Sistani rules, again

by John Quiggin on November 4, 2005

I haven’t seen much discussion of this AP report that Ayatollah Sistani is likely to call for a withdrawal of US troops after the elections on December 15 (found via Juan Cole).

It’s unclear whether this is an accurate report of Sistani’s intentions, a trial balloon, or an attempt by some in his circle to create a fait accompli. But assuming the report is accurate, it seems clear, as Cole says, that any attempt to resist such a demand from Sistani would be futile, especially now that the Sadrists, still violently opposed to the occupation, are likely to play a large role in the new government. Nevertheless, the US, backed by current PM Jaafari is currently seeking a 12-month extension of the occupation mandate from the UN, instead of the 6-month extensions sought previously.

It’s not obvious why the Bush Administration would want to resist a demand for a withdrawal timetable. There’s never going to be a better opportunity to declare victory and pull out.

It seems unlikely that, in the event of a US pullout, the insurgents could regain power. On the other hand, it’s very likely to lead further in the direction of de facto or de jure partition, with the Kurds effectively seceding, Shiites controlling both the central government and a Shiite bloc of provinces and insurgents of one kind or another running large parts of the country, and continuing to wreak substantial havoc. This could lead to civil war. But that outcome seems even more likely if the US occupation continues.

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11.05.05 at 7:21 pm

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1

bob mcmanus 11.04.05 at 8:37 am

“This could lead to civil war. But that outcome seems even more likely if the US occupation continues.”

Uhh, I don’t quite get this yet. Help me out here.
Which side becomes dispirited and runs with concessions to the negotiating table?

Given a full withdrawal I think the possibility of a Baathist resurgence is much higher than most peaceniks grant. The Iraqi Sunni Arabs have historically had allies more committed to controlling Baghdad than their Shia counterparts. I suspect that the Sunnis will accept Iraqi irrelevance about as soon as the Palestinian abandon Jeruseleum.

A partial withdrawal to the deserts might maintain the status quo for a generation or two. Status quo being low-level civil war. I have no idea what Sistani has in mind.

2

bob mcmanus 11.04.05 at 8:50 am

“Any attempt by Bush and Rumsfeld to remain in Iraq in defiance of Sistani would certainly radicalize the Iraqi population and risk pushing it toward anti-American Muslim extremism both on the Shiite and the Sunni Arab fronts. As Hendawi notes, most close observers of Iraq, such as Vali Nasr and Ahmad Hashem (who has experience on the ground as US military officer) believe that any such move by Sistani, should it succeed, risks throwing Iraq into substantial sectarian violence.” …Juan Cole

3

abb1 11.04.05 at 8:52 am

It’s not obvious why the Bush Administration would want to resist a demand for a withdrawal timetable.

Um, to keep controlling Iraq’s oil and keep their ‘military footprint’ in the middle of this strategically important region?

Am I being a conspiracy theorist here or is this the most obvious explanation?

4

Slocum 11.04.05 at 9:16 am

The report does not say “Ayatollah Sistani is likely to call for a withdrawal of US troops after the elections on December”. It says that Sistani is likely to call for a timetable for withdrawal.

Not the same thing at all. Does that mean a one-year timetable or 5-year or 10-year? A fixed timetable or one that depends on the achievement of certain goals? A timetable for total withdrawal or for a withdrawal that leaves a limited number of forces to guarantee the security of the elected government?

I don’t see any reason why Sistani, the Iraqi government, and the U.S. wouldn’t be able to find a mutually agreeable form for such a declaration.

5

Ray 11.04.05 at 9:24 am

“Bush said, “There are not going to be any timetables. I have told this to the prime minister. We are there to complete a mission, and it’s an important mission.” He said, “Why would you say to the enemy: Here’s a timetable, just go ahead and wait us out? It doesn’t make any sense to have a timetable. You know, if you give a timetable, you’re conceding too much to the enemy.””

6

Brendan 11.04.05 at 9:28 am

By your use of the word ‘peaceniks’ (‘Given a full withdrawal I think the possibility of a Baathist resurgence is much higher than most peaceniks grant.’) I take it you are a follower of the strange and declining cult of the ‘Hitch’? (the big H of course originally used the term to describe those who were insufficiently ‘muscular’ in condemning the FIRST gulf war. How things change).

If so: this quote may be of interest, from Crazy Hitch’s latest screed: ‘He (i.e. Scowcroft) says that the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon is the prelude to civil war, not independence: Hardly a persuasive argument, then, for the healing effect of a Syrian presence that lasted 29 years.’

Ipso facto, if the American withdrawal from Iraq will lead to civil war, this is hardly a persuasive argument, then, for the healing effect of an American presence that felt like it lasted 29 years (it may only have been 29 centuries: who knows?)

In any case. There are two facts that are not in doubt about Iraq.

First: this is a phenomenally, perhaps unprecedentally unpopular war. All opinion polls demonstrate that a majority of the population of America, the UK and Iraq want an immediate withdrawal of ‘coalition’ troops (after the next elections).

Second: it is inconceivable (almost literally) that the Americans are going to walk away and leave Iraq with no military bases in place, and with no preferential treatment vis a vis oil.

Most importantly of all, given the current situation regarding Ahmadinejad’s latest outbursts: it is virtually inconceivable that the Americans are going to walk away and leave Iraq as an Iranian leaning state, immeasurably weakening US influence in the region, and strengthening that of Teheran.

This leads to a fundamental problem. Because invasions by the US/UK nowadays have to be carried out under the rubrik of ‘democracy’, this leads to a tension: the rest of the world knows the word is used completely hypocritically (and is in fact meaningless in this context). But merely because in the rest of the world democracy does actually mean something, and because the US and the UK are not (yet) strong enough to act completely unilaterally, sometimes (by a sort of dialectical process) the US and the UK have to be seen to act democratically. The first Iraqi elections were a classic example. The US and the UK fought tooth and nail to prevent them, but once Sistani brought the people out onto the streets, the Coalition were (as it were) prisoners of their own rhetoric. The elections had to be held , and all the Coalition could do was to try and rig them as much as possible (a process which failed, as we all know).

But the stakes are much higher now. The US and the UK can exist with the ‘wrong’ government in Iraq. They can even cope with an Iraq that has a reasonable degree of political autonomy (As Greg Palast has revealed, a secret plan to use Iraq has a Trojan Horse to destroy OPEC has already had to be abandoned).

But a government that might actually force them to remove their military bases (and might combine, economically, with Iran to put pressure on the US as regards oil) is simply going to be unacceptable. But it’s very difficult to see what the ‘Coalition’ can do, with their hands being tied behind their backs by their own rhetoric of ‘democracy’.

It will be interesting to see how things develop. The US might decide that it would be better to see Iraq destroyed rather than being a unified force against them and use the Kurds as a Trojan Horse to do this. Alternatively, perhaps things are simply spiralling out of control too quickly, and this is the way things are going anyway.

In any case, the frantic attempts to gain legitimation for another year of occupation (even though, after the elections, there will be not one single solitary reason for a Coalition presence) show that the Coalition are desperate to remain. The hope must be that Sistani is a Gandhi figure who can use peaceful methods to force the Coalition to ‘Quit Iraq’. Whether he is that sort of man, and whether he has that sort of power, is another issue.

7

bob mcmanus 11.04.05 at 9:53 am

“By your use of the word ‘peaceniks’”

I don’t read Hitchens, or many Republicans at all for that matter.

My personal use of the word “peacenik” describes those who call for total withdrawal disregarding all possible costs and consequences, to ourselves and our interests, the Iraqis, the ME and world economy. And those who might admit to a downside, but would escape any responsibility with various degrees of rationalization, i.e., “Iraq may descend into ethnic cleansing spreading to a regional war with oil supply disruption, world economic catastrophe and jihadist diaspora, but that’s all Bush’s fault, and okay as long as no more American soldiers die.”

8

Hektor Bim 11.04.05 at 9:57 am

Brendan,

I think you are overestimating the US’s power in Iraq. Everything that the US has attempted to do that thwarts the goals of majority of Iraqis on the ground fails. Sistani wanted elections. He got elections. The Kurds and Shiites wanted certain assurances in the constitution, and they got them, event though many people in the US weren’t happy with them. The Kurds want refugee return to Kirkuk, and despite the opposition of the US and Turkey, they are getting it. The Shiites want better relations with Iran, and despite what the US wants, they are getting it.

“The US might decide that it would be better to see Iraq destroyed rather than being a unified force against them and use the Kurds as a Trojan Horse to do this.”

A far more credible belief is that the Kurds and the Iranians wanted Saddam Hussein out of the picture and used the US to do that. We were the Trojan Horse for Iran and Kurdistan, not the other way around.

It’s not like the Kurds and Shiites are ignorant patsies who will fall for the US’s silken words. My feeling is that as every day goes by, it gets more and more likely that Iraq will split up de facto, even if it stays together de jure.

9

Brendan 11.04.05 at 10:14 am

Hektor

you may well be right, and as I suggested, I certainly hope so. My point was that issues such as elections, the constitution, and the ‘right of return’ are relatively minor to the Coalition. Certainly they aren’t happy about any of these things, but they can live with them.

But removal of military bases from Iraq (and if they are removed, where will they go? Not Saudi Arabia anyway. So where?), and an increase in Iranian influence would be far bitterer pills to swallow, and would, in fact, render the whole Iraqi operation a complete and total disaster for the US.

Now this may happen. After all it has happened before, in Vietnam, where the US attempted to extend its control over Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos (and therefore strengthen its hand vis a vis China) and ended up losing control of all those countries, and being effectively pushed out of South East Asia for twenty years.

But what pushed the Americans out that time was sheer military force. Moreover as has been noted, the reasons for the American presence in Vietnam were contingent (Cold war fears of Chinese expansionism etc.) and geopolitical. In Iraq, however, they are geopolitical, yes, but are also to do with material resources (specifically all that lovely black oil). The US could ‘lose’ Vietnam and not actually suffer economically. If it lost a major source of oil (and remember it would not just be losing it, it would be losing it to Teheran ), that may not be the case.

I wonder, as well, how it would play in the Republican heartlands to see Iraq handed over to Iran on a platter, and for Bush to go down in history as the ‘man who lost Iraq?’. At the end of the day, the US is a democracy, and politicians have to win votes. Humiliating climbdowns and volte-faces rarely win elections.

So I think that the Americans will do everything in their power to avoid withdrawal. Perhaps they think a pre-emptive attack on Iran would clear everyone’s minds, and force Iraq to choose between Iran and the US.

10

Uncle Kvetch 11.04.05 at 10:16 am

With all respect, Bob McM, I think you’re being a little unfair here.

My personal use of the word “peacenik” describes those who call for total withdrawal disregarding all possible costs and consequences, to ourselves and our interests, the Iraqis, the ME and world economy.

I haven’t seen anyone seriously advocating immediate withdrawal and simply shrugging off the possible consequences in this way, Bob. On the other hand, I certainly have seen an awful lot of “But we can’t just leave” arguments that do nothing to take into account the “costs and consequences, to ourselves and our interests, the Iraqis, the ME and world economy” of our staying in Iraq. There’s downsides to both arguments, and I’d take the “Pottery Barn” argument more seriously if its proponents would acknowledge them.

“Iraq may descend into ethnic cleansing spreading to a regional war with oil supply disruption, world economic catastrophe and jihadist diaspora, but that’s all Bush’s fault, and okay as long as no more American soldiers die.”

Again, there’s a faint whiff of straw here–I don’t recognize this argument, even allowing for paraphrase and/or hyperbole.

FWIW, speaking as someone who doesn’t reflexively shrink from the label of “peacenik,” my own feeling is that BushCo has so spectacularly screwed the pooch that there is no scenario that doesn’t virtually guarantee disastrous long-term consequences for all parties involved. Given this, I can’t see a good reason not to cut our losses.

And I have to echo Brendan and abb1: One simply can’t discuss this subject seriously without acknowledging that the Pentagon has very concrete plans for a long-term, extensive military presence in Iraq. I don’t think the administration particularly cares what happens to Iraq, provided it can serve as a hospitable host for our bases.

11

jlw 11.04.05 at 11:02 am

Of course, the formulation “U.S. bases in Iraq” can mean a host of different things. Given the amount of autonomy that Kurdistan seems destined to have, we may see a compromise wherein the U.S. retreats to bases in Northern Iraq while the Arab majority areas sort thing out amongst themselves.

This gives the Kurds something they want–a big brother to protect against Arab aggression; the American generals something they want–ground and air forces on the border with Iran; Shiite clerics something they want–a free hand to install a Shariah-inspired government in their territory. And it deprives the insurgents close proximity to Western targets for IEDs.

Not the outcome we were sold back in 2003, but one that might be reasonably stable in the medium term.

12

abb1 11.04.05 at 11:21 am

Democratic independent shariah-inspired Iran-friendly government sitting on huge oil reserves – even if limited to only the Arab-populated part of Iraq – is anathema to the US government. They’ll do anything to prevent it. They’ll be there until some client strongman resembling Saddam or Allawi emerges one way or another.

13

Brendan 11.04.05 at 12:37 pm

‘Democratic independent shariah-inspired Iran-friendly government sitting on huge oil reserves – even if limited to only the Arab-populated part of Iraq – is anathema to the US government. They’ll do anything to prevent it. They’ll be there until some client strongman resembling Saddam or Allawi emerges one way or another.’

I think this is SLIGHTLY over pessimistic. As I’ve said, the jargon of ‘democracy’ within which the Coalition have wrapped themselves is, of course, totally hypocritical etc. etc. etc. But merely because they have gone ahead and used it so much, I think the US’ freedom to ‘do a Pinochet’ and appoint a dictator is limited. This is nothing to do with having a starry eyed view of the US or the UK, merely a recognition that the rest of the world wouldn’t stand for it.

The goal for the US and the UK has pretty clearly been a situation similar to that which existed in Iraq between 1932 and 1941, and then again between 1947 and 1956. That is, a democratic state with independent judiciary, free press and the rest, BUT where ‘Britain retained military bases in Iraq and exerted a strong political influence in the country. This included ensuring that the concession for oil exploration and exploitation to the Iraq Petroleum Company, a conglomerate of British, French and United States interests.’

The problem with letting the democracy virus out of the bottle of course is that situations can spiral out of control as they did in ’41 and ’58. In ’41, of course, the British had to step back in and show who was boss: but this option no longer existed in ’58 and the British and Americans just had to sit back and take it until ’63.

In short: I think the chances of democracy per se (in the short term) in Iraq are precisely zero: neither of the major players (the US and Iran) want it. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that a dictator will be installed either. Moreover, even the quasi-democracy that Iran and the US will permit, might lead to consequences that neither of them like.

14

Shelby 11.04.05 at 12:38 pm

Bob McM:
I don’t read Hitchens, or many Republicans at all for that matter.

It would come as news to Hitch that he’s a Republican.

15

Brendan 11.04.05 at 12:44 pm

‘It would come as news to Hitch that he’s a Republican.’

Crazy Hitch is a drunken loonbat of the first order, and his denial of his fellow travelling is of no consequence. Compare Orwell on Zilliacus: (quoting from memory) ‘Zilliacus denies that he is a fellow traveller. But of course he does! What does anyone expect him to say???!!’

Hitchens is a fellow traveller of the extremist neo-con sect of the Republican party, and, to repeat, his denials of this are of as disingenous as the denials of pro-Soviet Labour MPs in the ’40s and ’50s that they were fellow travellers of the USSR.

16

abb1 11.04.05 at 1:09 pm

I think the US’ freedom to ‘do a Pinochet’ and appoint a dictator is limited.

They don’t have to appoint a dictator. All they need to do is to keep stirring troubles until everyone there is sick and tired and wants Saddam back. As Rumsfeld said:

At some point the Iraqis will get tired of getting killed and we’ll have enough of the Iraqi security forces that they can take over responsibility for governing that country and we’ll be able to pare down the coalition security forces in the country.

Simple as that.

17

abb1 11.04.05 at 1:15 pm

Oh, and if it’s not clear enough: in a democratic country (shariah- or schmaria-inspired, whatever) security forces typically do not take over responsibility for governing that country. In a democratic country the governed typically consent to be governed.

18

jet 11.04.05 at 1:36 pm

Abb1,
There for a while you were posting well thought out rational stuff that added to the dialogue. But you’ve totally lost it. I’d call your citation of Rumsfeld taking it out of context, but you go so far beyond that. I’ll leave it that I call total bullshit on your quote and until you can show a link from somewhere besides moonbatsRus.com, you’re just posting the rantings of Religion of Conspiracies.

Here’s the full Rumsfeld quote:

I think that the United States and the coalition countries, of course unlike, other countries we have no desire to stay there or to be there at all other than to help that country get on it’s feet. We’re in the processing of doing that and they’re making good progress politically. They’re making progress economically. The schools are open. The hospitals are open. They have a stock market functioning. They sent some teams to the Olympics. They have a symphony and at the same time, amidst all those good things that are happening, people are being killed. Iraqis are being killed, as they were yesterday and the day before. At some point the Iraqis will get tired of getting killed and we’ll have enough of the Iraqi security forces that they can take over responsibility for governing that country and we’ll be able to pare down the coalition security forces in the country.

This quote that you so uncharitably interpreted for us says something quite different that your post. But I’m sure when Sistani asks the US to leave, and then the US leaves, you’ll show how that is also some great conspiracy to enslave the world also.

19

Maynard Handley 11.04.05 at 1:40 pm

“Given a full withdrawal I think the possibility of a Baathist resurgence is much higher than most peaceniks grant. ”

Which, I assume, would start like this?
(from the NY Times)

Iraq Asks Return of Some Officers of Hussein Army
By EDWARD WONG
Published: November 3, 2005

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Nov. 2 – The Iraqi government called Wednesday for the return of junior officers from the disbanded army of Saddam Hussein, openly reversing an American directive issued in 2003.
The move is aimed at draining the insurgency of recruits and bolstering the Iraqi security forces, Iraqi officials said.
The Defense Ministry, with the support of the American military, has quietly recruited a few thousand former officers over the last 18 months. But this is the first time it has offered an open invitation to broad classes of former officers to rejoin the armed forces.

20

abb1 11.04.05 at 1:55 pm

Jet, what Rumsfeld did or didn’t say is not really important. Do you disagree that their ideal solution would be a US-friendly dictator?

“My dear Colette, don’t worry,” said Tom Lantos, the California congressman, as he tried to calm MK Colette Avital of the Labor Party, who was visiting Capitol Hill last week as part of a delegation of the Peace Coalition. “You won’t have any problem with Saddam,” the Jewish congressman continued. “We’ll be rid of the bastard soon enough. And in his place we’ll install a pro-Western dictator, who will be good for us and for you.”

Lantos explained to his guest from Israel that there’s no lack of Iraqi opposition figures in exile, but until they learn how to run a state, “we’ll be there.” According to Lantos that interim period, with an American-sponsored dictator in power, should last between five to six years.

21

bob mcmanus 11.04.05 at 2:10 pm

“Which, I assume, would start like this?”

Actually, it is based on history and observance and a process of elimination. The Kurds are not that interested in stabilizing Iraq; the various Shia factions look neither willing nor capable of uniting to the degree necessary; I doubt that Iran would commit to much more than the protection of Basra.

Without American involvement, it seems to me that, having everything to win and little to lose, the Arab Sunnis will do what it takes for as long as it takes to regain control.

uncle kvetch, I live on leftie blogs, and I see very little decent medium term analysis of the region, let alone longer term.

22

Uncle Kvetch 11.04.05 at 2:38 pm

uncle kvetch, I live on leftie blogs

I know, Bob–I read your comments often on various sites, and while I don’t always agree 100%, they’re always thoughtful and interesting. I still think you’re selling the immediate-withdrawal crowd a little short by implying that they’re the ones not honestly addressing “costs & consequences.”

23

Uncle Kvetch 11.04.05 at 2:48 pm

Well, we may not be in a position to “impose a dictator” on Iraq, but it looks like we have little intention of leaving the Iraqis to their own devices either:

Time quoted unnamed administration officials as saying Rice and Hadley both view Chalabi as “a plausible and acceptable” candidate for prime minister in the next round of Iraqi elections due December 15.

We’ll set aside for the moment the fact that the administration, inexplicably, still looks on a proven con artist like Chalabi favorably. (On second thought, scratch that: it’s really not inexplicable at all.)

More to the point: Since when does a free and democratic nation depend on the judgment of another nation as to the “acceptability” of its leaders?

24

abb1 11.04.05 at 2:49 pm

As far as I understand, Arab Sunnis and Arab Shia are the same culture, they don’t have any reason to fight other than maybe as a retribution for the 1991 uprising, which is quickly becoming ancient history. The only reason they fight now is the US ‘divide a conquer’ policies.

The Kurds is a different story.

25

John Quiggin 11.04.05 at 2:52 pm

Slocum, if you reread the post, you’ll see that I refer to a timetable for withdrawal. Obviously, if the Bushies were free to do their usual stuff, they could agree to this demand, then present a 10-year timetable conditional on goals being met, as you suggest. But I very much doubt that Sistani is going to want to play this sort of game.

26

Donald Johnson 11.04.05 at 3:11 pm

I don’t see that the full Rumsfeld quote adds much to the part abb1 posted, except for some boilerplate. Schools open, hospitals open. With sparkling new coats of paint too, no doubt.

But anyway, it’s pretty rare that US officials openly proclaim their devotion to some ruthless agenda. It’s something you kinda hafta infer from all the bodies lying about.

27

Slocum 11.04.05 at 3:16 pm

Obviously, if the Bushies were free to do their usual stuff, they could agree to this demand, then present a 10-year timetable conditional on goals being met, as you suggest. But I very much doubt that Sistani is going to want to play this sort of game.

Well, I think we’ll be likely to see all kinds of ‘games’ in that Iraqi leaders will want to publicly call for U.S. withdrawal and perhaps even get the U.S. to formally agree to withdraw (at some point, subject to certain conditions, etc) — these will be popular moves for politicians running for office. But at the same time, until they are confident in their security, those same leaders won’t be in a hurry for the U.S. to actually withdraw. So I expect there’ll be delays and backtracking and extensions.

But as the Iraqi government proves strong and stable enough to manage security with a reduced coalition presence, I expect Bush admin will be quite happy to draw down forces and will probably make a big deal of it when it happens.

28

John Quiggin 11.04.05 at 3:22 pm

Slocum, this is certainly what Jaafari did last time around. But, as I said, I doubt that it will be so easy this time, since Sistani is not a politician.

29

giles 11.04.05 at 4:27 pm

“Sistani rules, again”

What is it about John and Sistani – brotherhood of the beards or what?

What evidence is there that the Sadrist care about Sistani other than how many troops he can mobilise?

30

abb1 11.04.05 at 5:01 pm

Yeah, I agree. This Sistani cult is blown way out of proportion; he’s most likely a paper tiger.

If he is so powerful, how come he didn’t get rid of Saddam years ago? And Bush is just as ruthless and has better hardware.

31

Barry 11.04.05 at 5:27 pm

abb1, the removal of a leader opens opportunities for those who were under him, whether opposing him or supporting him. And Bush has weakened his position in Iraq by not coming in with enough force to take charge initially, and by incompetant use of existing factions. If Sistani unleashes Sadr, the only question is does the strength of the anti-US guerrillas double, or triple, or quadruple. The US forces in the middle of Iraq would be cut off from ground logistics, and under attack; the forces in southern Iraq would be in the same position with stronger attacks.

Brendan: “But merely because they have gone ahead and used it so much, I think the US’ freedom to ‘do a Pinochet’ and appoint a dictator is limited. This is nothing to do with having a starry eyed view of the US or the UK, merely a recognition that the rest of the world wouldn’t stand for it.”

I don’t think that it’s primarily world opposition. It’s mainly due to the fact that the majority of organized Iraqi military forces are Shiite militias (in their own uniforms, or Iraqi Army uniforms). Pinochet staged a military coup; any US puppet in Iraq right now would have to fight their military.

32

Slocum 11.04.05 at 5:34 pm

Slocum, this is certainly what Jaafari did last time around. But, as I said, I doubt that it will be so easy this time, since Sistani is not a politician.

Sistani doesn’t hold a formal office, that’s true, but he’s clearly a formidable politician nonetheless.

33

bob mcmanus 11.04.05 at 5:49 pm

“If he is so powerful, how come he didn’t get rid of Saddam years ago? And Bush is just as ruthless and has better hardware.” …abb1

“If Sistani unleashes Sadr, the only question is does the strength of the anti-US guerrillas double” …

That isn’t how Sistani works. When he wanted elections, he managed to get a 100k people into the streets by raising an eyebrow. Sistani could surround the Green Zone with a million civilians, and no, Bush is not as brutal as Saddam.

34

Barry 11.04.05 at 6:21 pm

True, bob. But he has the added advantage that shooting those civilians, or killing Sistani, automatically puts the ball in the hand of Sadr and militias. That’s an important advantage for a relatively non-violent leader to have, IMHO.

35

Hektor Bim 11.04.05 at 7:51 pm

There’s no way Iran, the Shiites, and the Kurds will allow a Baathist resurgence and control of Iraq. Since they have by far the preponderance of military might in the region, it isn’t going to happen. Now partition is a different story, but even then, the Shiites are going to want to control Baghdad, where they are the majority, and it will be difficult to partition the country in the South.

I don’t however, see much possibility for Arabs of different confessions to unite. If anything, the actions of foreign jihadis in massacring Shiites with suicide bombers and the tit-for-tat kidnappings and murders are driving a deeper and deeper wedge between the Sunni and Shiite Arabs. At some point, the Shiite-dominated army will become strong enough to undertake its own operations, and there will be a lot more blood. The tolerance of foreign Sunni fighters by Iraqi Sunni Arabs is not going down well with Iraqi Shiites.

36

BroD 11.04.05 at 8:12 pm

Ha! I beat Sistani to the punch: I called for withdrawal after the referendum.

Look, it’s true that what follow our exit may not be pretty but postponing the exit isn’t going to change that. The fact is, the longer we stay, the worse things get.

The idea that we can put lipstick on this pig is fantasy. We made a mess and there’s no way we’re going to be able to clean it up.

Sometimes the best thing you can do is to walk away.

37

soru 11.04.05 at 8:19 pm

I still think you’re selling the immediate-withdrawal crowd a little short by implying that they’re the ones not honestly addressing “costs & consequences.”

Can you find me one who acknowledges the likely consequences of their proposed actions without using some form of words to make it seem as if Bush, who I think it is safe to say would not recommend that course of action, would be the one really ‘responsible’ for them?

soru

38

John Quiggin 11.04.05 at 8:49 pm

Soru, if you reread the post you’re commenting on, you’ll see an assessment of the likely consequences of withdrawal (not ‘immediate withdrawal’ but the implied timeframe for a timetabled withdrawal is a year or so), a judgement that the consequences of withdrawal, though unappealing, are probably better than those of continued occupation, and no ‘form of words’ saying that Bush would be responsible.

Obviously you can fill in the blanks if you want to, and read in the point that, if there had been no invasion, these consequences would not have occurred, but I didn’t feel it necessary to make this point.

39

bob mcmanus 11.04.05 at 9:17 pm

“There’s no way Iran, the Shiites, and the Kurds will allow a Baathist resurgence and control of Iraq. Since they have by far the preponderance of military might in the region, it isn’t going to happen.”

I know mine is a minority opinion. Sadr may learn to get along with Hakim, and SCIRI with Da’wa. If my memory serves, most of the Iraqi forces willing to fight the Sunni have been Peshmurga. My guess is that Iranian control of Najaf would create political difficulties even inside Iran.

I grant that the Ottoman Empire isn’t around to help, and that Jordan and Syria are weaker. SA is likely to become stronger and more radical, on the other hand. I’ll go look up the history, and see all the Shia rulers of Baghdad in the last 700 years.

Umm, P.S. When are people going to learn that “preponderance of military might” doesn’t always determine victory.

40

abb1 11.05.05 at 4:57 am

When he wanted elections, he managed to get a 100k people into the streets by raising an eyebrow.

The Pope in Vatican is a highly respected guy too and, I am sure, he can get a 100k people – and probably much more – into the streets by raising an eyebrow. So what.

I bet one lousy machine-gun can make all those hundreds of thousands people go home quickly.

If Sistani unleashes Sadr, the only question is does the strength of the anti-US guerrillas double, or triple, or quadruple.

For whatever reason these Sadr/Badr people are not good fighters. They are not cowards, but they don’t do guerilla fighting; I saw them on TV, they just come out and fire their AK47s from the hip – this way you won’t hit a cow 30 feet away. Maybe they’re much better now, but I doubt it. They’re good as a thugish neighborhood watch, but not to fight the marines; there they are just targets.

41

bob mcmanus 11.05.05 at 10:12 am

“I bet one lousy machine-gun can make all those hundreds of thousands people go home quickly.”

abb1, I hate Bush at least as much as the next guy, and although he would have no moral qualms and might even enjoy it, it would be very bad politics to unload a M50 belt into a crowd of women and chldren.

Sistani may not be Ghandi, I don’t know, but massive peaceful demonstrations are the best weapon at his disposal.

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Hektor Bim 11.05.05 at 10:22 am

Bob,

With the destruction of the Iraqi army, the Iranian forces are by far the most experienced and powerful armed forces in the region. The Saudis deliberately keep their army weak to prevent an army coup. A similar thing is true in Syria and partially in Jordan.

That’s the whole reason everyone, including the Saudis, Syrians, Jordanians, US, and the Soviet Union supported Iraq against Iran. The Iranians are just stronger and have more internal legitimacy. They are not going to stand by and let their sworn enemies take power again in Iraq. That’s why we had the policy of dual containment. With the Iraqi army gone or fighting with the Iranians, there’s nothing to save the Baathists. The Iranians aren’t intervening now because the US is dying for them. Why should they shoulder the burden while the US is willing to do it for them?

Besides, the more the jihadis kill Shiites by blowing up their mosques, and the more the Sunni Arab Iraqis do nothing, the more incentive the Shiites have to get along and stop the Sunni Arabs from taking over.

43

soru 11.05.05 at 10:28 am

Soru, if you reread the post you’re commenting on, you’ll see an assessment of the likely consequences of withdrawal (not ‘immediate withdrawal’ but the implied timeframe for a timetabled withdrawal is a year or so), a judgement that the consequences of withdrawal, though unappealing, are probably better than those of continued occupation, and no ‘form of words’ saying that Bush would be responsible.

Well quite, that’s the difference between the ‘immediate withdrawl’ crowd and an actual policy suggestion – it’s worth debating it, because you are at least attempting to be honest.

As it happens, I’d say an pre-announced 1-year timetable would probably actually be worse than an immediate (i.e. as fast as logistics allow) withdrawl – the extra time gains nothing, but certainly costs something. With a date outlined in advance, every man with a gun or bomb is going to be out there acting to claim credit for it like a shaman who knows an eclipse is coming waggling his stick at the moon.

Whereas I really don’t see what the big downside is of sticking with the plan – the political process is progressing nicely, and sooner or later the sunni insurgency will gutter out, as these things always do.

Just a matter of waiting – no need for frenetic activity, urgent policy changes, invade/withdraw/reinvade/rewithdraw/…, they are only likely to make things worse.

If Bush had shown a bit more patience in the first place, we wouldn’t be where we are.

soru

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abb1 11.05.05 at 11:43 am

Well, Bob, first of all this has nothing to do with hating Bush. It’s a fact that they shoot peaceful demonstrations all the time – troops protecting themselves, you know. Here’s, for example, how all those troubles in Fallujah started back in April 2003: U.S. TROOPS SHOOT IRAQI PROTESTERS

U.S. soldiers fired on Iraqis at a demonstration in the town of Fallujah after some crowd members shot at troops, U.S. officers said Tuesday. According to the Red Cross and a local hospital director, troops killed 15 people and wounded some 75 others.

U.S. officers said the troops opened fire after protesters shot at them, although locals countered that the shootings were unprovoked.
[…]
Townspeople said they were protesting the continued presence of U.S. soldiers at Fallujah’s elementary school, where classes were supposed to resume Tuesday. They disputed U.S. assertions that troops shot protesters in self-defense, saying the Iraqis were unarmed and did not provoke the Americans.

This, of course, is only one out of a large number of similar incidents. I don’t think you’re being realistic here, Bob.

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Martin Bento 11.05.05 at 12:04 pm

First of all, Bush rightly deserves primary blame for whatever happens, regardless of whether policy from this point forward follows his preference. Suppose I hit someone with a car, and you are faced with the choice of administering CPR on the spot or trying to move him. You unwisely try to move him and he dies. While you may have some secondary responsibility for the death as the most proximate cause, I still have greater responsibility for creating the situation within which only bad choices were possible. And these things do not “always gutter out”. They didn’t in Afghanistan, nor in Iran, nor Vietnam, nor Cuba, nor China. Insurgencies often win.

That said, I think short or medium term withdrawal will worsen the situation. Almost the only thing Bush has said with which I agree is that announcing a timeline is a bad idea, as it tells the insurgency to wait us out.

What Democrats need to do is start pushing for Bush to turn the situation over to the UN. The entire world has an interest is seeing this situation stablize. Of course, this would be major crow for Bush and he would likely refuse. In which case, *he* has to own the eventual withdrawal and accompanying disaster. I argue for this in more detail here:

http://www.livejournal.com/users/explodedview/11332.html#cutid1

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Brendan 11.05.05 at 1:41 pm

‘Whereas I really don’t see what the big downside is of sticking with the plan – the political process is progressing nicely, and sooner or later the sunni insurgency will gutter out, as these things always do.’

Let’s see: operation ‘Iraqi Freedom’ (or, let’s not forget, what was originally (apparently) going to be called Operation Iraqi Liberation until someone said…’er….guys….’) was in 2003. It’s now nearly 2006.

Do you think that, in 1172, that is, three years after the original English/Norman invasion of Ireland, you might also have been giving smug little lectures to doom-sayers about how things were ‘progressing nicely’, and that resistance ‘would peter out’ as these things ‘always do’?

And yet, here we are nearly a thousand years later with terrorist violence still continuing.

Tell me Soru, at least theoretically, when would you be prepared to admit that your theory that the insurgency is ‘guttering out’ as these things ‘always do’ is wrong? Ten years? Twenty? Fifty? On your deathbed?

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Brendan 11.05.05 at 1:55 pm

‘That said, I think short or medium term withdrawal will worsen the situation. Almost the only thing Bush has said with which I agree is that announcing a timeline is a bad idea, as it tells the insurgency to wait us out.

What Democrats need to do is start pushing for Bush to turn the situation over to the UN.’

Martin
I went and read your piece on LiveJournal and I agreed with a lot of it. However, I think that certain aspects of it are problematic.

The first problem is your idea to ‘turn things over to the UN’. But of course Bush would immediately respond that in his opinion he already has . It should never be forgotten that, whatever one thinks about it, the current occupation of Iraq is, technically, legal under international law: the US is (technically, and of course only technically) acting under the aegis of the UN. Hence their current desperate attempts to obtain a years extension of this ‘legitimacy’.

The next question is: who would run the UN force if the UN was brought more and more to the forefront? Actually, ‘bring the boys home’ and ‘involve the UN’ are not mutually exclusive. The Keyboard Kommandos are pretty explicit that in theory they would have been happy for anybody to topple Saddam. In reality of course, this is simply false: they would not have supported a German or French or Iranian invasion of Iraq. But again in theory (and by the logic of their own argument) there is no reason that the current occupatio force has to be US/UK. It could be French or German or Italian or, for that matter, a pan-Arabic force: and for cultural reasons you could make a clear case that in fact the country should be run by a pan-Arabic force, at least until the country is ‘settled’.

What is clearly the case is that the Americans and British are now so hated that any occupation (legal or otherwise) that involves them is simply going to stoke the insurgency. Purely on pragmatic terms, both countries have shown themselves to be so crushingly incompetent that they should no longer be permitted to ‘run’ the country.

The (surprisingly popular) argument that we cannot give a timetable as this would let the insurgency know that they ‘just have to wait it out’ is vapid, incidentally, as the insurgents already know they just have to wait it out. Unless Bush and Blair plan a literally eternal occupation, at some point the troops will have to go home, and then the insurgents will take over. The situation is exactly the same as Vietnam. No ‘timetable’ was set, but at the end of the day, the insurgents knew that at some point the Americans would have to go home and they would take over. Which is exactly what happened.

The ‘timetable’ argument would only hold if the insurgents were actually beatable, but, with the vast majority of the Iraqi people now more or less supporting their aims (withdrawal), and a sizeable minority supporting their methods as well, this is simply impossible.

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Barry 11.05.05 at 2:02 pm

“I bet one lousy machine-gun can make all those hundreds of thousands people go home quickly.”

And get their rifles, machine guns, RPG’s, mortars and IED’s.

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soru 11.05.05 at 3:28 pm

_was in 2003. It’s now nearly 2006._

Even a full 3 years is generally not considered a particularly long time by people not suffering from historical ADD.

_Tell me Soru, at least theoretically, when would you be prepared to admit that your theory that the insurgency is ‘guttering out’ as these things ‘always do’ is wrong? Ten years? Twenty? Fifty? On your deathbed?_

If it is still going strong at the next US election, military experts will be writing speculative papers attempting to explain how and why it did so, against all precedent. Sometimes unexpected and novel things do happen, if they do, then the baseline expectations will be wrong.

Not to say that, rather like your Ireland example, a new one might not start up in 10, 50 or 200 years time, should the opportunity of peace not be taken. Imagining Ireland as being in a continual 800 year long open revolt is rather ahistorical.

soru

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Brendan 11.05.05 at 4:07 pm

I might point out that the United States was in the Second World War for a grand total of four years, and that this is generally speaking, considered to be quite a long time in terms of wars (does anyone remember ‘all over by Xmas’ in World War 1?).

As for the rest…..’against all precedent.’ ‘unexpected’? ‘Novel’? Is this supposed to be some kind of joke? Not least because it was one of the key arguments of the pro-invasion side was that the anti-war side predicted a long term insurgency with the deaths of tens of thousands of people, threat of civil war etc. etc. etc.!!! It seems like only a few years ago (oh, it was), that Captain Chris ‘itchens of the Keyboard Kommandos was crowing that all these predictions had proven false!!

Say what you want. But the current situation was not in the slightest bit unpredictable (or for that matter unpredicted), and was in many aspects predicted by the same military experts that you claim to be discussing.

However I take it that the ‘no-one predicted a quagmire’ will now be moved up there with ‘everyone thought Saddam had WMDs’ and ‘George Bush always claimed this was pre-eminently a war to bring democracy to Iraq’ as ways for the pro-warriors to play Cover Your Ass and pretend they were not in any way responsible for the current catastrophe.

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Martin Bento 11.05.05 at 6:24 pm

Brendan, Thanks for the thoughtful response. I suppose I should clarify what I mean by “turning it over to the UN”. Currently, the UN is signing off to give the color of law, but I’m talking about the UN actually being in charge, which is quite a different thing. Along the same lines, I’m picturing a situation where the US and current allies become minor players in the occupation, in which the other mideastern and Moslem countries, and large players like India and China take a leading role. In particular, I think having Moslem countries involved will create credibility that the current occupation cannot achieve. I’ll grant that this does introduce a host of new problems, but I don’t see another short-term route to stability.

As for the timetable argument, the prevailing assumption in the Mideast and Iraq, and therefore, I assume, among the insurgency, is that the US intends to maintain a permanent military presence in Iraq. Indeed, the two countries repeatedly trotted out as role models for what we are supposedly trying to do – Germany and Japan – are rich with US bases to this day. FWIW, I think the mideasterners are correct in this, although the US will have to abandon this notion, and may have already. For that reason, I don’t think the insurgency is assuming we will withdraw of our own accord at all, unless by “withdraw” you just mean consolidate the occupation into a few permanent bases. This kind of withdrawal is easily reversed, indeed, that is largely its point.

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abb1 11.06.05 at 5:44 am

…large players like India and China take a leading role…

India? Come on. India won’t touch it with a ten-foot pole. No country wants to have anything to do with it; those who do get involved do it to get access to oil: Poland seeks Iraqi oil stake, Italy sent troops to Iraq to secure oil deal: report. It’s not that complicated.

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Brendan 11.06.05 at 6:24 am

Martin

I would go along with your plan, which is not quite as outre as you seem to imply. It’s my understanding, for example, that in my country the Scottish National Party’s policy is something very similar to what you have proposed. Actually almost anything would be better than the status quo. If Iraq ever had a genuine, stable, democratic government they could simply force the American bases to leave. Something similar, after all, happened in the Phillipines.

The problem of course is quite simply the Bush administration. A genuinely stable, democratic Iraq would lean (for reasons of geography and religion) towards Iran. It is almost inconceivable that the Americans are going to permit that to happen. Horrible as the insurgency is, terrible as the threat of civil war is, it is quite likely that the US still prefer what is happening in Iraq now to the possibility of the re-emergence of a de facto Persian Empire. (Perhaps with the US being the new Rome, it sets up unpleasant historical parallels).

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soru 11.06.05 at 8:20 am

. But the current situation was not in the slightest bit unpredictable (or for that matter unpredicted), and was in many aspects predicted by the same military experts that you claim to be discussing.

What are you talking about? Your point simply has no bearing on anything I wrote, you seem to be having a discussion with someone called Kommando Keyboard who is pursuing a completely unrelated argument.

Slow down, look at the words on screen, build them up into sentences, work out what those sentences mean. Then reply to what ws written, not some straw man version of what you think Hitchens said in some bar somewhere back in 2002.

soru

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Martin Bento 11.07.05 at 5:07 am

abb1, if you read the piece I linked to above, you will see that I am in fact assuming that foreign players will be in it for the oil. That is the implicit carrot. I’m happy to discuss this with you, but you really should read the post before you attack it.

Brenden, yes, I recognize that Bush is unlikely to go for it. I think, though, that Democrats benefit from advocating it whether he does or not, in fact, moreso if he does not. The problem for Democrats is not to be the party of cut-and-run. The public may advocate this at the time, but will still hold it against us later. If we advocate UN involvement and Bush refuses, he has to own the eventual pullout. Democrats do need to start having our own ideas rather than “what Bush says, only less so”.

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abb1 11.07.05 at 6:26 am

Well, I don’t think the etiquette requires reading the links before responding.

I guess my main objection is to your point that the entire world has an interest is seeing this situation stablize.

I mean – yeah, sure, because this is a vital oil-producing region.

But also – no, because, I think, most people and governments in the world feel that it’s also vital to teach the Americans a lesson.

And also – no, because some countries (oil-producing countries, like Russia) are reaping huge benefits from this thing.

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Martin Bento 11.07.05 at 3:40 pm

“Well, I don’t think the etiquette requires reading the links before responding.”

I think it does when the post clearly indicates that the case you are attempting to refute is made in the link.

As for the motivations of other coutries, first a UN bailout would be a *huge* humiliation for the United States, and actually I think the rest of world has been more indulgent of Boy George the lesser than it needed to. And second, I think oil trumps such considerations because the industrial world runs on it, and it is running out. While oil-rich nations outside the immediate neighborhood may reap short-term benefits from this, I don’t think they constitute a large enough share of the world community to be decisive. Russia’s a good point. I think they would want to be a player in the Middle East, though. Their loss of international importance has been grating on them for a decade and a half.

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