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American Diplomacy
Commentary and Analysis

May 2004

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The author has long experience in the Middle East and brings his insights to bear in consider-ing the wisdom of taking military action against Saddam's Iraq, as well as addressing the in-creasingly difficult problem of how to finish the task and disengage. He uses as his springboard-the recent editorial by this journal's editor. —Ed.

Iraq:  Our Honor, Humanity, and Self  Interest Re-quire That We Stay the Course

I very respectfully but profoundly disagree with Henry Mattox’s editorial "Iraq is a four letter word." [See Below] First of all I take exception to the concept that the United Nations is an answer to our problems in Iraq. The record of the UN in the Middle East is one of abject failure. It is viewed quite rightly as an enemy by Israel and contemptuously by Arabs.

From 1948 till now is has a record of unmitigated mismanagement and ineptness. Nothing is more indicative of that than the bad joke known as UNIFIL in south Lebanon which sucked money from the UN for years, and other than providing a means of Christian girls to escape the oppressive rule of Hezbollah by marrying UNIFIL soldiers it has done nothing. In fact from a Middle East perspective the only difference between the UN and the League of Nations is the vastly more expensive price tag and pervasive corruption endemic as illustrated by the Oil for Food program in Iraq.

Now it wishes to compound that legacy of failure by sending Lakhdar Brahimi to Iraq as a special envoy. He is seen by the majority Shias as a representative of a detested Sunni Arab nationalist ideology. To all the Shia, whether followers of Al-Sadr or Al-Sistani, the real enemy is Sunni Arab nationalism. That was the mantra of the hated Saddam regime. His gratuitous anti-Israeli blather carries no weight in Iraq. The Shia and the Kurds are far more worried about the re-emergence of Sunni Arab nationalism. I received a number of emails from my Iraqi contacts expressing their dismay over this ill-considered appointment.

I might add here that the miracle of email and cell phones has kept me in touch with my Iraqi friend as well as many of my former officer students in Iraq. This freedom of thought offered by cell phones and email….unheard of just 12 months ago is one of the many miracles of the new Iraq. Why do the gurus tend to overlook something which has become almost part of the Iraqi social fabric? One of the main reasons is that our academic "experts" haven’t been to Iraq in decades and depend on mostly superficial and shoddy journalism to provide them with ammunition for their mostly ideological oriented opinions. The vast majority of the reporting on the present situation is basically recycled, with journalists reporting what each other says, with all the shallow facets of pack journalism, harmonics of earlier reporting, and with no small amount of calculation to turn the war into an anti-Bush campaign issue. The situation right now is not good, but there is no one who can say at this point how this will play out

I have no problem in confessing to an emotional attachment to the people of Iraq. I grew to like them very much in my two trips to Iraq. I worked with some of the most intelligent, sensitive, and perceptive people I have ever known. I have been in every Arab country except Libya and have spent a good part of nearly 40 years in and out of the Arab world and have never met Arabs I respected more, or felt greater affinity for, than the Iraqis I worked with. The have many of the frustrating attributes of Arab society in general; the conspiracy complexes, the propensity to blame others for problems of their own making, the volatility of their emotions, the substitution of bombast for reason, but nevertheless they are a talented complex people who have survived one of the most calculatedly cruel regimes of modern history. They are a people beaten down, living in an escapist world of fantasies, and western movies. Now the reality is here and they are not ready to confront it. But confront it they must…but only if we are there to hold their feet to the fire. Otherwise they will retreat back into the womb of the Arab comfort zone of political Islam, anti-imperialism and anti-Zionism…the same old shibboleths which have been used as the opium of the masses by their corrupt and venal leaders for decades.

For over a decade we have been involved in what is erroneously called a "war on terrorism". It is not a war on terrorism. It is a war against the newest form of totalitarianism called radical Islamism. For several decades we have been fighting single alligators as they emerged from the swamp know as the Arab world. Even before 9/11 many hundreds of American citizens had died at the hands of various groups emerging from the swamp. They were known as PFLP, PDFLP, ANO, Black September, etc. They killed Americans simply because they were Americans. Now we have a far more dangerous movement, based on racial bigotry, and the sort of hatred espoused by the fascists, with the mind control of the communists, but parading with a cloak of religion. They have captured the imagination of the aimless, disaffected, half-educated youth and have intimidated or corrupted much of the religious leadership in the Arab countries (and elsewhere). Promoted by leaders who are carefully trying to channel these destructive energies into anti American movements so as to divert attention from their own hapless regimes, they pour fuel on the flames of this nihilistic, chimera of some new found Arab glory.

Going into Iraq, WMD aside, was an attempt to get at the source of this dysfunctional, self-destructive society. Rather than react as each alligator emerges from the swamp in ever-greater frequency, we are trying to change the entire environment. As over 90% of the Iraqis admit in a recent survey, they could not have overturned Saddam by themselves.

These very bright and friendly people have been abused by their leaders, lied to by their media… a media bought, as we know the case was with Saddam Hussein, and have been burdened with a corrupted class of intellectuals who have over the years prostituted themselves for recognition or money, all the while doing the bidding of various regimes. What could be more indicative of that than the rivers of crocodile tears shed for the plight of the Palestinian, with absolute silence on the decades of atrocities by Saddam Hussein and his campaign of genocide against the Marsh Arabs and the Kurds. As I have written before, every one who would walk away from Iraq today should pay a visit to Halabjah. In fact it would be a good idea if many of our academics and the Arab journalists are forced to visit the town, much as we forced the Nazis to view their handiwork at the various concentration camps after WWII.

I know something about these Islamist radicals. I worked with one for a number of months. The infamous Sergeant Ali Mohamed (now in prison for his part in the bombings of American embassies in Africa) worked with me at Ft Bragg. I listened to his rants and half-baked ramblings for months. Summoned by subpoena as an unwilling defense witness during the 1995 World trade center bombing conspiracy trial I listened carefully to the lawyer for the Islamist murderer Elie Nosair as he brilliantly delved into the warped minds of people like the blind sheikh Abdul Rahman. They are not content with simply defending the House of Peace (the Islamic world). As Ali frequently stated, the world will never be secure until the House of War (that’s us folks) is absorbed by the House of Peace. In short they are coming after us. Islamic terror has not been increased by the war in Iraq. On the contrary we have made the logical choice to make the priority battlefield there rather than here.

They, of course, see us as Bin Laden has stated on numerous occasions, as a weak effete people, soft and easily intimidated. Our cutting bait and running from Beirut and Somalia has made this part of Islamist folklore. No doubt with the encouragement of the disgraceful flight of the Spanish from Iraq, he or his many wannabes, will attempt similar attacks here. This is not a war that can be staved off by accommodation or fine tuning gestures pertaining to our policy toward the Arab –Israeli conflict. Nor can it be stemmed by a little wealth redistribution. In fact it is oblivious to these Western ideas.

No doubt the Spaniards will find to their chagrin that the Islamist objective to reconquer their land and reinstitute the Ommayad empire, will remain the primary objective…long after the last coalition soldier has departed Iraq. As any sentient political scientist can tell you, the appetite, particularly of totalitarian movements, grows by what it feeds upon.

Should we precipitously withdraw from Iraq we will witness a crescendo of attacks upon our own people in our seemingly secure land. Exultant Islamic radicals, energized by their victory, and the theatre of great deeds so well described by Eric Hoffer in his book The True Believer will carry the war to our shores.

Despite all the problems, grave mistakes on our part, misjudgments, facile assumptions, inadequate preparation, and military unpreparedness for this kind of war, we did the right thing to invade, and we are doing the right thing by staying. Our honor, our humanity and compassion for a suffering people demand no less of us as the great world power and the still the only true beacon for hope. I think of all the thousands of Iraqis, especially the many I know, who see us as their last hope, and many more who risk their lives every day (and a substantial number who have already given their lives) to work with us for a better future. How can we desert these people? Do we want another rooftop evacuation like Saigon? Could we look at ourselves in the mirror in the morning without nausea?

There is little doubt now, given the stakes involved…the survival of the despotic Arab and Iranian regimes….that money, support and encouragement will be offered by these regimes to keep Iraq unstable and in perpetual conflict. It will be a bloody emergence of a new form of government. But a new and better form will emerge.

I was and remain an optimist. Given what I hope is the grit of the American people to stay the course, Iraq will emerge to break the cycle of endless conflict and the downward spiral of the Arab world. Perhaps it is instructive to note that in a recent survey of American military personnel conducted by the military sociologist Charles Moskos, far more soldiers see our intervention in Iraq as more useful than any other intervention of the recent past, including Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, etc. Moreover, despite all the casualties and difficulties of dealing with the Iraqis, more soldiers have a positive view of the people than those with a negative one. The fact remains that there is far more optimism for a successful outcome among the Iraqis and American soldiers than those of the media illuminati or academic community.


Norvell "Tex" De Atkine served eight years in Lebanon, Jordan, and Egypt (in addition to extensive combat service in Vietnam). A West Pointer, he holds a graduate degree in Arab studies from the American University of Beirut. Currently he teaches at the JFK Special Warfare School at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina.

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