America has learned and relearned its lesson the hard way several times over the last 50 years, now it’s time for another nation to get a taste of its own medicine
Some four years ago in Iraq’s Anbar province, a leader of a local Shia militia took me on a tour of areas nominally under his men’s shaky control. The war against Isis was in its first year, and the militia had seized control of an area just east of Fallujah, which was then under the control of the jihadi groups. A man and his father wearing black traditional gowns approached us, and we shook hands.
The commander, who had just spent hours boasting about how beloved his men were among the Sunni population, let his guard down. “When they pull their hands out of their pockets, you never know if they’ll pull out a grenade,” the commander said. “By day, they are friendly and greeting us. By night they’re laying roadside bombs.”
The statement was stunning, coming from an Iraqi, especially since I had heard similar statements a decade earlier by American troops attempting to bring order to Iraq after toppling Saddam Hussein and taking on the role of occupier.
Military intervention in someone else’s land is never easy and straightforward, and always has unintended costs and blowback. Even if there’s no insurgency, there’s what former US secretary of state Colin Powell famously called the “Pottery Barn Rule” of foreign intervention, in reference to the American retail home furnishings chain. You break it, you own it, he warned presciently about the perils of the US invasion of Iraq.
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