And They Call This Guy a Scholar??!? - 04.10.2006

On the anniversary of the occupation, the Washington Post published an editorial by Caleb Carr, a professor at Bard College. I have to say that today I am ashamed to hold a joint undergraduate degree through Simon’s Rock and Bard Colleges.

Carr’s editorial, titled, “Let Them Have Their Civil War” has to be one of the most reactionary pieces of “Orientalism” I’ve read in recent days concerning Iraq.

Before I tear into Carr, here’s some commentary from Juan Cole:

But Iraq is not like the US in the 1860s. It is an industrialized, modern country floating in modern armaments. A million or more people could die in such a war, and millions be displaced. For another thing, Iraq unlike the US is not a virtual island. It is deeply imbricated in social, religious, political and economic relations among Saudi Arabia, Iran, Jordan, Turkey, etc. That is, a civil war in Iraq won’t stay a purely Iraqi affair. If Shiites are massacred and look as though they may lose, Iran will come in on their side. Likewise the Saudis will fund a defense of the Sunni Arabs, and the vast Sunni Arab hinterland gives them strategic depth. And, a Kurdish massacre of Turkmen, if that happened in Kirkuk, would certainly bring in the Turkish government.

Not only would an Iraq civil war not stay in Iraq, it would not leave the world unscathed. A regional guerrilla war with pipeline sabotage could take 15% of the world petroleum production off the market. If you don’t know that the total production is 85-86 million barrels a day, and don’t know what Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq and Kuwait produce and export of that, you shouldn’t be prescribing civil war in the region.

Carr begins his piece a tthe misleading entrance:

Does the United States have any right to forcibly stop such a war, when and if it begins?

Before I go on, let’s be clear. Entering the debate at this point ignores the far more fundamental question, “Did the United States have the right to forcibly eject Saddam in what was apparently a war of aggression?” or “Did the United States have the right to establish a Vichy-style twenty-five member governing council during its occupation of Iraq?” or lastly, “Did the United States have the right to foment sectarian and ethnic tensions because it was in such a rush to establish a “democracy” that it failed to adequately navigate the delicate ethno-sectarian balance of Iraqi politics?”

Against that framework, I’d like to analyze Carr, who clearly ignores that framework, apparently in favor of believing that we should accept “the current reality” and that somehow the steps leading to the current reality in Iraq are completely divorced from the current situation.

Carr suggests that an important element for rallying support from outside forces can often include “some high motivating moral principle.” Apparently Carr doesn’t feel that resistance to an occupation borne of a “war of aggression” accounts for this. I guess he should explain to the rebels of the French Resistance that, had it not been for other un-defined occurrences in WWII, we had no “moral principle” for helping them fight the Nazi occupation. Perhaps Carr should tell that to the framers of the Geneva IV Convention, set up to further define the rights of civilians under occupation in war, feeling that the Hague Convention of 1907 was no longer enough protection.

According to Carr,

one of the insurgency’s glaring deficiencies has always been its lack of a coherent ideological rallying point for all Iraqis. Its aim, by contrast, has been simple: the return to power of the Sunni Muslim minority that held sway under Saddam Hussein, or, failing that, the kind of endless anarchy that will make any other government’s rule impossible.

Apparently Carr is not particularly educated about the specifics of the resistance vs. the insurgency in Iraq. First and foremost, he needs to understand that there was not a “Sunni Muslim minority that held sway under Saddam Hussein” there was a party establishment that held sway, some members of which were Shi’a, and many of whom were Sunni. Certainly there are well known to have been many Sunnis oppressed by Saddam also.

Furthermore, if Carr is suggesting that the “insurgency” is only intending to defend the Ba’ath Regime in Iraq, then he should properly label them as a representative of the remnants of Saddam’s army, and thus the legitimate combatants against the United States’ invasion of Iraq.

Were Carr to make this distinction, he would be presenting the type of nuanced understanding of Iraq that he clearly lacks. He further demonstrates his ignorance of Iraq in the latter half of the very same paragraph:

Although an Iraqi National Assembly and executive branch have been created and elected, the assembly has met only once and briefly, and Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jafari is widely viewed as ineffectual and corrupt.

While this is a minor point, and perhaps Carr’s letter was submitted after the fact, the parliament met for its third time on the day his letter was published. The result of ignoring the United State’s role in creating divisiveness between Iraq’s government factions becomes deadly apparent as Carr continues.

Thus, all the courage that went into organizing and carrying out Iraqi elections would seem to have produced a government unworthy of the sacrifices made to bring it into being. The resulting frustration is clear in the words and increasingly deadly actions of many Iraqis who appear to be giving up on a political solution to their country’s problems. This means mainly the once-persecuted Shiites (who are showing dangerous signs of splintering into fighting sub-factions) and Kurds.

These “deadly actions” are being carried out by individuals directly supplied by the US and its allies. The Shi’a “militias,” particularly the Badr Organization, are directly tied to the SCIRI and Badr parties in the United Iraqi Alliance. Thus, you can only be confused about the nature of “their civil war” if, like Carr, you are confused about who has supplied and supported the rise to power of the political parties backed by these militias.

Furthermore, given Carr’s apparent belief that the “insurgents” consist entirely of remnants of Saddam’s regime, then the reason that

The insurgents do not want their people seduced into participating in the new Iraq,

is obvious: they don’t believe there IS a legitimate “new Iraq.”

At this point Carr diverges into a discussion of his own opinion of the specifics of America’s Civil War, but before that, he askes a question that demonstrates ignorance in epic proportions:

Are we morally justified in trying to prevent it?

Obviously whether or not we are “morally justified” to prevent it, should be considered in direct proportions with our responsibility for causing it. This does not mean that US soldiers need to be the “boots on the ground” for establishing the kind of rapprochement between Iraq’s diverse communities that was established for a short time between Iraq and its neighbor Iran. It does mean that the United States should consider itself immediately responsible for fostering a solution, however that might be found.

Lastly, Carr alleges that the US is keeping the Shi’a and Kurdish forces at bay, and failing to prevent Sunni violence. This appears dangerously out of touch when one considers that, while violence is still apparent in Sunni areas, even Ambassador Khalilzad admits that the violence of our allies, Shi’as and Kurds is now outstripping that of either the Resistance or Insurgency.


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