Tony Norman: 'Game of Thrones' plays out in Iraq, starring America

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Fans of the hit HBO series “Game of Thrones” and the five books by George R.R. Martin the series is based on know that the bloody civil war that ravaged the seven kingdoms of Westeros was put into motion by a relatively obscure royal apparatchik named Little Finger.

Tens of thousands of deaths resulted from Little Finger’s machinations, but to blame him for every moral outrage that transpired as a result of his lies and trickery would be too simplistic. The war encouraged the most ambitious men and women of competing fiefdoms to use the resulting anarchy as an opportunity to remake the world in their image.

Once the shaky peace that once prevailed in Westeros had been sundered, the self-interest of men far more brutal than Little Finger made itself known. In the vivid, bloody world Mr. Martin created, the genie of war is impossible to control.

Meanwhile, independent of Little Finger’s schemes, an army of fearsome, non-human warriors from the north has begun marching south toward Westeros and the known world. Because their reasons for marching south haven’t been revealed, one can only surmise that they intend to use the decades-long winter that is about to descend on the seven kingdoms as cover for their invasion. They represent such an existential threat that people in the north form an alliance with another foe that has recently invaded them. Once implacable foes become allies, if not exactly friends because survival depends on it.

Through it all, the people vying for the throne in the south have only the vaguest inkling that all is not well in the north. If they only knew the full extent of the terror that awaits them, they would put aside their differences and deal with what would amount to a far bigger threat than being ruled by a rival tribe or family.

The frothy politics of “Game of Thrones” comes to mind while observing the disintegration of Iraq in recent weeks. That is not to suggest that there are neat parallels between the events in the HBO series and the mutual assured destruction of the Sunnis and Shiites that threatens to reduce the country to Syria-level carnage and instability. Still, America’s shocking alliance with Iran against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, a group so brutal and apocalyptic that even al-Qaida has disavowed it, feels like something George R.R. Martin could’ve written. The stupidity and corruption of the Iraqi government is similar to what one encounters in the pages of Mr. Martin’s books when he describes the various ruling families. Some things are just universal.

The collapse of the Iraqi army despite its numerical and technological advantage over ISIS isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement of the American military’s training operation. Think of the billions spent on that futile effort. The cowardice on display by Iraqi forces abandoning their uniforms and weapons is exceeded only by the moral obliviousness of the politicians who tricked America into going to war in Iraq in the first place. The shamelessness of those false prophets criticizing President Obama for not doubling down on their losing strategies is breathtaking.

The invasion of Iraq 11 years ago was precipitated by the machinations of a cabal of American Little Fingers known as neoconservatives, an influential cult within the GOP that fervently believed Iraq could be transformed into an American-friendly beachhead in the Arab world.

Neocons within George W. Bush’s administration were motivated by both idealism and the prospect of America gaining uninhibited access to Iraq’s vast oil fields. Once Saddam Hussein was deposed, a grateful Iraqi president or dictator of our choosing would gladly work with us to establish a pax Americana in the region. That was the Little Finger-like theory, at least.

That plan fell apart almost immediately because it didn’t take into consideration the difficulty of managing an actual war unfettered by a grand theory. Once the brutal, but disciplined Iraqi army was disbanded, civilian life disrupted and much of the country’s infrastructure destroyed, there was nothing to hold back those forces within society long suppressed by Saddam’s iron fist. Iraq’s current crisis was started by the American invasion, but its own tribal rivalries and weak, corrupted government exacerbated an already horrible situation. We may be Little Finger, but we didn’t make it snow by ourselves.


Tony Norman: tnorman@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1631; Twitter @TonyNormanPG.

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