Infidel753 on The Middle East and American narcissism

Usually this has to go on link round ups, but I find this blogpost so important that I can’t help sharing it as an independent blogpost. Infidel753, one of the best people commenting here frequently, has a pretty awesome blog and this is a very important topic and something I’ve been trying to say all the time.

Infidel753 argues that American media and commentators think every topic is about them, and analyze every event as if it has happened because of an American policy. This is something that is true about both sides; both liberals and conservatives are guilty of this. In the current crisis in Iraq, the liberals say “This happened because we invaded Iraq”, and conservatives say “This happened because we pulled out of Iraq”, and while certainly American policy plays a major role and affects us deeply it’s infuriating to see Americans and the rest of westerners constantly trying to reduce our situation into talking points about their own domestic policies.

Infidel753 writes:

It’s a mind-set I encounter again and again.  If anything happens in the Middle East, especially if it affects us, it must somehow be caused by something the West did.  Jihadism is a reaction to colonialism or the existence of Israel (you’d think the intense jihadist targeting of places like Russia, Nigeria, Kenya, India, Thailand, etc. would tip people off that there are other factors at work).  The Arab Spring is to be credited to an American administration wiser than the last, as if hundreds of thousands of people who braved the guns of the dictators took their inspiration from Washington.  The breakthrough in nuclear negotiations with Iran is similarly credited to nuances of American policy, not to a new and courageously reformist Iranian President or the gargantuan mass street protests of 2009 which intimidated the ayatollahs enough to make his election possible.  Middle Eastern people are, apparently, passive and inert and never take initiatives; they only react to things that Westerners do.

I blame this mind-set partly on the fact that most Americans, including liberals, know very little about the internal social and political dynamics of Middle Eastern societies — so when they need an explanation for something, they retreat to the familiar, especially if they can turn it into an opportunity to praise or condemn the policies of some American politician whom they wished to praise or condemn anyway.

I couldn’t have said it better myself. You can read the rest of the article here.

This is something I’ve touched upon myself, in the article I wrote for Dan Fincke titles 7 Ways Westerners Can Help Ex-Muslims. Here is what I had to say:

3) Don’t make EVERYTHING about the west and your own country.

I think people who do this are usually well meaning, but I’m not sure if they aren’t a bit selfish. And both liberals and conservatives are guilty of it. Whenever there’s some news on HuffingtonPost or another liberal outlet about widespread election fraud or corruption or torture or execution, there are some people who comment “Oh maybe we should stop talking about other countries because we also have Bush and voter register laws and Wall Street or Guantanamo”. Or maybe you shouldn’t, because those people in those other countries are also human beings, and their suffering matters a bit too. Don’t be that person, please.

Also, don’t attribute everything that happens in our countries only to colonialism and western imperialism. Many factors were involved. Imperialism was one of them. But not everything is about imperialism. We have agency of our own. We are more responsible for our situation than you.

Care for Muslims and ex-Muslims in the Islamic world because they are human beings. Don’t discard our agency and don’t turn us into a pawn in your own political agenda – whether liberal or conservative. Thank you very much.

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Link Round-Up 2/20/2015
About Kaveh Mousavi

Kaveh Mousavi is the pseudonym of an atheist ex-Muslim living in Iran, subject to one of the world’s remaining theocracies. He is a student of English Literature, an aspiring novelist, and part-time English teacher. He is passionate about politics, video games, heavy metal music, and cinema. He was born at the tenth anniversary of the Islamic Revolution of Iran. He has ditched the Islamic part, but has kept some of the revolutionary spirit.

  • Infidel753

    Hey Kaveh, thanks for the recognition. Unfortunately the attitudes I wrote about are pretty pervasive here. You’re right that many of the people who do it are genuinely well-meaning, but they’re so caught up in the internal conflicts in our own country that the rest of the world doesn’t seem quite real to them unless it can be made related to that. People just need to have their awareness raised a little.

  • colnago80

    Relative to this issue, many pontificators have blamed the problems in the Middle East, in part, on the alleged CIA removal from power of Mossadegh in Iran in 1954. However, I came across an article by one Ray Takeyh that claims that the role of the CIA has been greatly exaggerated and that, even if it had no role at all, Mossadegh would have been removed from power.

    • Kaveh Mousavi

      That’s an entirely bullshit conspiracy theory people are spouting in the recent years, and it defies mountains of evidence. It’s no different from saying Kubrick directed Moon Landing. It’s spouted by Royalists.

      Of course, I also think that Mossadegh would fail eventually because of lack of support from other Iranians for his democratic platform, but the coup was CIA through and through.

      The documents proving the role of CIA include the memoirs of all people involved from both sides, the documents of British intelligence agency and foreign ministry, and US foreign policy.

      • Pierce R. Butler

        … Mossadegh would fail eventually because of lack of support from other Iranians for his democratic platform…

        By “other Iranians”, do you mean the clergy?

        … the coup was CIA through and through.

        My understanding (most recently from reading Anthony Cave Brown’s C: The Secret Life of Sir Stewart Menzies, Spymaster to Winston Churchill) has it that the coup against Mossadegh was conceived and set up by the British MI-6, who after exposure handed off the execution of their plan to the CIA (just taking its first baby steps in “regime change” at the time).

        • Kaveh Mousavi

          By “other Iranians”, do you mean the clergy?

          Well all the major political players including the clergy, but some of his closest allies had also deserted him, also the communists were pretty much against him, also the clergy, and the Shah and the army.

          I believe the ordinary folk supported him overwhelmingly but that meant even less in 50s than it does now.

          My understanding (most recently from reading Anthony Cave Brown’s C: The Secret Life of Sir Stewart Menzies, Spymaster to Winston Churchill) has it that the coup against Mossadegh was conceived and set up by the British MI-6, who after exposure handed off the execution of their plan to the CIA (just taking its first baby steps in “regime change” at the time).

          That’s accurate.

          • Pierce R. Butler

            Thanks for filling in more details!

      • colnago80

        Come on Kaveh, you don’t really believe that the mullahs gave a shit about the Shah’s repressive tactics, given that they have continued them against different targets, namely secularists. Their complaint against the Shah was the same as their complaint against Mossadegh, namely he was a secularist and they demanded a Theo-fascist regime that currently exists. Whatever the CIA did, (and much of the evidence was supplied by Kermit Roosevelt, the CIA’s man who exaggerated his role in the affair for his own self-aggrandizement) they had plenty of help from any number of co-conspirators.

  • CaitieCat, getaway driver

    The only big blame I have for the USA right now is that they destroyed the state of Iraq, opening the door for the corrupt sectarian nightmare ‘running’ the place now. Otherwise, their effects have been second-order: propping up dictators like the Saudis and Egypt’s military coup, uncritical alliance/support of Israel, and the brutal mindless rage of the Crusade War on Eastasia ‘Terror’.

    For the most part, the USA isn’t why it’s bad, but it usually is part of making it worse.

    Good post, and a useful point to make, thank you both.

    • Infidel753

      Thanks Cat. I would argue that the state of Iraq was never really viable in the first place. It was never a nation the way Egypt or Iran or, arguably, Kurdistan is a nation — it’s just an arbitrary piece of land enclosing three groups of people with no common identity. It was held together artificially for a while by a British-backed regime, then by Saddam, then by the US occupation, but now all those are gone and the three groups are going their own way. Kerry is over there now trying to get everyone to restore the state, but absent another full-scale invasion, it can’t be done. “Iraq” is just another Western delusion which can no longer be imposed on local people who don’t want it.

      Iraq is gone. It never really existed in the first place.

      • Pierce R. Butler

        A nice little bit of irony, if the claim that “Iraq” (or “Aragh”) means “well-founded nation” in Arabic has any truth…

        • Infidel753

          The name al-’Irâq is from the Arabic root ‘ayn-râ-qâf which can convey the meaning “deeply rooted” or simply “ancient”. The name was first used for a province of the early Islamic Empire, corresponding to the core of ancient Mesopotamia. It probably referred to the area’s extremely ancient heritage of civilization, dating back to Sumer and Babylon.

          There is no trace of the concept “nation” in that root, however. Al-’Irâq is “the ancient, deep-rooted land”, but with no connotation of a nation or people.

          • Pierce R. Butler

            Yet another ignorant American (slightly) enlightened – thanks much!

  • colnago80

    Re #2

    I would note by the way that the journal from which the article by Takeyh is taken is Foreign Affairs Quarterly, a reputable source of information.

  • colnago80

    Re CaitieCat @ #3

    I would agree that the Iraq adventure was ill advised and that we were lied into war over a nonexistent collaboration between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein and nonexistent WMDs . However I would take some exception to the charge that we propped ;up the dictatorship of Mubarak in Egypt. In fact, the Obama Administration threw him under the bus, just like the Carter Administration threw the Shah under the bus. The problem in the Middle East is that there are no good guys. there are only bad guys and slightly less bad guys. IMHO, Egyptian President Sissi is less bad then Morsi and the Shah was less bad then Khomeini. As for the Saudis the rulers in that nation are terrible but their replacement by, say, ISIS would be even worse. The ISIS grunts are insane.

    As for the charge that the US support of Israel is uncritical, I suggest that CaitieCat read some of the talkbacks in Israeli newspapers where the Obama Administration stands accused of throwing Israel under the bus, and that Obama is the clone of Frankenberger and is preparing an Eichmann solution for the Jews of Israel.

    • Infidel753

      Whence comes the assumption that it’s up to the US government to decide who rules Iran or Egypt or Saudi Arabia? That should be decided by the people who live in those countries. The only exception would be when a government poses a clear threat, as the Taliban did when they were harboring al-Qâ’idah. That situation doesn’t apply in any of the cases you mention.

      • colnago80

        Well, the ISIS folks have threatened to conduct terrorist attacks in Western Europe and the US. That sounds like a credible threat to me. As for Egypt, the US opposed the overthrow of the Morsi government and even held up aid to Egypt after it occurred.

  • Raging Bee

    In fact, the Obama Administration threw [Mubarak] under the bus…

    What did you expect Obama to do — send US troops to prop up that regime? That’s what it would have taken to keep him from being overthrown.

    …just like the Carter Administration threw the Shah under the bus.

    Again, what did you expect Carter to do — send US troops to prop up that regime? Because, again, that’s what it would have taken to fight off that revolutionary tide.

    Seriously, chickenhawk, you’re long on coulda-shoulda-woulda, but laughably short on actual thought.

    As for the general topic of “American narcissism,” it needs to be fought with something better than its mirror-image, blaming America for everything that’s wrong in the world. We ain’t all this, and we ain’t all that either.

    • colnago80

      What the Carter regime should have done is recognized what a threat Khomeini was and encouraged the French government to give him the heave ho. In Egypt, the Obama administration was all too eager to embrace the Muslim Brotherhood as reformers (recalling many of the China hands in 1940s referring to Mao as an agrarian reformer) and then getting all bent out of shape when the Army ousted Morsi.

      As for the general topic of “American narcissism,” it needs to be fought with something better than its mirror-image, blaming America for everything that’s wrong in the world. We ain’t all this, and we ain’t all that either.

      You mean like Mano Singham?

      • Raging Bee

        What the Carter regime should have done is recognized what a threat Khomeini was and encouraged the French government to give him the heave ho.

        How the fuck would that have helped? He was a problem in Iran, not in France. Do you really think France had any more control over Iranian politics than the USA?

        In Egypt, the Obama administration was all too eager to embrace the Muslim Brotherhood as reformers…

        What, exactly, do you mean by “embrace?” Are you implying he gave them some sort of material support without which they could not have overthrown Mubarak?

        And who else could Obama have “embraced?” An imaginary perfect group of “moderate elements” that some Americans tend to dream up when times get tough and thinking gets narcissistic and wishful?

        You mean like Mano Singham?

        Even though he’s been wrong quite a few times, he’s proven himself a LOT more reliable and credible than you and your fellow chickenhawk SteveOR. So yeah, why not Mano Singham, among others?

        • StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

          @ Raging Bee : You are as so very often wrong in your description of us as “chickenhawks” implying we favour military action.

          Both Colnago80 and myself have stated – many times now – that we would prefer a peaceful non-military resolution.

          I think your real problem with us is that we both support Israel’s right to exist and defend itself.

          So, what does that tell everyone about you?

    • Infidel753

      What I meant by American narcissism — and I think Kaveh would agree — is attributing everything that happens, good or bad, to American influences. American liberals who blame Bush or the US generally for everything bad that happens in the Middle East are just as guilty of it as those who give the US credit for everything positive. My point was, the people who live in the area mostly shape events there.

      The overthrow of Mubarak was mostly inspired by what happened in Tunisia. Once Mubara was gone, anyone who knew much about Egypt could have anticipated that the Muslim Brotherhood would win power (they were the best-organized large political force in the country), and that they would then alienate the public so badly that a military coup against them would attract broad support. The US did not cause any of these events and could not have prevented them.

  • abear

    It’s common to see finger pointing at western Imperialist powers for causing all the problems in the Middle east, especially the way they drew the borders.

    Much less common is mentioning how centuries of Ottoman rule that divided most of their realm into city states and tribal entities largely independent and socially isolated from even their close neighbors. Or for that matter how Islam, and Sunni Islam in particular has overtly discouraged its’ adherents from forming loyalty to nations.

    • StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

      @ abear : Good point : the Ottoman empire also deserves a share of the blame for creating this situation and its own islamic form of Imperialism too. Seconded.

  • jesse


    Those of us who point to the role colonialism played aren’t just engaging in narcissism. The point is to get rid of the notion that some super-special quality of Islam or Arabs generally is why there is, for example, a theocracy in Saudi Arabia.

    There’s a lot of distance between “the US decides who rules the country” and “the US had nothing to do with it”. If I suggested that the presence of Russian troops in Eastern Europe had nothing to do with the shape those later governments took, you’d all say I was being stupid. More so if i then said there was something in the East European culture or character that naturally led to socialism.

    Similarly, if I said that black people in the US are poorer, less educated and more likely to suffer health problems because of their own faults and ignored the history of racism that would be stupid at best. “Hey, Jim Crow is over so racism is over” is a common canard.

    the European colonization efforts did huge and lasting damage to many societies. Yes, there are other factors at work, but saying that the presence of Islamic extremism in Chechnya negates the fact that every Middle Eastern nation as we know it today was constructed by occupying powers (first the Turks, then the French and British) is also a bit off.

    When we talk about colonialism or neo-colonialism we’re talking about the fact that there has been a lot of interference from the West in these countries, and it’s been either to provide real, material support to dictators (the Shah, for instance, or Mubarak, or Saleh, or the Saudi royals) or to subvert democratic movements.

    Mossadegh is one example of this kind of thinking. The Shah’s rule was precipitated by the US and Britain’s interest in securing oil supplies. Therefore when it came down to either supporting a (relatively pliable) dictator or taking the risk that a parliamentary government might fall or elect the wrong people, well, the choice was clear. The Saudis and their cousins the Hashemites rule the countries they do today solely because the British installed them. They weren’t elected, they were chosen, and not by the people in the countries involved.

    Yes, there are many factors that go into making a theocracy, and into the emergence of “restoration” movements (of which political Islam is one). But when one simply decides to ignore the role the West plays in this then you also absolve them of responsibility, and close off avenues to fix it.

    Let me give an example from Europe: the Germans. To say that the emergence of the NSDAP had nothing to do with the treatment the Germans got as the losing power would be such an abuse of history that nobody who says that should be taken seriously. And the victorious allies after WW II understood that. So when Germany was occupied the British, French and US (who were much more politically savvy than the Russians, and less upset with the Germans since they didn’t suffer from them as the Russians did) took steps to ensure that a culture of democracy could thrive there. This wasn’t just because they were nice; it was out of a lot of self interest (though there were people like Stimson who were principled too). It’s instructive that the Eastern part of Germany is where, after a lot of economic dislocation, neo-fascist movements arose in the last 20 years.

    Point is, recognizing what the problem was (or at least part of it) at the beginning allowed the Allies to take steps to stop it from happening again. It wasn’t perfect. Spain, Portugal and Greece were fascist dictatorships until 1975. But it was a step taken that worked.

    If the US was really concerned about human rights in Saudi Arabia, you could just say “fine, you might buy weapons and surveillance equipment from whomever, but it won’t be us.” The Saudi military is designed to keep control of their own population, and protect the royals. What do you think would happen if they weren’t getting cheap aircraft, cheap equipment (really, you should see the purchase terms) and support (recall: maintaining sophisticated weapons requires a lot of work and the systems that support, say, an F-16 are not interchangeable with those for other planes).

    Would the Egyptian Army have been able to manage a counter-revolution without $1.5 billion a year? Maybe, but it would be a lot harder. Gas for tanks costs money.

    We should not be in a situation where the guy saying that elections should be held in Saudi Arabia was Osama bin Laden.

    Yes, there are jihadis in Thailand. So what? Thailand has a very different history and there’s a reason why Islamic fundamentalism as it appears in the Middle East (and Iran) never caught on there, or in Indonesia, or the Philippines. So what you see there will be different. And you know what? it is. You simply can’t argue that there’s anything like a mass fundamentalist movement in Southeast Asia — it just isn’t there. (Being able to pull off spectacular attacks doesn’t equal a mass movement any more than Tim McVeigh killing 195 people — a record at that point — meant there was a mass fascist movement in the US).

    The issue is recognizing that these places have histories. The jihadist and political islam movements did not spring up like magic, any more than German and Italian fascists did. There was no special quality of Germany or Italy that made fascism inevitable. Nor of Japan. (Since all three are from very different religious an cultural traditions whatever was happening was probably not some special thing about Lutheranism).

    And I might add that much of central Asia was under colonial rule — from Moscow. (Look up the term “Settler State” and “Internal Colonization” — these apply to the US and Latin America as well, though here in the US we were more effective at wiping out the locals).

    Not only in the Middle East but in many parts of the Global South whole economies and societies were remade to facilitate the extraction of resources, without the technology transfer that would build a functioning industrial base (there is no such thing as a bullet made in the Middle East, despite the oil revenues). Instead you have a medieval system not unlike that of Spain and its colonies circa 1550 (in that case it was gold). And yet I hear “well, it’s western narcissism to say the West had anything to do with this.” WTF?

    • thelibyan

      “The point is to get rid of the notion that some super-special quality of Islam or Arabs generally is why there is, for example, a theocracy in Saudi Arabia”

      There is also a lot of distance between “the West is not responsible for everything that happens in the Middle East” and “there is something inherently wrong with Arabs and Islam”; you being the first one here to mention the latter idea. You introduced that dichotomy and then spent half your post responding to it. If you actually read the article it doesn’t say Western interaction in with the Middle East has nothing to do with the current state of affairs, nor does it say Arabs are somehow lesser than the West. It said the relationship between the West and the Middle East is interpreted in a solipsistic way, an argument for which very specific examples were provided.

  • exi5tentialist

    In the current crisis in Iraq, the liberals say “This happened because we invaded Iraq”, and conservatives say “This happened because we pulled out of Iraq”

    Ah well, I say that the current crisis in Iraq happened because America invaded Iraq, then having fucked Iraq up they pulled out. What does this make me? A socialist?

    • Kaveh Mousavi

      Would you say it’s the only reason or one of the reasons?

      I think the American invasion was the finger that tipped the first domino, but the dominos were lined up already. Plus, I think Iran’s interventions was equally a cause, and Maliki’s sectarian governing were more effective in getting us here today.

      • exi5tentialist

        America completely fucked Iraq up. What Iran and Maliki did with the resulting fucked-up mess is worth talking about but to attribute causation “equally” to any of them is to deny the fundamental, far-reaching, destabilising purpose and effect of the American invasion. To dismiss American anti-war protestors, most of whom are working class people trying to get their voice heard, and to dismiss anti-war media such as Democracy Now! as narcissitic is deeply patronising. If anything the mass American media is using the same strategy as you now – minimise the invasion and the occupation and build a more localised narrative based on the old bogeymen of islamism, which wasn’t exactly in the ascendency pre-invasion, sunni/shia sectarianism, which went virtually unregistered before the invasion and the incompetence of the legacy colonial government left in place of the occupier.

        The domino analogy is a major failure of perception. It seeks to demonstrate, and it fails to, that if the first domino were taken away, the other dominos could have or “would have” fallen if triggered by some other minor destabilising force. That’s wrong because a total invasion by a superpower is a massive, unavoidable, unequalled force with far-reaching consequences, and it confers the by far most culpability on the invader. The domino analogy implies a series of finely-balanced, easily-destabilised factors. Well I’m sorry but societies generally don’t become that unstable unless they have suffered a massive deep-seated trauma; the US invasion was just such a trauma. It is just not possible to minimise it in the narrative of current events and remain in good faith.

        • Kaveh Mousavi

          Iraq was a country arbitrarily drawn by the colonialists forces which strung together three groups which had had a history of sectarian conflict for thousands of years. Yes, anything removing the central government would lead it to the chaos it is today. Still, I think the Iraqis could have remained together if Maliki hadn’t fucked things up. If he had included the Sunnis and had worked for reconciliation. So, yes, Iraq was never stable. You could see in Syria something similar happened without American intervention, when a popular uprising turned into sectarian civil war.

          I don’t mean to minimize the role of American intervention, of course, it was a stupid and horrifying war and one of the major causes of the current situation. But it’s worthwhile to remind people from time to time that Middle Eastern people have histories and identities and free will of their own and their destiny is not a passive thing shaped only by the actions of white people.

          • exi5tentialist

            I think it’s worth reminding people from time to time that America has dropped millions of tons of explosives on Iraq in the last 11 years. Let’s compare that with how many tons of explosives the Iraqi government has dropped on its own country, then we can assign blame for Iraq being fucked up in proportion to the tonnage of ordnance dropped. Reasonable?

            By the way I think it’s also worth reminding people from time to time that the world’s drone-commander-in-chief isn’t white.

          • exi5tentialist

            Tonnage of explosives not for you? OK, let’s do the number of DEATHS then. Let’s add up the number of deaths as a result of US sanctions and the US invasion over the 1990s and 2000s, and compare then to the number of deaths that have been brought about by the Maliki government, then by comparing the figures we can decide who is responsible for the current fucked up state of Iraq.

            I’m just trying to establish some objective measure by which we can both agree to measure the extent to which Maliki is in your words equally responsible for the fuckup that is Iraq in 2014.

          • Kaveh Mousavi

            Well since I think the root cause is Sunni Shiite conflict I think we should compare all the deaths caused by this conflict since 12th century :)

          • exi5tentialist

            I actually don’t understand your position. I understand that you are seeking to put the blame for the present state of near civil war in Iraq on sectarianism and religion, I just don’t understand why. Given the huge destructive scale of the American invasion and occupation, and the consequences from 2003 to now, despite the fact you are saying that you don’t want to minimise that, you still seem to be minimising it; I don’t understand your thought processes, because it seems to me beyond reason that a person with any knowledge of Iraq would deny that the biggest blame by far lies with America.

            I put huge store by the experiences of the living and of people who have lived in the time of living people, the right to testimony is theirs alone as far as I’m concerned, yet you seem to be interested in dredging up abstractions like 12th century religion, and that looks really bizarre to me. It’s not because I hold any particular ideological position, it just seems obvious to me that the dead cannot oppress the living, and that living people are not determined by the actions of cultures long past that nobody alive remembers.

            Yet you seem to be putting everything on that: the supposedly long, sorry march of Islam to its present state seems to be more important to you than contemporary realities of competition for resources, food, oil and wealth. I don’t understand why you’re doing this, and I’m not seeking another “you know nothing because you’re a white westerner” lecture. I want to understand. I still disagree, and I’m not going to shut up just because a bunch of people keep moralistically telling me that I can’t talk because I’m not sufficiently in the know, I just want to understand better.

          • Kaveh Mousavi

            1) Shiites and Sunnis have hated each other for centuries and have been fighting.
            2) Kurds and Arabs have hated each other for centuries and have been fighting.
            3) Iraq is a country, with borders drawn arbitrarily by colonialists, housing together these hostile sectarian groups.
            4) There has been a long Sunni dictatorship in power who brutally oppresses Shiites and Kurds. The motivations of this regime is sectarian.
            5) A foolish foreign power almost destroys Iraq with sanctions and then attacks Iraq and removes that dictatorship.
            6) Once the central authoritative force is gone, sectarian militias begin waging war for more power, which include a great portion of deaths caused after occupation.
            7) The foolish foreign power tries to set up a federal system.
            8) Shiites, the majority, come to power. They begin oppressing Sunnis.
            9) Sunnis rebel again, rallying around a very radical version of themselves, starting another round in a civil war.

            This is what has happened. Without the sectarian wars, if the Iraqis considered themselves a single nation, a unified people, there would be no competition for oil and resources, there would be no Saddam genocides and repressive regimes, there would be no insurgencies after American occupation aimed at other Iraqis (only at Americans), there would be no Maliki shutting other people out of his government. All of these things happened because *Iraq was deeply sectarian*. This is the main reason.

            Now, would the situation be like this if USA hadn’t invaded? No. Iraq War was wrong for many reasons (WMDs being a lie, Saddam not being a direct threat or engaged in a genocide AT THE TIME [I would have supported war against him when he was bombing the Kurds with gas but not later when he wasn't], and ultimately the price of going to war against him was more than benefit, but ALSO because such an attack would prove opening a pandora’s box of sectarian warfare. When America wanted to go to war in 2003, I actually believed the WMD crap (yeah silly) but I still opposed the war because I predicted this would happen if America attacks.

            Plus, if it matters, I haven’t heard a single Iranian or Iraqi commentator considering the sectarian strife less important than US invasion, I’ve only heard that from Westerners, so I think the “people who know a single thing about Iraq” demographic is firmly on my side.

            Is that a good enough explanation of my thought process?

          • colnago80

            Re KM

            Let’s remember that the ongoing tragedy in Syria has turned into a Sunni/Shiite struggle, even though the Alawites are considered apostates by many Shiites. I am currently of the opinion that all the king’s horses and all the king’s men will be unable to put Iraq and Syria back together again. As I have stated previously, the big winners are going to be the Kurds who will probably get an independent state in Kurdistan and possibly a mini-state in Northern Syria. And I don’t think that Egyptian President al-Sissi’s opposition is going to stop them. The president should worry less about the events in Kurdistan and more about the events in the Gaza Strip, which sits on his border.

          • Kaveh Mousavi

            I agree – except I’m not so optimist that Kurds will be able to carve out their sate, at least not easily. I would be very happy if they could though, these people deserve a break.

          • exi5tentialist

            Thanks, We really do disagree, I’ll explain my thinking.

            Every country in the world, regardless of the reach of religion there, contains the potential for the kind of internal conflict that would tear the country apart if the conditions were right. To make the conditions right, you have only to take away the resources that sustain a relatively peaceful social environment. To make the conditions right for conflict, you can destroy a country’s economy.

            For example, destroy Britain’s economy and you sow the seeds for the Scots and Welsh to go to war with the English, Protestants to go to war with Catholics, the north to go to war with the south or perhaps a load of unforeseen divisions that none of us could possibly predict. Name any country in the world and similar conditions, ethnic or sectarian or ideological have the potential to erupt if the resources which sustained populations in relative peace with each other are taken away.

            That’s what America did when it invaded Iraq. It destroyed the Iraqi economy to the extent that it massively increased the competition for resources: money, food, land. This is what the American policy of destabilisation by war was designed to achieve. It fits the pattern of divide and rule that imperialist ruling classes are renowned for.

            So yes, of course the “internal divisions” explanation fits the history – sectarianism in this case. But it is no different from every other country, whether America has got its warmongering hands on it or not. When America destroys your economy, it creates the conditions that force blocs of population to take sides against each other. And by sticking doggedly to the narrative of “internal underlying divisions coming to the surface,” as if those divisions were the REAL problem all along, you play into the hands of the American military machine.

            If Iraqi commentators are emphasising the importance of sectarianism over and above America’s war against Iraq, doesn’t that just indicate that the Iraqi media are themselves becoming split along sectarian lines, just like the rest of the country? Those of us who stand outside Iraq are in a privileged position to take an international view, and we shouldn’t squander the privilege in submission to the American agenda.

            And I keep coming back to the underlying image of the people of Iraq in Fallujah and elsewhere suffering under the weight of millions of tonnes of American bombs, all within the last ten years. I just don’t get how that’s considered to be less important. I really don’t get it and no, that is not a failing on my part.

            Incidentally, I really do take issue with your habit of saying what “would have” happened in any alternative history. By all means be bold about the influences that would be brought to bear on a population but anyone making firm assertions about what would or would not happen is overreaching their historical skills.

            I also challenge your assumption that if sectarianism wasn’t present in 2003, Iraq wouldn’t be tearing itself apart now. Sectarianism is just one possible vehicle by which wars erupt and by which one group oppresses another. There are myriad other possible mechanisms, ethnicity and class being among them.

          • colnago80

            Re exi5tentialist

            I have a flash for you, Iraq was held together by the iron hand of Saddam Hussein and his predecessors prior to his removal from power, just as the former Yugoslavia was held together by the iron hand of Josef Broz Tito. Note also the situation of the former Czechoslovakia which split into to Czechs and Slovaks shortly after the fall of the Communist regime. This was exacerbated by Iraqi president Maliki who pissed off the Sunnis by forming a government consisting of only Shiites and excluding the former. It only required a spark which was supplied by the the ISIS invasion to set off the power keg. Saddam brutally suppressed opposition from Shiites and Kurds. By the way, to a great extent, the same is true in Syria which has been ruled for decades by the Assad family which belong to the Alawite sect of Shiite Islam which makes up some 11% of the population. It was the iron hand of Assad (remember Hama Rules) that suppressed any dissent.

            By the way, speaking of Great Britain, there is going to be a referendum held in Scotland to decide whether it should become independent of England. So all is not well between the Scots and the English.

          • exi5tentialist

            colnago80 – The US bears the blame and responsibility for the present mess in Iraq. The US messed Iraq up, events in Iraq now have a messed-up character, not surprisingly.

            I agree that Saddam held Iraq together with an iron hand. The US smashed it up with an iron hand. It’s notable that after thousands of deaths and millions of tons of explosives as well as radiation poisoning and widespread human rights abuses, America doesn’t appear to qualify for the “iron hand” epithet.

            Much as I abhor all dictatorships, the celebrity dictator who happens to be in power is not the sole determinant of stability in any country. Social stability is maintained by many factors, including economic stability and economic development. Dictator or no dictator, Iraq’s economic base was smashed up by America. In committing that massive act of vandalism, America denied Iraq the opportunity for stability. The present mess is therefore America’s fault.

            Maliki’s sectarian government is a result of America’s destruction of Iraq. When you smash up a country’s economy and destroy its chance of stability, you deny it the opportunity of a stable and inclusive government.

            All roads lead back to America in this mess. Lots of people are looking to give America excuses, though I admit very few seem to be delving as far back as the 12th century for that honour.

            You cite Czech and Slovakia’s separation after 40 years of social, economic and political oppression by the USSR to refute my analysis? Why? What’s your point? Countries split up sometimes. Luckily, Czech and Slovakia didn’t go to war with each other. Iraq is at war with itself. The question is what has caused the violence in Iraq – where does the responsibility lie. It’s simple: it lies with America.

            Yes Saddam brutally suppressed opposition from Shiites and Kurds, but Saddam brutallly suppressed opposition from everybody, even among people closest to him, whether Sunni, Shiite, Kurd or nothing in particular. Saddam offered a dictatorship, just as Assad does. Dictatorships suppress dissent. We know that. But you can’t bring the example of Syria in as a comparison with Iraq. Syria, despite massive efforts by the imperialist powers, has not been subject to the invasion of its territory by the west, at least not yet. To liken Syria to Iraq as some kind of explanation for it all being about sectarianism you have to ignore big bits of history like the 2003 invasion of Iraq. More likely the civil war in Syria has been exacerbated by the regional destabilisation the US brought about when it plunged into Iraq.

            Scotland is holding a referendum in September to go independent from the UK. This is a peaceful democratic referendum being held in the context of an economy which is advanced, wealthy and stable. England and Scotland are not at war with one another. Stability does not guarantee political union, but instability is a primary determinant of war. If America wanted to transform Britain into a state at war with itself, they would need to do the same to Britain that they did to Iraq, then the Scots and English, the Welsh and the Irish, the Catholics and Protestants and the Cornish would all be engaged in a massive British smash-up. At that point, would Kaveh jump in saying, “Don’t blame America. Oh it’s a factor, but come on people – look at the sectarianism!” I don’t know if Kaveh would, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he did.

          • colnago80

            Re exi5tentialist

            Excuse me, the US warned Maliki on numerous occasions that his policy of excluding the Kurds and the Sunnis from his government was wrongheaded and would lead to trouble in the future. He ignored that advice. IMHO, there was an opportunity to to have a stable situation in Iraq had Maliki followed our advice. He chose not to and is now paying the price. Probably Kurdistan will attain independence and ship their oil through Turkey, bypassing the pipelines into the rest of Iraq. According to accounts in the Israeli press, they already shipped a tanker load of oil to Israel a couple of weeks ago via Turkey.

            In fact, the situation in Syria is very similar to the situation that prevailed in Iraq before the overthrow of Saddam, with the Assads filling the Saddam role. In Iraq, we had a Sunni minority to which Saddam belonged running the country and suppressing Shiites and Kurds. In Syria, we had an Alawite minority running the country and suppressing the majority Sunni population. In addition, it appears that the instigation for the uprising in Syria was a severe drought condition which led to food shortages before the uprising began. There are some blaming the drought conditions on global warming because the same conditions are in place in the Western United States and Australia. This may be a harbinger of what we might expect in the coming years as global warming intensifies.

          • exi5tentialist

            Yeah the Americans “gave advice” to Maliki. That’s a joke isn’t it? The superpower that invaded, decimated, irradiated and vandalised Iraq “gave advice” to the puny puppet it left behind which promptly collapsed once the invaders left. Rather than “giving advice”, how about leading by example and not invading Iraq in the first place? Oh no, too late. Water under the bridge. Best not mention it, at least no more than lip service. Best find explanations that excise America’s absolute responsibility for the present conflict. Best talk about Syria. Let’s hope they don’t notice you’ve changed the subject.

            Kurdistan independent? Great. That’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about Iraq’s descent into yet another American-induced bloodbath.

          • colnago80

            Re exi5tenialist

            Look, I’m not going to defend the US action in Iraq. The Bush administration lied us into war over a fictitious Iraq involvement in 9/11 and non-existent WMDs. This was perpetrated by the neocons in Washington who permeated the Bush administration. I would point out that the current president opposed the war when he was a state senator in Illinois. I would also point out for the illumination of those who blame everything that goes wrong in the world on Israel, that former Israeli Prime Minister Sharon advised then Secretary of State Colin Powell and his deputy, Lawrence Wilkerson against going forward with the Iraq invasion which, in his opinion, would only lead to the ascendancy of Iran in the region. They should have listened to Sharon.

            Of course, Maliki was hardly a puppet as he rejected our advice, in addition to demanding the removal of all US forces. If he was a puppet, he would have groveled at our feet in accepting the advice.

            The fact is that we are where we are and debating over what happened 11 years ago and what mistakes were made is only useful in not making the same mistakes again. As Einstein said, insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. The question is, now what?

            By the way, I’m starting to get a little irritated with you about your continual bad mouthing of the US. Do you think that the US perpetrated a blood bath in Germany and Japan in WW2? Maybe you should blame that one on Tojo and Frankenberger.

          • exi5tentialist

            Oh yes, the Second World War. America murdered civilians by the thousand then as well.

          • Silentbob

            @ exi5tentialist


      • colnago80

        Re exi5tentialist and Silentbob

        Unfortunately, war is hell and Frankenberger and Tojo had to be stopped by any means available. It’s the nature of modern warfare and the development of strategic bombing strategies that civilians will die. That’s not an argument against strategic bombing, it’s an argument against war. Unfortunately, sometimes war is the only way to stop aggressors, which Frankenberger and Tojo certainly were.

        I would point out to you folks that the number of civilians who were killed in the 30 Years war, as a percentage of the population of Central Europe was a lot higher then occurred in either of the 20th century world wars. We can only be thankful that Tilly, Wallenstein, and Gustavus didn’t have 20th century weapons systems at their disposal, else Central Europe would have been totally depopulated.

        • Silentbob

          This message of peace and the horror of war has been brought to you by colnago-”Tsar bomb“-80.

          • colnago80

            This message brought to you by the blog’s resident appeaser, who, apparently doesn’t think that Schicklgruber and Tojo had to be stopped. Think about the triumphal march of the Wehrmacht through the streets of London and New York City and the triumphal march of the Japanese Imperial Army through the streets of San Francisco.

  • colnago80

    In related developments, below is a link to today’s OPED on the situation in Iraq/Iran. Now, I am not one of David Ignatius’ devotees but he is, at least not worse then Tom Friedman, his counter part on the New York Times, admittedly a low bar. As I see it, the big winners of this mess appear to be the Kurds, who apparently will get an independent Kurdistan. Apparently, even Turkey is warming to this idea, perhaps preferring a stable Kurdistan on their border to an unstable Iraq, to go along with an unstable Syria (in addition to which Erdogan needs the votes of Turkey’s Kurds to become president of Turkey). And of course, Bibi is leading the cheering section and is going full bore to convince President Obama that it is a good idea.

  • CaitieCat, getaway driver

    I think Kaveh’s point, and his guest’s, is that while it is undeniable that the US and its neocons lit the match, the house had been drenched with gasoline and waiting for the toaster-timer to pop for a long, long time before that match was lit, and that the gasoline-pouring had little to do with the colonialist/imperialist behaviours that the US and UK had been part of, and rather more to do with internal stresses which date back to the first Caliphate.

    The US lit the match, and they rushed in shouting “FIRE FIRE!”, and deployed blowtorches in their well-meaning but idiotic efforts to extinguish it. Strangely, the inhabitants of the house found this to be less than helpful.

    But the house was a falling-down mess before they got there, and there was all this gasoline just lying around…

    • exi5tentialist

      A million tons of explosives, 200,000 troops and 100,000 deaths doesn’t count as “lit a match.” Back to the metaphor drawing board please – and come back with an improvement that shows some human respect for all the people maimed and murdered by US aggression in Iraq since 2003.

      And to all the members of Kaveh’s Minimization Club – minimising the US invasion and occupation may make you feel good, just maybe try and be a little less crassly blatent about it? At least that would be a start.

      • CaitieCat, getaway driver

        Seriously, you’re just being an asshole here, and really making his point about the narcissism. Yes, the US did some deeply bad shit: illegal invasion on manufactured pretext major war crimes, the works. I would personally favour ICJ taking on the cases and seeing people jailed for them, but the US just doesn’t have that mindset, being too exceptional for submitting to the justice of other nations.

        I don’t see anyone even remotely denying any of that, despite your desperate need to reassert it over and over as though anyone were. What the gentlemen here have said, and i agree with, is that it’s an imperialist fantasy to suggest that the US is basically solely responsible for the divisions which have led to the current situation. What the US did was evil, and horrific, absolutely. It is also possible that, say Hussein had died or been assassinated, the situation could be equally awful right now, because the divisions currently being fought over are far older than the US’ illegal invasion, or the UK’s broad-strokes invention of a country by drawing lines on a map.

        There would be, probably, a few hundred thousand fewer dead people, an enormously desirable goal. There might also not be; continued UN sanctions were killing large numbers of people too, and the collapse post-Hussein might have been a far worse bloodbath without an occupying army. Might not. We don’t, and can’t, know. But it is not unreasonable to suggest that the lengthy history of Sunni v Shi’a has played a very large role in the current Iraq/Syria crisis/es, nor to suggest that it’s imperialist narcissism to deny that the people living in the region had any agency in their own situation.

        You’re defending a position that’s not being attacked, and doing so in a way that reinforces colonialist and imperalist notions of first-world omnipotence. Is that really the hill you want to die on, here?

        • exi5tentialist

          Calling somebody an asshole for blaming the US for the present debacle in Iraq is reactionary bullshit. Calling somebody narcissistic for accurately describing the US as being to blame for the present situation in Iraq, when the US actually is to blame, is more reactionary bullshit. A thousand mealy mouthed blog comments can’t move the US out of the dock. The US is to blame. The US is the problem.

          No, the US did not merely “do some deeply bad shit” – that is yet more minimisation. Yet more shifting the language away from what the Americans actually did to Iraq and into a more palatable if not sweet-smelling metaphor. What happened is this, and it isn’t the junior High School language of fecal metaphor. What happened is the US dropped millions of tons of explosives, mustered 200,000 troops to come out shooting, and turned an advanced developing country into a poor occupied country for nine fucking years. What they did to Falluja was absolutely fucking disgusting. It was a war crime of monumental proportions. The whole invasion and occupation was. “Doing deeply bad shit” again minimizes the scale and reach of US culpability.

          I have not said the US is “solely responsible for the divisions” that have led to the current situation. I agreed above that divisions already existed, as they do in every other country in the world, including mine and yours. What I blame the US for is destroying the economic and social fabric of Iraq so completely that divisions could no longer remain relatively negotiable within the bounds of a more or less stable society.

          Like Tony Blair, you raise a scenario in which the present civil war in Iraq “would have” erupted anyway even if the US hadn’t invaded. Well bully for you. Alternative history always looks like woo to me so you can play that game, I’ll pass thanks. I completely disagree with one thing you seem to be suggesting. I think it absolutely IS unreasonable to suggest that the lengthy history of Sunni-v-Shia has been the causation of the present Iraq/Syria crisis, because that suggestion a) ignores the long-term destructive effect of the US invasion and occupation on the stability of Iraq and b) utterly and very conveniently ignores the lengthy history of Sunni-Shia co-operation and co-existence occurring alongside the division.

          I agree that the people living in Iraq SHOULD have agency in their own situation. But I imagine when you are being bombed and shot at, when your loved ones are dying before your eyes, and when your country’s economy and social structure is being destroyed by a superpower, the sound of the people who tell you you have agency would most likely be drowned out by your wishful thinking that such people making their patronizing noises heard in your country would just shut up and go away for once.

          But if you insist, yeah, in the US-destroyed, US-irradiated, US-bombed, US-occupied, US-violated rubble-heap that is Iraq in 2014, now that the US has deigned to play the slightly aloof overlord (on condition that Iraq does not exercise its agency, of course), yeah, people probably have a few morsels of agency as they pick over the rubble and try to assert a patch of ruined ground as their own where they can make a stand to survive as best they can.

          Incidentally I am not going to “die on” any hill. Death metaphors directed at me aren’t exactly original, and I still seem to be alive.

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