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The Empire Is Falling

By Robert Fisk

08 December 2006
The Independent

The Roman Empire is falling. That, in a phrase, is what the Baker report says. The legions cannot impose their rule on Mesopotamia.

Just as Crassus lost his legions' banners in the deserts of Syria-Iraq, so has George W Bush. There is no Mark Antony to retrieve the honour of the empire. The policy "is not working". "Collapse" and "catastrophe" - words heard in the Roman senate many a time - were embedded in the text of the Baker report. Et tu, James?

This is also the language of the Arab world, always waiting for the collapse of empire, for the destruction of the safe Western world which has provided it with money, weapons, political support. First, the Arabs trusted the British Empire and Winston Churchill, and then they trusted the American Empire and Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the Truman and Eisenhower administrations and all the other men who would give guns to the Israelis and billions to the Arabs - Nixon, Carter, Clinton, Bush...

And now they are told that the Americans are not winning the war; that they are losing. If you were an Arab, what would you do?

Be sure, they are not asking this question in Washington. The Middle East - so all-important (supposedly) in the "war on terror" - in itself, a myth - doesn't really matter in the White House. It is a district, a map, a region, every bit as amorphous as the crescent of "crisis" which the Clinton administration invented when it wanted to land its troops in Somalia. How to get out, how to save face, that's the question. To hell with the people who live there: the Arabs, the Iraqis, the men, women and children whom we kill - and whom the Iraqis kill - every day.

Note how our "spokesmen" in Afghanistan now acknowledge the dead woman and children of Nato airstrikes as if it is quite in order to slaughter these innocents because we are at war with the horrid Taliban.

Some of the same mindset has arrived in Baghdad, where "coalition" spokesmen also - from time to time - jump in front of the video-tape evidence by accepting that they, too, kill women and children in their war against "terror". But it is the sentences of impotence that doom empires. "The ability of the United States to influence events within Iraq is diminishing." There is a risk of a "slide towards chaos [sic] [that] could trigger the collapse of Iraq's government and a humanitarian catastrophe."

But hasn't that already happened? "Collapse" and "catastrophe" are daily present in Iraq. America's ability "to influence events" has been absent for years. And let's just re-read the following sentence: "Violence is increasing in scope and lethality. It is fed by a Sunni Arab insurgency. Shiite [Shia] militias, death squads, al-Qa'ida and widespread criminality. Sectarian conflict is the principal challenge to stability."

Come again? Where was this "widespread criminality," this "sectarian conflict" when Saddam, our favourite war criminal, was in power? What do the Iraqis think about this? And how typical that the American media went at once to hear Bush's view of the Baker report - rather than the reaction of the Iraqis, those who are on the receiving end of our self-induced tragedy in Mesopotamia.

They will enjoy the idea that American troops should be "embedded" with Iraqi forces - not so long ago, it was the press that had to be "embedded" with the Americans! - as if the Romans were ready to put their legions amid the Goths, Ostrogoths and Visigoths to ensure their loyalty.

What the Romans did do, of course - and what the Americans would never do - is offer their subjects Roman citizenship. Every tribe - in Gaul or Bythinia or Mesopotamia - who fell under Roman rule became a citizen of Rome. What could Washington have done with Iraq if it had offered American citizenship to every Iraqi? There would have been no insurrection, no violence, no collapse or catastrophe, no Baker report. But no. We wanted to give these people the fruits of our civilisation - not the civilisation itself. From this, they were banned.

And the result? The nations we supposedly hated - Iran and Syria - are now expected to save us from ourselves. "Given the ability [sic] of Iran and Syria to influence events and their interest in avoiding chaos in Iraq, the United States should try to engage [sic] them constructively."

I love those words. Especially "engage". Yes, the "influence of America" is diminishing. The influence of Syria and Iran is growing. That just about sums up the "war on terror". Any word yet, I wonder, from Lord Blair of Kut al-Amara?

The strategies

The Baker panel considered four options, all of which it rejected:

Cut And Run

Baker believes it would cause a humanitarian disaster, while al-Qa'ida would expand further.

Stay The Course

Baker accepts that current US policy is not working. Nearly 100 Americans are dying every month. The US is spending $2bn (£1bn) a week and has lost public support.

Send In More Troops

Increases in US troop levels would not solve the cause of violence in Iraq. Violence would simply rekindle as soon as US forces moved.

Regional Devolution

If the country broke up into its Shia, Sunni and Kurd regions, it would lead to ethnic cleansing and mass population moves.

Baker outlines a fifth option - 'responsible transition' - in which the number of US forces could be increased to shore up the Iraqi army while it takes over primary responsibility for combat operations. US troops would then decrease slowly.

© 2006 Independent News and Media Limited

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