Defining victory down

by John Quiggin on January 6, 2006

Lots of people have already commented on the announcement that the Bush Administration plans to cease funding reconstruction programs in Iraq when the existing allocation of $18.5 billion is exhausted. Some comments, here, here and here. Coming late, there’s not much for me to do but survey the field and toss in some numbers.

The numbers first. From the article in the WP it appears that at least $6 billion of the reconstruction money has gone directly to various aspects of counterinsurgency. In addition, around 25 per cent of each project goes to security. That leaves about $9 billion.

Corruption[1] and the general increase in costs associated with dangerous work mean that the cost of general services is inflated, I’d guess by at least 50 per cent, and probably more. So, the effective expenditure on civil reconstruction would be around $6 billion.

How does that compare to what would have been needed to achieve the minimal victory condition of making things no worse than they were shortly before the war (which means much worse than in, say, 1980, 1990 or 2000)? Shortly after the war I estimated the cost of such a program at between $25 billion and $50 billion and other estimates I saw were similar. The subsequent years of insurgency and civil strife would probably have doubled that. In The Assassin’s Gate, George Packer estimate the damage caused by postwar looting alone at $12 billion[2].

In these circumstances, it’s not surprising that Iraqis are worse off, on the majority of economic and social measures, from mortality to power supplies, than they were before the invasion. And it’s hard to see how such an outcome can be described as “complete victory” or how even a partial military victory is going to be feasible once the reconstruction work stops, presumably throwing thousands of people out of work in the process.

I can’t see how this makes any sense at all, except in the context of plans for a rapid and complete pullout. Why spend another $100 billion or so on military efforts which are now pretty much pointless?

As I said, lots of people have posted already, but from what I can see, nearly all the comments have come from opponents of the war and of the Bush Administration. I’m not interested in a “silence of the hawks” pointscoring exercise, but I’d really be interested to know what supporters of the war have made of this. In particular:

(1) has the accuracy of the reports been disputed?
(2) has anyone defended the decision to stop reconstruction funding ?
(3) has anyone changed their mind about support for the war as a result of this ?

I would have thought that any remaining liberal and left supporters of the war ought to realise by now that, whatever the abstract merits of the case for overthrowing Saddam, they backed the wrong horse in supporting Bush to do it.

fn1. As an aside, the corruption in the current reconstruction appears to be on much the same scale as in the Oil-for-Food program. In both cases, corruption was inevitable given the circumstances. While individuals involved in corruption should be prosecuted, it was silly to condemn Oil-for-Food, which saved tens of thousands of lives, because Saddam managed to skim money off the top, and it’s equally silly to oppose Iraqi reconstruction because the Halliburtons and Chalabhis have their fingers in the till.

fn2. It’s worth recalling that looting wasn’t the product of mere neglect. It was condoned and sometimes actively encouraged by both Britain and the US, and cheered on by pro-war bloggers. Restoring the damage caused by the invasion and looting is the minimum moral obligation of the Coalition of the Willing.

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John Quiggin » Blog Archive » Defining victory down, part 2 (Crossposted at CT)
01.10.06 at 3:59 pm

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1

Contradictory Ben 01.06.06 at 8:58 am

This is something of a side note, but does the Sommerfeld article give us to cause to claim that the American high command was actively encouraging looting, as opposed to individual groups of American soldiers? (This is not to dispute that the high command failed to prevent the looting, and that American troops seem to have both created opportunities for looting and on occassion instigated looting.) And do we have to accept the recent inference of Richard Drayton that this was part of a deliberate neoconservative strategy to destroy Iraq as a culture? It seems possible that it may at times have been a crude method of crowd control; it rather depends on how we interpret the witness statements in the article. I think local officials diverted mobs in revolutionary Paris to acts of terrible cultural destruction (and away from attacks on their powerful oppressors).

2

Contradictory Ben 01.06.06 at 9:06 am

Just to be clear, whatever the motives of the coalition, they were responsible for the security situation and for not stopping the looting, so I agree that they now have a responsibility to fund restoration work. I’m just wondering how far we can really push the Sommerfeld article as evidence of US policy.

3

John Quiggin 01.06.06 at 9:15 am

I agree that the Times report is stronger evidence, since it attributes the position to “a senior British officer” and was (to the best of my knowledge) never rebutted by the British government, which presumably would have seen the report. And it seems unlikely that Britain was taking a more radical line than the US.

I don’t think this gets you all the way to Drayton’s position. Roughly, I’d say they wanted some enthusiastic crowds, were happy for them to loot government offices, and didn’t think too carefully about the implications for schools, hospitals, museums and so on, even though, in the case of the Museum, they’d been warned repeatedly.

4

Brendan 01.06.06 at 9:28 am

‘I would have thought that any remaining liberal and left supporters of the war ought to realise by now that, whatever the abstract merits of the case for overthrowing Saddam, they backed the wrong horse in supporting Bush to do it.’

This seems to cut to the chase here. We have created a failed state, which cannot possibly undercut the insurgency without providing jobs and money…and yet we are now going to not let them have the money they need for this!

The chance of Iraq being a viable democracy anytime soon (i.e. in the next ten, fifteen years) is now precisely zero.

5

nofundy 01.06.06 at 9:32 am

The hidden victory

Permanent military bases in Iraq. Not much talked about but a primary objective of the invasion from the start. Gary Hart had an interesting post about this over at huffingtonpost.

6

john m. 01.06.06 at 9:35 am

Out of curiosity, is there any estimate around for what % of the expenditure was to foreign contractors? In other words, of the $18.5bn, how much of it went straight back out of the Iraqi economy (or more likely never entered it at all)? I know from personal experience that leaving aside corruption (or netting it out – whichever you prefer) this was/is one of the major problems with aid for infrastructure projects in Africa and I presume Iraq has the same issue. You spend, say $100m building a dam. $98m goes right back out of the country (or never went near it anyway) leaving a dam that nobody can maintain. Which then gets blown up. It’s no way to build an economy or to help the people within it. This also goes some way to answering the question “Why spend another $100bn on military efforts..?” A: because the people actually getting most of that $100bn are not Iraqi’s.

7

abb1 01.06.06 at 9:52 am

Restoring the damage caused by the invasion and looting is the minimum moral obligation of the Coalition of the Willing.

Yes, but in the form of this ‘reconstruction’. Some independent entity should assess the damages and we should pay retribution, pay all collective and individual claims. Just like Iraq has been paying since the Gulf War; that’s a good precedent: http://www2.unog.ch/uncc/introduc.htm.

That’s all.

8

NeoDude 01.06.06 at 10:53 am

“Survival of the Richest.”

9

NeoDude 01.06.06 at 11:10 am

Ledeen has gained notoriety in recent months for the following paragraph in his latest book, The War Against the Terror Masters. In what reads like a prophetic approval of the policy of chaos now being visited on Iraq, Ledeen wrote,

Creative destruction is our middle name, both within our own society and abroad. We tear down the old order every day, from business to science, literature, art, architecture, and cinema to politics and the law. Our enemies have always hated this whirlwind of energy and creativity, which menaces their traditions (whatever they may be) and shames them for their inability to keep pace. Seeing America undo traditional societies, they fear us, for they do not wish to be undone. They cannot feel secure so long as we are there, for our very existence—our existence, not our politics—threatens their legitimacy. They must attack us in order to survive, just as we must destroy them to advance our historic mission.

Found @:
Flirting with Fascism

10

a 01.06.06 at 11:57 am

“…and yet we are now going to not let them have the money they need for this!”

Just to state the obvious, the Iraqis have plenty of oil in the ground, and could use it as collateral for loans needed to pay for all the reconstruction that they need. Also the U.S. is running a massive trade deficit with the rest of the world, especially petro-rich countries. Also note that the U.S. spending all this money created lots of corruption (Cheney and Co.). So, except for the moral case (which obviously is strong), it makes no sense for the U.S. to be spending this money. So, I’m not sure why JQ thinks this should force anyone to rethink their position about the Iraqi war – who bankrolls Iraqi construction has little to do with how much Iraqi construction can get done. Is this just yet another (tiresome?) pointscoring exercise, denial to the contrary?

11

Ray 01.06.06 at 12:05 pm

How many people backed the war on the basis that there were no WMDs, tens of thousands more Iraqis would die as a result of the invasion, the civil war in Iraq would likely continue for years (but what government there was would be Iran-lite), and the invaders would completely fuck up Iraqi infrastructure, and then leave while it was still a mess? What happened to the Pottery Barn rule? Is anyone seriously going to defend this wiping of hands?

12

Richard Cownie 01.06.06 at 12:16 pm

When this was discussed over at http://www.intel-dump.com,
someone claimed that funding for reconstruction
wasn’t going to dry up completely, but instead
would in future be channeled through the usual
foreign aid budget, run by the State Dept, rather
than these supplementals administered by DoD.

I don’t know whether that’s true or not. I’m fairly
sure that the future funding is going to be on a
much smaller scale. Iraq is screwed.

13

Adam Kotsko 01.06.06 at 12:19 pm

I predict that liberal hawks will continue to embrace their position of being “more correct now by virtue of having been wrong then” — that is, adherence to the faith in humanitarian intervention (which blinded them into accepting the war at first) is indicative of a strong moral conscience, something the instinctive Bush-haters and anti-Americans do not share with the heavy-hearted liberal hawks who must now admit that their war has (for unfortunate but ultimately contingent reasons) gone terribly awry.

14

Barry 01.06.06 at 12:47 pm

a: “Just to state the obvious, the Iraqis have plenty of oil in the ground, and could use it as collateral for loans needed to pay for all the reconstruction that they need.”

a, is this a the latest reworking of the pre-war administration spin?

To continue stating the obvious, the oil industry in Iraq is screwed up, and likely to remain so for the forseeable future. Nobody who minds losing their money is going to loan the government of Iraq much money until things improve. Given little available money, things won’t improve.

15

a 01.06.06 at 12:58 pm

“Nobody who minds losing their money is going to loan the government of Iraq much money until things improve.” Is this true? I would think a lot of people would be willing to lend the Iraqis money, provided they gave as collateral a chunk of oil (at a good forward rate of course). But I admit, I could well be wrong about this (in which case my argument pretty much collapses!).

16

fifi 01.06.06 at 1:20 pm

LOL @ permanent military bases in Iraq. Is that the Administration’s plan? Goddamn but they’re delusional. Betting against them is like having a machine to print money in your basement.

17

Barry 01.06.06 at 1:43 pm

a: “I would think a lot of people would be willing to lend the Iraqis money, provided they gave as collateral a chunk of oil (at a good forward rate of course). But I admit, I could well be wrong about this (in which case my argument pretty much collapses!).”

a, oil in the ground is a problematic collateral, when loaning money to a government. If the government collapses (or struggles along half-dead), it can’t make its payments, and the creditors can’t collect, because they’d have to be able to extract the oil to sell it.

18

ed_finnerty 01.06.06 at 1:47 pm

Ray

Since this result (an unjustified war based on lies, and a resulting failed state) was the almost inescapable conclusion of any sentient being (and certainly the way to bet it), and widely predicted by most military persons, I have to assume that the vast majority of persons in positions to know, including Powell, Cheney, Straw and Blair, knew this and backed the war. You have to assume, under the circumstances that this was their objective. People like Colonel Wilkerson who are now yelling “who knew” are despicable, anxiously trying to restore some semblance of a reputation for himself and his boss.

19

Daniel 01.06.06 at 2:05 pm

I would think a lot of people would be willing to lend the Iraqis money, provided they gave as collateral a chunk of oil (at a good forward rate of course

Barry is exactly right. The current Iraqi government can’t be sure that future administrations will be in the mood to hand over the oil, and you can’t get the oil without the permission of future governments unless you can persuade your own government to start another war. Hence, the collateral is not bankable, because there’s no reliable way of getting hold of it in the event of default.

btw, two points with respect to the “Pottery Barn Rule”.

1. Pottery Barn does not in fact operate this rule, and has issued several press releases pointing this out since Colin Powell made the original analogy.

2. In pottery shops which do operate this rule, it’s “you broke it, you pay for it, and then preferably get out of our shop, sharpish”, not “you broke it, you stay around and try to mend it”. Pottery shops are not unreasonably of the opinion that the kind of klutz who breaks something in the first place is also going to be a liability during the repair process and might indeed even break something else whil he’s there.

20

soru 01.06.06 at 2:22 pm

It’s always amusing to see the CT line change with the days headline. ‘Iran next’ becomes ‘permanent bases’ becomes ‘neo-liberal imperialism’ becomes ’10 year war’ becomes ‘cut and run’.

Fact: the US is not going to be in any meaningful sense occupying Iraq post 2007 (when existing funding will all be allocated, if not strictly spent). That hasn’t been a possibility since mid-2004, glad to see you guys have finally noticed that.

By then, either it will have achieved the subset of it’s goals that are still attainable, or it will have been run off at gunpoint (unlikely, but not impossible). Either way, there will be noone there to spend the money, unless you are suggesting the ambassador should throw sacks of cash over his compound wall.

After that time, there may or may not be foreign aid, depending on the nature of the regime in place, and the mood of US (and EU, Japanese, saudi, etc) politicians. My guess is there will be such aid, but it is hard to predict so far in advance, which is presumably why that decision hasn’t been made yet.

soru

21

John Quiggin 01.06.06 at 2:46 pm

Soru, your info on the “CT line” seems rather inaccurate, at least insofar as I’m an example. Here’s what I had to say about Iran next in 2004.

But I’m intrigued by your claim that the “US is not going to be in any meaningful sense occupying Iraq post 2007″ and that this has been obvious since mid-2004. Is this some sort of legalistic play on words consistent with the presence of say 100 000 troops and permanent-looking bases, or are you actually giving a timetable for withdrawal here? (BTW, your timetable is a bit off. 80 per cent of the money has been allocated already and most will be spent by the end of 2006.)

If the latter, can you point to evidence supporting it, particularly from 2004? If the former, I think we’ve all had enough of that kind of thing.

I notice by the way, that you haven’t responded to the questions raised at the end of the post.

22

abb1 01.06.06 at 3:27 pm

The current Iraqi government can’t be sure that future administrations will be in the mood to hand over the oil, and you can’t get the oil without the permission of future governments unless you can persuade your own government to start another war. Hence, the collateral is not bankable, because there’s no reliable way of getting hold of it in the event of default.

Is it really true, though? What about Gitmo? The Cuban government changed what – about 45 years ago? For 45 years this new government hasn’t been in the mood and yet the US military base is still there, no problemo.

23

Ray 01.06.06 at 3:54 pm

“not occupying” = “there will be tens of thousands of US troops in Iraq, disclaiming all responsility for events outside the walls of their bases”

24

Rob 01.06.06 at 3:59 pm

Gitmo was a reward to the US for the Spainish American War and is really US property. At the same time, the US put in Cuba’s consitution the right for the US to invade if the government fails. But the US isn’t an imperial power so its all good.

25

Barry 01.06.06 at 4:12 pm

Or, more simply, the US government has the political will and military muscle to keep Gitmo; at least, enought to deter Castro. In the case of a hypothetical lender to Iraq, how can they garnishee oil in the ground in Iraq, short of access to US-level military forces?

26

abb1 01.06.06 at 4:12 pm

According to globalsecurity.org:

In December 1903, the United States leased the 45 square miles of land and water for use as a coaling station. A treaty reaffirmed the lease in 1934 granting Cuba and her trading partners free access through the bay, payment of $2,000 in gold per year, equating to $4,085 today, and a requirement that both the U.S. and Cuba must mutually consent to terminate the lease.

So, it’s an agreement with circa 1934 Cuban government. I don’t see why they can’t do the same with Iraqi oil.

27

abb1 01.06.06 at 4:15 pm

how can they garnishee oil in the ground in Iraq, short of access to US-level military forces

The same way, always the same. Build a wall, create a buffer zone, guard it.

28

Rob 01.06.06 at 4:18 pm

Because its much easier to protect a naval base than half the country. Keep in mind you not only have to protect the well, but the pipeline, the pumping stations, the elctricity to keep it running, the port to have the oil shipped.

29

abb1 01.06.06 at 4:29 pm

What about Panama canal?

30

Uncle Kvetch 01.06.06 at 4:56 pm

But I’m intrigued by your claim that the “US is not going to be in any meaningful sense occupying Iraq post 2007” and that this has been obvious since mid-2004. Is this some sort of legalistic play on words consistent with the presence of say 100 000 troops and permanent-looking bases, or are you actually giving a timetable for withdrawal here?

Soru, I really hope you’re going to answer John’s question with some degree of seriousness. I attempted to engage you some time ago on your blithe assertion that the US has no intentions whatsoever of establishing a permanent military presence in Iraq. Your response, if I may paraphrase: “It’s obvious.” Please try a little harder this time.

My understanding is that on those rare occasions when the subject has been raised in Washington (given our current absence of an opposition party or an investigative press), the Administration’s line has been an artfully executed “Neither confirm nor deny.” If you’re privy to something substantial showing that the US has no long-term plans for a military presence in Iraq, please share it with us. Otherwise, your usual snottiness of tone (“glad to see you guys have finally noticed that”) is even more inappropriate than usual.

31

california_reality_check 01.06.06 at 6:33 pm

You know, this is exactly why people all over the world don’t like the US. We fuck up everything we touch. Impeach the bastards.

32

Luc 01.06.06 at 8:04 pm

After defining victory upwards in the run up to war, it doesn’t look that unexpected or negligent to define victory down again.

It was about breaking the axis of evil of this world, democracy in the Middle East, and removing the threat of a mushroom cloud in a US city. (And a revolution against the fascists for some odd English characters)

It now is about leaving an Iraqi government that is in control, about keeping Iraq together as a state, and ending US military operations in Iraq.

But the invariant in this kind of politics is that victory is a given, and only the enemy can be defeated.

Even Juan Cole tried to protect US forces from the word defeat, with some echos of Vietnam.

Given that defeat is not an option, you can call it a positive development that victory is defined down. And maybe the end of the funding of the reconstruction is the price to pay for ending the unrealistic expectations of this war.

It is about time that Iraq becomes an ordinary country again, instead of having been made by the US and its allies into the battlefront against Evil.

I’m lousy at predictions, but if there’s talk of new reconstruction aid for Iraq, the pro-war people will say that it should be paid for by Europe, Japan and most of all Arab countries. And not the US since it already paid for the war.

33

Brendan 01.06.06 at 8:08 pm

Can I point out the obvious, that ‘It’s always amusing to see the CT line change with the days headline. ‘Iran next’ becomes ‘permanent bases’ becomes ‘neo-liberal imperialism’ becomes ‘10 year war’…….none of these are mutually exclusive and so there is no paradox or contradiction here? It’s like saying ‘I’m amused when I see the Gordon Ramsay sometimes cooking meat, and then fish and then vegetables’…hey it’s all food man.

The fact is that it is almost literally inconceivable that the US or the UK plans to leave Iraq as early as 2007. To be fair, neither Bush nor Blair have ever promised such a withdrawal date, despite being given many many opportunities to do so. Instead we have to rely on the assurances of the cruise missile left, few of whom is a member of any political party, none of whom are senior members of either the Bush administration or the British Government, none of whom are senior civil servants. So where do they get this mysterious information, denied to us lesser mortals, and which apparently even Bush are Blair are not aware of? We are not told.

(And what, specifically, happened in mid 2004, to make things so ‘obvious’?)

The fact is, as has been stated over and over again, it is almost inconceivable that the US will leave for two reasons: first, because this would leave all that oil in the hands of an Iranian leaning state, and secondly because of the US military bases that were moved out of Saudi Arabia. If they move out of Iraq, where will they go? The middle east is an area of huge geopolitical significance and as been (to the US) for at least 60 years. *

This does NOT of course mean that the US will stay in Iraq. They might be forced out militarily. Equally, if a democratic and powerful Iraqi government ever got it together, it could simply force the US to leave (as de Gaulle did in France).

To repeat, these might eventually happen (and in the long run one or other of them probably will). But by 2007? Naaaah.

*Another reason is that if the US were forced out of Iraq, this would lead the political opponents of whoever did this to ask ‘who lost iraq’? Remember how powerful ‘who lost China’ was in the 1950s, and how much it influenced the foreign policies of both parties. Leaving Iraq to the Iranians or to let it become a failed state (or let it descend into civil war) would NOT be a vote winner.

34

bad Jim 01.06.06 at 10:54 pm

To the extent that Iraq was attacked to prevent its use or distribution of weapons of mass destruction, victory had been defined down by the U.N. inspectors before the invasion even began.

That the U.S. is walking away from the reconstruction of Iraq should not surprise anyone who has been paying attention. A few years ago the administration applauded itself for pledging to rebuild Afghanistan, then forgot to include anything at all in its next budget. Even newly devastated New Orleans is being given short shrift. It’s outrageous, but it’s hardly surprising.

35

Dan Simon 01.07.06 at 4:28 am

As an early (tepid) supporter of American military intervention in Iraq, I can say without hesitation that (a) I defined “victory” as eventual toppling of the Saddam Hussein regime, after possibly months of combat and many thousands of military (not to mention civilian) casualties, and (b) I not only did not expect a reconstructed democracy to emerge, but have also long considered the money and effort spent on reconstruction–as opposed to restoration of security and stability in the country–to be foolishly misdirected. In fact, my optimistic scenario for Iraq was a repeat of the Afghan experience–a somewhat stable quasi-democratic state freed of a brutal, malignantly anti-Western regime. I have not been disappointed.

Why did I set my sights so low? Because I had not yet forgotten what it was like in a world in which Saddam Hussein still ruled Iraq. The Iraqi people were suffering under a painful sanctions regime whose inevitable lifting was virtually guaranteed to rejuvenate the country’s non-conventional weapons programs. Tens of thousands of unwelcome-but-necessary US troops were camped out in Saudi Arabia, protecting the corrupt Saudi princes from their neighbor, and provoking the ire of Arabs across the Middle East. Saddam Hussein was busily supporting and assisting terrorists all over the world, most likely including Al Qaeda. And the notion of even a moderate, tentative movement towards liberalization in the Arab world was universally considered ludicrous.

All told, the improvement since then has been spectacular, and spectacularly cheaply bought.

36

john m. 01.07.06 at 5:10 am

“… and secondly because of the US military bases that were moved out of Saudi Arabia.”

Are they all gone from Saudi? Is it just me, or was the presence of US forces in Saudi Arabia not one of the reasons cited by Bin Laden for 9/11? I realise Iraq inexplicably became the focus of the war on terror after Afganistan (I understand they refer to Bin Laden as “He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named” in the White House) but it is interesting to note that one of the main terrorist demands has been met in part or in full.

37

Brendan 01.07.06 at 8:21 am

The military bases? Oh yeah, Osama got what he wanted. The bases were phased out as part of a deal struck to permit the current war. Also (and he was pretty clear about this in his last broadcast) Osama was overjoyed when the US invaded Iraq. Overjoyed. The invasion of Afghanistan had been a disaster for Al-Qaeda, and suddenly there we were committing ourselves to a decades long occupation of an Arabic state, with almost literally unlimited potential for Osama to regroup Al-Qaeda. And of course Bush, who was probably on the point of catching him, then moved resources from Afghanistan to Iraq, thereby letting Osama get away. Perhaps Bush takes orders directly from Osama who knows?

One of the most annoying aspects of this whole fiasco is the way that Bush and Blair and little Zhdanov’s like Hitchens have allowed this sordid invasion to be presented as a war against Islamo-fascism. Of course, as we saw recently, with the famous Bush ‘holding hands’ pic, Bush stands right behind the Islamo-fascists. The subtitle of Robert Baer’s excellent book ‘How Washington Sold Our Soul for Saudi Crude.’ tells the story.

Good links here: http://www.buzzflash.com/interviews/03/09/12_baer.html

and here:

http://foi.missouri.edu/evolvingissues/fallhouseofsaud.html

The salient fact is that with a suddenly unfriendly Turkey, and with no Saudi bases, permenent bases in Iraq are a vital part of the new US geo-strategy. It would be a disaster for the US if they were forced out, as this would mean it would be far harder to do the US militaries’ real job there: protect help prevent any movement towards Saudi democracy, and watch Iran.

38

soru 01.07.06 at 10:28 am

Soru, I really hope you’re going to answer John’s question with some degree of seriousness. I attempted to engage you some time ago on your blithe assertion that the US has no intentions whatsoever of establishing a permanent military presence in Iraq. Your response, if I may paraphrase: “It’s obvious.” Please try a little harder this time.

Permanent military presence != permanent occupation, as the example of Cuba shows. Something analoguous, a base maintained by implicit threat of force on openly hostile terrority, is conceivable, but pretty unlikely, even just looking at the logistics (no open-water access for resupply), let alone the politics (it would be unambiguously imperialism).

A better example of a permanent presence without occupation, in any meaningful sense, is Germany (I say meaningful purely to bypass people like the wingnuts who refer to the US federal goverment as the ZOG). A genuine democracy willingly lets military bases stay in peacetime.

That’s the thing that became impossible in 2004, with Fallujah and Najaf. If anyone doubts that, go ask an Iraqi, anyone outside the Green zone, or read an opinion poll.

The US definitely wanted bases, and there was, before the war, nothing impossible about the idea of them getting them. Effectively, the US won something like that in Kuwait in the last Gulf war, as it deployed from there in this one. The thing is this: Bush screwed that part of the deal up. This is because he is a bad president, judged at a purely managerial level – just not good at his job, unable to impose a coherent plan on different warring factions.

It’s less clear whether a corrupt or exploitative oil deal was ever an explicit goal – some say it was, it’s certainly possible.

But that was then.

The thing Bush does seem to have got right, and maybe even deserves credit for, is that he came to recognise that those original goals were unattainable, and so set about working towards the best attainable outcome, i.e.:

1. no ongoing military casualties
2. free market sales of oil (subject to Opec)
3. visible defeat for the jihadis

Achieving those goal would look something like:

1. by the end of 2007, maybe not all the troops will have left, and there will probably be mercenaries, military advisors, air support, spooks, whatever. But they will clearly be on the way out, and remaining only by the writ of the Iraqi government.

2. Iraq will have a goverment run by elected Iraqi politicians, and will be a democracy to the extent those politicians decide.

3. The humanitarian situation will be unambiguously better, in the vast majority of the country, than it was before the war (I think the picture now is mixed, rather the the uniform gloom of Baghdad-centric reports).

4. There will be media and intellectuals defending the position of the Baghdad government, praising its achievements and denigrating its enemies.

5. Police will be routinely arresting and trying those guilty of suicide bombings and other mass civilian killings.

6. the jihadis will be reduced to unconvincing press releases of how they really meant this to come to pass all along, and didn’t mean it when they killed all those Shi’a and electoral officials.

If that all comes to pass, will it have been ‘worth it’?

That will, of course, depend on who you ask: adding up and averaging different viewpoints is a pretty futile exercise – no doubt a billion Chinese will consider it all an evil western imperialist crime.

Judging by current opinion polls, quite likely a large proportion of Iraqis will think it was worth it.

Almost certainly a large proportion of americans will think it was not – after all, they won’t get the cheap oil they were implicitly promised. There will be a lot of bitter talk, especially from the right, over how the new Iraqi state is ‘islamofascist’ or a theocracy, because it will have the kind of laws the US had back in the 1920s or so.

There is one thing I hope to see anyone who considers themself left, liberal, or whatever, avoid: criticising Bush on that basis, saying he should have stayed longer and killed more people in order to impose some US vision of secular liberalism on Iraq.

soru

39

Brendan 01.07.06 at 12:31 pm

‘Permanent military presence != permanent occupation, as the example of Cuba shows.’

This point is vapid, as of course the US does not even have diplomatic relations with Cuba. The only reason Guantanamo is able to stay in Cuba (i.e. as a military base) is because it has its own power and water resources.

However I think Soru is to be praised for actually giving us (as a true social scientist should) falsifiable predictions as to what he thinks Iraq will look like. Most of the other cheerleaders for the war were far too canny to do that, and instead phrased their predictions in such an ambigous way that they could claim afterwards that ‘things turned out basically as I predicted’.

Personally I think the chances of things turng out, by the end of 2007 along the lines of Soru’s predictions are close to zero but hey.

However, it strikes me, despite attempts at precision that there is still considerable ‘wiggle room’ in these predictions.

For example.

‘by the end of 2007, maybe not all the troops will have left, and there will probably be mercenaries, military advisors, air support, spooks, whatever. But they will clearly be on the way out, and remaining only by the writ of the Iraqi government.’

What do you mean ‘clearly’? Clearly to whom? Are you implying by the phrase ‘they will clearly be on the way out’ that by (say) 2009, ALL US troops will have left Iraq?

‘The humanitarian situation will be unambiguously better, in the vast majority of the country’.

What do you mean ‘unambiguously’? Give me something quantitative I can get my head round.

I also don’t understand point 6. As you are aware there is a low level civil war going on in Iraq, and I find it highly unlikely the radical Sunnis will apologise for killing what they see as a pro-Iranian stalking horse (i.e. the main Shia political Shia movements).

My final point is much more simple.

Do you think Soru, that in terms of deaths per month (or deaths per year) that the insurgency will have significantly declined by the end of 2007?

Also: despite the presence or otherwise of US troops, do you think they will still be carrying out combat operations outwith the control of the Iraqi government (as they are at present) by 2007/early 2008? (In other words, does your phrase ‘by the writ of the Iraqi government’ mean that that government will actually have control over the Americans on a day to day basis?).

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abb1 01.07.06 at 2:25 pm

SINIYAH, Iraq – Villagers watched from rooftops as U.S. military bulldozers heaved a wall of sand into snaking lines around their homes Saturday in an attempt to trap insurgents believed to be hiding among them.

The drastic tactic in Siniyah came after weeks of increasingly bold insurgent attacks, including almost daily roadside bombs targeting 101st Airborne Division soldiers patrolling the village, 155 miles north of Baghdad.

“This is not in any of the courses they teach in the Army,” said Maj. Shawn Daniel, who oversees operations for the 3rd Brigade’s 33rd Cavalry Regiment. “But if bad people are coming to Siniyah to attack coalition forces, let’s catch them at the gate.”

I think it’s quite possible that the insurgency will have significantly declined by the end of 2007. Sharon has done it, I don’t see why Bush can’t repeat it. Walls, buffer zones and missiles, walls, buffer zones and missiles – it’s not brain surgery.

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M. Gordon 01.07.06 at 2:40 pm

2. free market sales of oil (subject to Opec)

I’d just like to point out that this is a contradiction.

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Pennypacker 01.07.06 at 3:55 pm

In fact, my optimistic scenario for Iraq was a repeat of the Afghan experience—a somewhat stable quasi-democratic state freed of a brutal, malignantly anti-Western regime. I have not been disappointed.

Why did I set my sights so low? Because I had not yet forgotten what it was like in a world in which Saddam Hussein still ruled Iraq. The Iraqi people were suffering under a painful sanctions regime whose inevitable lifting was virtually guaranteed to rejuvenate the country’s non-conventional weapons programs. Tens of thousands of unwelcome-but-necessary US troops were camped out in Saudi Arabia, protecting the corrupt Saudi princes from their neighbor, and provoking the ire of Arabs across the Middle East. Saddam Hussein was busily supporting and assisting terrorists all over the world, most likely including Al Qaeda. And the notion of even a moderate, tentative movement towards liberalization in the Arab world was universally considered ludicrous.

All told, the improvement since then has been spectacular, and spectacularly cheaply bought.

Yeah, Dan, replacing an anti-Western secular dictatorship with an anti-Western islamic republic with growing ties to Iran is quite the “improvement”. Great plan, and it’s “cheap” to the tune of billions of dollars and tens of thousands of dead Iraqis.

BTW, quit with the long-discredited “Saddam supported international terrorists” bullshit.

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Brendan 01.07.06 at 4:05 pm

‘I think it’s quite possible that the insurgency will have significantly declined by the end of 2007. Sharon has done it, I don’t see why Bush can’t repeat it. Walls, buffer zones and missiles, walls, buffer zones and missiles – it’s not brain surgery.’

Well for a start, Sharon (and almost every Israeli politician) is an infinitely more canny and sussed political operator than Bush and Rumsfeld et al. As Chomsky has never tired of pointing out, this should have been one of the easiest occupations in history. It took real genius to f**k it up to this extent.

Secondly, the Palestinians are a homogenous, ethnically ‘coherent’ (if i can put it that way), basically secular people. Even after years of attacks, Hamas are still a minority party. Iraq on the other hand is divided at least three ways, is riven with fundamentalism, and seems to be on the point of complete political and economic disintegration.

So I think the chances of the insurgency being fundamentally beaten by 2007 are slight. On the contrary, I think (and have droned on about this for about a year now) that if the Americans stay for much longer (say another five years) then civil war is inevitable.

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Brendan 01.07.06 at 4:08 pm

‘billions of dollars’?

I think you mean trillions of dollars.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/Iraq/Story/0,2763,1681119,00.html

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Pennypacker 01.07.06 at 4:34 pm

Trillions. My oh my. Well, I stand corrected.

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abb1 01.07.06 at 5:31 pm

Well, I do agree that olive-growing Palestinian Arabs seem amazingly good-natured and agreeable; otherwise – secular, riven with fundamentalism – I don’t think it makes any difference. As far as Iraq being divided – it only makes it easier.

Look, to get in and out of Fallujah the residents still have to produce an ID and submit to retina scan, the city is surrounded by a wall. This happens with more and more of the towns and villages there. Basically, it’s like a bunch of concentration camps. If it goes the way it does, the insurgency in the Sunni triangle is bound to subside eventually. And the folks in the South are willing to compromise.

It’s true that Bushies’ bullheadedness is a factor, of course.

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Brendan 01.07.06 at 10:52 pm

You may be right. But I suspect not. It was relatively easy to create an Orwellian nightmare in Fallujah, as the press were far away. It would be far harder to create such a situation in, say, Baghdad. Moreover, there is the effect of public opinion as well (in both Iraq and the US). When the Blair and Bush administrations are gone (and, despite our fears that they will be around forever, you have to remember that eventually they will go) we will have new politicians not nearly so committed to Iraq (not that I think that they will be much nicer or better, it’s just that Iraq will not be their baby).

I could be wrong, but I think the future of Iraq is much more likely to be as is laid out in this article: http://www.upi.com/SecurityTerrorism/view.php?StoryID=20060106-113859-3850r

Highlights:

‘The Conventional Wisdom being propagated by the Bush administration is that the creation of a new, broadly based coalition government in Baghdad enjoying a clear democratic popular mandate will isolate the insurgents and their supporters and give the new government the freedom to crack down far more effectively on them than its predecessors….But there is no sign yet that the new Iraqi forces, even when they can operate independently, have any capability of defeating the insurgency or developing adequate intelligence to penetrate it.

As for U.S. military intelligence on the insurgency, it is as good as it possibly can be from the outside and its tactical and political assessments are second to none. But it is very clear from published reports and official Department of Defense figures that the U.S. military is still almost totally shut out of the insurgency and has failed to penetrate it….And even all these problems beg the most important questions of all that are never asked in all the Babel of mainstream U.S. media discussion of the insurgency.

Are the new Iraqi forces reliable? Can they be counted upon on a large scale to risk their own lives and incur heavy casualties in order to capture and hold significant insurgency leaders? There is no real evidence yet that this is the case.’

And with this not being the case, the chance of a significant or serious US withdrawal is slight. And that means the insurgency will continue, or (as I suspect) get worse (or better, depending on your point of view).

It is true, of course, that the British ‘won’ in Malaya and the US won in the Phillipines. But those were very different situations, in very different times. At the end of the day, the British were forced out of India, and the Americans kicked out of Vietnam.

I’m afraid I’m more inclined to agree with the author of the article quoted above:

‘This week has been a harsh awakening for the American people from the illusory good cheer on Iraq of the Christmas season: But it is all too likely that there will be far worse to come. ‘

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John Quiggin 01.08.06 at 2:36 am

Thanks for some reasonably explicit description of the victory conditions. To be clear on my own policy position, I think the US should set a timetable for withdrawal and throw in a lot more money for civilian infrastructure in the meantime, accepting that most of it will be wasted, just as the $200 billion or so spent on military operations has been.

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