Patrick Cockburn on Iraq (2)

by Chris Bertram on December 21, 2005

Further to the interview with Patrick Cockburn I linked to the other day, he “now has an analysis of the Iraqi elections in the Independent”: . The religious parties are in the ascendant, women’s rights are being trampled, everyone is retreating the their ethnic and religious identities, and the break-up of the country is on the horizon.



brendan 12.21.05 at 9:50 am

Juan Cole makes a similar point in his latest piece.

Whatever one thinks about the motivations for the invasion it is now safe to say that:

1: Israel is now less safe than it was before.

2: Women’s rights and gay rights are now more precarious (in Iraq) than they were before.

3: The threat of terrorism for Westerners has almost certainly increased.

4: The prospects for democracy in the region remains ambiguous, but the election of the hardliner Ahmadinejad in Iran demonstrates that the much vaunted ‘democratic sea change’ in the Middle East is taking a long time to happen. (Much vaunted ‘waves of democracy’ in Egypt and Saudi Arabia have broken against the hard shore of authoritarianism and corruption as they always seem to. Our other noble ally in this endless war against terror, the fascist dictator Musharraf, promises elections (i think) for next year, to which my response is ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha).

Meanwhile the US is caught in an unwinnable war from which it will be unable to extricate itself without serious political repercussions. Some people (on this very blog) have suggested that there will be an American ‘withdrawal’ in the next year or so. These people have little understanding of Bush or what he is about. Bush only has to stagger through the 2006 elections and he has essentially a free reign for his last two years. The chances that Bush will be the one that pulls the plug on his own war are precisely zero. There will be no US withdrawal before 2008/2009 at the very earliest, and even then what will be on the agenda is ‘withdrawal’ (i.e. the US withdrawing to gigantic permanent bases in the desert, just as they have done in Afghanistan) with hopes that the Iraqis will forget about them. The only hope for a genuine American withdrawal is if a united Sunni-Shia front against the continued occupation develops which will use the ‘armalite and the ballot box’. However, given the current state of Sunni-Shia relations it’s not clear that this will happen, in which case there will be civil war, with possibly devastating implications for the rest of the region.

It need hardly be restated that if civil war begins and Turkey Iran and Syria get dragged in (let alone Israel) you can kiss your hopes of an Arab Spring of democratic reform goodbye for twenty or thirty years.

Still the war has made some white middle class males in the US/UK feel very smug and given us the chance to show the darkies what for, and that’s the main thing.


brendan 12.21.05 at 9:58 am

Sorry I couldn’t resist it:

‘The other main non-religious candidate, Ahmed Chalabi, won less than 1 per cent of the vote in Baghdad and will be lucky to win a single seat in the new 275-member Council of Representatives’.

he he he he he….so it’s not all bad news.


california_reality_check 12.21.05 at 10:25 am

Gee, I thought Chalabi was one of our chosen guys. That place is going to be a soap opera for decades. Let’s get out now while we are impeaching bush.


Daniel 12.21.05 at 10:32 am

Hum, Cockburn certainly seems to got it a lot more right than some bloviating halfwits, like me last week for instance. It seems pretty clear here what my mistake was; I ignored the fact that whatever Allawi’s other potentially positive characteristics, he is far too identified with the Americans to get popular support. I also underestimated the extent to which, in a state with security breaking down, people cling to the nearest state-equivalents they have which is usually their ethnic or religious groups.

What I did get right is that the Kurds are not getting much out of their alliance with the Shia and might end up shifting allegiance, but since they no longer hold the balance of power between Shia and secular/Sunni interests, it doesn’t matter any more.

On the other hand, just to prove that I’m not completely useless, I was a big seller of Charles Kennedy’s chances before the election and I note that my analysis that the LibDems had reached their high-water mark and would end up handing back all their borrowed Tory votes is now mainstream.


Daniel 12.21.05 at 10:43 am

I have updated my highly embarrassing Iraq punditry thread with a few mea culpas and excuses.


Chris Bertram 12.21.05 at 10:52 am

Having just chucked the balance of my betfair account onto Pakistan just before setting out to lunch I’m not going to make remarks about anyone else’s predictive powers!


lemuel pitkin 12.21.05 at 11:24 am

in a state with security breaking down, people cling to the nearest state-equivalents they have which is usually their ethnic or religious groups.

Here is the key point, with, I think, broad applicability beyond Iraq.


lemuel pitkin 12.21.05 at 11:25 am

last line mine. Forgot to close the tag…


roger 12.21.05 at 12:05 pm

I think the election does point out something pretty obvious. The neocon argument was always a peculiar one. It was, basically, that we should support democratic secularism in Iraq by making two absolute rouges representative of democratic secularism in Iraq. I mean, is it a no brainer that a man (Chalabi) who is actually wanted in a neighboring country (Jordan) for a fraud amounting to 400 million dollars is going to be looked upon with suspicion in Iraq? Do people really thinking Iraqis can’t read? Are primitive little savages who just can’t get their heads around the big issue of fraud? And does anyone think that Iraqi Sunnis, remembering Fallujah and Allawi’s part in cheerleading the devastation of it, as well as the complete inability of his government to even set up a refugee camp for those ordered out of the city, were going to vote for him anyway? Not to speak of his association, which has never been clarified, not just with Ba’ath, but with the enforcement/secret intelligence part of Ba’ath?

This is why I have never thought neoconnery could be taken seriously. To embark on the high crusade for democracy in the Middle East by supporting the equivalent of Dennis Kozlowski and Michael Ledeen as the avatars of it shows an unbelievable contempt for the Iraqis themselves, and is part of the systematic contempt for all the mechanisms of legitimation in a democracy that lie at the heart of the neocon idea. After all, the problem with the useful lie, in a democracy, is its exposure as a lie with retroactively delegitimate the actions it was used to promote. Sorta elementary, but these brilliant people were too busy to attend civics class in 8th grade, I guess.

The Mitterand that Chalabi resembles is not, by the way, Francois, but the arms dealing son, now languishing, I believe, in some French jail on fraud and smuggling charges.


roger 12.21.05 at 12:08 pm

OOPS. Excuse the misspelling of rogue. And this as a “lie with retroactively” should be “lie will retroactively”.


Maynard Handley 12.21.05 at 12:20 pm

The US ambassador in Baghdad, Zilmay Khalilzad, sounded almost despairing yesterday as he reviewed the results of the election. “It looks as if people have preferred to vote for their ethnic or sectarian identities,”

It is what, three years or more, depending on how you count, since it became clear that the US approach to Iraq was based on complete fantasy, on, “if we wish it, it will happen”. And yet the administration appears to have learned, contrary to what its apologists claim, precisely *nothing* in that time.

People in a post-colonial, divided state holding its first election prefer to vote for their “ethnic or sectarian identities”? Damn, what a surprising and unexpected result! Who would have predicted such a thing? So unlike what the history of the 20th century as understood by even a mildly stupid history undergrad would have led us to believe.


Hektor Bim 12.21.05 at 1:01 pm


I would suggest getting out of the election prediction business. You are have been uniformly awful in your predictions. Taking your advice re the Bush gang, we should then ignore anything you say on the subject in the future, because you are inherently unreliable.

It certainly looks like Iraq is going to be divided into subnational areas with high autonomy. Not necessarily a bad outcome, given that a strong central state has never worked. Just one more nail in the coffin of British colonial country construction.


abb1 12.21.05 at 1:16 pm

Oh yeah. As my grandma used to say: whatever happens – it’s all for the best.


Uncle Kvetch 12.21.05 at 1:36 pm

“Sorry about stealing your car and driving it into a brick wall, Dude–but hey, you did say just last week that the clutch was sticking, so I figure it’s a win-win for everybody!”


harry b 12.21.05 at 2:02 pm

This post has been up much too long not to have attracted fierce dissent yet. Where are the defenders of Bush policy? (I ask this as the CTer most ready to be swayed on this issue, not as a provocation).

I blame daniel personally for Kennedy’s immanent collapse, by the way.


garhane 12.21.05 at 2:27 pm

Is there anyone around who is so innocent that they believe the USA, invaded Iraq in order to provide teaching in democracy? I know your government says things like that, but really… The place formerly was more secular than any other in the region, it was run by a cowed if defiant dictator as your country seems to prefer, and was not worth bothering about except for oil. Oil was the prize, and the USA invaded and stole that property, even providing by executive order that no one (NO ONE) could by any act or proceeding invalidate the actions that constituted that giant theft. I guess that is lawful, with the help of an army.
I do understand that if the US could just get the pretend politicians they ferry around in military vehicles to perform “government” then it would be a lot less expensive for the US to siphon off the oil. But just how does a place that is already under the unified occupation of a power that is more than ready to bomb into dust anyone who contends against them (Faluja) go about “breaking up” on the basis of a vote? And if people are told that they will suffer very serious material loss if they do not vote (water, food, restraint of curfew, presence of troops) what significance can you take from the fact that a lot of them go out and “:vote”. Here in Canada (Montreal) it used to be the rule fifty years ago that in order to get a near new washing machine you had to vote as desired by authority.So people did. And if the people vote on the basis of the presence of such native groupings as are allowed (religious) what analysis can you get out of that? They are going to be less secular? Well they are doing what they can, are they not? Like self defence neighbourhood by neighbourhood. And as to what they would do if they could act as they might wish, who in hell knows? And what is the reasonable prospect that they are going to be able to do that in the forseeable future? Will the first meeting of a new government be held in a building or in the belly of a US transport plane, with Chalabi running around seeing to the finish of the floral display. I think Jewish community leaders in the Warsaw ghetto had more “political freedom” than any Iraq citizens do now.

And if they do fall to chopping up each other as well as any Americans they can get to, does that not mean it will be cheaper for the Americans to control what they want to control (the production and export of oil). And how is it any different that what has been happening,. And who is there that has any real idea what the trouble making contribution will be from Egypt, Iran, Syria, and so on. The US has generated a big red boil over there, and it is going to spray pus all over. This is what the single minded pursuit and theft of other nation’s natural resources leads to.


Daniel 12.21.05 at 2:40 pm

I haven’t actually been all that bad you know; I got the exact electoral college margin right in the US elections. And to be frank, I plan to continue living off the capital built up by that whole Iraq WMD thing for quite a while more.


harry b 12.21.05 at 3:26 pm

Yes, you also predicted Kerry’s defeat consistently throughout the 6 months prior to the election, despite all the nonsensical talk to the contrary (I remember, because I did too, just not as publicly).


soru 12.21.05 at 3:27 pm

My prediction remains a government of national unity based on the principles set down in the Cairo accords.



neil 12.21.05 at 3:33 pm

The tensione between the ethnic and religious groups may lead to the break up of Iraq but thta happens it’s hard to see how (or why) this could have been prevented. This sort of dynamic happened in Yugslaivia.

One point to consider is how this may have develpoed without US intervention. I can think of many ways it may have been mcuh worse, just as with Bosnia and Kosovo without external intervention ethinic/religiuos conflicts can go on and on.


abb1 12.21.05 at 4:21 pm

Hey, looks like we’re witnessing the birth a new talking point.

Yeah, that’s right: the US bombed, invaded, destroyed and occupied the country, killing tens and maiming hundreds of thousands, using chemical weapons and depleted uranium, torturing, destroying large cities and wrapping villages in barbed wire.

Thank god for that, without it something terrible might’ve happened…


Uncle Kvetch 12.21.05 at 4:32 pm

LOL. Abb1, when you’re good, you’re good.

“Whatever harm we did to the Iraqis pales to the harm they would have done to themselves.”

I like it. $20 says Bush, Cheney, Rice or Rumsfeld whips this one out within the next 6 months.


Sebastian Holsclaw 12.21.05 at 4:47 pm

“Thank god for that, without it something terrible might’ve happened…”

I presume you’ve heard of religious fault-lined ethnic strife and genocide in the Sudan?


Maynard Handley 12.21.05 at 5:02 pm

“Thank god for that, without it something terrible might’ve happened…”
I presume you’ve heard of religious fault-lined ethnic strife and genocide in the Sudan?

I assume you’ve heard of the religious fault-lined ethnic strife and genocide in Iran? In Saudi Arabia? In Yemen? No?
You are supposedly an intelligent guy, Sebastian. Is this really the best you can do?
“Yeah, well, if the US hadn’t invaded Iraq, a giant radioactive monster might have escaped the country and eaten the US”‘
“Yeah, well, if the US hadn’t invaded Iraq, the sun might have exploded tomorrow”.

Sure, Iraq’s population structure looked like a disaster waiting to happen. But it was actually under control under Hussein, and we can all just as easily write our own counterfactuals:
“Yeah, well, if the US hadn’t got involved, the post-Hussein era would probably have followed the standard [cf post Stalin or post Mao] pattern — a council of not-nearly-so-bad leaders who are so scared by the insanity they went through that they do something both to improve the country and to ensure that it won’t, again, fall under dictatorship.
From there to democracy may take 30, 40, 50 yrs, but they are not awful years, and they may actually, and sadly, be necessary, given the nature of human culture and society.”


decon 12.21.05 at 6:56 pm

Predictions for the next year in Iraq: In short, a hot civil war.

The Kurds will no longer play footsie with the Shia, but become a defacto autonomous state, and continue to participate in Iraqi politics, such as they are, only to observe and play defense. This precipitates the unraveling of Iraq. Never mind Turkey (for now).

Sunni and Shia shoot, bomb, rape and pillage from each other and anyone standing between them.

Sunnis take the brunt of it in the short term….

That should take about a year. More next year.


Shuggy 12.21.05 at 9:26 pm

Secularism is like all belief systems in that it becomes discredited when associated with corrupt, inefficient and, in the case of Saddam, sadistically violent rulers. In the case of Iraq, and with the absence of the Soviet model to aspire to, the varying strands of Islam became the key repositories for opposition to the Ba’athist regime and now to American occupation. The finger wagging so many of you are indulging in fails to distinguish between the consequences of the invasion and the consequences of sustaining Saddam Hussein in power in the first place. Take the horrible example of the apparently institutionalised revenge carried out by militia dominated security forces against Sunnis. Does anyone seriously believe this problem of Shias looking to exact retribution would have *diminished* had Saddam Hussein remained in power for longer? There’s no use saying, in effect, that Saddam kept Iraq secular and his overthrow has created all this Islamic fundamentalism; Saddamism is what *incubated* the fundamentalism – his ouster is what makes this apparent to us, it’s not the cause. What we are seeing now in Iraq could not have been avoided by allowing Saddam to remain in power, only postponed. The neocon analysis is, as I understand it, that the historical practice of supporting tyrannical but secular, or semi-secular, and friendly rulers in the region in order to secure oil-supplies and contain Islamic fundamentalism is counter-productive because it exacerbates the very forces it seeks to contain. Amongst their mistakes, surely, was to *underestimate* the extent to which this is the case? I really think your idea that Iraq could have remained secular if only Saddam had remained in power is about as realistic as expecting the doctrine of the Divine Right of Kings to have experienced a revival by sustaining Romanov rule in Russia.


oldtree 12.21.05 at 11:09 pm

the various peoples liberation front/back of iraq will figure it out for themselves. as soon as we leave they won’t have anyone to attack in the green zone. that is, until one minority seems to be in greater number. they can spread out and go after each other. then their neighbors can deal with it. thre will be plenty to go around. bet they are real glad we are helping sort things out for democracy in the middle east. then turkey gets involved, israel, saudi arabia, you get the picture, iran, pakistan…
now you see. we are oceania. but have we always been?


roger 12.22.05 at 12:07 am

Shuggy, who is longing for the good old days of Saddam and the bloody hand? Personally, I think that the Gulf war I shouldn’t have ended until Saddam was deposed — at least then there would have been a real coalition doing it, instead of a fake one under orders from an oilpatch junior. However, that didn’t happen. What did happen was an invasion in 2003, which was certainly against American interest. Those who opposed that lost. After that, an occupation happened — one not necessitated by the invasion, by the way. In spite of the amazingly ignorant American plaint that Americans just have this moral duty to occupy Iraq — as if the country were some kindergarten — and teach the savages there all about running a country, in actuality the country had existed for eighty years, and in its ups and downs is as solid and as frangible as, say, Saudi Arabia, another place made out of patches and tribes which (amazingly enough) we are not looking at and saying, well, the whole thing is a botch.

The occupation was evil minded from the get go, the subdebs sent in by the Americans are a bunch of easily seen through rogues, the neocons are either being deceptive or simply idiotic to think that a thief and a murderer are the best democracy has to offer, and the media in America has been very hesitant to even hint, since the elections in January, that American soldiers are performing scattered tasks of ethnic cleansing headed by a prime minister who is a member of a party that practically invented suicide bombing as a tactic in the 80s. Gee, but it must be the fault of the anti-war movement.


Brendan 12.22.05 at 3:12 am

Just when you thought it couldn’t possibly get any better: ‘A broad-based group of Sunni and secular parties called yesterday for a rerun of last week’s Iraqi elections, claiming the ruling party in the country had engaged in blatant fraud. “We want a new election commission and we’re going to ask the United Nations to help organise it,” Thair al-Naqeeb, the spokesman for Ayad Allawi, the head of the Iraqi National List, told the Guardian last night.
“We’re going to ask for a new government to rule while the election is prepared. If our demands are not met, we will take further steps and create a lot of protest,” he added.

They plan to meet again today with a larger group of parties. “We expect to sign a joint statement outlining our demands,” Mr Naqeeb said. “I know it’s not easy to rerun an election. But if they refuse, we will boycott the new parliament”.’,2763,1672397,00.html


Brendan 12.22.05 at 3:15 am

Finally a little point for the pro-invasioners:

‘BULGARIA and Ukraine have withdrawn hundreds of troops from Iraq this week as part of the general wind down after the national elections.

Bulgaria contributed 500 troops to the US-led coalition in Iraq in 2003, gradually reducing the number in recent years. The 380 Bulgarian troops still in the country are serving under Polish command in the Iraqi city of Diwaniya, south of Baghdad.

All are expected to return home by the end of the month, with the first group of 105 arriving home on Wednesday.’

My point is this. As i pointed out on previous threads: If the invaders were really serious about democracy, and if this war really was about secularism etc….then surely all the troops would be pulling out now?

After all, Bulgaria and the Ukraine are doing precisely what pro-democracy invaders would do. They fought. They deposed Saddam. They held elections. And then they left.

So I infer from these actions that Bulgaria and the Ukraine were serious about bringing democracy to Iraq.

Ipso facto, I infer (for the same reasons) that the invaders who stay (who must surely now be called colonisers, or else the English language will have to be misused) are not.


Shuggy 12.22.05 at 8:00 am

“Personally, I think that the Gulf war I shouldn’t have ended until Saddam was deposed—at least then there would have been a real coalition doing it.”

I wouldn’t actually disagree with that, nor with the criticism of the occupation, which any fair-minded person would have to conclude has been at best inept, at worse something of a disaster. However, I was trying to make the point that a number of the problems in Iraq and specifically the rise of politicised religious factions are a consequence of sustaining Saddam in power, rather than his overthrow.

I should add that while I agree *now* that Gulf War I shouldn’t have finished until Saddam had been toppled, at the time I was opposed to it and used then most the the arguments that have been recycled this time round. I concluded I was wrong to oppose the toppling of Saddam in 1990-91 and while it may seem perverse to do so, I still think this and that sustaining Saddam in power was the greater evil. It’s ok, this can be taken on board *and* you can still blame the Americans.


Paul Moloney 12.22.05 at 8:50 am

it was actually under control under Hussein

It’s nice to see the Kissenger-lite groupies being honest for once.



brendan 12.22.05 at 9:30 am

Kissinger lite-groupies like George Bush?

You guys just cannot accept that Kissinger supported this war can you?


brendan 12.22.05 at 9:40 am

Sorry I had to back up that last statement because liars like Christopher Hitchens insist (even though this is easily disprovable) that Kissinger did not support the war.

‘(Kissinger) I supported the original decision to act against Iraq for the following reasons: I did not see how we could project the war against terror and leave intact a government that had the largest army in the region, had potentially the largest oil income, and the greatest capacity to support terrorism. And through its very existence, it symbolically demonstrated that you could challenge the United States through 17 violations of a U.N.-negotiated ceasefire. And in addition, I believe, as [President Bill] Clinton did and as [President George W.] Bush did, as did every intelligence officer that I’ve ever met, that they did have weapons of mass destruction.’

Note his arguments: Iraq was a threat, it had oil and it had ‘the capacity’ to support terror. In other words, all classic Realist arguments.

It is a myth (or a lie) that you ‘had to be’ a wide eyed neo-con ‘utopian’ to support this war. It is therefore a valid inference that at least some of those who supported the war were not bothered about democracy or human rights (as Kissinger clearly wasn’t, and isn’t) but instead were concerned with oil and the ‘balance of power’.
Kissinger (like Blair and Bush) also does not rule out military action against Iran at some point in the future.


soru 12.22.05 at 10:01 am

It is a myth (or a lie) that you ‘had to be’ a wide eyed neo-con ‘utopian’ to support this war

For _A_ war, even one between the US and Iraq, this is true.

A different question is ‘who would have supported a war that ended with a democracy and visible defeat for the jihadis, but no bases or oil deals?’.



Uncle Kvetch 12.22.05 at 10:20 am

who would have supported a war that ended with a democracy and visible defeat for the jihadis, but no bases or oil deals?

And free ponies for all!

Anybody who thought that was the war Bush & Cheney were selling is delusional.


brendan 12.22.05 at 10:56 am

Ah we are back in the discussion of the pros and cons of the mythical war that took place only in the imaginations of the pro-war left. This war was for democracy, was carried out under the aegis of the UN, led to quick, fair elections and then a speedy exit.

Well hey, guess what. I was in favour of that imaginary war as well. I was also in favour of the imaginary war when Adolf Hitler annexed Austria to preserve the human rights of the Germans there and then DIDN’T persecute the Jews, or carry out any further military actions. I was furthermore in favour of the imaginary war in which the USSR invaded Hungary to prevent a civil war, helped the smooth transition to Hungarian democracy and then quickly exited, with no breaches of the Geneva conventions and no infringements of civil rights.

Imaginary wars that didn’t happen…I’m all for them.

In all three cases, my problem was with the invasions that actually did happen, and what happened afterwards.


roger 12.22.05 at 11:57 am

Shuggy, when you say:

“I was wrong to oppose the toppling of Saddam in 1990-91 and while it may seem perverse to do so, I still think this and that sustaining Saddam in power was the greater evil. It’s ok, this can be taken on board and you can still blame the Americans.”

Sustaining Saddam is a very odd phrase. Actually, the strongest argument for removing Saddam, I would think, would be that the sanctions regime was punishing innocents — the Iraqis — while rewarding Saddam. That it was a case of a perverse incentive.

The idea that you have to swallow the whole thing (the idea that Saddam is evil leading to the idea that any means of deposing him is good leading to the idea that the American invasion was good leading to the idea that the Americans have a moral duty, as invaders, to stay and make things better) or nothing makes no sense. At each moment, there are a variety of options, and the trend of the options taken show, collectively, a mindset in D.C. that was both ignorant and arrogant, that operated to maximize a minority ideology and the interests of the American state as seen through that minority’s eyes than to maximize benefits for Iraq, and that engaged in its ignorance in a project that has now blown a hole in all of its grand plans. Its response to faults in the plan was to try to repress feedback that would point to faults in its plan.

In the meantime, a lot of questions that the interventionists don’t care about — being, on the whole, an elite corps with zip knowledge of democratic practice — keep emerging. Take the notion that our actions in Iraq should emerge from information about Iraq. Well, I would say that for a good 30 months now, the major media outlets in the U.S. have devoted perhaps a thousand times more time and space to Chalabi, a politician who has received maybe 1 percent of the Iraqi vote, than to Ibrahim al-Jaafari, who is the goddamn prime minister of the place. To put this in the WWII perspective so beloved by the prowar side, it is as if the American newspapers from 41 to 44 devoted more space to Randolph than to Winston Churchill. Consequently, the average American has perhaps less knowledge now of Iraq than we did before we invaded, insofar as that knowledge comes from the media.

And why is this? It is because the American media can’t even recognize groups out of its social class and type. Chalabi is a recognizable type: a can do CEO who rips off investors and has that great, Jack Welch attitude that gets testosterone flowing and makes for great party chatter. Since, of course, Iraq is not America, and the dominant class there is not the middle class or even people who recognize themselves as the middle class – hell, after ten years of sanctions and three years of botched reconstruction, the unemployment rate is greater there than it was in the 30s in the U.S.A. — this so distorts our information about the place as to make it unrecognizable.

Who is to blame for this? Americans — particular Americans. Since Americans claim to be “responsible” for Iraq, I’d say that blame is well deserved, at least on those terms. In reality, the half assed American effort is not going to disguise the difference between Iraq’s interests and America’s forever. And American ‘innocence’ will once more lose its cherry.


Shuggy 12.22.05 at 1:41 pm

Sustaining Saddam is a very odd phrase. Actually, the strongest argument for removing Saddam, I would think, would be that the sanctions regime was punishing innocents—the Iraqis—while rewarding Saddam.

Ok, but I meant what you outline in the next sentence. ‘Stability’ in Iraq was only possible through a brutal containment, which as you say, impoverished the ordinary people whilst allowing the regime to survive with contemptuous ease. This is basically why I ended up supporting the war. It shortly became clear, post-Gulf War I that sanctions were going to operate very differently from those opposed on the RSA but I didn’t know that at the time and wouldn’t have supported them if I had. The point you make about unemployment in Iraq is well-made: it’s one of the reasons I felt the decision to dissolve the army was such a bad one (pissed-off unemployed young men + guns = instability, see under ‘Weimar’) but again forms one of the reasons I supported the war. Prior to Saddam’s accession to power, Iraq had a GDP per capita roughly equivalent to that of Australia; post-Saddam, with his American-sponsored assault on Iran, and the sanction imposed after Kuwait, it’s now on a par with, god knows where, Somalia or something.

I certainly don’t disagree with the notion that the Americans are responsible for this, which is why I found myself welcoming the shift from containment to regime-change. I’d reiterate the point that it was the previous policy that was the scandal – but not many people got too worked up about that because it wasn’t on the telly that often.

I also wouldn’t deny for a moment that America had its own interests at heart; it has never fought a war – not even WWII – where it’s interests were not at stake. But the installing the democracy idea was a genuine motive behind the invasion for the simple reason that in the neocon analysis at least, it is in America’s interests to do so and I think (although I should probably only speak for myself) most of us who supported the war only found this the overlapping point of agreement with neoconnery. The point you make about their hubris and corruption is one I’d largely take but I was, and am, more sanguine about this because while everyone seemed to be concerned about runaway US power, I was always more conscious of it’s limits. Or to use a popular blogosphere example, it doesn’t matter what the PNAC have cooked up for a ‘New-American Century’ because it isn’t going to happen. Moreover, if I may strike a pessemistic note, I think there’s a good chance that the 21st century will see shifts in the world balance of power that’ll put the evils of ‘American Imperilaism’ rather in perspective. And I think, since you mentioned the 1930s, the whole 20th century, rather than just the juicy bits beloved of the hard left – misdeeds in Central America, secret bombings of Indo-China etc – should be taken to provide a little perspective now. The story of the 1930s, with its mass unemployment, civil unrest, and the rise of fascism, cannot be understood unless one takes account of the huge economic impact, never mind the political, of the United States turning in on itself. Is it really the case, even when one takes account of realpolitik in Latin America, Indo-China, and the Middle East, that the second half of the century was worse for the world – and for the reason of American interference? I couldn’t agree with that.


soru 12.22.05 at 2:50 pm

Well hey, guess what. I was in favour of that imaginary war as well.

So if, as seems pretty likely at the moment, the result matches that description (democracy and visible defeat for the jihadis, but no bases or oil deals), will you come back here and make a post admitting you were wrong about the war?



Uncle Kvetch 12.22.05 at 3:23 pm

visible defeat for the jihadis

You mean visible defeat for the jihadis who weren’t actually in Iraq until we invaded and turned the country into a terrorist theme park? Sorry, but I hardly see how that qualifies as an “achievement”–more like cleaning up one’s own mess.

And I’d love to see the source of your optimsim on this “no bases or oil deals” business. Why do you think either outcome is “pretty likely”?

Just as an aside, Soru–I have to say that the way you write about war is downright eerie. Apparently in your world, the cost-benefit analysis of war is really a benefit-benefit one: benefits realized, or benefits that could have been realized, or that might be realized at some point in the future. The costs are apparently either totally absent insignificant. I think at this point I must have read literally dozens of your comments on CT about the Iraq war. I can’t recall a single one in which you acknowledge the fact that war–by its very definition–involves an enormous degree of human suffering. You don’t minimize that suffering–you simply ignore it altogether. It’s really extraordinary.


Uncle Kvetch 12.22.05 at 3:26 pm

should read “the costs are apparently either totally absent or insignificant”


Ben P 12.22.05 at 6:31 pm

The story of the 1930s, with its mass unemployment, civil unrest, and the rise of fascism, cannot be understood unless one takes account of the huge economic impact, never mind the political, of the United States turning in on itself.

Thats not entirely true. The US did turn on European afffairs after WWI, but the idea that the US turned towards “isolationism” in the 1920s and 30s is an outdated and generally discredited thesis. The US was heavily involved in Latin America, for example. And even, to an extent, in Europe.

What there was in the wake of WWI and the rejection of the Treaty of Versailles was a rejection of “internationalism,” not a turn towards isolationism. Rather, it was a turn towards unilateralism and ad-hoc bilateralism.


soru 12.23.05 at 7:03 am

And I’d love to see the source of your optimsim on this “no bases or oil deals” business. Why do you think either outcome is “pretty likely”?

In short, the news from iraq. I don’t know what news source anyone could have that would cause them to think otherwise.

In any case, even if it does, against my prediction, turn out that there ends up being a US air-base in Kurdistan or something, would that really move the war from good to bad?

I can’t recall a single one in which you acknowledge the fact that war—by its very definition—involves an enormous degree of human suffering.

Discard your preconceptions, and listen to what the people on the ground are actually saying. A large proportion, probably a majority, find their personal lives better, right now during a low-intensity war, than under saddam’s rule.

This is not because war is fun: war is, as everyone knows, a bloody, horrible mess, where children get blown apart by shells, young men die for no good reason, mothers weep.

It is because the available alternatives are comparable or worse.

Recognition of Saddam’s regime killed millions, containment killed hundreds of thousands, the war has so far killed tens of thousands. Very likely there was a better plan than ‘this war now’, but it was probably still a war or the credible threat of one.

Most westerners have, from watching war films if nothing else, some kind of instinctive feel for how horrible a war is. They don’t need lecturing on that, it’s not 1914 any more.

I don’t think many first-world people watch ‘third world dictator’ films, have any kind of comparable feel for what a life of grinding poverty under sanctions and repression under a dictator are actually like.

That means the only way to honestly engage with these issues is to try to be as rational and detached as possible, because your instincts and prejudices will mislead, emotive language that feels true will be a lie.



abb1 12.23.05 at 10:45 am

And God willing, we will prevail, in peace and freedom from fear, and in true health, through the purity and essence of our natural fluids.


roger 12.23.05 at 11:11 am

Soru, you are making a silly point about the feeling that life is better. If the sanction regime had been abandoned while Saddam was still in power, Iraq’s people would have been doing better too, and if you listened on the ground they would have been more hopeful of their future. And why not? they would have had more money.

I think most Iraqis did want Saddam gone, and Saddam’s crimes are black (in fact, in my own opinion Saddam should be dead right now — it was highly stupid not to shoot him after his capture), but the fact is that the economic activity that has come to Iraq has been mostly as a result of the removal of the sanction regime, while the massive insistence of the occupiers on making economic decisions and doing the ‘reconstruction’ has mainly benefitted an array of American companies, at great cost to the American taxpayer. Basically, America is justly resented for its appalling and unnecessary occupation, which is reflected even in the (obviously flawed) polls of public opinion taken in Iraq over the past couple of years, and the trend is only getting worse for the Americans. Occupations get more onerous over time, not less.


Uncle Kvetch 12.23.05 at 11:46 am

In short, the news from iraq. I don’t know what news source anyone could have that would cause them to think otherwise.

Please name a credible news source that’s reporting that the US has abandoned its plans for permanent military facilities in Iraq.


Brendan 12.23.05 at 1:02 pm

There’s no point in debating at this level but:

‘Most westerners have, from watching war films if nothing else, some kind of instinctive feel for how horrible a war is. They don’t need lecturing on that, it’s not 1914 any more.

I don’t think many first-world people watch ‘third world dictator’ films, have any kind of comparable feel for what a life of grinding poverty under sanctions and repression under a dictator are actually like.’

This is self-evidently and blatantly false. Most of Eastern Europe and Latin America for example know perfectly well what totalitarianism was like (and even in Western Europe, most European countries were totalitarian within living memory). And yet in Latin America, where they had much experience of regimes very similar to Saddam’s, the population were overwhelmingly against the war. There is no mystery here: most South Americans view the US in the same way the Poles and Czechs view Russia, and would see a ‘humanitarian intervention’ by the US and the UK, not as a serious issue to be discussed but simply as a joke.

They are right.

Incidentally, ignore the ‘pay attention to what the people on the ground’ stuff: as Soru well knows (as we have been through this discussion) the people on the ground loathe the occupation and despise the occupiers. One recent poll stated a majority wanted an immediate withdrawal of the US/UK, another stated that nearly 50% wanted an immediate withdrawal (with 4% who couldn’t make their mind up). And this varies widely over the country. Almost all Sunnis, for example, and most Shias want an immediate withdrawal. The fact that many Iraqis think their lives are getting better (a meaningless statistic, since we don’t know from what point this optimism began to develop….pro-warriors always assume it was since the invasion, but rarely provide evidence for this) ignores the salient point which is that they think they would be doing better still if we would just **** off and let them run their own country.

Since the ‘oil deals’ have already been done, incidentally, I have no idea why you think they won’t happen.

Incidentally, yesterday, according to Omer of Iraq the Model, over a million people demonstrated in Baghdad, and demanded a recount of the votes, alleging huge fraud.


soru 12.23.05 at 3:21 pm

Please name a credible news source that’s reporting that the US has abandoned its plans for permanent military facilities in Iraq.

Find me a credible news source that documents the conscription, mass hiring of foreign mercenaries, (or perhaps development of some kind of robot soldier), that would be necessary to impose such a thing in the face of the Iraqi public opinion that brendan only somewhat misreports?

Any of those is too big to keep quiet, so if they are not being put into place now, then anything that would rely on them is not being planned for.


Incidentally, in 10-20 years time, the robot soldiers thing is probably a real danger – it very plausibly could recreate the preconditions for classical imperialism. Robo sapiens with a gun, or just a Predator Mk IV, is politically a very scary prospect that really would change a lot of things.


Brendan 12.23.05 at 6:56 pm

‘brendan only somewhat misreports’

Oh please. Quote what bit I have misreported.

Incidentally, Uncle Kvetch, I quoted to Soru a few threads ago an up to date (this year) report in which aides of Bush (allegedly or presumably (depending on your point of view)) briefed journalists that the model for Iraq was South Korea..i.e. a country where American bases were going to stay for years or decades (or longer). So Soru knows very well that there is reason to believe that Bush wants permanent military bases.

Incidentally, Soru has a fantastically naive view of how force is applied in the modern world. It’s true that you can use bombs and bullets (and the US/UK certainly haven’t been shy about using THEM). But you can use other methods of influence as well. You can apply what is euphemistically known as ‘diplomatic pressure’: i.e. you can make it very much worth the countries’ while to do what you want. You can bribe the country (i.e. the political elite) with arms and oil deals. You can threaten the country with loss of preferential trading, sanctions and all sorts. So the fact (and it is a fact) that the US wants permanent bases does not imply that the US/UK will be forced to use actual military force to get them. There’s more than one way to skin a cat.


Brendan 12.23.05 at 7:00 pm

Sorry I should have put this in the last post, but if anyone REALLY wants to have a go at predicting Iraq’s future, instead of babbling on about how it’s ‘just like’ post-war Germay or whatever, they would be better off looking at Iraq’s past: specifically about the ways in which Britain attempted (ultimately unsuccesfully) to keep control of Iraq between WW1 and 1958. Nevertheless, despite the fact that the British were eventually kicked out, they managed to keep a toe dipped in Iraqi waters for more than 30 years. I suspect the Americans want to be there for at least as long.


soru 12.24.05 at 6:20 am

Oh please. Quote what bit I have misreported.

another stated that nearly 50% wanted an immediate withdrawal (with 4% who couldn’t make their mind up).

The poll you were talking about:

Question 33:How long do you think U.S. and other Coalition Forces should remain in Iraq?
They should leave now: 25%

Most of the other categories call for a withdrawl in the short or medium term: in another question only a tiny 4% did not consider the withdrawl of US forces to be ‘any kind of a priority’.

But only those 25% were calling for an _immediate_ withdrawl, with job not done and insurgency active.



brendan 12.25.05 at 7:18 am

I know it’s bad form to do this (i.e. go back to old posts) but I had to put the record straight in case anyone is trawling through this thread, late at night with only a bottle of JD for company….

by immediate withdrawal, I of course meant immediate as of NOW, i.e. (as the date is now 25th December). 45% of those polled wanted an immediate withdrawal OR IMMEDIATE WITHDRAWAL AFTER THE DECEMBER ELECTIONS which, according to my calender, has now passed.

Therefore as of the time of writing (NOT the time when the poll was actually conducted, but now), to the best of our knowledge, 45% of Iraqis want an immediate withdrawal of all UK/US troops. Plus or minus 2.5%. There is another 4% who couldn’t make their minds up, so possibly they might go into the withdrawal camp (or not, of course). I would argue to the pro-warriors that the fact that (if the 2.5% proves to be on the minus side) 47.5% of Iraqis want a withdrawal is hardly the ringing endorsement of coalition behaviour they seem to think. I would also point out that since this might mean that only a 2.6% shift in Iraqi opinion would mean that a majority did want withdrawal, they should hardly be sitting back and resting on their laurels.

Moreover, this should be viewed in the context of a previous post which stated that a majority of Iraqis did indeed want a withdrawal of US/UK forces. Not to mention the fact that a majority of British and American people undoubtedly want an immediate withdrawal (i.e. they wanted a withdrawal after the December elections). Not to mention the huge majorities of people in Africa, South American and elsewhere who never wanted this war in the first place.


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