HUMINT: The High Road
AN ANALYTICAL JOURNEY FROM Saigon to Mogadishu to Baghdad
HUMINT: Let's start making some comparisons. Given the situation on the ground in Sadr city, Iraq, it looks and sounds worse than Mogadishu of October 2003 and in some ways worse than Saigon of 1968. What if we hadn't left Somali as we did? What if we hadn't left Vietnam as we did? What if an ounce of resolve in Somalia is worth a pound of resolve in Iraq today? What if a grain of resolve in Vietnam would be worth a ton of resolve in Iraq today? Although these rhetorical questions they sound like reasonable questions.
Realizing the level of national commitment to our Somalia conflict was of a pre 9-11-2001 American mindset, it had an entirely different context than Sadr city has today. But why? Had the battle of Mogadishu prompted a national awakening back then, and the country mobilized then, the crises we face today may not have come to pass. Had American leadership answered their call to duty at that critical time, and more national effort expended earlier, the crises we are facing today across the Middle East might not have expanded into a conflagration. The simplest logic suggests our subsequent engagements in the region would be less expensive in terms of our blood and our treasure had we acted with unity of purpose sooner. The reality is that we did not act sooner, the costs cannot be differed any longer and we must now do all that we were unwilling or unable to do before.
BAGHDAD, 25 November 2006 - Followers of the militant Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr took over state-run television Saturday to denounce the Iraqi government, label Sunnis "terrorists" and issue what appeared to many viewers as a call to arms. The two-hour broadcast from a community gathering in the heart of the Shiite militia stronghold of Sadr City included three members of al-Sadr's parliamentary bloc, who took questions from outraged residents demanding revenge for a series of car bombings that killed some 200 people Thursday. With Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki relegated to the sidelines, brazen Sunni-Shiite attacks continue unchecked despite a 24-hour curfew over Baghdad. --- Militia leaders told supporters Saturday to prepare for a fresh wave of incursions into Sunni neighborhoods that would begin as soon as the curfew ends Monday, according to Sadr City residents. Several members of the Mahdi Army boasted they were distributing police uniforms throughout Shiite neighborhoods to allow greater freedom of movement. The government announced it would partially lift the curfew Sunday to allow for pedestrian traffic.
There are a few revelations that these three paragraphs, in such close proximity, bring to my mind. We are indeed less safe than we were before the invasion and occupation of Iraq - but not because of the invasion and occupation, in spite of it. With the march of globalization, the irrepressible black market facilitated by failed states and sophisticated electronics - Americas enemies become more empowered by our own technology every day. Iraq was a failed state before the invasion and occupation and remains so to this day. Under Saddam Hussein, Iraq lacked the capacity to be anything other than a failed state. Although fragile, Iraq's new government represents an historical opportunity for Iraqis and the region. But none of those realities change the fact that an incompetent smattering of fools today represent a division of Viet Cong from the 1960s. The tactics and the terrain have changed remarkably. The culture and behavioral tolerance for the enemy in the Iraq war is very different. Al Sadr and his organization, outspoken enemies of the United States hold a number of seats in Iraq's parliament. Therefore, there is limited value in comparing the Iraq War (2003-Present, in the Middle East) to the Vietnam War (1965-1973, in South East Asia) except in terms of the differences. In terms of similarities - in all wars there is violent death and immeasurable dispare for a great number of heartbroken families.
One more prominent thing occurred to me when comparing Iraq to Vietnam. If the U.S. withdraws from Iraq how likely is there to be a repeat of the 1973 Arab Oil Embargo that crippled the U.S. economy making support for the government of South Vietnam more difficult? The embargo played a role in the eventual cessation of support for the government of South Vietnam and the people who had worked with Americans there. Withdrawing American presence in the region opens the U.S. to the same vulnerability we faced in 1973. As Iraqis stand up and Americans stand down, will the levers of power in the Middle East once again punish the United States, turn their back on the American people, who, by all accounts are addicted to oil? Considering Vietnam's economy remains lackluster the remnants of their animosity are not particularly threating to the United States. Not so with Iraq. Whoever or whatever leads Iraq will be the recipients of billions in oil revenue annually for decades to come. Can the United States afford a failed state, so adamant in its hatred for the United States, receive so much wealth and technology and presume the threat matrix would cool? Any reasoned prophecy based on a limited inspection of these three battles/situation should at least consider the above.
1973 ARAB OIL EMBARGO: The 1973 oil crisis first began on October 17, 1973 when the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC), consisting of the Arab members of OPEC plus Egypt and Syria, announced as a result of the ongoing Yom Kippur War, that they would no longer ship petroleum to nations that had supported Israel in its conflict with Syria and Egypt. This included the United States and its allies in Western Europe. About the same time, OPEC members agreed to use their leverage over the world price-setting mechanism for oil in order to quadruple world oil prices, after attempts at negotiation with the "Seven Sisters" earlier in the month failed. Due to the dependence of the industrialized world on OPEC oil, these price increases were dramatically inflationary to the economies of the targeted countries, while at the same time suppressive of economic activity. The targeted countries responded with a wide variety of new, and mostly permanent, initiatives to contain their further dependency.
Take the kid gloves off Mr. President.