Lunch with my old friend RK was really good. I’m so glad he’s back from Iraq safe and sound and not all mentally changed. We went to an Indian buffet near Fort Belvoir which was good (too damned good), but I still had a huge snack for “dinner” (empty calories) and blew my points. 😦
He was stationed in the International Zone (formerly the Green Zone) in Baghdad and his job was to help analyse the ability of US forces to pull out based on trends in violence. Apparently whenever there’s a violent incident, data on it are recorded (who we think did it [male suicide bomber, Shiite, Sunni, female suicide bomber] and obviously where and when it happened). He took that data and made sense of it by creating a program that plotted violence on a map over time, so you could start at say the beginning of the occupation and move through the days and years, watching the start when it wasn’t so bad, seeing the spike about a year later, and then a decline recently, either for all attacks by all attackers or by some subset thereof.
His work proved for example that although everyone thinks that things worsen during Ramadan, for a while now they don’t. That’s useful because if there is an incident during Ramadan, before his analysis, it would be interpreted wrongly as the start of something bad, troops would go into high alert, checkpoints would be more aggressive and such.
So what’s his odd theory? It’s that after 9/11, when we thought we would be fighting in Afghanistan, we were unhappy with it. In Afghanistan, we’d be fighting mainly with special forces in caves and sort of out of sight of the ‘Arab street.’ But casting an eye over the atlas, we found Iraq — it might have had WMD, it certainly had been and continued to be a problem for the international community, it is stuffed full of oil, and is is in the heart of the Arab/Muslim world; in many ways the heard of that world. Well, if we went there, destroyed the state apparatus, immiserated the population, and generally made things awful for a while, we’d send the message that “if you attack us, or allow anyone to attack us, this is what we can do” on television screens and quietly to leaders in the region. WMD and his cruelty merely served to camouflage the real reason – to frighten the entire region and to gain a base from which to frighten Syria, Iran and Russia specifically.
Seen in that light, it makes sense that we allowed chaos at first – we reduced the Iraqi population to gangs of theives and robbers, and then we ruined their prospects for a generation or more. No electricity, no water, no education, no real life…we said we wanted to improve their lives but (without any real animosity towards them) Iraqis’ suffering was a useful lesson for everyone else. We didn’t want to improve their lives, not at first at any rate, but we wanted to reduce them to a country of murderers and looters and to utterly destroy their dignity (dignity is very important in their culture), and we wanted it to be arbitrary (in that it was as they say at a time and place of their chosing) and of some duration (so that the message would sink in, deeply).
Of course it backfired. We won’t have a lovely Airstrip Iraq, but it did show that not only could we simply destroy a regime, but that we would then let the inhabitants of the country suffer and badly. That we knew Iraq wasn’t Germany after the second world war and that if you punch us we will kill you and your family and your neighours, just to make sure that their neighbours do not even think of punching us. Collective punishment a la Israel on the West Bank, only writ a thousand times as large.
Quite a bit to get your head around isn’t it? I’m sure Matus Valent would be shocked, but he’s too busy admiring his handsome face: