Yesterday, when my friend told me about the latest U.S. plan for combatting the insurgency in Iraq , I assumed she was joking. It sounded just like something the Onion would have published. But she was not kidding!
In an effort to counter the violence and influence of insurgents, “US commanders on the ground have been authorised and encouraged to enter into truces and agreements with local Sunni factions wherever possible, even if they are suspected of using arms against US forces in the past.”
Hmmm . . .
Sounds like a classic case of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend.” Now don’t get me wrong, I’m open to new and innovative ways of solving the Iraq debacle but this isn’t exactly the kind of original thinking that’s going to fix that mess. In fact . . . hang on . . . I’m getting a vague sense of déjà vu. It’s almost as if the U.S. has tried something very similar before. But where . . . ?
Of course!!! How could I forget. Afghanistan!! During the Soviet invasion of that country (1979–89), the U.S. supported the “Mujahideen,” who included the Taliban and the “Afghan Arabs.” This latter group counted among their number the then-obscure scion of a powerful Saudi family who went by the name of Osama. No prizes for guessing what his family name was. At the time, the Soviet Union was our enemy so their enemies in Afghanistan were automatically our friends. It’s a simple matter of logic.
Then there was Iran. The 1979 Islamic Revolution saw the overthrow of Shah Reza Pahlavi and the siezure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran. Enter Saddam Hussein, the erstwhile leader of Iraq who, in 1980, decided to attack his Iranian neighbors. Armed and supplied by the U.S. and other Western countries, Saddam spent eight years battling Iran while Western countries supported one or the other side, and sometimes both simultaneously. It’s a gross understatement to say there was much death and destruction on both sides.
Flash forward to this latest U.S. plan. In Iraq, tribal sheikhs are pledging to “police” their own territories against domestic insurgents and foreign elements linked to al-Qaeda. Certainly, some of the facts in this case are indisputable. It’s obviously a fact that the insurgents and al-Qaeda elements in Iraq are our enemy. It’s also a fact that many tribal leaders are now opposing these insurgents’ violent attacks against their territories.
The best part of the latest arrangement is that the U.S. is prepared “to empower and arm Sunni Arab tribes and factions” in exchange for a “plegde” from these tribes and factions that they will “resist outside militants like al-Qaeda.” Sounds pretty straightforward to me! If the sheikhs promise to be our friends, that must mean they are our friends, right?
But with the benefit of hindsight, aren’t we being a bit naive to assume that tribal sheikhs will stay on our side because they are our enemy’s enemy. I say not at all!! I mean, they did make us a promise after all, right?
What’s that saying about people who don’t remember history being doomed to something or other? Let’s hope history chooses not to repeat itself this time around.