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November 21, 2007

Eye of the Hurricane
Posted by Shawn Brimley

After reading this oped by retired Major-General Robert Scales in today's Wall Street Journal - in which he describes the decreasing violence in Iraq as a possible "culminating point" in the war - it occurs to me that what we are most likely seeing in Iraq is the eye of the hurricane. Scales is a very respected leader and thinker, but I think there is a degree of hubris in this and other pieces that distorts what is actually going on.

Yes, General Petraeus has been an extremely effective and adaptive leader, but let's not forget that the Anbar awakening started before the so-called "surge," that sectarian cleansing in Baghdad and surrounding areas is to some degree responsible for the lower violence today, that Sadr and the JAM are largely out of the current picture by choice, and that the so-called "Concerned Local Citizens" groups (aka: motivated local militias) are and will remain an enduring threat to the prospect of effective government security forces. And finally, there is little to no indication that the Shiite central government is attempting to either seriously incorporate the CLCs into their security infrastructure (paying them, transitioning them into Army or Police units) or make the kinds of political deals (oil-sharing, enhanced provincial powers, etc.) that are vital to any reasonable prospect of an enduring stability.

All these factors convince me that rather than a "culminating point" beyond which lies a stable Iraq, what we are actually seeing is a "strategic pause" in which the dynamics of civil war and insurgency are being held in check by U.S. forces while various Iraqi actors position and plot for the endgame. I hope I'm wrong.


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Let's put this surge debate in some sort of perspective, shall we? One assumes the fighting in Iraq is going to wind down somehow and some way. Is that happening now, or is this just a lull in the storm? Are things about to blow up again? No one can say with any assurance. What role did the surge play? Probably minimal, I think, because the best part of the ethnic cleansing in Baghdad had already been accomplished, and the Anbar developments were, as you say, largely independent of US decisions.

But it's not like the historical verdict on Iraq hinges in any important on whether the war is now ending in 2007, or whether the surge worked in finally slowing down the violence. The crucial pages were written in 2002 and 2003.

The invasion of Iraq was simply a crime - it is a permanent stain on the moral reputation of the US and will abide in infamy if any fair-minded people survive to write the history of these times. There was no precipitating Iraqi aggression against the US. And given that Iraq was a country laid low and economically crushed under years of sanctions, and hemmed in by no-fly zones, periodic bombings and other restrictions, there can be no legitmate case made for any threat from Iraq remotely weighty enough to justify the savagely disproportionate US decision to invade and occupy the country. There was no legitimate defensive purpose to the war - it was, as the barbarous euphemisms of the time would put it - a "war of choice". That's just a bureaucrat's brain dead way of saying, we chose to kill a bunch of people we had no cause to kill.

So every Iraqi who has since March, 2003 been blown up or incinerated by a US bomb, or gunned down by US bullets, was in effect murdered, because the entire war was illegitimate and a crime. Every maimed child, every refugee family scattered by the winds of war, every busted piece of priceless historical artifacts - these are all the casualties of criminality on a global scale. If we didn't live in a world in which American presidents can act with impunity, due to their vast power and surrounding rings of protection, George Bush would by all rights be in an international jail by now.

The US is now hunkering down into a permanent military occupation of the country. This isn't like the occupation of Japan and Germany after the Second World War. Those were wars of defense against aggression, and the occupations were justified as the necessary culmination of a justified war. But in the case of Iraq, we apparently invaded a country that had not attacked us so that we could establish a permanent military presence there. That's just old-fashioned imperialism, any way you slice it. US soldiers and "advisors" in Iraq are just invaders and trespassers.

I hope you're wrong too.

But I believe that most likely insurgents are going into hiding, blending in with the population, while coalition counterinsurgency activities go up. As soon as troops are rotated out, I expect to see attacks increase.

General Scales knows warfare. So did General Westmoreland, in Vietnam. What he doesn't seem to understand is that 'nation-building' is not a military operation.

Scales: "What I got was a soldier's sense of what's happening on the ground . . .I came to the conclusion that we may now be reaching the "culminating point" in this war. The culminating point marks the shift in advantage from one side to the other, when the outcome becomes irreversible."--General Scales, Nov 2007

Remember how the January 2005 elections would signify progress in Iraq nation-building? And might even have been a "tipping point"?

"I do believe that the elections were a major step forward. Now, whether it's a tipping point or not, you said that, I didn't. I'm not ready to say that."--General Casey, Mar 2005

General Casey was realistic about the complex nation-building process:

"[The insurgency's] not something that we're going to defeat militarily. The people that are supporting and doing these attacks are going to hopefully be drawn into the political process. And that will take some of the air out of the insurgency. So it's a combination of the political, the military, the economic and the communications that's ultimately going to defeat this."--General Casey, Mar 2005

Now here it is the end of 2007, nearly three years since those elections, and what do we see? We see a complete failure of the 'elected' Iraq government and the arming, payment and empowerment of different local citizens, sects and tribes in direct contradiction to the "democracy" that the US brought to Iraq.

Oh, and General Scales talking about a "culminating point", when "the outcome becomes irreversible". How unfortunate for General Scales. This phrase comes from the Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz. From an analysis of Clausewitz's On War:

Every offensive, however victorious, has a "culminating point." If the defender has enough time and space in which to recover (and Russia offered an excellent example, which Clausewitz noted long before Napoleon's disaster there in 1812-13), the aggressor inevitably reaches a point at which he must himself take up the defense. If he pushes too far, the equilibrium will shift against him. The aggressor, in his own retreat (often through devastated territory), cannot draw on the defender's usual sources of strength —- physical or psychological.

Moreover, public opinion is more likely to favor the strategic defender, since significant conquests by one contender will threaten the rest. Eventually, the conqueror will reach a "culminating point of victory" at which his successes provoke sufficient counteraction to defeat him. (emphasis added)

Not very smart for a graduate of West Point with a PhD in history who went on become Commandant of the United States Army War College and write two books on the theory of warfare. But I have a theory on that: People who should know better say stupid things to advance their own standing.

If its an editorial in the Wall Street Journal, it's almost bound to be insane or in bad faith, if not both.

Mr. Brimley,

Saddam’s Iraq was not Finland. Far from being a peace loving egalitarian society, Iraq under Saddam was a brutal police state modeled after Josef Stalin, who Saddam worshipped. Saddam was a psychopathic killer who took great pleasure from seeing people suffer under his rule. Saddam initiated two wars of aggression against his neighbors that resulted in the deaths of millions! Saddam viciously attacked both the Kurds and the Shia’s, killing tens of thousands. Saddam conducted regular purges of his own Sunni legislators, officers and entire communities, killing thousands upon thousands.

Far from being a moral indictment of the United States, the US lead invasion of Iraq is one of the noblest efforts by any nation in the past century.

The moral failure wasn’t that of the United States toppling Saddam, but of the global community doing nothing.

Yet Liberals like Mr. Brimley wax on philosophically about how horrible the United States is for invading Iraq. One has to ask why Mr. Brimley has turned such a blind eye on the evil that was Saddam Hussein. What Mr. Brimley has made clear is that Liberals will ignore evil done by anyone who opposes the United States. Why is this so?

History will come to recognize this period as the time when Liberals self-exposed their disingenuousness with regard to human suffering. Liberals like Mr. Brimley don't care about the Iraqi people. They only care about blaming American for everything.


1. There are many police states in the world, and the US supports some of the worst. Saudi Arabia and Egypt for two, and of course the present Pakistan. Iraq under Saddam Hussein was fully supported by the US for many years, including in its war against Iran. Do you have some other "noble causes" in mind (that won't jeopardize yourself, of course)?

2. The majority of Iraqis were better off under Hussein then they are now. Women were able to gain higher education and become professionals under Hussein'e secular government; now they are subject to Sharia.

3. The aggression against Iraq was illegal under the UN Charter, which is US law. What if every country acted that way? Do you normally support law-breakers?

4. The Iraqi War has caused over a million dead Iraqis, with several million more wounded and over four million internal and external refugees, Many of these are women and children forced to live on the run or in the desert without adequate food and medical care. So out of a population of about 27 million about 8 million have been killed, injured or displaced, and it's not over yet. Some noble effort.

5. The US wasn't alone in this crime, it was supported by the United Kingdom, Poland and El Salvador. Spain and Italy were conned into joining, but they dropped out as the UK has now done. France, bless 'em, had enough sense to decline abetting this fiasco which has rightly been called the largest US foreign policy blunder in history.

6. The stupid war in Iraq has caused the death of thousands of Americans, and the injury of many thousands more. These people were lied to (revenge for 9/11) about why they were fighting (oil) and have received improper care from an uncaring government. But they haven't died or suffered in vain. Corporate profits are at historic highs and VP Cheney has moved into a new $2.9 million home, just down the street from Rumsfeld's, bought with Halliburton dividends, blood money from the war. No charge to you, Tom, the $20,000 cost per family will be picked up by our grandchildren because all the money (a couple of trillion) was borrowed from the Chinese and Japanese.

7. Finally, your problems with the diarist: "wax on philosophically about how horrible the United States is for invading Iraq", "turned such a blind eye on the evil that was Saddam Hussein" and "don't care about the Iraqi people" were not published in his diary and were entirely fabricated by you. Tom, besides being unaware of the issues, your pants are on fire.

By the time of the US invasion of Iraq, the Saddam regime was hemmed in by no-fly zones, impoverished and crippled by sanctions, checked and harassed by inspections and riven by regional discord and division. Whatever the harm caused by his regime in the past, by the first years of the new millenium, Saddam's regime was a pale shadow of its former self. There was little left of the Great Saddam Threat but a few ostentatious palaces and monuments. Time, patience and biology were taking care of Saddam, and Iraq would before long have been internationally rehabilitated and brought back into the international system.

Then came that 2003 US exercise in noble insanity. Not only are most Iraqis now far worse off, we have an entire region on the brink of social and political collapse, with populations fleeing and flowing across borders, a revived and re-energized jihadist movement, governments falling apart, militarism on the rise, warlordism ascendant and sectarian strife given new impetus by dimwitted and impetuous foreign meddling. Many of these disruptions and heightened threats are traceable in one way or another to the catalytic action of American military intervention in the region.

I do not believe historians will come to recognize this period as one when liberals were revealed as disingenuous with regard to human suffering, but perhaps history will come to recognize this period as one in which right-wing American chauvinists mysteriously discovered humanity. I doubt these future historians will have any trouble seeing through the apparent coincidence that right-wing concern for humanity varies directly with the opportunity for the exertion of military muscle, the only force on Earth that truly impresses them.

True conservatives in the Robert Taft tradition, given the truth, have been against this sort of foreign misadventure, however the new breed of fake conservatives, like the neocons and Tom Dalzell, have been bamboozled into incorrect thinking and wrong behavior. Some of them, like Francis Fukuyama, have recovered somewhat and disowned the necons with their stupid "war on terror": "'[W]ar' is the wrong metaphor for the broader struggle, since wars are fought at full intensity and have clear beginnings and endings. Meeting the jihadist challenge is more of a 'long, twilight struggle' whose core is not a military campaign but a political contest for the hearts and minds of ordinary Muslims around the world."--Fukuyama

So "Liberals like Mr. Brimley . . .blaming American for everything" aren't Tom's enemy, but conservative values are. Political contests are good, but war sucks.

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