March 23, 2005

Mailbag

Yglesias writes in re: my last post:

I'm a bit astonished that you see an apparent contradiction between my belief that the war policy was grossly mistaken and that we are succeeding at it. Surely, there can be reasons for thinking that it would be a bad idea to start a given war other than the belief that the instigating country would lose the war. If you proposed that we invade and occupy Costa Rica in order to eliminate its WMD program, and remove from power it's Qaeda-connected government, I would say "why, Greg, that's a terrible idea!" But if the president decided to listen to you and invade, I'm pretty sure we would successfully occupy the country.

The Sadr point, though, is an interesting one and needs more consideration. But unless I'm mistaken, US forces have ceased engaging with Sadr's forces (indeed, it seems that Sadrists are and vice-versa, so this doesn't seem especially relevant to the issue of force levels.

You would be right that I am "wrong that new government security forces are ready for full-blown prime time without continued training and presence of U.S. forces for at least 12-18 months yet" but I think that if you read my post you'll see that I don't make any such claim. The actual claim was that "The new government security forces are beginning to perform tolerably in some key areas." This is, shall we say, rather different.

At any rate, I don't know how much substantive disagreement there is here. I say we should begin paring down our forces. You say paring our forces down to fewer than 100,000 would be a "gross error at this juncture." There are, I believe, about 130,000 troops in Iraq at the moment. That leaves plenty of room for compromise.

I'm also mystified by the relevance of the swipe at Bill Clinton there. Generally speaking, I'm puzzled by the post, which seems driven more by a desire to produce a left-wing strawman ready for the skewering than by a desire to dispute my arguments or even to disagree with what I'm saying.

Let me take these grafs in reverse order. The swipe at Bill Clinton shouldn't mystify Matt. Clinton's foreign policy, in places like Rwanda, Haiti and Bosnia (pre-Holbrooke insertion) was often marked by gross abdication of responsibility. Even people like Laura Rozen will admit they protest voted for Dole in '96. Why? Because candidate Clinton said back in '92 that he would pursue 'lift and strike' in Bosnia (lift the unjust arms embargo on the Bosniaks and strike Bosnian Serb encampments besieging 'safe' havens like Gorazde, Zepa or Sarajevo). Sarajevans hopes were artificially raised that the U.S. cavalry was rushing to the rescue by Clinton's empty words--and those hopes were cruelly dashed while nothing happened for 3 long years. No biggie, as the stock market was starting to kick into high gear and there were, you know, vivacious White House interns hither dither. Why do I bring all this up now? Because after millions of Iraqis have risked life and limb voting on January 30th, Matt would have us declare success and go home--violating our responsibility to those people who bravely stood up against a fascistic campaign of intimidation and violence. Put differently, the risk of following ye prescription Yglesias is doing this half-assed so that those who braved the polls would end up falling to the mercy of Baathist restorationists, assorted terrorists, jihadists. Sure, Matt will argue he actually thinks a troop draw-down is actually the right policy--not just for the good of us lucky Americans chilling in Kalorama and Tribeca--but also for the Iraqis on the frontlines. Except it isn't, as I argued in the immediately preceding post.

Matt:

At any rate, I don't know how much substantive disagreement there is here. I say we should begin paring down our forces. You say paring our forces down to fewer than 100,000 would be a "gross error at this juncture." There are, I believe, about 130,000 troops in Iraq at the moment. That leaves plenty of room for compromise.

Let's stop these silly number games, shall we? Does one really read Matt's post thinking he's calling for a withdrawal of fewer than 30,000 troops? It sounds more to me like it's all 'get the boys home', declare victory, all of 'em out soonest. Recall, we've had too few troops in theatre for most of this conflict. Let's at least have an appropriate level for a little while, shall we? Matt's pushing a precipitous withdrawal Ted Kennedyesque line here. It's simply not smart policy.

You would be right that I am "wrong that new government security forces are ready for full-blown prime time without continued training and presence of U.S. forces for at least 12-18 months yet" but I think that if you read my post you'll see that I don't make any such claim. The actual claim was that "The new government security forces are beginning to perform tolerably in some key areas." This is, shall we say, rather different.

So does this mean Matt agrees that troop levels should be kept around 130,000 for the next 12-18 months or doesn't it?

The Sadr point, though, is an interesting one and needs more consideration. But unless I'm mistaken, US forces have ceased engaging with Sadr's forces (indeed, it seems that Sadrists are and vice-versa, so this doesn't seem especially relevant to the issue of force levels.

My point is that the Mahdi militia could still yet, given an unexpected turn of event or two, take up arms in places like Sadr City and Najaf. We must be prepared for such contingencies for the foreseeable future.

I'm a bit astonished that you see an apparent contradiction between my belief that the war policy was grossly mistaken and that we are succeeding at it. Surely, there can be reasons for thinking that it would be a bad idea to start a given war other than the belief that the instigating country would lose the war. If you proposed that we invade and occupy Costa Rica in order to eliminate its WMD program, and remove from power it's Qaeda-connected government, I would say "why, Greg, that's a terrible idea!" But if the president decided to listen to you and invade, I'm pretty sure we would successfully occupy the country.

I'll concede this one to Matt; though I suspect he too was moved by the January 30th elections to the point he might well reconsider (only in private moments alone, bien sur, lest street cred with the Harold Meyersons be imperiled) whether the war policy was indeed "grossly mistaken." Why is it grossly mistaken to unseat a genocidaire thug, thought to be armed with WMD by the head of our (and many other) intelligence services and in violation of over a dozen U.N resolutions, in a post 9/11 era marked by concern about the intersection of WMD, rogue regimes, and transnational terror groups? Really, why? Why is a forward-leaning force posture in a region critical to our national interest so dumb? Why is attempting to democratize a major Arab country so idiotic? The hard generational task of modernizing and democratizing the Middle East is likely the only real long term solution to stemming the specter of apocalpytic jihadist terror. Bush has begun, in a big way, the job. Let the moronic Atrios and Kos types cackle from the sidelines like provincial brats. We can yawn at their tiresome cynicism. But people like Matt or Praktike or Laura know better, don't they? Finally, note Matt doesn't deign to address some of the other points in my post. For instance, that an American presence is still needed during a hugely delicate time of cobbling together viable governance structures in the nascent Iraqi polity. Or that the specter of communal violence would look nastier should the (yes) largely stabilizing presence of U.S. forces be hastily drawn-down.

Matt is a smart and intellectually honest guy--which is why I take the time to respond to him. But this isn't one of those where we can simply split the difference, be happy to meet half-way, and vibe with the fellow-feeling. Matt wants to draw-down troops in Iraq, er, like now. And I don't for a while yet. It's up to the readers to decide who is on the right side of this one. Reader persuasion aside, however, I'm heartened that the person who matters most, George Bush, is in accord with B.D.'s take. And Kerry isn't and wasn't. Declaring victory and going home is so much easier, isn't it? Also morally defunct and an abdication of American responsibility on the global stage. Clintonian, in a word. But not Yglesiasian, one hopes?

Posted by Gregory at March 23, 2005 04:00 AM | TrackBack (7)
Comments

Absolutely Yglesiasian.

And he'll help you to a huge dollop of why he's truly the responsible party.

You see, you can't win here. If you make mistakes, you lose. Succeed, somewhat: you also lose (don't forget those mistakes!). Succeed more than somewhat: you're lucky so far---but just wait a bit.

Fortunately, most of the American voters seem to have been grownups.

(Or should that be dupes? For, alas, the divide is just too deep. But by all means, let the cynics keep talking, and digging deep.)

And may the side with the more inspired message, the fewer internal contradictions---and the less vile protestations---emerge on top. (That is, if we don't manage to disembowel ourselves first.)

Given that this is not a perfect world, that hard choices have to be made (and will continue to have to be made); that "I'm OK, you're OK", no matter how attractive, has proven itself a Trojan horse; and that the status quo has shown itself to be a recipe for disaster.

Posted by: Barry Meislin at March 23, 2005 08:02 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

At the time, I thought Clinton was doing a fine job handling the Gulf War cease-fire, though I was perplexed as to why he did not invade in 1998. However, in retrospect, it is now obvious that had the terms of the Gulf War cease-fire been enforced during the Clinton Administration, the World Trade Center would still be standing. So, any swipe at Clinton is certainly justified, and not just for Haiti, Rwanda, and Bosnia, but also for his handling of Iraq, with the caveat that hindsight is 20-20.

Posted by: Carl F at March 23, 2005 02:03 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I can't believe he just compared Costa Rica with Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Do they hold kite-flying exhibitions in San Jose?

Posted by: Mitch H. at March 23, 2005 02:59 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"However, in retrospect, it is now obvious that had the terms of the Gulf War cease-fire been enforced during the Clinton Administration, the World Trade Center would still be standing."

"Obvious"? In what sense of the word? More precisely, what on earth are you talking about?

Posted by: Anderson at March 23, 2005 04:24 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It's obvious in the sense that the root cause of the 2001 World Trade Center attack was American occupation of muslim Holy Land, namely Saudi Arabia. Sure, militant Islamic terrorism would've eventually clashed with Western civilization, but Osama Bin Laden's grievances against the United States began in earnest on the day US troops arrived in large numbers on Saudi soil to enforce UN Resolutions 678 and 688.

Posted by: Carl F at March 23, 2005 04:41 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I hold no brief for Clinton's policy toward the Persian Gulf region, but don't believe we should kid ourselves that he was doing something other than following the course laid down by his predecessor in the post-Gulf War period. The time for decisive action with respect to Iraq was when we had an enormous allied army in the southern part of that country. The elder Bush decided that decisive action was not what he wanted, and this dead cat wound up getting dumped on Clinton's doorstep.

Posted by: Zathras at March 23, 2005 05:37 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

So (if I understand), we are succeeding at an endeavor that is inherently wrong.

My suspicion that liberals, in their heart of hearts, are afraid of, or indifferent to success in Iraq (success being defined as America-sponsored democratization) has been on the wane in the wake of several "Bush was (maybe) right" concessions by liberals. Yglesias is giving new life to this suspicion.

Posted by: Randall at March 23, 2005 05:59 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Regarding the Clinton Administration inheriting the Gulf War cease-fire policy from the previous administration, that is undeniable. However, despite my belief that George H. W. Bush was a terrible president, I can't really fault him for not mounting a full-scale invasion of Iraq in 1991. A great deal of those Gulf War allies would've abandoned us in that scenario.

Please note that I'm certainly not one of the blame Clinton crowd when it comes to Iraq or the 9-11 attacks. Heck, I don't even hold the Clinton Administration responsible for the failure to act in Rwanda. After Bin Laden's victory over US forces in Somalia, its hard to imagine Americans getting behind another African adventure just a year later.

Posted by: Carl F at March 23, 2005 07:03 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Carl,

You are right that American military presence in Saudi Arabia was one of Bin Laden's gripes, but the attacks on the WTC were not primarily motivated by this. It was a decision by Zawahiri and Bin Laden to direct their attention to the "far away enemy" (the USA) because they had thus far been unsuccessful in garnering support for internal insurrections in the region. Their attempts at inspiring the new Caliphate had succeeded in the Afghanistan, but had stalled in Sudan and failed in Bosnia (despite high expectations for both) and failed in the major targets like Saudi Arabia.

They believed that they would have a better chance of winning support if they acted boldly against the USA because going after fellow Muslims wasn't gaining any traction for them. Once the movement picked up steam, then turn again to the apostates. So they decided a big bold attack would give them the impetus they needed.

In that sense, I don't think Clinton controlled the fate of the WTC, and at the very least it is far far from obvious that such is the case. I think a bit more equivocation is in order.

Posted by: Eric Martin at March 23, 2005 08:08 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I'm not suggesting that Osama Bin Laden immediately started planning the destruction of the WTC as troops were arriving in Saudi Arabia. It is certainly true that Osama Bin Laden had conflicts with the Saudi Royal Family. However, the presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia literally sent Osama Bin Laden off the deep end. Where US support for the Saudi royal family and Israel were annoyances, US occupation of the muslim Holy Land was an infuriating transgression that demanded a response.

It was the arrival of US troops on Saudi soil in 1991 that got Osama Bin Laden confined to Jiddah, Saudi Arabia and then expelled from the country shortly thereafter because he would not relent in his threats against the monarchy and the US troops stationed there. So, this was not just another complaint in a long list of general grievances against the US and the monarchy. This was a turning point in Osama Bin Laden's life.

In 1998, Osama Bin Laden prepared an interview for a press release to the Western world. He was having a henchman pitch him questions for the interview, so he could have led with any question and answer that he liked. Here is Bin Laden's answer:

PBS: Interview with Osama Bin Laden

"The call to wage war against America was made because America has spear-headed the crusade against the Islamic nation, sending tens of thousands of its troops to the land of the two Holy Mosques over and above its meddling in its affairs and its politics, and its support of the oppressive, corrupt and tyrannical regime that is in control. These are the reasons behind the singling out of America as a target."

So, though the Clinton Administration is not responsible for the destruction of the WTC in 2001, it certainly could have altered the fate of the WTC had it acted sooner to remedy the situation in Iraq, requiring the presence of US forces in Saudi Arabia. This idea becomes even more plausible after President Clinton signed the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998, which officially shifted US foreign policy towards Iraq to the unilateral position of regime change.

Posted by: Carl F at March 23, 2005 09:18 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I've corresponded with Matt in the past, and I agree with Greg that he is one of the most ethical representatives of the left. My understanding of his position is that it was the US' obligation to be sportsmanlike and allow Saddam to land the first blow (e.g., Congo/Crimean Hemorragic Fever spores) before it would be permissible for the US to enforce the ceasefire terms Saddam had agreed to in order to save his regime.

Posted by: wayne at March 23, 2005 11:58 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Carl,

A few thoughts: first of all, Al Qaeda is and was more than Bin Laden. I think Zawahiri and others were actually mentors to him, not the other way around. Thus it is wrong to suggest that somehow Bin Laden was making all the strategic decisions and picking targets. There was input from many sources and voices.

Otherwise, I would agree that this event was a major turning point for him, but as you say, the event occurred in 1991. So he was already turned and the damage was done, so to speak. By the time Clinton would have acted, say 1998, Bin Laden was not going to alter his view of the US. It wasn't a magical lever that would have led him to change his appraisal of the US as an enemy.

That hostile position had been built up over time, and had many layers including the subservience of the Saudi royal family to US interests, what he deemed as an expansionist even imperialistic secular culture and politico/economic system, as well as what he perceived as hostilities toward Muslims worldwide.

As I pointed out above (relying on the work of counterterrorism experts like Sageman, Scheuer, Kepel and others) the decision to attack the US was a strategic decision, not a personal one borne out of one single issue like troop presence in Saudi Arabia. Even if that is what initially sent Bin Laden off the deep end, it is because it symbolized his deeper issues with the US and the West in general (as well as with the apostate regimes in the region).

The quote you cite tells of his anger at this act, but that does not mean that the act would be erased or forgiven or the clock turned back had the situation been changed years later. I would also caution against taking everything Bin Laden says at face value. He is a master propagandist, so his words are carefully chosen to maximize effect (especially in a staged interview). It is unlikely that he would come out and say: We did this or that for strategic reason X and Y. He would prefer to dress it up in romantic/heroic language of mythological struggle as he is wont to do.

So to say that had Clinton attacked Iraq in 1998, and in the process removed US troops from Saudi soil, that the organization of Al Qaeda would not have attacked the WTC is rather dubious. You are taking one set of facts and making a tenuous causal claim that I don't think is supported by the evidence.

Posted by: Eric Martin at March 24, 2005 01:04 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

How are US forces adding stability to iraq?

Basicly, under Bremer we set up appointed city administrations (often under exiles who came to iraq with the americans) that were not able to administer their cities. Over the past 2 years iraqi cities have tended to develop home-grown administrations that work mostly independent of the americans. In sunni cities these are considered insurgent administrations and our army acts to keep them from running the cities also.

We are unable to get out of stage II insurgency so our results consist of preventing stage III.


How is the US military promotind democracy in iraq?

Well, after Sistani absolutely insisted that we finally have elections, we did guard the polling places in many of the places that the polls were open. We frisked the voters etc.

And we're guarding the national assembly in the Green Zone. I dunno what that's doing for their perceived legitimacy, but it might affect their resolve to ask us to go away, which is the main campaign plank the non-kurd voters have overwhelmingly insisted of them.

And we're paying Allawi to resurrect the secret police.

Are you *sure* they're better off with the US military helping them?

Posted by: J Thomas at March 24, 2005 10:59 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Eric,

Very good explanation. That you understand the issue as well as you do reminds me of why I am always mystified that we disagree on anything. You are supposed to agree with me if you actually have a reasoned well thought out understanding of the issues. Haven't you figured that out yet?

So why don't you analyze J Thomas's argument? I would enjoy reading your take on his "facts" and his analysis.

Posted by: Lance at March 24, 2005 04:27 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Eric,

I had a large bee-hive just under my roof-line. During the Summer months, when I would leave the front door open to cool the house in the evening, one or two bees would inevitably make it into the house to go after the lights. However, I found that if I turned on the front porch light, it would attract a dozen bees, but no bees would come after the lights inside the house. Although 1998/99 was certainly late in the game, it is inconceivable that the destruction of the WTC would've happened had Operation Desert Fox been Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Zawahiri, though he became a leading idealogue and minister of finance for Al Qaeda, joined Bin Laden, not the other way around. Al Qaeda was Bin Laden's creation and his brain-child. He nursed it, he recruited for it, and he managed propaganda for it.

Also, it's not as if the destruction of the WTC in 2001 was a stand-alone event, one of dozens of random, disconnected terrorist attacks over the previous decade. It was part of an organized offensive triggered by the arrival or US troops in Saudi Arabia, a theory supported by specialists on Osama Bin Laden such as Milton Bearden, head of the CIAs covert operations in Afghanistan during the 1980s.

Osama Bin Laden left a trail of ever escalating communiques, declarations, and fatwahs all aimed at dislodging US forces from the muslim Holy Land. The attacks against he Suadi National Guard barracks and then the Marine Barracks at Khobar Towers in 1995 were not just random anti-american violence. They were planned for that stated purpose. The bombings of the embassies in Africa (1998), the USS Cole (2000), and the WTC in 2001 were clearly a part of an organized campaign, which I believe (with significant agreement from "experts") was a reaction to the presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia.

Having said all that, I'm not at all faulting Clinton. I fully recognize that this nation (myself included) did not have the stomach for an Operation Iraqi Freedom at any time during the Clinton Administration. So, the results of an invasion of Iraq may have been significantly different seven years ago than they are today.

Hell, I was a card carrying Green Party member (voted Nader in 2000) and monthly contributor up until 2002 and though I generally supported what I perceived were Clinton's attempts to finally end the Gulf War, I don't know that I would've supported a full-scale invasion, especially in light of the casualties of occupation.

Posted by: Carl F at March 24, 2005 05:58 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

You are right that Al Qaeda is Bin Laden's organization, but you should not discount the influence Zawahiri has had over him. Zawahiri has been in the "game" so to speak for longer than Bin Laden so was able to offer logistical guidance. He was also a spiritual and ideological mentor in some ways to Bin Laden. But that is more tangential than essential to the discussion.

Which brings me to my quesion: When was the cutoff for the removal of troops from Saudi soil? 1998, 1999, 2000, 9/10/01? At what point would the removal of troops have derailed 9/11?

We have removed them now, for the most part, so is it safe to say that Osama is not going to attack us anymore? If he is still a danger, then why? What are his other motives and were they at all relevant pre-9/11?

As you can tell by the direction of those questions, which are serious and not rhetorical, I still think you are reducing a very complex series of motivations to one single act. I could be wrong, though, and thus would like to have as much input as possible. So if you can recall off hand, could you cite the "experts" that espouse such a limited view so that I might educate myself. Obviously for a Westerner, these organizations and individuals are very hard to appraise so the more info and perspectives the better.

Lance,

We're getting there....slowly. Soon you will be a full fledged LAT....I'll see about a response to J when I have a bit more free time. It's a mouthful.

Posted by: Eric Martin at March 24, 2005 08:48 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Eric,

Well, I always considered myself a liberal against terror. Of course that might sit easier with me if so many people didn't feel the word liberal meant something very different than I do, or the word conservative for that matter.

Anyway, figure out whoever has their foot in your mouth and let me hear your response to J. We red state slackers are looking for some guidance from our betters.

Posted by: Lance at March 24, 2005 10:03 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I think perhaps J Thomas is being a bit one-sided in his appraisal. The US military presence is having a variety of effects depending on the context.

In some ways our presence is fueling the insurgency, and angering Shiites and non-insurgent Iraqis. Some of that is an inevitable outcome of the occupier/occupied dynamic which comes with the attendant instances of humilation, violence, killings, and other injustices borne by innocent civilians.

But there are elements of the insurgency that would be just as active if we withdraw. And in that event, there would be no buffer, or diversion, to mitigate the violence between the insurgents and the govt. forces. This violenec would thus likely take on a Sunni vs Shiite/Kurd flavor and could escalate to full blown civil war.

In that sense, I think we are providing stability. At the same time, I think some Shiites are taking advantage of our presence and engaging in a little self indulgent America-bashing and general over-reaching themselves. Al-Sadr and Iran are probably the prime example of this, as the ICG report Mr. D links to above points out.

Al Sadr shows sympathy and solidarity with forces in Fallujah that would likely turn on him if we were not on the scene. He could not and would not be able to do this without the luxury of our presence.

Iran want us to stay bogged down in Iraq so they have an interest in maintaining some level of unrest, but if we were intent on pulling out tomorrow, they would probably have to throw all there weight behind stabilization lest the whole region explode. A sticky little tar baby in many ways.

The last point JT alludes to is an important one though. We have not been able to restore law and order and curtail the violence of thugs and terrorists throughout the country. In that environment, people develop euphoric recall for strongmen like Saddam and become willing to accept sovereigns that fall short of democracy. That is risky business for us, and if we don't find a way to establish a sense of general safety for Iraqi civilians, they will continue to direct hostilities our way for our impotence, and become impatient with the democratic process. Ressurecting the secret police is a dangerous way to go about this, but on some level an active intelligence agency is needed - as long as the process is handled well. Yet again, the fear is that this takes on a distinctly Shiite flavor, setting up a nasty ethnic dimension.

Posted by: Eric Martin at March 24, 2005 10:21 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Eric,

I've actually blogged about our little discussion on my site. Since this is a public comments section and I'm not taking any cheap shots, I didn't think you would mind. Understanding that any date (or time frame) that I could mention would be completely arbitrary, I'll try and provide a bit of explanation with my answer.

I think had the U.S. brought the troops home by early 1995, we could have avoided the destruction of the World Trade Center. I also believe the attack against the USS Cole and the embassies in Africa would have been avoided as well. Of course, our troops would not have been attacked at the Khobar Towers if there were none there.

In June of 1995, Osama Bin Laden issues a public communique called "an Open Letter to Kinf Fahd" in which he airs a few grievances against the monarchy and calls for campaign of guerilla attacks to drive the U.S. forces out of Saudi Arabia. Osama Bin Laden didn't actually call for the fatwah against all Americans (including civilians) until early 1998.

So, we see a progression over time from the "shocking" event in Osama Bin Laden's life, which was the arrival of U.S. troops on Saudi soil in 1991. Now, I could certainly agree that Osama Bin Laden may well have taken targets of opportunity (e.g. Somalia) in any event, but I believe we would not have seen this clear progression over the years of occupation.

There is another reason I selected early 1995 as the drop-dead (no pun intended) time frame for withdrawing our troops from Saudi Arabia. Two unrelated events converged in late 1995 that made the destruction of the WTC (or something like it) inevitable. The first was UNSC Resolution 986, which would become oil-for-food program, approved in April 1995. The second was the bombing of the Saudi National Guard compound in November 1995. The former guaranteed that Saddam Hussein could survive any level of non-compliance with the Gulf War cease-fire and the latter bogged the U.S. down in the Gulf War quagmire.

Having said all that, it still stands to reason that had an invasion of Iraq taken place, even as late as 1999, our troops would have drawn our enemies to them (in Iraq) instead of leaving them free plan attacks against civilian targets on U.S. soil.

Posted by: Carl F at March 25, 2005 12:18 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Carl,

Thanks. On my way out the door now, so I'll peruse tomorrow and respond then. Cheers.

Posted by: Eric Martin at March 25, 2005 01:45 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"In some ways our presence is fueling the insurgency, and angering Shiites and non-insurgent Iraqis. Some of that is an inevitable outcome of the occupier/occupied dynamic which comes with the attendant instances of humilation, violence, killings, and other injustices borne by innocent civilians."

Yes, we're agreed so far.

"But there are elements of the insurgency that would be just as active if we withdraw. And in that event, there would be no buffer, or diversion, to mitigate the violence between the insurgents and the govt. forces. This violenec would thus likely take on a Sunni vs Shiite/Kurd flavor and could escalate to full blown civil war."

Yes, that could happen. When it's ethicly-pure neighborhoods, it wouldn't happen. Each militia that took over a local area would simply be the force that provides local stability, and the national forces could ignore them in the short run provided they allowed free passage. And then in the longer run there's the question whether they allow free elections. If they can be coerced into free elections then it settles down a lot. But so much of iraq is mixed neighborhoods that when the militias sort themselves out it could look like civil war.

"In that sense, I think we are providing stability."

Just like the russians provided stability in afghanistan. The people who'd be doing civil war were too busy fighting the russians to fight each other? This is not a strong argument in favor.

"At the same time, I think some Shiites are taking advantage of our presence and engaging in a little self indulgent America-bashing and general over-reaching themselves. Al-Sadr and Iran are probably the prime example of this, as the ICG report Mr. D links to above points out."

Of course we don't like to hear them say mean things about us (like that we might want to stay, or we might want control of the oil, etc). But what does it matter? Let them blow off steam and nothing comes of it. Tell them we're going to shoot them for it and it turns into an issue.

"Al Sadr shows sympathy and solidarity with forces in Fallujah that would likely turn on him if we were not on the scene. He could not and would not be able to do this without the luxury of our presence."

Yes, he'd have no reason to without having us as a common enemy. But I'm sure our intention isn't to unify the iraqis *against us*.

"Iran want us to stay bogged down in Iraq so they have an interest in maintaining some level of unrest, but if we were intent on pulling out tomorrow, they would probably have to throw all there weight behind stabilization lest the whole region explode. A sticky little tar baby in many ways."

Yes, iran needs us to be bogged down so we can't invade them. On the other hand, if we pulled out and iraq had a civil war, how would that affect the rest of the region? Would other countries send in their armies to support their favored sides? Kuwait, no. Saudi arabia, no. Jordan, no. Syria -- I strongly doubt it, they're real weak just now. Turkey, maybe, they'd like to crush the kurds. But would they want to annex the kurds and have more kurds to govern? I don't see a clear strategy for them. Iran? Probably not, they already have problems with kurds, would they want a large arab minority to govern? Maybe take just the southern oilfields? I doubt they'd be that hypocritical, they remember how they reacted when the iraqis tried that on them. Again I don't see a clear strategy, but like the turks they might get pushed by events or ideology into something that doesn't make sense. (As we did.)

What would iran do to stabilise iraq? If it turned into ethnic cleansing, with the best-armed side turning the others into refugees in each area, I could see iran supplying arms or even troops to help the shia hold and expand their areas. It could be like yugoslavia. Would iran intervene militarily before it got that bad? It would be stupid of them to. But I can't argue that nations don't do stupid things, given the USA example.

"The last point JT alludes to is an important one though. We have not been able to restore law and order and curtail the violence of thugs and terrorists throughout the country. In that environment, people develop euphoric recall for strongmen like Saddam and become willing to accept sovereigns that fall short of democracy. That is risky business for us, and if we don't find a way to establish a sense of general safety for Iraqi civilians, they will continue to direct hostilities our way for our impotence, and become impatient with the democratic process."

Thank you, yes. Under Bremer we were unwilling to allow any force -- police, etc -- to restore order unless it was under our control. We weren't strong enough to maintain order ourselves, but we were strong enough to keep anybody else from doing so. Now it would look weak to go back on that. So we're committed to creating police and army forces that will be the strongest locally everywhere. That's a long-term project.

"Ressurecting the secret police is a dangerous way to go about this, but on some level an active intelligence agency is needed - as long as the process is handled well. Yet again, the fear is that this takes on a distinctly Shiite flavor, setting up a nasty ethnic dimension."

That's one danger. Another is that it take on a distinctly Ba'ath flavor. If you want trained secret police, that's who you're going to get. Or you can purge the experienced guys (which tends to drive them to the insurgents) and train new ones from scratch.

To me it looks hard. It would be a lot easier to get security if we let each district of each city organise their own police, that reported to them. Their own civilians would tend to trust them and they could do a much better job locally. But there could be a degree of injustice involved, and it would contribute to breakup/civil-war if things wind up going that way.

Posted by: J Thomas at March 28, 2005 02:49 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

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Posted by: greg at March 28, 2005 07:04 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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