Dec 09, 2023
Dec 09, 2023
The American teenager game of chicken involves two immature machos in a battle of dare. They get into their cars at opposite ends of a long straight road and drive straight at each other vowing not to swerve. The one who swerves first, loses. There is nothing gained by winning except reputation and if a crash occurs the payoff is negative in damage to the bodies of the car and the occupants. Ego and legacy are important enough to national leaders that they routinely commit this folly as Truman in Korea and Johnson and Nixon in Vietnam prove. In the case of Iraq, there is a positive payoff of massive oil resources but the Iraqi parliament is neither as stupid nor as susceptible to bribery and arm twisting as the US administration foolishly believes.
There are some SCIRI and DAWA leaders who have visited the White House and endorsed the legal looting of Iraq's oil wealth by a new oil law, but the shrewd Sadr followers, the Sunni insurgents, Baathists and now even the Kurds have publicly opposed the passage of an oil law which allows Western Multinationals de facto control of the Iraqi oilfields. The Iraqi Parliament has decided to take a two month recess beginning in July and has yet to pass any legislation whatsoever. This means that Bush whose main reason to occupy Iraq was its oil will not get any result till September 2007, by which time the mounting casualties and the disenchanted electorate and the Democrats will be clamoring for withdrawal at any cost.
In the game of chicken, one extreme strategy to intimidate the opponent is for one contestant is to unscrew his steering wheel and throw it out of his car window in a manner that is conspicuously noticed by the spectators and the other contestant. This serves notice to all that he cannot and will not swerve and if the opponent pursues the same intent, he had better be prepared to crash. This is what the insurgency has done by its terror tactics of suicide bombers. At that point it becomes clear that one of the contestants has gone beyond rationality and the assumption that the contest is a test of guts between two machos who wish to survive, goes out of the window.
The standard counterinsurgency manuals prescribe overwhelming firepower, oil-spot approach of clearing areas of insurgents and holding them and steadily and gradually enlarging the oil-spot, till the entire territory is decontaminated. The insurgents are aware of the marked disparity in firepower and thus resort to asymmetric warfare by IEDs, mortars and RPGs at the time and place of their choosing. The hit and run tactics, as expected lead to indiscriminate shooting and bombing by the US troops with anger, frustration and fear. The resultant collateral damage to non-combatants, incarceration and abusive treatment of innocent civilians and suspected detainees sow greater hatred, which counters the oil-spot strategy and increases recruitment for the terrorists. The problem is compounded by the US troops inability to speak Arabic and their ignorance of local culture and insensitivity to it. Add to that, the mounting garbage and sewage in the country, the inadequate supply of potable water, electricity, education, healthcare, jobs and basic security due to the incompetence of the US administration and its corrupt security and construction contractors, and there is not the slightest hope of winning the hearts and minds of the occupied Iraqis.
The myriad sins of the US policies in the Middle East and the Horn of Africa reinforce the impression of hostility to Islam and provide a fertile soil for seeds of Jihad to flourish. The ability of the insurgents to follow Mao's dictum of being fish camouflaged in a school of indistinguishable fellow creatures leads to indiscriminate and collective punishment strategy which only feeds the conflagration. It would seem that the US has learnt no lessons from the French experience in Algeria and Vietnam and its own debacle in Vietnam, where quarantines and massive firepower failed. The Israeli failure in Palestine despite walls is being repeated in Baghdad. India's stalemate in Kashmir is a good example of massive troop strength and firepower only leading to a stalemate when faced with porous borders, fanatic suicidal infiltrating terrorists and a population where they can mingle without standing out and which has some sympathy for them and their cause. Russia's plight in Chechnya is another example.
The much quoted success of the British in Malaya is a bogus example. Most of the communist insurgents were ethnic Chinese who could be easily distinguished apart from the native Malays who had no great sympathy for the insurgents or their cause. Furthermore the US is fighting in a distant and foreign land while the insurgents are Arabs in their native territory. The US has to incur enormous logistics expenditure to supply and support its troops in the style they are accustomed to and cannot feed them bread, dates, lentils and lamb. The US population has a low tolerance for casualties and political leaders are answerable to it, while the insurgents love death. The inability of the US to capture major Al Qaeeda leaders despite bounties of millions of dollars offered for them should alert any thinking intelligence or policy maven to the remarkably strong loyalty of their followers and adherents who do not operate on time constraints and are waiting to use their new found expertise from Iraq in Afghanistan.
Israel has tried blackmail and bribery successfully in recruiting Palestinian spies. Those tactics have failed the US in Iraq and Afghanistan. Another policy that Israel has resorted to is sowing discord by supporting Hezbollah and Hamas in the past. These have led to worse blowbacks. It was Indira Gandhi's use of similar tactics that led to the Khalistan and Kashmir insurgencies. Currently the US is trying to play the same game in Iraq and Iran by dividing the Sunnis and Shias and inciting Baluchis, Azerbaijanis, Kurds and Khuzistan Arabs and possibly the MEK (in Iran) to fragment the country, oblivious to what blowbacks may occur in Turkey, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The reputation and credibility of the US in the world including its allies has suffered grievous damage. The consequences are visible and worsening in Latin America, as well as in Russia and China. The sinking of the Indo-US civilian nuclear treaty will sour those relations. Bush's poodle in UK is being put out to pasture. Spain and Italy have alighted from the train and Germany is waiting near the exit. The only hope of better relations are with France if Sarkozy is elected.
More by : Gaurang Bhatt, MD