How do you win as a referee
In a game among three
Rabid teams amid screams of “foul”
And combat of tooth and jowl
With Shiia, Sunni and Kurd
Without becoming absurd?
As I look at the war in Iraq and listen to the spin that we are winning, I am stunned by the absurdity of speaking of a fourth party “winning” a civil war, but maybe it is our addiction to sports analogies. Sports analogies make war friendlier and they enable the average white male to grasp the basics of Waging War 101.
Football is the current AOC (Analogy of Choice) as we build up to the Super Bowl and recover from the BCS Bowl. It conjures up the image of two gallant teams, well coached and identified by crisp uniforms, rules and cheering sections encouraged by cheerleaders. Unfortunately, the civil war in Iraq is among three major factions divided on religious and ethnic lines as well as myriad splinter groups with long held tribal and economic or other grudges. More interesting, we have assigned ourselves the role of referee sometimes granting decisions one way and then another depending on how we see the play. It is inconceivable to explain to the average white male that we have a contest where it is likely that nobody wins and especially, that the referee cannot win.
As I write this, I am fully aware that our losses in Iraq have taken a sharp downturn in the last year. That is a good thing. But to invert the words of General Douglas MacArthur, are we “sowing the seeds of defeat that we will reap on other fields on other days?” What have we done to assist or encourage reconciliation in land renown for revenge?
During the reign of the venerable lord and plenipotentiary Paul Bremer, the United States disbanded the entire Iraqi Army to enforce restriction of Baathists in the government. Recall that the Baathists were the ruling class that had virtually all the Iraqi administrative experience as well as the clout of Sadam Hussein behind them. In their place we put…nothing, initially. Later when we realized that the Sunni Baathists did not like our referee’s call on de-Baathification and they recruited and fielded a large team of insurgents, we looked to the many Shiia militias to counter that move.
What is happening now to reduce the bloodletting in Iraq? Surely, you acknowledge the use of “special teams” as the way to stem the violence. We need to force some turnovers! One special team is the “surge” of an additional 30,000 troops. Let’s hear it for the surge! Another special team is the Sunni night watchmen that we have stood up as the Sunni insurgency stood down. Incidentally, that pre-dates the surge by a few months. We pay these Sunnis $10 per day to watch out for their own villages and right now that is working. We are also arming these Sunnis so that they can defend their villages from Shiia militia. Let me pose a question or two. What if another referee, say Saudi Arabia or Syria, etc. found a way to finance these same Sunni groups at $12.50 per day. Would they stay “loyal” to us or would they jump for a 25% raise. Recall that Saudis financed the attacks on 9/11/2001 and that Saudi Arabia adjoins Iraq. Are we arming Sunnis to reduce long term casualties or Saudi investment?
Don’t let the spin make you dizzy. This land has a history of betrayal and we have done nothing to change that. Let us enjoy the respite in casualties, but be wary of the analogy that we are ”winning.” The only way to win this civil war is to be on one of the three major sides, but recall again that we are only the referee. And, maybe we should dump this sports analogy entirely because it simply makes no sense. In fact the only analogy that makes sense is probably that of General W.T. Sherman as he burned his way through Georgia. “War is Hell.”
8 January 2008