Tuesday, 22 February 2005

Our Enemies, Our Allies

Nicholson CartoonNot so long ago, the Iraqi nation was at war with Australia. But the pinacle of military achievement (pace Sun Tsu*) is not to win without fighting, it's to convert an Enemy into an Ally.

As mentioned over at The Command Post and elsewhere, Australian PM John Howard has just boosted Australia's military commitment to Iraq by about 50%. Why? Well, here's one reason :
"Unless additional security could be provided to replace the Dutch, then there was a real possibility the Japanese could no longer remain there and that would be a serious blow to the coalition effort," Mr Howard said.
It's to help out a friend. No, not the USA, nor even the Iraqis (though I'll get to them later), it's to help out the Japanese, and in particular, the current interventionist Japanese Government, who have come under severe criticism at home for being far too Anti-Fascist. It's a favour to a mate. A mate who (quite un-coincidentally) happens to run a farnarckling huge trade deficit with us, just as we run an equally huge deficit with the USA. And a mate who, like us, is deeply concerned about the Mad Regime of Pyongyang, but unlike us may actually be in range of some of their Nukes.

But it goes beyond that. Again, to quote Johnny Howard :
"The Government believes that Iraq is very much at a tilting point and it's very important that the opportunity of democracy, not only in Iraq but also in other parts of the Middle East, be seized and consolidated," he said.
You Break it, you Buy it. We helped break the National Socialist Dictatorship in Iraq, just as we helped break the Theocratic Fascist regime that had dominated Japan since the early 30's, and the National Socialist Dictatorship of Germany of the same era. It therefore is our ethical responsibility to help install a new system. The Iraqis, by their magnificent performance during the election (and at considerable personal risk to themselves) have done their part, and we owe them big time to help as much as is feasible.
The circumstances have changed and it is now four-and-a-half-weeks since the Iraq election and we have to respond to those changed circumstances," he said.

"Self-evidently we would have liked the major combat to have gone differently ... [but] coalition withdrawal or defeat is unimaginable."
"It will take time and if we were to see a crumbling of coalition commitment, I think the likelihood of Iraq completing the transition to democracy would be absolutely non-existent," he said.
The point is, the attacks on the Iraqi Government, and in fact, the Iraqi populace in general, haven't abaited. It looks like the Nazis Ba'athists have decided that it if you can't beat 'em, join 'em, and now see their only chance of getting even a few crumbs of the political cake is to co-operate, and become just another political party. Frankly, I think they're having themselves on. We're in no mood to accept anything other than "Unconditional surrender", and more to the point, neither are the Iraqis.

Yet the suicide bombings, the mortar attacks and so on continue. Why? Well, the opposition to the occupation of Iraq consists of 4 different and rather mutually antagonistic forces.

The first are Iraqi Nationalists of all political stripes, who quite understandably object to their country being occupied, no matter what the circumstances.

The second are the Sunni tribes, fearful of Shiite revenge for all the past oppression they've been subject to at Sunni hands, and in fear for their lives. It's not so much a religious as a tribal thing - Iraqis in general don't consider themselves primarily "Sunni" or "Shiite", they consider themselves Iraqis, much as Americans consider themselves Americans first, rather than Catholic or Protestant, Mormon or Jew.

The third group are the Ba'athists, former top dogs who are desperately trying to regain their lost power. Thoroughly entangled with the second group, but still a small subset of them.

The last are mainly foreign Jihadis, who just want to Kill the Heretics, Apostates, Unbelievers, and in general, everyone on the planet who doesn't share their eccentric beliefs, and see Iraq as being a good place to die. Or kill. It's all the same to them. It also includes the various Iranian and Syrian Spooks sent in as the first line of defence against any US-led "regime change" in their respective countries.

The first group - with the usual few fanatical exceptions - have seen that their popular support is weak, and dwindling. They don't represent the views of the Iraqi People as a whole, just a segment of them, and this became obvious at the time of the election. It's they, the true "Resistance", who are being spoken to now.

The Americans should be good at this - because a substantial minority of Americans, would be likely to do the same in their shoes**. Even that perenially clue-free zone, Michael Moore, glimpsed this truth when he said this about the Iraqi resistance
The Iraqis who have risen up against the occupation are not "insurgents" or "terrorists" or "The Enemy." They are the REVOLUTION, the Minutemen, and their numbers will grow -- and they will win!
Of course, like all of Michael Moore's work, there's a grain of truth buried in copious quantities of great, fragrant, steaming piles of bovine excrement.

The second group now have a mountain of evidence that a Bloodbath against the Sunni tribes just isn't going to happen. Despite repeated and extreme provocation, the Shiites have conducted no anti-Sunni pogroms. Not merely that, but the Moqtada Al-Sadr Bad Boys got their clocks cleaned by the US of A, and are now a spent force, militarily, morally, and at the ballot box, with only 2 representatives elected out of 270-odd in the governing council. These Sunni tribes - and at the risk of being repetitious, it's a tribal thing, rather than a religious one - are fighting simply because they don't know what else to do, they're desperate. The Shiite forebearance is lessening the sense of desperation, and therefore removing the reason to fight.

These two groups are the people that we are trying to get to participate in a peaceful manner in the new Iraqi government. Participation of the second group is essential in the long term, and everyone now knows it, the Shiites included.

As for the third group, the Ba'athists - their attacks are using the IRA/Sinn Fein technique of fighting while negotiating. The more obnoxious they are, the more concessions they can wring at the bargaining table by promising to cease fighting. This is a classic strategy, and usually works. It worked for people as disparate as the Irgun and Hagganah against the British in post-war Palestine, it worked for the IRA in Northern Ireland, for a time it even worked for Arafat and Co. But it doesn't work against people whose blood is up (as Sinn Fein is just finding out). The Kurds (for one) think that the only Good Ba'athist is a Dead Ba'athist, and the odds of National Socialist Ba'ath party ever being legalised and brought into the mainstream of Iraqi political life, even as a small splinter group, are probably even slimmer than a resurgent NSDAP getting a seat in the Bundestag in Germany.

Ain't. Gonna. Happen.

Even if the rest of the Coalition went for it, the Iraqis aren't going to stand for it. And at the election, they earned the right for their wishes to be paramount. Not "listened to" or "consulted with". To be obeyed, without demur.

The real trick is going to be to separate the Ba'athists from the Sunni Tribes. Tricky, as the leaders of one are often the leaders of the other. This again is no doubt the subject of current negotiations - how many designated scapegoats will be enough to satisfy the Kurds? Those so designated are unlikely to go quietly, the Sunni tribes may have to give up the bodies, rather than live war criminals.

The last group, mainly Al-Qaeda-by-any-other-name, well, considering their public "No Surrender!" attitude, rather a lot of their senior hierarchy have been surrendering recently. It's only the small fry that fight to the death, become suicide bombers (and sometimes assisted-suicide bombers). Although they're sometimes useful because of their intelligence value, frankly, they're an embarressment to everybody. In the war against Al Qaeda, we don't want them to surrender, nor to become friends and allies (unless they cease being what they are - see below). We just require them to die. It's their children and grandchildren that we may have a hope of salvaging.

Yemen may have the right idea. After two or three years of patient theological disputation, they have a high conversion rate from Fanatical Heretical Killer to Decent Islamic Human Being. But it's a gamble, and Westerners such as myself could be forgiven for thinking that such "redemption" is probably temporary. Personally, I'd like to see how they go with small numbers over a period of 10 years before using it more widely, but maybe I'm too cynical. It's certainly supremely ironic that such an archetypically forgiving Christian approach should be used by rather orthodox Muslims. If they can pull it off, then they will have attained the most difficult, but worthwhile goal - that of converting Liabilities into Assets, Enemies into Friends, Monsters into Human Beings, and a Sow's ear into a Silk Purse. I wish them the Best of British Luck.***

So,as John Howard said, the situation has changed. The "resistance" hasn't evaporated as completely as it has in, say Afghanistan. But it has lessened so much that Australia can realistically commit over 10% of its effective ground forces in -theatre, something it was unable to promise and guarantee to deliver before. The additional troops won't be there for some "token" or "symbolic" reason, nor to sway any election one way or another, they'll be there for purely practical reasons. They can do good, and at relatively small risk. Australia just does not have the resources to commit to significant "peacekeeping" in Iraq, as well as the Eastern Solomons, Bougainville, Timor Leste, relief operations continuing in Aceh, and all the other commitments we have. Our total armed forces, Army, Navy, and Air Force combined number less than 50,000, and we have only 8 regular battalions. But this much we can do. We can provide local security in a small number of areas, and we can provide training. All in the cause of converting a former enemy, Iraq, into a future friend.

To see how well that can work, remember who we're guarding, the nation whose engineers we'll be protecting as they go about constructing bridges and rail-lines. There are still some Australians living with personal experience of Japanese construction projects. Ones where tens of thousands of prisoners were worked to death, or beheaded at a whim. There are also people like my in-laws whose brothers, fiances, husbands or sons were taken prisoner and used as "food-on-the-hoof" by starving Japanese soldiers in New Guinea - not something that's often mentioned in history books.

These Jihadis do not have the faintest idea of the type of people they're up against, nor the nine kinds of hell the ANZACS and USMC in particular went through in the Pacific theatre. Suicide attacks and beheadings don't impress us overmuch, and compared with the Japanese in the 1940's, Al Qaeda is really second-rate.

But now the sons and duaghters, grandsons and grand-daughters of the people who screamed "Tenno Banzai!" are on our side. They're building bridges, in more ways than one, and not casually slaughtering anyone in their way. We've been here before.

Finally - and as something of an afterthought, I'm afraid, we'll be supporting our mate, the USA. We're sending in troops for our own purely selfish reasons of course, out of a sense of responsibility and for practical geopolitical considerations "in our own national interest". But we're not averse to receiving the many expressions of gratitude that have already come from people in the USA. Expressions that no doubt will come in handy one of these days, maybe the next time the US agribusiness lobby tries to do something that will hurt us. We might even have made a few new friends and allies in rural America, people who otherwise might not have seen things our way.

Sometimes you can do well while doing good.

* Sun Tsu's "Art of War" Chapter 3, Para 2 :
Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting.

** For example, Stephen Decatur. I myself prefer G.K.Chesterton's take on the subject.

*** UK readers will know what I mean. For others, it's traditionally said when someone is attempting something next-to or actually impossible. "I'm building a Moon Rocket in my backyard." - "And the Best of British Luck!".

Cartoon courtesy of Nicholson of "The Australian" newspaper: www.nicholsoncartoons.com.au and used with permission

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