by Zafar Bangash (Reflections, Crescent International Vol. 34, No. 6, Jumada' al-Akhirah, 1426)
America’s humiliation in Iraq has led some observers to describe it as another Vietnam. This is not quite accurate; the US’s Iraqi experience is much closer to the Russians’ in Afghanistan, with very similar outcomes, both positive and negative. Should the US military stay in Iraq extend for a decade or more, as did the Red Army’s in Afghanistan, there will perhaps be noUnited States left to return to, at least as far as its superpower pretensions are concerned. This is not just wishful thinking, although the world undoubtedly would be a far better place if the rogue superpower were cut down to size.
A number of factors have come together to make the demise of the US as a superpower inevitable. Politically, the US is more hated today than it has ever been in its entire history, despite the enormous sympathy for it in the aftermath of 9/11. Throughout the world it is viewed as an arrogant, greedy and oppressive power. Economically, the US faces a serious crisis. Its deficit of US$43 trillion (according to one commentator, a trillion dollars stacked in $1,000 bills would rise to a height of 109km) will increase further if the US does not drastically change its policies. By 2015, almost all US income will be consumed by four sectors: old-age security payments for the baby-boomer generation, medicare, defence, and interest on the burgeoning debt. Already the US needs a daily input of US$2 billion to keep it afloat. Although 64 percent of all foreign Central Banks’ reserves are still held in dollars, the euro has already attracted 20 percent of the world’s reserves since its introduction less than five years ago.
Let us examine the question of America’s collapse a little further. It has enormous destructive power, but its terrorizing effect lasts only as long as such power is not used; once it is unleashed, people quickly learn to deal with it. Take, for instance, the US’s plight in Afghanistan and Iraq, where its heavily armed forces have got a bloody nose at the hands of lightly armed guerrillas. American policy-makers had not imagined even in their wildest dreams that Iraq would turn out to be so difficult. US secretary of defence Donald Rumsfeld, the principal architect of the war policy, along with other senior neo-con figures, looks very agitated these days when reminded of the grim realities in Iraq, which has become a crucial theatre for resistance to US imperialism.
This is one aspect of the current situation. Another, more crucial question is whether the people of Iraq are capable of establishing a just order in their society once they are rid of the US. Unfortunately they have shown little sign of the kind of understanding and maturity that the situation demands. The Shi‘a majority view the resistance as Ba‘athist-inspired, and motivated by the desire to regain the power and influence they have lost as a result of the US invasion and occupation; the Sunnis see all Shi‘as as American collaborators. Both perceptions are wrong, but point to the dangers lurking ahead. Unless such mistrust is overcome, there will be much greater chaos in Iraq than has been seen so far, even after the Americans are driven out. There is no room for such faulty thinking in Iraq or anywhere else.
Muslims have a remarkable capacity for winning wars but losing the peace, as the Afghan experience has shown. No sooner had the Russians been driven out than the Afghans were at each others’ throats. A similar danger lurks in Iraq, with much more frightening consequences. The US will be defeated—no power has ever subdued an entire population—but what comes next is still a huge question mark. Although the Iraqis have no history of sectarian conflict, it is now growing strongly, with active encouragement from Uncle Sam. Also, the fragmentation of Iraq along ethnic lines is a distinct possibility, promoted by the US as part of its disruptive policy in case it fails to achieve its political and strategic objectives. Under Anglo-American occupation, there is already a de facto division of the country into an “autonomous Kurdish enclave” in the North, a “Shi‘a enclave” in the South and a “Sunni rump” in the middle. Unfortunately, the Kurds have historically allowed themselves to be used, first by the British, and now by the zionists and the Americans, to play the spoilers’ role. The Shi‘as appear to have fallen into a similar trap. Nobody should have any illusions about the sinister plans that the US-British occupiers have for Iraq and the region as a whole. Any fragmentation of Iraq will have grave consequences for the Ummah, which is still suffering the-ill effects of the division of the Middle East a century ago.
Muslims cannot afford to keep repeating the same mistakes again. Iraq remains a crucial test of whether the Ummah has learned anything at all from history.