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September 03, 2007

Comments

Fascinating, G'kar, and it has the messy ring of true truth about it. Having to juggle priorities like that...I can pray for wisdom and prudence, but I'm glad I don't have to be anywhere near them. Thank you very much for gathering this up, though.

Excellent post, G'Kar.

But: If Petraeus still thinks the war in Iraq can be won by the US, he's a fool. Assuming that he is not a fool and knows that the only difference the "surge" makes is whether he can look successful as a general, and whether George W. Bush can get what he wants - US occupation of Iraq at least till January 2009 - then he is buying these achievements - a President's whim, his own career - at the cost of both Iraqi and US lives.

I don't blame Petraeus for following orders and not admitting publicly that he knows he goal he is supposed to achieve is impossible. That's Spartan heroism for you. But if, as you suggest, he is deliberately trying tactics that he knows will accomplish nothing except making himself look good and allow Bush to justify continued occupation of Iraq, then he is despicable.

thanks, g'kar.

you write:
"this war can only be won by the enemy by convincing the U.S. to leave Iraq"

i wish i knew if that were true, but it is very hard to figure out what "this war" is, and who "the enemy" is, and what 'winning' means for the various parties.

if "the enemy" refers to bin ladenism, then we know it is false: he expressed his desire to get us into exactly this sort of a protracted costly struggle in the m.e., and the longer we stay in, bleeding men and billions every week, the longer bin laden wins.

so if 'the enemy' is bin laden, then it is false: the enemy wins by making sure we stay and bleed, and the longer we do it, the happier we make him.

if 'the enemy' is shiite militias, then it also seems to be false. they would like to gain arms and ascendancy over their sectarian rivals. every time we kill off sunnis, they are winning. every time we "train" another hapless iraqi brigade, we are just distributing arms to militias. so the longer we keep doing that, the more that enemy wins.

the main problem, as far as i can tell, is that there are a variety of groups in iraq who have a pretty clear notion of what 'winning' consists in, e.g. draining the u.s., or crushing their sectarian rivals. for most of them, having the u.s. stay is a very good way of achieving those ends.

the u.s., by contrast, really has no strategic interest in being there, and no clear notion of what 'winning' would consist in any longer.

oh, i know once upon a time we were going to create a multi-ethnic democratic ponystan that would be a beacon unto nations etc., but we all know that's no longer on the cards. with that gone, what exactly does 'winning' mean any longer?

sometimes the petraeus model seems to say simply 'we win by staying', despite the fact that we have no idea *what* we win by staying, and despite the fact that all of our enemies there also think that *they* win if we stay, too.

but maybe you can identify a clear objective for our "winning" that would actually be advanced by our staying. it would also be nice to hear which 'enemy' you have in mind, and what exactly 'this war' amounts to.

those big questions aside, though, i'm grateful for the view from where you sit.

now that was a good post, especially the focus on the ethnic cleansing by Shia militia in Baghdad; I think it's a pity that, as you note, the number of dead and especially US dead has become the prevalent metric for the situation in Iraq - for every dead US soldier there are along the lines of ten to twenty thousand refugees, internally displaced or people living in generally subhuman circumstances: it is a major humanitarian disaster, as we are talking about millions of people here and frankly I am not aware of efforts to help these people that match the scale of the problem. That's why I've been arguing for a while now in favour of transforming the focus of the mission from a military one to a humanitarian one. We can lock horns with the various violent groups forever, but meanwhile the victims of this fight need more of our attention.

oops, guess I was a little off in my calculation there, but it was just to illustrate a point

The point of the surge is not to demonstrate that the surge is working. The circularity of the debate in Washington, as it's shaping up, is pretty disappointing.

That said, I've been saying for, what, two years, that we should make a major dent in AQI, declare victory, and leave Iraq to Iraqis to figure out. JAM and 1920, for example, aren't threats to 'Iraq' so much as threats to each other.

the victims of this fight need more of our attention

If by "our" you mean the US military, I can't agree. If you mean the US domestic population, I wish you luck, but don't think much can be accomplished so long as there's a major military operation going on: accepting aid from a faction, any faction, in an ongoing war makes one a party to it.

If you mean the European public, you've got a better shot at it.

G'Kar: thanks. This is excellent, and really informative.

The point of the surge is not to demonstrate that the surge is working.

Did you perhaps mean, "The point of the surge should not be to demonstrate that the surge is working"?

Because the way I read G'Kar's report, the point of the surge *is* to demonstrate that the surge is working.

Charley, since I'm a European I mean the international community when I say "our". But it is obvious, that while I'm sure the EU and others would chip in a few billions and other things if a half-way coherent humanitarian program was instituted, that, having created this mess, the primary responsibility rests on the shoulders of the US. They did have a legal responsibility to do "everything in their power" while they were the occupying power. They totally failed to live up to that and tried to do this on the cheap. Now that they are merely the de facto occupying power, they still have a moral obligation to live up to these responsibilities. Let's leave out the military for a second and concentrate on the refugees. Currently Jordan and Syria are forced to take care of most of them and for a variety of reasons they're not doing a very good job at that. AFAIK the US is giving zilch financial support to these people, which forces them to live in horrible conditions. If some senator could at least locate a few billions to help those people, they're lives could be much better, but I haven't seen any efforts to do so. Similar things hold true for the internally displaced and the demolished infrastructure - they can't all emigrate, so you have to try helping them were they are. Even if the US left tomorrow, they would owe a huge financial debt in this regard, but it seems that this will simply be forgotten.
To come back to your question about the military: even if this was transformed into a humanitarian UN mission, you would need military backup to secure safe havens for refugees and the like. While US soldiers are indeed not the best choice to carry out such missions, realistically it will be very hard to find enough soldiers from other nations to carry out such a mission.

novakant has pointed out what is obvious to most of the world: the US war and occupation of Iraq are crimes. In a just world, we would owe enormous reparations to our victims. Since there is, now, no power in the world that can extract such reparations, we aren't going to pay. But we can at least let those people alone to sort this out without hanging on so some general can get another star and a failed President can say "didn't leave on my watch."

You've made a very good point about Baghdad, G'Kar. People need to appreciate that the Battle of Baghdad ended much earlier this year, and the Shia won. It is a serious mistake to think that monthly bodycounts in the capital are determined primarily by US military policy: in reality the US army and marine corps have always been mostly spectators to the war fought in Baghdad over the past 2 years.

I suspect that is the unspoken objective of US military escalation (calling it the 'surge' has been an amazingly successful coup of political spin - 'temporary reinforcements' would have, of course, evoked the appropriate recollections of Vietnam late 1960s): to recapture some degree of influence on Iraqi politics. The reality earlier this year is that all the players in Iraq, including the government, were already operating on the assumption that the US was leaving soon, and thus cozying up to Tehran and other regional actors.

The problem with this is that US involvement is headed in exactly the wrong direction - more deeply enmeshed in Iraqi politics. Even if the 'surge' (vomit) was astoundingly successful in reducing violence in the country, peace predicated on the unsustainable presence of 160,000 troops is no real peace at all.

It's still very had to see Iraq five years from now not being a much greater problem for US policy than it was 5 years ago, which in my book adds up to a really crappy war.

As a side note, I'd like to mention that I personally think Petreus is a clown, I've no idea where this idolization of him comes from. The 'surge' (vomit) is his solution to the Iraqi security forces not being up to the job. And who was responsible for training the Iraqi security forces? Oh yeah, Petreus.

And as for 'writing the book on counterinsurgency'; his writings on counterinsurgency are only interesting if you've never read anything on counterinsurgency. That whole thing was a cynical PR exercise to lubricate his coronation as America's military genius pulled out of a hat.

"The U.S., by contrast, really has no strategic interest in being there, and no clear notion of what 'winning' would consist in any longer.

"Oh, I know once upon a time we were going to create a multi-ethnic democratic ponystan that would be a beacon unto nations etc., but we all know that's no longer on the cards. With that gone, what exactly does 'winning' mean any longer?"

Keeping our grubby mitts on Iraq's oil seems to be the elephant in this particular living room. There is the ongoing question of the American bases; what do we mean when we call them "permanent" and what will their mission really be? In this regard, "winning" looks more like sheer survival for both the short and the long terms.

In any event, we need to get beyond Cheney and this psychopathic government so we can finally shed some light on what the real American policy is in Iraq. (E.g., could they actually be fomenting the very terror they say they're at war against? It wouldn't be the first time.) Until then, we're simply going to be walking around blind.

Nonetheless, the confluence of those reasonable concerns leads us to a decidedly bad place, where U.S. troops are focused on threats to their ability to continue their mission while setting aside threats to their ability to accomplish their mission.

If the Shia militia are a threat to accomplishment of the mission, it is worth noting that US policy since 2003 has been to accept the militia as the cornerstone of Iraqi politics and security. They have not been operating "under the radar." There really has never been any effort to counter their influence. Perhaps the idea of training security forces independent of the militia was an effort to create a counterweight to their influence, but that idea was always unrealistic as it never made sense to expect the trainees in these forces to act independent of the political influence of the militias. It is no surprise that these forces become an extension of militia power.

Also, the de facto "mission" currently is to support the Iran-friendly Shia theocrats that currently have the most power in Iraq. The "mission" accepts the ethnic cleansing underway by the Shia militia. The "mission" is to take sides in the civil war -- the criteria used to identify "success" for the surge happens to dovetail with the goals of the Shia militia.

I would define the enemy as the people who are killing Iraqi civilians in order to terrorize them into supporting their agenda. AQI, JAM, ISI...the list goes on and on.

I define success as providing the Iraqi people security. That may not be a 'win' in the bigger sense, but I'd consider it a pretty big success nonetheless. I consider the chances of it happening, however, to be not great, as I don't think the Coalition forces have the numbers to secure the entire country.

And I am not trying to argue that the purpose of the surge is to make the surge look successful. I'm arguing that the first priority of the surge has to be gaining the political breathing room necessary to maintain it so the Coalition can turn to better targets. That is simply the facts of life: the surge will be judged on certain criteria; if it doesn't address those criteria first, then it will not be able to continue, and if the surge can't continue, it has no chance of success.

I would define the enemy as the people who are killing Iraqi civilians in order to terrorize them into supporting their agenda. AQI, JAM, ISI...the list goes on and on.

But in what sense does a US departure provide these groups with "victory," except in a pure propaganda sense?

In terms of propaganda, it seems like pro-war politicians have created a tautology by pronouncing that "retreat=defeat," but I don't see how we can be held hostage indefinitely in Iraq just because George Bush and his followers have decided to equate staying with victory.

g'kar--
many sincere thanks for responding to my questions.

agreed: it would be terrific if we could provide security to the iraqi people. we should have done a lot more to achieve that end in 2003, and might have had a shot at success.

but things is different now.

so long as a lot of shiite people in iraq want to kill a lot of sunni people in iraq, and a lot of sunni people in iraq want to kill a lot of kurdish people in iraq, and everyone there wants to kill someone more than they want to live together--so long as you have widespread civil war, u.s. forces are going to be reduced to playing wackamole.

as soon as our back is turned, the ethnic cleansing rages. that's a structural feature, not something we can change just by doing the same old same old a little better.

indeed, the same old same old is handing out better arms and better training to the very same iraqis who are destroying the security of other iraqis. far from providing security, our presence there lessens security.

probably not in the blocks you are patrolling; i'm sure our temporary presence in a locale is enough to make people lie low or move elsewhere, for the time being.

but in the country as a whole, we are not providing and cannot provide security. not so long as what they really want is a civil war.

take care of yourself. i wish you had wiser leaders.

G´Kar,

I seem to remember that back when the surge proposal was discussed, one major goal was to create a breathing space for Iraqi politicians to find a solution for the sectarian war.

Reading you now, the major goal of the surge seems to create a "political breathing room" in the USA to maintain the surge?

How is that supposed to work?
(Note that as an European, I´m relying on American and European media reports.)

- According to American media the surge can´t be sustained past spring 2008 IIRC. Unless the tours get even longer and/or more reservists get called up?
So how could you suppress Shiite militias with even less soldiers?

- And how can you take on the larger Shiite militias?
Don´t most of them "belong" to political parties supporting the current government? Like the Badr Organisation and the SIIC for example?
Yes, SIIC and Dawa perhaps might have no objections if you turn against JAM (Mahdi Army). It would remove a competitor. On the other hand, it looks like the Shiite government is already a bit suspicious about Al-Anbar and the US - Sunni tribes cooperation. So would they support any US attacks against JAM? Could they even do this publicly while the US is supporting Sunni militias in Anbar?

Thanks G'Kar. I always appreciate your first hand perspective. I really appreciate that you separate fact from opinion – what you see and do everyday vs. what you think. We could use a lot more of that…

excellent post -- very interesting

I define success as providing the Iraqi people security.

Thanks, G'Kar, for plainly stating what you would consider a success.

Let's unpack that statement, though.

First, how do you define "the Iraqi people"? The Shia? the Sunni? The Kurds?

Unfortunately, it is no longer possible to think of "the Iraqi people" as one polysectarian mass. There's been too much ethnic cleansing; too much forcing people to take sides. Those few who still think beyond sectarianism have mostly left Iraq. Do you expect them to come back? What conditions do you think would need to be in place before they could, even were they so inclined?

Next, define "security," politically, economically, and socially.

Politically: A functioning central government? A tri-part confederation? Three separate states? A loosely-confederated collection of semi-autonomous provincial states? Bearing in mind that our efforts to preserve, or force, a single multi-sectarian Iraq state have already failed, our choices seem limited to those. Bearing in mind also that we're in no position to force Iraq to accept a political outcome of our choosing, our choices seem limited to upholding whatever political outcome the Iraqis want. Bearing in mind that the Iraqis don't seem to have much idea of what that is, how do we pick a strategy - and stick to it? (Because, you know, it doesn't seem like we've done that; we keep going back and forth as to who our allies are, who we supply and prop up, and who we decide to fight.)

Economically? Here's where the oil issue is the elephant in the living room. Iraq hasn't had a thriving national economy since before GWI; it hasn't had a thriving internal economy since the invasion. The Ministry of Finance is one of the Ministries now called so corrupt as to be useless: that means the banking, credit, and money supply are useless. The only commerce there seems to be in Iraq these days is cottage industry and agriculture - oh, and the weapons trade. The only commodity Iraq has that would make it a lot of money quickly is its oil - and the law Iraq's Parliament is being pressured to pass would give control of Iraq's oil to extra-national companies rather than to Iraqi-owned ones. Significantly, the law calls for profit sharing rather than revenue sharing: I wouldn't take a bet on very much money finally making it to Iraqis, as there are a myriad ways to cook the books to hide profits. So oil, the single most valuable commodity in Iraq, would no longer belong to Iraq. Nice.

So, again, I must ask you to define your terms for "the Iraqi people" and for "success in security" - and, if you're willing, explain how a continued US armed presence would further those goals.

Thank you.

G'Kar hypothesizes that a main effort of the surge has been to reduce the number of large attacks and to this end they have targeted AQI. I question this idea. If you go to the Iraq index on page 10

http://www3.brookings.edu/fp/saban/iraq/index.pdf

you will see graphs of the deaths from multiple casualty bombings and the number of such bombings each month. By dividing the former by the later I think one would get the average number killed from a multiple casualty bombing for each month. I did this and then averaged the values in groups of 4 months. Here are the results I got:

Jan-Apr 2006: 7 (145 bombings total)
May-Aug 2006: 8 (218 bombings total)
Sep-Dec 2006: 8 (247 bombings total)
Jan=Apr 2007: 13 (204 bombings total)
May-Aug 2007: 15 (151 bombings total)

Based on this metric it would seem that bombings have grown larger in size, but there are fewer attacks. The surge has apparently reduced the number of attacks, while the severity of attacks have increased. This makes sense in that in an environment in which the number of attacks is restricted, it is best to save the best targets for attack.

Linear extrapolation suggests an increase in the surge of an additions 200-250 thousand troops could suppress bombing altogether.

I don't know CaseyL, but as far as the goal is concerned "security for the Iraqi people" is pretty simple to define: Northern Ireland is now pretty secure and people are buying holiday homes in Croatia. The Iraqi people are the people living in Iraq, wether it will eventually partitioned or not.

I certainly grant, though, that one might argue about the different ways of getting there, the US' role in that process or if it's feasible in the forseeable future at all.

But you're not against having a debate about Iraq's future in general?

It's worth noting that at no point in this post does G'Kar say that he favors the surge, or for that matter the war. (He says his feelings are mixed, which probably puts him with most of humanity.) As I read this post, not that I want to speak for him, he's explaining something about the surge, not advocating anything one way or the other.

It seems that the American Colonial Outposts are having trouble in their conquered lands. BIG SURPRISE! Empire and Conquest are supposed to be bloody amoral actions, pretending we’re just reorganizing “unjust” bureaucracies is plain evil.

hilzoy, I didn't think he was, and I wasn't looking to goad him in any way (I like and admire G'Kar enormously).

What's the current strategy in Iraq?

We're either working with or not working with the central government, which is too corrupt and ineffectual to do anything to provide security to the Iraqi people. We're either allied or not allied with various militias that might or might not themselves be allied with AQI. We're either allowing or not allowing ethnic cleansing, by allying or not allying with the militias engaged in it.

We either are or are not supporting extranationalization of Iraq's oil. We either or are or are not pushing for Maliki's ouster; and either or are or not supporting Allawi or Chalabi to replace him. We either are or are not building an "Embassy" that will or will not be a permanent garrison.

What's definite? That the central government is worse than useless. That the Iraqi security forces are so compromised they need to be scrapped altogether. In other words, the two most important benchmarks that needed to be achieved by now have not been; and prospects for doing so are, if anything, worse than they were in January.

If the two most important benchmarks are worse than before, how can the surge be said to be working?

"The war in Iraq is generally gauged by two simple metrics by the general public, I think: American casualties and major enemy attacks."

That might be right, but anyone who does so is an idiot, as neither has anything to do with the key element of "success" or "failure," which rests 100% on whether, as I keep repeating, a legitimate, non-sectarian, at least semi-competent, government develops in power in Iraq, and is accepted as legitimate and at least semi-effective, by the majority of Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds.

Everything else is irrelevant. Specifically, everything else Americans do is irrelevant.

American casualties and Iraqi casualties, alike, are completely irrelevant. They affect people's individual lives, but not the overall situation whatever.

So any American, or anyone else, who uses the measures you suggest is looking at utterly irrelevant points, which have nothing whatever to do with whether the situation will ever improve in the long term, or not.

Since the "surge" seems to have nothing whatever to do with the workings of the Iraqi government, and with any sort of hypothetical "reconciliation" between Iraqi's various groups, I can't see that it's helping in the slightest, I'm afraid.

I have to again go back to all the babble we heard during Vietnam: all the numbers, be they body counts, civilians living in safety, enemy captured, economic measures, troops present in a given area, enemy numbers in a given area, troops trained for ARVN, whatever: it's all utterly irrelevant to the basic political situation, and that situation is all that matters.

Nothing we did in Vietnam made the government of South Vietnam more legitimate and popular in the country overall than the government in the North, and the population of the South never overall accepted the Southern government as remotely as legitimate, or worth supporting, as the people of the North supported the Northern government, and in the end, that's all that mattered.

Without popular support for a government, it doesn't matter how well-trained its army units are. South Vietnam's ultimately had a lot of well-train, heavily supplied, troops, who ran away, because they didn't believe their government was competent, uncorrupt, had their interests at heart, or was going to last. It lacked sufficient legitimacy, particularly in comparison to its competitor.

We were simply never going to be as stubborn and interested in fighting for Vietnam as the nationalist Vietnamese, the former Viet Minh, those who had always fought for independence, were.

Neither can we do anything much in Iraq to create conciliatory feelings in the face of mass ethnic/religious warfare, and neither can we create a government most people there will like.

All we can do is keep fighting a pointless fight, like the "surge."

We can, for sure, keep taking losses, and take them at a much higher rate, decades into the future, if we have the will.

But what will it get us, but more casualties, and more Iraqis, grinding away at killing each other, and us?

What will it get us?

OT: here's a typo from a CN transcript that I think is really lovely:

"Well Tom if we look at the main two militias and there are multiple ones, but if you look at the main two militias that are really competing for power of the south and especially Basra, the oil- rich fields that lie around it and for control of that court down there, you are talking about the butter brigade and the Mehdi militia."

The butter brigade! -- Sorry, this has made my day. I'm easy to please.

Well, it is not totally incoceivable that the US and the international community could do something to at least alleviate the suffering of those affected by this mess. The UN could have done something even in Rwanda. I just don't see anybody pushing for anything in that direction, and maybe we have to wait until January 2009 for that to happen. But the position that after the US troops are gone, we just cover our eyes and ears for a couple of years while the different Iraqi factions fight it out doesn't seem to be very appealing or even feasible to me.

I would define the enemy as the people who are killing Iraqi civilians in order to terrorize them into supporting their agenda. AQI, JAM, ISI...the list goes on and on.

I define success as providing the Iraqi people security.

The problems with this are the assumptions embedded in this.

Kid Bitzer already dealt with some of the previous assumptions that are part of the language: that there is a single "enemy." (We previously touched on the damaging craziness in referring to a huge set of disparate forces by one (purely propagandistic) label: "anti-Iraq Forces," which would be laughable, if it weren't for the fact that you're instructed to use these labels, and think of them as meaningful.)

There is no single "enemy," of course, but a wide variety of groups with conflicting interests, engaging in both politics and fighting, in various proportions.

"Civilians" and many of these groups can't be distinguished: everyone who isn't in the official army or police is officially a "civilian," which certainly doesn't stop them from fighting for their neighborhood, or signing up with a group, or being paid to fight for one, or being in a militia out of conviction, or any combination of the above.

And, of course, many of the police are in a militia. So distinguishing "civilians" and "enemies" doesn't work, and is conceptually highly questionable.

As for these "agendas," well, there are as many groups with "agendas" in the Iraqi government, and some of them are armed and fighting. Separating the government from "groups with agendas," which fight and harm civilians, is also impossible, and not descriptive of Iraqi reality, as I understand it (at this distance, obviously).

Speaking as if there were a unitary government, with virtuous aims, against a single homogenous "enemy," is speaking of some fantasy world having little to do with Iraq; I'm sure you know this, G'kar, but I'm still struck by the language your job forces you into, in which descriptions wind up having seemingly little to do with reality. The congnitive dissonance level must be staggering.

novakant: "I don't know CaseyL, but as far as the goal is concerned 'security for the Iraqi people' is pretty simple to define: Northern Ireland is now pretty secure and people are buying holiday homes in Croatia."

People in Northern Ireland aren't more secure now because of better statistics on casualties and "enemy" killed, and they're not more secure now because of the number of British troops there.

They're more secure because political compromises were found to lessen the killing between Republicans and Loyalists, and because home rule was re-established, and because people were tired of the killing.

This is because of political reconciliation, such as it is: not because "security," in some sort of abstract, non-political, way, was somehow created outside of politics and what people felt and desired.

When a country's government is either divided between people trying to kill each other, or between the entire population and a small subset of it, there's no form of abstract "security" that can exist, or be provided by it, or anyone supporting it. It's a contradictory concept.

Does Kamal in Amel feel he's been made "secure" by his own government? How about the Sunnis in Amel?

So also contradictory is the idea that an Iraqi government that's either dysfunctional, or largely run by the Shia (while the Kurds largely stay in their own area), who seek to keep the Sunni down, can somehow provide "security," outside of politics, when it's killing its own people, and isn't accepted as legitimate by a huge proportion of them; the idea that a government that isn't regarded as legitimate by many Iraqis can be regarded by most Iraqis as providing legitimate security seems to makes no sense whatever.

American naiveness and ignorance about the local cultures and history of its puppets, and its governments, as a general rule, is a constant in our history, to be sure.

"U.S. troops are focused on threats to their ability to continue their mission while setting aside threats to their ability to accomplish their mission."

If that's true, GEN Petraeus is a very poor commander. It is NOT the general's job to become involved in the politics of the war, or to decide whether the mission should continue. His job is to conduct the war in the best and most effective way for as long as he's commanded to.

If the war doesn't have the support of the American people, it is NOT GEN Petraeus' job to fool the American people into believing that the war can still be won. He does a disservice not only to his country, but to the military, and the wasted lives of all his men. Better that he should have the guts to tell the truth and save those lives - rather than signing on to be Bush's General Westmoreland.

A General (if he is still on active duty) should stay out of politics. The problem with Petraeus is that he is a very political (and ambitious) general, and this has clouded his military judgment. That was demonstrated when he went on a right-wing partisan shill (Hugh Hewitt's) radio show.

A smart general in the wrong war can be worse than a bad general in a good war. The bad generals in WW II were eventually weeded out. But who is going to stop Petraeus from trying to win a war that's already been lost, and never should have be started in the first place?

What we're fighting for.

This is what matters.

Thanks for the link Gary, but seriously, that's the least of our problems.

Just ask anyone trying to do business abroad in Nigeria, Brazil, Chad, Ecuador, etc. etc. etc.

Corruption shouldn't suprise us. It's part of the system. Bombed mosques on the other hand....

I'll re-print this for emphasis, and for my own use:

I have to again go back to all the babble we heard during Vietnam: all the numbers, be they body counts, civilians living in safety, enemy captured, economic measures, troops present in a given area, enemy numbers in a given area, troops trained for ARVN, whatever: it's all utterly irrelevant to the basic political situation, and that situation is all that matters. Nothing we did in Vietnam made the government of South Vietnam more legitimate and popular in the country overall than the government in the North, and the population of the South never overall accepted the Southern government as remotely as legitimate, or worth supporting, as the people of the North supported the Northern government, and in the end, that's all that mattered.

I teach US History and I think I'm going to quote from this Gary Farber passage this semester. Because it sums things up quite nicely.

Thanks, Gary.

And God save this Republic.

Unsurprisingly, I disagree with Gary on most levels. While it is true that political reconciliation is critical, the idea that providing security does nothing to aid in that process is so fundamentally at odds with the history of COIN operations that I can only assume he's not clear on the concept.

I am well aware the the enemy consists of an alphabet soup of organizations, but I had hoped that by defining them by what they do it would be simpler than trying to provide a laundry list, yet still effective, and I believe that it is. JAM and AQI, to use the most popular examples, have diametrically opposed goals, but they both use violence against Iraq's civilian population in order to impose their political order on Iraqi society. The fact their methods and end state differ in the details should not obscure this central fact.

As for questions about who Iraqis are, I am truly amazed at the ability people have to complicate things. For the record, Iraqs=all citizens of Iraq, regardless of creed or ethnicity.

So, to restate in terms as simple as I believe I can make them, I view victory as an Iraq (please tell me I don't need to define Iraq) where all its citizens can go about their business without fearing they will become the victims of politically-inspired violence.

I could get into what I consider the chances of this happening are, but I think that is a question for another day.

Didn’t Roman Imperialism always claim they had colonial outposts to protect the natives from themselves and to spread civilization?

Destroying Jerusalem now was better than coming back to destroy it later, or some self-righteous logic like that.

I suspect a wealthy and power-hungry nation invades and occupies a poorer and weaker nation, for less than honorable reasons will be viewed as an evil presence. No matter how many times the powerful nation claims to go to church and loves God and good government.

Yankee, go home.

"While it is true that political reconciliation is critical, the idea that providing security does nothing to aid in that process is so fundamentally at odds with the history of COIN operations that I can only assume he's not clear on the concept."

I completely agree with the concept, in the sense that in other situations, lending security can be giving support to the development of political reconciliation and the growth of an increasingly legitimate and accepted and popular government, and that in such a case, security and political development could go hand in hand, and that security could/would be crucial.

Where I disagree is not with the concept, but that it's applicable to Iraq here and now, where we see no sign whatever of any such political reconciliation, and growth, in progress, to my knowledge.

Absent such political developments, the security doesn't matter, is what I'm saying. I don't disagree that if there were political developments, that then security would become a relevant measure of progress.

"For the record, Iraqs=all citizens of Iraq, regardless of creed or ethnicity."

But most of the "AIF" are Iraqis.

"...I view victory as an Iraq (please tell me I don't need to define Iraq) where all its citizens can go about their business without fearing they will become the victims of politically-inspired violence."

That works for me, but I don't believe there's a military-alone way to bring that about. And I don't see that there's a way for a foreign (to Iraq) nation to bring it about.

I do think that if there were a nascent non-sectarian, generally considered by most Iraqis to be legitimate, democratic government, in Iraq, that was growing in competence and legitimacy, that we could help it out, but I don't see such a government existing, and I don't see signs of it on the way.

I'd love to see them, really, I would. I just don't. Neither do people I respect, like Marc Lynch.

And that's what seems to be the bottom line to me. I'm afraid that the U.S. just isn't all that relevant to the situation, which is a possibility that Americans traditionally have problems contemplating. Especially after we've invested a gazillion dollars, most of our ground troops, all our national prestige, and a whole lot of paint and soccer balls. It's embarrassing, after all, when it turns out we're really not the masters of all we survey, and that other people can be a lot more stubborn about their land then we end up finding it worthwhile.

It's a terribly conservative position, though: if you don't believe that government is competent and virtuous enough to make a major difference in the lives of U.S. citizens, what would be the grounds for believing we can go into an entirely foreign nation and set of cultures, and remake it entirely, successfully, and bring political reconciliation and a whole new way of governing to a set of peoples who have no history of living easily together other than when under the control of brute force?

Heck, if we can do that, turning the U.S. into a domestic liberal heaven-on-earth of successful and competent social democracy should be a walk in the park.

All for the Glory of America, indeed.

G'Kar: Unsurprisingly, I disagree with Gary on most levels. While it is true that political reconciliation is critical, the idea that providing security does nothing to aid in that process is so fundamentally at odds with the history of COIN operations that I can only assume he's not clear on the concept.

Great. Let's all invade the US, bomb Washington, shoot into crowds of protesting Americans, disband the army and treat as terrorists anyone who fights back, and eventually you guys will get a secular, democratic government in place (and try Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld for their crimes) and we can go away again. This we will call "providing security". I'm sure it'll help.

Absent such political developments, the security doesn't matter

That's a strange maximalist view. Of course security matters to the people in their daily lives, even it's only relative, regional or even local security and there is no political compromise on the horizon. It's also a strangely tautological view of the matter: if there are tangible developments towards political reconciliation, the parties would be less inclined to resort to violence and there would be less of a need to enforce security through third parties - that, however, is only ever the case towards the end of such crisis when things are comparatively dandy. In the midst of such a crisis is when the need to protect the civilian population is greatest.

The only real issue here is that the current US strategy is probably making things worse.

G'Kar:

JAM and AQI, to use the most popular examples, have diametrically opposed goals, but they both use violence against Iraq's civilian population in order to impose their political order on Iraqi society.

Is there any major faction in Iraq that is not using violence against some component of Iraqi civilian population to further its political goals? There does not seem to be any, nor any chance for such a political movement to emerge. For me, this has been a clear consequence of policies adopted as far back as 2003 -- undermanning the occupation and opting to use the militias to provide security rather than seek to disarm or disband them. We long ago undermined the concept of Iraqis competing politically without militia power as their backbone.

And can anyone imagine trying to hold elections again in this atmosphere? Remember the uncertainty about trying to hold elections in 2003 or 2004 because there was too much violence, and the concern about elections in 1/2005 because of violence? Trying to have a political campaign and elections now would be impossible -- elections and democracy are essentially dead in Iraq, and the political order will sort itself out through militia power and violence.

That is the real point, and also the significance of calling this a civil war rather than an insurgency. All that we are doing is keeping warring sides somewhat separated or else operating at a lower level of violence. But there is no long term COIN solution to this problem.

That, I think, is Gary's essential point, with which I agree. And that is why I hate the concept of misusing American military personnel to police a civil war, while our political leaders call it something else in order to engage in a butt-covering political dance to avoid accountability for this gigantic disaster.

No one doubts the sincerity of your observations or your desire to bring security and peace to the Iraqi people. But it simply is not possible given the political forces actually at work in Iraq. And we cannot fix that political system nor provide meaningful security for the bulk of Iraqi people -- the militias already do more of that than the US does.

"Of course security matters to the people in their daily lives, even it's only relative, regional or even local security and there is no political compromise on the horizon."

Yes, of course it does, as I've pointed out every other of the many many times I've made this point.

But as regards "making progress," it doesn't matter, because it doesn't, in fact, make any progress towards getting to those victory conditions G'kar describes.

We can stay there forever, taking casualties, and keep some Iraqis more secure while we're there. Without doubt. No one would argue otherwise.

It's just that that's not the goal, in and of itself: to stay there forever, in a static and permanent quo, fighting and keeping a lid on non-stop low-level permanent civil war.

"The only real issue here is that the current US strategy is probably making things worse."

What strategy that involves us staying with significant military force doesn't?

We can stay there forever, taking casualties, and keep some Iraqis more secure while we're there. (...) It's just that that's not the goal, in and of itself: to stay there forever, in a static and permanent quo, fighting and keeping a lid on non-stop low-level permanent civil war.

Of course that's not the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal is the pony, even if it might be a 3 legged, one-eyed pony. But if you're conceding that the US can keep some Iraqis more secure and can keep a lid on a low-level civil war, i.e. prevent a full-blown genocidal civil war - then you have to be prepared to answer the question why that isn't a limited good in itself, i.e. saving Iraqi lives, and why giving up that good in favour of withdrawal is the morally and practically superior choice. I myself am not sure anymore if the US is able to even do that and its presence on the whole might result in more violence rather than less - and that and only that would be a reason for me to favour withdrawal, it's a tough call though.

What strategy that involves us staying with significant military force doesn't?

Now you seem to be saying, contrary to what you mentioned above about keeping some Iraqis secure, that it's an undisputed fact that the US presence is making things worse - I think this can only be established by comparing the anticipated consequences of withdrawal with the current situation and the US' role in it as regards the security situation of Iraqis. I'm not saying that I necessarily disagree, I'm just puzzled by the certainty with which such claims are made. Retrospectively I think the problem was that the US presence in Iraq was never significant enough, that the ratio of civilians to soldiers was always far too low and that it would have been quite possible to provide security for Iraq if the US efforts hadn't been so half-assed and incompetent from the beginning - but that ship has sailed.

I'm a South African leftist. I assumed, when the US invaded Iraq, that it had some kind of cunning, well-crafted plan behind that apparently bizarre and incomprehensible act. That, in short, the US and its politicians knew what they were doing.

My god, they don't. This extremely intelligent, conservative post indicates absolutely clearly that the US government has never had any idea what it was doing and has got itself into a mess it cannot get itself out of.

Got itself into, note. Not "trying to tidy up for the French and getting psychotically aroused by it", as in Vietnam. Not "Ooo, we have an excuse to bomb someone who can't hit back -- goodie!" as in Afghanistan or Libya. That would be understandable, if nasty. I can imagine most countries doing something like that.

The terrifying thing is that if the US government can pull a stunt like Iraq and get away with it -- get elected, get its opposition party to sign on, get universally backed in the press, fool even smart people who aren't on the payroll -- then I think they are capable of absolutely anything. That horrifies me, because while I've believed it for decades, I've always hoped and prayed that I was wrong.

MFB,

It's called Empire.

"It's called Empire."

Doesn't tell us much, really.

Many thesi will be written in the future on how the present U.S. political structure and international position are best characterized historically, but as in any case of a powerful country that is the strongest at some time in its history, it's kinda sui generis, with endlessly unique aspects as to how it is best characterized.

This isn't to say that I strongly disagree that if we had to pick out one word, that that would be the worst possible choice, or that there aren't numerous aspects of the U.S.'s position in the past century reasonably described as a growing empire -- loosely speaking -- or as "imperialist" -- because loosely speaking, there's some insight to be gained from such descriptions.

But only up to a point. Variants on one word can only take us so far, and it's not as if we're exactly identical to any other former political entity on earth described as an "empire."

There are parallels -- some quite fascinating, and intriguing -- and then there aren't. (I've actually been spending a heck of a lot of reading time of late on various facets of old Rome and Greece, and empires and powers of their day. Again. Man, the Parthians are still troublesome.)

I'd be interested to know G'Kar's views on http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2007/0710.tilghman.html>this.

How 13 colonies become 13 states; to then morph into 50 states and hundreds of colonial/military outposts, with genocide and other forms of mass death as its method…its Empire.

Someotherdude, I don't see the problem with 13 states morphing into 50, particularly when it was states like utah that joined voluntarily. The problem is those colonial/military outposts.

So, ideally we would find a way to invite mexico to join the USA. Call it 32 new states, one for each mexican state and one for mexico city. What's now mexico would have about 25% of the House and 40% of the Senate. They'd be better off. We'd be better off. No more mexican border, mexicans travel freely in the USA and vice versa. No limits on US investors in mexico. Etc. Democratic. We don't have undue influence over mexico when they're all US citizens with all the rights anybody else has. Expand that right down the line to tierra del fuego, let every south american country join the USA if they want to, and we could truly become the united states of america, and we'd control the entire western hemisphere except for canada, without an empire at all. And after we got that all working we could expand into the rest of the world. People talk about world government but a lot of americans don't want a world government that would interfere with US sovereignty. But if the USA *became* the world government that wouldn't be an issue.

We don't have to be an empire. We could do democracy promotion the right way -- not trying to set up foreign democracies but expanding our democracy to people who want it. People say that democracies don't fight wars against each other. That isn't quite true, but the USA has only fought a war against itself one single time in the last 147 years. That's a pretty good record.

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