FRESNO, CA -- They say disasters happen in slo-mo, and Iraq has been as slow and predictable as a Super Bowl match-up between ice and sunlight, melting into a big bloody mess. That gives plenty of time for the geniuses who started the mess to come up with new excuses. But after a while - say three years - excuses aren't satisfying enough, and they want something a little more aggressive, something that sticks to the ribs, some kind of Hungry-Man dinners for disasters. Chunky Soups for fiascos. So now Cheney's office has come up with a recipe for a new, finger-lickin' good Middle East.
Their idea is pretty simple: you just admit that Iraq has blown up into a mess, claim you always meant to do it that way, and then smile at the camera and say, "Just look what a great set of ingredients we've now got scattered all over the kitchen! Gosh-golly, let's make something great out of all this! Grab those intestines off the ceiling, gimme that hunk of thigh off the wall-clock, and toss that gob of smoking skull off the sink! Let's get cookin'!"
Step one is chopping up Iraq into three pieces - the P-word, "partition." It's got a kind of sense to it: if the Sunni, Shia and Kurds can't stop killing each other, let's just give each group its own little tribal homeland.
The reason Bush's people haven't latched onto this idea sooner is that they're supposed to be creating a free, democratic Iraq and it doesn't look good to break the place down into tribal homelands when you've gone around promising to make Iraq the Jeffersonian Democracy of the Middle East. But things are so bad now that nobody in the administration can afford to worry about PR problems like that any more. Torture killings are now officially the national sport of Iraq. When somebody gets out a power drill in Baghdad, nobody thinks Home Improvement. Instead, I hear Black & Decker is getting its own volume in the next edition of Jane's Weapons Systems.
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There's just one little problem with splitting Iraq into three nice little homelands: Iran. If you smash Saddam Hussein's united Iraq, you've destroyed the one army in the region that could have held the Iranians in check. If you go in after that and replace a united Iraq with three little ethnic states, you've just made a big sandbox for the Persians to play in. They can easily destabilize all three of the Iraqi statelets; in fact, the biggest, the Shia Iraqi statelet, won't even need to be stabilized. It'll side with Iran every time against the Sunnis. It won't have a choice.
Iran is the problem with the whole Iraqi adventure. It's like nobody who planned this war even thought about Iran, even noticed there's that big scary country just to the east of the place we're going to go invade and Mall-of-Americanize. So far, Iran has been the big winner in this war, and they haven't fired a shot or lost a man. Pretty incredible. Makes me dizzy to think of it, makes me wonder if Cheney isn't actually a mole parachuted into Wyoming a while back by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Must've taken months of electrolysis, but hey, those Iranian fanatics were willing to charge into minefields in the Iran-Iraq War; stands to reason one of them could put up with getting his back-hairs zapped and even having to live with that smartass Mrs. Cheney and their dyke daughter. It's the only thing that makes sense: Cheney has "Product of Iran" all over his DNA.
Because we've been doing the Persian Empire's dirty work for it from the moment we took out Saddam. What is it with these supposedly patriotic types always sucking up to Iran? In the late 80s it was Ollie North bringing them cakes, Bibles, and Hawk AA missiles on behalf of Ronald Reagan; now it's Bush and Cheney actually going to war to destroy the Persians' one local rival and leave Tehran in total control of the Persian Gulf. And now, by way of fixing the mess, we're going to make Iranian dominance permanent by splitting up every other state in the Middle East.
See, that's the beauty of Cheney's new plan: it doesn't stop at Iraq. The idea is to divide up every state in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia gets split into a Shia state on the Persian Gulf (where all the oil is), a "Sacred State" with Mecca and Medina, and someplace that ought to be called The Republic of Leftover Sand, with Riyadh and not much else. Lebanon turns into teeny, ethnically pure neighborhood states for Christians, Sunni, Shia and maybe Mormons. Yep, turns out all that Lebanese unity was a danger to the region, we've gotta go in there and break the place up a little more.
The really great thing about the plan is that it rewards America's long-term allies by totally destroying their borders. Turkey, the one country that stuck with us through all sorts of idiotic mistakes, gets rewarded for loyalty by having the eastern third of the Anatolian Peninsula lopped off and handed over to an independent Kurdistan. If you're a Turkish military planner, you must be jumping for joy over that one.
You may be wondering at this point, is Cheney insane? Well yeah, he is, but there's a kind of idiot's logic behind his insanity. You know how they talk about "a method in his madness"? And you know how every time somebody says that about anyone you know, you actually think to yourself, "yeah fine, but method or no method, he's still crazy and an idiot"? It's like that.
Y'see, our leaders have finally figured out that there's this Sunni/Shia split in Islam. I mean that literally: they've just figured out that there IS a split. Bush didn't even know about it, according to some Iraqi exiles who talked to him before the invasion. Well, all it took to get the Administration's attention focused like a laser beam on the Sunni/Shia family feud was a mere three years of chaos, half a million mangled Iraqi bodies, and two zillion IEDs. Minds like steel traps, these guys. Or lead fishing weights anyway - soft and heavy.
Even now, I don't think most people see why the Shia/Sunni split should matter to anybody. It's like, OK, they have a fight over the Caliphate way back when - so what? Can't they all get along, like the man said?
Simplest way to understand it is think about how religion plays out in a place you actually know. Take Europe: the Europeans used to have religious wars all the time, pretty serious ones like the Thirty Years War - a third of the population of Germany wiped out - right up till Europe stopped having religion. And those wars weren't really all about dry theological stuff like what Jesus' middle name was, or what color the priest's collar had to be. On the ground, religious hate like that always translates into tribal hate about sex and hygiene and how those people smell.
Even in California, where it's pretty calm in terms of religious wars, I grew up hearing Brother Art talk about Catholics - "Romans" he called them - worshipping idols and having too many kids and being generally Mexican and dirty. That was the main thing: they smelled, didn't have showers. Come to think of it, Shia are kind of like Islamic Catholic types: stay-behind, ignorant people with too many kids, no money, weird gaudy ways of making religion. That Shia festival where they slash themselves, whip themselves, try to get attention in the street by bleeding on law-abiding hardworking Sunni - it's a lot the way we thought about Catholics. Of course sometime back in the fifties American Catholics turned into just another batch of white people, cleaned up and got on the pill, but that never happened to Shia. For the Sunni, Shia are like rats, swarming up out of the sewers unless you keep them down every minute.
That's the real hate that keeps the power drills and suicide Plymouths powered up in Baghdad. The Sunni who blow themselves up in Shia markets see themselves as pest exterminators for God, cleaning up the neighborhood one bomb at a time. Truth is, it's not hard to understand how a suicide bomber thinks; a lot easier than understanding how an accountant thinks, if you ask me.
And now Cheney's bright boys have suddenly decided that they no longer side with the Shia (the "majority") and instead to agree with the Sunni - even though it's Sunni Iraqis who've been killing our soldiers for the past three years, and even though they only make up 20% of the population. One thing about neocons, you'll never find them losing sleep over the deaths of American soldiers. They're totally willing to forgive all the Sunni bombers, because it's just dawned on them that these Sunni dudes are right: those dirty black-wearing self-slashing Shia are getting way too powerful. Shia rule Iran and they're the majority in Iraq (60% of the population). And hey, what about Hezbollah in Lebanon?
Shia! Total Shia! And they're all getting uppity at the same time!
This is where you want to grab Cheney by the throat and say, "That's because you took out Saddam, who kept the Shia in line, you idiot!" But it's no use. You might as well try to do missionary work on that little brain dinosaurs used to carry in their tails. Those brains work on their own time, and they swing a big spike. Only thing you can do is just get out of the way.
So now they're thinking - real, real slow - "Duh, Shia too strong now. Huh! Us better give lotta billion dollars to...duh, to other guy who no like Shia!"
And that, friends, is why the US government is now in the business of funding radical Sunni groups from Lebanon to Afghanistan. If it's Sunni, we'll fund it. If it promises to kill Shia, we're for it. Of course, Al Qaeda itself fits the bill that way, so would we fund them? Probably, according to a recent article by Seymour Hersh.
Supposedly we're already funding the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria, and they're kissing cousins with Al Q. We're annoyed with Syria for being next door to Lebanon - those durn pesky maps! - so we're funding the beheaders, just because they don't like the Syrian regime. And because the Israelis keep thinking that if they convince us to fuck Lebanon up even more, somehow it'll be to their advantage. I swear, the Israelis seem to be on a crusade to disprove stereotypes. In their first years the Israelis disproved the stereotypes about Jews being wimps; since then they've been working overtime to disprove the one about Jews being smart. They haven't been right about anything in 20 years, but Bush and Cheney keep betting on them.
The idea behind all this weirdness, if you can even call it an idea, is that we'll keep breaking up Middle Eastern states till we've got a map the old-time British Empire could love, made up totally of little ethnically-pure states we can easily bribe or terrorize. And best of all, these little states will have most of the oil. The Persian oil fields are mostly along the Gulf coast, so we'll detach them from Persia and link them up with the Iraqi Shia state. Shouldn't be a problem turning a little place like that into a US protectorate.
Brilliant, except no matter how you try to Balkanize the region, there are some ethnic realities in the way. Like, once again, Iran. Iran is a stable, powerful state with one overwhelmingly dominant ethnic group. They might not like it if you tried to detach their oil fields, and they could send in hundreds of thousands of troops to register their disapproval. And we'd counter with what? It's not like we can go to war with Iran. If we could, we'd already have done it.
Every dog in the gutters of Tehran knows we don't have the manpower to attack Iran. Bomb it, sure. But bombs won't do the job; even Cheney knows that. (I think.) If we manage to break the Middle East up into little Balkan states, we get a lot of chaos and an even more powerful Iran. There's that word again: Iran. It's like nobody in Cheney's office can hear that word. You want to say it at them all night, lie under the bed whispering it at them: Iran, Iran, Iran. Except I don't know if my patriotism actually goes that far, lying under that wedded-bliss bed all night. I'm willing to die for my country, but there's worse things than dying. Somebody else, a way finer man than me, needs to spend the night under the Veep's bed whispering, "Iran! Your homeland is calling, Cheney! Go back to Tehran where you belong!"