A Recipe for Disaster, Thanks to the US

Truth be told, I had not intended to read the articles about Donald Rumsfeld in The New York Review of Books. The man is old news and there are currently more pressing matters than the rise and fall of the architect of America’s invasion of Iraq. But I succumbed to Rumsfeld’s irresistible arrogance, his sardonic one-liners and his political musings about “unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”

He has been the subject of a documentary and has published memoirs (815 pages) in which he by no means atones for his sins — even though, as noted by Mark Danner in the Review, he is responsible for a war that has transformed Iraq into a breeding ground for jihadis, perhaps even the epicenter of a struggle between Shiites and Sunnis that has eclipsed the Islamic world.

The former editor-in-chief of Al-Jazeera made a similar statement in a recent interview with de Trouw — namely, that the Americans have awoken an unnecessary and sectarian conflict in Iraq, with horrific consequences. They have created, out of “absolute ignorance,”* a division along ethno-religious lines — a “recipe for disaster.”*

Not that I am under any illusions about the cultural tact of Americans, but I found this hard to believe. Should the mutual bloodshed in Iraq — this week, once again in the Anbar province, where black al-Qaida flags are flown openly — really be attributed to the Yankees? Was the conflict between Sunnis and Shiites not the result of a schism within Islam dating back to the seventh century? Surely they did not need any encouragement from the Americans to bash each other’s brains in or slit each other’s throats?

Still, I remembered how similar things were once said about the populaces of Yugoslavia, when that country collapsed in bloody fashion. Century-old feuds resurfaced, out of a hatred as unreasonable as it was uncontrollable. It was a simplistic explanation, one especially popular in those Western countries that, unhindered by self-knowledge, preferred to look down on the primitive Balkans.

Of course, old rifts existed between the different communities of Yugoslavia, but this was not the cause of the violence; the real reason was the manipulation of citizens by their political leaders, Slobodan Milosevic in particular. By spreading fear and creating enemies out of former neighbors — using convenient historical stereotypes — they attempted to establish their own position of power.

Something similar is now taking place in the Middle East, which has not seen peace since the intervention of Rumsfeld & Co. Autocratic rulers play the sectarian card to maintain their undemocratic regime — and when failure looms, they go one step further and unleash a full-scale war against their opponents, i.e. Assad in Syria. From the moment the protests against his government reached serious magnitude, he labeled the opposition as Sunni terrorists, against whom all remedies were permissible. After that, the real terrorists surfaced.

Similar events can only develop where serious differences exist, whether religious, ethnic or otherwise. But these differences themselves are not the cause; they simply cannot help being hijacked by those with malicious intent.

*Editor’s note: The original quotation, accurately translated, could not be verified.

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