Posted March 19, 2003


IRAQ: THE BIOLOGY OF A WAR
by John Carroll


If you look at a few kinds of sexual animals, say, cockroaches, frogs, and monkeys, you'll notice two obvious and common behaviors. It doesn't matter which animals you pick. They all search for food, and they all search for mates. The food provides the chemicals which their bodies use to grow to adulthood, to mate, and to pass their genes on to new animals, which behave and look like their parents. Each species has its own ways of doing those things, but all the animals that are still among us convert food into new copies of their genes that reside in new organisms. We humans aren't exceptions. Like the cockroach and the monkey, we search out the resources to grow to adulthood, to mate, and to pass our genes on to the next generation of people. Like other animals, we have our own ways of doing this, and one of those ways is war.

From time immemorial, probably even before our ancestors were modern humans, perhaps even before they had language, people fought wars to gather new resources and mates and to use those resources and mates to make and rear babies who would carry their genes to the next generation. In hunter-gatherer times, a lot of wars were principally about mates. Men from one tribal group raided another group for females that they then used to copy their own genes into the future. But in the modern world we rarely capture women and transport them back to our territory, though warriors frequently engage in rape and seduction in enemy territory. Mostly we fight about resources like agricultural land or diamonds or oil or water -- resources that in their direct or roundabout ways help us copy our genes into children and raise those children to adulthood, after which it's their turn to repeat the process. The less warlike and those less successful in war didn't gain as or keep as many resources or leave as many copies of their genes behind, and the genes of warlike men came to predominate. Because wars are cooperative tribal events, we've also evolved to worry about the "us people" who belong to our tribe, and not to care much about the welfare of the "them people" whose resources we want, or who are threatening to take our resources from us.

The basic biology of warfare is that tribes evovled to fight to get resources with which to procreate, taking them from members of other tribes or defending them against alien aggressors. We may use resources for non-procreative purposes, especially in modern times, but reproduction was the evolutionary pressure that gave us "war genes," and since we still carry those genes, we still fight wars over resources.

In the essays that follow, I look at how the second War in Iraq fits into that biological scheme of things. I'll keep adding essays as the war progresses, and afterwards I may also write more about the results.



THE SECOND WAR IN IRAQ SEEMS CERTAIN NOW

March 19, 2003: The U.S., Britain, and Australia are about to make war on Iraq again. If Saddam Hussein and his sons don't leave the country before eight o'clock tonight, missiles will strike Iraqi targets, aircraft will bomb cities and air defenses, and troops stationed in Kuwait will cross the border enroute to Baghdad. All signs are that the Iraqi troops, badly outgunned and having been beaten in 1991, will put up relatively little fight. But I'm relying on public "news" put out by U.S. intelligence sources, which are hardly reliable. Their public releases are for public consumption, especially by the enemy, and are as likely to mislead as inform. Already they've leafleted the country, much as the CIA did in Guatemala in 1954. Iraqi troops in northern Iraq, according to news reports, have passed messages to the Kurds in the area that as soon as the shooting starts, they plan to surrender. Truth or psy-war? Who knows? Leaflets have warned troops throughout the country not to use chemical or biological weapons and have been told exactly how to surrender. Leaflets and radio messages have told Iraqi civilians that the U.S. comes to liberate them, whether they like that idea or not, and that things will be much better when Saddam is gone.

The U.S. plans, once it conquers Iraq, to govern it directly for a time and set up a democracy. The democracy is supposed to become stable and prosperous and secular, with Iraqi success serving as a model for other Middle Eastern states and for the Palestinians, who in the long term will have their own state.

Our president claims that we're attacking Iraq for a variety of reasons. They supposedly have weapons of mass destruction (but not so many as we have). They are led by a terrible, deranged dictator. Perhaps, but so what? Most national leaders could probably be called deranged, but it's only the ones with whom we're in conflict that we call mad. The Iraqi government is blamed for supporting al Qaeda terrorism, but if there's credible evidence of that, it's never been presented in public. Iraq also has enormous oil reserves, but our side claims that doesn't figure in the war calculation. Of course not. Why would the world's largest oil consumer want a reliable and subservient oil supplier?

So why do we really want to fight Iraq? First, probably as our leaders admit, to rebuild the place to be more like America and Israel -- as a democracy that loves us and that will serve as an example for other Middle Eastern countries. Not a chance of all that happening. First of all, Iraq is three major tribes, not one, and on that account, the Shiites in the south lean more toward Iran than toward the government in Baghdad. Second, there are the Sunnis in the middle of the country, who, though they're a minority contol Baghdad, at least for tonight. Then there are the Kurds in the North, who are tribally connected to the Kurds in Turkey and the Kurds in Iran. Third, nobody wants to be conquered by aliens, and we're not just aliens, but hated aliens -- the ones who've throttled Iraq's economy for a dozen years, and in more than a few Middle Eastern minds, we're the Crusaders, the same bunch of Christians that attacked them long ago. We're also the people who've dominated the region since someone discovered oil there, and we're the tribe that supports Israel, no matter how badly it treats Palestinians. We may say the people of Iraq have suffered because Saddam Hussein has refused to comply with U.S. sanctions and because what resources he can get he's used to bolster his military machine. They may or may not hate him. How can I know? I haven't been to Iraq and don't speak Arabic, so I haven't followed the Iraqi news media, but I'd guess they don't think our dominance would be an improvement.

What other motive might we have? Ask the Europeans. They don't want us to do it, and they'll lie about their motives as much as we lie about ours and the Iraqi leaders lie about theirs. They just say we need to give diplomacy a chance to work. They don't want us running roughshod over them. They want a say in world affairs -- in how resources are distributed -- and we don't want them to have it. So far it's a tribal conflict short of war - at least with Europe. But one reason for the war in Iraq is that our leaders decided it would be a convenient way to show everyone in the world that they damn well better not cross the world's only remaining superpower. Or to phrase it differently, to tell the European Union that it better not challenge us economically because we're a tribe no one can challenge. A quick, painless victory in Iraq would be very convincing.

But that's not what's likely to happen. Even if we win easily, we'll have a terrible time turning Iraq into a model democracy where people love the U.S. Domestic tranquility depends on having one tribe in charge of the nation. Put several tribes within the same borders and they'll fight one another for resources. If we're going to make Iraq a peaceful country, we'll have to somehow merge its three major tribes into a single Iraqi tribe. That's not out of the question, but the only way to do it is to oppress them. That's the only way small tribes fuse to make larger tribes. They need a common enemy to make them forget their own disputes. People don't give up their natal tribes lightly. Only a common outside threat can make them do that.

Before the British invaded Ireland, there was no coherent Irish tribe, just numerous little kingdoms, each a tribe unto itself, and those tribes were often at war with one another. But they had to come together to ward off the relentless British invaders. That's how the Irish people we know today became Irish. The British made them do it, but the British certainly didn't gain by doing so. They lost most of Ireland in the long run. Similarly, Germany was a bunch of warring principalities until French aggression forced them to unite into a single tribe. And this certainly didn't do France any long term good.

Can't we conquer Iraq without making its people hate us? Of course not. For one thing, they don't want to be conquered. No tribe does. For another thing, the conquest will hardly be painless, even for the most innocent civilians. I don't know how long the war will last, but promises of not harming civilians are impossible to keep in a war of conquest. Not even smart weapons are perfect, and if they were, the people who target them don't know the details on the ground. Casualties among the "innocent" are a staple of modern war. When our smart bombs miss or our targeting information is wrong, women and childen will die. If the enemy uses its own people as human shields, we'll be very sorry, but we'll kill the warriors and the civilians both. There's no other way to win a war. And killing tribe members and wrecking the economy that supplies them with the resources they need is not known as a good way to make friends.

When we conquer Iraq, its people will view us as the invaders who wrecked their society and its economy and killed many of the "us people." Only if we stay for a decade or more and slowly turn Iraqi society back to Iraqi tribespeople, will they be able to stomach us. We managed to do something like that with Japan and Germany after WWII, but we're not planning anything on that scale for Iraq. We're already thinking of ways to pass expenses off to the United Nations and Europe. When the battle is done, we'll bail out as fast as we can. It's far too expensive to stay and create a whole new political culture. So we'll set up some kind of government favorable to us, and then do our best to rule it from afar. Remember, we're the ones, who around 1950 installed the Shah in Iran. I'm old enough to remember what a coup that was for the American intelligence and diplomatic experts. The Iranians so loved the Shah that they threw his government out, held American diplomats hostage, and turned to the Ayatollah Khomenei for leadership. Do we want to do something like that in Iraq?

Comment: For those who think I'm being too hard on the U.S., let me add that I hope we win this war as quickly as possible and with as few dead people as possible. I am, after all, a tribal American. I was even long ago a tribal soldier. But while I surely hope we win, I think getting into this war was a monumental mistake. Perhaps when we win, we'll find stockpiles of chemical, biological, or even the makings of nuclear weapons. Maybe they'll use them on our troops. But don't bet on it. There's very little evidence in public that Iraq has such weapons, and equally little evidence to suggest it's a threat the the United States.

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