2005 June 24 Friday
Iraqi Insurgency Not Getting Weaker Says General Abizaid

General John Abizaid, commander of US forces in the Middle East, says the insurgency is not getting weaker

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich.: "General Abizaid, can you give us your assessment of the strength of the insurgency? Is it less strong, more strong, about the same strength as it was six months ago?"

Gen. John Abizaid, top U.S. commander in the Persian Gulf: "In terms of comparison from six months ago, in terms of foreign fighters, I believe there are more foreign fighters coming into Iraq than there were six months ago.

"In terms of the overall strength of the insurgency, I'd say it's about the same as it was."

Levin: "So you wouldn't agree with the statement that it's in its last throes?"

Abizaid: "I don't know that I would make any comment about that other than to say there's a lot of work to be done against the insurgency."

Levin: "Well, the vice president has said it's in its last throes, that's the statement the vice president — it doesn't sound to me from your testimony or any other testimony here this morning that it is in its last throes."

Abizaid: "I'm sure you'll forgive me from criticizing the vice president."

Levin: "I just want an honest assessment from you as to whether you agree with a particular statement of his — it's not personal. ...

Abizaid: "I gave you my opinion of where we are."

That is pretty clear.

Vice President Richard Cheney is telling a more optimistic tale.

In a CNN interview last month, Cheney said: “The level of activity that we see today from a military standpoint, I think, will clearly decline. I think they’re in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency.”

Who you going to believe?

US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsefld told the Senate that setting a timeline for withdrawal would result in another bad regime coming to power in Iraq.

"Let there be no doubt. If the coalition were to leave before the Iraqi security forces are able to assume responsibility, we would one day have to confront another Iraqi regime perhaps even more dangerous than the last in a region plunged into darkness rather than liberated and free,"

Implicit in the phrase "before the Iraqi security forces are able to assume responsibility" is the idea that at some point in the future the Iraqi security forces will become strong enough to handle the insurgency. Well, what if that never happens? How long should the US stay waiting for this to happen?

Also, suppose the US withdraws and the central government falls apart and the civil war scales up. Will the government that results from that civil war necessarily be any worse than the government which the Bush Administration hopes will result from US military efforts? Suppse the US sticks around for the supposed point in time when the central government's security forces become strong enough to keep the central government in power. Will that produce a better government? Or just a different government?

Iraq is one of those cases where we have to wait for various Panglossians to learn the hard way. Though the bulk of the costs do not fall on the Panglossians and so they don't suffer enough to have an incentive to learn quickly. Servicemen and their families pay and the damaged soldiers will pay the rest of their lives.. So do the taxpayers who also will be paying for the war decades after it is over.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2005 June 24 12:48 PM  Mideast Iraq Insurgency

Marvin said at June 25, 2005 10:11 AM:

Pigs enjoy wallowing in slop, and some people do as well. While pessimistic about the possibility of arabs ruling themselves, I'm honest enough to admit that there's a lot more going on in Iraq than just the things that support my particular point of view.

The arabs are not intelligent enough to run a modern country, as you can see in all the arab oil states where foreigners are hired by the tens of thousands to run the infrastructure. In Iraq there is a sizable population of non-arabs, and Kurdistan has been run fairly well freed from the stupid arab dictator. I suspect once the Sunni tribes let go of the good old bloody days of Saddam they'll stop blowing up oil pipelines and Iraqis will eventually be able to afford to buy the people to run their country, like is done in the other gulf oil states.

Large parts of Iraq are free of terror and busily building infrastructure and civil society. Honest folks will focus on the total picture, but dull partisans will only point out either the failures or the successes. Most media hacks are partisan dullards.

Honestly, it's getting harder to call the terrorists in Iraq the "Iraqi insurgency." Killing civilians in a terror campaign is not the work of nationalist insurgents but instead the work of terrorists, many of them infiltrating from Saudi Arabia by way of Syria. They really are anti-Iraqi terror scum. Sunni arab scum?

Randall Parker said at June 25, 2005 11:21 AM:


There is not a single insurgency group. Yes, there are foreign jihadis and those are probably far more likely to become suicide bombers and to set off bombs around the civilians. But my guess is that some insurgent groups are a lot more focused on killing US soldiers and Iraqi government officials and soldiers.

The total picture: I don't see your point here. I just saw Anthony Cordesmann giving a speech at CSIS on C-SPAN last night about his recent trip to Iraq. He said that the anecdotal reports of successes on infrastructure building are misleading because they tend to be for a single town or district or a single type of structure and that overall the infrastructure projects are very poorly managed and a lot of the money is being consumed by corruption.

Cordesmann also said that the US Agency for International Development and other agencies do not put out reports that allow us to track infrastructure progress by use of end measures of things like how many people have electricity or water how much of the time and so on.

Cordesmann also said the whole Iraqi economy is a failure as the unemployment rate for young Iraqis is 40% to 60%. He said that if the United States had such high unemployment rates we too would have lots of angry violent youths.

I haven't tested this link but this is supposed to be the audio of the speech I saw on C-SPAN.

Cordesmann expects thousands of more Americans to die in Iraq. He expects the US to spend billions of dollars per month there for years to come. He also said the neocons were wrong on every particular prediction they made in Iraq. Well, no kidding.

You can also read Cordesmann's report (PDF). I haven't read it yet. His speech was depressing enough.

Mind you, Cordesmann still thinks we might be able to stabilize the Iraqi government and thinks that next year the Iraqi security forces will be able to start being useful and become more useful going forward. He gives our odds of success as 60:40. So on Iraq, if we leave aside the deluded Panglossians in and around tbe Bush Administration, Cordesmann is what passes for an optimist. Yes, we'll have to stay for years and spend hundreds of billions more and lose thousands more soldiers. But ultimately we will be able to leave with the Iraqi government which will exist when we leave able to keep itself in power once we are gone.

Oh wonderful. Thousands dead means tens of thousands damaged for life. Hundreds of billions down the rat hole. Then the Iraqis will pump a couple million more barrels of oil per day and hire lots of foreigners (and few will be Americans) to help run their economy.

Think about what else could be done with that money. It'd buy hundreds of nuclear reactors. We have about 100 nuclear reactors now that provide 20% of US electric power. Those reactors are much smaller on average than what new reactors would be. The new ones would be 1 Gigawatt or more each. At $1 billion to $2 billion per new reactor for a few hundred billion dollars we could build enough nuclear reactors to eliminate our need for coal and natural gas and oil for electric power generation and have spare capacity for vehicle power. Add in some battery technology advances and we could eliminate the use of oil for most transportation needs.

Marvin said at June 25, 2005 3:34 PM:

Don't get me wrong. I think any attempt to raise arabs above the tribal level is a huge waste of money and time, not to mention valiant lives. I can't help but wonder, though, where the arab world is going without a firm hand on the region. There may not be any good way free of bloodshed, maybe a lot of bloodshed, to keep the arab insanity mostly confined in the region whence it sprung. The US can't take many trillion dollar loss days like 11Sept01. Not just the money or lives lost on 11Sept01, but the jubilant smile on Osama's face when he discussed his triumph with his Saudi oil moguls, his pals, his donors. The rocket boost to the jihad promised many more 11Sept01s.

Maybe there's no good way to confront this insanity. Pretending it didn't exist seemed to work for Gore and Clinton, until it didn't work anymore. Little comfort for the thousands of casualties the US suffered from the jihadis while pretending nothing was there in the 90s. Until the escalation got so bad no one could ignore it. The nineteennineties was a wonderful decade for jihadis, so I guess they're hoping for someone like Clinton to get elected again.

Randall Parker said at June 25, 2005 4:40 PM:


9/11 happened and it finally became clear to all that we had to do something about Muslim terrorism aimed the the West in general and the United States in particular. But there is the question of what we ought to do.

Overthrowing the Taliban was a no-brainer. Afghanistan was Al Qaeda's home base. The government there let them operate openly. But once that was done what government was being helpful to the Taliban? Probably parts of the Pakistani and Saudi governments. But not likely any other government and certainly not Saddam Hussein.

I can think of a lot of other and much better ways to spend a few hundred billion dollars other than attacking Iraq in order to lessen our risk of a terrorist attack. It is not hard to think of better ways to reduce the risk because, after all, attacking Iraq did not reduce the risk of terrorist attack. It probably is having the opposite effect.

Think about what we could buy for a few hundred billion dollars:

1) 3 or 5 billion a year to have more FBI, CIA, and other people investigating terrorist groups. The money would be enough to buy the cooperation of any number of Arab and other Muslim governments to share their intelligence and to have them collect more intelligence for us. It would be enough to pay for information from a lot of people who know terrorists.

2) For less than $10 billion we could build a great barrier on the border with Mexico. No terrorist would get in that way.

3) We could build a great computer system for evaluating visa applications and a great computer system for tracking entry, some movements, and exit of foreign visitors.

4) We could build fancier spy equipment for watching potential terrorist hideouts.

5) We could hire more Treasury agents to trace money flows to and from potential terrorists.

6) We could give NSA money to do more interception of phone calls automated translation of Arabic and other languages likely to be used by terrorists.

7) We could do a lot of research on energy with the aim of obsolescing oil in order to defund the Saudis.

I could go on. There plenty of ways to spend relatively small amounts of money to reduce the risk of terrorist attacks.

Marvin said at June 25, 2005 5:10 PM:

You may be right, or you most certainly may be wrong. You don't seem to be aware of the latter possibility. No problem, but being a monomaniac on the negative side seems no more enlightened than being a panglossian.

A good question to ask is whether Bush would take it all back if he could. You know there are going to be thousands of casualties from the arab jihadi fanatics whether the US has troops in Iraq or not. There certainly were during the 90s although no one seemed to say much about them since there was no "war" on at the time, supposedly. There certainly were thousands of casualties and a whopping $1 trillion loss on 11Sept01. You bet that $1 trillion could have been better spent. Eh Mr. Clinton, Mr. military downsizer, Mr. ignore the war the terrorists are fighting against the west, because if you ignore it it isn't happening? Right.

FriendlyFire said at June 25, 2005 6:34 PM:

Eh Mr. Clinton, Mr. military downsizer, Mr. ignore the war the terrorists are fighting against the west, because if you ignore it it isn't happening? Right.

Strange given the fact that the counter terrorist czar. Richar clarke came out in defence of clinton and he's handeling of terrorism. Hes honest and plain speaking testimony at the 9/11 commisson is such a contrast to that of Rice, Cheny and the President.

Strange given that fact certain parties were decrying and actively undermining the president. Accusation that "Alqeda dosnt exist" and "wag the Dog".

"Clinton undercut our military by sending them into useless nation building execises" - Condoleezza Rice.

Clinton could have done a lot more. But it took 9/11 for america to understand the seriousness and gravity of the situation.

Randall Parker said at June 25, 2005 6:59 PM:


Monomaniac? Would you have characterized Winston Churchill a monomaniac in the 1930s? Sometimes the truth is just plain glaring. At this point the mistakes of the war party are so numerous and fundamental the only reason the war party's position matters is that Bush is in the White House. Their model is wrong on too many particulars. Why should we trust the assertion of the neocons (and some liberals) that their larger stated goal of democratization (and presumably liberalization) in the Middle East is either achievable or that it will have the desired effect of reducing terrorism?

Before the war I thought an Iraq invasion might stop a WMD program. But now I know the Bush Administration cooked the intelligence books. They also failed to do post war planning, failed to anticipate the insurgency, failed to anticipate the passive position of most Iraqis toward that insurgency, and once the post war situation went wrong they failed to grasp what needed to be done. These people have been so wrong on such a large scale that the people who correctly predicted the outcome in detail (and I know at least one such person) ought to be listened to. Well, those people who predicted what took place think the project is still doomed to failure and that a continuation of the war does not serve US national interests.

I am familiar with the arguments for how the invasion of Iraq is supposed to lead to a political transformation of the Middle East that will make far fewer Middle Easterners willing to be terrorists or to tolerate terrorists or support them. But are those people making those arguments working with reasonable assumptions about human nature? No, they are not.

See my post Low Per Capita Income Countries Never Remain Democracies where I quote from a research paper by Adam Przeworski:

No democracy ever fell in a country with a per capita income higher than that of Argentina in 1975—US$6055. This is a startling fact given that throughout history about 70 democracies have collapsed in poorer countries. In contrast, 35 democracies spent a total of 1,000 years under more affluent conditions, and not one collapsed. Affluent democracies survived wars, riots, scandals, and economic and governmental crises.

The probability that democracy survives increases monotonically with per capita income. Between 1951 and 1999, the probability that a democracy would fall during any particular year in countries with per capita income under US$1,000 was 0.089, implying that their expected life was about 11 years. With incomes in the range of US$1001 to US$3000, this probability was 0.037, for an expected duration of about 27 years. Between US$3001 and US$6055, the probability was 0.013, which translates into about 78 years of expected life. And above US$6055, democracies last forever.

Is democracy going to work in the Middle East? No way. The income itself is not what makes democracies work. It is the kinds of people that can make a higher income society and their beliefs and skills that make democracy work. The Middle Eastern countries that have higher per capital incomes have those incomes due to oil, not due to social capital, articulate and curious citizens, sufficient IQs and the rest of the stuff that democratic societies have.

The people who are advocating the transformation of the Middle East won't even admit to the differences in societies let alone that those differences matter. Their models of reality are very wrong. Therefore their conclusions are wrong.

Some of the great minds of the last several decades who were on the right side of history against larger numbers of fools think the democratization mania is madness. See my post Robert Conquest On The Limits And Pitfalls Of Democracy and Milton Friedman Opposes Mission To Spread Democracy.

As for Mr. Clinton: I was telling people in the late 1990s we should be overthrowing the Taliban. Right after 9/11 Paul Wolfowitz wanted to immediately overthrow Saddam rather than attack the Taliban first. He's deluded. He's also been the biggest pusher for the Iraq misadventure.

As I stated before the war:

Many commentators are calling for the development of democracy in the Middle East as the solution that will spur economic development, increase freedom, and, as an expected consequence, decrease resentment and anger toward the West among Middle Eastern Muslim populations. But that approach has tough odds of even being tested as a solution anywhere outside of Iraq (since to test it requires direct control of key institutions ala the British Raj in India). In Iraq the attempt to establish a liberal secular democratic state will take decades to play out and then only if the US has the patience and the wisdom to pursue and sustain that course (and it is unlikely that it does). Democracy is not a short or medium term solution for the problems of Middle Eastern terrorism and WMD proliferation.
Marvin said at June 26, 2005 7:36 AM:

Democracy is not a short or medium term solution for the problems of Middle Eastern terrorism and WMD proliferation.

You were not alone in saying things like that. I suspect that the neo-cons were saying things like that and most of them don't expect a quick fix in Iraq either. They probably think the long term commitment is worth it. You and I because we have low regard for arabs disagree.

The striking events in Lebanon and the emboldening of the opposition in Iran, as well as the shaking of the foundations in Damascus, suggest that the long term commitment, although bloody and costly may actually change things in the region. Are arabs worth it? No.

The only thing that is worth such a cost in lives and in neglected alternatives is improved safety for americans. Despite your rather over-strong confidence in your own assessment, the jury is still out on that. Particularly given the long term nature of the situation, as you yourself admit above.

One could certainly pick any war the US has ever won and find many dark moments where ultimate victory was very much in doubt. Lots of people became instant prophets of doom during those periods and slapped themselves on the back well and often for their farsightedness.

Randall Parker said at June 26, 2005 9:05 AM:


The neocons expected rapid changes as a result of their invasion. This is demonstrated most clearly by their expectations on the post-war aftermath. They didn't expect looting, they expected to draw the troops down to 30,000 by the end of 2003, and they expected an easy transition to a functioning democracy (and I'm sure I'm missing several other items they missed in a big way).

I was in arguments here and elsewhere a couple of years ago with neocons who thought my argument for energy research was irrelevant because the Bush Administration policies were going to solve our problem with Arabs well before energy research could cause a reduction in the flow of money to the Middle East. When I call these people Panglossians it is not without reason.

Then there is border control and visa policies. If Bush didn't think his Middle Eastern policy was going to fix the terrorist problem in the short to medium you'd think he'd do a lot more on the home front to decrease the terrorist attack risk. But he's not.

The jury is out because of the long term nature of the situation? No, that was not my point. The US is not going to rule Iraq like Britain ruled India (and click thru on the link from which I quoted myself and then click thru to Stanley Kurtz's essay about the British Raj and democratization to understand the context for my quote). Plus, the Arabs are too dumb to run a democracy. In India the caste system has created some castes that can run the government while the majority of the population can't read and has little influence in politics. But even India's continued status as a democracy is not assured since as the lower castes get more involved in politics they will make a corrupt and semi-socialist system even worse.

Emboldening opposition in Iran? You are falling for neocon propaganda (and Michael Ledeen's propaganda in particular even if you have never read him). The hardliner just won election as President. The opposition is weaker now than it was in the late 1990s. See what I had to say over two years ago in May 2003 in my post What Do Polls Tell Us About The Iranian People? and click thru from there to my previous posts that I include at the top. Then see my post from last month Nuclear Power Broadly Popular In Iran.

Also, see the latest reports from Iran's election where the hardliner won the Presidency.

The United States and its European allies are bracing for a tough new opponent in Iran with the election to the presidency of Tehran's ultra-conservative mayor, a relative unknown to the outside world whose campaign pledged to take a harder line in talks on Iran's nuclear program, according to U.S. and Western officials, as well as Iranian analysts.

The upset victory of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has alarmed U.S. and European officials over issues including the future of Iraq, the Middle East peace efforts and the impact on oil markets. Any prospect of ending more than a quarter of a century of tensions with Iran is also unlikely after Ahmadinejad begins his four-year term this summer, the officials said.

The neocons keep repeating their position. They keep sounding supremely confident. But they are delusional. They are nuts. The world is unlike their imaginings. They keep coming up with new rationalizations. The world keeps not acting the way they predict.

I am not as confident that I'm right as I am that they are wrong. My model is incomplete. But I'm using real facts. They are building a fantasy in clouds in their minds. Read what some Egyptian democracy activists say in my post Middle Eastern Democracies Will Be Anti-American and Anti-Israeli.

Some former top US officers think the neocons are nuts. Former USAF chief of staff Tony McPeak says "The people in control in the Pentagon and the White House live in a fantasy world."

Any war the US had ever won: In some cases we mobilized for total victory. e.g. WWI and WWII. In other cases we didn't and we ultimately failed. e.g. Vietnam. Where are the million troops drafted for 3 or 4 years of service in Iraq? Not gonna happen. In WWII public opinion was strongly for the war and the people saw no way out short of total victory. In Vietnam they didn' feel that way. What was the difference in outcome? Which is Iraq more like? WWII or Vietnam?

Bush refuses to even treat Iraq as a problem that requires lots of resources. If you go into my Iraq category archive you'll see a number of posts reporting various US officers and former officers saying more troops are needed in Iraq. Now, I don't think the war is worth fighting in the first place. But we ought to either do it right or not do it at all. But Bush sees a higher cost to him politically from taking either of those roads.

Marvin said at June 26, 2005 1:45 PM:

Do you honestly believe the recent Iranian election reflects the views of the Iranian people? Perhaps you think the same of the Zimbabwean elections or the Cuban elections? The Iraqi elections under Saddam? Soviet elections under Stalin? You get the drift.

One thing that's very clear from your Iraq archives is that you carefully cherry pick your quotes from military officers, and your statistics. You are the equivalent of a panglossian on the other side of the issue. Mr. Parker, you clearly shade your archives to reflect your own views. That's normal human nature and I can't fault you for that. Almost all of your readers are smart enough to find more data to produce a more nuanced view. That's a compliment to you.

Randall Parker said at June 26, 2005 2:38 PM:


Cherry pick? What, am I supposed to include more quotes from higher up in the food chain? The optimism rises the higher you go up. You have to apply an intelligent filter to what comes from the government. Look at what the military officers say. They have to avoid going too far from the party line of their political masters. The lower down you go in the chain the less political they are and the more critical the quotes are about troop needs and the long term prognosis. The guys talking off record aren't optimistic either. I don't therefore think my archive overstates what the US officer corps in Iraq or Washington DC think about Iraq.

The tendency to say "there are two sides of any issue and the truth lies somewhere in between" is intellectual laziness. The truth may lie somewhere else entirely or one of the two sides could be completely wrong while the other side is mostly right. Your seemingly reasonable heuristic is based on a fallacy.

My take on the Iranian elections: First, was there some cheating by the Mullahs? Very likely, especially in the first round but likely in the second round as well. Plus, the fixed choice was between different degrees of theocracy. But that is only part of the story. The Iranian opposition is sufficiently despondent that they were not motivated to go out and vote.

But there is a deeper problem: In many Middle Eastern countries where elections have been fairer the results have, nmore often than not, been for the religious parties. As for the Iraqi elections under Saddam: But you left aside who won post-Saddam. Who won in Iraq under US supervision? The slate supported by Ayatollah al-Sistani. Who lost? More secular and liberal slates. Who won in south Lebanon? Hezbollah. Who one in the Saudi municipal advisory council elections? The "Golden List" of hardliner Wahhabis - except in the eastern province where some Shia won. Who won in Algeria just before the military took over and cancelled the outcome of the elections? The theocrats.

Is there a secular portion of the Middle Eastern populations? Yes. Are they a majority in most countries? Doesn't look that way. I've posted on polls in Iran. Go read my Iranian archive. Tell me how those polls are good news for liberal democrats. I don't see it myself.

gcochran said at June 26, 2005 2:46 PM:

Everybody filters. The question is whether you're trying to get the right answer, or have some other goal, as most people do - usually supporeting the side, or trying to cfrate a happy illusion. The Prez and his associates have a vested interest in getting people to think that things are just hunky-dory in Iraq. Randall doesn't, I don't. Serving military officers _can't_ say the the President is a dick: it's illegal. You have to allow for that. Movement conservatievs want their guys to win elections, and they want that a lot more than they want to tell the truth. Anyone who has watched them these last few years knows that - so you have to allow for that. Same is true of liberals, but they don't _have_ to lie in this case: they've got all the cards.

Recently retired general officers have various motives, but they _can_ say what they think (although they may lost some juicy employment possibilties as corporate board members, government consultants, etc). And when they do, they say that the Administration is a bunch of lunatics. Two out of the last three Centcom commanders (Zinni and Hoar) think this is lunacy - the other, an aerospace executive who can't afford to shoot his mouth off, says nothing. Schwartzkopf thought invading Iraq was a mistake. McPeak thinks it's goony. Jesus, the War College think it's insane.

My main interest is being able to say "I told you so" - i.e. in making correct predictions. I have succeeded. I said that Iraq had no nuclear program, that it was no military threat, that they had nothing to do with 9-11 and little to do with terrorism - in particular, _nothing_ to do with anti-US terrorism. I was correct. Before the invasion, I said that we would probaby face a guerrilla war. I was right. In the summer of 2003, I said that we would not manage to significantly increase Iraqi oil exports in the next year. I was right - it's way down from prewar. I said that catching Saddam and his sons would probably make no difference, might even make things worse (i.e. spark Shi'ite resistance, with the bogeyman dead) - I was right. I said that declaring Iraq 'sovereign' was a farce - that we might as well proclaim it 'transcendent' - I was right. I thought that the election early this year would not end or significantly moderate the insurgency - I was right. I said and continue to say say that Iraq is about as " ripe for democracy" as a barrel of rabid howler monkeys. So far, the results support my evaluation.

The Administration is lying. Not just lying to you - various members of it are lying to each other, and to themselves. They can't handle the truth: the truth is that they've fucked up at an almost superhuman level. If they faced the facts squarely, if they had any honor, any sense of decency, any feeling of obligation to the country, they'd hang themselves. If this were Japan, they'd reach for the knife. Back when there was still such a thing as personal responsibility in this country, someone would have left them a pistol with one bullet in their desk drawer.

FriendlyFire said at June 28, 2005 5:52 PM:

Lots of people became instant prophets of doom during those periods and slapped themselves on the back well and often for their farsightedness.

"This war will be over in six months and all you doves will be politically dead" - US President LB Jonson

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