior in 1998 nullified that theory.

The “realists” are not the only ones to blame. These faulty assessments of Iraq are also the result of “Arabists” which dominated the foreign policy analysis from the Foggy Bottom to Langley. The Arabists because of their close and frequent interaction with Arab Sunni aristocracy have adopted the bias view of Sunni Arabs toward Shiites, at our own detriment.

This does not mean that the campaign to win “heart and mind” of Iraqis (and Arabs in the greater context) is doom. The tide is turning. Iraqis are still skeptical but many are coming around. More are willing to take greater risk of trusting the US. The election turn-out on January 30th this year is a good indicator. So are the lines of people joining the Iraqi Security Force. But because of our misguide “realist” policy in 1991, we must do more to compensate for that tragic error, to win back the trust we lost. We must go out of our way to prove to Iraqis of our sincerity, that we have abandoned the shameful policy of Brent Scowcroft. I was happy to hear that this administration spoke loudly that it is abandoning the policy of trading people freedom for security, which result in neither. A specific apology from the Bush the Son (for Bush the Father mistake) to the Iraqis people would be helpful in cementing the new relationship between the US and the Iraqi people. Beside it is the right thing to do.

11 Comments:

Anonymous Mixed Humor said...

Couldn't agree more Minh...I've said on many occasions that it was a gross mistake for Bush41 to have encouraged an uprising and then not backed it. In 1995 and 1996, some of Clinton's regime opposition members in Iraq were discovered and executed as well. The message was simple, it doesn't pay to align yourself with the Americans or depend upon them for anything.

11:45 PM  
Blogger Mr. Completely said...

Once again you've written an excellent post. I'll link to it on Mr. Completely.

Thanks.......

2:27 PM  
Blogger Christopher Trottier said...

That makes a lot of sense to me. But sometimes common sense is too uncommon.

7:14 PM  
Blogger Mr. Completely said...

Thank you for the honor of being included on your blogroll.

9:46 PM  
Blogger MaxedOutMama said...

This is quite impressive, Minh-Duc, and I think you have made a very important point. We should put doing the "right" thing, when that thing is about human life, generally above the feelings of our allies.

Very important and this evening I will write up something and link to this post. I'm never, ever sorry for coming over here and reading. You talk about things that matter in the world and should matter to each of us.

7:28 AM  
Blogger AJStrata said...

Want to Carnival?

http://strata-sphere.com/blog/index.php/archives/365

11:31 AM  
Blogger H2SO4 said...

Hear hear, excellent post. And dead on too. That cut and run was a disgrace, and we all share in it a little bit.

But I also think that our ousting of Sadam makes up for it a little bit. And the lives of 1500 service men and women make up for a little more. While the accounts are not square, they are definitely on the right track.

But yes, an apology would go a long way.

I also agree with Mr. Completely that you blog is Link-worthy. I limit my blog roll to 20, I'll be removing one of the current 20 to add yours. It’s always a nice read.

7:34 PM  
Blogger NYgirl said...

May I join the applauding crowd. Insightful & well writen.

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