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November 24, 2005

Careful What you Ask For...
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

I spent today setting up a home office--and out of one of my boxes fell a business card. It belonged to Marla Ruzicka--humanitarian extrordinaire--who founded the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict--and who died on a Bagdhad highway last April.  Seeing her name reminded me of the great responsibility we Americans have for Iraq and its citizens, a sentiment that makes the increasingly polarized debate over Iraq policy seem quite inadequate.

Congressman Murtha's assertion last week, that we need to get out of Iraq as soon as practicable,  is very significant whether you agree with him or not.  The most important outcome of his statements, I believe, is that he's disturbed the silent and/or mumbling intertia in Congress.  Now we might see some actual democratic deliberation and debate about options.  Is it still possible to leave responsibly, given the increasingly strident politics? (and the recent call by the Cairo Arab League Summit for a timetable)?  Will the long-term viewpoint be buried?

Here are some comments sent to me yesterday by someone on active duty.

START (Be) careful, however, in not reading too much into the  numbers based assessments...Looking exclusively at the prospect for a one for one (or some other calculation) swap of  coalition for Iraqi security forces is a dangerous proposition...In the end I believe it is actually a recipe for failure...Given  the political immaturity of the new regime, the certainty of mixed (at best) loyalties within the Iraqi security forces, the very  real increase in sectarian violence that is now occurring in Iraq, and what I call the "glass half empty" perspective with  regard to the political position of the Sunni population; withdrawal would be disastrous... Real civil war would ensue.

Framing the question as "staying the course" or "withdrawing" eliminates what  more appropriately should be consideration of a "third way" to use a very progressive political term...The propositions  being set up by the two sides are the following--

"Stay the course" --Build security forces and hold elections and eventually Iraqis will be both politically and militarily capable of doing their own comprehensive bidding; we just have to exhibit more patience....I believe this to be a naive position ... This ignores the very real fact that political development at the local and provincial level (the foundation for self-sustaining democracy) hasn't really even gotten off the ground yet and in fact, whole areas of Iraq remain un- or irresponsibly governed...Economic development is in even worse shape and this perhaps is the COIN of the realm with regard to holding the entire proposition together...Development of security forces will continue apace but to what end?...Likely an instrument for a more overt assertion of Shi'a political dominance at the (indiscriminate) expense of 20% of the population whether culpable in the insurgency or not.

"Withdraw, timetable, etc" ....This is equally onerous as it ties our force reductions to advances in the building of security forces alone...From all indications, the insurgency has become more entrenched and violent (and more extreme in orientation as well)...Yet in spite of this, proponents of withdrawal suggest handing over security responsibility to a nascent ISF of dubious theater wide capability with neither the political nor economic foundation necessary to ensure the entire endeavor enjoys a defensible core around which to rally....

Neither (active) side is sophisticated enough.  The All sides are looking for an easy out.  No one is exercising real responsible strategic leadership and attacking the problem in a strategically coherent and holistic manner.  Unfortunately, my "third way" implies a "do-over" in many cases and this consequently implies more time and resources...However, I am increasingly convinced that neither of the above will result in a favorable long-term strategic outcome...Of that I am certain. 

On some other work I am doing right now, I was struck that in a strategic net assessment led by Kennan with respect to a grand strategic approach to the Cold War, it was concluded, that "the basis of strength...'was the product--not the sum--' of spiritual, political, military, and economic variables.  Consequently,  'if any one of the factors falls to zero, the product becomes zero"...This is definitely the case in Iraq.  Unfortunately, no one in the debate seems to understand this (or at least has an unsophisticated view on how exactly to meaningfully effect it).  END

Leaving "Out now" aside,  the progressive left and security Democrats have much in common. Could this be the third way?

Stephen Zunes proposes six steps: 1) immediately end offensive military operations by U.S. forces;  2) renounce any long-term military presence in Iraq; 3) enter into negotiations with the more moderate elements of the insurgency; 4) replace U.S. and British forces with peacekeeping forces from Arab and other Islamic countries; 5) fund a generous economic redevelopment package under United Nations supervision; and 6) support a mechanism for strict international human rights monitoring and other means to enhance the credibility of the Iraqi government and its ability to govern effectively.

Senator Biden's three 6 month goals    One, we must help forge a political settlement that gives all of Iraq’s major groups a stake in keeping the country together.  Two, we must strengthen the capabilities of Iraq’s government and revamp the reconstruction program to deliver real benefits.  Three, we must accelerate the training of Iraqi security forces and transfer control to them.

My friend Kathleen M. Meilahn is a combat veteran of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. She suggests a counter-insurgency plan combined with a "20-10 Plan":  Phased troop reduction and repositioning over six months. Force Reduction: 20% redeployed back to U.S.; reposition to 10% in the region within the next 6 months, then re-evaluate and continue redeployment.

She adds, If the Dems want to exercise true leadership, they should move to legislate deployment of Provisional Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) throughout Iraq and have them work under, and answer to, a new entity... create a multi-national integrated Civil Military Advisory Team ...something that is like a consortium of nations' board of directors that will coordinate military efforts (Army's Civil Affairs, Special Operations, Foreign Service Officers, Psychological Operations groups, and possibly the Military Group at the Embassy) with civilian/IO/NGO efforts (USAID, UNDP & its BCPR, World Bank, OFDA OTI, DART, Food for Peace, UNHCR, WFP, ICRC, maybe even S/CRS, and any NGO that wants to work in Iraq would have to participate) so that they can work together in a coordinated manner without overlap or without working against each other.  They should also move to create an international civic business community consortium to advise/assist in business development that includes regional corporations, as well as EU/UN and US.

Is it too late for this?


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» A Third Way in Iraq from The Eisenthal Report
Lorelei Kelly has an interesting post today at Democracy Arsenal. This post considers the potential effect of Congressman John Murtha's call last week for an immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq. According to Kelly, The most important outcome of his [Read More]


create a multi-national integrated Civil Military Advisory Team

Even our mainstream conservative party starts to say that the Netherlands should not participate in PRT's and such IN AFGHANISTAN anymore untill the treatment of detainees is improved and more clear. And we've participated in Afghanistan continuously the past years (discussions are about yet another deployment of 1000 troops).

Creating a multi-national *anything* might be difficult these days.

The problem I have with all this is that the words don't seem to match up to the actions.

In practice our troops are occupying sunni areas. The other areas don't need us. Sunni areas (or mixed areas with large sunni populations) are where our chosen insurgents are. (We tried declaring al Sadr's people insurgents and found there were too many of them to fight them and sunnis too; we got a degree of truce with them.)

We have to control them with main force because we refuse to negotiate with them. But if we did negotiate with them there's no guarantee we could accomodate many of their demands, or vice versa.

We want to leave after we get a shia/kurdish force that can occupy the sunni regions for us.

Plainly the issue here isn't getting a democratic government. The issue is suppressing sunnis. We talk like it's only a small minority that has to get killed off before democracy can flourish, but....

There is a bloody civil war going on right now and we're helping make sure the sunnis lose. If we bug out then the sunni militias will be much more evenly matched against shia or kurdish militias -- interior supply lines, they won't be bringing in their supplies over long distances in unarmored trucks.

If the sides get more evenly matched the civil war is likely to get bloodier. But do we really want to be aiding an ethnic cleansing program? What other outcome is this civil war likely to have?

So OK, if we can get safe areas inside shia- and kurd-controlled regions, then we can build up economic stuff there. But there aren't any safe areas in sunni regions -- a safe area there would be an area that was safe from *us*. Economic development in iraq would benefit only the people who already depend on us to run their civil war for them. It would do nothing to slow down the civil war except to make the shia side stronger and as a result perhaps reduce our own expenses somewhat.

If we were to end offensive action and replace US and British forces with other forces, the result would be to even up the sides. Occupation forces from other sunni nations? They'd surely stop suppressing sunni militias. And they wouldn't be allowed in other parts of the country. Occupation forces from iran? We'd hardly agree to that. Occupation troops from indonesia etc might be interesting, I don't know what to expect from that.

But while this sort of talk is all very interesting, in reality the choices are *only* to say we want to stay the course or to say we want out. Because those are the only choices Bush can hear. If you say you don't want to cut and run, Bush will respond "Good, you agree with me that we can't cut and run, thank you for your support in staying the course." And if you say you want troop withdrawals, in maybe October 2006 Bush will say "Yes, I am doing a large redeployment, the war is going so well that we can afford to bring back a lot of troops." And then in myabe October 2008 Bush will say "The war is won, and we are pulling out now. I hope none of the people who called for defeat disagree with this." A lot of people will want to believe, and it won't be until after each election that they start getting ambiguous news reports that indicate maybe it isn't going so well.

Those are your choices. You can support Bush in staying the course or you can support Bush in bugging out with honor. Anything else is just so much talk, trying to convince people who can't actually do anything (except support Bush in staying the course or support Bush in bugging out.)

So much of the commentary from academics like Zunes is practical and new. Unfortunately, all that is new is not practical, and all that is practical is not new.

Sadr’s stood down because his political goals were limited. By contrast, the Islamist political goals are unlimited, and as a consequence their military strategy is unlimited. Liberals and Leftists simply ignore this fact. They do not dispute it; they do not stipulate it; they simply ignore it. Perhaps there is room for debate about the nature of Islamist political goals (I don’t think there is), but ignoring such a crucial, even essential, component of political and military planning is inexcusable.

Both the US and the Islamist have explicit, public, documented goals. Both sides seek an unlimited political outcome. The only military strategy available for this situation is a war of annihilation. The US must seek to end the military, economic, and political existence of Islamist terrorists. Likewise for the Islamists.

The chief military problem is this: How can tactical and operational methods appropriate for limited political objectives attain an unlimited strategic aim? The chief political problem is this: How can the US use the political, economic and intelligence instruments of power to make up for the chief military problem?

Liberal and Leftist commentators see the problem as one of persuasion, of negotiation, but adversaries with unlimited goals are not amenable to either. One cannot negotiate with a murder, but one can negotiate with a hostage-taker. Why? Because the former has unlimited goals, while the latter does not. Unlimited goals imply only an in or out strategy. Diplomacy can only have an effect on the fringes.

But the political consequences could be much worse. We have seen that although the US follows the Geneva Conventions more strictly than any armed force in history, it gains no political advantage for it. Liberals and Leftists have ensured this situation. Indeed, Europeans by-and-large blame the US for the intentional, strategically planned, perfidious war-crimes committed by the terrorists.

At every level, the insurgents violate the customs of war. Tactically, they specifically target non-combatants while impersonating civilians. Operationally, their main schemes of maneuver invariably involve use of protected sites. Strategically, it is obvious that forced conversion of a peoples to Islam is rather abominable.

Despite these facts, the US cannot garner political advantage, even with its purported allies. When a treaty disadvantages a nation-state vis-à-vis its adversaries, and their is absolutely no political benefit to be seen, then the treaty will not be long upheld.

Ironically, liberals who ignore the unlimited nature of the conflict, undermine the very principles they seek to uphold.


Which "Islamist territories" are you taliking about?

Dan, I never used the phrase you put in quotes.

Sorry Jeff - my mistake. I read "terrorists" as "territories". I think the wine consumed during Thanksgiving dinner has blurred my vision.

"Both the US and the Islamist have explicit, public, documented goals. Both sides seek an unlimited political outcome. The only military strategy available for this situation is a war of annihilation."

Interesting that you put it so clearly. This is something that most rational people must reject.

Much better for us to do limited responses, and wait for the islamists to come to their senses. In ten years, or fifty years, they're likely to do that and then we aren't stuck in a war of annihilation. On the other hand, if instead they succeed in getting the recruits and the resources they need to seriously threaten us, then we can still gear up to do war-of-annihilation stuff then. The more we attempt annihilation now, the more support they get from people who feel threatened by us. So we do better to be moderate in the face of insanity. We respond predictably, inexorably, and mildly. We don't go insane when they do. We are careful not to attack innocents or otherwise feed the insanity.

Create an asymmetry. I was surprised to see you admit the fundamental similarity between islamist and anti-islamist thinking.

"Sadr’s stood down because his political goals were limited."

That isn't how I see that one. But the history is confused, and I might be confused in response. Here's one explanation about what happened.

Sadr preached that US forces must withdraw. The US forces decided he was an enemy, back in the days we were planning to stay forever. (Some of us were saying, "We still have troops in germany after more than 60 years. Why wouldn't we have bases in iraq 60 years from now?" And that was indeed the intention.) After we decided he was an enemy, we tried to kill him. But we bungled the first attempt, and announced that he'd been killed resisting arrest before we realised he'd gotten away. At that point our intentions were plain to his supporters. We wanted to kill him, but failing that we intended to put him in Abu Ghraib.

Sadr took refuge in their holiest shrine, thinking that we wouldn't go after him there. (Imagine a catholic priest hiding in the Vatican from the nazis. Imagine the nazis shelling the Holy See, moving in with flamethrowers etc.... Everybody knows the nazis would have done it, but Sadr didn't think we'd do it.)

We did go after him there, showing all shia that we were utter barbarians. A whole lot of poorly-trained shia tried to stop us in their utter indignation, and got slaughtered. Finally Sistani tried a Martin Luther King approach, and went in with a bunch of unarmed shia to stop the fighting. They did get shot at, luckily by iraqi security forces under US command and not by US soldiers. Our side looked at the trouble we had with one weak faction of shia and considered what we'd get if we defied Sistani, and we folded.

We haven't killed Sadr to this day, though we haven't admitted we've stopped trying. It takes a special viewpoint to interpret this as Sadr standing down. He still says he wants us out, as do 80% of iraqis.

J Thomas, I think we use the term ‘war of annihilation’ differently. Without intending to descend into pedantry, I’m going to define terms. Military planners use the term ‘war of annihilation’ in a political context, referring to the annihilation of political entities, not peoples. You may still find this irrational, but let’s not equivocate unnecessarily.

Arguably since the time of Machiavelli, definitely since the time of Clausewitz, unlimited political aims signify the intention to eradicate the enemy as a political entity. (A war of annihilation in the West is not the eradiation of peoples, as you incorrectly assume.) Limited political aims are everything else.

If wars of annihilation are irrational, then was it irrational to annihilate the genocidal Serbian Nationalist government? To annihilate the Nazi state? To annihilate the Italian Fascist state? To annihilate the Imperial Japanese state? I can’t see anything irrational. Of course, if you take ‘war of annihilation’ to mean the eradiation of a peoples, as did the four cited governments in my examples, then you have a point, but a point resting on equivocation.

In any case, our Islamist enemies do seek to eradicate entire peoples — specifically non-Islamic peoples. So, we have the US, seeking to re-make the political order in the Islamic world by annihilating Islamism as a political entity, and we have Islamists who seek to annihilate entire peoples. Failing to see the distinction is excusable, but refusing to see the distinction is something that I would call irrational.

Your approach to asymmetry is wrong. First of all you have committed the worst kind of category mistake. Asymmetry belongs to the domain of organized violence, to war, not political goals. A fellow may want to kill me, but I do not advantage myself by selecting an “asymmetrical goal” that doesn’t entail saving my life. Asymmetry is a means of achieving an advantage in force, really a kind of technique; it is not a goal in itself, nor is the concept applicable to setting national political goals which arise from vital national interests. The goals of our enemies cannot be dislocated by asymmetrical means, even while their military methods can be. Indeed, I point out that this is the fundamental military problem.

Since Sadr did not seek the eradication of the US as a political entity, his aims were limited; hence he was amenable to negotiation. As far as the US appearing like barbarians to Shia, it goes both ways: using Geneva protected sites for warfare is barbaric. The Left’s atrocious double-standards for evaluating warfighting methods are wholly illogical.

Those who rightly claim that the US must consider the causes of Islamic violence, must hold the Islamists accountable in the same way. The US sees Islamism as a threat to its vital national interests, yet Leftists seem never to ask “why?” At least, not very honestly.

I’ll attempt an explanation. Politics is the process by which power is distributed. The situation of nation-states is analogous to man in a “state of nature,” where no there exists no sovereign. There are many views of man in a state of nature, and I’ve found that they roughly correspond to how people interpret international political structures.

The tvarious theories align roughly with the slogan of the French Revolution “liberté, egalité, fraternité.” Classical Liberals uphold liberty (subject to the Natural Law); Leftists/Progressives/Neo-Liberals uphold the primacy of equality; Realists uphold the primacy of sovereign actors, i.e. fraternities of warfighters. In some sense, we see why the French Revolution was troubled: the three aims are in conflict.

War is an instrument politics. Clausewitz called it “politics by other means.” War is the organized use of organized violence to force one political actor to do the will of another. When is unlimited war justified? That is a political question.

The Classical Liberal will answer with the American Founders

But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

The Realist will answer with Hobbes
...because the majority hath declared a sovereign, he that dissented must be left in the condition of war wherein he might justly be destroyed by any man... the sovereignty hath the right of making war and peace with other nations, when it is for the public good.

In other words, Realists want the state to make war for the good of the citizenry. Effectively, the state carves out a niche of civilization, pushing the “war of every man against every other man” into the sphere of international relations.

Leftists/Progressives/Neo-Liberals will hold with Kant

"No State Shall by Force Interfere with the Constitution or Government of Another State"
For what is there to authorize it to do so? ...interference by foreign powers would infringe on the rights of an independent people struggling with its internal disease; hence it would itself be an offense and would render the autonomy of all states insecure.

So, we arrive back at the question of unlimited political aims. Should we interfere with the “internal disease” or let it run its course. In other words, should we“...wait for the islamists to come to their senses. In ten years, or fifty years, they're likely to do that...?”

Both Classical Liberals and Realists are likely to answer “no,” mainly because they do not view conflicts as necessarily arising from inequality. Moreover, there is no evidence whatsoever that in “ten years, or fifty years” Islamists will “come to their senses.” Indeed, for thirty years now Islamism has spread, has grown in strength, not waned into sensibility. Moreover, Islamists have greatly enhanced their ability to engage in major, global combat operations. They conquered Iran and Afghanistan; they very nearly conquered Pakistan. If they are not as powerful as they were ten years ago, it is only because of US warfighting against them. Islamist scientists, like Kan, have provided nuclear technology to enemies of the West specifically to undermine the West. Iran has publicly stated that they will give nuclear technology to any Islamic nation. (Note a nation, not a state.)

From the classical Liberal and Realist perspective, Islamism is a growing threat, not a shrinking one.

I’ve tried, rather inexpertly, to explain the causes of Western hostility to Islamism. I wonder if the Left will grant the same “nuanced” understanding that they give to Islamists?

In one's struggles against some enemy, the pains and efforts one expends should be proportionate to the threat that you face from the enemy. Roughly, the expected annual cost you should incur in fighting to weaken an enemy should be lower than the expected annual cost of the remaining threat from that enemy. Otherwise it is irrational to incur those added costs.

Islamism of the Al Qaeda variety is a diffuse movement that consists predominantly of talk, and more talk, accompanied by a relatively small and manageable quantity of concerted political power, mainly in the form of sporadic episodes of spectacular violence.

Once upon a time, there was a similar, somewhat serious threat to Western peoples and governments that came from the anarchist movement. Anarchism, like Islamism, was a similarly diffuse and confused movement which had a propensity toward much writing and talk, with occasional spasms of terrorist violence. Eventually, that movement ceased to be much of a threat. It really wasn't necessary to launch a Global War on Anarchism on any grand scale, but was sufficient to take a variety of vigorous and prudent steps to neutralize and limit the capacity of anarchists to do harm. Eventually, the violence ceased, and the militant aspect of the movement burned itself out as its adherents simply grew bored or were wearied by the futility of the movement's own manifestly impotent rage.

Anarchists still exist, of course. You can find a bunch of them hanging out at the City Lights bookstore in San Francisco, for ecample. But they don't constitute a serious threat of violence, and no one would suggest that it is necessary to eradicate what remains of anarchism as a political entity.

Islamism is a movement that is a prompted by rage born of a sense of impotence and cultural loss. It's adherents desire above all to end their own feeling of impotence, shame and weakness. They also seek to replace the vaccuum of isolation and meaninglessness in their own lives with the substance of comradeship - the meaningfulness and importance connected with participation in a movement that is achieving change. Islamism grows and is empowered to the extent that it achieves success in getting the powerful to take notice, expend resources and alter their policies. In other words, the more important and fearsome their enemies take them to be, the more they are convinced they are achieving something, and the more successful they are in sustaining morale and attracting recruits.

Because Al Qaedism nowhere commands the instruments of state power, and its resources are limited, its capacity to do serious damage is correspondingly limited. Nor even are any of the states that are in its sights for takeover major industrial powers with the capacity to develop war machines large enough to pose a grave threat to Western countries. Our goal should be to perpetually impair its ability to do serious harm while, like the political enthusiams of the past, it runs its course. This effort mainly seems to require the use intelligence, financial instruments, special forces, and cooperative policing among threatened countries.

In justifying your notion of unlimited war, Jeff, your evocation of the American Revolution is an odd example. The American Revolution was very distant from an unlimited war. The Americans came nowhere close to annihilating the British government, in the sense of eradicating it as a political entity. Rather they fought it only to the extent necessary to destroy that state's will to continue to govern a distant colony.

Nor does Hobbesian philosophy lead to a blanket recommendation of unlimited war. What, according to Hobbes, a state has a right to do, and what it has a need to do are different things. It is just not smart to incur more costs in combatting a threat than are likely to proceeed from the threat itself.

What is it to us if a bunch if Islamists want to spin their schemes, and indulge their bitter frustrations, on web pages for years on end? Our only concern is their capacity to do us harm. By all means, we must fight them to the extent necessary to reduce their capacity to do us harm below an acceptable level. It seems doubtful to me that that will require anything close to eradicating Islamism as a political entity.

With regard to its level of threat to the United States, Islamism is not Nazi Germany, or Imperialist Japan, or even fascist Italy - not even close. It consists mainly of a bunch of angry young radicals who pass around pamphlets, rant on web sites, and occasionally - just occasionally - manage to commit acts of terrorism that, though atrocious and frightening, are not in the grand scheme of things existentially threatening.

The sense that we in the United States are at grave risk from the Global Islamofascist Threat is an unbalanced hysterical reaction of our times.

I have no idea why my posts seem to get mangled. Sorry.

Dan, you make some excellent points. By the way, I really must complement this site. I rarely get such coherent responses from liberals. I truly value a loyal opposition party, and I think the Democratic Party could do much better with the tough but respectful approach of Democracy Arsenal.

I agree that “the pains and efforts one expends should be proportionate to the threat that you face from the enemy;” however, I do not agree that “the expected annual cost you should incur in fighting to weaken an enemy should be lower than the expected annual cost of the remaining threat from that enemy.” Nation-states have to incorporate all sorts of intangible future threats into the ‘cost’ of a course of action, including prestige, culture, subjective power assessments, precedent, and the like. If you are willing to include these kinds of forward calculations into the notion of ‘annual cost’ we can probably find agreement.

While it is true that “Islamism of the Al Qaeda variety is a diffuse movement,” wider Islamism is not a diffuse movement. Islamists have developed a comprehensive ideology based on the teachings of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, which teaching is still the official philosophy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Much confusion results from the refusal of Wahhabists to be labeled Wahhabists; they prefer to call themselves ‘Muslim’ or ‘Salfi.’ Nevertheless, theirs is a large, cohesive, well-defined political movement. The experiences of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran, and Syria seem to decisively confirm this.

If Wahhabism had remained the dominant politico-religious force in Saudi Arabia only, we probably would not be writing articles about Islam at all. In the 1970’s the Salfi movement began to spread into other countries.

In the 1970’s and 80’s, the Islamist movement spread to Arabic countries like Egypt, Syria and Algeria. In the 80’s the movement spread to Afghanistan and Pakistan. In the 1990’s it moved into Russia, Central Asia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, South East Asia, Western Europe, Australia and Africa. The Taliban was a de facto Wahhabist government, training and equipping international jihadis. Arabic Wahhabists, trained in Afghanistan, conducted an invasion of Chechnya committing the infamous Yarysh-Mardy massacre. Four years later, they invaded Dagestan with horrific results. The Wahhabists, emboldened by the silence of the West, began direct operations against Western targets which brings us to the present day.

Certainly, there are many groups under the Islamist tent, but they all follow the same ideology, develop their political goals from the same sources and cooperate remarkably well. Iran purveys its own Shia version of Islamism, and shows the cohesion of the Islamist ideology by cooperating with Sunni Wahhabists, going so far as to shield their insurgent activities in Iran’s borders.

I simply cannot agree that the movement “consists predominantly of talk, and more talk, accompanied by a relatively small and manageable quantity of concerted political power, mainly in the form of sporadic episodes of spectacular violence.” Islamists have literally taken over countries like Afghanistan, Sudan, Algeria and Iran. They still control the workings of Saudi Arabian politics. Islamism is a very powerful and dangerous movement.

Your impressions of the anarchists are quite at odds with mine. I distinctly remember the smoldering of Genoa and the broken shards of Seattle. I am also aware of the impact of their ideas on European and American hard-Left views.

A more analogous group is the Barbary Empire. The Barbarys were effectively the first paranational, Muslim terrorist group after the fall of the Caliphate. While not Islamist, they held a strangle-hold on the Mediterranean., capturing merchant ships and conducting a burgeoning trade in white, Christian slave girls. Contrary to popular belief, the slave narrative genre did not start in the American South, but in accounts from some of the one million Americans and Europeans ransomed out of Muslim slavery. You can read about these accounts here, here and here.

The terrible Barbarys were annihilated by the US Marine Corps. The US defeated a paranational, Muslim terrorist organization, against all appeasement and opposition form Europe, and succeeded. Even today, the USMC officer sword is an African, Muslim scimitar — the Barbary Sword in honor of the victorious conclusion of the Tripolitan War. There may be special circumstances, but there is no general reason that Muslim terrorists cannot be annihilated by warfare.

I’m not as sure as you that Islamism is born from a sense of impotence and cultural loss. I think it derives from the same motivations that prompted Abu Hamid al-Ghazali to reject the splendors of Islamic science and culture. His views became popular, and official policy. Soon Islamic nations entered a Dark Age fully analogous to the Christian one that preceded it. The Islamist motivation may indeed be religious and not sociopathic.

So, if al-Qaedaism does not command the instruments of national power, Islamism does.

I admit that you make a valid and truthful point about my use of the Declaration of Independence. My intent was to demonstrate the differences between Realists and Classical Liberals. Where Realists, like George Washington, Pat Buchanan and Henry Kissinger, find no justification warfighting for “humanitarian” purposes, the Classical Liberal finds this to be the only reason subject to the normal constraints of feasibility. Nevertheless, you are quite right about the ineptitude of the example.

I do not claim that Hobbeseans give a blanket recommendation for unlimited war, but rather that Hobbeseans expect it in the normal course if international political affairs.

So that in the nature of man, we find three principal causes of quarrel: competition, diffidence and glory.
Hereby it is manifest that without a common power to keep them all in awe, man are in a condition of war of every man against every man...Dominion acquired by conquest, or victory in war, is acquired to the victor when the vanquished, to avoyd the present stroke of death, covenanteth that so long as his life is allowed him, the victor shall have the use thereof at his pleasure...

You really shouldn’t look upon my explanations of the three views as advocacy, but instead as a way to show that these disagreements rest on certain incompatible philosophical assumptions, which rarely get discussed. In fact, I am not a Realist not a Hobbesean, but a Lockean Classical Liberal.

You write

By all means, we must fight them to the extent necessary to reduce their capacity to do us harm below an acceptable level. It seems doubtful to me that that will require anything close to eradicating Islamism as a political entity.

This is certainly the locus of the debate. I have presented evidence that Islamists

  • have publicly declared hostilities tithe the US,

  • are part of cohesive ideological movement base on an immoderate strain of Islam,

  • have engaged in actual armed conquests of nation-states in areas of vital interest to the US,

  • have the real potential to acquire WMD.

Moreover, I have presented an historical example of the actual annihilation of an Islamic, paranational terrorist group by the US.

I guess that’s where we stand.

Jeff, I'll accept your meaning for "war of annihilation". But I find it problematic in the current context. It sounds like usually it would translate to unconditional surrender. After the bad regime has unconditionally surrendered, you can cut them out of the government of their people, and they are politically annihilated. But islamism is not a regime, nor is al qaeda.

Islamism is a state of mind, like communism or democracy or capitalism or libertarianism. You might conquer a libertarian nation and replace it with a communist regime, but you can't annihilate libertarianism unless you can persuade all the libertarians to believe in something better.

You can't even exterminate al qaeda. It isn't a hierarchy, you can't cut off its head. It's more like a franchise. If you wanted to you could start your own communist cell, or your own neonazi group, or your own witches coven, or your own al qaeda cell, and to the extent that you're faithful to their organising principles you're as authentic as anybody else. Then if you hook up with others who get along with you, you get some economy of scale.

It's extremely inefficient to annihilate ideas with sheer military force. If the catholic church had tried that against the cathars there would probably still be cathars today. What the catholics did was to invent the Dominicans who were almost like cathars. You could get most of the benefits of being cathar by associating with dominicans, and you didn't get burned. The cathars died out or went so far underground they didn't get noticed.

To attack ideas with military force you mostly have to kill off all the people who might have the ideas. It's wasteful.

"When a treaty disadvantages a nation-state vis-à-vis its adversaries, and their is absolutely no political benefit to be seen, then the treaty will not be long upheld."

Our goal wrt sunnis in iraq should be to persuade them to do politics. Get them winning political battles and they won't have much sympathy for the ones who try to do domestic terrorism for no political benefit. But we have the trouble that they are a minority that probably can't win political battles. If only the shia were split into three groups that opposed each other more than they opposed sunni or kurds. Then the sunnis and kurds could join the highest shia bidder to get their local needs met in exchange for going along with some shia wants. But they don't have that now, so doing politics amounts to surrender. A second option would be to have basicly three nations in some sort of confederacy or alone, and then the sunnis could have their own nation without getting outvoted by shia. But that nation wouldn't have oil.

I don't see a solution that would be obviously acceptable to sunnis. I had hoped the shia might do a reconciliation like the chileans tried. But that failed.

Without people changing their ideas, it looks like we'd have to conquer the sunnis to the point they give up. In algeria about 10% of the population died before the french gave up, and then the victors killed another 10% of the population fighting each other. Maybe the sunnis will give up when we kill 10% of them, about half a million people. Or maybe they'll hold out for 15% or 20%. Now, what does it get us to do horror attacks? The insurgents are of course mixed with civilians, they believe they're protecting civilians from us. (In that one respect like our Minutemen. I'm not saying it's like our revolutionary war beyond a few parallel details.) When we treat iraqi civilians badly, we hurt our own cause -- unless our intention is to kill enough that the rest unconditionally surrender. We don't treat iraqi civilians well to impress the europeans. We do it because that's the easy way to win. When we're protecting them from the terrorists who want to hurt them, they accept our help and tell us when they see insurgents. When we do atrocities against civilians they help the insurgents. So the time for that sort of thing is when we accept that it's total war against the population that opposes us.

If our goal is to make sure the shias win the civil war, then it makes a certain sense to do whatever atrocities against sunnis that it takes to make them give up or die out. But if our goal is to avoid civil war, then we should be nice to civilians unless we have solid reason to believe they're insurgents. We shouldn't torture hostages, we shouldn't do collective punishment, we should try to avoid stopping traffic, etc. This is asymmetrical warfare. We win if we can maintain order and get iraqis to support our goals which are aligned with their goals. The insurgents win if they can keep us from organising things our way, they win if they can create chaos and hold out longer than we can. We don't win by being as barbaric as they are -- unless we give up being the good guys and settle into total war. Our occupation doesn't support the iraqi government unless we do it like nice guys. And if we don't have what it takes to do that then we need to pull out or give up the illusion we're good guys.

If we pull out I expect the shia army won't make much headway invading sunnistan. Their transport is mostly unarmored trucks. They can probably defend effectively but not attack into places where most people are against them.

Apart from iraq, the part of "islamism" that we most object to is this idea that they ought to rule the world. But this is a common idea. China has it, except they tend to care most about what happens in china. Russia had it until recently. The USA has it. Britain gave it up in living memory. The USA is much more dangerous than 'islamists' at this point. We have lots of nukes. We have lots of foreign agents. We have the strongest military anywhere. We actively intervene in nations anywhere in the world. In contrast, independent groups that might be considered islamist have taken a few arab nations, and that's all. Now, nations tend to give up the idea of ruling the world right about the time they see what a lot of work it is. The USA gave that up after we made such a mess of the philippines. Then we reluctantly took it up when we realised the only way to stop the russian empire from taking over the world was to take it over first. When the russians collapsed under the weight of the small empire they had, we spent years looking for another enemy and finally found the islamists. The only way to keep islamists from taking over the world is to take it over first. But there's a reasonable chance that they'll get tired of it and we'll get tired of it both. Only their first goal, the legitimate-seeming one, is to get out from under our thumb. They probably need to do that before they're in any position to notice they don't really want the rest of the world.

So far the only nation they've won and held is iran. We installed the Shah, who mistreated his people (particularly his religious people). Is it any wonder they won there? If iran had had a government that wasn't a US satrapy, it might easily have been stronger and had enough popular support to win. Our own global ambitions fed the islamists.

If we can avoid looking like such a threat, the islamists will have a much harder time of it. As it is, they use us to tell stories to scare their children, and we use them to tell stories to scare our children. The trouble is, a workable response to them would require us to do things that look risky. It naturally seems far safer to wage a war of annihilation and hope we win, than to help them get over it.

Jeff Younger said: "The Left’s atrocious double-standards for evaluating warfighting methods are wholly illogical."
Did he lift that from Newt Gingrich, Mr. Spock or a bad Maoist Kung-fu flick dub?

Few people anywhere desire civil war, ethnic cleansing and internationalization of the conflict in Iraq. It seems obvious that main security and political challenges lie in Sunni regions and mixed areas (Baghdad, Mosul, etc.) and most agree that Shia and Kurd regions require few US troops as they run their own affairs and maintain security.

The Cairo meeting underscores growing agreement, even in Congress, that US troop withdrawal could split the insurgency between former Ba-athist/nationalists and the fraction of foreign-led jihadi terrorists who inflict 80% of civilian casualties. It is widely believed that the heavy-handed US military presence fuels resistance among the local populace. The Catch-22 is that pursuit of a war on terror in Iraq fuels the insurgency and sows terror.

Some simple steps to reduce violence and allow restoration of basic services, not to mention civil society, would seem in order:

First, withdraw US troops from populated Sunni regions and stop particularly onerous cordon and search follies and heavy bombardment of civilian neighborhoods. In this area, keep only troops who will train Iraqi units or contribute to physical security of key infrastructure (at the Iraqi Govt.'s request). The killing, maiming and torturing of innocents by redneck morons is ridiculous, so why not get these soldiers away from from the locals?

Second, let the Sunnis organize their own militias. If you let the Pesh Merga and Badr Brigades police their territory, why not Sunnis and even former Ba'athists? Let these home-grown units fight the foreign jihadis, and even encourage them. If the US steps aside, Saddam's former homies will hunt the child-kiling freaks for sport and send 'em packing to Wahabiland.

Third and importantly, quietly accept the verbal invitation by Kurdish leaders to establish long-term military bases in Kurdistan. I can't imagine why the thought of two (at least) big-ass facilities proximate to Iran, Syria, Central Asia, and Sunnistan isn't making Pentagon planners drool on their blackberrys? Such a redeployment would enable US hawks to keep troop levels in "Iraq" up without risking casualties. I'm sure the Kurds wouldn't mind all sorts of special ops against jihadi terror, and there's already a nice new US-built prison outside Suley, where I'll bet folks are already having lots o' fun! Lyndie England fun. So hooray for "the other Iraq". Fo shizzle! - this blog is too highbrow.

I guess I'm just a simple putz for wondering how come common sense never seems to enter into policy debates in Washington?

Captain Morgan, the reason it's hard for us to follow your suggestions is that we have slipped into the opinion that sunnis are the enemy. That isn't surprising since they are mostly the ones who attack US troops. The kurds somewhat welcome us, while the shias are playing "let's you and him fight".

Back when Bremer thought we owned iraq and could do whatever we wanted with it, we tried to outlaw all the militias. But we found out we couldn't enforce it. We weren't strong enough to take on all the militias at once, so we settled on attacking the sunni militias which attacked us regardless, and we ignored the rest. Then when the police we trained couldn't establish order and the militias did, we accepted shia militia help. Even Sadrist help. We don't train with them or accept their military help unless they get labeled as iraqi troops and go through our training program. There are published claims that we don't let them join as units but we break them up into mixed groups to train. Those claims are probably true sometimes.

It may have been an accident that we took sides that way and started a civil war. And maybe the civil war would have happened without us, too. On the other hand, when the records get declassified we might find out that it was intentional, that the policy was to start a civil war so we'd have a good excuse to stay in there and keep fighting.

Incidentally, where did you hear that 80% of civilian casualties come from the foreign jihadists? Do you believe that, and if so why? Isn't it still US policy not to collect data on civilian casualties? Do you have any reason to think that 80% of civilian casualties don't come from the US military?

The USG is way too incompetent to plan for an Iraqi civil war, and in any event doesn't need such an excuse to justify staying the course of occupation. (Especially when the public, and until recently, all but Capitol basement-dwelling Dems, stood virtually silent.)

Getting the violence down has to be the main objective (for any sane, non-criminal person), and there seems a growing consensus that splitting the insurgency will do this and can be accomplished by redeploying US security assets and allowing Sunni militias. Not so comforting a thought, but a rare acknowledgement of reality in admiting we're better off leaving hostile areas. (Can the GOP seize a "mission accomplished" withdrawal by next November?)

And just an aside, if Iraq goes the way of Vietnam (in that millions perish), history will show only Jose Serrano (D-NY), Robert Wexler (D-FL) and Cynthia McKinney (D-GA) had balls enough to vote for a GOP resolution calling for immediate withdrawal of US troops. Ironic that a hispanic, a jew and a black woman are the real "American" patriots?

Anyway, Juan Cole's blog ( has: "Al-Hayat says that [Arabic URL] informed sources maintained to it that the intelligence services of the Arab states, of Iraq, of the guerrilla movement in Iraq, and of the US, conducted discussions on the sidelines of the National Reconciliation Conference for Iraq held recently in Cairo, on how to isolate Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his radical Salafi (fundamentalist Sunni) faction in Iraq." So it looks like everyone may be on a bandwagon of sorts.

Some intersting speculation on how relative wealth of Zarqawi's crew helps fuel the insurgency and terrorism.
Gee, I wonder where the Zarqawi people get so much $$$ from and whether I'm subsidizing terrorists AND big-oil every time I fill up at the pump?

The way I see it is that oil wealth endows Al Qaeda, which is basically a big foundation that in turn funds terror efforts worldwide. Bin Ladin is basically the "anti-George Soros" and Zarqawi a major grant recipeient to set up an affiliated foundation in Iraq (which now, apparently, even funds some programs outside Iraq). Zaqawi funds small grants and incentive programs, ie., parcelling out audit-free cash for attacks on US or allied targets, kidnappings, etc. Qaeda HQ personnel and consultants help Zaraqawi disseminate multi-media information, conduct trainings (IED-Building 101), exchanges (can anyone host 40 foreign muj volunteers a couple months?). They'll even provide scholarships for local lads to attend Jihad U. (Does anyone know if Mo Atta solicited the 9/11 grant or did he just respond to a Qaeda RFP?

Anyway, in addition to the training needed to bolster US redeployment, one wishes the US could throw money effectively at the situation to get ordinary Iraqis to be at least neutral. It's not just the billions squandered on bogus reconstruction, or what's lost to graft at every level, or shoveled for security overhead. Its also like "what the hell are NDI and IRI going to do with $56 million?" Its appalling what money is being spent on, not just all that's completely wasted. I guess Zal figures Provincial Reconstruction Teams, which hardly worked in Afghanistan, will somehow work in a far more complex (from a fiscal perspective) and dangerous Iraq.

Filling the security vacuum in Sunni regions that the US will vacate will require training and reintegrating Sunnis into the military or some local militia system. Disarming the Shia and Kurd militias was never possible with the number of US troops sent in, and the last thing they needed was a war with these groups. Taking the easy way out did necessarily thrust the US into what was perceived as a partisan role in sectarian debates opposed to Sunnis, whose militias were not tolerated or allowed to be set upon. Training and rearming an Iraq security service is key, but mixed units will not work with very few exceptions, hence the need for some Sunni groups to be allowed to step up.

To respond to J. Thomas directly, I was citing figures from last quarters DOD report to Congress at:
I do think the figures are reasonably accurate, though no one really knows exactly.

I think the US has killed, jailed, tortured and done tons of other nasty, daily life-screwing up shit in Iraq. The US military is directly responsible for killing thousands of innocents, no doubt, and even perhaps more. Some would say the US occupation is responsible for all deaths in Iraq. It seems most Sunni insurgents and even occupation hostile Shia support targeting US/UK targets. These attacks do likely produce civilian casualties, but not as much as those attacks which are purely aimed at Iraqis and are usually launched by foreign or local jihadis connected to Zarqawi/Al Qaeda. You've also got to figure on their being some straight up sectarian killings, especially by Shia death squads working as security forces. Another factor is that noone can account for violent acts of organized crime, which are by many accounts increasing as the economy picks up.

Get the violence down and things are bound to get better.

Only two mentions of "oil" in this discussion. If we "leave" [still maintaining of course a military presence and numerous bases], how can we assure Halliburton its exclusive nobid contracts?

Jeff Younger: Comparing the Tripoli Wars fought 200 years ago against the Barbary Pirates to the Global War on Terrorism is a tad misleading -- the so-called "actual annihilation of an Islamic, paranational terrorist group by the US." Apples and orangatangs, oranges, whatever. The 18th/19th century barbary pirates ran a slavery/ransom protection racket. Not quite the same thing as what the 21st century "Islamists" are up to.

On the annihilation theme, it was Ann Coulter who famously urged:

"We know who the homicidal maniacs are. They are the ones cheering and dancing right now.

We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity. We weren't punctilious about locating and punishing only Hitler and his top officers. We carpet-bombed German cities; we killed civilians. That's war. And this is war."

So there you have it in a nutshell: The terrorists/Islamists are easy to detect, and the solution is simple. I think we can call it the Final Solution.

Captain Morgan, you quoted the DOD report. What I found there was:

"Approximately 80% of all attacks are directed against Coalition forces, but 80% of casualties are suffered by iraqis."

This is very different from saying that foreign jihadis inflict 80% of the civilian casualties.

The Lancet study, which has been criticised but which no one has attempted to improve on, indicated that US airstrikes killed a disproportionate number of iraqi civilians. When you consider that estimates of the civilians remaining in Fallujah for the November attack range from 20,000 to 50,000, and I haven't found any late estimate of how many of them were rescued alive by coalition forces, I have to suspect a lot of them died. When the city was 80% captured the word was that we had over 1000 captured plus 305 civilians rescued by iraqi troops.

I have seen no US estimate of iraqi civilians killed by coalition forces. And I've seen no estimate of iraqi civilians killed by insurgents, or by criminals. The US military has discouraged iraqi government agents from collecting statistics about deaths, much less violent deaths. I'd think this would be a very important statistic, maybe more important than electricity, but we either do not collect the data at all or we say we don't collect the data and are careful not to release it.

You say that getting the violence down is enough to make things better. But we don't even measure the violence. We mostly measure attacks on coalition troops and attacks on iraqi troops. That's what the quote was measuring, wasn't it? Iraqi troops take 16 times the casualties per attack as we do....

Lots of iraqis believe that coalition forces inflict more civilian casualties than the resistance does. But I don't know where they get their data. It might be from anecdotal evidence, or maybe they make up their statistics like we do.

No one can doubt for an instant that Iraqis aren't sufferring numerically and otherwise in far greater preponderance than anyone else in Iraq. One only needs to read any variety of local Iraqi or international news sources to realize violence has not abated, and indeed, is still on the upswing leading to civil war. Whether you put stock in the methodology of the Lancet paper or not, it is clear no one will ever know how many civilian deaths have occurred. The perception of who is causing the deaths is likely to be different depending upon who is asked. Iraqis, for the most part, don't believe Americans are responsible for car bombings at mosques, and other incidents (where US troops are killed) though they are obviously responsible for carnage in cordon and search ops (Falujah, etc.) and aerial bombings of residential areas that slaughter innocents. And while Iraqi security forces are being killed in far greater numbers than US soldiers, it is generally believed that they are targetted by the foreign jihadis as well as Sunni nationalists who particulary go after the Shia units.

The point is that by withdrawing the US military, there will be fewer targets for any insurgent or terrorist (and less colateral damage) and more opportunities for Sunnis to provide their own security forces (hopefully drawing down insurgent ranks).

The violence is the bane of all potential progress, and regardless of casualty numbers and who is ultimately responsible for each and every death, the challenge has to be reducing the carnage.

Morgan, I agree with everything you say here. No one will ever know how many civilian deaths there were provided that the destruction of iraqi census records was sufficiently thorough. However, if they somehow manage to preserve their census records, they can get a reasonable estimate of civilian deaths by noting who was alive in 2002 and then noting which of them are still alive after we leave.

I have a minor semantic point here, though. The insurgents *are* the sunni militia. They have no choice but to be insurgents because we are at war with them. If we weren't there, or if we weren't picking sides, they could be open militia. If sunnis do get militias, it will be the insurgents who'll be their militias. Because that's what they have. Sunni units of the iraqi government will mostly be insurgent units of the government for the same reason.

Anyway, if we withdraw completely it's likely to reduce the violence. The jihadis are much less likely to maintain suicidal outrage against shia compared to us. Particularly if the sunnis and shias and kurds establish boundaries that produce a minimal amount of ethnic cleansing and then mostly stay behind those borders. Sunni militias might attack less if they aren't getting attacked. It might work out.

And we've never had enough troops to create order. A partial drawdown makes it worse. If we're going to have ground troops in iraq we need a lot of them just to protect themselves. So we need to be cautious about a partial withdrawal. We emphatically don't need a dien bien phu in iraq.

Captain MORGAN's position looks rather like Wm. S. LIND's .

Thanks for mentioning Marla Ruzicka.

Congress has just passed legislation, which Marla promoted.

Atlantic Review: Marla Ruzicka

Did you know it was her birthday yesterday?

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