Americans may lament Washington’s relentless partisanship, but it seems a trifle to the ruthless feuds driven by ancient religious and tribal loyalties in the Middle East that are fueling the Iraqi insurgency.
It can be seen in the sickening way Iraqi rebels seemed to delight in reporting the massacre of hundreds of captives, posting images of bloody bodies on a website. The captives’ offense? They are Shiites. The insurgents are Sunnis.
Americans are fortunate they live in a genuinely pluralistic society where, for the most part, Catholics, Jews, Protestants, agnostics and atheists live peacefully together, and where there’s a national consensus — often violated, perhaps, but still in existence — that racial prejudice is unacceptable.
Try exporting that kind of religious, ethnic and racial tolerance to a place like Iraq, where there are three distinct population groups — Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds — that have separate and competing priorities. And there is visceral hatred between the Sunnis and the Shiites that is hard for Americans to comprehend.
That lack of understanding no doubt contributed to our nation’s unrealistic expectations that Iraq, with a little help, could become a stable democracy.
But under the leadership of Iraq’s Shiite prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, the nation’s Sunnis and Kurds were virtually disenfranchised.
That’s why, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman argues, the United States owes Maliki nothing as he seeks to survive the current crisis threatening to rip Iraq apart:
“In a word, Maliki has been a total jerk. Besides being prime minister, he made himself acting minister of defense, minister of the interior and national security adviser, and his cronies also control the Central Bank and the Finance Ministry.”
Maliki’s decision to make his government an instrument of Shiite supremacy guaranteed that sooner or later the Sunnis would attempt to violently overthrow their fellow Muslims so long regarded as their enemies.
President Obama, for all his missteps, has reason to insist that Maliki change his ways if he is to get American help.
Badly flawed leadership has led to the emergence of an insurgency intent on destroying the Iraqi government.
The reported massacre would appear to be further proof that pluralism is not likely to gain a foothold in a region where you don’t have rivals — you have enemies.