In May of 2003, the American Special Envoy to Iraq, Paul Bremer
, announced the dissolution of the Iraqi Army. In doing so, he abandoned the original plan for the occupation of Iraq, which relied heavily on the premise that the Iraqi military would be co-opted and would assist us in maintaining security in the nation after Saddam was gone.
I and numerous other CIA officers had worked long and hard and with considerable success on the effort to co-opt the Iraqi military. We were effectively blindsided by Bremer's decision. In our view Iraq was akin to a pressure cooker from which the lid had been removed. Tribal and religious tensions kept under wraps by Saddam Hussein were now likely to boil over, and we did not have nearly enough troops on the ground to effectively manage the situation when that happened.
That did not matter to Bremer or, apparently, to the Bush Administration. They did not see Iraq as a fragile creation of foreign colonial powers. They did not see Iraq as a nation divided by ancient hatreds and blood feuds. They saw France 1944. We were liberators. We would be welcomed with open arms.
Thousands of Americans paid with their lives for that delusion. Many more will forever bear the scars of their wounds. And, as the events of the last few days have shown, we are continuing to pay the price for our insistence on seeing, not reality, but what we want to see in the Middle East.
From the beginning of the so-called "Arab Spring", the Obama Administration has clung to the fantasy that this was an uprising of people determined to rid themselves of despots and to create modern, democratic, secular societies in the pattern of Western civilization. Obama has likened the uprisings to America's own struggles for civil rights and to end slavery. He has described it as a struggle waged by individuals united by their desire to achieve greater personal freedom. He has explicitly cited parallels to the American Revolution.
"Sometimes in the course of history," said President Obama in May 2011, "The actions of ordinary citizens spark movements for change because they speak to a longing for freedom that has built up for years. In America, think of the defiance of those patriots in Boston who refused to pay taxes to a King, or the dignity of Rosa Parks as she sat courageously in her seat. So it was in Tunisia, as that vendor's act of desperation tapped into the frustration felt throughout the country."
The truth, of course, has always been quite a bit more complicated. The disparate revolutions of the Arab Spring were fueled by a variety of factors, some profound, some very basic. Certainly, some of the individuals who surged through the streets in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt were hoping for a more secular, democratic existence. Many others, however, were motivated simply by the price of food and their inability to make a living and support their families in increasingly dysfunctional economies.
Not a small number were motivated by what we would consider much darker motives. They were not bent on the creation of democratic societies. They were focused on the overthrow of despotic, but secular, regimes in order to further their own agenda of imposing fundamentalist Islamic rule.
Those forces, so long dismissed by the Obama Administration, have now been exposed to the light of day.
On Tuesday, September 11, 2012, protesters in Cairo, Egypt, organized reportedly by members of the ruling Muslim Brotherhood and the even more radical Salafists, scaled the walls of the US Embassy, tore down the US flag and replaced it with a black flag bearing the words,"There is no God but Allah and Mohammad is his messenger". This is the same black flag flown by radical Islamic terrorist groups around the world, including Al Qaeda. The American flag, after having been torn down, was shredded and burned.
Lewis Paul Bremer III (9-30-41, top right) is an American diplomat. He is most notable for his role as the Administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority of Iraq following the 2003 invasion. He served in this capacity from May 2003, until June 2004, effectively serving as Head of State of the internationally recognized government of Iraq. | Photo: Associated Press | Paul Bremer, Iraq, Diplomat, Coalition,
On the same day, a group of radical Islamists attacked the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya and a safehouse where diplomatic personnel were hiding. They set fire to the consulate building and murdered four employees of the US Embassy, including the Ambassador, Christopher Stevens
. Both attacks were apparently in response to reports regarding the release of a film in the United States, which disparaged the Prophet Muhammed.
The incident in Cairo and the attack in Benghazi are still under investigation, and it will likely take sometime before all the facts are known. This much is apparent at this juncture, however, the rosy, sentimental images of the "revolutions" in Libya and Egypt as being somehow parallel in spirit and intent to the American Revolution were nonsense. This is the Middle East, a region with no tradition of democratic rule. This is the Middle East, where violence, not the law, rules.
U.S. government officials now say the Benghazi attack may have been planned in advance and that members of a militant group calling itself Ansar al Sharia, Supporters of Islamic Law, may have been involved. Other reports suggest that the Al Qaeda's North African affiliate, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, may have been behind the attack. This may or may not prove to be the case, but if so, it should come as no surprise. We may have spent the last couple of years deluding ourselves into thinking that North Africa was turning into some sort of Middle Eastern Switzerland. Meanwhile, our enemies, of whom there are many, have been hard at work and plotting against us.
As of this writing, it appears that the violence in Libya and Egypt may be spreading to other Muslim nations. Angry demonstrators outside the US Embassy in Tunisia were dispersed on Wednesday with teargas. The same day large crowds gathered in front of the US Embassy in the Sudan, and in Morocco protesters burned American flags and chanted anti-American slogans in front of the consulate in Casablanca.
has vowed to track down the killers of Ambassador Stevens. He has directed that security be beefed up at US installations abroad, sent Marines to Tripoli and evacuated all US personnel from Benghazi. These are all responsible and prudent measures. A more pressing need, however, is for a sober reappraisal of this Administration's view of the world in general and of the Middle East in particular.
George Bush looked at Iraq and saw what he hoped to see, a nation yearning not just to be rid of Saddam but also to transform itself into a more just, democratic and inclusive society. He found out the hard way that Iraq was barely a nation, that it was deeply divided on sectarian lines and that it had no tradition at all of democratic rule or of settling disputes within the confines of civil society. He came as a self-proclaimed liberator and found himself in the middle of a bitter blood feud.
Barack Obama ridiculed the ineptitude of the Bush Administration in Iraq and then proceeded to fall victim to the same kind of delusion. He looked at the crowds filling the streets of Tripoli, Cairo and Tunis, and he saw what he hoped to see, echoes of civil rights marches, peace demonstrations and demands for a more inclusive, decent, tolerant society.
This is the Middle East. It is a region wracked by economic and political challenges, divided on tribal, ethnic and sectarian lines and under constant pressure from a relentless, militant, fundamentalist streak of Islam. In the Middle East, hope is not a plan. In the Middle East, wishful thinking kills.