September 14, 2004

More on Iraq

As we are all painfully aware, it has been an exceptionally bloody period of late in Iraq. And, of course, we are in the middle of the political silly season--so very few people are addressing the massive challenges facing us there head-on. As Jim Hoagland put it:

It is especially hard for spies, generals and policymakers to reexamine, recognize and correct mistakes and assumptions as the U.S. presidential campaign roars into full fury: The incumbent is unable to allow himself to consider -- much less admit -- error. The challenger is unable to see anything but error on his foe's part. September's final small cruelty is to lock the candidates and those who work for them into imaginary omniscience until Nov. 2.

That said, between Coleian doom and gloom and unmitigated Panglossian sunshine ( Chrenkoffian, I might say in the blogosphere!) there is still some room for cautious and limited optimism.

For one thing, Iraq isn't Vietnam (yet).

Fareed Zakaria:

But for all its resilience, the insurgency has not spread across the country, nor is it likely to. Its appeal has clear limits. While it has drawn some support from all Iraqis because of its anti-American character, the insurgency is essentially a Sunni movement, fueled by the anger of Iraq's once-dominant community, which now fears the future. It is not supported by the Shiites or the Kurds. (The Shiite radical Sadr has been careful not to align himself too closely with the insurgency, for fear of losing support among the Shiites.) This is what still makes me believe that Iraq is not Vietnam. There, the Viet Cong and their northern sponsors both appealed to a broad nationalism that much of the country shared.

That's exactly right. Read all of Zakaria's piece, by the way. He's rightly concerned that policymakers, throwing their arms up in frustration given going-ons in the environs of Fallujah, will pursue a so-called Shi'a strategy:

Such an approach would view the Sunni areas in Iraq as hopeless until an Iraqi army could go in and establish control. It would ensure that the Shiite community, as well as the Kurds, remained supportive of Allawi's government and of the upcoming elections. It would attempt to hold elections everywhere -- but if they could not be held in the Sunni areas, elections would go forward anyway. That would isolate the Sunni problem and leave it to be dealt with when [Iraqi] forces become available.

Tempting, of course, but not good policy. We need to start thinking (comments welcome) on innovative formulas to have nation-wide elections take place on schedule (ie, January) despite the existence of pockets of insurgent controlled enclaves:

Another ominous sign is the growing number of towns that U.S. troops simply avoid. A senior Defense official objects to calling them "no-go areas." "We could go into them any time we wanted," he argues. The preferred term is "insurgent enclaves." They're spreading. Counterinsurgency experts call it the "inkblot strategy": take control of several towns or villages and expand outward until the areas merge. The first city lost to the insurgents was Fallujah, in April. Now the list includes the Sunni Triangle cities of Ar Ramadi, Baqubah and Samarra, where power shifted back and forth between the insurgents and American-backed leaders last week. "There is no security force there [in Fallujah], no local government," says a senior U.S. military official in Baghdad. "We would get attacked constantly. Forget about it."

So, and before January, we need to focus on a) getting that inkblot smaller and (perhaps more important especially if "a" continues to prove so difficult) b) figuring out innovative ways to delay and/or hold election in such places in a manner that makes non-radicalized Sunnis not feel they are getting the heave-ho. Policymakers should be focusing on that right now (as mentioned above, thoughts on that would be most welcome). One thought might be to have remote balloting done in a manner insurgents wouldn't know who had voted at, say, a polling station smack dab in the center of Fallujah--particularly given that many residents would likely be too scared to vote fearing death at the hands of insurgents for "collaboration". Said ballots could be matched against population registries to ensure they were not fraudulent or duplicative. Another thought is to have phased elections in problematic Sunni areas. Perhaps municipal elections could take place first--showcasing how the electioneering process is not prima facie nefarious. But these are just random thoughts that may nor may not make any sense in terms of the real situation on the ground.

Regardless of all this, State has decided (note, not the Pentagon, which is losing influence on Iraq policy) to move more money into the security budget right now. That's smart and good--but isn't going to be enough to solve our Fallujah/Samarra/Baqubah problem by January. Negroponte and Grossman therefore also need to be thinking hard about innovative election modalities too in case our counter-insurgency efforts don't have us back in control of major Sunni population centers by the elections.

Anyone out there have some smart ideas?

MORE: Thanks for all the excellent feedback. In particular, don't miss Point 2 of this comment, why successful elections in Iraq aren't necessarily a panacea, an argument countering that last fear, and a reminder about the nature of some of our enemies in Iraq.

Appreciate it, folks--I'm blessed with smart commenters (perhaps I should turn over the keys to them!) Still, I think we need to push further and more 'out of the box' on elections related ideas. I'll be giving it more thought when time allows--as well as trying to address developments in Russia, Turkey (vis-a-vis their Iraq policy) and, er, the Balkans (remember them?).

Posted by Gregory at September 14, 2004 10:39 PM
Comments

As usual, I don't have any smart ideas, but hopefully somebody does.

I think I disagree with Fareed Zakaria and B.D. It's better to alienate a minority than a majority of Iraqis. Military operations in Iraq should not proceed without Iraqi permission and Iraqi participation: it's their country. Elections should proceed in January even if they can't be held everywhere in Iraq.

Adnan Pachachi, the Sunni Arab diplomat Mr. Bremer allegedly tried to impose as President of Iraq (leading one member of the now-defunct Iraqi Governing Council to propose a de-Bremerization committee) recently said on NPR that elections should be held on schedule in Iraq even if violence continues. I agree with Mr. Pachachi. Prime Minister Allawi's government deserves American support, but to some extent that government lacks "legitimacy", and elections are the only way the Iraqis can form a "legitimate" government for themselves. I don't agree with the claim that Prime Minister Allawi is a CIA puppet, but that claim will be less plausible after Iraqi elections: if so-and-so is an American puppet, then why did the people vote for him?

Posted by: Arjun at September 15, 2004 06:39 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I think Iraq is like Vietnam in the sense that, as our President might put it, "I don't think you can win it". That is, I think that American victory in Iraq is impossible.

One important difference is that America's enemies in Iraq are more malevolent than the North Vietnamese. As far as I know, the Vietnamese Communists never admitted to trying to foment interethnic civil war by killing innocent civilians (as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi did in the Zarqawi letter). I'm sure the Communists committed atrocities, but they never attacked the United Nations, or packed an ambulance full of explosives to attack the Red Cross. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is an evil man. American defeat in Iraq is unthinkable.

Since victory is impossible but defeat unthinkable, I favor the "third way" as America's exit strategy: train the Iraqis to win their own war against our mutual enemies. I don't think we can win the war in Iraq, but I think the Iraqi people can.

Posted by: Arjun at September 15, 2004 07:30 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Your idea sounds pretty smart to me, Arjun.

As per how to proceed with the "no-go areas", I think it's imperative that the US military and Iraqis ensure that those areas don't proliferate. Then, I would go ahead with the elections in the areas deemed safe. It seems like we have to go with the Afghan model, i.e., securing what we can and going from there.

The issue of legitimacy is paramount. The US has to reduce its political presence in Iraq; that means whichever the outcome of the free elections the US has to be prepared to live with, even if Iraqis elect an Islamist government.

Posted by: Rucksackwanderer at September 15, 2004 07:40 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I think you've basically touched on what victory in Iraq requires, Arjun; the Iraqis must be capable of dealing with the terrorists themselves, and willing to do so.

Make no mistake, we are not in any sort of military difficulty in an absolute sense. I reckon we could destroy the terrorists with little risk to ourselves; the problem is the horrific 'collateral damage' that would necessarily involve. But had we leveled Fallujah early- without the majority of Iraqis understanding why- then we quite possibly would have done more harm than good overall. If and when we deal with Fallujah for good, I believe the majority of Iraqis will understand why, and will be taking the lead on it.

Every successful terrorist attack on Iraqis demonstrates what the war truly is; and I think because of our Iraqis-first approach, the perception of the war has shifted critically among many Iraqis to the correct viewpoint- that the terrorists are not 'insurgents' fighting invaders, but enemies of Iraq.

To put it another way, leveling Fallujah or Najaf would have required a certain amount of 'collateral damage'; and not doing so also accrued a certain amount of 'collateral damage' as the thugs were allowed to control certain areas of Iraq, and attack more freely. But the latter sort of collateral damage will tend to solidify overall Iraqi support against the terrorists, while the former might well have tended to solidify it against us instead. To put it another way, the administration is targeting the Iraqi sphere of perception, not the US or terrorist spheres of perception.

But the strategy takes time to implement; training the Iraqi police and national guard to handle terrorists and general security will take time. I think it is going well; but the strategic payoff is gradual- and not well suited to news reports.

Posted by: Philip at September 15, 2004 08:05 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Phillip,

A few thoughts:

First of all, leveling Najaf would have been utter folly in ways beyond the mere collateral damage issue. Most residents of Najaf were against the presence of al-Sadr, and thus a leveling of the city would have actually been an attack against a population that was largely opposed to the interlopers we were trying to uproot. And of course there is the issue of the Ali shrine, the destruction of which would have caused shockwaves through the entire Shiia world, which would have reverberated back in Iraq. Causing such bitter outrage in the majority Shiite population would have hindered our efforts beyond salvation.

But perhaps this betrays a fundamental flaw in your reasoning: you fail to distinguish between Fallujah and Najaf, Sunni and Shiite, terrorist and insurgent.

It is important to note that al-Sadr's men are almost all Iraqis (Shiites from the lower economic classes to be exact). They are different from the inhabitants of Fallujah, who are primarily Sunni with strong tribal allegiances. Sadr's men do not conduct terrorist attacks, although his militia does engage US forces (with US forces routinely inflicting heavy casualties). Sadr's movement is an insurgency, not a terrorist movement, and his goals are to expel the US forces which he views as an occupier. In many quarters, there is sympathy for al-Sadr (which is growing not diminishing) since he is openly antagonistic to the US presence (which is also an increasingly unpopular phenomenon).

In Fallujah, and throughout the Sunni triangle, the picture is less clear. This region has been infiltrated by foreign jihadist elements who freely employ terrorist tactics, such as car bombs and other methods of civilian targetting. These foreign elements are, in many instances, enemies of Iraq, and proponents of chaos. To some extent, there is a cooperation from local Sunni Islamists, and thus Fallujah has morphed into a mini-Afghanistan - or staging ground for insurgent attacks and terrorist strike alike.

Still, there is also a portion of the Sunni triangle that is composed of Iraqis who are fighting US forces and not engaging in terrorist activities. These groups would be more accurately described as insurgents, although the lines in this region are blurry and becoming less discernible as time goes on.

Posted by: Eric Martin at September 15, 2004 08:38 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Sorry to mis-spell your name, I meant to say "Philip"

Posted by: Eric Martin at September 15, 2004 08:39 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Two quick points -- I have also thought Fareed's point is important. I recall reading that during the VeitNam war analysts tried to view it through the prism of the British successful counterinsurgency campaign in Malaysia - that analogy broke down because the Communists in that country were from the minority ethic Chinese community without broad support of the majority. Much like the Sunni's trying to maintain their aparthied-like dominance in Iraq.

Point two - You ask for ideas on how to handle elections in areas where the majority of the population is still vociferously defiant. The best example I know of is the Reconstruction Era in the US. This guerrilla warfare gave rise to the KKK and took 30 years to "end" -- many would say with the abject surrender of the north. The main outline for these elections was as soon as we got 10% of the population enrolled on voter lists we declared they could speak for all that refused to sign an oath of allegiance to the federal government. The first few years were dominated by quislings, crooks and carpetbaggers, but eventually the lure of patronage - along with a very generous amnesty program - lured the citizens back to quasi-acceptance of the federal government.

Posted by: wayneseib at September 15, 2004 09:36 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I tried to allude to the same analogy given by wayneseib several days ago, since I live in an area of the U.S. where roads are still named after leaders of a violent rebellion against the U.S. and people still express pride in that rebellion and in the symbols of that rebellion. I find this a little disturbing, to be honest, but at least these folks don't take up arms against the U.S. anymore.

Posted by: Arjun at September 15, 2004 10:20 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Sorry I wasn't able to complete my thought. My point is, Iraqis in Tikrit, Fallujah, and Ramadi will probably continue to express pride in their role in the anti-U.S. Sunni insurgency for decades to come. However, the Iraqi government can hopefully use positive incentives (nicely described by wayneseib) to eventually end their support for the continuation of an active armed rebellion.

Posted by: Arjun at September 15, 2004 11:03 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Arjun and Wayneseib,

You both present many compelling ideas concerning the feasability of elections and the possibility of defusing the tension in the Sunni triangle. I don't think it is beyond the pale of possibility to hold elections and at the same time encourage the intransigent Sunnis to voluntarily engage in the process, foregoing more militant means. I hope this can be pulled off.

One of the most confounding aspects of the serpentine labyrinth that is post-Saddam Iraq, is that the elections themselves may contain the biggest risks for fragmentation as described in the Chatham House report.

After elections, the constitution must be finalized, and it appears that the Kurds and the Shiia are headed for an unavoidable showdown over that process. Unless the Shiites grant the Kurds the veto powers they were given in the TAL, the Kurds might not accept the constitution, instead opting to secede from Iraq (they have been fairly autonomous for the past decade anyway, and they are only moderately concerned with Iraqi nationalism).

This could spark civil war, especially over control of Kirkuk and its lucrative oil fields, as well as provide the impetus for widespread regional conflict, with the Turks, Iranians and Syrians interceding in order to stave off separatist movements from their respective Kurdish minorities. This would be a fierce battle because the Pesh Merga is by far the most developed military organization in Iraq (apart from the US presence of course).

Posted by: Eric Martin at September 15, 2004 11:32 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I agree with Eric Martin that outright secession of Iraqi Kurdistan would have disastrous consequences for Iraq and for the entire region. I also agree that the Iraqi Kurds will not accept anything less than what B.D. (in another context) called "deep autonomy".

I have a feeling (or maybe just a hope) that the Iraqi Shi'a Arab leaders understand these realities.

Soon after the handover on June 29, my optimism at Mr. Bremer's departure from Iraq was interrupted when Kurdish leaders Massoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani voiced their displeasure with Lakhdar Brahimi's attempts to accede to Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani's objections to the TAL. Somehow, however, Prime Minister Allawi managed to placate them, at least temporarily.

I believe that the TAL endorsed a mechanism whereby a two-thirds vote in any three provinces could veto the final constitution of Iraq. Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani's objection to this formula was widely believed to be anti-Kurdish, but I'm not sure that's entirely true. It wasn't Ayatollah Sistani's only objection to the TAL -- he also objected to the fact that the TAL was written and adopted under Mr. Bremer's supervision. Also Ayatollah Sistani sent a goodwill message to his Iraqi Kurdish "brethren" during the Barzani/Talabani pullout threat.

I have an inherent tendency to be more optimistic than reasonable (it's a character flaw; I'll work on it), but my guess is that the Shi'a Arab Iraqis will be smart enough to stipulate, at the very first stages of Iraqi consitution-writing that Iraqi Kurdistan will continue to enjoy "deep autonomy". I'm having a hard time believe my own optimism, actually, but I'll even go one step further and guess that the Kurdish leadership would accept an iron-clad guarantee of "deep autonomy" in lieu of a de jure veto over the final constitution.

Posted by: Arjun at September 16, 2004 12:11 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Disagree. It IS Viet Nam. Consider: a gradual build up of military will; safe zones in the battle area (DMZ?); too much political control of military strategy;rotating miltary back to the US after a specified time in country; safe zones in Baghdad (Saigon) where the military commanders and journalists get a false sense of security; too much country to secure with not enough troops; military trying to win "hearts and minds"; too many weapons allowed to civilians, etc. I could add another 100 points of similarity. YOUR mission is to show more than one point of dissimilarity.

Here's my smart idea. Kill as many as possible in as short a time as possible. Targets: anyone carrying a gun. Then withdraw and let them fight it out for who the next dictator is. We get a peaceful window of 10 years or so as Iraq descends into anarchy.

Next smart idea. Ignore the BS UN idea of keeping the country together. Screw Turkey. Let the Kurds, Sunnis and Shites form 3 countries, give them all weapons and let them fight a civil war for the next 100 years. Either way, realpolitic says that we don't care what form of government they have as long as they can't threaten us.

Posted by: Jack at September 16, 2004 12:35 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Elections need not be held on one day. I can see Iraqi military groups going from city to city and collecting ballots, not to be opened and counted until a certain day. The Allawi government remains determined to conduct elections by Jan. 31st at the latest, and realize they would lose face not to do so. They will, come hell or high water. (And the jihadists are going all out right now, so violence is bound to subside).

Posted by: exguru at September 16, 2004 09:07 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Hooo-kay, Matt. Thanks for the, er, rose-colored crap. Key graf, "In the medium run, we will have succeeded if most Iraqis come to view us as allies against their meddling neighbors and their internal troublemakers. " And we will do this with your big idea of - selective elections. In a medieval country with not much education, 3 competing religions, guns in the hands of every adult male and rampant corruption and criminality. Forrest Gump had a phrase for you.

Posted by: Jack at September 16, 2004 12:58 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I felt pretty naive after hearing a bleak assessment on NPR's On Point.

So I'd like to thank Jack for helping me feel better about myself.

Posted by: Arjun at September 16, 2004 02:12 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Arjun,
I did not support this war in the beginning as I could not believe the Iraqis had WMD. Not possible in such a non-industrialized country. The war turned out OK especially seeing how Libya came around. But I am absolutely against nation building. People who reference Germany and Japan after WW2 as examples of successful nation building are conflating apples with screwdrivers. We put in a little money and security to already built nations that were simply defeated in war. Iraq is truly nation building as there is nothing there to build on. Same for Afghanistan. I don't think our government is serious about the nation building. If we were, both nations would be a blood bath. Kill about 1/5 of the population and MAYBE you have a chance. And I'm sure you see that killing the cancer will kill the patient.

Posted by: Jack at September 16, 2004 08:32 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Jack,

It is a common misconception, somewhat willfully perpetuated by Bush administration officials, that Libya renounced its WMD program as a result of the invasion of Iraq, or the doctrine of pre-emptive attack in general.

This interpretation ignores the vast amount of historical evidence to the contrary however. Qaddafi has been trying to gain re-entry into the world community, and relief from the effectively onerous US and UN sanctions, for well over a decade. There have been negotiations on a number of topics, including Pan Am 103, support for terrorism and WMDs since as far back as the Bush Sr. administration.

Throughout the 90's, progress was made as Qaddafi began to re-shape Libya into a more pro-Western state, converting socialistic institutions into more capitalistic ones, curtailing state sponsored terror and recently even becoming an active ally in the war on terror.

If you remember, after 9/11 Qaddafi issued a very public condemnation of the attacks, began an intelligence sharing operation with US and British operatives, and even went as far as to offer a $1 million reward for the capture of Islamic extremists known to operate in Libya's vicinity. He has received praise from both Blair and Bush on this front over the past three plus years.

During negotiations in 1999, Qaddafi first expressed a preference to utilize the Chemical Weapons Convention as a vehicle to disarm, which is the treaty they eventually joined in March 2004. These talks layed the framework for the current agreement.

The Pan Am issue remained the main stumbling block to addressing the other issues, though, but once that was resolved in 2002 and a final settlement was reached in September 2003, all attention was turned to WMDs as Libya saw this as the last impediment to gaining relief from the US and UN sanctions (and a particularly good way to curry favor with the Bush administration).

The specific talks which resulted in the final Libyan decision to renounce WMD began in March 2003, before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, but the process had begun even years prior to that.

While it has become politically expedient to claim this as a victory of the invasion of Iraq, or the pre-emptive doctrine in general, the disarmament of Libya is more a victory of diplomacy and sanctions than a militaristic approach. This is the direction Qaddafi was moving in regardless, and his desire for economic opportunity was the primary motivator.

http://tianews.blogspot.com/2004/09/credit-where-it-isnt-due.html

Posted by: Eric Martin at September 16, 2004 08:58 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

As my company is one of those that will benefit from renewed oil exploration and production in Libya I am aware of the negotiations that have taken place outside of any military persuasions. But there is no doubt in my mind that what got Gaddafi to the table with a signature THIS YEAR is the example of Saddam. I know for a fact how coy he has been with us for the last decade. You talk about WMD's and Pan Am but it is my belief that it is the oil companies and their $ who really got his attention.

Posted by: Jack at September 17, 2004 05:38 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Says Greg-
"I'm blessed with smart commenters (perhaps I should turn over the keys to them!) "

AAAAHHHHH!! NOOOOOOO!!
Just look at what happened to tacitus.org...

Posted by: Matt at September 17, 2004 01:37 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Jack,

You said:

"You talk about WMD's and Pan Am but it is my belief that it is the oil companies and their $ who really got his attention."

Actually, my point was that it was the oil companies and their money that has been pushing Qaddafi along this path for many years - specifically in relation to the sanctions that interfere with Libya's ability to generate the full potential of its oil revenues.

Seeing as it is the oil money that has been motivating him, I believe he would have struck this deal regardless of the invasion of Iraq. The final round of talks began before the invasion (although it did appear imminent at the time), and he opened his country up to US and British inspectors before Saddam was captured (despite Cheney's claim that it was the sight of Saddam being yanked from a spider hole that caused Qaddafi's change of heart).

Maybe you are right that the invasion of Iraq sped up the process, but I think that if that is even true, it had more to do with Qaddafi realizing it was the best way to curry favor with Bush than out of his fear of US invasion.

Realistically speaking, the US was not taking any aggressive posture in relation to Libya, and that country wasn't even on the short list of Iran, Syria and North Korea. Don't you think it would have taken even a hint of a threat for the fear factor to kick in?

Posted by: Eric Martin at September 17, 2004 04:03 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Jack: YOUR mission is to show more than one point of dissimilarity.

In no particular order:

1. No "North Iraq"
2. terrain is very different (with direct consequences in operations)
3. enemy has no regular military equivalent to the NVA
4. enemy has no supporting super-power (i.e., no threat of nuclear retaliation regardless of the weapons / tactics the US uses)
5. enemy is motivated by religious / personal (familial, etc.) / cultural (Arabism) loyalty instead of nationalism
6. enemy is not nearly as effective at killing US troops (on average, in 1966 there were about 416 US KIA / month; in 1967, about 781 US KIA / month, in 1968, more than 1200 US KIA / month -- compared to less than 50 / month in Iraq)
7. the US has the experience of Vietnam to look back on and learn from
8. firepower and accuracy of fire of US forces vastly better than in Vietnam era with no commensurate increase in enemy firepower or accuracy
9. the US has vastly improved electronic surveillance capabilities
10. US has better nightfighting capabilities than enemy

I could go on, but I think I have more than achieved the mission you set for us.

Posted by: tom beta 2 at September 20, 2004 12:22 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

From Jack: "I did not support this war in the beginning as I could not believe the Iraqis had WMD. Not possible in such a non-industrialized country."

Not sure what you mean by "Not possible ..." Are you saying Iraq didn't gas the Kurds or Iranians? We know they had extensive chemical weapons capabilities before '91. Maybe you mean their capabilities were degraded by 12 years of sanctions so they could NO LONGER produce WMDs?

Jack: "People who reference Germany and Japan after WW2 as examples of successful nation building are conflating apples with screwdrivers. We put in a little money and security to already built nations that were simply defeated in war. Iraq is truly nation building as there is nothing there to build on."

This is something I am trying to figure out myself. How do the examples of Japan and Germany compare with Iraq and Afghanistan? For example, Japan was certainly more devastated at the end of WWII than Iraq is now. Every major Japanese city had been destroyed, mostly by firebombing and carpetbombing, and the people were starving. There were more than a million Japanese civilian casualties. The US had to provide tons of food for several years after Japan surrendered. In this sense, the rebuilding of Japan seems to have been a much bigger job than the rebuilding of Iraq is today.

Or are you referring to culture? The Japanese, for example, had a strong sense of nationalism and they had the unifying figure of the emperor (both of which I think helped prevent any real resistance to rebuilding or to the US/Allied occupation), neither of which the Iraqis (or Afghans) have. Also, the Japanese were better educated. Given this, the Japanese actively helped rebuild their own nation more than the Iraqis seem to be doing, in my opinion.

What do you (and everyone else here) think about this?

From Jack: "I don't think our government is serious about the nation building. If we were, both nations would be a blood bath. Kill about 1/5 of the population and MAYBE you have a chance."

What is the correlation between killing off 20% of the population and nation building? The US certainly didn't kill off 20% of the Japanese population in WWII.

Posted by: tom beta 2 at September 20, 2004 12:35 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Tom, I think your 10 points of dissimilarity are interesting. I have a concern.

7. the US has the experience of Vietnam to look back on and learn from

To me this is the key point. We can trample the iraqis as long as we're willing to keep 150,000 men well-equipped across iraq. But our patience for that is limited, and in an age of half-trillion dollar trade imbalances our money will be limited too. One lesson of vietnam was that we need to "win hearts and minds" as a primary goal. A body-count goal might well leave us killing 20% of iraqis.

None of your other points address that at all.

#1, 3 & 4 concern their lack of outside assistance for military action against us.

#5 claims their motivation is personal, religions and cultural instead of nationalist. I'd say personal, religious, cultural, and nationalist -- this does not look like an improvement to me.

All the rest of your points are things that give us a military advantage. But we should have learned from vietnam if not elsewhere that military advantage is not enough. We need the consent of the governed. That really isn't in our military's job description, and the organisation we set up to do it, the CPS, was utterly inadequate to the job.

So now in theory our military is helping Allawi set up a government the iraqis are willing to be governed by, and it's too soon to say whether it can work. In practice we don't seem to coordinate with him very much -- or anyway it would be political suicide for him to take responsibility if we do.

When we have fewer troops killed relative to wounded, that's a military improvment. Better night fighting and better ESM and increased firepower are military improvements. They can let us kill more iraqis before the public gets disgusted.

But the important part is the new government. We don't hear too much about that. And if we really gave back sovereignty, it's out of our hands now.

Posted by: J Thomas at September 22, 2004 02:01 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

exguru, we've heard before about the jihadis attacking unsustainably for some short-term goal. Like, they were supposed to be ramping up unsustainable attacks before the handover. And attacks did ramp up then, but they didn't exactly ease off much afterward and how we're at a higher equilibrium. It's like, each time *we* say we're going to something dramatic we say they'll attack unsustainably before we do it. The level of attacks goes up. Then we do whatever we had announced, and the level of attacks doesn't go down much. Maybe they aren't paying much attention to our announcements. Maybe they ramp up attacks when they can, and then later they ramp up attacks some more when they can, and it doesn't have anything to do with our handovers and councils and elections.

When the USA adopted our constitution we said it went into effect when some fraction of states approved it. That encouraged holdout states to approve since otherwise there would be an alliance that didn't include them, that could turn into an alliance against them. The iraqi constitution could do that with provinces.

Also, the iraqi government could ask the organisastions who claim to control particular areas to allow elections and to protect the election registrars. Wherever they agreed, elections could go smoothly provided the locals weren't fighting each other.

The argument is that if the new government is a powerless puppet, they lose nothing much by electing representatives to it who can prove how powerless it is and then resign in disgust. And if it does turn into something worth having they can have people influencing it. This argument would fail with people who would be opposed to democracy even if the USA wasn't involved, but it might work some places and some others might accept the proposal for other reasons.

Also they might accept a Ba'ath party running. That could help sunnis feel less disenfranchised. And go ahead and do the amnesty we said they couldn't do.

If we want a puppet government we have to make sure that everybody who disagrees is bombed into submission. But to have a democracy it's OK for the people who disagree to say what they want and vote how they want. That could work out.

Posted by: J Thomas at September 22, 2004 04:52 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"As far as I know, the Vietnamese Communists never admitted to trying to foment interethnic civil war by killing innocent civilians (as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi did in the Zarqawi letter)."

Arjun, just for completeness, was that letter fully authenticated as coming from Zarqawi? We've had a lot of forgery issues lately....

I particularly doubt the Zarqawi letter that talked about how they were losing, and losing influence and they had to hit hard to disrupt the transfer or they'd be lost. It was very very pessimistic for him, it said just exactly what we'd want to hear and somehow we intercepted it and published it. It looks like things aren't going that way at all. The letter attributed to Zarqawi said their mobility was getting progressively restricted. That is clearly not the case.

Maybe the letter was real and Zarqawi just misunderstood the situation. But it looks like a very good candidate for forgery.

Posted by: J Thomas at September 22, 2004 07:35 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

J Thomas,

First I'd just like to point out that I was answering Jack's challenge to give more than one dissimilarity between Vietnam and Iraq. I wasn't trying to make a case for or against the war in Iraq, or for the possibility of establishing a democracy there.

J Thomas:
"7. the US has the experience of Vietnam to look back on and learn from

"To me this is the key point. We can trample the iraqis as long as we're willing to keep 150,000 men well-equipped across iraq. But our patience for that is limited ..."

I sometimes wonder why people say American patience is limited. Most of the pro-liberation crowd have talked in terms of 5 years to a generation being required to create real changes. The concept of taking 20-30 years to really change Iraq is not foreign to them, even if they think it will happen sooner. I think Americans have the patience, as long as progress is being made. However, this is merely my feeling for the situation. If you have links to articles or research that specifically discuss this topic, I would be very interested in reading them.

Also, let me take this chance to say I completely disagree with your use of terms like "trampling the iraqis" or our military improvements allowing us to "kill more iraqis." We aren't there to trample Iraqis. Our military improvements don't let us kill more Iraqis. More insurgents, yes, and insurgents are the targets, not Iraqis in general. It is an important distinction. The Iraqis are the ones we're trying to befriend, and we're going to a lot of expense and losing our own soldiers in order to do so.

If killing Iraqis was the goal, we could have saved a number of American lives by simply laying waste to Fallujah with arial and artillary bombardment. There was no need for the deaths of 135 US troops last April EXCEPT that we were clearly making the distinction between Iraqis and insurgents, and we are willing to have American blood shed to keep that distinction.

"...and in an age of half-trillion dollar trade imbalances our money will be limited too."

I think deficits are far more important than trade imbalances, but yes, the money will be limited.

"One lesson of vietnam was that we need to "win hearts and minds" as a primary goal."

Agreed, and the US has tried to focus on that. We have been doing our best to build and improve life for the average Iraqi. In some places we are succeeding, in others not.

"A body-count goal might well leave us killing 20% of iraqis."

I think it's a bit absurd to suggest we would kill 20% of the population of Iraq. We carpet bombed, fire bombed, and atomic bombed Japan, destroying virtually every major city, and still didn't kill 5% of their population. The US, by the way, does not have a "body-count goal," only the anti-war crowd does.

"#5 claims their motivation is personal, religions and cultural instead of nationalist. I'd say personal, religious, cultural, and nationalist -- this does not look like an improvement to me. "

Yes, you're right. Again, my only point with this list was to show the differences between the conflict in Vietnam and the one in Iraq. Vietnam was far, far worse as a war, but there are some factors that might make it more difficult to establish democracy in Iraq than it would have been in Vietnam had we won.

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