September 27, 2005

Larsen Weighs In...

Commenter Dan Larsen, responding to my post questioning some breezy 'spheric cheerleading, writes:

Greg, there are five options, not just three:

1: Constitution passes despite solid Sunni opposition. The Sunnis grudgingly accept the Constitution and field candidates in the December elections.

2: Constitution passes despite solid Sunni opposition. The Sunnis boycott the December elections and leave their country to be governed by Shia and Kurds with solid American support. (of course, I guess there's 2a: the Sunnis rise up in open rebellion).

3: The Constitution fails due to solid Sunni opposition. The Kurds and Shia accept the continued governance under the provisions of the TAL, new elections are held in December.

4: The Constitution fails due to solid Sunni opposition. The Kurds and/or Shia do something stupid.

5: The Constitution passes with modest Sunni support.

Personally, I really don't think very many Sunnis will come out for the Constitution--your 30% projection for option 5 is probably overly optimistic. But where you have dug yourself into depression is by forgetting options 1 and 3.

Options 1 and 2:

The Sunnis may be in a position akin to those of the Anti-Federalists of the American Constitution: opposed to it, but willing to work within its framework should they be unable to muster the political power to defeat it. Remember, they are not merely opposing the Constitution, they are opposing the Constitution within the framework of the TAL--and there is evidence to suggest that the Sunnis are prepared to abide by the terms of the TAL, whether in adoption or rejection.

"Boycotting the referendum and parliamentary elections (in December) would be a lose-lose proposition. Our hope will be in the next parliament that will hopefully be more balanced than this one."--Sunni Negotiator Sadoun Zubaydi shortly after the Constitution was passed over Sunni objections
link here

I think that Sunni powerbrokers understand that open rebellion is suicide and that boycotting the parliamentary election in December should the Constitution be ratified is stupid. There is absolutely nothing to be gained from it, for the Kurds and Shia will govern without them with American support.

Simply put, the fact that Sunnis are registering in droves within the TAL framework--despite that they are doing so to oppose the Constitution--is incredibly good news. The Sunnis are being brought into the political process. The only thing that remains to be seen is whether the TAL's legitimacy will hold: Sunni acceptance if the Constitution passes. I think it will. I regard option 1 as considerably more likely than option 2.

Options 3 and 4:

The question is now whether the Kurds and the Shia will abide by the TAL if they lose the referendum (a possiblity the Tradesports futures market has at around 30%). I am rather more worried about Shia/Kurd stupidity should the Constitution fail than Sunni non-acceptance should it pass; there has been irresponsible Kurd talk of seccession. The key periods will be the two months between referendum and new elections--once the new parliament is in place, the ability to do something stupid and get away with it will be considerably less--and then the risk that talks could break down next year and the Shia/Kurds do something stupid then. I think the US will be able to hold things together between October and December, and then hopefully the situation on the ground by next year might be better to facilitate constitutional negotiations, but there is good cause to worry about option 4.

Here's my personal estimate of the likelihood of each option (accepting the Tradesports estimate, so 1+2+5=70%, 3+4=30%):

1: Constitution pass, Sunni accept: 50%
2: Constitution pass, Sunni reject: 5%
3: Constitution fail, Shia/Kurds accept: 15-20%
4: Constitution fail, Shia/Kurds do something stupid: 10-15%
5: Constitution pass with modest Sunni support: 15%

These are good points, and I'll admit that I've heard there may be more pragmatism and so-called Sunni 'buy-in' than my initial post may have let on. It's just that I am so sick and tired of the constant spin and cheap triumphalism I see in wide swaths of the blogosphere. This war, if we really mean to succeed, will likely take years yet, and in so many quarters of the right blogosphere victory has already been all but declared (some have already declared victory, rendering their credibility going forward, shall we say, de minimis!). I'm sick of it, because I think it imperils the war effort and our chances of ultimate success--not because I'm some closet MSM baddie who has some defeatist agenda. Thus my so-called 'cheap shots' (though even those I've been snarky with I have usually responded to substantively, more often than not, as I believe many of my regular readers would agree) that seem to bother more ennobled, above-the-fray souls so.

Bottom line: To come up with a real success strategy you have to grapple with the reality on the ground. And it's not what, for instance, Hinderaker lets on in his post--though Dan Larsen makes a fair point that I may have dug myself into a bit of a funk and, much like Hinderaker was too optimistic, perhaps I've been swinging too much in the other direction...

Posted by Gregory at September 27, 2005 02:46 AM | TrackBack (2)
Comments

Greg, these are blogs, not peer-reviewed journals. A 70% registration in Fallujah IS better news than a 0% registration, whether they vote yes or no; it proves the inclusion, even cynically, of the Sunnis in politics and the impotence of Zarqawi's group. Hinderaker doesn't have to list off a cost-benefit, blue-ribbon panel analysis to state the point; better than nothing.

And unless you believe the 'insurgency' are invincible wraith-like ghosts with invincible eastern-ways-of-warfare that are far superior to the western ways, we are more likely to win than lose in Iraq. That's not cheerleading, that's sober military analysis; your fatigue level shouldn't have anything to do with your conclusions.

Posted by: Brad at September 27, 2005 04:00 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg, we don't have years in Iraq. We have a year and change, tops, before the size of the American commitment there will have to be decreased substantially. Budgetary pressures and public opinion, in that order, are constraining our options in ways that the insurgency cannot.

Ignatius' column in the Post yesterday suggested that some American generals in Iraq realize this, though their outlook does not seem to have penetrated as far up the chain as the White House. Maybe it's the other way around. In any event, it is simple foolishness to talk about the future of the Iraq commitment while assuming it is the only one we have.

Posted by: JEB at September 27, 2005 04:26 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

i have to say JEB, i've always thought you've under-estimated the stakes at play in Iraq (just one middle tier arab country etc etc). I think they're bigger than you realize, perhaps much bigger. but maybe that's just me.

Posted by: greg at September 27, 2005 04:32 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Can America be persuaded that the struggle for the soul of the Middle East is roughly equivalent to the Cold War? Too many people, from the beginning, reasoned by analogy to the First Gulf War, so that even a two-year commitment has seemed agonizingly long.

I think the stakes for the world are very high, but those for Americans are lower; we do have the Clinton/Kerry option of retreating into a cocoon of wealth, tolerating pinprick attacks plus a WTC-scale atrocity every decade or so. [Yes, pace of technological change and all that, but it cuts both ways -- merits a whole post, or a whole blog for that matter.] On the other hand, the level of commitment asked of us is much lower than that of the Cold War.

Posted by: sammler at September 27, 2005 10:02 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg is right to think that I regard a massive commitment of men and resources in Iraq over a period of many years as unwise. A violence-torn, unstable Iraq emerging out of that commitment would be detrimental to American interests, and a successful Iraq -- whatever that means -- wouldn't do us all that much good.

There is this much truth in the logic of war critics who have condemned the Iraq war as being "all about oil": apart from oil, there is nothing else of value to us in this part of the Arab world. Arab countries minus oil are African countries; cultural curiosities that produce little and regularly lapse into periods of barbarism. The great questions of mankind's future are more likely to find their answers almost anywhere else.

I actually think the stakes involved in the American commitment in Iraq are quite large, but I also think they are very different than Greg does. To me, these stakes involve America's sense of proportion, its ability to set priorities, and its understanding of the limits to its resources. Five years ago hardly anyone in this country would have considered the less-than-even odds of establishing a liberal democracy in Iraq worth the price in blood and treasure we have already paid. They weren't wrong then; Greg is wrong now.

Posted by: JEB at September 27, 2005 04:32 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Mr. Britt: you write "Arab countries minus oil are African countries," which is largely true. But their oil has other effects besides making them more important to the industrialized West; it also provides the wealth which lets them export an agenda of hostility, repression and immiseration to poorer parts of the world.

Africans are not important in any rational sense, but they dream in color too, and we should make the effort to convince ourselves that their lives are as important as ours.

Posted by: sammler at September 27, 2005 05:22 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

greg, could i suggest that you not read so many right wing blogs.? Reynolds is good to see whats going on in around the blogosphere, Rnatburg is good for a laugh, or for press clips from Pakistan, and Winds of Change is good only cause Darling sometimes posts interesintg (and generally pretty grounded) sutff there. Otherwise forget about it. You dont need to read Belmont Club, much less the more ignorant blogs that focus on US domestic politics.

hell, maybe the best thing to do is to avoid all of this till Oct 15. Theres not much we can do before ten, and once thats happened, we'll have a much btertter idea of what were talking about.

Posted by: liberalhawk at September 27, 2005 05:30 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I hope Dan L is right, but it seems to me that he is far too optimistic about the relative likelihood of (1) relative to (2).

Posted by: Guy at September 27, 2005 07:04 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Well, sammler, of course they are in God's sight. I flatter myself as being familiar enough with the Almighty to understand that His perspective is a little different than ours, the difference being defined in part by the word "Almighty." This adjective applies to Him, not to us. We are not talking here about empathy and understanding in the abstract, but rather of the wisdom of committing vast numbers of American forces and even vaster amounts of borrowed money to the political transformation of a backward society -- a very large bet against poor odds.

Posted by: JEB at September 28, 2005 05:48 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Mr. Britt: I agree that your clarification addresses my objection. I still do not agree with your overall position, though; I have written more on the matter, here.

Posted by: sammler at October 10, 2005 01:32 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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