Iraq Majority Believes Peace Requires Occupation's End
By William Pfaff
Paris, December 20, 2007 – The American military command in Iraq is regularly sponsoring 19 focus group consultations, conducted by outside contractors, in five Iraqi cities. The findings are presented to General David Petraeus as part of the Battle Update Assessment his staff compiles daily.
They offer good news and bad news for the command. The latest one notes the fall in roadside bombings and attacks on civilians. As reported by The Washington Post (December 19), it also indicates increased satisfaction with local government in Baghdad, and a rise in fuel supplies, although in each case from a very low base: 25% now are satisfied with their local authorities, and 15% say more fuel is available.
Much more important is something the American military sponsors report as very good news, although it is objectively bad news for Bush administration leaders. It's also bad for those Democratic as well as Republican presidential candidates who share the received wisdom of the Washington policy community that says the United States must stay in Iraq. Stay for years, even for decades (as the Pentagon now is planning), with permanent bases there, supposedly to anchor Middle Eastern stability and guard America's oil supply.
The majority of Iraqis participating in these focus groups assert that "the key to national reconciliation" in Iraq is departure of the "occupying forces."
The American military command analysts justifiably see this as evidence of a "shared belief" among Iraqis that they can overcome the current civil struggle in their country when the United States and its allies leave the country.
The analysts say that until now they expected these focus groups to say that "national reconciliation is neither anticipated nor possible." They are surprised that, as they say, "this survey provides very strong evidence that the opposite is true."
A sense of "optimistic possibility permeated all focus groups...." However the analysis (dated this month) revealed that the Iraqi participants thought that the present Baghdad government "has still made no significant progress" towards national reconciliation. Worse, they believe that "the negative elements of life in Iraq [began] with the 'U.S. occupation' in March 2003." Moreover, the American presence in the country "seems to have totally eclipsed any agonies or grievances many Iraqis would have incurred from the [Saddam Hussein] regime." The people in the focus groups criticize Iran for meddling politically in Iraq, while the U.S. is seen as "[wanting] to control Iraq's oil."
This flat contradiction of what most Americans want to believe about the Iraq situation confirms what some of us have been saying from the start: the Iraqis want us to go home. Invasion and occupation are the primary causes of Iraq's tragedy and violence, and if the U.S. will get out -- as the Iraqis in these focus groups believe - the Iraqi people will be able to overcome its divisions and take charge of their own affairs.
Most of all, these findings again demonstrates the damage done by foreign intervention into the internal affairs of other countries. There is no solution for Iraq's internal crisis possible that the Iraqis themselves do not work out on their own.
Similarly, NATO is incapable of solving the problem in Afghanistan of the Taliban return. The Taliban are not foreign invaders sponsored from abroad. Whatever their extremist religious convictions, they are Afghans, members of the Pathans (or Pashtuns), the largest ethnic community inside Afghanistan and in the surrounding region. There has always been tension between them and the minority Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Hazaras, who all together make up less than 40% of the national community.
No foreign force is ever going to settle this struggle, whatever form it takes – and plenty have tried, most recently the Soviet and British empires, to their regret.
U.S Defense Secretary Robert Gates spoke to a NATO conference on December 11, pleading for more NATO troops for Afghanistan. He said NATO's members should recognize that it's "a post-Cold War world" and the U.S. and NATO must "be ready to operate in distant locations against insurgencies and terrorist networks."
This is the latest strategic wisdom in Washington, and U.S. base deployments are being changed to implement it. This view is echoed by the European Atlanticists (but not by European voters -- or Canadians, whose army has borne the brunt of the Afghan struggle). It's the opinion of most (not all, let us hope) the advisers to the U.S. presidential candidates. They think we're now in a vast struggle with global radicalism. It's exactly what President Bush has been saying all along.
But what is this strategy meant to do? To eradicate all the fundamentalisms, if not all the fundamentalist Moslems? If the U.S. is going to wage a worldwide war against "insurgencies and terrorist networks" everywhere, then it has a big job ahead of it, and it is going to lose. That is a dead certainty. Be serious. Just count.
Nationalism – the defense of national and religious identity and national particularity, even in its extreme versions -- is the most important force in the world. Anyone who goes uninvited into other countries to stamp out other people's extremisms puts itself into the business of creating even more extremism, and this eventually will have profoundly destructive effect upon the United States itself, as well as on allies unwise enough to follow the U.S. into this Maelstrom.
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