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May 26, 2007

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I mean, I imagine that are cultures somewhere in which honor is not a big thing, and people don't much mind what others might regard as humiliation, but Arab culture is not one of them.

American culture is not one of them either.

(No offense, Hilzoy, this is an otherwise fantastic post, but I do hate the "Arab culture! That's why they hate it when we humiliate them! Honor/shame is a big thing for Arabs!" because - not that you are saying anything like this - the people who say this kind of thing are in general not recognizing that Americans would - and have - reacted exactly the same under the same kind of circumstances. There is no need to go into anything deep about "Arab culture" to understand this: just to understand that these people are human beings just like you. (Well, maybe not just like Wolfowitz. I wouldn't want to be insulting.)

This is not rocket science. But how someone who couldn't figure this out on his own, and who apparently didn't bother to listen to people who could, managed to get into a position of power in our country is a mystery that passeth all understanding.

Well, accept for the position of power bit, this is me. I did not figure it out on my own and I dismissed those who had. I knew almost nothing about Arab culture (although possibly more than those in charge).

Jes: would it seem equally odd to say things like: there might be cultures in which the very idea of class is virtually nonexistent, but British culture is not one of them? Or: is it the idea that there are cultures that's the problem, or what I said about this particular one?

On reflection, I wonder whether the problem is: (a) that what I said sounds too close to claims that have been abused for political purposes, or perhaps (b) that it sounds different in Europe, where similar claims would be more likely to be made about immigrant communities in Europe, about which they are much less likely to be true than about the people I was thinking of when I wrote this, namely Arabs in the Middle East, for whom the importance of the West as a source of cultural humiliation always seemed to me hard to exaggerate.

I was thinking, when I wrote this, that maybe there are people, somewhere, for whom the greatest virtues are closer to: equanimity, rolling with the punches, figuring out how to make lemonade when life gives you lemons, etc. This would not, it seems to me, be a nutty way to think at all. If there are such people, they might have reacted less antagonistically (not 'not antagonistically') to being occupied, since they would have to deal only with the badness of occupation itself, and would be less likely to focus on its humiliating aspects, and more likely to take it as an opportunity to display equanimity, make lemonade, etc.

OCSteve: the position of power bit matters a lot, since it entails a much greater responsibility to get it right. This is one reason I am always much, much harder on people in the administration than I would be on people with comparable views who are, I don't know, accountants: accountants have not accepted positions in which they have an obligation to know this stuff.

It shouldn't be a mystery. Human beings are basically irrational. There have been a lot of studies that demonstrate that.

The truth is that human beings, even expert human being very rarely reason. Reasoning is computationally expensive (relative to the hardware provided by the human brain) and often depends on information not readily available. Instead, we fake reasoning using heuristics that work most of the time, but not always, and are subject to manipulation.

One of my favorite studies documents asking attorneys whether or not they will win a case before going to court. It turns out that most attorneys believe they will win, no matter what the case involves. Interestingly, if you ask attorneys to review both sides of a case and ask them which side they think will win BEFORE they know that they will be representing a side, their assessments are very accurate.

People are extraordinarily optimistic regarding predictions of their own performance and their own self assessment. Not only that, but people have very high confidence in these overoptimistic beliefs. Even when you ask them to reiterate past failures, they're still optimistic.

I haven't seen studies that demonstrate this, but I suspect that same effect applies transitively to most people's beliefs about the capabilities of their nation state. It is self-evident to many that America can ALWAYS succeed at any military task, no matter what. Hence the prevalence of the Green Lantern theory of foreign policy: since America can always win, any actual failures must be due to failures of will.

The chief scientist at my company gave a long presentation some time ago summarizing research into human irrationality. It was filled with expressions like "extremely robust result." If people are interested, I can ask about making the slides public.

(For the morbidly curious: my company makes an engine used to find low airline fares. Think of the sort of thing that Orbitz might use as a backend. It turns out that no one will buy tickets if you don't deal with the irrationality. Specifically, you need to present bad choices as well as good in order for people to actually buy. This is also well documented in the literature as well.)

"People are extraordinarily optimistic regarding predictions of their own performance and their own self assessment. Not only that, but people have very high confidence in these overoptimistic beliefs. Even when you ask them to reiterate past failures, they're still optimistic."

Not depressed people, though. Clearly, we need more depressed people in government.

"Clearly, we need more depressed people in government."

Or people who are sick and tired of the doctrine of American exceptionalism.

"Instead, we fake reasoning using heuristics that work most of the time, but not always, and are subject to manipulation."

As far as I understand, this is as good as it gets. There is no such thing as a free lunch.

But how someone who couldn't figure this out on his own, and who apparently didn't bother to listen to people who could, managed to get into a position of power in our country is a mystery that passeth all understanding.

Not necessarily. This makes perfect sense if you buy into the "Manchurian candidate" hypothesis. The goal of the Bush administration is to destroy the United States of America.

The evidence is purely circumstantial, but there sure is an awful lot of it.

Hilzoy: would it seem equally odd to say things like: there might be cultures in which the very idea of class is virtually nonexistent, but British culture is not one of them? Or: is it the idea that there are cultures that's the problem, or what I said about this particular one?

What seems odd to me about it is that it seems to be setting up the idea that (a) Arab culture is more concerned with honor and shame than American culture; and (b) because of this, Arabs take offense at things that Americans wouldn't care about.

But the "things Americans wouldn't care about" are apparently things like having a popular government overthrown, siding with an unpopular tyrant, bombing and destroying much essential infrastructure, encouraging a popular uprising against a tyrant and then betraying it, setting up sanctions that cause the deaths of half a million children - all of these are things which, if they had been done to the US, Americans would care about. And that's just one country. We could pick any country in the Middle East, except Israel, and list things that the US has done to it, and each list would be things that Americans would care passionately about if they had been done to the US by another country. When someone says that Arabs resent the US because of their "honor culture" that suggests (to me) that this person is really not thinking about the terrible things the US has done in the Middle East, and how they would feel had a foreign power behaved towards their country like this.

I was thinking, when I wrote this, that maybe there are people, somewhere, for whom the greatest virtues are closer to: equanimity, rolling with the punches, figuring out how to make lemonade when life gives you lemons, etc. This would not, it seems to me, be a nutty way to think at all. If there are such people, they might have reacted less antagonistically (not 'not antagonistically') to being occupied, since they would have to deal only with the badness of occupation itself, and would be less likely to focus on its humiliating aspects, and more likely to take it as an opportunity to display equanimity, make lemonade, etc.

Uh huh. So, someone who just has to deal with the badness of having her children kidnapped by American soldiers and taken off to Abu Ghraib to force her husband to surrender to the US, and who finally gets her husband's body back, with evident marks of his having been tortured to death, if they came from a culture for whom honor was not important, would take this as an opportunity to "make lemonade"?

I have a friend who, when she was serving in Iraq, used to go to an Iraqi market and buy items from the stallholders for her friends back in the US, not least because she wanted to do her bit towards supporting the fragile Iraqi economy, and also because she wanted to do her bit towards having ordinary Iraqis see that occupying soldiers were people, who could be friends. She was making lemonade, if you like, and the Iraqis at the market were trying - but every time she went back, there were fewer stalls. One man from whom she'd bought regularly wasn't there - he'd been killed, she was told. She didn't ask who by. But how are his family expected to "make lemonade" out of their main breadwinner's violent death?

It's been mentioned on Pandagon before, but can I recommend "Stumbling on Happiness" by Daniel Gilbert as a fascinating look at human cognitive biases?

"I have a friend who...."

...sounds a lot like Ginmar, but perhaps it's someone else.

What Jes said, for the most part. Not that I would deny that Iraqi culture is obviously playing a huge factor in what is going on--that's almost tautologous. And from my deep knowledge of Iraqi culture (gleened from reading countless bloviating pundits), I gather there's this need to preserve one's honor, avoid humiliation, and in the current chaotic circumstances, stick to one's tribe and avenge deaths.

Having read David Hackett Fischer's book "Albion's Seed", and having glanced once or twice at William Russell Mead's book "Special Providence", which I think is meant to apply Fischer's insights to the history of US foreign policy, it seems to me that one could also talk about American cultural traits in a similarly derogatory way. We've got the misnamed Scots-Irish subculture with its tradition of feuding and the glorification of violence (I come from that group, so don't cross me--kidding.) That sounds exactly like the traits we ascribe to Arabs and it's pretty obvious that bloodlust played some role in the popular support for the Iraq war. I heard a number of people say in the year following 9/11 that they wanted to go over and kill Arabs. Mead calls this the Jacksonian strand of America's foreign policy tradition.

Plus there's that highly overrated Wilsonian tradition, which presumably comes from the Puritans, where we try to convert the benighted heathen to Christianity/democracy, while inexplicably ending up with all their real estate (or oil rights, if things go well).

No wonder Iraq is in such bad shape, with this screwed-up foreign culture trying to run things.

Not to pile on with the mote-picking, but how seriously can you (Hilzoy) stand by badness of occupation itself [...] as an opportunity to display equanimity? If we invaded a nation of Gandhis, perhaps; though that wasn't a complete success either. How did we get into this situation, again? There must be a reason that makes some sense, but I seem to have missed it.

Jes: I never said anything comparing Arab and American culture,; specifically, I never said that we would not mind being occupied. Obviously we would. I took this for granted, but am in the process of updating to make it explicit. Nor did I mean to minimize what I called the badness of being occupied itself. That was the point of the parenthetical in 'less antagonistically (not 'not antagonistically')'.

"Someone who just has to deal with the badness of having her children kidnapped by American soldiers and taken off to Abu Ghraib to force her husband to surrender to the US, and who finally gets her husband's body back, with evident marks of his having been tortured to death" would have a lot of badness to deal with. I was taking that as a given, and I did not mean to imply that it would not be very bad. Again, I sort of thought this was obvious, but I can see that if you thought I meant to deny it, what I said would seem awful. (That was why I asked; I didn't get what the problem was.)

It is mote-picking, since I know and Jes knows hilzoy is critical of US crimes, but I think we should steer clear of language that suggests that the Iraqi invasion might have gone better if the Iraqi culture were more reasonable. Yeah, it would--imperialists should limit their conquests to nations composed entirely of Gandhis and Martin Luther Kings. But it would also have gone better if we were more reasonable, in which case we wouldn't have done it in the first place.

Crossposted. Will shut up now.

I also didn't mean to suggest that caring about honor was irrational. I do not think it is irrational.

But mote-picking is fine. I didn't hear these resonances when I wrote it, and I wish I had.

Maybe a good analogy for what I did have in mind would be: suppose (just for the sake of constructing an analogy, this is obviously fiction) that Israel somehow came under the sway of a brutal (Israeli) dictator, and Germany decided to invade and topple this dictator, and the German analog of Wolfowitz said, before the war: the Israelis will welcome us as liberators!

And I wrote: sheesh, Wolfowitz-analog: (a) no one likes being invaded and occupied, but (b) if there's a country on earth less likely than Israel to assume that an invasion by Germans is a happy event, I can't think of one. The point being: (a) everyone hates this, and (b) for crying out loud, Israel?? The single least likely country to welcome Germans as liberators? Ye Gods.

There it would be a country's history, not culture, at work, but it would have the structure I intended, namely: bad for everyone, duh, and extra bad here. Neither of which would entail anything about it's not really being bad for anyone else, or about Germans' being fine with being invaded, as far as I can see. Just that the degree of historical blindness involved in this particular case was the sort of crowning idiocy of the whole thing.

But, as I said, I can see how it read that way.

the position of power bit matters a lot, since it entails a much greater responsibility to get it right.

True, but… us peons have to strive a little harder as well. At least I obviously do…

Common Sense--

Do you work at ITA?

Theo:

Yes. Why do you ask?

Ah, I just know people there (and have seen your puzzles on the subway).

Theo,

Ah, I see. I'm vaguely curious who you know, but this probably isn't a good forum in which to pry.

"I'm vaguely curious who you know, but this probably isn't a good forum in which to pry."

No, this is absolutely a most excellent forum for both of you to go into your private lives at great depth.

Really. Would I mislead you?

Trust me, people could be on the edge of their seats if you tell it well. Just be sure to throw in some sex and scandal every so often.

No, this is absolutely a most excellent forum for both of you to go into your private lives at great depth.

I would, but I don't think I could possibly make it as riveting as a story about how long it takes to ride the bus into Denver. And I certainly could not make it as topical as an endless diatribe about science fiction conventions from a thousand years ago.

I certainly lack the talent to write a tale as spellbinding as incessant cries of "Look at my blog! I blogged everything already! Come look at me, look at me!". Reading that for the 78th time fills me with just as much wonder as when I read it for the first time.

I really do mean all that sincerely. Really. Would I mislead you?

Y'know, I was just making a feeble attempt at being amusing; no need to take it as some sort of personal attack, which it wasn't in the slightest.

That is, insofar as I had a point, it was that I thought it was funny that, in fact, plenty of people, I think, would find it entertaining if the two of you did spend some time exchanging news with each other, because watching two people you don't know do that can be, you know, funny.

And thus I thought it -- and I'm perfectly prepared to agree that it was a quite feeble result -- amusing to encourage y'all in a silly way.

Why you'd take that as some sort of criticism, or unpleasantness, or whatever, I dunno, but, oh, well, I'll chalk it up to the fact that my attempts at humor are sometimes far more weak than I realize.

But I wasn't in the least trying to say you shouldn't be chatty here, or anything like that. Sigh.

Theo, Common sense, you may consider setting up a gmail account for something like this as it no longer requires invitations. Also, I would love to see those slides you mentioned in your 4:40 comment.

Gary,

In the future, you might wish to reconsider the use of sarcastic language such as "Really. Would I mislead you?" when writing such jokes. You see, when one says something to the effect of "oh, by all means, continue to engage in a side conversation that you've already started even though it is offtopic" and then follows it up with a sarcastic statement of encouragement and support, one may well appear to be somewhat critical.

Especially when one has exhibited a history of fixating on strange minutiae in comment threads and even more so when one has a history of occasionally taking on the role of enforcer.

I suppose it is theoretically possible that a long time editor of your caliber, who has spent decades participating in online discussion just happened to write something so very unclear. That seems...improbable, but hey, I'll happily believe you if you say you didn't actually intend to be condescendingly insulting.

whenraptorsattack art gmail
dot
com

"That seems...improbable, but hey, I'll happily believe you if you say you didn't actually intend to be condescendingly insulting."

No such intent whatever. I intended nothing besides friendly/joshing/amusing.

I don't have any reason to be condescendingly insulting to you, that I'm aware of, so why would I want to be so towards you? (If we've had some sort of disagreement in the past, I can only hope I'm not insulting you further by saying I have no memory of it.)

And if I'm going to be condescendingly insulting, I do at least try to have a good reason in at least my own mind.

Thus my being utterly taken aback by your not terribly pleasant response to what I intended to be an inoffensive comment.

But, c'est la internets. And my own inadequacy at humor (apparently!).

OCSteve" I did not figure it out on my own and I dismissed those who had. I knew almost nothing about Arab culture (although possibly more than those in charge).

The thing is, you don't have to know much about Arab culture specifically. It's a near-universal response to occupation. You just have to try the mental exercise of 'how would I react if this happened here?'.

If that's difficult, because "it's absolutely, completely, and in all other ways inconceivable", then it's worth examining why it seems so.

I think this issue is the primary reason there was no occupation plan. 2/3's of Iraq felt that it was already occupied by the Baathists, and did initially welcome the toppling of the government. The unreasonable expectation was not that we could occupy to cheers for the long term, but that we wouldn't have to occupy, that we could just turn over the keys and leave.

Ginmar is a personal friend, yes. And I try to avoid linking to her journal after she got so much crap from so many people about her warblog posts. So thank you very much, Gary Farber, because I'm sure you checked with Gin before you did.

Ginmar is a personal friend, yes. And I try to avoid linking to her journal after she got so much crap from so many people about her warblog posts. So thank you very much, Gary Farber, because I'm sure you checked with Gin before you did.

Donald: It is mote-picking, since I know and Jes knows hilzoy is critical of US crimes, but I think we should steer clear of language that suggests that the Iraqi invasion might have gone better if the Iraqi culture were more reasonable.

It is mote-picking, since I know that's not what Hilzoy meant. But I'm glad she updated her post, because it was sounding like she was saying something I knew she didn't mean, and now it doesn't.

jrudkis: I think this issue is the primary reason there was no occupation plan.

Actually, there was an occupation plan. The problem was, it was a stupid occupation plan. The plan was to install Ahmed Chalabi as head of state, and to sell off all of Iraq's industries except for the oil to the highest bidder - which would have meant Iraq became a country wholly owned by foreign companies. The two problems with that plan were that, although it appears Chalabi presented himself as a popular leader who could return to Iraq and take over without difficulty, this was about as far from being true as it's possible to be; and even if Chalabi's claims had been true, the sales would have been illegal, and the multinationals who were the expected customers did not want to buy and then lose their property years down the line when their legal claim to the businesses was successfully challenged. (There's a good article about this here, and there are a good many other articles about it here and there on the web from 2003 and 2004, after which it was clear that international businesses would never want to buy into Iraq anyway, what with the civil war and all.)

2/3's of Iraq felt that it was already occupied by the Baathists, and did initially welcome the toppling of the government. The unreasonable expectation was not that we could occupy to cheers for the long term, but that we wouldn't have to occupy, that we could just turn over the keys and leave.

But (see above) to whom would the US "turn over the keys"? The plan was never to hold elections in 2003, though that was what Iraqis wanted, and were making clear they wanted, right after the invasion. The plan was to sell off Iraqi industries and then install a government which would accept permanent American military bases and permanent US commercial ownership of Iraqi industries, and permanent US government control of Iraqi oil. (See this article by Naomi Klein, who visited Iraq in the first half of 2004 and wrote about the non-reconstruction of Iraq here.)

The plan was never to leave. The plan was to take possession. The hope was that Iraqis hated Saddam Hussein so much they wouldn't care that he was merely being replaced.

A clear majority of Iraqis approved of the invasion and the majority of polling to this day shows that a lesser majority of Iraqis still believe that it was the right thing to do.

So Wolfowitz was, and remains correct.

And the "reality based" community continue to hold their heads in their asses.

"So thank you very much, Gary Farber, because I'm sure you checked with Gin before you did."

No, I didn't, but I was unaware that one generally is supposed to check with the owner of a well-known URL before linking to it. Doubtless that makes me a thoughtless, bad, person.

Nell: The thing is, you don't have to know much about Arab culture specifically. It's a near-universal response to occupation. You just have to try the mental exercise of 'how would I react if this happened here?'.

If that's difficult, because "it's absolutely, completely, and in all other ways inconceivable", then it's worth examining why it seems so.

Well, it is somewhat inconceivable. If I try though, I don’t think it comes out the way that you intend. Given my age, by March 2003:

-Statistically I would have likely been a member of a majority group, having lived much of my life under domination by the minority, led by a ruthless dictator.
-I would have fought for at least 2 years, possibly 6-7 years in the war against Canada started by that dictator in which over 375,000 of my countrymen as well as a half million Canadians were killed. I would have been a conscript with no chance of making it into the Officer Corps, or even as an NCO.
-I would have participated in the invasion of Mexico directed by my country’s madman dictator, and then seen many of my countrymen killed by a large coalition of the world community. I would have been devastated when that coalition stopped short of doing the one good thing that could have come out of the carnage – toppling the madman running my country.
-I would have known of the slaughter of thousands of my majority group after they attempted an uprising at the urging of the leader of that world coalition. I would have known of the use of chemical weapons by that madman dictator against my countrymen.
-I would then have lived more than a decade under tough economic sanctions while the dictator of my country played games with the UN and built himself palaces as people around me starved to death.
-I would have known people, possibly family, who had disappeared, never to be heard from again.

So would I greet the foreign army who finally rid my country of the madman and his minions who had done so much damage to my country and my people over 3 decades of my life as liberators or occupiers?

I suppose I would be somewhere in between, at least initially. I would not credit that foreign country with purely altruistic motives, but I would be quite happy that the old regime was gone, and hopeful at what might grow out of the new situation. I would have been resentful that the foreign country once supported the old regime when we attacked Canada, and that they abandoned us after encouraging an uprising a decade ago. I would not have trusted them, but I would have sided with those wanting to make the most out of the new situation and create a new government that would improve life for all my people.

Four years later as the situation spun completely out of control I would see them as occupiers, and rather inept ones at that.

From April 24, 2003 this seems rather prescient:

Opening paragraph:
When the Bush Administration decided to invade Iraq, it made some breathtaking assumptions. One was that the country's Shiite Muslims would view the American troops as liberators and not occupiers.

Final paragraph:
In the nightmare scenario, Shiite demands for America to leave will be irreconcilable with Washington's insistence on staying until democracy is established. That's when we'll really discover if Wolfowitz's assumptions were correct or not.

Not seems rather obvious at this point.

but I would have sided with those wanting to make the most out of the new situation and create a new government that would improve life for all my people.

In short, you'd have joined the insurgency, rather than side with the Americans who were refusing you free elections, working to install another tyrant, and trying to sell off your country's industries to the highest bidder. If, that is, you hadn't been kidnapped, taken to Abu Ghraib, and tortured to death for the crime of being an Iraqi soldier.

Jes: That was my best attempt to respond to Nell as honestly as I could and after really thinking about it. At the same time, as I hit “post” I thought, “Oh, that’s a nice big juicy softball for Jes.” ;)

Jes, as a minor matter I want to point out that we weren't torturing a lot of people at Abu Ghraib, and even fewer were tortured to death.

We mostly didn't torture anybody there except "high value targets" and their wives and children. At that time a lot of the prisoners were common criminals that the then-still-functioning iraqi police sent us. The police complained that we had a revolving-door policy about criminals, they'd catch a thief etc and send him to prison, and we'd figure out that he wasn't an insurgent and then we'd let him loose within a couple of weeks. They thought this wasn't conducive to civil order.

A very small percentage of prisoners were intentionally tortured. Most suffered nothing but daytime heat, scorpions, nighttime cold, inadequate shelter, inadequate water, inadequate food, inadequate protection from mortar attack, no communication with their families, no trial or sentence or defined time to get out, getting ignored by guards, getting heavily punished by guards for getting the guards' attention, etc.

Can someone explain the Feith comments to me? I still don't get it. Why would it be 'too bad' that he knew Arabic?

OCSteve: Check this out. A WWII Japanese propaganda pamphlet depicting (among other things) the Chinese, Korean children running towards their Japanese invaders with Japanese flags, hailing them as liberators.

So would I greet the foreign army who finally rid my country of the madman and his minions who had done so much damage to my country and my people over 3 decades of my life as liberators or occupiers?

Don't forget to factor in that said foreign army had deliberately bombed civilian infrastructures in the previous war, was responsible for the "tough economic sanctions" with which the dictator had been playing that had strangled your country for a decade, and during this decade had been bombing your country non-stop.

Oh, and that the occupying army installed Prince Andrew Windsor as your "President", and allowed your national museum to be looted and national library to be looted - but made damned sure that they got control over Silicon Valley...

OCSteve: Almost no group in the world at this point views gives Americans the benefit of the doubt with respect to altruistic motives.

What people do associate with Americans is a yahoo trigger-happiness and a smug insistence on our own moral infallibility.

I was talking to a very intelligent Scot a few weeks ago who was with sincerely arguing that the world might be as well off with China as single superpower as with the US. Again, he was one of those ridiculously well-educated types and not given to political radicalism. My point is: that belief just isn't radicalism in his community anymore.

We're viewed with distrust, and when we let clowns like Wolfowitz and Feith pull the levers of our foreign policy, rightfully so.

"[Wolfowitz never] so much as tried to imagine how he would feel if the United States were invaded by some other country."

No, and it's a good thing, too. Because if he had, he would have realized that Americans would respond to foreign occupation by creating a group like the old Minutemen of the Revolution.

And then he would have mentally compared the Iraqi insurgents to the US Minutemen.

And that would have been about the worst possible sin in the world, because, you know, Michael Moore is fat.

A big fat guy, like orca fat...

The plan was never to leave.

Nice that you're privy to the plan, when no one else seems to be. Any other neato features of this plan that you can disclose?

Phoenician and Ara: Again, I did my best to put myself into the situation Nell suggested. Not America the jack-booted thug of the world but America aka Iraq being invaded. Not “Red Dawn” either, rather a more complex situation that I tried to place myself in.

Nell, if you feel I did not honestly answer you I’ll try again. But everyone else – please re-read Nell’s question to me, which is what I was trying my best to answer.

Slarti, do you remember the news from that time? Originally the published plan was to get all but 30,000 guys out in less than 6 months. And people asked, "What about the rest? When will the rest of the troops come home?" And we got answers like "Well, we still have troops in germany after nearly 60 years, it just works that way, but nobody would say we're occupying germany." Bush point-blank refused to say he ever intended the troops to come home. At the time it looked to me like it would help us with iraqis for Bush to say he didn't intend US troops to stay in iraq forever, but he wouldn't say it.

For those interested in the kind of irrationality that Common Sense mentions, Robyn Dawes's _Everyday Irrationality_ is a nice starting point. Barry Schwartz's research also touches a lot on this stuff, sometimes more or less tangentially but nonetheless very interesting (as in _The Paradox of Choice_).

a propos of little except anticompetence in government, may I just mention how irritating it is that I can't stop thinking that the best literary model of George W. Bush as president is Wesley Mouch in _Atlas Shrugged_?

There is a recent book out from PUP on political irrationality. I saw the author's website for it pre-publication, but now I can't find the thing, and that's frustrating.

OCSteve: That was my best attempt to respond to Nell as honestly as I could and after really thinking about it. At the same time, as I hit “post” I thought, “Oh, that’s a nice big juicy softball for Jes.” ;)

Oh, you know me so well. ;-)

Were you really thinking about how you would feel if al-Qaeda had invaded the US? You wrote with great feeling about your reaction to seeing the WTC attacked. Really, honestly, what would get you to join the Americans working for al-Qaeda, weeks after you had seen those buildings fall?

@OCSteve: I appreciate your honest effort to answer the question.

The effort to identify with others, and to drop the lenses through which we habitually see things, is often a worthwhile exercise.

Knowing enough about Iraq to try identifying in turn with Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds of different regions and classes makes for a more complicated but definitely doable exercise -- one that as it turned out U.S. intelligence agencies did, to no effect on the "deciders".

@Slarti: It's my belief that the bases were always the core objective of the invasion and occupation. This article isn't proof of that, but it sure isn't counter-evidence.

@J Thomas: Before minimizing U.S. torture of Iraqi prisoners, read up. It wasn't just at Abu Ghraib.

"@Slarti: It's my belief that the bases were always the core objective of the invasion and occupation."

My own phrasing would lean away from "the core" and onto "an essential."

It continues to be the one goal the administration shows no signs whatever of considering dropping in the foreseeable future.

The original intent, of course, was to replace our bases in Saudi Arabia with regional bases that wouldn't cause so much resentment in the Arab and Muslim world as our basing infidel troops in The Lands of The Two Holy Mosques.

J Thomas wrote:

Slarti, do you remember the news from that time? Originally the published plan was to get all but 30,000 guys out in less than 6 months. And people asked, "What about the rest? When will the rest of the troops come home?" And we got answers like "Well, we still have troops in germany after nearly 60 years, it just works that way, but nobody would say we're occupying germany." Bush point-blank refused to say he ever intended the troops to come home. At the time it looked to me like it would help us with iraqis for Bush to say he didn't intend US troops to stay in iraq forever, but he wouldn't say it.

Just to add to it.
IIRC the US plans back in 2003/2004 called for a basically small "Iraqi infantry army". A few divisions able to guard the borders but not able to defend their country. Especially plans back then IIRC didn´t say anything about an Iraqi air force and Iraqi heavy weapons (like tanks or artillery). Likewise no mention was made of a real supply corps.

Assuming these plans were true, any new Iraqi army would have to depend on American air power, American supply troops, and eventually American combat troops to defend their country. Just like J Thomas wrote.

Just ask yourself this. Slarti.
After five years, where is the Iraqi air force? And where are the Iraqi armored/mobile divisions? With their own supply? All I´m reading about are Iraqi battalions (maybe) able to fight alone. And with battalions too small a unit to operate independently (without any supply).

It continues to be the one goal the administration shows no signs whatever of considering dropping in the foreseeable future.

Interesting. Even though we're giving those bases back?

Of course, we could go back and forth about whether we might, a couple of decades from now, have an airstrip or two that we can use at the sufferance of the Iraqi government, but I think such things are largely matters of opinion, even if they're other people's opinions.

After five years, where is the Iraqi air force?

And the Iraqi Navy, too? Jesus, what civilized country doesn't have a navy?

Air Forces are expensive, and don't make a whole lot of sense without an adequate Army. Maybe I'm wrong about this, though; maybe there's some rules to rebuilding countries and governments that are being violated because Iraq doesn't have an air force after four years of occupation.

Stability first, or those things that will satisfy your notion of independence? Do you think stability is more likely to occur if they have an air force before they can hold their own country? I'm guessing internal stability is a more important goal than Iraq's ability to defend itself against attacks from, for instance, Iran.

Slarti: Nice that you're privy to the plan, when no one else seems to be. Any other neato features of this plan that you can disclose?

"No one else"? I just read the news, Slarti. On a fairly regular basis. You might find much that annoyed and confused you if you read British news on the web, but at least you'd be aware there's a whole world out there with more access to information than you seem to have - and you might stop regarding me as someone freakishly well-informed. *buffs fingernails* Or freakish, anyway. ;-)

In this country - and a good many others round the world - we're aware from personal experience that once the US gets to build military bases in your country, the US will never withdraw. (The one exception, I think, over the past sixty years; Saudi Arabia, 2003. "Mission Accomplished" to al-Qaeda.) The notion that the Bush administration was planning just to walk away from the oil underneath Iraq was flatly impossible: the notion that the US was planning to invade and temporarily occupy a country was so unlikely not to be worth considering. And, if your country had journalists who were prepared to do that bit of digging, and newspapers prepared to publish the results, you might even have heard about the plans to install Ahmed Chalabi, sell off Iraqi industries, retain control of the oil, and build permanent military bases, some time before 27th May 2007: like, 2003.

(Also, our government was saying "They'll be back before Christmas" when it sent British troops to Iraq, and we have a national habit of assuming a statement like that means they'll be deployed for a lot longer... say at least four years.)

I just read the news, Slarti. On a fairly regular basis.

Well, then a cite to the news article where that's revealed to be part of the plan...that ought to be quite simple. And a damned sight quicker than the paragraphs of spluttering that were offered up instead.

Jes: Were you really thinking about how you would feel if al-Qaeda had invaded the US? You wrote with great feeling about your reaction to seeing the WTC attacked. Really, honestly, what would get you to join the Americans working for al-Qaeda, weeks after you had seen those buildings fall?

Not at all. I was thinking in terms of a nation state invading, after me living 3 decades under a dictator similar to Saddam. I did my best to put myself into the scenario (as I understood it) Nell asked me to. As I was responding to Nell, I’ll leave it to her to say if I was off base in my interpretation.

I’m a little confused where this came from. As I read this, my response would be “nothing”. There is nothing that would get me “to join the Americans working for al-Qaeda, weeks after you had seen those buildings fall”. That would be the “Red Dawn” scenario. I have a .30-06, a .45, and a sweet 12 gauge. There may be 3 things a man needs more, but a good rifle, a good shotgun, and a good handgun are up there in my top three. (OK top 4, a good wife is number one.)

The scenario you are suggesting is even more implausible, but if you want to clarify I will do my best to respond.

Jes: *buffs fingernails*

OK, that cracked me up. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit it. Crap, I’m laughing so hard I’m crying right now…

"once the US gets to build military bases in your country, the US will never withdraw. (The one exception, I think, over the past sixty years; Saudi Arabia, 2003."

Mm. Even if one sets aside countries such as Vietnam, the case of the Philippines does come to mind.

Slarti: as I understand the bases question, it's hard to be clear about our intentions, since a base that's expected to last for, say, ten or twenty years and a base that's designed to be permanent are basically the same. However, we are definitely building those bases. Moreover, when people tried to get a ban on building permanent bases into the last Defense Appropriations bill, Republicans deleted it in conference. It was put back in, but apparently that hasn't changed what we're actually building in Iraq. More here.

Hil: How many bases, I mean huge gigantic carved out of nothing multi-million/billion dollar bases have we just handed over to the host country and walked away without a look back?

However, we are definitely building those bases.

Have built, in fact. And, one by one, handing them over to the Iraqis. This doesn't get front-page mention, usually, but this (from two years ago):

When U.S. forces officially hand over Forward Operating Base Danger to the Iraqi government on Tuesday, it will be the 29th time an American base in Iraq has been relinquished. But, officials said Monday, handing over FOB Danger will be “the most significant transition of real estate thus far.”

But I hardly ever read the news, so I just basically stumbled over this one. Even a blind pig gets an acorn now and then, I hear.

Of course, it's always better to build a base out of pup tents and Coleman stoves just to make it look like we're going to leave sometime soon, instead of making a place that's a bit more comfortable.

Yeah, I know: we're not so nice to soldiers stateside, so comfort can't possibly be a legitimate concern.

OCSteve: There is nothing that would get me “to join the Americans working for al-Qaeda, weeks after you had seen those buildings fall”.

So, okay: you're an Iraqi, and you have just witnessed Shock and Awe, a worse terror attack on your own country than 9/11 was on the US. Why do you imagine that you would feel any differently about the people responsible for a terror attack on your country if you're an Iraqi than if you're an American?

That would be the “Red Dawn” scenario.

As I said: you'd join the insurgency.

Jim: Even if one sets aside countries such as Vietnam, the case of the Philippines does come to mind.

Well, obviously the US couldn't retain a US military base in a country where it lost the war, but yes.

I am embarrassed to admit that I hadn't considered the Philippines - though there again, the US did not voluntarily withdraw but was ordered out under protest. I haven't been looking into what's been happening under Bush, but all through the Clinton era the US was pushing to retain military access.

Slarti: Have built, in fact. And, one by one, handing them over to the Iraqis. This doesn't get front-page mention, usually, but this (from two years ago)

The news story you linked to is actually about an Iraqi military base (aka "one of Saddam's palaces"), occupied by the US, being handed back to the Iraqis.

OCSteve: OK, that cracked me up. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit it. Crap, I’m laughing so hard I’m crying right now…

I aim to please. (Of course, when I miss it gives almost as much satisfaction.)

Sure, I can see OCSteve leaving car-bombs in flea markets.

Not.

Slarti: Sure, I can see OCSteve leaving car-bombs in flea markets.

Can you? I can't.

But I can't see him - given his account of how he reacted to 9/11 - wanting to do anything but fight the people responsible for a terror attack on his country when they invaded.

"How many bases, I mean huge gigantic carved out of nothing multi-million/billion dollar bases have we just handed over to the host country and walked away without a look back?"

A fair number. Keflavik. Panama. Libya. The Phillipines have already been mentioned (Clark and Subic Bay). Lots of WWII bases, from France to the South Pacific to Morocco to Brazil, Australia, New Zealand, Tinian, and onwards. In recent years, a number in Germany and South Korea. Various others.

Not really an interesting question, or all that relevant to answering the question "what have been the intentions of the American government as regards bases in Iraq [or the Middle East] in the past decade?," which seems to be the question in discussion.

Otherwise, circumstances as regards America's various foreign military bases over the past couple of centuries have varied, so a sweeping general question doesn't particularly point towards what current, recent, or future, specific policy will be as regards a specific country/area.

But US doctrine has been to protect middle east oil since at least FDR's day, and it was formalized under no less than Jimmy Carter with the Carter Doctrine:

The Carter Doctrine was a policy proclaimed by President of the United States Jimmy Carter in his State of the Union Address on 23 January 1980, which stated that the United States would use military force if necessary to defend its national interests in the Persian Gulf region.
To do that, we've needed bases in the Middle East. The bases we occupied in Saudi Arabia after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait became clearly untenable in the long term -- or at least, undesirable -- not long after Gulf War I. That it was U.S. policy to move to Iraqi bases (which isn't to neglect the list of our other bases in the region, including some residual presence in Saudi Arabia) isn't some loony leftist conspiracy theory: it's simply observable.

How this will actually play out over the next few years is another matter, of course.

Jesurgislac, of course, as usual, makes a variety of assumptions and declarations I don't share (the British press is always highly reliable in its foreign coverage; to guarantee a flow of oil, military conquest is the optimal choice; the U.S. "never" withdraws; for instance), but despite the over-statements and wrong stuff, the general notion that the U.S. has an extremely strong interest in Middle East basing isn't incorrect. (This is largely addressed to Slarti, to be clear.)

As Slart points out, the lack of much of an Iraqi Air Force at this point isn't particularly demonstrable of the notion that the U.S. intends to keep Iraq under its thumb, simply because making much of an effort as regards the Air Force just now would be a pretty silly priority. This pretty much masks the question of U.S. intentions as regards an Iraqi Air Force for now.

The news story you linked to is actually about an Iraqi military base (aka "one of Saddam's palaces"), occupied by the US, being handed back to the Iraqis.

Yes, I'd noticed that, too. The other 28 were Saddam's presidential palaces as well, no doubt, as have whatever other assets we've handed back to them in the last couple of years. Because Saddam had a lot of palaces.

The example of the Philipines is apropos (and perhaps the Panama Canal could be thrown in for good measure), but interestingly, both of those took place under Dem presidents who I think caught some flak (or flack) for doing so.

And base reversion has been a hot topic here in Japan, but there is a central government v. regional government strand to it, so I don't want to claim that this is simply problematic behavior on the part of the US.

"Have built, in fact. And, one by one, handing them over to the Iraqis. This doesn't get front-page mention, usually, but this (from two years ago)"

Um, no, Slart. We're talking about the huge bases for thousands of American troops, whether air or ground forces. Strategic and logistic bases.

Bases like Camp Victory, Anaconda Air Base, Camp Falcon/Al Sarq, and the like.

Not rinky-dink FOBs that hold a platoon. No one said we're interested in holding onto 793 local FOBs and police stations and the like.

Of course I'm not unaware of our interest in having a base that region, Gary. But it's a stretch from "wanting" to subjugating a country in order to get it.

Although coveting can get one into trouble.

We're talking about the huge bases for thousands of American troops, whether air or ground forces.

It would be fairly silly to hand over base control to bases that we're currently occupying, wouldn't it?

"(and perhaps the Panama Canal could be thrown in for good measure)"

The Canal wasn't a base. Fort Clayton was the base. Also Fort Sherman, Miller Field, Frances Field, and Camp Paraiso.

Iraq bases, camps, and facilities, by the way.

"The example of the Philipines is apropos (and perhaps the Panama Canal could be thrown in for good measure), but interestingly, both of those took place under Dem presidents who I think caught some flak (or flack) for doing so."

Half-right. Jimmy Carter negotiated the Panama Canal Treaties, and got them through Congress. But the American withdrawal from bases in the Phillippines (at the demand of the government of the Phillippines) took place under President George H. W. Bush. Final full control over the Panama Canal Zone wasn't turned over until Bill Clinton's day, but it's not clear to me that you were referring to that.

Thanks for the correx, Gary. While I realize that the Panama Canal is not a base, the question of returning it would seem to be in line with the discussion we are having. I believe Carter certainly caught a lot of grief for negotiating the treaty. And the fact that Clinton handed over the bases was not considered to be a good thing by the right. Here's a quickly found link

I also had an impression that the beginnings of the negotiations for transfer occurred under Carter, but some thought reveals that this couldn't be, as the impetus came when Aquino's government came to power, which took place after Carter.

It's also important to realize that the closure took place after the eruption of Mount Pinatubo, which forced the closure of Clarke. Both these points suggests that the reversion was not simply a gift from the US, but more of something forced on the US.

Jes: I am still not following you, admittedly my fault. I was responding to a scenario suggested by Nell. You seem to be suggesting a scenario where AQ invades the US. I’m just not tracking. My fault. Spell it out for me and I will attempt to respond (tomorrow).

*buffs fingernails*

That was too funny, still laughing, which may be why I can’t respond seriously. Or I am just tired…

Because Saddam had a lot of palaces.

Actually, yes. Perhaps as many as forty-nine or one hundred, depending on how you count them.

Sure, I can see OCSteve leaving car-bombs in flea markets.

Not.

Slarti, would you mind explaining why you can't see OCSteve setting off a car bomb in a flee market?


I bet if OCSteve was drafting age during WWII, he would have happily fought for his country. I bet if he was an airman ordered to firebomb Tokyo and kill a few hundred thousand people for little military gain, he would do it. Not because he's an evil person, but because like almost all people, he follows orders when serving in an army at war.

Now, I wouldn't be inclined to judge such an airman, but lacking a finely tuned sense of conservative moral clarity, I just can't see the moral difference between firebombing civilians en masse and detonating a car bomb in a flea market. The civilians appear to end up just as dead in both cases, but lacking Dr. Frist's awesome remote diagnostic skills, I could be mistaken about that.


Perhaps you could elucidate the vast moral chasm between these two cases. Some of tomorrow's festivities will honor that hypothetical airman, but I'm guessing that none of them will honor the hypothetical insurgent. That's all as it should be, but I find the lack of clear bright lines in this case to be unsettling.

Here it's 78:

Almost immediately on its return, UNSCOM, most vocally backed by Britain and America, began requesting access to some of the many Presidential Palaces in Iraq. Reports of the number of Palaces varied, but according to President Clinton on 24 November there were 78: "Some of them are huge compounds. Some of them actually encompass more land than Washington, D.C."
Here similarly:
A 1999 State Department study reported Saddam’s regime had spent $2.2 billion building about 48 palaces since the 1991 Gulf War. Some estimates put the total number of palaces between 70 and 80.
The Telegraph, though, also goes with 48.

This is a bit more finely grained, but doesn't leave things much clearer:

U.N. documents list eight main Saddam Hussein palace compounds containing more than 1,000 buildings -- luxury mansions, smaller guest villas, office complexes, warehouses and garages -- and covering some 32 square kilometres (12 square miles) in total.

A report by the former U.N. arms inspection body, UNSCOM, in 1998 listed them as Radwaniyah, Baghdad Republican Palace and Al Sujud -- all in Baghdad -- Tikrit, Mosrul, Jabal Makhul, Tharthar and Basrah.

CNN's Nic Robertson says that it is difficult to know what use President Saddam Hussein makes of the dozens of palaces across the country.

Eight, dozens, 48, 78... there seem to be quite a lot of different notions out there. (The CNN story has a javascript graphic that "shows" a whole lot of palaces, but on that scale, it's not much more informative than that they fit into Iraq.)

But, what the heck: what's thirty or so palaces between friends?

Actually, though, this State Dept. bulletin from 1999 gives a good clue -- although this was also in the Fox News story -- when it says Saddam Hussein "has built 48 palaces for himself since the Gulf War."

So my guess would be that this is where the 48 number comes from.

Slartibarfast:

Nice that you're privy to the plan, when no one else seems to be. Any other neato features of this plan that you can disclose?

Here's Robert Gates a few weeks ago:

SEC. GATES: My formative experience in Washington was an unwritten bipartisan consensus through nine successive presidencies on how to deal with the Soviet Union through a policy of containment...on that fundamental strategy there was broad bipartisan agreement. There was never anything written down about it, and I don't think that there needs to -- well, I'm not talking about some kind of summit where everybody sits down and signs up and says this is the strategy for Iraq going forward, but I think rather a broad, bipartisan agreement that on two points:

First of all, that it's important to defend this country on the extremists' 10-yard line and not on our 10-yard line. That has big implications in terms of how our forces are deployed, the kind of forces we buy, the kinds of relationships we have internationally because it means we're over there trying to deal with the problem, not over here.

The other part of it is that in a country that's been through the problems that Iraq has had, the fact that there is probably -- assuming we have some kind of a long-term strategic agreement or security agreement with the Iraqi government that acknowledges their sovereignty and so on but still provides the assistance of some level of U.S. troops in Iraq for a protracted period of time, whether that's 25,000 troops or what that number is -- I have no idea. In terms of intelligence help and logistics, air support, who knows what it might be -- it would have to be worked out with the Iraqis. But in terms of providing a stabilizing presence, particularly given the behavior and attitudes of Iran on the eastern border, the Syrians on the northern and western borders and the overall instability in the region, my view is -- my personal view is this would be a stabilizing -- have a stabilizing effect, and I think it's something that we need to talk about. Obviously, it's a matter of where the Iraqi government has a big say as well.

From the article "Exiles" in the March 6, 2006 issue of the New Yorker (not online):

James Dobbins, the Bush Administration's special envoy for Afghanistan, told me that in the prewar planning for Iraq "there was an intention that the U.S. would retain troops in Iraq—not for Iraq stabilization, because that was thought not to be needed, but for coercive diplomacy in the region. Meaning Iran and Syria."

And here's the famous quote from the Project for a New American Century:

Indeed, the United States has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security. While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein.

But, what the heck: what's thirty or so palaces between friends?

I took it as read in my comment that part of the issue is that "palace" is an ill-defined term as applied to Saddam's Iraq. I apologize if that was unclear. And that's leaving aside the issue of finding the bloody things, which is another matter entirely.

BTW, is there a reason that you double-cited the State Department saying that Saddam had built 48 palaces since the Gulf War?

OCSteve: Jes: I am still not following you, admittedly my fault. I was responding to a scenario suggested by Nell. You seem to be suggesting a scenario where AQ invades the US. I’m just not tracking. My fault. Spell it out for me and I will attempt to respond (tomorrow).

This is all getting really kind of personalized around you, which I don't like, right down to unfair speculation about whether you would or would not set off bombs in flea markets. I apologize for the way this discussion has gone.

What I was trying to say - and I daresay I wasn't being very clear - was that when your country is attacked - when you see buildings fall under enemy attack, knowing that people like you are dying inside them - there are all sorts of human ways to react, but one such perfectly predictable reaction is to feel overmastering anger - killing rage - at the enemy who is doing this to your country. You felt it as an American watching al-Qaeda attack the WTC. Why would you imagine you would not feel it as an Iraqi watching the US attack your country? Would you have felt any better about al-Qaeda's attack on the WTC if it had been the first blow in an invasion and occupation of the US?

I think, though, given what Saddam Hussein's rule was like, the US occupation did have a narrow window of opportunity during which Iraqis who had seen the US bomb their cities - in 2003 and in 1991 - might, even so, have accepted that the intent of the occupation was benign towards the Iraqi people, and might have felt they could work for and with Americans if that meant, as you put it, "creating a new government that would improve life for all my people".

But, that window of opportunity was narrow: and the Bush administration were in any case demonstrably unwilling to let Iraqis create a new government. Elections needed to have happened in 2003: positive immediate benefit from the occupation needed to be seen at once - within six months of the invasion, certainly: and above all, ordinary Iraqis lives needed not to change. Instead, elections were delayed until 2005: hospitals were left unstaffed and unsupplied - and the US military did nothing to prevent their being looted: and instead of encouraging the ordinary Iraqi to be able to go to work and live in peace at home, the US publicly threatened to sell off every Iraqi state-owned industry - which was most of it - to foreign bidders, ensuring a kind of stasis. (Add to that the folly of disbanding the army, rather than keeping it together, continuing to pay the soldiers, and requiring ordinary military discipline...)

There was nothing in the first six months or so of the occupation to persuade an Iraqi who felt the kind of anger you so eloquently described to step back and say "Okay, I hate them, but they want to help us so I'll work with them". Even the impulse to create a new government was denied.

No, I'm not going to keep repeating "so you would have joined the insurgency". Who knows? Maybe you'd have been in exile, or had a large extended family who were desperate not to lose you and sat on you, if necessary. But I think you ought to be able to understand why an Iraqi who felt what you felt would never have been able to support the US occupation of Iraq.

From what I have seen, most government office buildings are "palaces." They are ornate and garish, but fulfilling beauracratic functions. The current US embassy in Iraq is in a palace, but it was clearly built for governmental functions. It is full of office space. Several billeting areas are around palaces, but they are similar, such as the Baath party headquarters-built for a function, not a big mansion. And since most of these buildings also have a lot of open ground and big walls, that is where we put our FOBs.

I would not say they are any more ornate or prevalent than government buildings in big cities in the US. Philadelphia City Hall, or Seattle, or NYC would all fit in this definition of a palace. Most federal buildings would be more modern, but still have a lot of open space.

After five years, where is the Iraqi air force? And where are the Iraqi armored/mobile divisions? With their own supply?

This is an important question for iraqi morale etc. They want to have their own army so they can defend themselves when we leave. For that they desperately need their own logistics. If we were helping them build their own army we'd be helping them build all the parts in tandem. They'd be building supply units with the rest. Tanks and aircraft might lag behind because they're expensive and not immediately needed as much, but they'd be starting that because it's slow and the later it gets started the slower it gets. If you have one tank company you can train them, and train them in combined arms stuff so at least a little bit of infantry gets that training, and you can train your supply people to meet their needs, etc. It's a lot easier to go from one tank company to two tank companies than it is to go from nothing to one.

I've seen pictures of iraqi armored vehicles -- some of Saddam's tanks that were apparently still mobile. Maybe we're training a small number of tank crews on them without publicising it much. Tanks were such an important issue to Allawi back when he was running things that he scraped together around a billion dollars (when Bremer had already allocated the whole iraqi government budget) to buy some from arms dealers. But somehow the arms dealers just stole the money and Allawi didn't get his tanks.

The slowest part would be training officers. We'd be picking out promising men and training them in the USA to be higher officers -- as we do officers from latin american countries and others. If we'd started that in 2003 the first of them would be ready now.

If we leave in 6 months, probably if we leave in 2 years, the iraqi army will fall apart. We haven't given them much of a start at what they need. We've trained them to do the jobs that give us too many casualties, and not much else.

Try a more extreme version -- imagine that there were plans for palestine to have its own government. But the agreement was that the palestinian army would be trained only in riot control and SWAT team sorts of things, and they would be supplied entirely by the israelis. Palestinians might feel that a palestinian army whose only job was to fight palestinians was not a national army at all.

We have officer training schools all over Iraq, along with NCO schools, basic training, and specialty schools. Most are now run by Iraqi's with US advisors. We have supply schools and supply depots run by Iraqi's but with American advisors. Iraqi's have many armored vehicles, and use BMP's, BRDM's, and tanks. I was initially assigned here to train the Iraqi police on armored tactics (!).

I don't think there is a better way to do the army building than how it is occurring. But it takes time, particularly with the other structural deficiencies in the rest of the government, so there is nobody to piggy back on (even simply mail, or banks).

jrudkis, I don't know if you are able to respond to Hilzoy's post Why are we still here?, but I have to say I'm reading your comment in the light of that information:

We have officer training schools all over Iraq, along with NCO schools, basic training, and specialty schools. Most are now run by Iraqi's with US advisors. We have supply schools and supply depots run by Iraqi's but with American advisors. Iraqi's have many armored vehicles, and use BMP's, BRDM's, and tanks. I was initially assigned here to train the Iraqi police on armored tactics
You are training Iraqis to kill each other and to kill US soldiers. It may not be possible for you to admit this. But it makes anything you have to say about your success in training Iraqis moot.

Jrudkis, thank you! I'm very glad to be out-of-date on this. (Not glad that I didn't update, but glad to be wrong.)

I now see the iraqis have nearly 100 obsolete soviet tanks being refurbished, over 700 APCs present or on order, and nearly a hundred armored cars. And we will eventually give them over 3000 HumVs. They already have an armored brigade training.

Their airforce has over 20 light aircraft (mostly cessnas), 3 C130 transports, and over a dozen helicopters. That's enough to give them a start on aircraft maintenance.

US military academies have started accepting iraqi cadets. We're making an effort to bring iraqi officers online.

Logistics is way behind but there is an effort to set up an iraqi logistics system.

On paper it looks *vastly* improved from this time last year, and completely different from 2 years ago. At this rate, the iraqi army might be able to stand on its own in another 3 years.

This is very encouraging. I see two hopeful scenarios here, when yesterday I only saw one. The first is that if we can hold out for another 3-6 years, the iraqi army might be ready to restore order after we leave. The main issue is to get a government that represents the mass of the iraqi public that they don't resist much.

The second possibility is that we leave, and the iraqi government does an effective reconciliation, and the iraqi army rebuilds itself over a few years.

In either case there's the hope that no foreign power invades. The army won't be an effective deterrent, but after seeing our experience no national leader in his right mind would try to occupy any part of iraq where the people didn't want to be occupied. Unless they were ready to kill off the local population and move in their own people.

You are training Iraqis to kill each other and to kill US soldiers.

Jes, that doesn't matter much if we get our troops out of harm's way reasonably quickly. The iraqi troops will have a lot more credibility when we aren't helping them. At least with shias. And without us interfering the shia government can make some acceptable compromise with sunnis, maybe. If they want to, and the sunnis want to, and there's room for it.

Some ways it's a waste that the iraqi army is mostly getting trained for counterinsurgency when -- if things go adequately -- they won't have to do much counterinsurgency fighting. But then our own army is switching focus to counterinsurgency which is at least as much a waste.

Jes: Just to be clear, there is a large distinction (to me) between the two scenarios.

In the event that the US (with our current form of government as it exists today) was invaded by a nation state then I would immediately take up arms and join the insurgency.

In the event that the US was invaded by a nation state after 30 years of a brutal dictatorship I would initially hang back and give them a chance to stand up a new democratic government. After 4 years with little progress I might join the insurgency. It would depend on the goals. I would not do it to promote general mayhem. I would not do it to help topple the secular government installed by the occupiers and replace it with a theocracy of the religious right. I would do it if it became apparent that the occupiers had no intention of ever leaving.

In neither case would I blow up flea markets (as much as I dislike them). In neither case would I blow up a Protestant church in the hopes that they would retaliate against Catholics. I most likely would join a local militia to help protect my neighbors and my neighborhood. I would not blow up schools kids or civilians in general.

If I had to hang out with Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen I would have serious second thoughts. Jennifer Grey would be a mitigating factor though.

OCSteve,

Perhaps the scenario would be in the US that a breakdown on racial lines, where KKK members and militant blacks begin to take advantage of the chaos and begin infighting, targeting populations to inflame the situation.

OCSteve: Thanks for your response.

jrudkis, if we're assuming that the invasion lets the maniacally repressive religious types to the top, we'd be looking at a country given a choice between Pat Robertson and Bill Donahue, with a squirt of the well-armed millennialist white supremacy. AFAIK, well-armed black militants have never been the kind of terrorist threat that Christian pro-lifers and white supremacists are: even in the Black Panther days. And those are, what, 30 years ago?

I'm not familiar with the details, but I think the US had a pretty nasty civil war in Kansas/Missouri during the 1850's--I mean a civil war Iraqi-style, not the larger thing we had in the 1860's with armies on battlefields. John Brown was part of that.

And US aside, some Westerners supposedly in favor of democracy are perfectly comfortable setting off car bombs in marketplaces. I haven't read the book (or even seen it), but I've seen excerpts of Mike Davis's history of the car bomb and extreme Zionists were setting off car bombs in marketplaces in the late 30's. To be fair, this was after a lot of Palestinian violence against Jews. The point being that in the right circumstances, I think you can expect car bombs and terrorist tactics from almost any group. Let the US be taken over by some hated foreigners who practice torture, kick doors down and do the usual thing that occupiers do and let some Americans work with them and then I think you've got a fine recipe there for American insurgent attacks on civilian collaborators. And if some particular ethnic or religious group was seen as more likely to be assisting the occupiers, terrorist attacks against that group in general are, IMO, almost a certainty. (I wouldn't want to be anywhere near an American mosque if the Iraqis occupied us.)

"For that they desperately need their own logistics. If we were helping them build their own army we'd be helping them build all the parts in tandem. They'd be building supply units with the rest."

Americans are helping build Iraqi logistics. I couldn't speak to the precise ratio of logistics training to combat training, and it's obviously not yet adequate, but it's part of the package, as reported by the American press. Here is an Inspector General's report. From the abstract:

Our report is limited to the use of IRRF to achieve these goals, while the DoD Office of Inspector General and the U.S. Government Accountability Office have been charged with reporting on Iraq Security Forces Fund expenditures. As of August 1, 2006, the United States had spent $666 million from the IRRF on the development and fielding of these capabilities.
"I've seen pictures of iraqi armored vehicles -- some of Saddam's tanks that were apparently still mobile. Maybe we're training a small number of tank crews on them without publicising it much."

They have a small but growing tank acquiring and training program, too. Look, I could go find you links about all this, but I'm unclear why I should be doing your research for you.

"We've trained them to do the jobs that give us too many casualties, and not much else."

With whatever respect is due, you don't seem to be particularly knowledgeable about this subject, and so your conclusions about all this don't appear particularly conclusive to me. Certainly how much publicity something is getting isn't a sensible standard.

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