[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
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 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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