2007 April 08 Sunday
Washington DC Debate On Iraq Running Fast

The debate on Iraq will be over before the results of the troop surge become clear.

"The time scale to succeed is years," said John J. Hamre, a former deputy defense secretary, while "the time scale for tolerance here is 12 months for Democrats and 18 months for Republicans."

But suppose the troop surge shows that we can reduce violence in Baghdad while it surges in other parts of Iraq? The US military isn't even big enough to maintain the surge level of troops in Baghdad, let alone surging even higher to repeat the same process in the rest of Iraq.

But even if the surge reduces the violence around Baghdad that could mean that the insurgents have decided to hide their weapons and hold off from some of their attacks until the US troops eventually return to the pre-surge levels.

Petraeus himself has repeatedly said it is too early to tell whether the new strategy is showing sustained progress. He and others say they will be able to assess by this fall whether they are succeeding or failing. If so, the current debate over a possible 2008 withdrawal could prove beside the point.

Actually, the surge could prove besides the point. The decisions in Washington DC could make the results of the surge irrelevant.

An official in Iraq warned that executing the new approach will take time -- perhaps more than Washington is willing to give. "Early signs are very encouraging -- huge drop in sectarian killings in Baghdad, return of thousands of refugee families," he said, speaking on the condition of anonymity so that he could be candid. "But there is no way we can defeat this insurgency by summer. I believe we can begin to turn the tide by then, and have an idea if we are doing it. To defeat it completely is a five-to-10-year project, minimum -- and rushing it along to meet a D.C. timeline is rushing to failure."

I would like to hear why this official thinks we should spend 5 to 10 years and an awful lot of blood and money to defeat the assorted insurgencies (note the plural) in Iraq. Is that what we are supposed to learn from the surge? Whether or not we could defeat the insurgency if we maintained 150,000 troops in Iraq for 10 years?

Ricks relays assorted reports on how the clamp-down in Baghdad is shifting the violence elsewhere. Also, the turning of Sunni tribes in Anbar Province against the foreign jihadists is driving those jihadists to other parts of Iraq. This demonstrates that -the US does not have enough soldiers to do a surge big enough to show that we can get a handle on the situation. In spite of Bush's repeated proclamations to the contrary he's gotten us into a conflict that we could only win with a force two or three times larger and with many more casualties.

We need to keep in mind the bottom line. Is the bottom line to get the factions in Iraq to stop fighting each other? That seems an unlikely turn of events because none of the factions wants to submit to rule by any other faction.

Also, officers say, major questions remain about the sustainability of any positive momentum. Military operations can buy time but cannot solve the basic problem in Iraq: the growing threat of a civil war. The U.S. government keeps pushing for reconciliation, but there are few signs of movement toward that goal. "Nothing is going to work until the parties are ready to compromise, and I don't see any indicators yet that they are," said A. Heather Coyne, who has worked in Iraq both as a military reservist and as a civilian. "Until then, any effect of the surge will be temporary."

To put it another way: The Iraqis do not do equality. They do dominance and submission. Equality is foreign to their vocabulary and not in their mental model of the world.

Writing in the Living Intentionally blog, a US soldier working in intelligence in Iraq eloquently states how much Iraqis do not care about freedom for others.

What I object to is what the Iraq war has become, and the fact that great Americans are dying on a daily basis for people who do not appreciate or understand what we are doing. Make no mistake, many people from this culture know the words to use when talking with Westerners....words like freedom, democracy and human rights. When the Westerner leaves the room these words cease to have meaning. They do not speak this way with each other. They mutually recognize that using these words is part of the expected hussle. There is a Westernized elite who own the concepts and desire to live within the framework, but they have no power here, and their desire is to get a US visa as quickly as they can and move to Detroit.

There is nothing in this culture that gives it a framework to understand the notion of consensual government for the common good, outside one's self, kinship or tribal structure. This truth works itself out in this culture in a way that is very masochistic to Western eyes.

Any individual, minimal cooperation we receive is due to perceived self-interest. It's not about appealing to a higher good, or humanitarianism, or sense of wider duty. It's about finding where your interests coincide with the individual, at that moment in time. Creativity in shameless dissembling, if resulting in benefit to one's self, is respected and admired.

I've heard it said that the desire for freedom beats in the heart of every person. This is probably true. But the desire for freedom for one's neighbor, independent of one's own self-interest, does not, and this is the true test, which the Iraqi people have failed.

I worry that we are shedding the blood of America's best on a mistaken assumption about the latter.

On January 10, 2007 George W. Bush repeated his familiar argument that if we do not fight the terrorists in Iraq we will have to fight them in America.

The consequences of failure are clear: Radical Islamic extremists would grow in strength and gain new recruits. They would be in a better position to topple moderate governments, create chaos in the region, and use oil revenues to fund their ambitions. Iran would be emboldened in its pursuit of nuclear weapons. Our enemies would have a safe haven from which to plan and launch attacks on the American people. On September the 11th, 2001, we saw what a refuge for extremists on the other side of the world could bring to the streets of our own cities. For the safety of our people, America must succeed in Iraq.

For the safety of our people we need to keep Muslims out of the West. For the safety of our people we should find ways to obsolesce oil by developing new energy technologies so the world stops sending huge amounts of money to the Muslim Middle East. For the safety of our people we should pull out of Iraq and take a small portion of what we are now spending on Iraq and spend it on improving the capabilities of intelligence agencies.

You might think, hey if these Iraqi Muslim Jihadists want to attack Americans why not just keep the Iraqi Muslims from coming to America? But George W. Bush has got that one covered. Bush has repeatedly claimed that Islam is a religion of peace and the Jihadists are a different kettle of fish.

Some call this evil Islamic radicalism; others, militant Jihadism; still others, Islamo-fascism. Whatever it's called, this ideology is very different from the religion of Islam. This form of radicalism exploits Islam to serve a violent, political vision: the establishment, by terrorism and subversion and insurgency, of a totalitarian empire that denies all political and religious freedom. These extremists distort the idea of jihad into a call for terrorist murder against Christians and Jews and Hindus -- and also against Muslims from other traditions, who they regard as heretics.

Never mind that non-Muslims are second class citizens in Muslim countries. Never mind that Muslims in the West when they reach substantial numbers start agitating for Sharia law and general imposition of Muslim values on everybody else. And just forget what the Koran actually says about non-believers. We are supposed to believe noted Islam scholar George W. Bush, that well known curious bookworm, when he tells us Islam is not the problem.

For an analysis of why I think Bush and the neoconservatives mislead with their rhetoric about the Jihadists see my post False Analogies Between Islam And Western Ideologies.

Update: Iraqi Shia cleric and Mahdi Army militia leader Muqtada al-Sadr has called on Iraqis to expel US forces from Iraq.

BAGHDAD -- The renegade cleric Muqtada al-Sadr urged the Iraqi army and police to stop cooperating with the United States and told his guerrilla fighters to concentrate on pushing American forces out of the country, according to a statement issued Sunday.

If the Shias rise up against US and allied forces in the south of Iraq (e.g. the British who are scaling back their forces) then the US forces would face a very difficult time. This would work against the Sunnis since a Shia uprising would pull US forces away from Baghdad and away from protecting Sunnis from Shia ethnic cleansers.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2007 April 08 07:32 PM  Mideast Iraq Exit Debate

Ned said at April 9, 2007 6:50 AM:

The Domino Theory is back! You really can't keep a good theory down for long. Bush's quotes about fighting the Islamic terrorists in Iraq instead of America sounds just like what Lyndon Johnson used to say about Vietnam - if we don't stop those pesky Communists in Vietnam, then one day we'll be fighting them in California. Look at these excerpts from an article by Chris Nichols (http://www.virginia.edu/topnews/facultyopinions/2007/ReturnoftheDominoTheory.html):

Dominoes are back. The old, scuffed political theory of one domino falling and knocking down others turned up recently in President Bush's call for support from Congress for a surge in U.S. troops in Iraq.

On March 19, Bush said: "If American forces were to step back from Baghdad before it is more secure, a contagion of violence could spill out across the entire country. In time, this violence could engulf the region. . For the safety of the American people, we cannot allow this to happen."

The domino theory, however, contains inherent flaws. It conflates present or past events with projection into the future. More symbolic than analytical, it predicts that outcomes will be worse unless new actions are taken. This reinforces an argument for sustained or escalated military involvement.

Why make such a case today? Simple: it works. Wartime presidents of both parties have historically recognized the value of domino theory and used it to support continued military intervention.

Consider past precedents. Born in the early Cold War years, under President Harry Truman, the domino theory found acceptance by his successor, general-turned-president Dwight D. Eisenhower. "You have a row of dominoes set up," said Ike in 1954, "you knock over the first one and what will happen to the last one is the certainty that it will go over very quickly. . . you could have a beginning of a disintegration that would have the most profound influences."

Adopted to justify the American entry into Indochina, this assumption underlay the rationales of Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon in escalating the Vietnam War. As Johnson explained in 1967: "We have chosen to fight a limited war . . . in an attempt to prevent a larger war - a war almost certain to follow, I believe, if the Communists succeed in overrunning and taking over South Vietnam by aggression and by force."

President Bush expands on this theory by calling for a drive to spread freedom and democracy throughout the Middle East. He echoes the words of Johnson and Eisenhower, declaring that the "challenge playing out across the broader Middle East is more than a military conflict. It is the decisive ideological struggle of our time."

Some ask: If it were so decisive why not use overwhelming force? And why continue to use force if the struggle is extra-military? In his State of the Union Address in January, Bush responded to such criticism: "In the long run, the most realistic way to protect the American people is to provide a hopeful alternative to the hateful ideology of the enemy - by advancing liberty across a troubled region."

Just as with Eisenhower, Bush's rhetoric is shot through with contradictions. Ike proclaimed with "certainty" that the "last" domino would fall if the first one did; however, he also noted this to be a "possible sequence of events." Bush likewise hedges his words. While terming the clash "decisive," he asserts only that the "contagion of violence" "could" spill out of Iraq. Decades after the Vietnam War, our national leaders are using the same discredited arguments to justify an expanded American presence in Iraq.

Remarkably, the domino theory also has become part of jihadist doctrine. A psychiatrist and the Al Qaeda mastermind of the Madrid bombings, Dr. Abu Hafiza, wrote in 2004: "After knocking over one domino after another, we will stand face to face with the key domino, the United States." The sheer absurdity of such an outcome makes the assertion laughable. Yet it causes fear. And fear forms the basis for domino theory.

As military and political history amply illustrate, the domino theory falls flat. To be sure, America's departure from South Vietnam was horrific. U.S. allies there suffered terribly. So did the United States as a whole. Global prestige plummeted. A chastened America became less likely to engage in hot wars. Cambodia and Laos turned communist.

John S Bolton said at April 9, 2007 9:16 AM:

There is no evidence of a sufficient constituency for brotherhood, equality or freedom in Iraq, and the strategy premise that such a constituency exists, makes what the tranzi elites would call failure, inevitable.
Partition would be success relative to what can be expected ina moslem country, and relative to continuation of present strategy premisses.
The saying: 'offense is the best defense', is the implication of the administration's staements on the wars.
Defense against what, though, if it is a 'hate crime' to mention the
enormous Islamic terror offensive which has been global for so many years now?
Actually, defense is the best offense,if we need to defend against the moslem terror offensive
and need to unblindfold the government to the fact that it is echt Islamic.
The war of religion is the utter essence of Islam,
and this must be the strategy premise of all our engagement with, and disengagements from, Islam.

Kurt9 said at April 9, 2007 11:24 AM:

Bureaucracies tend to recycle their ideas, the domino theory being one of them. The other one is about how we are too pussy to fight whereas they are not afraid to die. The same thing was said about the communists in the 60's and 70's. We are not willing to sacrefice millions of our people in nuclear conflict, whereas the Soviets have no problem with fighting a war where millions of their own people die. The battle of Stalingrad and the fact that 20 million Soviet citizens died in WW2 were often used to back up this "theory". As a kid, I heard this rhetoric all the time (I grew up in a conservative part of the U.S.) and I am hearing the exact same line of jive from the neo-cons today.

As side point, a higher percentage of the population died in the American Civil War than did Soviet citizens in WW2. So, Americans have proven (in the past) that we will fight and die in mass numbers, if we think the cause is worth it. Of course, this was in the 1860's and we may be more pussy today.

Stephen said at April 9, 2007 5:49 PM:

Well said Ned, I agree entirely. The domino theory is the last refuge of the scoundrel, the people who peddle it assume that every state is identical.

gcochran said at April 9, 2007 9:10 PM:

"As side point, a higher percentage of the population died in the American Civil War than did Soviet citizens in WW2."


Wolf-Dog said at April 9, 2007 11:39 PM:

Randall Parker wrote:"If the Shias rise up against US and allied forces in the south of Iraq (e.g. the British who are scaling back their forces) then the US forces would face a very difficult time. This would work against the Sunnis since a Shia uprising would pull US forces away from Baghdad and away from protecting Sunnis from Shia ethnic cleansers."

Actually, if the US is forced to leave Iraq like Vietnam, then it is possible that this will unite the Shiites and the Sunnis against the West. The local rivalry between Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq is a tribal problem, it is not the global thing between Shiites and Sunnis in the world, which means that it is possible that these two groups will unite against the Christians, just as they were united during the Crusades. And after the US leaves Iraq, then almost certainly the Saudi oil will be taken by Iran, and this will finance the most unimaginable weapons in the hands of the rising Islamic Empire. You see, the 9/11 thing was just a trap to bring the Christian Crusaders into the Middle East, to cause a guerrilla war that will unite all the Muslims... The trap worked with mathematical precision.

John S Bolton said at April 10, 2007 12:23 AM:

The last thing that the moslem as such, would want is for America to be trapped in their heartland.
Domino theory is an analogy, and reasoning upon such analogies has inherent weaknesses,
such as tacitly assuming that all the dominoes are aligned and spaced so as to fall, if the first one does.
Lack of military will tends to get cancelled-out by the willfulness of the Islamic regimes,
which keep trying more provocative challenges, the way Iran does.
You can count on them to give you ample causes of war.

Thomas said at April 10, 2007 9:17 AM:

"...guerrilla war that will unite all the Muslims..."

Is that so bad? Then all the liars, fools and others who say that there are "moderate" muslims, islam is peacful, tolerant, etc...muslims can experience a reformation, coexist with non-muslims, and all the other feel good nonsense about islam and muslims will be seen for what it is, essentially wishful thinking and bullshit. Then hopefully the West can get its act together and obliterate islam for good. I can't imagine that anybody who has had the misfortune to come in contact with muslims would disagree (Thais, Hindus, animists in Darfur, Coptic Christians, etc...) I doubt many of them feel the way about islams that many in the West do (to our own detriment).

Dennis said at April 12, 2007 3:44 PM:

You ever notice that for all of the concept's enduring, shape-shifting longevity, the dominoes of the Domino Theory never really fall? Powerful nations are able to dominate weaker neighbors, empires project power abroad, but ideological guerilla movements can only manage to gain power in their own country and, at best (or worst), subvert their immediate neighbors, say if there's an ethnic group straddling arbitrary national boundaries. Beyond that they're relegated to expeditionary volunteer brigades, and if the organization and will doesn't exist in their foreign hosts, they're like Che Guevara, stranded and swatting at mosquitos in Africa. Bush's boneheaded play has set up the potential for something like that happening in both Kurdistan and southern Iraq, but how this threatens us other than through the potential deterioration of our influence in the MidEast is never articulated.

Iran indeed threatens to gain power and influence via the opening we handed them in Iraq, but how that really threatens us is also never satisfactorily explained, other than citing Ahmadinejad's kooky Mahdi-ism and anti-Israel statements (and pretending that their nascent nuke program has them on the verge of nuclear superpower status). They don't hold the sway, even now, in Iraq that will hand them its oil, and if they try to assert themselves militarily to achieve that they will be in much worse shape then we are presently trying to make that work.

A sudden withdrawal from Iraq might be the last thing the Iranians want, drawing them into not only an Iraqi civil war but a proxy war with the Sunni states, and drawing the Arabs and Israelis into an effective alliance. Hardly the sort of thing I would prescribe, and profoundly immoral to effect, but Bush has already set this in motion. For all the windy hysteria about the chaos that will follow our departure, the Administration is really worried about the door to Iraq, its oil, and our military footprint in the region closing for good once we leave.

As for the dominoes, like John says, it's a hopelessly inadequate analogy for the real world. It's very dangerous when people like Bush get a hold of such ideas.

pat said at April 12, 2007 8:49 PM:

We have to recognize the forces that are causing the violence in Iraq and their objectives.

First up is Al Qaeda, the military arm of radical Sunni theology. They might not have had much of a relationship with Saddam, but Bin Ladin did justify violence on America because of the first Gulf War. 9/11 was supposed to drive the US out of the Middle East. It had the opposite effect. American military might poured into Iraq, the heart of the Middle East. Al Qaeda was forced to pour resources into Iraq to drive the US out. They didn't intend to do it militarily. The chosen method was terrorism and the negative publicity it generates in the leftist US MSM. Their strategy is on the verge of success. The majority Democrats in the House and Senate have signed up with Al Qaeda's strategy.

Next, we have the Sunni minority that benefited from Saddam's rule. They have been in the forefront of the insurgency, but their ally, Al Qaeda, has betrayed them. Al Qaeda needs MSM headlines. Mass murdering Shi'ites was a good way to do that. But radical Shi'ites reacted by killing Sunnis wholesale. Al Qaeda started attacking Sunni targets. They even used Chlorine truck bombs against Sunnis. This drove a wedge between Al Qaeda and the Sunni minority. We are now seeing Sunni tribes switching sides.

Finally, we have Iran. The radical Shi'ites who run that Clintonian Democracy have strong ties with the likes of Al Sadr. They fought a long war with Saddam's Iraq in the 1980s. It was costly to both sides, but one result is that Iran fears a strong Iraq, and it very much fears a strong Iraq allied with the Great Satan. Iran just wants the US to wash its hands of an Iraq quagmire. Guess what? So does Madam Pelosi. The strategic problem is that Iran is playing both sides against the middle. The Mad Mullahs don't actually care about their Shi'ite Arab allies. So they are happy to assist Al Qaeda, the Sunni factions, and the Shi'ites. So long as death and destruction continues in Iraq, they win and the US loses.

If Iran can keep the violence in Iraq stoked up, it can keep the US from focusing on Iran. Under those conditions, Iran can keep working on its nukes.

Did the US expect that getting rid of Saddam would unleash the forces it did? Probably not. Did anyone expect a single assassination to spark World War One? Probably not.

But now we have revealed the Sunni/Shi'ite divide, the civil war between Muslim moderates and radicals, and the self-destructive tendencies of the anti-war wing that is ascendant in the Democratic party. Great matters stand in the balance.

John S Bolton said at April 12, 2007 10:06 PM:

If it were my decision, with no domestic constituencies to worry about, Iraq would be partitioned on hyper-gerrymandered new sovereignties, each with pro rata oil reserves, and a puppet ruler in charge of each. US troops would be keeping the boundaries and any odd stranded populations from being overrun, and some terrorist hunting. Iran would be bombed and invaded, with more than a 100,000 troops removed from Iraq and Afghanistan, plus others.
There would be no pretense of the near-term arrival of democracy, brotherhood, and equality; but autocratic, dependent kingdoms would be set up.
Freedom for the moslem means freedom to establish theocracy, but if they were to have the genuine freedom, which is freedom-from-aggression, this cannot be expected to spontaneously
flourish from democracy when the quality of population is dismal.
The major source country of the moslem terror offensive then is punished, as it needs to be, but this will certainly not end the terror offensive.
The moslems stopped fearing the USSR more than the US, when it broke up.
They don't need us to protect them from what they fear worse.

John Smith said at April 13, 2007 2:38 PM:

Finally, someone acknowledges that all cultures are not created equal.

When will people abandon the ridiculous PC rhetoric that "Iraqis think of themselves as Iraqis, not as Sunnis or Shiites."

Iraq is a false country, so there's no reason to hold on to it. Partition it, get out. The only way to win the war on terror is to discredit this abysmal religion.

John S Bolton said at April 13, 2007 10:26 PM:

Kurdistan is like a real nation, though. It does not allow terrorists to roam freely, as if openness were a value, and one such that every increment of openness to what is progressively more difficult to be open to, were somehow better.
There could be several Kurdistans made of Iraq, but according to elite opinion, of the most questionable loyalty,
the worst possibility is a spike of ethnic cleansing.
The worst possibility would be Al Qaeda and Iranian theocrats dividing Iraq between them, initiating a mass slaughter of 'collaborators',
getting America and Europe to be open to hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees, and salting that flow liberally with terrorists.
Then you could get a 9-11 every few weeks, just from the openness.

Bob Badour said at April 15, 2007 8:05 AM:
Did the US expect that getting rid of Saddam would unleash the forces it did? Probably not.

Pat, if you go back and read what folks were writing on this blog back in 2002 and early 2003, the answer is obvious: Yes, many Americans found the above outcome predictable. Ditto if you examine what the top soldiers were telling the administration leading up to the war.

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