An American Identity Crisis in a Losing War

"The Iraq syndrome is headed our way," writes Ira Chernus. "A clear and growing majority of Americans now tell pollsters that that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was a mistake, that it's a bad idea to 'surge' more troops into Baghdad, that we need a definite timeline for removing all our troops. The nation seems to be remembering a lesson of the Vietnam War: We can't get security by sending military power abroad. Every time we try to control another country by force of arms, we only end up more troubled and less secure. But the Iraq syndrome is a two-edged sword, and there is no telling which way it will cut in the end. Remember the 'Vietnam syndrome,' which made its appearance soon after the actual war ended in defeat. It did restrain our appetite for military interventions overseas - but only briefly. By the late 1970s, it had already begun to boomerang. Conservatives denounced the syndrome as evidence of a paralyzing, Vietnam-induced surrender to national weakness. Their cries of alarm stimulated broad public support for an endless military build-up and, of course, yet more imperial interventions. The very idea of such a 'syndrome' implied that what the Vietnam War had devastated was not so much the Vietnamese or their ruined land as the traumatized American psyche. As a concept, it served to mask, if not obliterate, many of the realities of the actual war."

Politics created the Shi'a-Sunni split, not theology

"Religion, sometimes, is a continuation of politics by other means. Growing Shi'a-Sunni tensions in the Middle East provide further proof this is so," writes Jon B. Alterman in a new report. "Politics, not theology, was at the root of the Shi'a-Sunni split to start with. The Prophet Muhammad was both a religious and political leader, and he left no clear heir. Shi'a argued that leadership should be reserved to members of the Prophet Muhammad's family. Sunnis argued that it should be the most capable among the leadership, regardless of parentage. Doctrinal differences have emerged since having to do with things - such as the assessment of charitable responsibilities, inheritance laws, the position of one's hands during prayer, and other practical issues - but those differences came after the schism. Politics created the Shi'a-Sunni split, not theology."

Security Conference Produces Statements, Draws Mortars, Brings Little Hope

The security conference held last Saturday in Baghdad produced statements, drew mortar fire, and brought little hope of security. The conference attended by representatives from 13 countries including Syria, Iran and the United States was held inside the heavily fortified "green zone" in central Baghdad. Representatives from Iraq's six neighboring countries (Iran, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Kuwait and Syria) and delegates from the five permanent UN Security Council countries (the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France) were present along with several Arab representatives. Iraqi President Jalal Talibani was reported to have observed the conference on video from his bed at the al-Hussein Medical City in Amman, Jordan. International media were invited to show that the meeting was intent on bringing security to Iraq. That plan backfired after mortar shells landed within 50 meters of the conference center, shattering glass panes in the building.

Iraqi returnees find it difficult to resume their old lives

Ali Tofiq, 29, didn't want to leave Iraq for Syria, but he felt he had no other option. He hoped to start a new life with his family - but things did not go according to plan. A former army officer, Tofiq lost his job when the army was dissolved in 2003 and became a taxi driver. In March last year, he sold his car and all his family furniture to scrape together the money to take his wife and four children to Syria. However, nine months after emigrating, he was still without a job. He had run out of money and felt he had no choice but to return home to Iraq. Since he cannot afford to rent a house of his own, Tofiq and his family live with his parents in al-Ilam in eastern Baghdad. Their only source of income is Tofiq's meager pension of 55 US dollars a month. Over the past year, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi families have fled to escape the sectarian violence that has engulfed the country. According to the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR, around 1.8 million Iraqis have left the country since 2003 and around 1.6 million have been internally displaced. The majority have settled in Syria and Jordan.

Kurds Fear a New War

The fragile quiet in this no-man's-land is broken by a young fighter shooting into the air at a regular morning ceremony to "commemorate martyrs". The firing is more than ceremonial. A new threat of war is looming in this mountain range in the north of Iraq, cutting into Turkey and Iran. All three countries have large Kurdish populations, and the governments of all three are worried about a Kurdish uprising for a separate homeland. Only in Iraq do Kurds have an autonomous region of their own. Over the past few months Turkey and Iran have been threatening to sweep positions held by the Kurdistan Workers' Party of Turkey (PKK) off these mountains. They accuse the PKK of launching cross-border operations from Iraq's soil into Turkey and Iran. The PKK announced unilateral ceasefire Oct. 1 last year, symbolically on world peace day, but it was rejected by the Turkish government.

End of Cowboy Diplomacy, Part II?

It was just nine months ago when Newsweek spoke for the conventional wisdom at that moment when it pronounced "The End of Cowboy Diplomacy". The phrase signaled the apparent victory -- at last -- of the State Department-led "realist" wing over hawks led by Vice President Dick Cheney and then-Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld in gaining control over the foreign policy of President George W. Bush. One month later, however, war broke out between Lebanon's Hezbollah and Israel, and the hawks, particularly neo-conservatives around Cheney and Rumsfeld, enjoyed a strong resurgence. Bush not only spurned the pleas of Washington's European and Arab allies to press the Jewish state for a ceasefire, but his top Middle East aide, Elliott Abrams, reportedly encouraged it to expand the war into Syria, much to the horror of both his State Department colleagues and his Israeli interlocutors.


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