Kinds of Quagmires II

by Kieran Healy on August 19, 2005

Orin Kerr, Ted and Kevin Drum think about options for the future in Iraq and the likelihood of various outcomes. Kevin says,

I happen to think a timed withdrawal is probably the best bet left to us, although I admit that I suspect Iraq is going to end up in chaos no matter what we do. That would be a disaster, but if we can’t stop it anyway there’s no point in making things worse by staying. For now, that’s pretty much where I’m at, and anyone who disagrees really needs to give the chin scratching a rest and tell us clearly and concisely what they’d do differently to turn the tide in this war. Time has run out.

As many have noted, as the situation in Iraq remains stuck, the political push from the pro-war side will increasingly move towards blaming the war’s failure on those who opposed its initiation, who had no power whatsoever over its direction, and even, in some cases, those who sacrificed a great deal to its prosecution. The astonishing vilification of Cindy Sheehan by right-wing talking heads is evidence enough of that. I find it depressing—and a sign of how stuck things now are—that a CT post from almost two years ago stands up pretty well.

[John McCain writes that] “America’s mission in Iraq is too important to fail.” … [In my view], any policy that is “too important to fail” risks becoming a self-justifying sinkhole, as Billmon recently argued: “In the end, policy mistakes—particularly big ones—tend to produce a kind of circular reasoning—in which those in charge try to justify the policy by citing the need to avoid, at all costs, the failure of the policy.”

… Now that the U.S. is entrenched in Iraq, it must stay because to withdraw would be to give a victory to “every bad actor in the Middle East.” Iraq is where the war on terror is being fought. But of course it’s being fought there because that’s where the U.S. has chosen to put its soldiers. Which is why it must stay. Around and around we go. That is the logic of a quagmire, and it makes the analogy to Vietnam clearer. There, it wasn’t the sheer number of casualties lost in the jungles or troops fragging their commanders or anti-draft protests at home that were at the root of problem. It was that the U.S.’s presence in the region was, by way of arguments about nation-building there and face-saving here, the very reason for further escalation.

The U.S.’s day-to-day problems in Iraq may end up resembling Northern Ireland rather than Vietnam: car bombings, political assassinations, a general effort by terrorists to violently undermine civil society and resist the occupying power. The cost in terms of soldiers’ lives would be much lower than in Vietnam, but if there’s no viable way to extricate yourself the feeling of the situation may be much the same. … Involvement there is self-justifying and there’s no clear way to get out of the loop.

The way to argue against it is to say there are predictable changes to Iraqi society that would trigger a withdrawal. Hence the appeals to post-WWII Europe. I’m not convinced by this comparison, but others are welcome to make the case for it. My questions to them are the same ones I was asking back in March: Since WWII, how many autocratic or totalitarian countries have been invaded by a democracy, had the bad guys deposed, and a stable democratic regime installed? And how does this number compare to the number of invasions or other interventions that resulted in puppet governments, friendly autocrats, messy long-term military occupations, or outright disasters?

There’s some irony—but maybe also some hope—in how the official position on Iraq has evolved. As it has moved away from dealing directly with Al-Qaeda and towards reconstructing the entire political economy of the Middle-East, the administration’s actions have inevitably begun to imply an analysis of terrorism focused on root-causes. In the wake of the September 11th attacks, any talk of root causes was dismissed as watery left-wing handwringing. Terrorists were simply evil and there was no point in thinking about their origins any further. Now the official view is that the way to eliminate terrorism is to turn countries that produce them into capitalist democracies. If there is a realistic exit strategy from Iraq, it may depend on having believable measures of terrorism’s root-causes. It’ll be interesting to see the people who sneered at the very idea of thinking in those terms eventually pointing to such measures as evidence of the success of their policies.

I guess at this point I’d add that the Northern Ireland analogy was on the right track, but Iraq is really much worse than the North ever was: neither political order nor daily life there ever broke down to anything like the degree that Iraq has. The superpower status of the U.S. has allowed it to create a superpower-sized problem for itself. Kevin is right to fear that the domestic political logic of the mess may now make the phrase “stay the course” a shibboleth in future elections.

{ 66 comments }

1

Hektor Bim 08.19.05 at 9:15 am

Actually, the better analogy would be the whole of Ireland, because the Sunni Arabs only make up something like 20% of the population, rather like the Unionists of Ireland.

Of course, the whole analogy is flawed because there is no long-established imperial power that is fighting to oppress the majority population and retain political supremacy for its co-religionists.

It’s important to stress that the violence in Iraq only occurs in something like a third of the country. The insurgents simply are not a broad-based national liberation movement, and never will be as long as they support Sunni Arab domination.

So, if we follow the idiots of the British Foreign Office, for whom the solution to every problem is partition, that is what we should shoot for. But since the history of partition is fairly bad: Israel/Palestine, India/Pakistan, Syria/Lebanon, Iraq, etc, I think a decentralized Iraq is a much better solution, and it seems to be what the vast majority of Iraqi citizens want.

2

Steve LaBonne 08.19.05 at 9:18 am

Since my job (forensic science) is connected with law enforcement (and is located in a Republican-leaning exurban area), I hang around with a lot of pretty conservative Republican types (this describes nearly all my colleagues in the lab as well as the vast majority of prosecutors and cops I interact with.) I’m encouraged that I’m starting to hear some mutinous “we need to get out now” sentiments from a few of these people, including ones with fairly close relatives in the military. I think the coming wave of Republican “stab-in-the-back” propaganda could be effectively counteracted even among a substantial slice of Republican voters- by an organized political opposition. There’s the catch of course- we’re talking about the Democrats here. Sigh.

3

Brendan 08.19.05 at 9:35 am

‘It’s important to stress that the violence in Iraq only occurs in something like a third of the country. ‘

That is nonsense. With the exception of the Kurdish areas the insurgents can (and do) strike any part of the country they wish. Obviously they are not striking every part of the country with maximum force at all times (so it might be true that at any given, for example, week, there is ‘only’ violence in about a third of the country) but as a quick look at a map of where insurgents have struck will show, all of Iraq (except, to repeat, Kurdish areas) is wracked with violence.

I think it’s very important for us to see things through the Sunni’s eyes. We might see them as all being unreconstructed Ba’athists, but that is undoubtedly not how they see themselves. I think the comparison here with the Loyalist paramilitaries (and the Unionists generally) is a good one. The Sunnis know they treated the Shias and the Kurds like dirt. They also know that the Shias (and the Kurds) have major superpowers behind them (Iran and the US, respectively). Who stands up for the Sunnis? Saudi Arabia, and the Sunni Arabs generally, in some respects. But the fact that the Sunnis were linked with the secular Aa’athists will prevent people like Osama Bin Laden from engaging in more than tactical alliances with them.

In other words, the Sunnis see themselves as a minority in Iraq, surrounded by enemies, with their culture and politics under threat. They might even (as secularists) see themselves as being under threat from the Shias (backed by Iran) in the same sense that the Loyalists saw themselves as good rational Protestants under attack from the irrational and superstitious Catholics attempting to impose a political settelement on them against their will.

A final point is that, despite the fact that the pro-invasioners desperately deny it, oil was a motivation for this war and it still is. The Shias and the Kurds have been careful to proclaim as part of ‘their’ federalised areas, the main oil producing parts of Iraq, and the Sunnis feel that they are being pushed into natural resource poor parts of Iraq.

Considering they used to run Iraq, this must all be very difficult to take.

It is this sense of being an embattled minority that fuels the Sunni insurgency.

I might add that I hope for their sakes that the Americans really do plan on leaving. If they start producing any smart ideas about permanent military bases after the new constitution is ratified next year, then undoubtedly the Shias will come out on the streets to protest, and if that doesnt work, they will join the Sunnis in kicking the Americans out by force. That really will lead to a Vietnam type situation.

4

Kieran Healy 08.19.05 at 9:59 am

_Of course, the whole analogy is flawed_

Drawing an analogy is not to assert perfect equivalence. The idea was that the Iraqi insurgency aims to kill soldiers in guerilla attacks and civilians through terrorist car bombings, etc. The fatalities aren’t nearly as high as in Vietnam, but the situation is still intolerable for the occupying power in the long run — and just as hard to fight.

5

Marc Mulholland 08.19.05 at 10:18 am

There seems to be an assumption that the insurgency cannot be defeated without the presence of the world’s greatest ever military machine. In light of this, one wonders how wars and rebellions have ever been concluded hitherto.

War has pretty much been the norm for nation-state formation. Rebellions and civil conflicts have been battered down many times, either through suppression or partition, many times in the history of nation state formation. If the occupation ended, I’d imagine that the Shias would clobber the insurgency in pretty short order, though it would not be a pretty sight.

There’s one analogy with Northern Ireland. Why did the Troubles go on so long? Because an external power prevented decisive victory for one side or the other, and maintained sufficient order to make fighting on for both sides seem worth the price rather than painfully compromising principles. In short, the alternative to short, sharp, shock conflict resolution was intermnible conflict.

This seems to be the alternative in Iraq, writ large. The Brits had quite a moral obligation to stick it out in Northern Ireland. In the abscence of a western settler population in Iraq, or democracy-building as a stated war-aim before the invasion, it’s not clear to me that such an obligation exists in Iraq. Time-tabled withdrawal seems the only sensible thing.

6

Steve Burton 08.19.05 at 10:18 am

Mr. Healy writes that “…the political push from the pro-war side will increasingly move towards blaming the war’s failure on those who opposed its initiation, who had no power whatsoever over its direction, and even, in some cases, those who sacrificed a great deal to its prosecution. The astonishing vilification of Cindy Sheehan by right-wing talking heads is evidence enough of that.”

But how does the “vilification” of Cindy Sheehan give evidence of any such move?

I suppose we can count on Ann Coulter to represent “right-wing talking heads” at their worst. Here’s the sort of thing she’s saying about Sheehan:

“Sheehan shows us what Democrats would say if they thought they were immunized from disagreement. Sheehan has called President Bush ‘that filth-spewer and warmonger.’ She says ‘America has been killing people on this continent since it was started’ and ‘the killing has gone on unabated for over 200 years.’ She calls the U.S. government a ‘morally repugnant system’ and says, ‘This country is not worth dying for.’ I have a feeling every time this gal opens her trap, Michael Moore gets a residuals check.”

Now this may not be nice, but in what sense is it “blaming the war’s failure” on the anti-warriors?

But I don’t watch tv, so sometimes I miss stuff; has somebody else like O’Reilly or Sean Hannity been blaming Cindy Sheehan for the persistence of the insurgency?

7

P ONeill 08.19.05 at 10:38 am

The Blame Sheehan First crowd is up and running. Daniel Henninger in today’s WSJ:

Yes, Cindy Sheehan is entitled to say what’s on her mind, blah, blah, blah. But the rest of us are equally entitled to understand that the same forces that washed the moral and political complexity out of the Schiavo case are gathering again inside the U.S. to do the same to Iraq.

No doubt, the news from Iraq is wearing people down. Progress is pedestrian and death is not. But this is not the moment to blow the country over it. Want a Vietnam-like revolution over Iraq? Want a war of absolute moral claims? Better think twice about it. The eminent legal scholar Alexander Bickel did just that in 1975, reflecting on the price paid back then and likely to be paid the next time: “If we allow ourselves to be engulfed in moral certitudes we will march to self-destruction from one Vietnam and one domestic revolution to another.”

8

Steve Burton 08.19.05 at 10:50 am

p oneill – Henninger’s point is less than entirely clear, but he doesn’t seem to be blaming Ms. Sheehan for war failures. He seems to be saying that media circuses like this one and the Schiavo case transform morally complex issues into simplistic, polarized shouting matches. Does this make him part of a “Blame Sheehan First crowd?”

9

Hektor Bim 08.19.05 at 10:56 am

Brendan,

I’m sorry, but I seem to have missed the repeated insurgent attacks in Najaf and Karbala and Basra. Sure, they had some car bombings and killed people a while ago, but recently, they usually limit their attacks to Baghdad and points west and north. I looked at coalition fatalities by province from icasualties.org – here’s the list:

Note the vast majority of casualties have occurred in 6 provinces: Baghdad, Anbar, Diyala, Salah al Din, and Ninawa. There have been casualties in the South, but many of these are from the Mahdi Army, which is not fighting now and should not be considered part of the current Sunni Arab insurgency. So, basically, coalition forces are being killed in 6 of the 18 Iraqi provinces. This is not a broad-based insurgency.

The insurgency is limited to Sunni Arab majority areas. Anywhere where Shiite political power is entrenched, they have essentially no power.

So I strongly disagree with you in that respect, Brendan.

The Unionist comparison is a good one. One hopes that we won’t have partition, since the sunnis don’t have a strong actor willing to slant the political settlement to suit their interests. ultimately, the Sunni Arabs have to accomodate themselves to being minorities in a state full of people they kicked around for decades and still remember it. Luckily, this seems to already be happening.

10

Hektor Bim 08.19.05 at 10:57 am

oops, link failed:

here it is

http://icasualties.org/oif/Province.aspx

11

P ONeill 08.19.05 at 10:59 am

Steve — I admit to having read Henninger 3 times and still not being sure what his point is. It doesn’t help that the intro to the piece is different on the free site than in the pay section of the WSJ, where it says:

The Iraq War Mom is using her center-ring moment to divide an entire country over a war.

A similar sentence appears lower down in the free piece. But either way I think it’s ridiculous. One woman camps out in a ditch and suddenly the country is divided over a war that began 2.5 years ago? And there’s a bit of nod and wink with the divided country/Vietnam analogies, because a favoured stab-in-the-back theory of the right on Vietnam is that the US lost because the country was divided.

12

Jeff Gannon 08.19.05 at 11:10 am

How are we to succeed on a mission that has [a] already been accomplished; or [b], whose goals shift downward on a regular basis?

If Bush continues to define downward his objective[s] then at some point he will back into “success” and get out.

What is left for the US to do? I guess you start with the stated justifications by the Bush Administration for the invasion and occupation.

1. “Imminent WMD threat to the US.” Success would be finding and removing that threat. Since they did not exist, the US cannot succeed or fail on this point.
2. Saddam is a bad guy and bad things happened to his people while he was in control. He’s gone [success], but bad things continue to happen to his people, and will continue to happen while the US occupies the country. [failure].
3. The US needs to impose a pseudo democratic political system on the populace of another country at gunpoint. In progress; US to withdraw as soon as can be plausibly claimed to be complete.

13

Steve Burton 08.19.05 at 11:18 am

p oneill – yes, it’s a bit obscure.

I agree that the intro line you quote is ridiculous. Accusing those with whom one disagrees of being “divisive” is one of the silliest and tiredest rhetorical devices out there.

14

Cornhuskerblogger (CHB) 08.19.05 at 11:24 am

at least there is one little teeny tiny bit of good news out in the world… http://cardcarryingmember.blogspot.com/2005/08/nukeapalooza.html

15

Brendan 08.19.05 at 11:36 am

Hektor
there are a large number of problems with the map you posted (here’s the same information in a Flash format http://www.obleek.com/iraq/index.html).

1: It only lists attacks on Coalition troops. But as well as the insurgency there is also a civil war between Sunnis and Shias going on. Moreover, there is ALSO an insurgent policy of attacking people ASSOCIATED with the occupation: civil servants, police, politicians etc. So only listing attacks on coalition troops gives a grossly misleading underestimate of the level of violence.

2: To say that the vast amount of casualties have occurred in ‘only’ six provinces is a meaningless statement unless you take into account how many people live in those provinces. By definition, the insurgents are not going to strike where there arent’ any people. In the United States, if a giant insurgency against the government was to break out you would not be comforted to know that it was ‘localised’ in the big cities on the West and East coasts. One of the six provinces you have listed is Baghdad. But Baghdad is the CAPITAL. It contains just under a quarter of the population. The insurgents CHOOSE not to attack in sparsely populated desert regions because….well there’s no one there. They CHOOSE to concentrate their attacks in major cities because….well that’s where the people are and that’s where the Americans are (you also ignore the fact that British run regions tend to be less violent than American run regions, but this probably has more to do with the British than the insurgency). For example, there have been car bombs in Basra, showing the insurgents could perfectly well strike there if they want to. They choose not to, mainly because the British are less hated than the Americans. (there have also been terrorist attacks in Najaf and Karbala).

3: This analysis misses out the Shia insurgency (and vicious reprisals from the Coalition, such as the anninhilation of Fallujah). This has ebbed at the moment, not because the Shias like the Coalition (they hate them) but because, under the aegis of Sistani, they think that they can get more out of the political process, and they are perfectly happy to watch the Americans crush the Sunnis.
But this situation will last precisely as long as it takes to sort out a constitution, and get it verified via referendum. There will then be further elections, which the Shias will win (overwhelmingly) and you can bet then that the Shias and the Sunnis together (regardless of whether the Sunnis participate) will then unite to ask the Americans and the British to leave. The Kurds will beg to differ, but they will be outvoted. And if the Coalition do not leave, then you can bet that the Iraqi army will then use their American training to go back to killing Americans (some of them are probably doing that now).

This will almost certainly lead to Kurdish secession and civil war but that’s another story.

In any case: i dont agree with you that this is ONLY a Sunni uprising, although I do agree that at the moment the majority of insurgents are Sunnis. It’s better to see this as a join Sunni/Shia uprising with, as it were, the Shias on a sort of cease fire, which can (and will) be resinded at any point. The fact that the Sunnis and Shias are ALSO killing each other doesn’t mean they can’t fight together later on in the game: CF the two main Kurdish parties.

Finally, and the last joker in the pack: Sistani will not live forever.

16

Uncle Kvetch 08.19.05 at 11:36 am

But I don’t watch tv, so sometimes I miss stuff; has somebody else like O’Reilly or Sean Hannity been blaming Cindy Sheehan for the persistence of the insurgency?

Yes.

17

Brendan 08.19.05 at 11:37 am

This map will make my points clearer:

http://www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/atlas_middle_east/iraq_pop.jpg

It shows that the insurgent attacks correlate reasonably well with population densities.

18

Hektor Bim 08.19.05 at 11:42 am

Brendan,

A substantial number of people live in the Kurdish north and the Shiite south. Attacks there are rare. Many of the attacks have occurred in Anbar, which is sparsely populated. Frankly, the insurgents seem to prefer attacking coalition forces in areas that are less populated with long stretches of roads that are perfect for IEDs.

It’s also true that insurgents do not attack all parts of Baghdad. The Kurdish and Shiite parts of Baghdad, like Sadr City, don’t see nearly as many insurgent attacks.

This is a localized insurgency.

Fallujah is/was a Sunni city, so it has nothing to do with the Shiite insurgency. I agree that the Shiites may fight, but they are not part of the current insurgency, because they think they will win through the political process. So they are not now, part of the insurgency, which is overwhelmingly Sunni Arab.

You are confusing the insurgency now with some hypothetical future insurgency.

19

Slocum 08.19.05 at 11:50 am

One hopes that we won’t have partition, since the sunnis don’t have a strong actor willing to slant the political settlement to suit their interests.

Partition would be disaster for the Sunnis because their region is oil-poor. This is why the Sunni politicians are opposed to a strong form of federalism and are in favor of a national, per-capita division of oil revenue.

That aside, I find the thesis that failure is a foregone conclusion and that all that’s left is assigning of blame to be rather bizarre. Is the insurgency gaining in strength? Is it enjoying ever-wider support among the locals? Are the Baathist and Al Queda factions working more and more effectively together? Are the Iraqi security forces disintegrating rather than strengthening? There were grave doubts that the initial election could be held at all let alone on time–are there similar or graver doubts about the upcoming round of elections?

It seems to me that the evidence is that the answer to all these are ‘no’. Iraqis (Sunnis included) seem increasingly disgusted with insurgent attacks on Iraqi civilians (the most recent bombing of buses and then the hospital treating the victims being a prime example). There have been sporadic but recurring reports of ‘red on red’ fighting with Sunni tribesmen battling foreign Al Queda fighters. And however glacial the pace, the Iraq security forces are taking on more responsibilities than in the past and are no longer being routed. See, for example:

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/14/international/middleeast/14baghdad.html?pagewanted=print

None of this means that the insurgency is on the verge of being totally defeated, but it certainly isn’t an indication of an inevitable insurgent victory such that all we have to worry about is arguing about who to blame for the failure.

20

Hektor Bim 08.19.05 at 11:57 am

Brendan,

Basra is the third-largest city in Iraq, and there have been very few insurgent attacks there in the last year. I don’t buy this correlation with population argument, because it ignores the Shiite south, the Kurdish north, and the fact that attacks on coalition forces are widespread in relatively unpopulated Ansar province.

21

Hektor Bim 08.19.05 at 12:01 pm

Slocum,

You miss the point here. The US is no longer the main influence on the future development of Iraq. Yes, we are still important, but every day our power declines and that of the Kurds, Shiites, and Sunnis grows. Eventually, they will have the power to decide things on their own without consulting us. One would argue that that is the whole point.

So why not withdraw? Our soldiers are targets and are dying, and it isn’t clear that their prolonged presence in the country is a net positive.

The US is not going to be able to defeat the insurgency, but the Iraqi government forces can. So why not let them do it?

22

Urinated State of America 08.19.05 at 12:03 pm

“I guess at this point I’d add that the Northern Ireland analogy was on the right track, but Iraq is really much worse than the North ever was: neither political order nor daily life there ever broke down to anything like the degree that Iraq has.”

Right. The Troubles in NI over 30 years had ~3,500 deaths, or around one every three days. It’s at least one order of magnitude higher in Iraq.

Mind you, a quick calculation of the troop/population ratio in NI versus Iraq would have led one to estimate that the US was 50-60% undermanned.

23

Cranky Observer 08.19.05 at 12:12 pm

> There will then be further elections, which the
> Shias will win (overwhelmingly) and you can bet
> then that the Shias and the Sunnis together
> (regardless of whether the Sunnis participate)
> will then unite to ask the Americans and the
> British to leave. The Kurds will beg to differ,
> but they will be outvoted.

Actually, I would think it more likely that the Shiites and the Kurds would make a stable 2-power truce on the “you hate us – we hate you” basis which has actually worked fairly well throughout history. What will happen to anyone caught in between I will leave to you to discuss.

Cranky

24

abb1 08.19.05 at 12:17 pm

I believe when the US leaves, the Shias and Sunnis are gonna fight each other just a little bit and then they’ll get together and go kick some serious Kurdish butt. This is what usually happens there, and I don’t see no good reason why it would be different this time around.

25

Hektor Bim 08.19.05 at 12:21 pm

abb1,

That’s completely wrong. What has happened in Iraq since independence has been a Sunni elite coopting and dominating the other groups and killing them. Now that the Shiites and Kurds have power, for the first time in a thousand years or so, this is highly unlikely to recur. Already the Shiites and Kurds have the beginnings of a stable 2-power truce.

26

jane adams 08.19.05 at 12:37 pm

Mr. Bim:

I am not sure where you get this nonsense about the successful outh. It’s like the stiff hitting the newspaper letter pages that says electric production has increased since Saddam. It is disproven.

The main object of concern right now is not the “insurgency.” If this was the sole problem it could be held. But in addition to crime (Baghdad’s coroner reports 500 or so shootings a month, shootings that don’t get into the papers) corruption, developing civil war and flattening economy is the theocracies of the south.

Rightiwing journalist Steve Vincent was most likely just murdered by one in Basra.

http://spencepublishing.typepad.com/in_the_red_zone/

Vincent claimed hundreds of mureders a month in Basra and we know many southern cities are under the control of similar movements, movements with close ties to Iran incidently.

If one is going to have any sort of real success in Iraq one has to learn that there are serious problems besides the blowing up of US troops. The fact that groups of our enemies refrain from doing so and use us for their purposes does not make the south a success.

27

Tad Brennan 08.19.05 at 12:47 pm

steve burton–

you quote Coulter quoting Sheehan:

“She calls the U.S. government a ‘morally repugnant system’ and says, ‘This country is not worth dying for.’ “

Coulter is suggesting that Sheehan’s reference to “this country”, i.e. the one that “is not worth dying for”, refers to the U.S.

Is that right? Strikes me as quite possible Sheehan was referring to Iraq.

A little googling gives me this:
http://www.opinionjournal.com/best/?id=110007110

“I’m going all over the country telling moms: “This country is not worth dying for.” If we’re attacked, we would all go out. We’d all take whatever we had. I’d take my rolling pin and I’d beat the attackers over the head with it. But we were not attacked by Iraq.”

So she is saying that if “we” are attacked (by which I assume she must mean the US, or US citizens), then “we”, including herself, would go all out to defeat the attackers. This sounds like she is saying that the US *is* worth fighting for. (And dying for? But not dying for? Not dispositive.)

But “we were not attacked by Iraq.”

And that’s why “This country is not worth dying for”.

Look, it may just be ambiguous, and she should clear up the ambiguity. But when I read it, it looks far more plausible that she is saying that *Iraq* is not worth dying for, because they did not attack the U.S.

28

abb1 08.19.05 at 12:49 pm

Hektor, you are not being fair to these poor Sunnies, it’s almost like you have something against them personally. I don’t think it’s like that at all. They are not different, just go to a different church, like, say, Protestants and Catholics in the US. Usually sectarian stuff is less important, ethnic stuff is more divisive.

29

Slocum 08.19.05 at 1:19 pm

Eventually, they will have the power to decide things on their own without consulting us. One would argue that that is the whole point.

So why not withdraw? Our soldiers are targets and are dying, and it isn’t clear that their prolonged presence in the country is a net positive.

The US is not going to be able to defeat the insurgency, but the Iraqi government forces can. So why not let them do it?

I don’t have any problem with withdrawing–when, and to the extent, and on a schedule that is amenable to the elected Iraqi government. When the Iraqi government concludes that the presence of coalition forces is not only unnecessary but counter-productive, I fully expect that they will NOT keep it a secret.

But, “Like it or not, you’re on your own fellas, we’re outta here” is not a success-oriented plan.

30

mpowell 08.19.05 at 1:27 pm

I disagree w/ Kieran’s suggestion that Iraq is analogous to Vietnam in the circularity of the argument for why we need to remain there. In retrospect, losing in Vietnam was not that big of a deal for US interests. People here will claim that the stated US goals in Iraq are unachievable, but they should at least be willing to admit that failing to achieve those goals and pulling out instead would be a major blow to US (and human) interests. Its not just a matter of giving a victory to ‘bad actors’. It would lead to a bloody civil war w/ the possibility of significant involvement by Iran and Turkey, leading to tons of casualties and a serious threat to the world oil supply. Thus the reasoning is not circular, even if you do disagree w/ its particulars.

31

Hektor Bim 08.19.05 at 1:31 pm

mpowell,

At the time of the Vietnam war, everyone claimed that a loss in Vietnam would mean that the Communist dominos continued to fall, dooming SE Asia to Communism, including Thailand, Burma, India, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Who knows, it could have even engulfed all of Asia!

So, in this respect at least, you are following in the tradition of Vietnam.

32

Hektor Bim 08.19.05 at 1:32 pm

slocum,

Just so we are clear. You are going to put the size and deployment of our troops at the mercy of a foreign power, heavily influenced by Iran?

33

mpowell 08.19.05 at 1:43 pm

Hektor,

I know that was claimed at the time, but just b/c that analysis turned out to be wrong, does not mean the analysis is wrong now. So I will put it this way- does anyone believe that the difference b/w a stable, reasonably liberal Iraq (regardless of whether you regard this as possible) and civil war in the middle east does not represent a tremendous difference in terms of US or human interests in the region? I’m curious to know if anyone is willing to advance this argument. B/c unless you are willing to, I don’t think you can claim that the argument for staying in Iraq does not rest on the desire to achieve legitimate goals.

34

Maynard Handley 08.19.05 at 2:24 pm

“In the end, policy mistakes—particularly big ones—tend to produce a kind of circular reasoning—in which those in charge try to justify the policy by citing the need to avoid, at all costs, the failure of the policy.”

Exhibit A:
The space shuttle is necessary to service the space station. The space station is necessary to give the shuttle somewhere to go.

35

Slocum 08.19.05 at 2:56 pm

Just so we are clear. You are going to put the size and deployment of our troops at the mercy of a foreign power, heavily influenced by Iran?

No – what I’m saying is that if our motivation for withdrawal is a belief that the continued presence of our troops hinders the efforts of the Iraqi government, we ought to give a lot of credence to that government’s opinion about whether or not this is, in fact, the case. It’d be pretty damn presumptious for us to say to the Iraqi government, “Hey, we’re outta here, but it’s for your own good — trust us. After, what do you know about your capacity to effectively secure Iraq without outside assistance?”

36

Tylerh 08.19.05 at 3:47 pm

The arguments for “staying the course” in Iraq/ Viet Nam are strikingly similar when viewed through the eyes of a behavioral economist: both reflect the predictions that Prospect Theory, particulalry with regards to loss aversion.

People will go to great lengths to avoid recognizing a loss. Loss aversion is commonly observed in financial markets, where traders will refuse to recognize a bad decision (sell at a loss) even though holding their position in ruinous ( eg. Nick Leeson)

The Prospect Theory predictions for those who supported invading Iraq are even more pernicious: Unlike a financial tranasction which has an objectively verifiable transaction price, the individual wishing to avoid the recognizing that invading Iraq was a mistake can readily reframe the “stay vs. withdrawal” decision. Indeed, we have seen the Administration doing precisely this. Initially the reason given for placing US troops in Iraq was to fight terrorism and remove WMDs. When few Al Qeda operatives and no WMDs were found the reason became “”establishing Democracy”. The ongoing violence, both towards Americans and Iraqis, suggest that a civil society won’t be achieved any time soon, so now we see the novel argument that the US should remain in Iraq to prevent the civil war from getting worse, despite the obvious fact that US actions made this Iraqi civil crisis possible in the first place.

37

Brendan 08.19.05 at 4:26 pm

My understanding is (and I could easily be wrong about this) is that Prospect Theory also predicts that people will always choose an immediate gain over a (potential) loss in some longer period of time: even if the prospective loss, ‘objectively speaking’ is far worse than your current gain .

The classic example is smoking. Smokers choose the immediate sensual pleasure of a cigarette over the possibility of horrible death at some point in the future which can always be rationalised away (i’ll quit by then, not every smoker gets cancer etc. etc.).

So in Iraq the possibility of defeat can always be rationalised away (we will defeat the insurgency etc.) in favour of the current reality of your ‘achievments’ (elections, defeating Saddam etc.).

38

Grand Moff Texan 08.19.05 at 4:30 pm

if our motivation for withdrawal is a belief that the continued presence of our troops hinders the efforts of the Iraqi government, we ought to give a lot of credence to that government’s opinion about whether or not this is, in fact, the case

Don’t confuse all of Iraq with the handful playing house in the Green Zone. They may want us to stay to stave off their complete massacre, not out of any sober assessment of our utility to Iraq.

In Afghanistan, we had the sense to minimize our presense. WTF happened? An infidel army is a continuing provocation, no matter how highly said army thinks of its own motives.

When did that cease to be obvious?
.

39

Doctor Slack 08.19.05 at 4:59 pm

All the talk of “withdrawal” seems to be missing something rather crucial: what has failed in Iraq thus far are the various talking points designed to sell the war, which likely had nothing to do with the actual strategic purpose of the invasion of Iraq — or of Afghanistan for that matter (e.g. presence of permanent military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan as a hoped-for source of geopolitical influence). Those permanent military bases are no fantasy; billions have been invested in them and they’re under construction, and any “draw-down” of American troop presence in Iraq is likely to signal the move of American forces behind those fortifications. (See this helpful summary of the White House’s likely intent.)

Rather momentously, the administration has now begun leaking hints that it’s getting ready to shed the pretexts — which no doubt means that once this becomes the official line, the White House’s rank-and-file amen corner (apart from the few remaining who have some residual sense of self-respect) will pretty quickly start shedding the pretexts as well, no doubt with a last spasm of “blame the left and the MSM” before moving on to demanding allegiance to the grand geopolitical project the bases represent. (The snarky Hitchens op-ed about how today’s left can’t respect Bush even when he shows a willingness to be flexible practically writes itself.) So, the question that’s going to need to be confronted is: is maintaining the bases any more realistic and helpful a goal than the old pretexts were, or should “withdrawal” mean full and complete withdrawal?

40

soru 08.19.05 at 5:41 pm

The Prospect Theory predictions for those who supported invading Iraq

As a general rule, it is wise to be suspicious of any theory not followed by the word ‘of’.

If it is claimed to be a theory of war, how does it match up against other wars, such as Vietnam (from the side of the vietnamese), WWII, Korea, Malaysia, Oman, the chinese occupation of Tibet, 7 days war, etc?

Or is it just a ‘theory of things which end disastrously’? If so, any prediction that things will end badly would seem to be rather circular.

soru

41

Doctor Slack 08.19.05 at 6:12 pm

If it is claimed to be a theory of war, how does it match up against other wars . . . Or is it just a ‘theory of things which end disastrously’?

And if it’s a theory of war which, when “matched up against other wars,” correctly predicts that a proposed war will end disastrously in terms of its stated objectives? Or are you still telling yourself that this isn’t what has happened in Iraq?

42

Brendan 08.19.05 at 6:25 pm

The problem is motivation, and the reason for fighting. At the end of the day (and everyone, even George Bush, knows this) Iraq never posed a threat to the United States (mainland) and never will. When all the politically correct stuff about ‘democracy’ etc. is disregarded (and it should be) the Americans are fighting in (and ‘for’) a country whose language they don’t speak, which they don’t know that much about, and which, frankly, most of them probably didn’t much care about before ’91 (or 2002, even). The Americans motivation will always, therefore, be weaker than the Iraqis. The Iraqis (in their eyes) have to fight. They have nowhere to go. They already live there. As well as this the defenders have huge advantages in terms of public support (or at least, the public not willing to hand them over to the auhorities), local knowledge and so forth.

So, despite appearances, the insurgents have overwhelming advantages, as is shown by the fact that only very very rarely do occupying forces succeed in suppressing local insurgencies (over the long term, although of course they have short term victories).

43

soru 08.19.05 at 7:12 pm

correctly predicts that a proposed war will end disastrously in terms of its stated objectives

‘correctly predicts?’

How can you possibly know that?

At a certain point, self-reference becomes self-reinforcing to the point of delusion. The theory predicts disaster and look, that prediction is right because the theory predicts disaster and the theory must be right because it is correctly predicting disaster.

Disaster may well happen, but if it does it will be the result of unpredictable events. If nothing suprising happens, the US will have successfully withdrawn in two to five years leaving behind a functioning state with no WMD or international terrorist links and a human rights record comparable to something between 1920s and 1970s america.

soru

44

Tylerh 08.19.05 at 7:12 pm

Soru,
I provided the Wikipedia links and the Nick Leeson example to succinctly explain the “of” of prospect theory.

Again, Prospect Theory is a descriptive theory of human decision making when prospective gains and losses must be evaluated. The relevance to this discussion is that prospect theory provides insight into how decision makers facing the question “do we pull out the troops” will behave. Since both the Johnson and Bush administration faced this problem, prospect theory suggests a manner in which the American experience in Viet Nam can be usefully applied to the current Iraqi situation. The implication is that the actors who committed to invading Iraq will remain committed to that decision for as long as they can avoid recognizing that decision as a mistake. A preferred method of avoiding that recognition was, is, and will likely continue to be, changing the frame of reference (the reason for war).

Nowhere was Prospect Theory claimed to be a “Theory of War,” whatever that might be.

45

Steve Burton 08.19.05 at 8:48 pm

tad brennan – I guess nobody would be surprised to find Ann Coulter misinterpreting a quote from an ideological opponent (either accidentally or maliciously).

And, now that you mention it, Ms. Sheehan may well have meant Iraq when she said “this country is not worth dying for.” Here’s the fullest version of the quote I’ve come across:

“I take responsibility partly for my son’s death, too. I was raised in a country by a public school system that taught us that America was good, that America was just. America has been killing people, like my sister over here says, since we first stepped on this continent, we have been responsible for death and destruction. I passed on that bull***t to my son and my son enlisted. I’m going all over the country telling moms: This country is not worth dying for. If we’re attacked, we would all go out. We’d all take whatever we had. I’d take my rolling pin and I’d beat the attackers over the head with it. But we were not attacked by Iraq. We might not even have been attacked by Osama bin Laden. 9/11 was their Pearl Harbor to get their neo-con agenda through and, if I would have known that before my son was killed, I would have taken him to Canada. I would never have let him go and try and defend this morally repugnant system we have. The people are good, the system is morally repugnant.”

…So it’s ambiguous, but I agree – it seems more plausible that she was talking about Iraq.

Anyway, it’s all more or less beside my point, which was that even very strong, very unfair criticisms of Ms. Sheehan did not necessarily amount to attempts to blame her for the persistence of the insurgency.

In that respect, uncle kvetch’s link (message 16 above) was quite apropos, since it seems that a number of pundits (including Krauthammer) really have been doing just that – as if the insurgents were getting all fired up watching Al-Jazeera coverage of Cindy Sheehan.

(Does Al-Jazeera cover Cindy Sheehan? Do the insurgents watch Al-Jazeera? I dunno. Seems kinda silly.)

46

Brendan 08.20.05 at 5:05 am

‘Disaster may well happen, but if it does it will be the result of unpredictable events. If nothing suprising happens, the US will have successfully withdrawn in two to five years leaving behind a functioning state with no WMD or international terrorist links and a human rights record comparable to something between 1920s and 1970s america.’

You know, Soru, there is a reason that the likes of Christopher Hitchens and Nick Cohen refrain from making predictions. However, I will bookmark that statement and return to it in 2-5 years. I hope it proves to be correct.

47

abb1 08.20.05 at 7:33 am

Here Hektor, this is apparently from the WoPo (I’ve only seen the quote, not the whole piece):

In Ramadi, a town much like Fallujah, 3,000 Shiites live among about 200,000 Sunnis. Recently, Zarqawi followers posted warnings that all Shi’a had to leave within 48 hours or suffer the consequences. Members of the Dulaym, the largest clan in the province and a key source of resistance to the U.S. military, established protective cordons around Shiite homes and the Jaish-i-Mohammed, a resistance group, engaged in pitched battles with Zarqawi followers, killing at least five.

They also put out statements saying Zarqawi had strayed “from the line of true resistance against occupation.”

See, this seems to contradict your ‘bad, bad Sunnis’ theory. They’ll get along just fine.

48

Hektor Bim 08.20.05 at 8:48 am

abb1,

You’re full of it. This is one instance of indigenous Sunnis turning against the foreign jihadis, which also happened in Iraq by the way. It is a hopeful sign, of course. But it is not the norm.

The NYtimes recently posted a story about informers taking Sunni insurgents around Sunni-dominated neighborhoods, pointing out the Shia to be exterminated.

How do you explain the recent bus bombing that deliberately targeted Shiites at a bus station? And then, when they started bringing them to the local hospital, they blew up the hospital too. That was a clear sectarian attack that killed something like 100 people?

49

Hektor Bim 08.20.05 at 10:47 am

For Iraq above, read Afghanistan.

50

Cranky Observer 08.20.05 at 11:43 am

> and which, frankly, most of them probably didn’t
> much care about before ‘91 (or 2002, even).

That I have to disagree with. I have talked to many Americans who thought (and mostly still feel) that the US was perfectly justified in giving Saddam a black eye, and should have done it in 1991. Now, you can call this sophisticated intuitive game theory analysis, or ugly Americanism (or perhaps some of both), but it was and is a real political feeling in the country.

Cranky

51

abb1 08.20.05 at 1:05 pm

Hektor, why am I suddenly full of it? Ramadi is a big city and it’s a city representative of the ‘Sunni triangle’ in general. If what the article says is true, then this certainly proves something. One bus bombing (could you provide a link btw?) proves nothing.

52

Doctor Slack 08.20.05 at 4:13 pm

At a certain point, self-reference becomes self-reinforcing to the point of delusion.

Thanks for going on to provide such a concise illustration of that malady, Soru.

53

goatchowder 08.21.05 at 1:39 am

You’re missing the point. The real strategic military disaster wouldn’t necessarily be for US interests (I’m discounting the economic disaster of instability in the region) but rather for US client states such as… Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Back in October 2002 or so, when Shrub was arguing that Iraq was a “gathering threat”, I wondered, “gathering threat to what or whom?”. The Al-Saddaam and Al-Hussein mililes hacked together from old SCUD’s had a range of 600 miles. Well, that’s no threat to Washington, 6000 miles away. But it’s a pretty serious threat to Israel, to whom Saddam was quite hostile and belligerent. And so we see whose interests we are “protecting” there.

Likewise with the decision to leave. AIPAC would never, ever, let the USA just withdraw from Iraq. NFW. Likewise Shrub’s “hand-holding” buddies in Saudi– they don’t want to see a chaotic Iraq either.

In fact, I’ll bet this deteriorates to the point where a whole bunch of them will wish that the write-in ballots for “Saddam” in the blue-thumb election hadn’t been disqualified.

54

Hektor Bim 08.21.05 at 2:23 am

Ok, abb1, NYTimes today:

Sufis Under Attack as Sunni Rifts Widen

“Sheik Ali al-Faiz, a senior official at this Sufi shrine, or takia, rattled off a list of recent assaults – the leader of a takia in the insurgent stronghold of Ramadi was abducted and killed this month; a bomb exploded in a takia in Kirkuk earlier this year; gunmen beat Sufi worshipers at a mosque in Ramadi in January; a bomb exploded in the kitchen of a takia in Ramadi last September and a bomb in April 2004 destroyed an entire takia in the same city.

The early attacks were frightening, but until this spring there had been few Sufi deaths. Then, on June 2, a suicide bomber rammed a minivan packed with explosives into a takia outside the town of Balad, 40 miles north of Baghdad, killing at least 8 people and wounding 12.”

And this is just the Sufis, it is even worse for the Shia.

Sectarian violence is a real issue in Iraq. Whitewashing it is not the right response.

55

abb1 08.21.05 at 3:00 am

Why, sure, there are radical religious fanatics and I suppose it’s an issue.

But this is very far from the argument you’ve been making here: that the insurgency consists of Sunnis whose goal is to dominate the Shia.

56

Brendan 08.21.05 at 6:40 am

Something that might complicate (even further) the debate. From Juan Cole’s current comment.

‘Although Western readers often associate the guerrilla movements with the Sunni Arab areas, in fact guerrillas operate everywhere in Iraq . It is just that some favor the new status quo and wish to burrow into it, while others reject it. Anthony Shadid and Steven Fainaru report on the way in which militias and militia-infiltrated police forces have established hegemony in cities such as Basra and Mosul. The existence of party-based paramilitaries alongside the police, described here, is similar to the situation in Iran after the Khomeini revolution. Revolutionary Guards and basij volunteers operated parallel to formal government bodies such as the police and army. The Kurdish and Shiite militias have such power because of a vacuum. There are only a few hundred US troops in the Kurdish north, apparently. And only 8,500 British troops are responsible for much of the Shiite south’.

Now, when the like of ‘Harry’s Place’ attack the ‘insurgents’ what they mean is the ‘classic’ ‘terrorists’, who carry out ‘classic’ terrorist actions like car bombs, drive by shootings etc.

But if one broadens this definition (as, I would argue, we should) to unlicensed and illegal armed groups (i.e. paramilitaries, in the strictest use of that sense) then there are MANY more groups than just the ‘classic’ al-qaeda, Sunni ‘insurgents’.

Here’s the link to the Washington Post article.

‘Shiite and Kurdish militias, often operating as part of Iraqi government security forces, have carried out a wave of abductions, assassinations and other acts of intimidation, consolidating their control over territory across northern and southern Iraq and deepening the country’s divide along ethnic and sectarian lines, according to political leaders, families of the victims, human rights activists and Iraqi officials…While Iraqi representatives wrangle over the drafting of a constitution in Baghdad, forces represented by the militias and the Shiite and Kurdish parties that control them are creating their own institutions of authority, unaccountable to elected governments, the activists and officials said. In Basra in the south, dominated by the Shiites, and Mosul in the north, ruled by the Kurds, as well as cities and villages around them, many residents say they are powerless before the growing sway of the militias, which instill a climate of fear that many see as redolent of the era of former president Saddam Hussein.’

Those who argue that the insurgents will ‘never win’ ignore the fact that in large chunks of Iraq they already have. The idea that the Sunni insurgents (who, to repeat, is who we all think of when we think of the insurgents) ‘can’t win’ (i.e. can’t seize control of Iraq) ignores the fact that they don’t have to and perhaps don’t want to . All they have to do is seize power in Sunni areas, in the same way Kurdish paramilitaries and Shia paramilitaries have seized control in their areas.

The comparisons here are of course with Northern Ireland, where large sections of the Province were, whilst nominally under UK control in actuality under IRA control and were ‘no go’ territory for the British Army and the police.

The problem with this comparision is that in Iraq the situation is a thousand times worse. Iraq may be heading back to a situation redolent of Afghanistan BEFORE the Taliban, in which there was, nominally, a central government (perhaps even ‘democracy’) but in fact real power rested with dozens of local ‘warlords’, who had absolute power in their own little fiefdoms. (Actually this isn’t a million miles away from Afghanistan now, now I come to think of it).

57

Brendan 08.21.05 at 7:02 am

Oh, and this one’s
for Soru, if he’s reading.

‘Sunday August 21, 2005 11:46 AM.

The Army is planning for the possibility of keeping the current number of soldiers in Iraq – well over 100,000 – for four more years, the Army’s top general said Saturday.

In an Associated Press interview, Gen. Peter Schoomaker said the Army is prepared for the “worst case” in terms of the required level of troops in Iraq. He said the number could be adjusted lower if called for by slowing the force rotation or by shortening tours for soldiers.’

58

Stephen Kriz 08.21.05 at 7:08 am

All this talk about “we can’t just pull out now and leave a failed country behind” is horse hockey.

We should have a contest to see which platoon can pack their gear fastest and a race to see to see which military unit can cross the border soonest.

Iraq was a failure when we got there and it will be a failure when (and if) we leave.

59

scott 08.21.05 at 8:48 am

I don’t see how a ‘stab-in-the-back’ argument could hold sway when the country was divided before the invasion.

60

soru 08.21.05 at 12:17 pm

But if one broadens this definition (as, I would argue, we should) to unlicensed and illegal armed groups (i.e. paramilitaries, in the strictest use of that sense) then there are MANY more groups than just the ‘classic’ al-qaeda, Sunni ‘insurgents’..

Why not broaden the definition further, to include say, anti-globalisation protestors in Scotland, the women’s institute of New Jersey, the Falung Gong, and all people with a name beginning with ‘K’?

Is is that you have, somewhat ahead of conventional wisdom, given up on the actual insurgency, the one physically fighting against the elected government of Iraq, but still want to defend a position that it’s ‘victory’ was ‘inevitable’?

soru

61

Brendan 08.21.05 at 12:57 pm

Soru I would avoid irony if I were you, especially if I was on such shaky ground as you are. The paramilitary groups that I am discussing are not very much like the women’s institute, unless you are referring to the WI’s little known armed militia.

These are hardened and armed street thugs who kill, extort, torture and rob (and, let’s face it, probably rape as well). In the absence of an effective and non-corrupt police force (and there is no effective and non-corrupt police force in the whole of Iraq, and nor is there any real likelihood of any such force emerging anytime soon), a large minority of Iraq will soon be under the control of these militias. In five or so years time, it may well be the majority.

However, if you think these people are about as threatening as the women’s institute why don’t you fly to Iraq and explain that to them? I’m sure if you explain in pidgin English, with much hand waving, that you are of the ‘decent left’ who has always had the interests of the Iraqi people at heart, this will stop them killing you/raping you/flaying you alive.

No, no, no, i’m not joking. I’ll even chip in for your plane fare. Send us a postcard.

62

Jon 08.21.05 at 1:24 pm

[Excerpted from "What Is to Be Done: A 10-Point Plan for Iraq."]

The debate over the American debacle in Iraq sounds more and more like the Fram oil filter ads from the 1970′s. In those spots, a hard-nosed mechanic tells consumers, “you can pay me now or pay me later.” The inevitable result of the current political dialogue over Iraq will be the “Fram choice” for Americans: the United States can lose now or lose later.

On the right, President Bush and his fellow travelers refuse to accept accountability for selling a war that a majority of Americans view as a mistake. The administration and its amen corner refuse to deviate from a failed strategy that has produced a security nightmare and economic devastation, while maintaining the fictional linkage between 9/11 and Iraq.

Many on the left, swept up in the emotion of Cindy Sheehan’s crusade, are calling for an immediate withdrawl from Iraq that could produce the next Somalia or worse, the next Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, confusion reigns on Capitol Hill. Republican Senator John McCain and Democratic Senator Joe Biden, seeing the rising chaos and porous Iraqi borders, have called for sending more troops. A House group led by Republican Walter “Freedom Fries” Jones (R-NC) is proposing a joint resolution calling for a presidential commitment this year to bringing the troops home starting October 1, 2006. And Senator Russell Feingold (D-WI) has called for withdrawing all U.S. troops by the end of 2006.

The key question for the United States is no longer Cindy Sheehan’s “why did my son die for?” but “what is to be done now?” With rising U.S. casualties, an emboldened insurgency, American credibility in tatters and no end in sight, any plan forward must define what, at this late date, can be said to constitute “success” in Iraq and whether or not success so defined is still be possible. If not, and if American defeat is inevitable, we should cut our losses begin to withdraw now…

For more, see:

“What Is to Be Done: A 10-Point Plan for Iraq.”

63

soru 08.22.05 at 5:08 am

Surely even you realise you can be a nasty and even dangerous person without being an insurgent. Defining everyone you wouldn’t let marry your daughter, or vote for as mayor, as the enemy is pretty much precisely what lead to the Sadr revolt and Fallujah.

soru

64

Doctor Slack 08.22.05 at 9:38 am

Surely even you realise you can be a nasty and even dangerous person without being an insurgent.

You cannot, however, be an armed group that usurps functions of governance and legislation normally supposed to be exercised by a central government (or an occupying power) without being an insurgent.

65

Hektor Bim 08.22.05 at 11:05 am

Doctor Slack,

The peshmerga are the government in Northern Iraq, for all intents and purposes. And something similar is true for much of the South for SCIRI and the Badr brigade.

The Mahdi Army is something different.

Grouping them all together under the heading of “insurgent” is not helpful, and is actually incorrect, since the peshmerga aren’t insurgents against anyone – if anything, much of what they do is counter-insurgency as practiced by governments all over the world.

66

Doctor Slack 08.22.05 at 12:02 pm

The peshmerga are the government in Northern Iraq, for all intents and purposes. And something similar is true for much of the South for SCIRI and the Badr brigade

Yes, and isn’t that turning out to be fun. Technically, though, you have a point — once a government or occupying power has effectively admitted defeat and allowed guerillas to take over large swathes of the country (which was happening as early as 2003), the term “insurgent” no longer applies. Imagining these groups are different in some absolute sense from the Mahdi Army, OTOH, is simply wrong AFAICT; what is supposed to be the difference between their militia rule in Sadr city and militia rule in the north or the south?

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