Do not be surprised to see three or four divisions of the Russian army in the Sunni triangle before year-end, with an announcement just prior to the US presidential election in November. Long rumored (or under negotiation), a Russian deployment of 40,000 soldiers was predicted on July 16 by the US intelligence site www.stratfor.com, and denied by the Russian Foreign Ministry on July 20. Nonetheless, the logic is compelling. Russian support for US occupation forces would make scorched earth of Senator John Kerry’s attack on the Bush administration’s foreign policy, namely its failure to form effective alliances. For Russian President Vladimir Putin, the chance to make scorched earth of Fallujah is even more tempting.
In exchange for a troop presence in Iraq, Russia would obtain a free hand in dealings with the countries of the former Soviet Union. It would gain leverage against a weakening Turkey in the Caucasus and Central Asia. And it would vastly enhance its leverage in negotiations over the placement of oil pipelines. Most important, perhaps, it would assert its old status as a global military power against the feckless Europeans. In short, the arrangement would benefit everyone, except of course the population of Fallujah.
America’s squeamishness in the face of large-scale civilian casualties mystifies the Russians, who know about such things. The remnants of the Chechen resistance have few friends, even among Arab governments. The General Assembly of the United Nations remained mute over the Chechen dead when Russia razed Grozny in 1999, killing or displacing about half of the population of 1 million. The Council of Europe, responsible for investigating human rights violations, suspended activity in Chechnya last year by agreement with Moscow. In January, the Saudis received the pro-Russian president of Chechnya, Akhmad Kadyrov, who told alJazeera, “I think the most important factor is that Prince Abd Allah invited the leaders of the Chechen Republic. This is a definite recognition of the current authorities [being] friendly to Moscow.”
Israel’s apologists claim that world silence about Chechnya betrays the hypocrisy of a world community that marshals the General Assembly against the minor inconvenience of its defensive wall, but bites its tongue before the mass destruction of Muslim life. Islam, however, does not count lives the same way. More important than life itself is the integrity of Islam’s promise. A re-established Jewish state with Jerusalem as its capital on territory won from the former Dar al-Islam subverts Islam’s promise, namely that it will supercede the false teachings of Christian and Jew. That is a humiliation that transcends the Muslim pain threshold, a dishonor too great to bear (see Horror and humiliation in Fallujah, April 27). By contrast, no Muslim expects an Islamic state to stand up to a power like Russia, even in its senescence.
President George W. Bush has misdefined the mission of US forces to the point that a deus ex machina (god from the machine) offers the best way out. “We did not come here to fight these people, we came here to free them,” the commander of the 1st Marine Division told his men after withdrawing from Fallujah in May, the New York Times reported May 11. If the marines do not fight them, however, somebody will have to. In a recent series, Asia Times Online correspondent Nir Rosen reported on the surge in Islamist morale attendant on the US retreat. There are only two ways to reduce irregular forces that use the local civilian population as a shield. With sufficiently precise intelligence, the Israelis have shown, it is possible to kill off a sufficient number of leadership cadres to render the opposition ineffective. Poor intelligence capacity eliminates that option in Iraq (Why America is losing the intelligence war, November 11, 2003). The other option is to pursue the enemy regardless of the cost in civilian lives. Never have American ground forces done this. It is one thing to annihilate Tokyo or Dresden from the air, and another to direct artillery fire at civilian neighborhoods, as did the Russians in Grozny. For Americans, the horror of such encounters is overwhelming.
Deploying proxy forces who lack this kind of compunction is the obvious solution. Earlier I guessed (wrongly) that Washington would avail itself of the 75,000-strong Kurdish militias – peshmergas – to subdue the Sunni triangle. Turning the matter over to the Russians would be a masterstroke. If the United States takes Russia on as a partner in Iraq, as I predict, a profound change will ensue in US policy toward the Muslim world. Both the Bill Clinton and Bush administrations staked a great deal on support for Bosnian and Kosovar Muslims, by way of showing that the US was willing to bomb Christians in order to protect Muslims. In Russia’s view, the US deliberately provoked war with Serbia. Clinton’s special ambassador Richard Holbrooke, a likely secretary of state in a John Kerry administration, delivered an ultimatum to former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic at the February 1999 Rambouillet negotiations, with the intent of provoking war, in the universally held Slavic view.
The bombardment of Serbia, Washington hoped, would establish its bona fides among Muslims. “The terrorists we confront cannot deceive us by attempting to wrap themselves in Islam’s glorious mantle. Islam’s great leaders and scholars tell us otherwise. Our own history and experience tell us otherwise. We helped defend Muslims in Kuwait. We helped defend Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo,” US Ambassador John Negroponte told the United Nations General Assembly on October 1, 2001. Serbia was a cheap sacrifice. Except for Ivo Andric, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1961, no Serbian has won the attention of world culture in half a century. Andric’s derogatory portrayal of Bosnian Muslims (written when Bosnia contributed a division to Germany’s Waffen SS) proscribes him from polite company today. Devastated during both world wars and kept backward by communism, Serbia had no friends in the West, apart from a tiny emigre community, and poor capacity to tell its side of the story.
Whether one accepts the Slavic view of events or not, the Muslim world turned up its nose at the Clinton administration’s attempt to buy its goodwill. The United States threatens the integrity of the Islamic world not by its policy, but by its nature; the creative destruction and cultural amnesia that define US society threaten to tear apart the sinews of traditional Islamic life. Along with Holbrooke and former secretary of state Madeleine Albright, Clinton’s national security adviser Samuel R Berger crafted this gambit gone awry. Berger’s present embarrassment about documents he allegedly stole from the National Archives may have nothing to do with the prospective Russian-US arrangement, but it may set the events of 1999 in a different context. Allegations already are circulating in the media that the Clinton administration arranged for Afghanistan-based jihadis to travel to Kosovo in the service of the Albanian cause. One should not take such rumors at face value, but they do suggest that the Clinton administration’s accommodative stance toward the Muslim world may be subject to a nasty sort of dissection during the US presidential election.