RATTLING THE CAGE: Arabs killing Arabs

The civil war going on now in Iraq is America's and Britain's responsibility to stop.

iraq car bomb 298.88ap (photo credit: AP)
iraq car bomb 298.88ap
(photo credit: AP)
Finally, the war in Iraq has come into focus. After nearly three years of what seemed like swirling warfare, in which you couldn't figure out who was the ally and who the enemy, and you didn't know where this was all supposed to be heading, things have now fallen into place. Last week's destruction of a major Shi'ite shrine and the maddened Sunni-Shi'ite bloodshed that followed make it clear what the war in Iraq has turned into: a civil war between Arab Muslims, Shi'ites vs Sunnis. Furthermore, this is a civil war that appears out of control, certainly beyond the control of the hopelessly undermanned American and British armies over there. I can almost hear people cheering: "Hooray! The Arabs are slaughtering each other again! We've won! Bring the troops home!" Many of the people I imagine cheering loudest are those who pushed hardest for the war in the first place, including a lot of right-wing and even not-so-right-wing Israelis and Diaspora Jews, along with evangelical Christians who love Israel and hate Muslims. But they have lots of company; "Islamophobia" runs throughout the Western world. ONE PERSON I don't imagine to be cheering with this crowd is President Bush. For all his considerable faults, I don't think he's motivated by contempt for Arabs or Muslims at all. Instead, I think he mistakenly went to war for what he saw as America's security, and talked himself into believing it would end in peace, freedom and democracy for Iraqis because, as silly as this sounded, it was the only "exit strategy" anyone could come up with for the war. But now, for the first time, a real exit strategy has presented itself. If, until now, it seemed too dangerous for the US to pull its troops out of Iraq because this would embolden the forces out to destroy Western civilization, this danger seems to have lifted: The anti-Western forces fighting in Iraq have become totally preoccupied with destroying each other. The now-decisive Sunni-Shi'ite divide even puts the West's two most feared enemies, Iran (Shi'ite) and al-Qaida (Sunni), on opposite, warring sides. It likewise splits all other anti-Western belligerents in Iraq such as the Sunni insurgents and the Shi'ite army of Moqtada al-Sadr. THE INFLUENTIAL hawk Daniel Pipes, in his column in The Jerusalem Post and New York Sun this week, argued that America and its supporters needn't feel any guilt about the turn the war has taken. "Fixing Iraq is neither the coalition's responsibility nor its burden," he wrote. "Americans, Britons and others cannot be tasked with resolving Sunni-Shi'ite difficulties." And while he allowed that the unfolding civil war was a "humanitarian tragedy," Pipes listed several strategic benefits it offered the West, including safety: "[W]hen Sunni terrorists target Shi'ites and vice-versa, non-Muslims are less likely to be hurt." This is the "realpolitik" view of the war in Iraq, and I'm afraid it's going to spread like a fever. People are going to start saying, "Enough with this democracy, it's safe to get out of there now, so what are we waiting for?" And I'm afraid Bush, with his approval rating on the floor, with no clue of how to salvage the situation, and with the prospect of being branded by history as a reckless, incompetent failure, will be mighty tempted to grasp at this solution and speed up the withdrawal of troops. He might even see this newly arrived exit strategy as a godsend. As for the untold millions of innocent Sunnis and Shi'ites in Iraq and elsewhere who might get caught up in a religious war, I'm sure they would be in Bush's prayers. AND ALL the while, many of Bush's supporters, gentiles and Jews, would be taking satisfaction from all this Arab misery and the promise of much more to come. It could turn into another Iran-Iraq war, which killed hundreds of thousands of people in the 1980s, and which was welcomed by many right-wing and not-so-right-wing Jews as a distraction for Arab enmity that otherwise might be aimed at Israel. They also welcomed that war just for the simple pleasure of knowing that somewhere Arabs were killing each other en masse. The civil war now going on in Iraq, though, is a very different moral issue. If some people wanted to cheer on the Iran-Iraq war, that was their affliction, but the point is that the Iraqis and Iranians started that war themselves; nobody else had a responsibility to stop it. The civil war going on now in Iraq, however, is America's and Britain's responsibility to stop. America and Britain, backed enthusiastically by Israel, much of Diaspora Jewry and evangelical Christianity, decided to invade Iraq without any invitation. Regardless of George W. Bush's and Tony Blair's intentions, they initiated a war whose direct consequence was the current, open-ended murderousness between the Shi'ites and Sunnis. So America and Britain can't wash their hands of this, not if they want to go on being decent countries. They have to send however many troops and spend however much money it takes to contain the violence. I would also say that Israel and anybody who endorsed the war have a responsibility to give America and Britain at least moral support for this cause. As for those Jews and gentiles who cheered on the invasion and who will now be rooting for civil war, they're exempt from responsibility because they had no morality to begin with. America and Britain launched a war in the name of democracy and freedom for the Iraqi people. They can't abandon it now in the name of realpolitik, with an exit strategy that improves as the Iraqi civil war intensifies. It would be too evil to contemplate.