With the sudden resignation of Iraq’s preeminent cleric and political leader, Moqtada al-Sadr, Iraq is once more plunged into ruin.
We’ve seen this time and again. A country torn apart by conflict begins to get back on it’s feet — and somebody, somewhere, makes the brilliant decision to have the leading figure in that country step down in order to ‘create a more democratic body politic’ — as if creating a functioning democracy out of years of chaos can be done as easily as baking a cake. My God, people! That’s never worked and it never will.
But what did occur instantly and with utter predictability was thousands of Iraqis converging on the centre of Baghdad upset over the loss of the one politician who assiduously worked for them, with two-dozen protesters killed by Iraqi security forces on the first day, the Iraqi Army announcing a dusk-to-dawn curfew later in the day, and a milieu of opinions on both sides beginning to form inside a gaping power vacuum.
Almost every conflict in history began on account of the power vacuum created by the (sudden) assassination or (sudden) natural death of a country’s leader, or from the (sudden) resignation of a powerful, populist, moderate leader, like Moqtada al-Sadr.
The mise en scène in Iraq today is every bad thing put together. The removal of Moqtada al-Sadr from political power in Iraq is as big as anything that’s happened there since Adam and Eve left ancient Mesopotamia, and there’s no one, not one person in the country, big enough to fill al-Sadr’s shoes.
It’s a catastrophe in the making.
Day Two: (Now, Private Citizen) Moqtada al-Sadr, Calls on Protesters to Quit
And as soon as al-Sadr asked, the protesters left, and within a few hours the Iraq Army rescinded their hastily-enacted curfew.
How many Iraqi private citizens can claim that kind of power? For that matter, how many Iraqi clerics or politicians can claim that kind of power? The answer is: None.
There’s no one else in the country who could’ve saved the day and thereby prevent hundreds, or thousands, of needless deaths.
If there were such people, they would’ve used their legitimate political or religious reins of power and caused the protesters to disperse. Listen to the silence.
Day Three: al-Sadr Still Out of Power, Curfew Gone, Protesters Gone, but Widespread Sense of Unease in Iraq
All that won’t last for long. By about Tuesday of next week, the Iraqis will have talked themselves into (fill in the blank) and it won’t be good, because that’s human nature. Desperate people do desperate things.
But when they have a trusted leader, it’s simply a case of the protesters and non-protesters formulating their complaints and delivering them to that leader for his/her consideration. They know that he/she will care about their issues and that leader has about 60-days to show positive result on their issues.
Which is why, for the last year, we haven’t heard much from Iraq. Lots of issues being brought to Moqtada al-Sadr, lots of issues being dealt with.
What more can citizens ask of their politicians than that?
How Can the West be Part of the Solution for Today’s Iraq?
The Western media is an amazing powerhouse for good (or potentially, evil) depending how it’s used by Western governments.
There was a time (the interwar period between 1918 and 1939) that ‘the media’ couldn’t heap enough praise on communism (especially in the UK) and was the prime cheerleader for the trade union movement of the ’60’s and ’70’s, and popularized the idea of legalization for LSD and other powerful opioids.
Since then, the media has become more responsible, and it looks for every opportunity to be part of the solution instead of part of the problem in today’s world.
Let’s not forget that the media did many good things in the postwar era, such as extremely courageous reporting during the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, countless tiny Cold War conflicts, they broke the Watergate Scandal, they helped America fight the War on Drugs, the War on Terror, and later, the War on Crime, and now the global effort to reduce CO2 emissions which is sometimes combined with informing us about the progress towards social equality leading to social equity. (Let’s hope)
Although policymakers are elected to set policy, they can’t control public opinion. Neither can the media.
But how the media reports a story can inform the public in a way that helps to create an informed narrative, one that policymakers can’t easily detour around while they try to install their particular ideology (on a foreign country, for example).
Oh, Western Media; Please Help Prevent a Catastrophe in Iraq!
We need a major recap of recent Iraq history on our TV screens over the next days and weeks — and it should begin with George H. W. Bush’s ‘Coalition of the Willing’ which set the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein on his ear in 1990.
They weren’t able to remove him from power, but they did remove his power to destroy the Middle East, which seemed to be his plan. Not that the Middle East at the time was free of problems, far from it. But it was a work-in-progress, and seemed to be getting better with each passing year.
For the record, all countries are a ‘work-in-progress’ let’s not flatter ourselves, overly much.
Then on to the 2003 American-led invasion of Iraq, the apparent end of Saddam Hussein, Iraq torn apart by war, and millions of Iraqi refugees fleeing the country, many still haven’t returned to Iraq.
Interestingly, the United States and Sweden took in the largest number of Iraqi citizens when measured on a per capita basis. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis still live in Sweden to this day. Very generous and honourable of both countries to do so, IMHO.
And more reporting is due on the departure of coalition forces from Iraq exactly one year ago, along with subsequent developments in Iraq, complete with every salient statistic and infographic from 1990 through to the present, including: annual GDP progression/regression, conflict deaths, other casualty counts, refugees, refugees who haven’t returned, birth rate, life expectancy, the economic cost of corruption, the economic cost of the war inside Iraq, the economic cost of the war to the countries surrounding Iraq, the economic cost to the global economy, the environmental cost of all that oily smoke billowing up into the sky, and fewer anecdotal (tearful, one person, or one family) stories, we’ve seen enough of that kind of reporting. It’s just too difficult to bear, and consequently, people turn off their televisions for a few months. (True, that).
We mustn’t forget how Moqtada al-Sadr became a household name in the West.
Remember when the coalition forces began to depart Baghdad? It occurred that they had forgotten to leave a security force around the American coalition control centre (called the Baghdad Green Zone) and Paul Bremner and his small contingent of diplomats and advisors were left inside, completely unguarded!
When an unruly mob (is there any other kind?) formed just outside of the Green Zone Headquarters with no good intent in their minds, it was the unarmed Moqtada al-Sadr who walked right through the middle of the mob, leading his armed escorts who then took up defensive positions in and around the compound in a valiant effort to protect Bremner and his staff. And it’s a good thing they were successful or history would’ve taken a horrible course change.
It was only one week in Iraq’s history, but it prevented an unfathomable catastrophe for Iraq — and America’s reputation as the leader of the free world and leader of the coalition still operating in, but preparing to leave Iraq at the time, was preserved.
“We’re Here to Protect You”
When Mr. al-Sadr first entered the Green Zone Headquarters office, the diplomats thought that he could be there to kill them or take them hostage. In the inner compound offices, they had no idea that their US Army guards had left and hadn’t yet been replaced by a fresh contingent of US soldiers — and that they were sitting ducks for anyone who wanted to enter the compound and do them harm.
Such was the cachet of the unarmed cleric, Moqtada al-Sadr, that the mob parted for him and allowed him to pass unmolested into the Green Zone, and he walked unescorted right into Paul Bremner’s office and spoke politely to him, assuring Bremner that al-Sadr’s own security force would protect everyone inside the Green Zone compound!
However, the scene at the entrance to the compound did later turn ugly and Moqtada’s small protection force did suffer several deaths (including close relatives of al-Sadr) due to attack from the outside mob.
From that day forward, al-Sadr’s reputation as a stabilizing force in Iraq became known in the West because the Western media did a good job on reporting this heroic deed by the cleric and his men.
These are the kinds of stories the Western media needs to refresh our memories with — and with other stories about the horrors of war — which (wars) are always caused by power vacuums of one kind or another.
Therefore, the opposite of peace is *political power vacuum* which is merely another term for eventual war.
How Can We Support the Voices of Moderation in Iraq?
That’s what we want to do, because any other course will take us backwards to conflict, and ultimately, drag the coalition back into Iraq to re-stabilize the situation there, or so the conventional thinking goes.
It didn’t work the first time, why would it work now…
As Moqtada al-Sadr is the most powerful moderate voice in Iraq, it behooves us to support him, and if it makes some policymakers nervous because al-Sadr wants to have decent diplomatic relations with surrounding countries, they need to get over it.
It’s not al-Sadr’s fault that Iran is a powerful country that borders Iraq’s entire eastern boundary. It’s not al-Sadr’s fault that Iran’s army could take on and defeat THREE Iraq armies at it’s present state of capability. It’s not al-Sadr’s fault that the coalition didn’t meet all it’s goals in Iraq. Far from it! Moqtada al-Sadr risked his own life, lost family members protecting Green Zone diplomats, powerfully worked to quell viral rumour mills, unrest, provocations, and protests large and small throughout Iraq during and after the war.
Let us also be part of the solution, instead of part of the problem in Iraq — not by dropping bombs — but by constantly rewarding those who do ‘good’ and by ‘withholding’ money, assets, and political power from those whose goals in Iraq are anarchy or war. We need to be on this every day of the year.
The Western media is powerful in this regard. Although they don’t have the capability to make policy, they’re the ones who care to, and want to, inform us about the state of affairs inside today’s Iraq.
Which, along with a quick Iraq history refresher course on TV, can help everyone, including politicians to understand the today situation there… instead of everyone remaining ‘behind the curve’ and ‘drifting into war’ as has occurred many times over the past 110-years on planet Earth.
Written by John Brian Shannon
“If humanity proves unequal to the moment, it will inaugurate an era of irreversible and potentially uncontrollable global crises.” — Joschka Fischer, The End of Contemporary History, writing in Project Syndicate
Geopolitics on planet Earth are at a crossroads — and some recognize that fact for what it is, some don’t recognize that’s where we’re at, while others who should know better won’t admit that we’re at the crossroads and that the time is past where we should’ve chosen a new path.
Realistically, there’s only one path!
(There is another path, the path of status quo leading to nuclear Armageddon, which path is too stupid to contemplate. So let’s not waste time discussing that path)
And the realistic way forward is to learn from history, where we went from feudal city-states, to nation-building, to empire-building, and onward to multilateralism on the governance side and globalization on the economic side.
The Next Logical Step is to keep multilateralism (that part is working) and replace globalization with interdependence — a process already occurring in diverse places and at an uneven rate of change.
Globalization is the (mostly) unrestricted pursuit of a country’s economic goals, expressed through their domestic corporate environment, and it’s been a (mostly) fine thing.
The leaders of countries that saw this period for what it was in the early 1970’s took advantage of the moment to dramatically improve their economic standing: Japan (following the Arab Oil Embargo of 1974) Germany (since everyone began loving Mercedes Benz and BMW cars in earnest) and to Taiwan (since PC computers arrived because that’s where the majority of computer chips were made and continue to be made) and China (since every consumer loves the lower price of goods made in China) and all of it has been massively good for the global economy, ushering in an era of unparalleled economic growth across the world.
Other countries played their cards smartly — like Sweden which added a thriving defense export component to its economy, Norway which moved to simultaneously exploit its undersea resources / legislate high taxes on resource extraction / improve every social progress marker in the country / and thereby became the Happiest Country on Earth according to the UN Happiness Index (and also ranks very highly on the Social Progress Index, socialprogress.org) the OPEC countries, and the fascinatingly successful South Korean economy.
A hearty “WELL DONE!” to the leaders of all those countries — who took stock of the global situation as it then existed, researched the potential opportunities for their countries based on their available resources, and then worked very hard to maximize opportunities for their country’s industries.
An historic leap forward for those countries whose leaders were smart enough to seize the (then-present) moment.
Alas, the moment is gone, or at least, receding.
But something will replace it. Something always has, and always will. Because if it doesn’t, it’s human nature that our default mode is regression — and waiting at the end of that process will be nuclear annihilation and the ‘grey goo’ aftermath.
The Next Logical Step, “Interdependence” is on the horizon — and the best example also happens to be the least likely example — that of Russia and Ukraine combining forces to ship corn (this week) and wheat (next week) and probably sunflower seeds (the following week) and on and on, until the end of time. Let’s hope!
Interdependence means that instead of reckless competition that works to destroy each other, allowing their mutual competitors to utilize a ‘divide and conquer’ strategy to injure or destroy both — arrangements are made that when Russia ‘wins’, Ukraine ‘wins’ also. And vice-versa.
When a Turkish bulk carrier ship arrives in Odesa, Ukraine at the request of Russia, Ukraine and Turkey, to load corn that is sourced from Russia AND Ukraine — and both Russian and (hopefully, one day) Ukrainian naval ships ‘shadow’ that Turkish ship to ensure its safe passage across the Black Sea onto Turkey and then Lebanon — then we know it’s in each party’s best interest for that shipment to arrive safely in Beirut’s port.
Arranging things carefully means it becomes important to Russia that the shipment arrives in Beirut, it becomes important to Ukraine that the shipment arrives in Beirut, and because Turkey facilitated and supported this agreement it’s important to Turkey that the shipment arrives safely — then we have true Globalization v.2.0 — which I call “Interdependence”.
I can’t stress it enough: The countries that move quickly to Interdependence will outperform countries that don’t.
Remember the lesson of countries that enthusiastically embraced globalization in the early days — which advanced their economies by orders of magnitude — Japan, Germany, Taiwan, China, Sweden, Norway, the OPEC countries and South Korea have never regretted making globalization a priority.
So too, will be the countries that embrace Interdependence, carefully arranging every single thing they do, to the point that every operation becomes a ‘Win-Win’ operation for as many sides as are foresighted enough to participate.
The way to prove ourselves ‘equal to this moment in history’ is to embrace Interdependence and to utilize ‘Win-Win’ thinking as the vehicle to get us to our respective economic and social progress index goals.
Written by: John Brian Shannon