The Center Cannot Hold – Why the United States is Losing in Iraq


            In 1921, when Britain controlled Palestine and Iraq, the Irish poet William Butler Yeats wrote a poem called The Second Coming.  It is a good discription of the contemporary Middle East.




Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The Falcon cannot hear the falconer ;

Things fall apart ; the center cannot hold ;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned ;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.


Surely some revelation is at hand;

Surely the Second Coming is at hand.

The Second Coming ! Hardly are those words out

When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi

Troubles my sight ; somewhere in the sands of the desert

A shape with lion body and the head of a man,

A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,

Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it

Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again ; but now I know

That twenty centuries of stony sleep

Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,

Slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?



            It makes telling point borne out by election analysis, that the center, the geographic center is important for unity.  Location matters, far out of proportion to population or other strength.


            This is amply demonstrated in the history of the United States where presidents have overwhelmingly come from the middle of the country.  Four of the first 5 presidents came from Virginia.  In 1789, Virginia was the center of the 13 states.  It neatly divided the country between the slave holding agricultural plantation south and the small family farm commercial north, accurately reflecting the division of the nation 70 years later during the Civil War.


            After the Civil War, as the nation expanded westward, the president continued to come from the center of the nation, the mid-west, Ohio.  Like Virginia in the beginning, Ohio and the mid-west was the center of the nation in the late 19th century.  It was the meeting point of the industrial Northeast, the plantation South (because the Ohio-Mississippi River was the Interstate for commerce between the north and south) and the west. Of the nine presidents who served in the 54 years from the end of the Civil War to the aftermath of World War I, 4 were from Ohio, and two more were born in Ohio, but elected from Illinois and Indiana respectively.


            Even in modern times, the pattern holds.  Harry Truman was from Missouri.  Eisenhower was born in Texas and raised in Kansas.  Lyndon Johnson was from Texas.  Richard Nixon was from California, but moved to New York after losing the 1962 California Governor’s race.  Gerald Ford was born in Nebraska and lived in Michigan.  Ronald Reagan was born and raised in Illinois, before moving to California as an adult.  George Bush moved to Texas.  Bill Clinton came from Arkansas.  And George W. Bush comes from Texas.


            Examining the leadership of other nations reveals the same general pattern.  Leaders tend to emerge from the middle of nations because people from the middle have the best balanced innate sense and experiential familiarity with the strengths and weaknesses of the political entity.


            Otto von Bismarck, who unified Germany, came from Prussia.  Lenin, from Ulyanovsk, slightly to the east of the middle of European Russia, from the Baltic states to the Ural Mountains.  Mao Tse-Tung came from Hunan province, in inland south central China.  After the defeat of Germany in World War II, Chancellor Conrad Adenauer, who presided over Germany’s reconstruction, rehabilitation and rapprochement with France came from Alsace, the part of Germany closest to France and the West.  Patrice Lumumba, the first Prime Minister of the independent Congo, came from Kasai Province, the south-middle of that nation.  Geography matters.  That is why the electoral college is so important, not only to keep the election of the president in the hands of the states, but to ensure that no matter where the President comes from, he or she has a nationally distributed constituency.


            So, it is less important that Saddam Hussein was a dictator that it is that he was from Tikrit, the center of Iraq.  Even with Saddam Hussein gone, the likelihood is that the next indigenous ruler of Iraq will also come from the center of the country, the Sunni triangle.  Iraq is an artificial construct as a nation, as are most of the Middle Eastern countries.  Most of the Middle East rulers dictators of one kind or another.  The bad news is that the center of resistance to the foreign occupation of Iraq is centered in the center of the country. 


            That means the United States either has to subdue the center, or Iraq will fragment with the Kurds in the north breaking away, probably as the seed for a Kurdish state including the Kurds from Turkey and Iran, while the Shiites in the south would form some kind of union or federation with Iran (to compensate them for the loss of the Kurds in the west).


            Turkey, America’s ally and a member of NATO, is adamantly opposed to a Kurdish state.  Ergo, the United States has to subdue the center of Iraq in order to win the war.  The United States had no difficulty taking Baghdad, but Baghdad was not the problem.  The war will not be over until the center of resistance, the Sunni triangle north of Baghdad is pacified.  It is hard to see this happening without enough troops to completely occupy the center of Iraq.  Maybe the original military estimate of 200,000 or more troops needed to win the war was right after all.


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Contact: Joshua Leinsdorf