Category Archives: Iraq

Lou Dobbs is the perfect man of the age

By repeating the dumber parts of the conventional wisdom in a solemn tone he continues to be taken seriously. Case in point, his newest column (he drags down the whole franchise IMHO) A call to the faithful. It’s an adventure in the non sequitur. While lauding the separation of church and state he points to examples of church based groups having opinions on matters of pure politics, i.e. Iraq and immigration.

Neither of those are religious matters. If they were trying to implement Sharia, force church attendance, establish a state religion or mandate that government personnel had to be of a particular sect, or any sect, that would be one thing. But these are either pro/anti war choices, or pro/anti amnesty choices, which have no inherent religious significance. Religious people may care a lot about them of course, but so can a lot of people. He then quotes Romans 13, with

Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.

In a democracy, the governing authority is the people, and the above verse would seem to encourage public participation in the process. Dobbs would seem to want separation of people and state.

Two good reads

  • From Col. Lang (on partial withdrawal)

    Iraq, (Mesopotamia) has always been held together (in various eras) by force and coercion. The enmity among the “Iraqis” is not a matter of misunderstanding, or a failure to communicate among themselves.

  • From Michael Scheur (on George Tenet’s book)

    But Tenet’s resignation would have destroyed the neocons’ Iraq house of cards by discrediting the only glue holding it together: the intelligence that “proved” Saddam Hussein guilty of pursuing nuclear weapons and working with al-Qaeda.

Sunday round up

  • A nice graph of the internet
  • If I believed in conspiracy theories, I’d believe in this one “I found Saddam’s WMD Bunkers“. The reason that no one in government is following up on them is that the US invasion forced the weapons into Syria, and the Bush administration didn’t act on the information quickly. The Democrats don’t want to move on it because it proves the main cause for the invasion. It’s a bit too cinematic to be believed, but quite interesting.

A curious ommission

From this article in the NYT on attitudes on the Iraq war by age group, specifically

Forty-eight percent of Americans 18 to 29 years old said the United States did the right thing in taking military action against Iraq, while 45 percent said the United States should have stayed out. That is in sharp contrast to the opinions of those 65 and older, who have lived through many other wars. Twenty eight percent of that age group said the United States did the right thing, while 67 percent said the United States should have stayed out.

“We’ve experienced more than the younger people. Older people are wiser. We’ve seen war and we know.”

Anyway, it goes on like that. One thing that was not mentioned was the fact that the time horizons are quite different. Someone 65 is looking at an outer range of 30 years more of life, whereas someone age 25 is looking at 60 more years of life. It’s quite plausible that younger people might be more favorable to risky experiments with possible longer term benefits, the same way they like investing in risky stocks and mutual funds – to wit, they have more time to play with, so they can take more risks.

I’m not saying this is the reason for the disparity, but it’s odd it wasn’t addressed.

What I got wrong about the Iraq war

I was going to write this a while back, but here it is. I was on the fence about it at the time, but history did not to wait for me to reach a position.

What I was wrong about with regard to Iraq (2003 assumptions)

  • I thought we would have over 10,000 military deaths by this point.
  • I thought the war would take about a year of heavy fighting.
  • I thought it would be over after that year
  • I thought the Sunni-Shia split would not play out as it has, rather that it would stay at or around the 2004 level
  • I thought we would have much more negative blowback – for all of the shouting and protests, not much has really happened on that front
  • I thought we would have found at least chemical weapons (in large quantities)
  • I did not think that Kurdistan would turn out as well as it has
  • I thought Turkey would have intervened in some form by now
  • I thought al Qaida would have benefited more, it seems that they have been hurt (in terms of their ideological appeal) by the Iraq war (more on that later)
  • I did not think that we would still have this many troops (fighting) at this point.
  • I thought that there would be much more conventional combat, and much less of this gang warfare
  • I thought that the Iraqis would have scored at least three major wins (surprise attacks in some fashion) in the scores of battles that have happened since the war began. They don’t seem to have won any against American troops.

Response to Subadei

Subadei was kind enough to post about my earlier Iraq thoughts.

As the power vacuum created by US withdrawal is quickly filled by the Shia we’ll see a down turn in sectarian violence not the ethnic cleansing many fear. Once they have political control of Iraq what do the Shiites stand to gain through annihilatory tactics waged against the Sunni minority? Such actions would certainly provoke Jordan and Syria as the refugee flood becomes a tidal wave. The Sauds are already waving their fists in response to Sunni deaths at the hands of Shiites and their perceived threat of Iran’s growing influence.

Actually I don’t see the Shia filling the power vacuum created when the US leaves. The Iraqi Sunni are quite adept at wreaking havoc and I think that would increase with the US gone. The threat we pose is political, whereas the Shia threat is existential.

I also think I misused the word “state” inaccurately. Most likely the three areas would be a Shia state in the South, a Kurdish one in the north, and a wild, violent region in the middle. I don’t see the Shia (large, unorganized, and ununited) being able to impose a monopoly of violence against a more organized and much more united (smaller in size) Sunni region. Especially if the Saudis and AQ are able to make spoiling attacks and fund the warring factions.

Current Iraq thoughts

To update my many readers of my thoughts on Iraq, here they are.

Short and Medium Term Recommendation:

  • Accept the fact that a multi-ethnic democracy with strong group loyalties and a medium to high population density that has no overriding equalizer, (i.e. a market economy, strong religion, nation of uprooted immigrants, cult like leader, animosity towards some other country or religion etc) is a very bloody affair.
  • Let the country break apart into a very loose confederation, – There will probably be one to 3 Shia distinct regions in the South, 6-12 distinct Sunni regions and one distinct Kurdish region. Withdraw to the friendly areas, i.e. Kurdistan and probably a couple of Sunni areas and let the various sides fight it out. They’re doing this anyway and there is no need for American troops to get caught in the crossfire.
  • Accept the fact that there will be massive ethnic cleansing with the above option, much is happening already. Do as much as possible within some give time frame, say 10 months to let the ethnic cleansing be as bloodless as possible and not verge into genocide. This is going to happen anyway, many lives could be saved if we do it on our terms.
  • Drop the 60s idealism (called nation-building/neoconservatism, or whatever baby boomer term you want to label it) and admit that what is happening in Iraq IS democracy, it’s just bloody and ugly. Diversity only works if no one cares about the differences between people. Primary loyalties are primary.
  • I think Robert Kaplan thought of this first, but the proper metaphors for the current Middle East is not WWII, but the Barbary Pirates and the Indian Wars. I.E. it’s time to think small, and act small. Also, let the military get back to what it’s good at, i.e. killing people and breaking things.
  • Reward our friends and punish our enemies, but above all, be clear in our foreign policy. We would be well served by coming off of our high horse (bringing democracy, enlightenment, etc) and admitting that we’re in pursuit of our own interest, just like everyone else. We’ve long believed our own hype about our own greatness. While largely true domestically (thank you founding fathers and your division of power) it is much less true internationally due to the way our system is set up. Most of the good things we do are diffused in the form of trade and a myriad of private charities. It’s time to say less and to behave much more predictably. Cross cultural communication is hard enough without adding nuance and tone into the equation.

Long Term Recommendations

  • Get out. The Coase theorem applies to the Middle East just like everywhere else. We’re buying our oil now and we’ll be buying it in the future. And contrary to popular belief, it will be less important in the future. Plus, it’s quite likely the Kurds will be very pro-western and peaceful. Their primary loyalty is not divided and it’s not against us.
  • Be honest in our dealing with Israel – we don’t have that many common interests, but we are friends – it’s less like the US and the USSR in WWII and more like the US and Japan in the present day (excepting North Korea)

Consequences of The Above

  • Lots of blood will be shed – but it will be shed anyway. The key is minimizing it
  • People will be uprooted and new vendettas will be started that will last for centuries.
  • The Sunni and the Shia factions of the Middle East will have a battleground to fight their proxy wars, much like the Nazis and the Soviets had a battleground in the Spanish Civil War. Then again, they have that now.
  • American troops will be used in raids and attacks in the loose confederation of what we’ll still call Iraq.
  • Turkey will be quite angry – but that is manageable and can be minimized by the use of carrots and sticks.

I’ll have my post on what I was right and wrong about (regarding Iraq that is) later.