The steady drip-drip effect of American casualties in Iraq continues. A couple of U.S. soldiers kidnapped and murdered here, six British soldiers obliterated in an ambush there. “No Go” areas in major cities where local religious leaders control everything. Carefully groomed leaders “acceptable” to the “imperial” power already sidelined and powerless. Vietnam? Perhaps. Although Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld confidently assures us it is not the case. “It isn’t,” he told a Pentagon briefing on June 30. “It’s a different time. It’s a different era. It’s a different place.”
Very true, Mr. Secretary. But not in the way you think. For I have been in this different place before, on a different continent, in a different time. For a parallel to Iraq 2003, think Ireland 1972.
What does this mean? That there is worse to come.
It was the shootings at the end of April that made the equation—and the contrast—clear. In two days of protests on April 28 and 30, U.S. troops killed 20 demonstrators in the central Iraqi city of Falluja. Not surprisingly, as journalist Jim Lobe wrote, “In the six weeks since the fatal demonstrations, al-Falluja, located about 35 miles west of Baghdad, has become a major center of resistance to the U.S. occupation.”
Falluja, mark you, is not Shi’ite, the sector in which our Pentagon strategists and their tame cheering section on the op-ed pages had warned us the Iranians might be able to stir up a little marginal, unrepresentative protest now and again. Nothing to worry about, as long as we kept our heads, as Dr. Krauthammer confidently as ever opined.
No. Falluja is Sunni Muslim, the very people who were supposed to be incapable of military effectiveness or sustained guerrilla action.
The Falluja shootings were adequately reported in the U.S. media. But there was no popular outrage, shock, or foreboding among the American public or their supposedly wise pundits about what was therefore bound to come. I, however, knew because I had seen it all before.
In January 1972, British Army units facing Irish Catholic nationalist protestors on the streets of Derry City, as provincial a town in Northern Ireland as Falluja is in Iraq, shot dead 13 of them. Not a single one, it transpired, was armed. Neither were the protestors in Falluja. Popular fury and protest erupted all over Ireland, north and south.
In the two years following Bloody Sunday, as it was instantaneously christened, the Provisional Irish Republican Army escalated its guerrilla war against the British Army in Northern Ireland and the province’s own security forces from an occasional hit and run ambush or sniper killing, much as we are now already seeing in Iraq, to the most merciless, sustained terrorist onslaught experienced anywhere in Europe from the end of World War II in 1945 to the outbreak of the civil wars in Yugoslavia in the summer of 1991.
Fragmentation bombs were exploded in restaurants frequented by middle-class mothers doing their shopping. A napalm bomb was set off deliberately to incinerate the evening diners at a restaurant. False alarms were phoned in to the police to make sure several buildings were evacuated at the same time in order to assure that crowds of vulnerable people would be gathered where the real bomb was set to go off. And most appalling of all, the terrorists had, as Mao Zedong would have put it, a safe “civilian sea” to swim in, a local population radicalized by previous events—most especially Bloody Sunday—within which they could hide and operate.
The parallels with Iraq today following the shootings in Falluja are obvious. But the grim point that needs to be made is that the situation the U.S. Army now confronts in the Land of the Two Rivers as a result of the reckless policy of conquest wrapped as “liberation” is now far, far worse.
The Provisional IRA, or “Provo,” guerrillas in Northern Ireland could count on the active support of only a small fraction of a minority Catholic Irish nationalist community totaling half a million people, one-third of the total population. The anti-American guerrillas already starting to operate in Iraq can count on the effective support, thanks to the Pentagon’s bungled occupation policies in the past three months alone, of most of the 60 percent Shi’ite majority of the Iraqi population of 25 million, and similar proportions in the Sunni heartland of central Iraq where Ba’ath regime support was always concentrated.
Northern Ireland covers an area a fraction the size of New Jersey. Iraq is as big as California. The IRA could only count on limited amounts of weapons being smuggled in from across the border in the Irish Republic. The democratically elected Irish governments of the time under Jack Lynch and Liam Cosgrave were friendly to Britain and in no way encouraged the Northern Irish guerrillas. By contrast, Iraq has a long common frontier with Iran, helpfully defined by President George W. Bush as being second to Iraq in the “axis of evil.” Closing that border, with the number of troops we have in Iraq, is simply impossible. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, it will be recalled, hung Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki out to dry for warning that effective occupation of Iraq would take several hundred thousand U.S. troops. Yet even Wolfowitz has now admitted, under questioning by U.S. senators led by Joe Biden (D-Del.), that up to 200,000 American soldiers may be necessary. Indeed they may. Or more.
Northern Ireland was not a sudden acquisition or conquest by Britain. It had been part of the United Kingdom for 370 years, since the Protestant settlement early in the reign of King James I after the crushing of Catholic Irish Earl Hugh O’Neill. It was not halfway around the world, as Iraq is. It was—and is—populated by mainstream Protestants and Catholics, not Muslims—let alone Muslims susceptible to a revolutionary radicalization of their faith in reaction to continued U.S. occupation. It had many serious local political leaders in both the Protestant and Catholic communities ready to repudiate paramilitary terrorism and to seek to work together for the common good. None of these factors exists for us in Iraq.
Yet the Northern Irish Troubles that began in August 1969 and flared to atrocity-level in response to a degree of violence comparable to what we have already inadvertently inflicted in Falluja, lasted 29 years until the Good Friday Peace Agreement of 1998. By then, 3,600 people had been killed. Small, by 20th century bloodbath standards, admittedly. Indeed, what British Home Secretary Reginald Maudling memorably called “an acceptable level of violence” in the early 1970s. But even that “acceptable level” if proportionately inflicted in Iraq, would cause at least 60,000 deaths, at least 10,000 of them U.S. soldiers. How “acceptable” will the American people find that?
I was just a teenage kid on the streets of Belfast when it all started in August 1969. I saw with my own eyes local people in the Catholic streets around the Falls Road welcome British soldiers as liberators who had saved them from being burned out by Protestant mobs. Yet within 18 months, people from that community were shooting at those same soldiers, and shooting to kill. We have already reached that point in Iraq after only three months.
Secretary Rumsfeld is already trying to set his latest agitprop agenda. “It isn’t” Vietnam, he says. But what, then, is it? It is a place where the Pentagon itself admits that 65 American soldiers were killed or died, supposedly in accidents, in the two months of May and June alone, a death rate already of more than one a day. The deaths and killings started right after President Bush announced the end of major combat operations on May 1.
I stick by what I wrote for United Press International in an analysis published on that same May 1. The Falluja clashes were, I maintained, “a proof that the pre-Saddam dynamics of Iraqi society have already asserted themselves and that the U.S. Army and the American people will rapidly become the subjects of Iraqi popular wrath. [A] vivid phrase of Thomas Jefferson’s sums up this new dire state of affairs: The United States has seized a wolf by the ears in Iraq. And now it dare not let it go.”
America’s Vietnam? Too soon to say it isn’t. America’s Northern Ireland? Quite definitely. Only already far, far worse. n
Martin Sieff is Chief International Analyst for United Press International.
Howard Dean’s remarkable fund-raising surge, his unusual ability simultaneously to galvanize liberals, intrigue non-liberals, and say “no” to core Democratic constituencies without alienating them renders him the odds-on favorite to win the Democratic nomination. The Democratic Party’s Washington establishment is already uncomfortable with him, leaking anonymous quotes about an Election-Day debacle that would cost the party its foothold in Congress. But these folks (or their political forebears) opposed George McGovern and Jimmy Carter as well. They don’t have a strong candidate to put up against Dean: even back when the formidable Hubert Humphrey or Scoop Jackson would rush into the breach to ward off an outsider or antiwar insurgent, it didn’t do the trick.
But if it is now more than plausible that Dean will emerge from the bottom half of the draw, is there any reason to think that the former Vermont governor won’t be ground to bits by George W. Bush in the final? McGovern won only his native South Dakota and the District of Columbia against Nixon; Mondale fared no better against Reagan. Michael Dukakis never figured out what hit him when the first George Bush began to paint him as an effete liberal New Englander, and George W. Bush has bonded with Middle America far more than his dad ever did. You can understand why the Democratic establishment is nervous.
It is unlikely that being right from the start about Bush’s invasion of Iraq will carry any Democrat to the White House. Support for the war has dropped from 80 percent to 56 percent in the three months since the famous victory, but it may not drop farther. Much of the American electorate will always support the president when there are troops in the field and not welcome questions about how they got there. A candidate like Dean will have the antiwar vote, the traditional Democratic constituencies of blacks, most Hispanics, and labor. He will do well with gays (like Jews, a fund-raising constituency more than a decisive voting bloc) and with well-educated wine-and-cheese liberals, and he has done an extraordinary job of mobilizing young people getting involved in politics for the first time. But this may not be enough to beat a sitting president unless the economy is thoroughly in the tank.
Dean’s weakness is the weakness of every Democrat in the last 30 years—a tepid appeal to working- and middle-class white voters, especially males, especially in the South and border-states. The Vermonter has acknowledged the need to “get white males to vote Democratic again,” but federal health insurance and balanced budgets, which he brings up when the question is raised, won’t do it. What could?
The obvious choice is immigration. As the issue first began to simmer in the early 1990s, in the aftermath of the LA riots, LA Times editorial writer Jack Miles wrote a seminal piece in the Atlantic Monthly suggesting that while the immigration issue had begun to percolate on the Right—as an issue of cultural cohesion—it would eventually be seized upon by the Left, as a labor and fairness issue.
Miles’s prediction proved half right. He was correct in pointing out that immigration transcended standard Left-Right categories. He noted that much of the “free market” business community more or less favored open borders—the Wall Street Journal editorial page being the most important public example. And it’s not as if high immigration rates are without negative consequences for Democratic constituencies. As George Borjas and other immigration economists have argued, while some immigrants do benefit the overall economy, a large coterie of low-skilled workers has costs, and those costs are borne disproportionately by less-skilled and lower-paid American workers. If you are the sort of person who wishes to hire someone cheap to clean your pool, you are probably someone who benefits from a large reserve army of poor and eager workers. If you are struggling to support a family with the skills of a high-school graduate, you will benefit from a tighter labor market and higher wages that would stem from a lower rate of immigration.
Miles maintained that the first winners from immigration reform would be the black workers—a group that has lost many niches in the American economy during the past generation to new immigrants. But white workers are getting hurt as well. In a phenomenon noted by Brookings Institution demographer William Frey, the white working class has been steadily fleeing high-immigration states during the last 15 years—from California to Nevada and Colorado, from New York to the Southeast. But the immigration surge has kept pursuing them, five or ten years behind, and is now beginning to have a notable impact on labor markets in the interior of the country. In a bellwether case, Tyson Foods, the meat- and poultry-processing giant, recently was charged in a federal indictment with conspiracy to transport illegal aliens from Mexico to Tennessee in order to lower its wages. The company defended itself by arguing that executives “acting on their own” were responsible for importing an illegal work force. But the fact is that a pool of illegals kept wages at essentially sub-American rates throughout the 1990s.
Any Democrat interested in raising the immigration issue has a good precedent and ready-made vocabulary. In 1995, the bipartisan federal advisory Commission on Immigration Reform headed by Barbara Jordan, the first black member of Congress elected in Texas, recommended cutting the legal immigration rate by about one-third and sharply stepping up enforcement against illegal aliens. President Clinton initially endorsed her proposals, but legislation based on her commission’s recommendations was defeated in the House after a massive Left-Right lobbying campaign by open-borders business interests and ethnic lobbies. The economy was booming then, however, and hardly anyone was out of work. The vote would probably be different today. Why couldn’t a Democrat like Dean seize the “vital center” of the immigration debate, embrace the Jordan proposals, and outflank Bush as a protector of American culture, prepared to enforce American laws and preserve the rights and living standards of working-class Americans? Answer: he could.
The immigration issue is the weak link in George Bush’s hold over his bedrock white-male constituency. The president has refused to join the battle against affirmative action—a policy that discriminates against white men and their children. While there may be a moral and practical case for some form of affirmative action for the descendants of blacks brought here in slavery, the Supreme Court “diversity” decision has probably ensured that preferences will flow to a variety of other groups, including recent immigrants, long into the future. The case for a reduced immigration flow and strict enforcement of America’s laws is explicitly a case for making sure America’s labor markets do not soon resemble those of Mexico and Brazil. But it is implicitly a case against the United States becoming a nation riven by divisive arguments over affirmative action and ethnic quotas, as the groups with a stake in such programs expand inexorably. America is a diverse nation already and will always remain so: it hardly needs an infinitely growing pool of impoverished workers to prove the point.
How might this play out in electoral practice? Addressing immigration would certainly help any Democrat in New Mexico and Arizona, whose primaries follow right upon New Hampshire’s, and in Tennessee, a border-state with a growing illegal-alien problem. Would it alienate left-wing supporters? Perhaps some—especially that segment of the radical Left that sees immigration as a tool to eradicate “white hegemony” or whatever their term of art for traditional America is. Dean doesn’t need their support.
But Dean’s problem isn’t with Democratic primary voters. It’s with white males, especially those who objectively might back him for economic reasons. Embracing immigration as an issue will give him a ready answer when the latter-day Lee Atwaters get to work “defining” him. How much will George W. Bush want to talk about the amnesty plan he was hatching with Vicente Fox—shelved for the moment after 9/11—but still part of the Bush agenda? How much will Bush want to talk about the weak border enforcement prior to 9/11?
Embracing immigration reform would make good practical politics. But would Howard Dean be willing to consider such arguments, or is he too reflexively liberal? The record is unclear. Dean has made many standard PC statements about immigration helping the economy (partially true, partially false) and the wonders of diversity. Modern-day progressives aren’t supposed to care about the nation’s borders.
But it’s not clear what Dean’s actual political coloring is. The left-wing press finds his record in Vermont dismayingly moderate. A not uncommon assessment is that he’s basically a Rockefeller Republican. He seems clearly descended from a New England progressive WASP tradition, prudently internationalist in foreign affairs, a vigorous supporter of equal rights for blacks, a strong environmentalist—part of the political culture that has spread from New England across to Wisconsin and Minnesota and the Pacific Northwest—a good-government kind of progressivism. This is a political heritage that has embraced—even led—immigration reform movements before in American history. It could well again. n
Europe, from France to Russia, Central Asia—including all the former Soviet Muslim republics—the Middle East, and South Asia are awash in Afghan heroin. The 13 warlords who now control Afghanistan have divvied up the moolah from a bumper crop of some 5,000 tons of opium that generates almost $100 million a year.
Opium becomes heroin in purification labs in neighboring Iran, Turkey, and Eastern Europe. Street value at the final points of sale is several billion dollars. Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai’s writ does not extend much beyond Kabul. His directives to the warlord-governors are promptly ignored. International Security Assistance Force troops are confined to the capital, and U.S. Special Forces are too busy chasing Taliban and al-Qaeda operatives who have re-infiltrated from Pakistan to worry about warlords feeding expensive drug habits in other parts of the world.
Under the medieval Taliban regime of flat-earth clerics, an Afghan family in opium-poppy cultivation averaged $750 a year. For its first four years in power, the Taliban used the poppy to buy the allegiance of warlords and fund its own activities as well as al-Qaeda’s. It suddenly banned all poppy cultivation in 2000. Warehouses were full, and the price was dropping. UN inspectors confirmed that poppy fields lay fallow and somewhat naïvely concluded the Taliban were responding to international pressure. This didn’t seem to work when the Taliban decided to blow up giant statues of Buddha at Bamiyan, which they denounced as idolatry.
Today, that same poppy-farming family is averaging $6,500 per annum. What the Kabul regime is now offering farmers to abandon drugs and substitute other crops is a fraction of what they’re making. Karzai doesn’t have the resources to improve the payment. All donor nations have fallen far short of the $5 billion in pledges made in the wake of the Taliban’s defeat. In fact, inter-city highways are yet to be rebuilt; a normal six-hour trip can take three days.
A ranking Afghan official, speaking privately, said, “The drug trafficking has corrupted everything in today’s Afghanistan, from the central Transitional Authority in Kabul to the warlords who really run the country. There is only one way to prevent Afghanistan from dying again: America must depose the warlords, and launch a massive, well-funded, crop-substitution campaign.”
Britain has taken on the assignment of co-ordinating international counter-narcotics programs in Afghanistan. The objective is to cut back opium production by 70 percent by 2008 with a view to total eradication by 2013. To make this remotely possible, an estimated $384 million would have to be earmarked for crop substitution. This does not include any enforcement mechanism, such as multinational UN heroin police.
Apart from its ravenous appetite for injectable-quality heroin, Europe also appears to be emulating America’s cocaine habits. Illegal narcotics trafficking from Colombia now satisfies the needs of both continents.
Operation Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom and the global manhunt for al-Qaeda terrorists have clearly hurt the U.S. war on drugs in Latin America. Coca production is rising in Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru. Eradication in Colombia does not appear to be working. No sooner is one plantation blasted from the air with chemical sprays than another piece of land is cleared and a new crop planted.
Colombia’s Marxist guerrilla groups —FARC and ELN—and the right-wing paramilitaries are deeply involved in narcotics trafficking, from production to protection. If eradication were working, the street price in the U.S. and Europe would be spiking.
For years, U.S. administrations believed that effective elimination of coca growing was a prerequisite to defeating the FARC. Now the Bush administration has it right—the defeat of FARC comes first.
In Bolivia, coca growers have become a major political force. The leader of coca farmers, Evo Morales, came within half a length of winning last year’s race for the presidency. He is now garnering support in non-coca regions. The coca planters have come together under the banner of an anti-United-States, neo-Marxist nationalist ideology that rejects free markets.
The Peruvian government has also backed down from advocating coca eradication. The Brazilian government is looking for political and business leaders, narco-traffickers, and terrorists who have laundered some $30 billion in ill-gotten gains. Much of this staggering amount came from Brazil’s border with Paraguay and Argentina, the tri-border area the CIA says funds terrorist activities.
Washington’s anti-drug policies are in serious trouble from Afghanistan to Bolivia to Colombia (the ABC countries). Terrorism and embryonic guerrilla warfare in Iraq and the need to recruit two to three divisions from reluctant allied and friendly countries to share the Iraqi policing duties have not drained the administration’s energies. But no one wants to raise another crisis that might detract from the present focus and add more red ink to the federal budget.
What is happening—or rather not happening—in A, B, and C should be put into a global context for the president’s morning intelligence briefing. Bush understands it’s a global contest. But some dots have to be connected.
Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of United Press International.
Copyright © 2003 United Press International.