[Marxism] Wallerstein: The Firestorm Ahead

John E. Norem jnorem at cox.net
Tue Sep 1 05:29:41 MDT 2009

"The Firestorm Ahead"

There is a firestorm ahead in the Middle East for which neither the U.S. 
government nor the U.S. public is prepared. They seem scarcely aware how 
close it is on the horizon or how ferocious it will be. The U.S. 
government (and therefore almost inevitably the U.S. public) is deluding 
itself massively about its capacity to handle the situation in terms of 
its stated objectives. The storm will go from Iraq to Afghanistan to 
Pakistan to Israel/Palestine, and in the classic expression "it will 
spread like wildfire."

Let us start with Iraq. The United States has signed a Status of Forces 
Agreement (SOFA) with Iraq, which went into effect on July 1. It 
provided for turning over internal security to the Iraqi government and, 
in theory, essentially restricting U.S. forces to their bases and to 
some limited role in training Iraqi troops. Some of the wording of this 
agreement is ambiguous. Deliberately so, since that was the only way 
both sides would sign it.

Even the first months of operation show how poorly this agreement is 
operating. The Iraqi forces have been interpreting it very strictly, 
formally forbidding both joint patrols and also any unilateral U.S. 
military actions without prior detailed clearance with the government. 
It has gotten to the point that Iraqi forces are stopping U.S. forces 
from passing checkpoints with supplies during daytime hours.

The U.S. forces have been chafing. They have tried to interpret the 
clause guaranteeing them the right of self-defense far more loosely than 
the Iraqi forces want. They are pointing to the upturn in violence in 
Iraq and therefore implicitly to the incapacity of Iraqi forces to 
guarantee order.

The general commanding the U.S. forces, Ray Odierno, is obviously 
extremely unhappy and is patently scheming to find excuses to 
reestablish a direct U.S. role. Recently, he met with Prime Minister 
Nouri al-Maliki of Iraq and President Masoud Barzani of the Kurdish 
Regional Government. Odierno sought to persuade them to permit 
tripartite (Iraqi/Kurdish/American) joint patrols in Mosul and other 
areas of northern Iraq, in order to prevent or minimize violence. They 
politely agreed to consider his proposal. Unfortunately for Odierno, his 
plan would require a formal revision of the SOFA agreement.

Originally, there was supposed to be a referendum in the beginning of 
July on popular approval of the SOFA agreement. The United States was 
afraid of losing the vote, which would have meant that /all/ U.S. forces 
would have had to be out of Iraq by Dec. 31, 2010, one full year earlier 
than the theoretical date in the SOFA agreement.

The United States thought it was very clever in persuading al-Maliki to 
postpone this referendum to January 2010. Now it will be held in 
conjunction with the national elections. In the national elections, 
everyone will be seeking to obtain votes. No one is going to be 
campaigning in favor of a "yes" vote on the referendum. Lest this be in 
any doubt, al-Maliki is submitting a project to the Iraqi parliament 
that will permit a simple majority of "no" votes to annul the agreement. 
There will be a majority of "no" votes. There may even be an 
overwhelming majority of "no" votes. Odierno should be packing his bags 
now. I'll bet he still has the illusion that he can avoid the onset of 
the firestorm. He can't.

What will happen next? At the present, but this may change between now 
and January, it looks like al-Maliki will win the election. He will do 
this by becoming the number one champion of Iraqi nationalism. He will 
make deals with all and sundry on this basis. Iraqi nationalism at the 
moment doesn't have much to do with Iran or Saudi Arabia or Israel or 
Russia. It means first of all liberating Iraq from the last vestiges of 
U.S. colonial rule, which is how almost all Iraqis define what they have 
been living under since 2003.

Will there be internal violence in Iraq? Probably, though possibly less 
than Odierno and others expect. But so what? Iraqi "liberation" - which 
is what the entire Middle East will interpret a "no" vote on the 
referendum to be - will immediately have a great impact on Afghanistan. 
There people will say, if the Iraqis can do it, so can we.

Of course, the situation in Afghanistan is different, very different, 
from that of Iraq. But look at what is going on now with the elections 
in Afghanistan. We have a government put into power to contain and 
destroy the Taliban. The Taliban have turned out to be more tenacious 
and militarily effective than any one seemed ever to anticipate. Even 
the tough U.S. commander there, Stanley McChrystal, has recognized that. 
The U.S. military is now talking of "succeeding" in perhaps a decade. 
Soldiers who think they have a decade to win a war against insurgents 
have clearly not been reading military history.

Notice the Afghan politicians themselves. Three leading candidates for 
the presidency, including President Hamid Karzai, debated on television 
the current internal war. They agreed on one thing. There must be some 
kind of political negotiations with the Taliban. They differed on the 
details. The U.S. (and NATO) forces are there ostensibly to destroy the 
Taliban. And the leading Afghan politicians are debating how to come to 
political terms with them. There is a serious disjuncture here of 
appreciation of realities, or perhaps of political objectives.

The polls - for what they are worth - are showing that the majority of 
Afghans want the NATO forces to leave and the majority of U.S. voters 
want the same thing. Now look ahead to January 2010, when the Iraqis 
vote the United States out of Iraq. Remember that, before the Taliban 
came to power, the country was the site of fierce and ruthless fighting 
among competing warlords, each with different ethnic bases, to control 
the country.

The United States was actually relieved when the Pakistani-backed 
Taliban took power. Order at last. There turned out to be a minor 
problem. The Taliban were serious about sharia and friendly to the 
emergent al-Qaeda. So, after 9/11, the United States, with west European 
approval and United Nations sanction, invaded. The Taliban were ousted 
from power - for a little while.

What will happen now? The Afghans will probably revert to the nasty 
continuing inter-ethnic wars of the warlords, with the Taliban just one 
more faction. The U.S. public's tolerance for that war will evaporate 
entirely. All the internal factions and many of the neighbors (Russia, 
Iran, India, and Pakistan) will remain to fight over the pieces.

And then stage three - Pakistan. Pakistan is another complicated 
situation. But none of the players there trust the United States. And 
the polls there show that the Pakistani public thinks that the greatest 
danger to Pakistan is the United States, and that by an overwhelming 
vote. The traditional enemy, India, is far behind the United States in 
the polls. When Afghanistan crumbles into a full-fledged civil war, the 
Pakistani army will be very busy supporting the Taliban. They cannot 
support the Taliban in Afghanistan while fighting them in Pakistan. They 
will no longer be able to accept U.S. drones bombing in Pakistan.

So then comes stage four of the firestorm - Israel/Palestine. The Arab 
world will observe the collapse of U.S. projects in Iraq, Afghanistan, 
and Pakistan. The U.S. project in Israel/Palestine is a peace deal 
between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The Israelis are not going to 
budge an inch. But neither now, and especially after the rest of the 
firestorm, are the Palestinians. The one consequence will be the 
enormous pressure that other Arab states will put upon Fatah and Hamas 
to join forces. This will be over Mahmoud Abbas's dead body - which 
might literally be the case.

The whole Obama program will have gone up in flames. And the Republicans 
will make hay with it. They will call U.S. defeat in the Middle East 
"betrayal" and it is obvious now that there is a large group inside the 
United States very receptive to such a theme.

One either anticipates firestorms and does something useful, or one gets 
swept up in them.

by Immanuel Wallerstein

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