Readers Journal
Readers Essays

What's for Dinner
at Your House?

This month's recipes
pizza dough, pasta salad, Caesar Salad, Kofta

Popular Essays
Some reader favorites

Short stories and excerpts--free

Featured Books

World Made by Hand
by James Howard Kunstler

Before You Take that Pill: Why the Drug Industry May Be Bad for Your Health
Dr. J. Douglas Bremner, M.D.

Greed, Fraud & Ignorance: A Subprime Insider's Look at the Mortgage Collapse
Richard Bitner

Planet of Slums
Mike Davis

Featured Films

Coup de Torchon
(1981, Bertrand Tavernier, recommended by Don E.)

Yesterday, Today And Tomorrow (1964, Vittorio de Sica)

Confidentially Yours (1983, Francois Truffaut)

More book/film suggestions

Hundreds of essays on dozens of topics:

search my site:

powered by crawl-it


Readers Journal archives:



Readers' essays, poems and commentary inexpensive, healthy meal ideas still attracting readers over 400 recommended books and films free stories and novel excerpts

The Fulcrum of the Mideast

May 19, 2008

Readers have asked me to address the war in Iraq. Here goes--again. I have long questioned the entire "war on the cheap while the homefront goes shopping" basis of the war, as reflected in these essays from 2004, 2005 and 2006:

Katrina, Vietnam, Iraq: National Purpose, National Sacrifice

American Chickenhawks: Your Congress

Is This a Nation at War?

A Nation in Denial

Hawaii National Guard: An Unfair Deployment

This is not Vietnam

First, let's start with a map of the mideast:

Here are my semi-random observations. These are offered not with any claim of expertise but as a fellow citizen deeply perplexed by the immense lack of information and the immense complexity of the situation in Iraq and Afganistan.

1. The strategic value of Iraq and Afghanistan is rather obvious. If you want to control or influence the mideast, then by all means take the center, Iraq; and if you want to extend your influence all the way to China, Pakistan, Russia and India, then take Afghanistan, too.

Even as someone who sees the war as a catastrophe I am awed by the sheer ambition of the war's planners and respectful of the strategic implications of how it plays out from here.

A cursory glance at the map offers a staggering array of strategic advantages to controlling or influencing Iraq and Afghanistan. Even to an amateur these pop off the map:

  • you divide troublemakers Syria and Iran, collaborators despite Syria being Sunni and Iran being Shi'ite
  • you sit astride two great rivers in a parched landscape.
  • you can easily project military power into Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iran, Jordan and Kuwait, and threaten Russia's southern flank and Egypt.
  • your can also fill the airwaves of all these surrounding nations with disruptive ideas/propaganda like freedom of the press, individual liberty, economic opportunity, etc.-- dangerous ideas to the surrounding kleptocracies/oligarchies.
  • you sandwich Iran between Afghanistan and Iraq.
  • your land forces are within easy range of air support from the US Navy in the Persian Gulf, Arabian Sea and the Mediterranean Sea, not to mention long-range air power from bases in Europe, Diego Garcia and the U.S. mainland.
  • Afghanistan is central to "the Stans" and shares a small border with China.
  • even if you do nothing, you unsettle everyone around you because you hold the strategic aces of location, power projection, etc.
  • 2. We know about the oil, but what else is in play strategically? It's about the oil, of course, but beyond that observation lies a wealth of other factors, such as denying that oil to others who you might want to influence. Just choke off the Straits of Hormuz and a world of leverage suddenly opens up.

    The general assumption is that the U.S. is vulnerable to Iran shutting that chokepoint, but what happens if Iranian tankers bound for China get stopped? Who gets hurt then? Certainly not the U.S. The chokepoints work in all kinds of directions.

    If Bernard Lewis is basically correct ( What Went Wrong?: The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East ) and that Islam in the mideast is fundamentally struggling to accommodate/make peace with modernity via its proxy, the West, then influencing events in the mideast is more than just influencing what happens to the oil under the sand.

    This is the "war" as framed by Osama bin Ladin and others, and it can be argued that even if the U.S. didn't need a single drop of mideast oil it still has a strategic interest in aiding the mideast's accommodation of modernism, if for no other reason than to avoid the consequences of an attempt to re-live the 14th century (just ask the young people of Iran how that's working out for them) and the fantasies of a global Caliphate astride the entire planet.

    3. The cultures of Iraq and Afghanistan are very different from ours. What the civilian war planners needed was not military planners but anthropologists who were deeply knowledgeable about the cultures, history and mindsets of those peoples who find themeselves within arbitrary national borders imposed by the British (and before them, by the Ottoman Empire).

    Tribal loyalties, so central to both those cultures, have no analog in our society. So how could we possibly expect to understand how those societies work?

    Since these peoples had rebelled against the Ottomans and the British, what did we expect? When various groups are shoved into a politically expedient amalgam not of their own choosing, the sorting out of borders, loyalties, shared resources, etc. will take a great deal of time and negotiation.

    4. Iraq was ruled for decades by a brutal dictatorship, and Afghanistan has been in semi-permanent war/chaos for decades. It's difficult for us to grasp the psychological damage done to people living in such dysfunctional, terrorized insecurity. In Iraq, tens of thousands of the best and brightest were taken out and murdered by Saddam's ruling elite; tens of thousands of young men were killed in a long, senseless war with Iran, and then thousands more were offered up as cannon-fodder when Saddam dared the U.S. to re-take Kuwait.

    The humiliations, indignities, losses, resentments and injustices endured by the Kurds and Shi'ites at the hands of Saddam's ruling Sunni elites is beyond our understanding, as is the Sunnis' desire not to suffer the same fate, i.e. be under the thumb of the Shi'ites

    The damage done to people who survived dictatorships, war and chaos cannot be undone in a few years. Rebuilding a civil society will take decades, and that's with the best of intentions and global support being made available.

    5. The information we have access to is partial, incomplete and biased by ignorance. Personally, the only information I trust is that provided by the U.S. Army and Marine officers tasked with actual combat and "civilian relations" on the ground-- lieutenants and captains--and the rare independent journalists who are reporting from largely forgotten provinces in the north (Kurd-controlled) and the Shi'ite-controlled south.

    Having read as widely as I can--and again, I am just another concerned citizen, not an expert--I think the most accurate way to understand the U.S. Military in Iraq is to see the forces on the ground as the Iraqis see them: as another tribe you have to deal with, a tribe that is blundering at times, extremely lethal and therefore useful to have as an ally at times.

    If there are any successes in the war--and to be fair, there are some--they come when a boots-on-the-ground U.S. commander (say, a captain) establishes a personal connection with a local tribal leader or council of leaders. Is this the path to Iraq-wide peace? Nobody would claim that, but if a town or city or neighborhood gets more secure, then that's progress.

    Would things get worse for these towns and neighborhoods if the U.S. forces pulled out? It is highly likely that the answer is, whether we like it or not, yes in many cases. Who is qualified to make that assessment? Obviously, it's the tribal leaders and the U.S. captains. Nobody else's opinions are worth much, in my view, because they're not based on actual experience.

    Is the U.S. destroying Sadr City, or establishing security in the vast slum? Who knows? Let's be clear that we can't know the answer from afar, and the "answer" depends on who you're speaking to--not just a Shi'ite, but of which tribe and of what affiliations. Should the U.S. pack up and leave tomorrow? You'll get one answer in Sadr City, another in the Kurdish north; which one should you heed? You can't agree with both at the same time, or can you?

    6. Recall that U.S. civilians sent our Armed Forces to war, not the Pentagon. Army leaders like General Eric Shinseki who warned that 150,000 troops were totally insufficient for postwar occupation/security were summarily fired/forced from office by Bush, Rumsfield & Co.

    The reading list below spreads the blame for incompetence, poor planning and stupidity around to everyone involved, but we must keep in mind every critical decision was made by civilians, and therefore we the American people/voters/taxpayers are ultimately responsible. The Military is just following civilian orders.

    And since "it's the only war we got," the professional military journals focus on what's been learned about counter-insurgence and the progress that's been made in local communities. They're making the best of their task, and the career officers are careful not to counter what their civilian no-nothing "leaders" are saying. But maybe we should ask the guys on the ground before we decide complex matters.

    7. Ethnic cleansing and a host of other horrendous tragedies are already done deals because security has been non-existent. The only way to build any security is within the tribe or equivalent, so non-tribal neighbors are forced out at gunpoint. Iraq is undoubtedly one of the most heavily armed societies on Earth. Without a functioning police or Army, it's up to groups to create local secutity--even if the group is essentially thugs.

    8. Foreign insurgents have a different agenda than Iraqi insurgents. Foreigners favor suicide bombs in crowded market places and weddings; these tactics aren't endearing them to the Iraqis. To foreign Sunnis, the Shi'ites are as worthy of killing as the Americans. To ignore the foreign/Al Qaeda agenda is to ignore a reality that we have introduced. Whether we leave or not, these agendas will play out.

    Is the central government a facade? Is the Iraqi Army hopeless? Is the police force a Shit'ite cover for death squads? My conclusion is these generalized questions are impossible to answer in a generalized way. All answers in Iraq are local: this town, this unit, this police station, this tribe, this neighborhood. Generalized answers are either inherently inaccurate or mere conjecture/bias.

    9. Paraphrasing Bismark, Iraq is not worth the bones of a single additional American soldier. As I have noted here before, I think of the career Marine officer we know who served his time in Iraq and made it home in one piece; would I risk leaving his two young children without a father and his wife without a husband for the sake of some potential strategic security? Personally, I would not.

    My wife's cousin's family has already lost one young member to the war, as have 4,200+ other families. (Don't forget the quasi-civilian Americans who have been killed and wounded while serving in Blackwater and other "private" (i.e. mercenary) armed forces in Iraq.)

    But what of Colin Powell's warning at the beginning of the war: "You break it, you own it"? What is our responsibility to the Iraqi civilians? We're awfully good at blowing up and defoliating entire nations, and then leaving in a huff when things don't pan out quickly enough for our short-term, "we like to win" mindset.

    So let's be honest: we broke it, we own some part of it. So what can we do from here?

    Here are the thoughts of one concerned citizen:

    a. leave the Green Zone and the new U.S. Embassy/fortress to the Iraqi government immediately. They scream "occupation" and "empire." Let's stop raising our voice on all the wrong messages.

    b. the decision to pull troops immediately or on a schedule should be made by the tribal leaders and U.S. captain-rank officers, on a locale-by-locale basis. If some presence is requested, use advisors who already know the tribes and their leaders.

    c. pull all remaining U.S. troops to bases in the remote desert (Iranian and Syrian borders) where they remain potent but out of sight and to some degree, out of mind except to Iran and Syria.

    d. open "regional security" talks with everyone at the table--Iran, Syria, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan, Iraq's three groups (Kurds, Sunnis and Shi'ites), the U.S. and the U.N. Even if absolutely nothing gets accomplished, at least everyone has an open stake and a forum. Acting like one tribe (the U.S. Military) controls the game is ludicrous; the players are there whether we like them or not. It's reality, let's deal with it.

    e. institute a military draft for all Americans up to the age of the oldest Reservist serving in theatre (Iraq and Afghanistan). If he or she is 55, then go ahead and draft me (I'm only 54). And draft everyone randomly, regardless of age, gender, religion, politics, etc. Make every American responsible for their chosen leaders' decisions. You're not going to the mall, you're going to Iraq. You can drive to the mall, you can drive a Hummvee. If you're in poor health, we'll get you into shape; there's laundry to be done on the aircraft carrier and you don't need a lot of skills to do it. You'll be perfectly fit to serve your country after a few months of training.

    If you really don't want to go, maybe you'll take a little more care with who you elect to lead the nation. Oh, and it's a 5-year stay in the Federal pen if you fail to report for induction.

    f. amend the Constitution to require a Congressional Act of War for any deployment of U.S. Military forces in combat/harm's way which lasts longer than seven days or involves more than 5,000 soldiers/sailors/Marines.

    I am sick and tired of these mushy congressional "permissions" to engage in decade-long wars with tens of thousands of casualties, all without a formal declaration of war and a real mobilization of the populace. I'm tired of wars with no civilian participation or stake, wars where the sons and daughters of other people join and serve while the rest of us sit around playing military-style video games and shopping at the mall while our "leaders" brazenly borrow billions from the Saudis and Chinese to pay the cost of our own war. Inflict the slightest sacrifices on the "what war?" American public? No way. They might actually get off their duffs and demand an accounting of what's being done in their name.

    If you'd like to know more, I can recommend these titles as a start:

    What Went Wrong?: The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East by Bernard Lewis

    Among the Believers: An Islamic Journey by V.S. Naipaul

    A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East by David Fromkin

    Through Our Enemies' Eyes: Osama bin Laden, Radical Islam, and the Future of America by Michael Scheuer

    The Occupation of Iraq: Winning the War, Losing the Peace by Ali A. Allawi

    Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic (American Empire Project) by Chalmers Johnson

    Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq by Thomas E. Ricks

    Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War by Michael Isikoff and David Corn

    Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone
    by Rajiv Chandrasekaran

    Licensed to Kill: Hired Guns in the War on Terror by Robert Young Pelton

    The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 by Lawrence Wright

    Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror by Michael Scheuer

    State of Denial: Bush at War, Part III by Bob Woodward

    New Readers Journal commentaries:

    18 diverse, thought-provoking comments on an amazing array of topics!

    New (in-depth) Readers Journal Essays:

    The Rise in Oil: Speculation or Uncertainty?
    Harun I.

    PERHAPS 60% OF TODAY'S OIL PRICE IS PURE SPECULATION (Financial Sense): The author wages a largely rhetorical argument. I won't argue that there may be a bubble building in energy futures but the causes he presents is suspect.
    The Third Worldization of the United States Is In Process
    Robert Roth
    The U.S. and its economy may be said to have been in a process of "Third Worldization" for some time, from a variety of perspectives. One of the more striking, to me, is the fact that recently an authoritative source suggested the U.S. may (in ten years) lose the AAA rating its debt has enjoyed since ratings began. See Doug Noland’s Credit Bubble Bulletin.

    Add OTM to your reader:   RSS feed   Atom feed   Permalink to this entry

    HUGE GIANT BIG FAT DISCLAIMER: Nothing on this site should be construed as investment advice or guidance. It is not intended as investment advice or guidance, nor is it offered as such. It is solely the opinion of the writer, who is NOT an investment counselor/professional. All the content of this website is solely an expression of his personal interests and is posted as free-of-charge opinion and commentary. If you seek investment advice, consult a registered, qualified investment counselor (As with any other professional service, confirm their track record and referrals).

    Acceptance Mark

    NOTE: contributions are acknowledged in the order received. Your name and email remain confidential and will not be given to any other individual, company or agency.

    Thank you, H. Doug M. ($25), for your exceedingly generous contribution to this site. I am greatly honored by your support and readership. All contributors are listed below in acknowledgement of my gratitude.

    Your readership is greatly appreciated with or without a donation.

    This Month's entries:

    Saturday Quiz: Small Car Horsepower
    (May 17, 2008)

    The Future of Social Networking
    (May 16, 2008)

    The Mandate of Heaven:
    Respectfully Disagreeing with Jim Rogers

    (May 15, 2008)

    The Housing Bust and Lending: The Worst Is Yet to Come
    (May 14, 2008)

    The Seductive Illusion of Incremental Change
    (May 13, 2008)

    When Long Cycles and Depletions Intersect
    (May 12, 2008)

    Saturday Haiku and An Oil Quiz
    (May 10, 2008)

    Oil: One Last Head-Fake?
    (May 9, 2008)

    What's Up (Down) with Rents?
    (May 8, 2008)

    Fragility, Bottlenecks and Brittleness
    (May 7, 2008)

    Has the Faltering Dollar Reached Maximum Pessimism?
    (May 6, 2008)

    Is Pessimism Extreme Enough to Mark a Housing Bottom? No.
    (May 5, 2008)

    Saturday Quiz: Population Density of Cities
    (May 3, 2008)

    Inventory and Foreclosures: Is The Bottom Really In?
    (May 2, 2008)

    Garbage In, Garbage Out
    (May 1, 2008)

    April 2008 entries

    March 2008 entries

    February 2008 entries

    January 2008 entries


    Heroes and Heroines of New Media--2008

    Financial contributors who have made multiple donations to this modest site or a donation of $50 or more this year. If such a generous madness strikes you, I offer you a small token of my appreciation: a signed copy of my novel I-State Lines. Thank you for your ongoing support and encouragement.

    Vera K.Cheryl A.Tom S. (3 donations) Kip S.Tanya Z.eMeL H.
    Fred R.Darrell C.Cathleen M. Knowel M.Cyril O.Steven W.
    Don E.Matthew G.Narendra P. Lloyd L.Patricia and Darrin W.John S.
    Somesh G.Riley T.William S. Alberto R.William M.Lynn C.
    Benjamin M.Michael J. M.Jeff O. Eugenio M.William S. (4 donations) 

    Our Financial Contributors--2008

    Thank you all for your gracious and generous support of this modest site.

    Vera K.Tom S.John I.Marcie M.F.Kip S. John B.
    Jennifer K.Renee S.-J.Tanya Z. Kevin L.eMeL H.Cheryl A.
    Darrell C.Cathleen M.Steve T. Rod C.Gregg S.Matt S.
    Don E.Nathaniel H.Knowel M. D.M.T. Kelly M. Michael S.
    Cyril O.Reed H. Lloyd L. Steven W.Lee B.Scott M.
    John R.William R. Charles W. Patricia and Darrin W.John B.Philip P.
    William S.Alexander P.Richard M. Banyan Ocean LLC Ken E.Ian M.
    Wesley C.Matthew G.Narendra P. Don E. (2nd donation) Alberto R.John S.

    William S. (2nd donation)G.D.F.Somesh G. Tim T. Riley T.Tom S. (2nd donation)
    Mark S.Don E. (3rd donation)William S. (3rd donation) Alberto R. (2nd donation)Eric A. John R.B.
    George P.Charles U.Richard M. G.F.B.Karl A.William M.
    Lynn C.Eugenio M. Benjamin M. Barry P.Scott H.Michael J. M.
    Don E. (3rd donation)Jeff O. Tom S. (3rd donation) Shannon W.Steven R.Eugenio M.(2nd donation)
    D.M.T.Joseph V.John M. Amy C.Jerry & Rosanne A.James N.
    William S.Roger H.James M. John K. Guy T.Alison T.
    Mark B.James M.Lawrence P. Michael R.Don E. (4th donation)Daniel K.
    H. Doug M.      


    All content, HTML coding, format design, design elements and images copyright © 2008 Charles Hugh Smith, All rights reserved in all media, unless otherwise credited or noted.

    Extra-Special Bonus Aphorisms:

    "Economic history is a never-ending series of episodes based on falsehoods and lies, not truths. It represents the path to big money. The object is to recognize the trend whose premise is false, ride that trend, and step off before it is discredited." (George Soros)

    "The way of the Tao is reversal." (Lao Tzu)

    "Chance favours the prepared mind.” (Louis Pasteur)

    "It is neither necessary to hope to undertake, nor to succeed to persevere." (William of Orange)

    "You must have a willingness to do something when everyone else is petrified. You must learn the lesson of following logic over emotion." (Warren Buffett)

    "Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm." (Winston Churchill)

    "Where there is ruin, there is hope for treasures." (Rumi)

    "May a fair road always be open to you." (CHS, April 2, 2006)


    Acceptance Mark
    Why I gratefully accept donations and why you might want to donate:
  • A 95-minute movie with 10 minutes of ads and a small popcorn costs $15. If you enjoyed this site for at least 2 hours this year, and you donate $15, you already received more entertainment than you did from the movie. The other 100+ hours of enjoyment you receive here is FREE.
  • You have the immense moral satisfaction of aiding a poor dumb writer who seeks to inform, entertain and amuse you.

  • Worth Visiting: (Hawaii)

    Satellite Sky


    RV Now

    Housing Bubble:

    Marin Real Estate Bubble

    West Coast of Canada-
    Housing/R.E. blog

    Westside Bubble (L.A.)

    New York City Housing Bubble

    California Housing Forecast

    Dr. Housing Bubble (SoCal)


    The Implode-o-Meter sites:
    Mortgage Lenders
    Home Builders
    Hedge Funds

    View from Silicon Valley

    Credit Flow Investor

    Credit Crisis Timeline

    Prudent Speculation

    Market Ticker

    Rick's Picks

    Gold Eagle
    (precious metals)

    Great Depression 2006

    About Hedge Funds (Richard Wilson)


    L.A. Visions
    (transpo, planning)

    Fabius Maximus
    (geopolitics, modern war)

    Shadow Government Statistics

    Drug News/Health Blog Doug Bremner MD

    Life After the Oil Crash (LATOC)


    James Howard Kunstler

    John Francis Kinsella
    author/painter Sumpinein (blog)

    Financial Armageddon Michael Panzner

    The Rhythm of War Terence Parker

    Bill Murath
    (chimes & art)

    Don England

    Animals to Zombies
    (Dwight Rounds)
    The Year the Music Died,

    buy my novel
    I-State Lines at
    The Kaleidoscope

    (indie bookstore,
    free shipping)

    Or from my publisher, The Permanent Press

    Or from
    I-State Lines

    If you want to own gold, I recommend:

    Buy gold online at low prices: BullionVault

    If you need a quick gift, I recommend: gift certificates

    Note: at no cost to you, I earn a small commission on purchases made via these two links.

    Our Privacy Policy:
    No information on readers is gathered by this site. Correspondents' email is strictly confidential. The third-party advertising placed by and/or Tribal Fusion may collect information for ad targeting.

    Our Commission Policy:
    Though I earn a small commission on books and gift certificates and gold (BullionVault) purchased via links on my site, I receive no fees for any other non-advertising links or materials posted on my site.

    consulting   blog  fiction/novels   articles  my hidden history   books/films   what's for dinner   home   email me