Who Is Responsible for the Mess in Mesopotamia?
by Stephen Schwartz
Thomas Donnelly has pointed out one of many dissonant elements in mainstream media (MSM) coverage of the Iraq war. On Sunday, July 8, The New York Times editorial page stridently called for the U.S. to "leave Iraq, without any more delay than the Pentagon needs to organize an orderly exit."
But the main news story in the paper's "Week in Review," which also includes the editorials, was by the veteran war correspondent John Burns, who described an Iraqi situation that would hardly support such a posture. U.S.-led Coalition forces have succeeded in liberating the city of Ramadi, in Sunni-dominated Anbar province, from Al-Qaida, a year after Marine Corps intelligence assumed Ramadi was lost. Burns reports that an alliance between the Coalition and Arab Sunni enemies of Al-Qaida "has all but ended the fighting in Ramadi and recast the city as a symbol of hope that the tide of war may yet be reversed to favor the Americans and their Iraqi allies."
This is a rather extraordinary example of MSM confusion. American commentators and politicos, forming up in a cut-and-run chorus, spout various defeatist clichés while the possibility of a Coalition victory in Mesopotamia remains present. Among the arguments for abandonment of Iraq, we are told that combat victories will somehow fail to bring about political stability. It is also claimed that retreat from Iraq will increase American authority with Iraq's leaders - a Democratic party fantasy. Like a similar group of Beltway-based counselors for ethnic relocation in or from Iraq, some believe that the inevitable storms of fire and blood that would follow American flight from Baghdad would somehow be preferable to "slow-motion ethnic and religious cleansing."
According to that way of thinking, permanent resettlement of refugees, presumably with Arab Sunnis relocated to Kuwait or Saudi Arabia, is an acceptable means to short-term peace, a goal supposedly preferable to long-term freedom in the region. Such was the same logic that many Americans and Europeans applied to the Bosnian war, and while the Dayton Accords of 1995 ended armed conflict, they left Bosnia-Hercegovina divided and drastically weakened, rewarding Serbian aggression in the same way that a sudden U.S.-led exit from Iraq would aggrandize Al-Qaida beyond all prediction.
Nobody in the West wants to say aloud what every Muslim knows: a U.S. retreat from Iraq would be projected by Al-Qaida to the world as equivalent to the Russian defeat in Afghanistan - as a divine indication that the West is prostrate and about to collapse. To think that the flow of blood in Gaza, in Britain, and elsewhere in both the Muslim and Western countries would not widen and deepen is absurd. Of course America does not rest on shaky foundations like those of Soviet Communism and is not going to disintegrate. But an extended twilight of fear and horror is hardly a preferable alternative.
Donnelly derives two useful lessons from the contradiction in the pages of the NYT. One is that defection of the Sunni sheikhs from an alliance with Al-Qaida, following a major Coalition offensive in Anbar, demonstrates a principle observable throughout history, in all times and places: victory brings peace.
The second reflects Burns' observation of an encounter between Lt. Gen Raymond Odierno, Coalition second-in-command, and an ordinary Iraqi who declared, "America good! Al-Qaida bad!" Donnelly concludes, "Apparently, this is a war that's easier to see face to face than from afar." But that has been true since the Spanish civil war of the 1930s; it was true in Nicaragua in the 1980s and in ex-Yugoslavia a decade later. As I have repeatedly declared, the war experienced by the Iraqis is so different from that discussed inside the Beltway that we can speak of two different, distinct, and disconnected Iraq wars.
But while both of Donnelly's observations are correct, a further discrepancy in MSM reporting is visible, and one should need not go all the way to Iraq to discern it, just as one did not need to travel to Spain, Nicaragua, or the Balkans to grasp the battles between good and evil that occurred there. The other "Iraq gap" involves the continued reluctance of Westerners to acknowledge the main identity of the foreign Sunni radicals who have so quickly alienated themselves from Iraqi Arab Sunnis. Melding the phraseology used by a wide range of media, everyone seems to agree that the Arab Sunnis in Anbar have turned against semi-anonymous Islamic "extremists," whose "rigid" or "severe" interpretation of Sunnism is oppressive to ordinary Iraqi Arab Sunnis.
The Sunni radicals have a name. They are Wahhabis and they are backed by a powerful faction within Saudi Arabia, Iraq's southern neighbor. The MSM continues to dance around a reality that has been visible since the Coalition took Fallujah in late 2004 - almost three years ago [see here.] As I wrote then on TCSDaily, Fallujans had turned against the Arab Sunni extremists who invaded their city and "set up a Taliban-style dictatorship, in which women who did not cover their entire bodies, people listening to music, and members of spiritual Sufi orders... were subject to torture and execution... [The radicals] were financed, recruited, and otherwise encouraged by Wahhabism, the state religion in Saudi Arabia."
The missing truth in the MSM about Ramadi is the same as that in Fallujah, and although habitually elided from Western reporting, it is known to Muslims, if they pay attention to Iraqi events. The Sunnis of Anbar, both sheikhs and ordinary folk, deeply resent the attempted imposition of an extreme Sunni order on them and are prepared to conciliate with Iraqi Shias and cooperate with the U.S.-led coalition to prevent it from happening.
Why do Westerners remain so reticent about Wahhabism and its Saudi backers? In almost six years since the atrocities of September 11, 2001 - the entry of the Wahhabis, a once-marginal Islamic sect, into the central stream of world-historical events - Muslims who had talked about Wahhabism for decades have watched as the MSM adopted the idioms the Saudi-Wahhabis use to disguise their intentions. The world has been told there is no such thing as Wahhabism, only Islam - the standard Saudi line; that Wahhabis refuse the label (untrue); that the correct term is "Salafis" (also untrue, since Wahhabis call themselves "Salafis" only as camouflage, for the same reason Stalinists called themselves "progressives").
Considerable effort has also been made to avoid naming the Saudi nationality of most of the "foreign fighters" in Iraq. Yet even Saudi prince Nayef ibn Abd al-Aziz, who is closest to the Wahhabi clerics in the kingdom, last month warned Saudis, in a television interview captured by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), "Brother, are you aware that your sons who go to Iraq are used only for bombings? They are the ones who carry out the bombings. It is not just me who says this, but also the Iraqi officials, including the Iraqi interior ministers that I have met... The Saudis are brought [to Iraq] in order to carry out bombings. Either they strap on explosives belts and blow up in public places, or else they drive a car, crash into some place, and blow it up."
Wahhabism and its Saudi royal patrons are caught in an extremely difficult situation. The monarchical system can no longer function in its habitual way; Saudi subjects are increasingly unwilling to live in the old way. The Wahhabi terror offensive is failing in Iraq, notwithstanding the launch of a global terrorist counter-offensive aimed at such weak spots as the Balkans, while also visible in repeat terror in Britain. Even Prince Nayef, who would prefer to hew to the jihadist line, is forced to admit that the burning house next door in Iraq threatens the stability of the Saudi kingdom. Nayef meets with the Iraqi interior minister, Jawad al-Bulani, a Shia Muslim and therefore a representative of an Islamic tradition long subject to nothing but insult and degradation from Nayef's clerical clients.
The split between the Anbar Sunnis and Wahhabi interlopers can best be used by Coalition forces if an immediate and urgent U.S. diplomatic effort calls on Saudi King Abdullah to break definitively with the Wahhabi ideological structure, particularly the clerics who preach and recruit for terror in Iraq. We might then see the end of frivolous MSM speculation, vaguely stated, that Saudi Arabia will add its weight to the demands of Arab Sunni radicals, or that the Saudi state, which historically mistreated Palestinian and Kuwaiti refugees, would accept an inhumane solution based on a "population transfer," opening its borders to displaced Arab Sunnis from Iraq.
It is considered impolite by many Americans to suggest that Al-Qaida in Iraq takes comfort in the antiwar acrobatics of American public figures, but why should such courtesy also be extended to the Saudi financiers of terrorism? How did the "W" word come to be effectively banned? Why do more journalists and other public figures not simply come out and explain the meaning and role of Wahhabism to the American people? Wahhabism is neither as appealing to Westerners as Communism once was, or as accomplished at manipulation of the public as Nazism. Saudi-financed extremism is the simplest thing in the Muslim world to explain, to contend with, and even to refute - as millions of moderate Muslims know.