Military Triumphs and Political Defeats

“War is merely the continuation of politics by other means.

Carl Von Clausewitz, (1780-1831)

The war in Iraq is almost three weeks old and military professionals are all over the television channels proclaiming how “successful” war is being waged. But a more honest and realistic assessment should move beyond the military aspects of the moment to consider the real metric of success, namely the political ramifications.

If Clausewitz was correct, then unless the US succeeds politically there is no real victory to be had. War and politics are inseparable. Military success without political success is nonsensical. One need only ask the Israelis the truth of this aphorism. Israel has succeeded militarily but has fail- ed on every political and moral front on the world stage. Their military prowess has brought them neither security nor peace.

While all the political ramifications have not yet flowered, enough seeds have been sewn to predict what kind of harvest they shall yield. Many of these seeds were planted before the very first shot of the war. And with every bullet fired by Anglo-American forces, another seed is planted.

The war, however brilliantly waged by Anglo-American forces, is an unmitigated political disaster.

I can read the email flooding in already with a common refrain, “What do YOU know that the President, Vice President and Donald Rumsfeld do NOT seem to know.”

A fair question, and one that deserves an answer.

          As a Muslim of Arab descent, I understand what the emotional word “crusade” means. It harkens back to a time of invasion. The President and one “clever” wordsmith used this ill-conceived description of our country’s mission and only understood what this word meant in retrospect. 1.4 billion Muslims in the world KNEW what the President did not know. Words spoken are like missiles launched. They prove difficult to recall before they land near their targets. This word found its political target in the Muslim world.

2 )          If Iraqis possess “Weapons of Mass Destruction” and do not use them when their country is invaded, what does this say about the threat they posed before the war? Even if WMDs are found, if they are not used, the entire Arab and Muslim world will ask why the war was fought. The existence of WMDs is not a cause for war on its own since the entire Arab and Muslim world knows that WMDs exist in Israel. Once again, the political box gets more complicated by Israel. Every view of the political landscape is complicated by Israel.

3 )          One Israeli official privately acknowledged that an ad- ministration official promised “the war would only last five days.” But here is a recent excerpt from by Ha’aretz writer, Ari Shavit:

At the conclusion of its second week, the war to liberate Iraq wasn’t looking good. Not even in Washington. The assumption of a swift collapse of the Saddam Hussein regime had itself collapsed. The presupposition that the Iraqi dictatorship would crumble as soon as mighty America entered the country proved unfounded. The Shi’ites didn’t rise up, the Sunnis fought fiercely. Iraqi guerrilla warfare found the American generals unprepared and endangered their overextended supply lines.

The political fall out for the war not going exactly as planned will be enormous. Iraqi resistance will be lionized in the Islamic and Arab world, much like Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation. But in this part of the world, one is defined by how powerful the adversary. America, the world’s only superpower, represents an adversary of epic proportions.

Each day the war drags on creates more hostility toward the US in the region. This hostility is not just in the Muslim world, but the entire world. The unilateral exercise of power (actually bilateral if you count the UK) creates an international political climate of illegitimacy.

[I]nternational legitimacy is essential so you will have enough time and space to execute your presumptuous project. But George Bush didn’t have the patience to glean international support. He gambled that the war would justify itself, that we would go in fast and conquer fast and that the Iraqis would greet us with rice and the war would thus be self-justifying. That did not happen.

Thomas Friedman, NY Times columnist

4 )          The notion that liberation is truly the goal of American foreign policy has an overwhelming sense of falseness in the Arab and Islamic world. Why? Palestinians need liberation because they live under the most brutal occupation in the world. Israeli occupation forces have shot over 1% of the Palestinian population in just the last two years. That is the equivalent of over 2.8 million Americans. But liberation for Iraqis is seen as a priority?

Most quarters in favor of the war either ignore authentic political realities or apply fanciful notions that do not conform to genuine attitudes of the region. One cannot ignore the political environment of the region when the stated goal is to remake that environment. When liberation is seen as selective, with the most egregious violator Israel ignored, then no military victory can achieve the political agenda desired. It is manifestly idiotic to suggest other- wise. Arnuad de Borchgrave, Washington Times editor wrote:

Veteran Mideast observers cannot remember such unanimity among Arab public opinions against their do-nothing, pro-Western governments. No one sees the U.S. as a liberating force. America is already being equated with Israel as the colonial occupier. In Britain’s case, it is the ‘re-occupier’…There is a total disconnect between the Arab world and Washington.

Ignoring the disconnect between the Arab world and Washington or pretending that it does not exist will not yield a politically viable solution to the region. We may succeed in changing the regime. We may replace the Euro with the US dollar as the currency used for Iraqi oil. We may temporarily install a “western-friendly” government in Baghdad. Few people question whether there will be a military victory for the Anglo-American forces. But what seems almost certain; whatever military victory is to be had will not win the hearts and minds of the Arab and Muslim world.

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