General Odierno and What We Learned in Iraq

by Hugh Fitzgerald (October 2010)

At the end of August the New York Times ran a story about General Ray Odierno, the commander of American forces in Iraq for the past three years. General Petraeus' successor was now taking his leave from Iraq, and the 50,000 American troops that would remain are being carefully described as "non-combat troops" though, on several occasions those troops have already been engaged in combat, coming to the aid of Iraqis apparently not up to the job.
General Odierno, a combative man who looks the part, with his large head, like Nabokov's Pnin "ideally bald," was in a reflective mood, and one expected a solemn valedictory. But there was none. For everything was still, at the end of August, and is now a month later, at the beginning of October, up in the air in Iraq. It is true that the Shi'a parties have come to what appears to be an agreement, but this is still not the same thing as having their choice -- Nour al-Maliki --  accepted by the Sunni Arabs. A month ago, General Odierno wanted to be hopeful, that is wanted to believe that the American effort had been worth it because, he allowed himself to believe, it might lead to a stable Iraq that would hold together, and somehow the experiment in non-despotism (if not quite democracy) might prove popular. But he was not certain this would happen.
General Odierno admitted to the interviewer from the Times that from the very beginning the men who had arrived in Iraq, and those who sent them on their mission, to bring peace, stability, the American Way (free markets, free elections, as if this were all any country needed, or as if this could be transplanted without hundreds of years, or more, of history to make people ready for such things) were ignorant of a great many things, and that the last seven years had been, for them, what some call a learning experience:
"We all came in very na?ve about Iraq."
Also sprach General Odierno.
It was not comforting, but infuriating, to hear him say so. Why was it that "we all came in very na?ve about Iraq"? What was the reason that the mighty American government, and the mighty American military, as it prepared to move hundreds of thousands of men, with tanks and planes and other equipment, halfway around the world, and to occupy a nation of twenty-seven million in the most hellish conditions, and then successfully did so, was apparently unable beforehand to set itself to school, to find out about the local conditions, about what moved the minds of men in that country, what pasts, remote and near, still filled them with resentments that time would not dissipate, what explained the violence endemic to the Iraq, what made people in Iraq -- and not the "Iraqi people," behave and think as they did, and what might be reasonably be expected to change in a few years or a decade. Apparently this was all too much for the American government and American military, and there some hieratic mystery about Iraq and its sects, and its fissures, and its violence, and its history. But even an hour or two spent with, say, the works of the historian and Baghdad native Elie Kedourie would have cleared up a lot. 

We know that George Bush knew almost nothing about Iraq when he decided to invade that country. Nor did he appear to learn very much after the Americans entered Iraq. We have all read, or heard about, the passage, in one of Bob Woodward's books in which Bush, early on in his Iraq venture, hearing someone mention the "Sunnis and the Shi'a," expressed surprise because, he said, he had thought they "were all Muslims in Iraq." We know that Paul Wolfowitz, second in the Pentagon after Donald Rumsfeld, that weapons analyst, had been deeply impressed, as had others above and below him, with the many Iraqi exiles who seemed like such thoroughly Western men, and who managed to convince the likes even of Bernard Lewis that when the Americans entered Iraq, the jubilation that would certainly follow would make that which had in late 2001, in Kabul, "look like," as Lewis predicted, "a funeral procession." Neither Rumsfeld nor Cheney, nor Wolfowitz, nor Lewis, nor anyone else, seemed to realize, or think it important, that all of those Iraqi exiles whom they listened to, such as smooth Ahmad Chalabi, with his eye ever on what was good for Ahmad Chalabi, or earnest Kanan Makiya, he of the "Republic of Fear" in which he expressed outrage that no Arabs inside or outside of Iraq had uttered a syllable of protest about the mass murder of Kurds by Arabs under the direction of Saddam Hussein, were Shi'a in background.
And they themselves -- Chalabi and Makiya - were hardly the best analysts of Iraq, for neither would be able to allow themselves to analyze the effect of Islam on people in Iraq, much less to share that analysis with powerful non-Muslims. Makiya, for example, has in recent years created a sinecure for himself in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in which he examines the records taken from Saddam Hussein's regime; he has had plenty of time to ponder what happened in Iraq. But he continues to express surprise, even bewilderment, just as he once expressed surprise about the Arab indifference to what happened to the Kurds. One wonders if he is being disingenuous, or if he is truly surprised, because like so many of those who, born into Islam, end up as lapsed or what they like to call "cultural" Muslims but still cannot reach the conclusions that only the intellectually bravest of such people permit themselves: to recognize that Islam itself explains the political, economic, social, intellectual, and moral failures of Muslim states, societies, and individuals. This is particularly hard for Arabs to do, because Islam and Arabness, 'Uruba, reinforce one another. Makiya, in "The Republic of Fear," could not explain to himself why the Arabs were so indifferent to Kurdish suffering. Had he been capable of thinking of Islam differently, had he recognized that it has always been a vehicle for Arab supremacism, then he would have seen that indifference to, or even the pleasure taken in, Kurdish suffering as no different from the Arab reaction to the mass-murdering of the black African Muslims in Darfur (what Arabs have been upset about that?), or to the linguistic and cultural imperialism of the Arabs from which the Berbers, especially in Algeria, suffer? 
As to Chalabi, he's a sly man, always on the make, but he was out of Iraq for forty-five years, having left at the age of 14, after the 1958 coup, and did not understand its reality and why his dream of political power was so unlikely to be fulfilled. But what counted for these people was to inveigle the Americans into invading Iraq, and ridding the country of Saddam Hussein, and in that, they were most successful.
One concludes that the secular Iraqis, and by secular I mean here those who do not believe in God, as it is clear to me neither Chalabi nor Makiya does, nonetheless become defensive if Islam is subject to critical scrutiny. As Arabs, their identity is too connected to Islam (the "gift of the Arabs") for them to disentangle the two; it is much harder for Arab Muslims, of the advanced kind, to leave Islam than it is for non-Arab Muslims). I have seen Makiya, in a discussion on television, first deny that he is a Believer and then, when another guest, a non-Muslim, makes a disparaging and accurate remark about Islam, rush to Islam's defense, invoking the touching memory of his own pious, wouldn't-hurt-a-fly grandmother.
And those who are born into, and raised within, societies or families suffused with Islam, or merely aware of themselves as belonging to Islamic civilization, are perhaps incapable of grasping the effect of Islam on the minds of men, including the masses of people in Iraq. And how could a Chalabi or a Makiya warn the very people he is trying to convince to invade Iraq, and spend American money, materiel, and lives, on this venture, at the same time warn those Americans not to expect that they will be able to transplant democracy, not to dream of a Light Unto the Muslim Nations, not to expect that Muslims of any kind can become trustworthy allies of the Americans. Could Chalabi and Makiya simply have told the Americans: look, we want Saddam Hussein removed, and we want the Shi'a to come to power, and we aren't too worried, right now, about this strengthening the position of the Islamic Republic of Iran because, you see, we intend to be the people in power -- so relax. Would that have done the trick? 
And the misperception of their own reality characterizes many of those most "moderate" Muslims who fail to grasp how few they are, and how they will always be outnumbered by the primitive masses. We have seen how, in Turkey, the secular class -- made possible by the systematic constraints Ataturk placed on Islam as a political and social force -- entrusted their wellbeing to the army, and did not realize that while Kemalism required continuous reinforcement, and could be temporary, Islam was forever. And now the primitive masses, who never left Islam, and some who, in danger of becoming unhinged by modern complexity, have returned to Islam because it offers all the answers and saves them from the pain of thought, are supporting those who would undo those Kemalist constraints and re-Islamize Turkey. 
Ahmad Chalabi was not only born into the richest elite,  and like so many of them attended Baghdad College run by Jesuits from Boston College, but spent the last forty-five years of his life outside of Iraq. He left Iraq in 1958, at the time of Qassem's coup, when he was fourteen. He became able to pass as a Western man, albeit an oily one, and he forgot, if he ever knew, what people in Iraq were really like. And Kanan Makiya (to keep with his alias), spent the last two decades outside of Iraq. And they are merely representative examples of those refugees from Saddam Hussein's misrule, or indeed from the misrule that is the rule in Muslim lands, who forget what their countries are like, forget about the crazed conspiracy theories, the family and tribal loyalties, the ill-concealed hysteria, the aggression in everyday life (even the shouting instead of talking, that is such an unbearable feature of so many Arab countries), the rapidity with which people - not only the army and police, but ordinary people, resort to violence to make their point or to intimidate others, the widely-shared understanding that it is through the seizure of political power that one gains wealth, and that such wealth is only to be shared, if at all, with one's family, tribe, or, in the most generous case, the same sectarian and ethnic group. The very phrase "the Iraqi people" - a phrase much used by Americans - is a misnomer. Hiding a reality where loyalty is owed, locally, at the family and tribal level, or to the world-wide umma, of fellow Believers, but not to the nation-state, which is a concept that still, for Muslims, takes getting used to, and still has a long way to go before it can overcome those greater loyalties, very local or supra-national.
Just as no one in Washington seemed to realize that Saddam Hussein's game, in which he insisted he did not have weapons of mass destruction but did a great deal to make others think he did, had to do not with the United States but with Iran, the country he wished to scare off, so no one in Washington seemed to realize that neither the Sunnis, nor the Christians, were represented among the Iraqi exiles most eager for American intervention. The Sunnis outside Iraq may have - some of them - detested Saddam Hussein, but they also recognized that his Ba'athist despotism disguised, or camouflaged, what was Sunni Arab rule, in which the odd Shi'a (Ayad Allawi was once a Ba'ath Party member) , or Kurd, or even Christian (despite the Islamized name he took, Tariq Aziz was the Christian face of Saddam Hussein's Foreign Ministry, so useful in dealing with the West). And Paul Wolfowitz, a weapons system analyst, whom Richard Pipes had long ago noted as indifferent to, and ignorant of, history and of the effect of "culture" (sensu lato) on behavior, had at this very moment an Arab girlfriend, a divorcee who yearned for the Americans to invade Iraq and thus bring about, so she fondly hoped, and helped him to fondly hope along with her, changes in the Arab world, a world that would be so impressed by the model of a democratic Iraq, that others would wish to emulate it. This made no sense, if one understood how deeply mortified the other Arab rulers and peoples - almost all overwhelmingly Sunni, save in a few places (in Eastern Saudi Arabia, in Bahrain, in Lebanon, in Kuwait, in Yemen there were significant Shi'a minorities), and hostile to Iraq's Shi'a majority whom many, including the Wahhabi clerics of Saudi Arabia, regarded as practically Infidels. Wolfowitz later confessed that he was "surprised" and could not find an "explanation" for what happened in Iraq. Things did not go according to what he predicted. And there were others too who were perplexed, including Rend Rahim Francke, who later became Iraq's ambassador.
But it was not only about a place called Iraq - with its Arabs and Kurds, its Shi'a and Sunni, its plots and conspiracies and bloody violence to which all had been long inured - that Bush and Wolfowitz and many others were insufficiently informed, and consequently easy to mislead, and to fill with senseless dreams such as an Iraq that would be a "model" for other Arab (but these were Sunni-dominated) states.
The other thing, a thing even bigger than Iraq, that had to be understood, a thing that could not be seen, not by civilians in the Green Zone, and not by army generals, but which was everywhere, filling the minds of Iraqis, part of the atmospherics of Iraq as of all of its neighbors, and that thing helped explain how those in Iraq, rather than the non-existent "Iraqi people" thought of the Americans, was Islam, the ideology, the Total Belief-system, of Islam. The mental substrate of Islam affects everyone, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, in Iraq. And the Americans could not understand this, and it is unclear if they understand it yet, given that the theatre of war has moved to Afghanistan, and much the same kind of vain hopes and false dreams - for an Afghanistan that is "unified," an Afghanistan that is "stable," an Afghanistan that is "prosperous" as was once wished for Iraq - have been transferred a few thousand miles to the northeast, and still we have no one in power who thinks he has a duty to explain to us how such a result is attainable, or if it were to be attained, how this would lead to a benefit, equal to the cost of such attainment, for the world's Infidels, as they try to deal with the onslaught of aggressive Muslims, who now believe that, with their OPEC trillions, and their Muslim migrant millions inside the countries of the West (where they ceaselessly make demands of all kinds on the indigenous non-Muslims, without the slightest sign of embarrassment, and attempt, will always attempt, to spread Islam, and the power of Muslims, until Islam - so they wish, so they work for - comes to dominate, as it has in their view a perfect right to dominate, everywhere).
The mental substrate of Islam is still, it seems, beyond the understanding not of General Odierno alone, but also of his former boss General Petraeus, and beyond the understanding - is the misunderstanding real, or merely pretend? And which would be worse, do you think? - of the Obama as of the Bush Administration before it.
Islam explains why Iraq can never be an American "friend" or "ally" any more than Afghanistan, or Pakistan, or Saudi Arabia, or Iran. Islam explains why the Americans have to be so solicitious of civilian casualties, as they did not have to be with real allies, during World War II. Remember when Allied planes mistakenly bombed an orphanage instead of Gestapo headquarters - in Denmark or the Netherlands, I forget which - and the local Resistance group told the Allies not to stop, to keep on coming, not to be dissuaded for a single minute. How different from the fury of Pakistan, the recent recipient of thirty billion dollars in military and economic aid, our "ally" Pakistan, which reacts to the killing of three of its soldiers by shutting down the entire American supply line to Afghanistan that runs through Pakistan. And in Iraq, how much outrage over American-caused civilian casualties, while those caused by Muslims are many times higher,  and what complete lack of sympathy for how wars must be fought, especially against enemies who deliberately attack from among, and disguise themselves as, civilians.
Yes, the Americans could remove Saddam Hussein and that would please the Shi'a, but it did not please them enough to make them into what they could never be -- true allies of the Americans. The Americans could supply weaponry and money to Sunni tribesmen who had fallen out with Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, thus creating the much-ballyhooed "Awakening" and helping that "surge" that we are all supposed to agree was a brilliant stroke by Petraeus (where was the "brilliance" in temporarily bribing those who had their own reasons for fighting against Al Qaeda, and where is the "brilliance" in simply piling on more tens of thousands of troops to suppress, for as long as those troops are there, endemic violence, which can resume at any point, unless the Americans remain forever), but does anyone think the Sunnis in Iraq are "allies" or "friends" of the United States, or ever could be?
It was only when Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia turned on the local Sunnis, starting to attack and kill them - and not any unhappiness with Al Qaeda's attacks on Shi'a or American soldiers, that caused some Sunni tribesmen to turn on Al Qaeda. That "alliance with the Americans," that "Awakening," was merely a way to obtain needed arms and money from the Americans, and to deal with Al Qaeda and then, perhaps, to use those arms and that money, or what was left of both, to fight the Shi'a later on - or even, if need be, the Americans themselves. A brief overlap of interests between Americans and Sunni tribesmen allowed the "loyalty" of the latter to be rented. But Islam stands permanently between Muslims who take Islam seriously and any durable and heart-felt alliance with Infidels, no matter how generous.

What amazes most is that eighteen months passed between the 9/11/2001 attacks, and the invasion of Iraq and still, there was no study of Iraq's fissures undertaken. At the Pentagon, Bernard Lewis's view was much relied on (and the resident Pentagon expert on Islam a friend and acolyte of Lewis), and for some reason Lewis -- despite being warned of its folly by his old friend J. B. Kelly -- was much taken with the possibilities of the Iraq project. Later he would claim it had all been mishandled, as if the expensive fiasco were merely a matter of poor execution of a brilliant idea. Surely during that time, American officials could have found out a bit more about Islam. They could have taken time from all their hectic planning (and there was a mood of frantic excitement in the Pentagon, a mood that continued through the first year of the invasion) for the war to find out what was likely to happen once Saddam Hussein was removed. Could no one have recognized that this would mean, inexorably, the transfer of power from Sunni Arabs to Shi'a Arabs? Why was that so hard to figure out, given that Shi'a Arabs constituted 60-65% of the population, and Sunni Arabs less than 20%? Was it believed that, as Condoleezza Rice much later said, the Sunnis and Shi'a "would just have to get over it"? How much attention was given to this fissure, and how many chose to believe the Iraqi (Shi'a) exiles who never mentioned that problem, who acted as if all manner of things would be well - and it would be, but for the Shi'a, not for the Sunnis - once Saddam Hussein was removed?
And one problem must now haunt the American leaders, both military and civilian, that is directly related to Islam. And that is what happened - and what was bound to happen - to the Christians in Iraq, the Assyrians and Chaldeans. The insecurity of Christians in Muslim-populated lands was not understood, and even today is not understood. For example, none of the many analysts who report on Syria ever appeared to understand that the key to the Christian position in Syria was the need for the Alawites, who constitute 12% of the Syrian population but rule the country because they rule the military, for reasons of self-interest felt they could trust, and should support, Christians, for the Alawites understand that they are regarded as pseudo-Muslims by the Muslim Brotherhood and by a great many of the 70% of the Syrian population that is Sunni Muslim; even the fatwa the Alawites managed to obtain from an Iranian cleric a few years ago, declaring that the Alawites were indeed true Muslims, has not helped them as they had hoped.
In Iraq, Saddam Hussein had prevented Muslims from attacking Christians. They were useful to him, those Christians. They constituted, for example, his trusted household staff of waiters, cooks, laundresses, domestic servants, drivers - many of those Christian servants continued to serve the Americans in the Green Zone, but those Americans never asked themselves why it was that Saddam Hussein had relied so heavily on Christians. Their incuriosity merely mimicked the larger failure, back in Washington, to ask the most important questions, as if to do so would be to betray doubts, where there should be none, where lockstep certainty about the Iraq Project was the better course for careerists.

Saddam Hussein knew he had nothing to fear from Christians. They could not possibly ally themselves with his most dangerous opponents - the religious Shi'a who rose against him in 1981, and whom he killed by the hundreds of thousands. The Christians in a Muslim state would have to submit to the will of the ruler, to curry his favor, and hope that he would protect them from the Muslim masses. But when Saddam Hussein was removed (by Americans, representing a "Christian" power to Iraq), Muslims of all stripes-Sunni Arabs, and Shi'a Arabs, and even some Kurds (though the Kurds were generally less dangerous, and some Kurds even sought -- possibly to curry favor with the Americans - to offer Iraqi Christians a haven in the Kurdish-controlled territory in the north) Muslims found they could attack Christians with impunity. Many were killed. And as a result, half of the Christian population has fled, and will not return (despite recent appeals by Maliki for them to do so), and who can blame them? And this too could have been understood as an almost certain result of the removal of a regime that, however monstrous, was for the Christians the best that they could hope for. And while Saddam Hussein increasingly used Islam, presented himself as devout, built gigantic mosques, and became, for the Iraqi public, more and more outwardly devout  as time went by, it was a little along the lines of Stalin, during the desperate days of World War II, permitting the Orthodox hierarchy a little more freedom in order to enroll the faithful, and their faith, in the war campaign. But this did not result in the trust that the Christians put -- even as they understood he was a monster, but a monster in what was for them a permanently monstrous situation, as Christians in an ever-threatening Muslim sea.

It is fascinating to hear Iraqi Christians, such as Donny George, former head of the Baghdad Museum, in their infrequent appearances on American radio. They are full of bitterness that those whom they describe as "the turbans" have taken over. Their American interlocutors never bother to ask what they mean by that, because American interviewers are not curious, or even not alert enough to ask what should be the obvious questions. But by "the turbans" they mean the Shi'a, whom they now blame for their forced exile from Iraq, and some utter phrases - unsettling to, because not understood by, American audiences, which suggest they think the Americans blundered in their removal of the Ba'athist regime.
The Christians constituted only 5% of Iraq's population, but close to one-third of its doctors and engineers and other professionals. That gives some idea of what the disappearance of half of the Christian population means for the Iraqi economy, and for its cultural level too. But we have heard nothing, by any American official, expressing dismay at the fate of the Christians in Iraq - and certainly there was not the slightest understanding of what would necessarily happen to them once the Americans came in, and took away their protector. Had this been understood, perhaps the protection of Christians would have been a priority, and all Muslim parties told that American aid would depend on how the Christians were treated. But this never happened. And even today, in Christian villages, it is the villagers themselves, armed with rifles alone, who stand guard against Muslim marauders.
Odierno doesn't mention any of this. He never touches on Islamic political theory. He doesn't appear to grasp how it works against, and not with, the establishment and acceptance of Western-style democracy, and especially the enshrined solicitiousness for individuals and minorities, as in the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the American Constitution. Odierno appears not to understand this at all, for he expresses his view that it is merely a series of delays, of frustrations, with political leaders who are not up to the task at hand. Here is how he puts it in the interview:
"The longer that takes [the establishment of a working government] the more frustrated they [Iraqis] might get with the process itself....What I don't want is for them to lose faith in the system, the democratic system, and that's the long-term risk, do they lose faith in the process."
Process, process, process. Losing faith in the process. If General Odierno had set himself to school, and surely he had a few moments to snatch from endless meetings, to reading about, say, how in Islam political legitimacy is won, he would not be so sanguine that what the Iraqis are losing faith in is simply the "process." They may blame the politicians, but it is they who are at fault, they who are not able to understand, even if they appear to be able to do so, what kinds of attitudes must be inculcated, among the masses of people, if something like a Western democracy is to take root.
Perhaps Odierno still does not understand how the Western and Islamic views on political legitimacy differ, or perhaps he has been taken in by that purple-thumbed election back in 2005, or perhaps all those Iraqi representatives who do so little except jockey for position, and who are delighted to keep receiving their incredible $10,000 per month salaries (in Iraqi terms, a gigantic fortune, out of all proportion to what they should be receiving), have fooled him and General Petraeus and others into misreading the situation. And he doesn't mention the fate of the Christians. And he does not, in his interview in The Times, mention the Sunni refusal to acquiesce in the loss of Sunni power or the Shi'a refusal to yield any of the power, political and economic, that they have acquired, and that if democracy is head-counting, they now have every right to insist on keeping. He keeps it all vague: "We were na?ve" when we came in. But he has a chance to explain what the Americans were "na?ve" about, to list a few things that a well-prepared analyst could have warned them was not merely likely, but almost certainly, to happen.
But having told us that "we all came in very naive about Iraq" and how "the military learned lessons "the hard way," (seeing General Petraeus in Afghanistan, who not very long ago discussed the need to remain in that country for ten years or more, it is unclear what "lessons" Petraeus - beyond-criticism Petraeus -- learned), and having admitted to the Times reporter that, as to the country's ethnic and sectarian divisions, "we just didn't understand it," Odierno leaves us thinking that the Americans are no longer "na?ve" and now are able to "understand" those ethnic and sectarian divisions, having had to "work our way through." But he says nothing about what happened to the Christians of Iraq. He says nothing about the Kurds, who will not give up their autonomy, nor does he say that the Arabs will never permit the Kurds to go their own way, or to have the autonomy they deserve. He claims that the "sectarian and ethnic" divisions are now understood.
But do we believe him? For if those sectarian and ethnic divisions were understood, the depth of those divisions, and the unlikelihood of ending those fissures, would be apparent. And there are sectarian and ethnic fissures, not identical but similar, in Afghanistan. There is the attempt, well-documented, by the Taliban to wipe out the Shi'a Hazara, because the Taliban are, like Al Qaeda, uber-Sunnis, and the Hazara were saved only by the arrival of the cavalry, that is the Americans, in the fall of 2001. That desire of the most ferocious Sunnis to eliminate the Shi'a Hazara has not disappeared. Nor have the ethnic rivalries, between Tadzhik and Uzbek tribes in the north, and the Pashtun in the south, disappeared, nor can they. Afghanistan is a collection of tribes, whose favorite activity is making war on other tribes, or even within tribes. This is a sport and a pastime, and no amount of adoption by Book Clubs of Greg Mortensen's feelgood "Three Cups of Tea" is going to change the primitive reality of most of Afghanistan.
If lessons have been learned in Iraq, they are not the right lessons, or the lessons have been too narrowly understood. We know this because those who make or influence policy, including Odierno's former boss General Petraeus, continue to miss the main point, and the main point is Islam, and what it does to the worldview of its adherents. In the first place, it makes them unable to be true allies or friends of Infidels, and to most naturally ally themselves with other Muslims against those Infidels. This does not mean that occasionally one can find Muslims who, temporarily, and in order to obtain needed aid from Infidels, will not ally with them against other Muslims. For example, during the Gulf War Saudi Arabia allowed the Americans bases from which to launch air attacks on Iraqi forces in Kuwait. That was not because Saudi Arabia was then, or is now, an American "ally" but because the Al-Saud wanted to be protected from Saddam Hussein, whom they regarded as a threat to them, especially if his takeover of Kuwait were not to be undone.
In Afghanistan the same rhetoric has been used, the same mistakes and squandering are the result, and the same hopes are being dashed, and the same vain goals - of national unity, and stability (this with Karzai, a corrupt depressive) and prosperity - all of them unattainable and none of them worth attaining, if the right overarching goal - weakening the Camp of Islam - is kept firmly in mind. But to keep that goal firmly in mind, you have to keep Islam, and what it inculcates, and the kind of behavior it naturally encourages, firmly in mind, too.
The lesson to be learned in Iraq is not, as General Odierno appears to think, about the existence of sectarian or ethnic fissures, but about Islam itself. For that explains the impossibility of permanent compromise. Islam is suffused with aggression and violence. Muhammad was a warrior, who took part in many dozens of military campaigns. He showed no mercy to his enemies. He regarded with pleasure the decapitation of hundreds of bound prisoners, members of the Banu Qurayza. He was pleased to hear of the murder of Asma bint Marwan, who had mocked him. He preached that "war is deception" and did not hesitate to deceive, even through the making of temporary peace treaties as at Hudaibiyya in 628 A. D. He did not believe in compromise save as a temporary tactic, intended to buy time, and to lull enemies into being unwary and inactive against him. He taught that whenever the Muslim side was stronger, it had a duty to go to war against its enemies. All of this comes from the man who is regarded by Muslims as the Model of Conduct (uswa hasana), the Perfect Man (al-insan al-kamil). For the primitive masses of Muslims (in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, in a town near you) Muhammad's violence and aggression - so different from the figure of Christ - is deeply affecting, and effecting. And though, in Qur'an and Sunnah, the violence and aggression are directed at Infidels, the same violence and aggression that suffuses the texts of Islam colors the behavior by Muslims toward other Muslims who differ by sect or ethnic group. The black African Muslims in Darfur, the Berbers in North Africa, the Kurds in Iraq, all have learned what the enmity of other Muslims - in these examples, of Arabs against non-Arabs - can mean. And the Shi'a in Iraq, and Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen and, especially, Pakistan, have similarly endured humiliation, persecution, and murder at the hands of Sunni Muslims, and it is not the American military that will prevent that - or that should prevent that, or prevent any retaliation by Shi'a (perhaps aided by the Islamic Republic of Iran) against Sunnis.
Odierno offers his valedictory, and leaves us with the feeling that he has bravely owned up to American naivet?, and embarrassingly aware that a learning curve about Iraq remained flat for a long time. He leaves us, that is, with a hope for improvement, but the hope is illusory, the hope is false. It is false because no one wishes to announce that the Iraq venture was based on ignorance of Islam, and so it was impossible to identify the enemy as what might be called the Camp of Islam, and to use the venture in Iraq not to strengthen the country of Iraq (which is what has been attempted) but to exploit the pre-existing fissures, sectarian and ethnic, inside Iraq in order to weaken the Camp of Islam not only inside, but also outside Iraq. 
There is no hint that Odierno recognizes that he, and General Petraeus, were akin to Colonel Bogey, when that British officer, obsessed about his limited assigned task, tried to fulfill it without asking himself what the hell he was actually doing, and did it make, from his point of view, any sense? 
Perhaps General Odierno will have time, back in the United States, to ponder a bigger picture than Iraq, bigger even than Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan, bigger even than all of the Middle East and Central Asia and the subcontinent, and embracing the whole world, the world where the adherents of Islam work to remove all obstacles to the spread and then to the dominance of Islam, as they have always done, whenever they had the chance. And now OPEC trillions, and Muslim immigrant millions, and the appropriation of Western technology to disseminate the message of Islam, have provided them with that chance.
One waits for our generals and other high officers to put down their insurgency manuals, and to look at the war of self-defense against Islam in a broader perspective, and to identify all the ways in which the Jihad is conducted, all the instruments that are being employed, some seemingly unstoppable but, in fact, quite stoppable if we only have the will to declare that long-desired Full Stop.
One waits for Odierno, and Petraeus too, even in the fastnesses of Afghanistan, and others too, to start looking at Islam around the world, and to start understanding that the most important theatre of war is in Western Europe, and that the instruments of Jihad are not, in Western Europe, primarily those of terrorism - though it has its uses -- or even of qitaal, conventional combat, but rather such things as the Money Weapon (which pays for mosques, madrasas, payments to Western hirelings, propaganda on behalf of Islam and the Arabs), campaigns of Da'wa (especially in prisons, where the psychically and socially marginal constitute a captive audience for spreaders of Islam), and demographic conquest - the most dangerous of Muslim weapons, because of the hypertrophied fear, on the part of Western Europeans, of being accused of being "racists" should they quite sensibly decide to halt the admission of more Muslims, and to do what they can to reduce the Muslim presence that has already been allowed to grow, with such grim results, in so many countries in the advanced West.
Will Odierno or the others who served in Iraq and Afghanistan start learning about Islam? Will a general or two come along who says that the whole effort was a waste, a snare and a delusion, and that we should concentrate on making sure that NATO is not slowly transformed from within? Will those who served, more than a million men and women, instead of saying that "I've got to believe in the mission otherwise my buddy's death was in vain" (a refrain we hear too often), will tell the truth about the Iraqis and the Afghans and the Pakistanis, and - after some reflection on Qur'an and Sunnah - come to the right conclusions, about no longer trying to save Muslims from the effects, political, economic, social, intellectual, and moral, of Islam itself, but rather to allow those effects to be felt, and to make sure that we know what in Islam explains them, and make sure, too, that we are overheard, as we will be, by Muslims everywhere. And in overhearing, they will be offended, but in the end the more intelligent ones will be unable to deny the truth of those assertions, the truth that it is Islam itself that holds Muslims down, and back, in every way.
And one wonders how things would have gone, how long we would have remained in Iraq, had some study of history accompanied the study of Islam -- not the Islam presented by Muslims themselves, the "moderate" kind who now teach at the military academies and war colleges, and lead the ignorant so easily astray. What if, in the early days of the war, a florilegium of relevant quotations had been offered, the kind of thing that might start people thinking? Or what if that florilegium were presented, as a goodbye bouquet, nicely bound in leather, along with whatever medal or ribbon would be awarded to our grotesquely over-beribboned generals of today.
Here is the kind of thing I have in mind: 

#1. The Commander of the British Forces that wrested Mesopotamia [Iraq] from the Turks, 1917:

"To the People of the Baghdad Vilayet... our armies have not come into your Cities and Lands as conquerors or enemies but as liberators. Since the days of Hulaku your citizens have been subject to the tyranny of Strangers, your palaces have fallen into ruins, your gardens have sunken into desolation and you yourselves have groaned in bondage. ...It is the wish not only of my King and his peoples, but it is also the wish of the great nations with whom he is in alliance that you should prosper ...But you, the people of Baghdad, ... are not to understand that it is the wish of the British Government to impose upon you alien institutions. It is the hope of the British Government that the aspirations of your philosophers and writers shall be realised again. O! People of Baghdad. ... I am commanded to invite you, through your Nobles and Elders and Representatives to participate in the management of your civil affairs in collaboration with the Political representatives of Great Britain who accompany the British Army so that you may unite with your kinsmen in the North, East, South and West in realising the aspirations of your race."

[Source: Atiyyah, Ghassan: Iraq : 1908 - 1921 : A Socio - Political Study. - Beirut : The Arab Institute for Research and Publishing, 1973 p. 151.]

#2. Gertrude Bell, 1920:

"In the light of the events of the last two months there's no getting out of the conclusion that we have made an immense failure here. The system must have been far more at fault than anything that I or anyone else suspected. It will have to be fundamentally changed and what that may mean exactly I don't know. I suppose we have underestimated the fact that this country is really an inchoate mass of tribes which can't as yet be reduced to any system. The Turks didn't govern and we have tried to govern - and failed. I personally thought we tried to govern too much, but I hoped that things would hold out till Sir Percy came back and that the transition from British to native rule might be made peacefully, in which case much of what we have done might have been made use of. Now I fear that that will be impossible."

[Source: Lady Gertrude Bell, 1920, The Letters of Gertrude Bell.]


#3. Gertrude Bell, 1920:

"We as outsiders can't differentiate between Sunni and Shi'ah, but leave it to them and they'll get over the difficulty by some kind of hanky panky, just as the Turks did, and for the present it's the only way of getting over it. I don't for a moment doubt that the final authority must be in the hands of the Sunnis, in spite of their numerical inferiority; otherwise you will have a mujtahid-run, theocratic state, which is the very devil."

[Source: Lady Gertrude Bell, 1920, The Letters of Gertrude Bell.]

#3. Winston Churchill, 1922:

1 September 1922

I am deeply concerned about Iraq. The task you have given me is becoming really impossible. Our forces are reduced now to very slender proportions. The Turkish menace has got worse; Feisal is playing the fool, if not theknave; his incompetent Arab officials are disturbing some of the provinces and failing to collect the revenue; we overpaid ?200,000 on last year's account which it is almost certain Iraq will not be able to pay this year, thus entailing a Supplementary Estimate in regard to a matter never sanctioned by Parliament; a further deficit, in spite of large economies, is nearly certain this year on the civil expenses owing to the drop in the revenue. I have had to maintain British troops at Mosul all through the year in consequence of the Angora quarrel: this has upset the programme of reliefs and will certainly lead to further expenditure beyond the provision I cannot at this momentwithdraw these troops without practically inviting the Turks to come in. The small column which is operating in the Rania district inside our border against the Turkish raiders and Kurdish sympathisers is a source of constant anxiety to me. I do not see what political strength there is to face a disaster of any kind, and certainly I cannot believe that in any circumstances any large reinforcements would be sent from here or from India. There is scarcely a single newspaper -Tory, Liberal or Labour - which is not consistently hostile to our remaining in this country. The enormous reductions which have been effected have brought no goodwill, and any alternative Government that might be formed here - Labour, Die-hard or We Free - would gain popularity by ordering instant evacuation. Moreover in my own heart I do not see what we are getting out of it. Owing to the difficulties with America, no progress has been made in developing the oil. Altogether I am getting to the end of my resources. I think we should now put definitely, not only to Feisal but to the Constituent Assembly, the position that unless they beg us to stay and to stay on our own terms in regard to efficient control, we shall actually evacuate before the close of the financial year. I would put this issue in the most brutal way, and if they are not prepared to urge us to stay and to co-operate in every manner I would actually clear out. That at any rate would be a solution. Whether we should clear out of the country altogether or hold on to a portion of the Basra vilayet is a minor issue requiring a special study.It is quite possible, however, that face to face with this ultimatum the King, and still more the Constituent Assembly, will implore us to remain. If they do, shall we not be obliged to remain? If we remain, shall we not be answerable for defending their frontier? How are we to do this if the Turk comes in? We have no force whatever that can resist any serious inroad. The War Office, of course, have played for safety throughout and are ready to say 'I told you so' at the first misfortune. Surveying all the above, I think I must ask you for definite guidance at this stage as to what you wish and what you are prepared to do. The victories of the Turks will increase our difficulties throughout the Mohammedan world. At present we are paying eight millions a year for the privilege of living on an ungrateful volcano out of which we are in no circumstances to get anything worth having.

[Source: Letter of Winston Churchill to Lloyd George]

#5. King Faisal of Iraq, 1933:

"Regrettably, I can say there is no Iraqi people yet, but only deluded human groups void of any national idea. Iraqis are not only disunited but evil-motivated, anarchy prone and always ready to prey on their government." - King Faisal I, writing in his memoirs shortly before he died in 1933.

#6. "There are only two political parties in Iraq: the Sunni party and the Shia party." - Tawfiq Al-Suwaidi, Iraqi Prime Minister, 1929, 1930, 1946, 1950.

#7. In "The Chatham House Version" the scholar Elie Kedourie comments dryly on the description by the far-less-great scholar Majid Kadduri (in his own book, "Independent Iraq") of "the wise leadership of Faisal, who inspired public spirit in every department of government":

"If this [Khadduri's description of Faisal] were in any way true, there would be no accounting for the degraded and murderous politics of Iraq from the end of the mandate to the end of the monarchy." [i.e., from 1932 to 1958, when first Qassem, and then the Ba'athists, took over, and things became even more degraded and much, much more murderous].

"The fact is, of course, that this kind of language is most inappropriate to Iraq under the monarchy or afterwards."
"Lack of scruple greater or lesser, cupidity more or less unrestrained, ability to plot more or less consummate, bloodlust more or less obsessive: these rather are the terms which the historian must use who surveys this unfortunate polity [modern Iraq] and those into whose power it was delivered."

Do you think such material, had it been thoroughly read in its full context and digested, might have helped make American policymakers a bit more realistic and less messianic about Iraq? Do you think Richard Perle would not have so excitedly declared in 2003 that he wouldn't be surprised if a boulevard were named after George Bush in Baghdad? Or that Wolfowitz would estimate that the "cost" of the Iraq War might be "$20 billion," and therefore so much more of a bargain than the cost of the sanctions program -- when the cost now, at a minimum, has been estimated at between $1 and $2 trillion dollars, if the costs incurred for the treatment of the wounded, and the macroeconomic costs are factored in? (See the paper of Stiglitz and Bilmes, and if you wish, forget the macroeconomic costs and take the lower figure, and if you like, reduce even that to something we can all agree on as an absolute base -- say, $750 billion.) Or that Bernard Lewis would confidently predict that when the Americans overturned the regime the spectacle of rapture and gratitude in Baghdad "would make the liberation of Kabul seem like a funeral procession." 
That is the lesson that General Odierno did not learn. But he's home now. Perhaps he will have time, now that his own battle's lost and won, and he's away from the hurly-burly of Iraq, and Central Command, and all that stifling bureacratese that, because it is no language, trips up and hinders rather than promotes thought. May General Odierno, and General Petraeus, even as their efforts come undone -- and for six years I have insisted that the Shi'a will never surrender the power they now have, the Sunni never acquiesce in the loss of their power, and the Kurds never willingly return to the position of subservience to the Arabs, whether Sunni or Shi'a, that they have had to endure and refuse to endure any longer.

It's difficult to recognize that you took part in what was always a Fool's Errand. But if one can do that, and admit it, however slowly, to oneself, and proceed from that recognition, what an achievement. An achievement insufficiently recognised, but worthy fistfuls of medals and ribbons.

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