Big battle for Basra?

by Daniel on March 25, 2008

From the armchair general department … Back when the surge began, I suggested that one of the ways in which things could go wrong (and of course, there are loads of ways things can go wrong and only one way they can go right) would be:

d) Al-Sadr demonstrates his political nous once more, and calms down his operations, carrying out only enough hit-and-run attacks on US troops to keep his popularity up. Then he forms a nationalist bloc with one or more of the Sunni parties. Political collapse of the Maliki government.

Which was looking rather awfully close to how things were shaping up; while the level of violence was falling, the Maliki government was going nowhere fast politically and the anti-government forces were gathering strength. Furthermore, nobody seemed to really be doing much about this, apart from sitting round congratulating themselves that “the surge is working”.

Now, (and I would be very glad to be proved wrong on this one, as I have very little personal credibility at stake having been right on nearly every other important point about Iraq, and contrary to supposition I would very much like to see a world in which far fewer innocent people were in danger of horrible death on a daily basis), it’s all kicking off, apparently (via Chicken Yoghurt).


This could be very good news, as it does appear to be an Iraqi government operation carried out without the direct support of their foreign friends; the Iraqi troops are being given air support (notoriously an appallingly useless weapon for a political war) by coalition aircraft, but their British advisors are currently not taking an active part in the operation. I’m just rereading “A Bright Shining Lie” at the moment, and my main takeway is that what tends to doom US foreign adventures is their laser-like targeting for support of deservedly unpopular local factions who play a big game of “let’s you and him fight” with their new foreign allies. Which leads to excessively cautious military tactics (because the local puppet government is worried about casualties leading to a coup) and prepares the ground for military disasters like Vietnam.

So if the al-Maliki government is really having a big push on Basra with 15,000 of its own troops, then that is actually a very positive sign indeed in terms of the government’s subjective assessment of its own stability. On the other hand, this is assuming that they are actually going to win – if they don’t it’s a disaster. And the real power base of the Mahdi Army is in Baghdad anyway, so I am not sure that the claim that Maliki is going to “re-impose law” (rather than assisting one faction against another) is to be taken at face value. And of course, it’s yet more awful news for civilians, and I note that another possible failure scenario I’d suggested was:

e) outright Rwanda-style massacre of Sunnis and Sadrists by the Badr Brigades.

Which still looks very much on the cards. But none the less, a local puppet government that is prepared to lift a finger in its own defence is better than one which won’t and this is a stage of development that South Vietnam never really reached, so hope for success. Whatever happens, this won’t retrospectively make the war anything other than a disaster by the way.

{ 2 trackbacks }

Sadr, Sadr, Sadr « Pine Belt Progressive
03.26.08 at 5:24 pm
Send lawyers, guns, and money « Alternate Seat of TYR
03.26.08 at 7:54 pm

{ 80 comments }

1

Daniel 03.25.08 at 11:00 am

hmmm, the updated news story certainly seems to be suggesting that what the Maliki government is actually planning is a massacre, which could have serious political consequences of its own, particularly in Sadr City.

2

Martin Wisse 03.25.08 at 11:57 am

Do you have an url for the updated news story, as I don’t get the same impression from the news article you link to in the post.

3

dsquared 03.25.08 at 12:03 pm

I’m particularly thinking of the line:

The Iraqi commander in charge, Lt Gen Ali Ghaidan, said the operation aimed to purge Basra of what he called “outlaws”.

plus the lock-down on the city, which seems pretty ominous to me.

4

P O'Neill 03.25.08 at 12:25 pm

It also confirms the iron law of Republican foreign policy: always do what Iran wants. The Iranians prefer SCIRI (or whatever their name is now)/Badr to al-Sadr.

And strange how all this unfolds right after a Cheney visit.

5

HH 03.25.08 at 1:51 pm

We keep looking for meaningful punctuation in Iraq, but this is a long, tedious run-on sentence of incompetence and ferocity. Sadr’s militia isn’t strong enough to be anything but a perpetual spoiler. The biggest militia, the US occupation force, can put down any uprising through the application of massive airpower, and it has already done so many times.

The turmoil in Iraq will continue indefinitely, as an increasingly bored and complacent US citizenry ignore the piecemeal destruction of Iraq. Only financial exhaustion will end the US occupation, and that is still a few years away. Thus, looking for military “turning points” in the daily news from Iraq is a fruitless exercise.

6

Marc Mulholland 03.25.08 at 2:08 pm

Says Juan Cole:

“Although the US had been putting pressure on Britain to send some of its troops from the airport back into Basra city, Gordon Brown appears to have resisted Washington’s blandishments in this regard. The US military is concerned that if security collapses in Basra, it could cause the center-north to unravel, as well (this calculation is correct).”

7

lemuel pitkin 03.25.08 at 2:19 pm

a local puppet government that is prepared to lift a finger in its own defence is better than one which won’t

I’m honestly confused. What’s the positive outcome you now think is more likely? Suppose — in what seems to be your best case — that the intra-Shiite conflcit is resolved infavor of the Maliki government and whatever its base is, and Sadr is eliminated as a political force. What’s the route from there to a stable, unitary Iraq (especially given that the US continues to support Maliki’s major opponents)?

Real questions — I don’t understand the larger analysis here.

8

abb1 03.25.08 at 2:59 pm

The only good outcome there is independence. Once they are independent they can start negotiating, fighting, consolidating, splitting, throwing stones and gathering stones, embracing and shunning embracing. And eventually something will come out of it.

9

seth edenbaum 03.25.08 at 3:23 pm

Attacks on the government are attacks on the occupation.

Badger
“This is about a meeting that took place in the NW Baghdad district of Kadhamiya. Voices of Iraq says the meeting, organized by the Sadr organization, included 300 tribal leaders, Shia and Sunni, from throughout Iraq, but the meeting also dealt with local issues including a promised re-opening of the “Bridge of the Imams” that links this mainly Shiite neighborhood on the west bank of the Euphrates with its twin district Adhamiya, mainly Sunni, on the east bank. (There is a nice satellite map on the website of the Meeting Resistance film, which was mostly filmed in Adhamiya.) Among the main points in the final statement of the meeting: A demand for scheduled withdrawal of the occupation forces from Iraq; and a statement to the effect the foreign forces are responsible for the internal divisions that have plagued Iraq since the invasion.”

10

Badger 03.25.08 at 3:27 pm

Larger analysis here

11

matt 03.25.08 at 4:15 pm

I think you meant “political phronesis”

12

Phomesy 03.25.08 at 4:15 pm

I’ve read this post several times now and I agree with lemeul pitkin – what is the point?

I’d hate to succumb to “supposition” but I can’t see any other purpose than a rather crude “Told you so” which no amount of dissembling can disguise.

Seeing as the Surge was a tactical and strategic policy aimed specifically at the Sunni nationalist insurgency and its relationship with the jihadi groups known as “al-Qaeda in Iraq”, your prediction of Al-Sadr’s (and other Shia factions) behaviour was wondrously prescient – “Daniel Davies proved right as Shia militia do the obvious!”; “Setback for Surge as US military’s repeated warnings of Basra vulnerability turn out to be correct!”

Perhaps you don’t mean to come across as self-aggrandising (maybe proclaiming your near perfect “rightness” on every other “important issue on Iraq” was a noble refusal to succumb to false modesty?) but you come awfully close to giving the impression you’re dancing on as yet un-filled Iraqi graves.

If you can’t bring yourself to acknowledge the unexpected success of The Surge (and it’s more important policy of co-opting the Sunni nationalist Insurgency against a common enemy) just keep quiet about it. Pretending it was an operation against the major Shia militia factions – or it’s success/failure should be judged by what’s happening in Basra, is absurd.

And you know it. YOu must. You’re not an idiot. You’re also not a liar. It’s okay to admit the Surge (and accompanying community strategy) has been an unexpected and blessed success. It doesn’t mean you were wrong about anything else. All it means is that finally something went right. Just because Bush uses this one ray of light to sound a triumphant note in the twilight of his presidency – that doesn’t mean you have to negate the whole policy… Are you really that insecure?

The Shia factional fighting is not a failure of The Surge – it’s a failure of the US, UK, France and Germany to be able to intimidate Iran in any tangible way. While the US finally finds a strategy that saves innocent Shia lives from jihadi market bombs – Iran stokes the fires of Shia civil war.

Now acknowledging this simple truth doesn’t mean you conceding any other single point about Iraq and the invasion. In fact, it’s part of your entire argument.

So why on earth can’t you look at what’s happening in Basra and say “You know what. It’s about time Iran got the fuck out of Iraq’s business. Just because the US fucked things up doesn’t mean they get a free pass”

Because I can’t help the feeling that part of you would look at a Rwanda style genocide in Southern Iraq and prefer the sense of vindication – as opposed to demanding immediate International action to stop it.

13

dsquared 03.25.08 at 4:42 pm

What’s the positive outcome you now think is more likely?

Getting some semblance of law and order (even simply on the basis of “government as the largest gang”) in Basra would in itself be an important positive outcome. More generally, if Maliki can come through this, then the prospect of stability until the next elections is enhanced, and at some point the US can credibly declare victory and depart the field. Assuming we then avoid the Rwanda-style massacre scenario (which might happen), then Iraq becomes a satellite state of Iran and the largely ungovernable province of Anbar becomes a fiefdom of roaming warlords and in all probability a training ground for al-Qaeda again. I meant “positive” in the sense of “sustainable improvement in the overall death rate in Iraq” rather than “geopolitically convenient for us”, and have more or less no interest at all in “can be spun into a positive talking point by British self-styled left wingers who want to vote Republican in the US elections”, just to be clear.

14

seth edenbaum 03.25.08 at 4:48 pm

“then Iraq becomes a satellite state of Iran”
And Iraqi nationalism means nothing?

15

lemuel pitkin 03.25.08 at 4:54 pm

More generally, if Maliki can come through this, then the prospect of stability until the next elections is enhanced, and at some point the US can credibly declare victory and depart the field.

I see — you think a reduction in violence and a stronger government in Baghdad makes US withdrawal more likely. But why do you think this? Isn’t it just as likely that some measure of “success” will just encourage the US to stay?

Again, this is a real, not rehtorical, question.

16

lemuel pitkin 03.25.08 at 4:59 pm

Also — the other big variable — what’s the relevance of the Basra showdown to reaching a political settlement? I mean, it’s not the intra-Shiite conflict that’s been the obstacle to a functioning state in Iraq.

17

dsquared 03.25.08 at 5:00 pm

But why do you think this? Isn’t it just as likely that some measure of “success” will just encourage the US to stay?

Because the US is running out of money and looking for excuses to leave, in my estimation. The other Vietnam book I keep re-reading is “Decent Interval” by Frank Snepp, and in my estimation, it’s begun.

18

lemuel pitkin 03.25.08 at 5:09 pm

Because the US is running out of money and looking for excuses to leave, in my estimation.

I really hope you’re right.

But that, to me, seems like a much more important question than anything happening in Basra.

19

abb1 03.25.08 at 5:09 pm

satellite state of Iran

Sorry, but that’s just nonsense. For Iraq – with shitload of oil in the ground – there’s absolutely no reason to become economically dependent on Iran or any other state. And there’s no reason to expect Iran to invade and occupy Iraq militarily. How is this ‘satellite state of Iran’ scenario supposed to come about?

20

Martin Wisse 03.25.08 at 5:21 pm

Well, it seems likely that Iraq will not soon return to its pre-invasion coherence, so you get perhaps a nominal country in which the Kurdish north is all but indepent, while the rest of the country will be largely under Shi’ite control though contested by sunni nationalists. If pro-Iran Shi’ite groups gain the upper hand, Iraq could become some sort of Iranian satellite state. Not indefinately of course, but for the forseeable future.

Oil doesn’t really enter in to it, as Iraq again is unlikely to soon become as big an exporter as it once was.

21

sniflheim 03.25.08 at 5:24 pm

looking for excuses to leave, in my estimation.

Huh what? Please elaborate.

22

seth edenbaum 03.25.08 at 5:27 pm

Jesus fucking christ. If Reider Visser can read Badger why can’t you?

It’s called nationalism: Iraqi Sunni and Shia against US and Iranian interference in their country.

23

lemuel pitkin 03.25.08 at 5:31 pm

… and, there’s a bit of a contradiction here, isn’t there? Yes, a stronger Maliki government makes it more politically feasible for the US to leave, but it also makes it less politically costly for the US to stay. I mean, ok, Vietnam: If the US had found more effective proxies there, do you think the war would have been shorter, or longer?

24

Phomesy 03.25.08 at 5:38 pm

Well, it seems likely that Iraq will not soon return to its pre-invasion coherence

I thought this was heavy sarcasm – then looked at your blog where you profess to care about the Iraqi people and describe COalition deaths as “fighting for the wrong side”.

Which side, exactly, do you consider to be the side of “pre-invasion coherence”?

FOr fuck’s sake, man. Iraq was a terror state where an elite Sunni Arab minority ruled the %70 majority of Shia Arabs and Sunni Kurds through fear, violence and horror.

It was not “coherent”!

Unbelievable…

25

abb1 03.25.08 at 5:42 pm

Iraq again is unlikely to soon become as big an exporter as it once was

http://www.reuters.com/article/topNews/idUSL2518224020080325

A shipping source at the Basra oil export terminal said operations were continuing as normal.

Crude oil shipments from the region totaled 1.54 million barrels per day in February, Iraq’s oil ministry said on Monday.

That’s just in the south and that’s the cheapest oil to extract in the world. 1.5 million barrels per day at $100/barrel is $150 mil/day is $54 billion/year. If there are, say, 10 million people in the south, that’s $5K/head/year; $20K/year for a family of four.

Am I wrong here?

26

roger 03.25.08 at 5:43 pm

I’ll pile on about the Iranian satellite comment too. Ally and satellite are two different things. Israel, for instance, is a U.S. ally. It isn’t a U.S. satellite, although there are times when it will do the U.S.’ bidding. Those militias and groups closest to Iran – or to Iran’s own subsystem of militias and political factions – have not had a good war so far.

27

mpowell 03.25.08 at 6:06 pm

I have to join in with Lemuel questioning Daniel’s judgment here. I think a defeat of Maliki would just be disastrous for the US presence in Iraq. I think the pro-war movement is heavily dependent on the ‘surge is working’ meme. I would compare a potential Maliki collapse to the Tet-offensive from a media perspective. You’d finally have people saying, “we’ve lost, there’s no point in staying”. To those paying attention, nothing has changed, but it could bring the public to see that without a political solution we aren’t making any progess. And we don’t have any idea how to achieve a political solution. Sure, more people might die if we leave, but Americans don’t care about that.

28

dsquared 03.25.08 at 6:12 pm

I would compare a potential Maliki collapse to the Tet-offensive from a media perspective

?analogy? The US left Vietnam in 1975, seven years after the Tet offensive.

29

HH 03.25.08 at 6:17 pm

I think the pro-war movement is heavily dependent on the ‘surge is working’ meme.

Yes, and they were “dependent” on the purple fingers before that and on WMD before that. There will always be another bogus rationale for continuing the war as long as there are credulous or dishonest Americans willing to support it.

30

abb1 03.25.08 at 6:19 pm

There are talking points for every occasion, Maliki’s fate makes no difference.

31

lemuel pitkin 03.25.08 at 6:19 pm

The US left Vietnam in 1975, seven years after the Tet offensive.

But what about the larger question?

You note that an important fact about Vietnam was the fecklesness of the US-backed factions there. And that if this Malki offensive in Basra is real, and successful, that will suggest his governmnet is importnatly different from its RVN equivalents. OK so far.

But you then suggest that this is a positive developemnt that is likely to hasten US withdrawal. With the logical implication being that if US-supported governments had enjoyed more political and military success, the US would have withdrawn from Vietnam sooner. Which seems, well, counterintuitive. No?

32

Dave 03.25.08 at 6:44 pm

1973 actually, if we’re talking about serious military commitment. 1975 was the year they had to leave from the roof of the Saigon embassy as the tanks came through the gates…

Of course, between Tet and 1973, Nixon had f*cked Cambodia and Laos pretty thoroughly too.

33

seth edenbaum 03.25.08 at 7:00 pm

The US army will stay in Iraq as long as long as there’s some way of claiming that they have a legal right to be there. That includes the logic of the “right” to Guantanamo.

In the meantime the public hand wringing of the self consciously well meaning is more about self pity than concern. The arguments for staying and for leaving are both based on condescension and contempt.

“We have to help!”
or
“It’s hopeless!”

This has never been about Iraq or the Iraqi people, and the Iraqi people are mature enough to know that. When westewn pwogwessives become as mature in their worldview as the average Iraqi we’ll be getting somewhere.

34

lemuel pitkin 03.25.08 at 7:05 pm

Seth, why do you comment here? What do you hope to accomplish by this constant preening and sneering?

35

Uncle Kvetch 03.25.08 at 7:30 pm

Lemuel, I prefer to think of all the puppies out there who aren’t being kicked, all because CT provides such a nice outlet for Seth’s bottomless, omni-directional rage and resentment.

The arguments for staying and for leaving are both based on condescension and contempt.

Mind you, he could save himself a lot of keystrokes by just creating an “Everybody’s wrong except me” autotext.

36

dsquared 03.25.08 at 7:36 pm

With the logical implication being that if US-supported governments had enjoyed more political and military success, the US would have withdrawn from Vietnam sooner. Which seems, well, counterintuitive. No?

Not really, no (Nixon’s “No More Vietnams” is also quite good on this). America wanted South Vietnam to be a functioning, anti-Communist buffer state. They certainly wouldn’t have tolerated genuine democracy there and they would have been unlikely to entirely withdraw, but it surely beggars belief that the plan in 1968 was to carry on with half a million soldiers there and damn near bankrupt the USA doing so.

37

roger 03.25.08 at 7:48 pm

I like Seth’s fagbaitin’ “westewn pwogwessives” thing – it is so obvious those narcissistic lefties are also friends of a href=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zPGb4STRfKw”>Biggus Dickus!” Wowdy wapscawwions!

38

roger 03.25.08 at 7:50 pm

39

HH 03.25.08 at 7:58 pm

If our goal is to have a functioning anti-terrorist buffer state, I would say that the length of time that we need to remain in Iraq would correspond almost exactly to the time required to exploit the Iraqi oil reserves. What a happy coincidence!

40

lemuel pitkin 03.25.08 at 8:01 pm

One more try.

The fighting in Iraq stops when either (a) the US has secured an outcome it considers acceptable , or (b) the US gives up, ends the occupation, and allows someone else to govern the country (or countries as it may then be.) We agree so far?

So let’s grant that point (a) is an improvement, both because it implies a greater degree of physical security for ordinary Iraqis and because it paves the way for a US withdrawal and gradual transition to some more a less legitimate government. In 30 years a US puppet-state in Iraq might evolve into the next South Korea. Why not?

So what we’ve got is a sort of valley, with two stable outcomes on the sides and the current horror between. The problem becomes, to judge whether a given event constitutes progress, it’s not enough to point to the goal and that this gets you closer to it; you also have to know if the goal is reachable. If (a) is inaccessible — if there is simply no way that the US can impose a stable, legitimate government with anything like a monopoly of force on Iraq — then what seems in the short term like a movement toward (a) is really just a movement *away* from (b).

it surely beggars belief that the plan in 1968 was to carry on with half a million soldiers there and damn near bankrupt the USA doing so.

Well, sure. So why did they? Because they thought they could “win”, in some relevant sense. It was only when the US governemnt gave up that the war ended. So, in the Vietnam context, at the margin an improvement in the performance of the South Vietnamese government would simply have prolonged the war with all its suffering and destruction. if the North was going to win, better that they do so sooner, than later. I really don’t see how you can dispute this.

And now I’m going to write somethign a little unkind.

I think I know why you are making this rather strange argument. Your closing line, and your first response to me, make it clear that this is really about “decent left”. Well fine; I don’t like that crowd any more than you do. But it seems the burden of this post is that you can be anti-war while still hoping for US success in Iraq. The rhetorical value of establishing this is clear enough. But, I’m sorry, at this point I don’t think you can.

41

HH 03.25.08 at 8:12 pm

“hoping for US success in Iraq”

And what would that be, pray tell? Installling another Shah? Or another Saddam? Or Ahmed Chalabi? Apparently the only thing a “decent” American should expect is something that materially benefits the American Empire.

A decent American would summon up the honesty to denounce this appalling smash-and-grab attempt on Iraq’s oil and commence the payment of massive war reparations to the people of Iraq.

Americans are not always the good guys, and we have thoroughly disgraced ourselves in Iraq.

42

seth edenbaum 03.25.08 at 8:17 pm

I should have started more carefully:
Future stability in Iraq will more likely come from alliances of Sunni and Shia made outside of government control. Maliki’s is a puppet government. DD correctly describes alliances across sectarian lines, but then offers a qualified defense of the puppet.

The political collapse of the Maliki government, is probably a good thing for Iraqis.

43

dsquared 03.25.08 at 8:37 pm

So, in the Vietnam context, at the margin an improvement in the performance of the South Vietnamese government would simply have prolonged the war with all its suffering and destruction.

Post 1968, maybe, but I don’t think that’s the relevant analogy – there’s no equivalent of North Vietnam in Iraq. Between 1963 and 1968, the North Vietnamese cadres were repeatedly surprised by the fecklessness and cowardice of the South Vietnamese army command, and the extent to which they undermined the USA’s attempts to reduce the VietCong from a ragtag guerilla army to isolated bands of terrorists (which would have been a manageable problem for South Vietnam, allowed it to persist as a state and saved thousands if not millions of lives). By repeatedly engaging in half-hearted attacks, and by manning and equipping outposts which it didn’t intend to properly defend, the ARVN basically ran a training and supply program for the VietCong, allowing them to upgrade from a ragtag guerilla army to a proper army. At the same time, the civilian South Vietnamese government systematically undermined their own power base through their innovative “fuck everyone who isn’t a French-speaking Catholic, then fuck half the French-speaking Catholics too” policy.

All of these acts of “learned helplessness” (an endemic condition among US puppet governments – if you have a policy of rewarding weakness with more troops and punishing success by withdrawing troops, you find out that, in my new favourite proverb, the military-industrial complex actually does work the way that Richard Posner thinks the whole government works) had the effect of lengthening the war and increasing American involvement. If the Diem government had taken more responsibility for its own security and handled its internal affairs better, the Americans could have been out of Vietnam in time for the 1966 World Cup. As it was, they gradually (gradually because their generals on the ground and cheerleaders in the media kept telling them they were “winning”) realised that Diem was a liability and got rid of him, but by that time things were irredeemably fucked.

Maliki had the chance to be a Diem and may still turn out to be one – there are powerful incentives pushing him that way. But I’m on the lookout for any evidence that he might be playing against type and the attack on Basra might be it.

I absolutely think it’s possible to hope the Americans win – since the war is a fact, I don’t really understand what it means to be “anti-war” in context. I also hope that the subprime mortgage crisis has a happy resolution and that Bear Stearns will trade at $75 a share, but I try not to let these hopes colour my assessment of what’s actually happening.

44

seth edenbaum 03.25.08 at 8:58 pm

Shorter DD

On Diem/Maliki: “If we had some ham we could have some ham and eggs if we had some eggs.”

I think there are better arguments to be made.

45

lemuel pitkin 03.25.08 at 9:01 pm

Thanks for the reply.

I absolutely think it’s possible to hope the Americans win – since the war is a fact, I don’t really understand what it means to be “anti-war” in context.

So let’s say, then, that the conflct is between wanting the war to end soon, and wanting it to end with an American victory; not only in the sense that it’s unlikely for both hopes to be realized, but in that efforts toward the latter are likely to actively impede the former.

You disagree, and think that effective control of Iraq by a US-backed state or states — a colorable US victory — is possible in the near term. Maybe you’re right, it’s an empirical question at this point. I do still think peace is far more likely to come to Iraq through American defeat, than through American victory, but it would be foolish to be very confident on this point.

Anyway, your argument is much clearer to me now, so thanks again. Guess I’ll leave it at that (and go borrow my mom’s copy of A Bright Shining Lie.)

46

abb1 03.25.08 at 9:02 pm

It’s certainly possible for the Americans to win; it’s just, as HH said, they would have to install and maintain a regime significantly more brutal than Saddam’s. They are, actually, moving in that direction – with all those walls surrounding neighborhoods and cities, airstrikes, local thugs on payroll, etc. And in 20 year it may evolve into something like Saudi Arabia.

47

Old Guy 03.25.08 at 9:05 pm

“I would compare a potential Maliki collapse to the Tet-offensive from a media perspective

?analogy? The US left Vietnam in 1975, seven years after the Tet offensive.”

MPowell is correct; Tet was a crucial turning point, not least from a media perspective. After Tet the notion that America might eventually win in Vietnam became drastically less tenable. This in turn caused the media to start spinning in a different direction. The fact that things took as long as they did to wind down does not alter the fact that a phase change had taken place.

48

a very public sociologist 03.25.08 at 9:22 pm

And Al-Sadr continues to show his nous by only calling for non-violent civil disobedience in response. If it’s going to lead to even more large scale bloodshed he’s certainly positioning himself well as the wounded party.

49

Martin Wisse 03.25.08 at 9:52 pm

There will not be any good outcomes of this war, whether or not the US wins, just like in Vietnam.

You either get a weak Iraqi puppet regime, a Saddam-lite so to speak, with an ongoing civil war, or no puppet regime but still a civil war, or perhaps an Iran backed puppet regime with a civil war. But in any case, once the Americans finally leave the country will still be shot up, with over a million dead, millions more wounder or fled and no working infrastructure.

50

Martin Wisse 03.25.08 at 9:53 pm

Oh Phomesy, take your fake concern and shove it.

51

abb1 03.25.08 at 10:05 pm

Vietnam had a good outcome after the Americans left. Vietnam defeated colonialism and imperialism, became independent and evolved according to its own nature. What other outcome could be better?

52

dsquared 03.25.08 at 10:32 pm

Phomesy, I’m going to keep this short but not sweet. This is not our first interaction, and over the course of the last five years, you’ve repeatedly proven that you are both an idiot, a liar and a Blairite concern troll. You’re wrong about the aims of the surge and wrong in analysing the role of Iran; this is of a piece with every other bit of “it’s working!” claptrap you’ve been coming out with since 2003.

Because I can’t help the feeling that part of you would look at a Rwanda style genocide in Southern Iraq and prefer the sense of vindication – as opposed to demanding immediate International action to stop it.

I can’t help feeling you’re banned.

53

dsquared 03.25.08 at 10:40 pm

Vietnam had a good outcome after the Americans left. Vietnam defeated colonialism and imperialism, became independent and evolved according to its own nature. What other outcome could be better?

a purist might suggest that a totalitarian police state with nearly 10% of the population becoming refugees was not the optimal development path. ffs.

54

mpowell 03.25.08 at 10:46 pm

The Tet offensive comparison is apt only in the sense of the public’s perspective on our chance of winning the war? The Bush administration isn’t getting out of Iraq. The question now is, will a Dem administration have the cojones to get out of Iraq? If the public thinks it’s a lost cause, I think the political calculus will make a full withdrawal much more likely. Right now the public doesn’t like the war, but isn’t fully convinced that it’s a lost cause. Yeah, the surge is just the latest in a line of excuses, but the generator of excuses, the Bush admin, will be gone soon.

The other perspective is that the Maliki gov will make enough political progress that we can leave with a moderate success on the ground. I think what’s more likely is something illusory that doesn’t really help. Basically, I agree completely with Lemuel’s valley analogy.

55

seth edenbaum 03.25.08 at 10:53 pm

Eyewitnesses in various parts of Sadr City told VOI that the American forces encircled Sadr City as of this afternoon, closing off all entrances, and took over the place of the Iraqi forces at the entrances to Sadr City. They said there was the intermittent sound of gunfire and the sound of explosions in various areas of Sadr City, which is under partial cutoff of electric power to some areas, as residents hurried to markets for food-supplies, fearing a deterioration of the situation.”

Puppet.

The link comes from B of course.

56

qb 03.25.08 at 11:29 pm

Lemuel @ 45: I do still think peace is far more likely to come to Iraq through American defeat, than through American victory, but it would be foolish to be very confident on this point.

kudos for placing peace in Iraq at the center of the debate where it belongs, and for your admirable tentativeness regarding the complex empirical questions. public discourse on the war needs more of both.

57

Dan Simon 03.26.08 at 12:30 am

[you are also banned and for good reason, Dan, did you forget or something? There is a quite simple criterion here; if you accuse the hosts of being racists or apologists for genocide then it’s clearly impossible for you to have a civil conversation with us, and that means you can’t have a conversation at all. “I have a feeling that you would be happy to see thousands murdered” isn’t a “contrasting viewpoint” and nor are the accusations of anti-Semitism which earned you your own ban -dd]

58

roger 03.26.08 at 2:56 am

I don’t know, dsquared. Vietnam’s totalitarianism and refugee population rather pale compared to the landmark in inhumanity when the British lost that war in North America, which launched a slave state with a comparable number of refugees. The United States, that was the name of that country! They immediately, of course, went on a genocidal rampage against the Indians.

59

HH 03.26.08 at 3:51 am

There is always a cover story when a superior power plunders an inferior one. The Spanish conquistadors did not come to America to steal gold, but to save souls.

The Americans did not come to Iraq to steal oil, but to destroy WMD – no, to build a democracy – no, to defeat Al Qaeda – no, to protect the people from civil war – no…

60

abb1 03.26.08 at 9:32 am

Recent atrocities in Rwanda were, of course, a direct result of the colonial period, the standard divide-and-conquer MO. Wiki:

The Belgians, sought an explanation for the complex monarchy they found in the colony, and the simple distinction of Hutu and Tutsi, on the basis of race, rather than class, was theirs. The Belgians brought in identification cards to every Rwandan, with preferential treatment to Tutsis for positions in education, politics and business.

In every colony there is a privileged class that suffers when the colony becomes independent, there’s simply no way around it (Rwanda, of course, is a very extreme case); ‘more colonialism’ is obviously not an answer.

Following decades of devastating colonial wars that killed millions, 10% refugees and some forced re-indoctrination in Vietnam was, I think, a very mild development. There are no miracles, something has to give.

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Martin Wisse 03.26.08 at 12:53 pm

Abb1: Vietnam had a good outcome after the Americans left. Vietnam defeated colonialism and imperialism, became independent and evolved according to its own nature. What other outcome could be better?

It was also a country whose infrastructure was devastated by three decades or more of constant war, with enormous environmental problems thanks to the Americans waging chemical warfare, not to mention quite a few physically disabled people as a consequence of the war.

Currently it’s attempting to make itself rich by being a low wage/slave labour manufacturing country serving America and China.

You might think everything was sweetness and light after the US was defeated, but for the Vietnamese it was a phyrric victory.

62

HH 03.26.08 at 2:59 pm

As a public service, I state the question that the press is afraid to ask candidate McCain:

Should America still be fighting in Vietnam?

The reason this question is not asked is because the answer would make many Americans very uncomfortable.

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seth edenbaum 03.26.08 at 3:38 pm

The US is supporting Abbas against Hamas and Maliki against Sadr.
Defending corrupt leadership against popular nationalist, not only sectarian, uprisings. I linked to a discussion of a meeting “organized by the Sadr organization, included 300 tribal leaders, Shia and Sunni, from throughout Iraq.” Is there any discussion of that in the pwogwessive media? Kvetchnik? No.

On Israel I’ve said this again and again, linking to discussions and data by recognized experts, who speak arabic, who’ve dealt with Hamas. Now I’m saying the same thing about Iraq. And DD who’s spent hours, days and weeks defending the various Lancet studies is now arguing in defense of the puppets of those responsible for the destruction on Iraq over the past 18 years.

Watch Sinan Altoon explain it.
For some reason its important for “serious” people to have more contempt for Iraqis and Palestinians than Americans and Israelis.

“Seriousness” is a disease that develops when self-importance, labeled “reason” trumps empiricism. You rage against Lieberman without recognizing the same symptoms in yourselves.

64

dsquared 03.26.08 at 4:48 pm

Seth, the Basra militias call themselves “Sadrists” (or at least some of them do) but they are as far as I can tell not really under the control of Moqtada al-Sadr – his power base is in Baghdad. All the accounts I’ve read of the way things have gone in Basra have very much implied that it’s gangsterism rather than either sectarianism or nationalism that is the driving force there.

I’ve got no particular brief for Maliki; as with the Lancet studies my one and only concern is that as few people die as possible, and that as much damage as possible is done to the political and journalistic careers of people who engage in irresponsible war-cheerleading. As far as I can see, success for Maliki in Basra will lead to the USA getting out quicker than failure, therefore I’m hoping for success. As far as I’m concerned, whether the US Army comes home in triumph or in shame is of vastly secondary importance to them just getting out.

65

abb1 03.26.08 at 5:22 pm

I disagree with defining Vietnam as ‘phyrric victory’. By this logic almost any victory in a defensive war would be a phyrric victory. Take the Soviets vs. the Nazis in the WWII, for example: they lost 20 million people, infrastructure was largely destroyed, etc. – but they won and that’s what counts. A victory is a victory.

66

ajay 03.26.08 at 5:42 pm

Quite – a Pyrrhic victory is a tactical victory which leaves the victor strategically weaker, as his victories over the Romans did Pyrrhus. (“Another such victory and we are lost”). There’s no sense in talking about a victorious war as Pyrrhic unless it leaves the victor more vulnerable in another war shortly afterwards – which the Vietnam war demonstrably did not (Vietnam defeated China handily four years later).

67

Barry 03.26.08 at 6:10 pm

Seth,

Here’s some coffee – no, not that cup, the real cup. Yes, you see two cups and two right hands, and that’s a problem. Let me put the cup into your hand. Here’s some aspiring – you’ll need it in a bit. Here’s the trashcan; you look like your stomach is about to send the whiskey back up. No, not the bottle; that got you where you are now. Just relax and drink some coffee.

68

seth edenbaum 03.26.08 at 6:12 pm

“As far as I can see, success for Maliki in Basra will lead to the USA getting out quicker than failure, therefore I’m hoping for success. “
I disagree.

As luck would have it Reidar Visser’s analysis just showed up in my in-box. I’d choose my generalizations over yours, but knowledge should win out yes?
Everyone sign up.

69

dsquared 03.26.08 at 6:23 pm

The Visser piece is certainly very good.

70

seth edenbaum 03.26.08 at 6:37 pm

Daniel, I don’t question your intentions and never would, but I think you pay too much attention to American perspectives and assumptions, those of people who claim to be out of the mainstream but whose arguments are no less based on defensiveness and ignorance.

You’re still the only person writing on this site who I read for enjoyment. The rest of them by and large can go to hell. But I disagree with you on this.

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lemuel pitkin 03.26.08 at 6:51 pm

The Visser piece is certainly very good.

Roger that.

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Alex 03.26.08 at 7:49 pm

Here’s some aspiring – you’ll need it in a bit.

We could all do with aspiring…arsehole.

73

Martin Wisse 03.26.08 at 8:15 pm

Naaah, I’ll stand by my earlier evaluation: Vietnam might have won the war, but it was still a devestated country that is still suffering the consequences.

74

Roy Belmont 03.27.08 at 2:17 am

#64:…my one and only concern is that as few people die as possible…
That’s a fine sentiment, especially when the people concerned are all of a kind, and interchangeable.
But what about those valiant minority scenarios? You know where there’s just a few of the beleaguered little guys bravely holding out against a numerically far superior force, and by that keeping the conflict going full-tilt; so that removing them, a comparative handful, will mean a cessation of conflict sooner rather than later.
That would conceivably give you the numbers you’re looking for, but morally it seems a little sketchy.
It’s comforting to certain liberal sensibilities to imagine all Iraqis, especially the ones with guns, as interchangeable, with no really important distinctions between them. Like football players – they can change uniforms or whatever, but it’s all the same game.
I don’t speak Arabic and have to rely on the internet for virtually all the information I get about it, but it seems pretty clear to me there’s some profound differences between Maliki and Al-Sadr, ethical and moral differences, and between the groups they’re responsible for, and to.
Pretending there aren’t would make the numerical sorting out a little easier though, I can see how that would be.

75

Dan Simon 03.27.08 at 6:01 am

[what part of “banned” do you not understand?]

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Barry 03.27.08 at 1:55 pm

“Here’s some aspiring – you’ll need it in a bit.

We could all do with aspiring…arsehole.”

Posted by Alex

Awwwwwwwwwwwwwwww… Seth gets whackjob incoherent, and I point it out, so I’m the arsehole?

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Roy Belmont 03.29.08 at 3:08 am

#78:
More accurately, Seth says some things that you’re trained to recognize as opportunities for scorn and derision, so you scorn and deride.
One of the unwritten rules of stuff like this is you don’t escalate negativity. You meet it head on, preferably with reserve and superior language. But you don’t escalate.
That what he said was in no way incoherent or whack is beside the point. You met his earnestness with pettiness and personal insult. Which makes you an asshole.

78

Righteous Bubba 03.29.08 at 2:10 pm

One of the unwritten rules of stuff like this is you don’t escalate negativity.

[…]

Which makes you an asshole.

Hmm.

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Roy Belmont 03.29.08 at 8:14 pm

r.bubba-
If Americanizing “arsehole” is escalation, I stand guilty as charged.
Otherwise, no.
I can barely bring myself to type the quoted word, let alone speak it.
It’s always seemed bizarre. Until I met someone from England who could conclusively verify it wasn’t just some prissy stand-in, but was actually commonly used, I thought it was like that disemvowelled “f*ck” or “the ‘f’ word”, that some squeamish folks find to be acceptable parlance.
It’s unmelodious, and doesn’t scan.

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dr puma 03.29.08 at 10:06 pm

Rule No. 1 of war — respect your enemy and never underestimate. The only way out for the U.S. military is right back to Kuwait. Sadr can raise a one million man Mahdi army anytime he cares to. Used as a blocking force to the south, the U.S. military would be effectively trapped in Iraq. As for the Badr Brigade, the USA is paying them millions of dollars to stay out of the war. It helps to remember that the Badr Brigade, when it first rolled into Iraq, said, “We will help you (the USA) take down Saddam Hussein, and then we will turn our guns on you (the USA). The real Iraq war is yet to come.

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