by Zafar Bangash (Reflections, Crescent International Vol. 34, No. 11, Rabi' al-Awwal, 1427)
America has been so decisively defeated in Iraq that no amount of verbal sophistry by US president George Bush or his neocon allies can hoodwink the American people into believing otherwise. The cabal operating as the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), which led the chorus for “perpetual war” and “full-spectrum dominance”, appears to have gone into permanent hibernation. Richard Perle, a leading architect of the Project's policy, who led the push for war against Iraq before March 2003, is now deafeningly silent. The cabal is now in full-spectrum retreat, although defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld and vice president Dick Cheney continue to pretend that they are not losing the war. Rumsfeld in particular remains prone to uttering colourful but meaningless phrases. After Saddam Husain’s overthrow, he described the resistance as a “slight uptake in violence” and insisted it came only from “Ba’thist dead-enders”. But no-one is taken in any more.
While Bush continues to repeat the mantra about “winning the war,” and insisting that US troops cannot be withdrawn until the Iraqi security forces are capable of controlling the situation, his commanders face a very different reality on the ground. Quoting a US military officer, Paul Krugman wrote in his column in the New York Times (November 21), “either we lose the war and destroy the military or we just lose the war”. Psychological defeat often precedes physical defeat; this is what has happened to the US occupation forces in Iraq, regardless of when the “withdrawal” comes. In fact, the people of the region would be better served if US forces were prevented from withdrawing soon, to ensure their total defeat.
Whatever the ultimate shape of America’s defeat, it has enormous implications for the Muslim world. A militarily defeated, politically traumatized and economically bankrupt US will not venture into other lands in a hurry. A rogue superpower cut down to size would also greatly please the oppressed peoples of the world. The US’s defeat, however, is not enough; Muslims need to plan for a post-US imperial world in which they take control of their own destiny. This is the greater challenge facing us. It serves little purpose merely to hate the US; creating a better future out of the chaos is more important, because Muslims have repeatedly failed to grasp the opportunity offered by victory, as happened in Afghanistan.
Muslims need to plan for a post-US imperial world in which they take control of their own destiny. This is the greater challenge facing us. It serves little purpose merely to hate the US; creating a better future out of the chaos is more important, because Muslims have repeatedly failed to grasp the opportunity offered by victory, as happened in Afghanistan.
Although it will be decades before Iraq recovers from American-inflicted destruction, there are enormous opportunities for both the Islamic movement and the Islamic State of Iran in this emerging scenario. As the leading edge of the movement, Iran must reach out to all parts of the movement to create a better future for the Ummah. To achieve this, it must recognise that the Shi’is in Iraq are working in diametrical opposition to the larger interests of the Ummah. It is ironic to see the Shi’as of Iraq working in tandem with the US, even as it does everything in its power to destroy the first Islamic state of our times, a state achieved through the vision and sacrifice of the Shi’is of Iran. Like so many Muslims the world over, they evidently cannot grasp that the US cannot be both a friend and an enemy of the Muslims.
Of course, the defeat of the US does not mean the end of imperialism, particularly if that defeat comes at the hands of Muslims. China, Russia, the European Union and even India are all waiting to capitalize on the US’s misfortune. The question is, will Muslims allow the fruits of their victory to be picked by others? Muslims are on the threshold of an opportunity to rearrange the entire landscape of the Middle East, but achieving this will require hikmah (wisdom), clear thinking and the avoidance of major traps, not least those of sectarianism, tribalism and nationalism. All are present in Iraq, as elsewhere, and can be exploited by the US and its allies to keep Muslims divided, even after the Americans are driven out. Let there be no mistake about it: ultimately Muslims themselves must bear the responsibility for the consequences of falling into this trap. Time and again over the last century, Muslims have succumbed to petty temptations, ignoring long-term goals and objectives. Often, there was not even a short-term benefit, as we witnessed when Arab tribal chiefs became willing instruments for the destruction of the Ottoman khilafah, only to be divided along tribal lines by the wily British and French, resulting in a century of subjugation and humiliation.
It would be disastrous if Iraq were simply to emerge, after all the sacrifices of recent years, as yet another secular Arab nation-state, like Egypt, Syria or Saudi Arabia. For the sacrifices of the Iraqi people to be justified, it must become a genuine Islamic state, free from the clutches of the West, as well as the petty interests of sectarianism and tribalism. It requires hikmah to understand this; there is no room for tribalism, sectarianism, nationalism or other jahili traits in the struggle ahead. Nobody should harbour any illusions that it will be easy; the struggle for the supremacy of Islam has never been easy. The defeat of the external enemies of the Ummah is only the beginning of the process of total change in Iraqi society. It is only when people show total commitment, taqwa and constancy that Allah grants them victory.