Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Tipping Point in Iraq – Closer Than We Think?

Imagine a scenario where, instead of seeing 50 Iraqis killed in bombings, along with 5 Americans caught in the crossfire, we were seeing 50 Americans killed in bombings with 5 Iraqis meeting accidental death. This is the danger of reaching the tipping point in the Iraqi conflict. If the US becomes the common enemy in Iraq, if we pass the proverbial tipping point, this scenario and worse could play out before our eyes.

Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book called The Tipping Point, which explains why change happens so quickly and unexpectedly. It talks about situations, normally conflicts, being in delicate balance until one final event pushes the entire nature of the conflict over the edge, altering the givens of the conflict and endangering the life of all participants.

Conflicts in the Middle East are extremely susceptible to tipping points. This is because Middle Eastern powers have different rules of alliance; most believe that the enemy of their enemy is their friend, at least on a temporary basis. Thus, as a power’s chief threat changes, mortal enemies can become temporary allies. And former allies, now enemies, can quickly get caught in the crossfire.

A perfect example is the 1983 bombing of the US marine barracks in Lebanon. Until this time, the US had been supporting the President Amin Gemayal and the Christian Lebanese government. But when the US weighed in on the battle for Souk el-Gharb, they became a bigger threat then the Druse or Syrians. Only a month later, Gemayal was a party to the attack on the marine’s barracks in Beirut where 241 US servicemen died.

The primary lesson from the Lebanon attack is that siding with any power in the Middle East can be dangerous. As soon as you try to impose your will, you risk becoming the enemy, and facing a force much greater than the force you helped create and support. This is precisely the danger being faced by the American servicemen in Iraq today.

The present Iraqi regime has taken power solely because of US support. However, how long that support will last is in serious question. A shift in power in the US may bring about troop withdrawals from the region. Should the US withdraw from Iraq, the Iraqi government will be vulnerable as well. That is, unless they find a more stable ally.

Iran has been making overtures to the Iraqi government that they could provide support, perhaps even a military presence in Iraq, and once again long-time enemies could become short-term allies against a common foe. And with the recent rhetoric of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, calling for attacks against American forces instead of attacks against Iraqi troops, the tipping point may be nearing.

Today, hundreds of thousands of Muslims, predominantly Shiites but including some Sunnis as well, marched between the holy cities of Kufa and Najaf to protest American occupation of the country. They called for the police and army to join the struggle against the American military. There was practically no violence at the rally, as all hatred was pointed towards the Americans.

Have we reached the tipping point yet? Have the events of the past few days moved us closer to the point where the danger to American servicemen rises exponentially, as they have no allies and no safe haven? Only time will tell. Let’s hope that, when the tipping point arrives, we have protected ourselves enough to not suffer the level of casualties seen in Beirut.

Posted by Scottage at 1:15 AM / | |