Saturday, May 19, 2007

Why We're Not "Winning" In Iraq - The Illustrated Version

image credit: Associated Press

Sometimes, to paraphrase Colorado Bob, pictures beat text, and this is one of those times. Here's an illustration of why we're not "winning" in Iraq.

The first picture is of our huge, hideously expensive, "embassy" in Iraq. People familiar with history, and those who are interested in architecture, will immediately notice a resemblance to another form of architecture. For the rest of you, I'll provide another picture.

image credit: English Heritage

This is Portchester Castle, in southern England. According to the English Heritage website, it was originally built by the Romans in the late 3rd Century. At the time, the Romans were occupying England, and had to build fortifications like this to protect themselves from the Celts and the other natives, such as the unfortunate Boadicea. One wonders if Roman soldiers at that time felt that staying there was worth the trouble. Of course, no one asked their opinion.

image credit: Cadw

This is Harlech Castle, in Wales. It was built because the English were occupying Wales at the time. It was part of what was known as a "ring of iron" that kept the Welsh at bay for more than a century. In the BBC series Battlefield Britain, Dan Snow observed that there are more castles per square mile in Wales than any other country on earth. It was seized by the Welsh rebel Owain Glyn Dŵr in 1404. He was defeated a few years later, but it was only much later that the Welsh learned to accept the rule of England. If England had been as far removed from Wales as America is from Iraq or Rome was from Portchester, they probably would have lost.

These construction projects, separated by more than 1700 years, have three things in common besides thick walls. First, they have a perimeter defense to keep out hostile locals. Second, they have a large inner keep where a substantial number of people can hold out during a long siege. Third, they are all built by occupiers, not welcome friends or a military that has the support, or at least the tolerance, of the local population.

What do Iraqis think of our little construction project? Here's a quote from the Times of London:

Irritation grows as residents deprived of air-conditioning and running water three years after the US-led invasion watch the massive US Embassy they call “George W’s palace” rising from the banks of the Tigris.

In the pavement cafés, people moan that the structure is bigger than anything Saddam Hussein built. They are not impressed by the architects’ claims that the diplomatic outpost will be visible from space and cover an area that is larger than the Vatican city and big enough to accommodate four Millennium Domes. They are more interested in knowing whether the US State Department paid for the prime real estate or simply took it.

In the chaos of Iraq, one project is on target: a giant US embassy

And that, folks, is why we're not winning in Iraq. We're the occupiers. Sooner or later, we're going to have to give up and leave. I vote for sooner.

UPDATE: Corrected the name of the link to the Welsh castle. Turns out that's a word, "Cadw", which is Welsh for "to keep", not an acronym.

UPDATE2: (May 20) I neglected to quote this paragraph from that Times of London piece yesterday:

Iraqi politicians opposed to the US presence protest that the scale of the project suggests that America retains long-term ambitions here. The International Crisis Group, a think-tank, said the embassy’s size “is seen by Iraqis as an indication of who actually exercises power in their country”.

In the chaos of Iraq, one project is on target: a giant US embassy

When you build a fortress in someone's capital city, it's likely that people there aren't going to believe you when you say you have their best interests at heart.


shoephone said...

Fantastic post, Cujo. It points to the embarassingly shallow understanding of historical precedent that Bush and his cohorts have. And it also crystallizes why we should all be referring to this debacle as the "U.S. Occupation" rather than the "Iraq War" -- though it's hard to make that a habit when daily life in Iraq continues to demonstrate how the U.S. created the vacuum that made the current Iraqi Civil War a reality.

Cujo359 said...

I think of it as an occupation that's going on in the midst of a civil war. So, in some sense, both terms seem accurate to me. Unfortunately, given the choice between those two terms, and the realities they represent, the news will generally choose the "safer" term.

shoephone said...

Plus, "occupation" takes longer to say than "war". And since we can't win an "occupation", well... Brian Williams and Charlie Gibson would surely get fired if they started to referring to it in truthful terms.

MSM = More Stupid Memes

op99 said...

Let's not forget that the British Isles were in a fairly continuous state of internal warfare for monarchical succession for at least two millenia, until the monarchy stabilized in the early 1700s with the House of Hanover. Do you see us in the Green Zone for 2000 years, George W?

Cujo359 said...

I suspect things may be in turmoil for a while in Iraq, too, op99. That's probably true whether we stay or we go. One thing's for sure - if we continue to try to act as a mediator while we're building this embassy and the other fortresses there we'll continue to be unsuccessful, because no one's going to trust us not to have our own agenda.

It took centuries for Wales and Scotland to get used to the idea of being part of what is now the U.K. Northern Ireland still isn't entirely resigned to the idea after many centuries. In more ways than one the U.K. is a cautionary tale when it comes to Iraq.