April 05, 2004

The Trouble with Fallujah

What happened in Fallujah was a barbaric horror show. Mark Bowden, author of Black Hawk Down explains in the Wall Street Journal (free registration required) why it needs to be answered with force.

It is a mistake to conclude that those committing such acts represent a majority of the community. Just the opposite is true. Lynching is most often an effort to frighten and sway a more sensible, decent mainstream. In Marion it was the Ku Klux Klan, in Mogadishu it was Aidid loyalists, in Fallujah it is either diehard Saddamites or Islamo-fascists.

The worst answer the U.S. can make to such a message--which is precisely what we did in Mogadishu--is back down. By most indications, Aidid's supporters were decimated and demoralized the day after the Battle of Mogadishu. Some, appalled by the indecency of their countrymen, were certain the U.S. would violently respond to such an insult and challenge. They contacted U.N. authorities offering to negotiate, or simply packed their things and fled. These are the ones who miscalculated. Instead the U.S. did nothing, effectively abandoning the field to Aidid and his henchmen. Somalia today remains a nation struggling in anarchy, and the America-haters around the world learned what they thought was a essential truth about the United States: Kill a few Americans and the most powerful nation on Earth will run away. This, in a nutshell, is the strategy of Osama bin Laden.

Bowden is right, but this is tricky.

The reason many Sunni Arabs in Iraq are lashing out at the coalition is because their Baath Party gravy train is over forever. The Baathists were nothing if not a minority Sunni tribal outfit that lorded it over the non-Sunni majority. Now they fear theyíre at the mercy of those they oppressed for so long. They rightly blame us for their predicament.

They have only experienced politics as brute force. They donít know any other kind. Itís as hard for them to imagine how a liberal democracy works as it is for us to imagine what itís actually like to live in a totalitarian state.

These people need to be made to understand two things.

One, if they fight the US they are going to bring a hammer down on their heads.

Two, the US will protect them from the majority if and when they lose the first election. The Shiíites and the Kurds will not be allowed to elect an anti-Sunni dictatorship. What makes a democracy a liberal democracy is that the rights of the minority are protected from the majority. Itís safe to lose an election. You might not like the results, but you wonít be jailed, beaten, or killed.

How so we strike back at the Sunni mobs while also sending the message that we are ultimately their protectors? I donít know. This could be our greatest test yet. Overthrowing Saddam Hussein was easy. This wonít be.


UPDATE: See Steven Den Beste if you want the optimist's view.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at April 5, 2004 09:04 PM
Comments

The Bowden article is really good. Here are some other good articles:

Fallujah
A reminder of what the future might look like if we fail.
By Christopher Hitchens
http://www.opinionjournal.com/editorial/feature.html?id=110004903

The Mirror of Fallujah
No more passes and excuses for the middle east
by Victor Davis Hanson
http://victorhanson.com/Articles/Private%20Papers/Mirror_of_Fallujah.html

Fallujah
by David Warren

http://www.davidwarrenonline.com/Comment/Apr04/index210.shtml

Posted by: Salamantis at April 5, 2004 09:36 PM

Wretchard at the Belmont Club has a good take on this.

Posted by: FH at April 5, 2004 11:11 PM

Yep, yep, and yep. We're in quite a pickle, now.

And I still stick by my coments about Sistani, Sadr, and the Bush Administration made in the last post. We refused to deal with Martin Luther King and now we're stuck with Malcolm X. We've enabled Malcolm X. This thing could spread through the country like wildfire if we don't put a stop to it. But like you said Michael, how we go about doing that now that we're to this point I haven't a clue.

Posted by: Grant McEntire at April 5, 2004 11:37 PM

The reason many Sunni Arabs in Iraq are lashing out at the coalition is because their Baath Party gravy train is over forever. The Baathists were nothing if not a minority Sunni tribal outfit that lorded it over the non-Sunni majority. Now they fear they’re at the mercy of those they oppressed for so long. They rightly blame us for their predicament.

And you know this how?

You know, if you'd been around 40 years ago, you would have been writing earnest, impassioned pieces about how the South Vietnamese were desperate to be saved from the VC, who, as everyone knew, were a manifestation of imperialist communist aggression.

Really, what do we (or you) know of the Iraqi people beyond a collection of second or third hand cliches? Do you think you know more about the Iraqis than the people who strongly supported the war in Vietnam knew of the Vietnamese people?

Not even our policymakers in Vietnam understood the conflict well enough to arrive at a viable strategy, and the same seems to be true today of Iraq.

The military situation may be very different from Vietnam (so far), but the ignorance and arrogance of our leaders, and the blundering and miscalculation that results, is frighteningly similar.

Posted by: Mork at April 5, 2004 11:46 PM

Mork: And you know this how?

What am I supposed to say? I've been following events in Iraq for years. Far as I can tell, what you excerpted in your comment above isn't controversial at all except in your head.

Why do you think the mob attacked Americans? It seems to me quite obvious that they hate us because we took out Saddam. And Saddam's regime was the only thing protecting them from the majority they've been oppressing for decades.

You know, if you'd been around 40 years ago, you would have been writing earnest, impassioned pieces about how the South Vietnamese were desperate to be saved from the VC, who, as everyone knew, were a manifestation of imperialist communist aggression.

Maybe. But probably not. I spent most of my life wishing I was alive back then to join the '68ers. I am not even remotely a fan of the Vietnam War.

Still, I'm amazed you appear to be editing communism out of the equation. Am I reading you right? Do you think the VC and the NVA weren't communist? That the NVA didn't launch a ground invasion of South Vietnam? That everyone in Vietnam was on their side? If that's the case, how do you explain the so-called boat people?

(Do spare me a lecture about French colonialism and the anti-imperialism of Ho. I'm well versed in all that.)

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at April 6, 2004 12:09 AM

Another good Fallujah article:

The Lesson of Fallujah
by Lee Harris

http://www.techcentralstation.com/040204D.html

Posted by: Salamantis at April 6, 2004 12:52 AM

Why do you think the mob attacked Americans? It seems to me quite obvious that they hate us because we took out Saddam. And Saddam's regime was the only thing protecting them from the majority they've been oppressing for decades.

Michael, I don't know. I can advance all sorts of plausible theories, some of which suggest that we have a hope of turning the situation around, and some which suggest that we don't. But how would I know what motivates a group of people in that society, culture and historical circumstance?

But what I do know is that, generally, we have a long history of making poor assessments of the values, motivations and intentions of people in foreign cultures, of trying to force complex and dynamic situations into our own familiar frames of reference, and wildly overestimating our ability to affect situations in every dimension other than military.

And we have a history of taking actions based on those assessments that end up having counterproductive consequences.

That history should at least teach us a little humility about our capacity to get things right in Iraq. It's not that we're bad people, it's just that, for whatever reason, we don't have the capability to do this stuff.

And I certainly don't see anything about Iraq that leads me to believe that any of that we've got better at any of that stuff since the end of the Vietnam war.

Posted by: Mork at April 6, 2004 01:21 AM

Two books recently published books that provide valuable perspective and incisive insight upon the Fallujans' mindset and motives are:

Civilization and its Enemies: The Next Stage of History
by Lee Harris

and

Occidentalism: The West in the Eyes of Its Enemies
by Ian Buruma & Avishai Margalit

Editorial reviews for both works can be found at Amazon.com.

I cannot recommend them too highly.

Posted by: Salamantis at April 6, 2004 01:47 AM

MJT,

They rightly blame us for their predicament.

Rightly?

Posted by: HA at April 6, 2004 04:34 AM

Mork,

Really, what do we (or you) know of the Iraqi people beyond a collection of second or third hand cliches? ... The military situation may be very different from Vietnam (so far), but the ignorance and arrogance of our leaders, and the blundering and miscalculation that results, is frighteningly similar.

What do YOU know of the Iraqi people that substantiates YOUR opinion of the "ignorance and arrogance of our leaders?" It is far more likely that your own "ignorance and arrogance" informs your opinion.

You don't know jack shit as indicated by your boiler plate criticisms, but that doesn't stop you from issuing sweeping condemnations. That's rather telling, don't you think?

Posted by: HA at April 6, 2004 04:44 AM

Mork,

About Vietnam. You do realize we won every battle except the one that mattered? Tet, no we won that battle easily. As a matter of fact after that battle, the North were pretty much decimated.

But, we tried to play it like we played Korea, we knew China would never allow a Democratic capitalist country next to them. In Korea, they demoted MacArther because he was going to win and push the commies back into Red China, which would have pushed China to join the war in earnest.

Meanwhile, in the towns we controlled, we were building schools and hospitals. Taking care of the locals, Kerry's alleged statements aside. Which is funny, he was only in coutry for 4 months, got 3 purple hearts and somehow saw a thousand atrocities. But that is another rant for another time.

No the battle we lost was public perception here at home. The communist backed Anti-war demonstrations, which is funny because they are still communist backed. That is the reason we lost Vietnam. It had nothing to Do with what the majority of Vietnamese wanted. Heck, General Giap praised those demonstrations for helping to do what his Army could not, defeat America on the battle field.

Posted by: James Stephenson at April 6, 2004 05:17 AM

HA, what is readily observable is how little about the situation in Iraq the Administration has been correct about.

If they knew what they were talking about, don't you think that they could (a) paint a more accurate picture of what was likely to happen, (b) set realistic goals and achieve some of them and © adopt some policies that wouldn't need to be reversed every couple of months?

What else are we to judge the Administration by but its results?

Posted by: Mork at April 6, 2004 05:27 AM

Meanwhile, in the towns we controlled, we were building schools and hospitals.

And, Iraq is not Vietnam because Vietnam was a Jungle and Iraq is a desert.

You people need new lines.

Posted by: Hipocrite at April 6, 2004 05:31 AM

James:
MacArthur was sacked for disobeying his Commander in Chief, not because he was winning. He was also under the ludicrously misguided belief that China could be won back from the Communists for the Nationalists.

As for Vietnam, the US did well on the major battlefields, less well in the day to day grind of counter insurgency in the South.

Personally, and I may be wrong here, being only an amateur historian, but the US mainly lost in the South in the long run because it never articulated a coherrent vision that would give the average South Vietnamese somehting to fight for. This took many forms including - a lack of land reform, the suppression of the Buddhists, the lack of health and education investment and fundamentally the lack of reform of the incredibly corrupt South Vietnamese elite. The latter probably stymied all the others.

Also, the Nixon and Ford governments starved the ARVN of resources post 72 - I appreciate there were other committments.

Plus to the average South Vietnamese peasant the NLF and the NVA were damn persuasive because in those days communist ideology sounded great to them - especially in terms of anti-colonialism and nationalism. Those were after all what the US was fighting in the end.

Posted by: Neil W at April 6, 2004 05:35 AM

P.s. am not ignoring stuff in the US at the time - thought I'd finish or else it would turn into an essay!

Posted by: Neil W at April 6, 2004 05:37 AM

Sure, James, we could have held South Vietnam militarily as long as we wanted, as long as we were prepared to continue paying the price in dead Americans.

But what we weren't able to do was impose our values on the South Vietnamese to the extent that there were enough people committed to the anti-communist cause to eliminate the insurgency.

That is the parallel that worries me.

We don't have to be militarily defeated to fail in Iraq. Now that WMD and links to Al Qaeda have evaporated as rationales for the war, the only way left for us to succeed is to establish a viable democracy.

And it's starting to look unlikely that we ever can.

Posted by: Mork at April 6, 2004 05:44 AM

It's ALL about Vietnam.

We will never outgrow it. It was the one time in our pathetic lives where we made a difference. It was the one time where the winning side was non-capitalist, where Marx and Lenin's theories were proven right: We were on the verge of a New World of social justice and brotherhood.

We are now old and meaningless, where once we were 18, getting laid, having fun, changing the world. We have done nothing since.

We desparately need this to be Vietnam 2 to give a little life to our meaningless lives, to breathe breath into our failed theorums. So yes, this was Dien Bian Phu. And yes we are once again on the side of the good guys, the Sunni Vietcong.

Posted by: Loser Boomer at April 6, 2004 05:53 AM

Okay, so we've got the boilerplate rationale for why we're being attacked by Sunnis: they hate us because we got rid of Saddam.

Now explain why we're being attacked by Shia.

Posted by: pdf at April 6, 2004 06:52 AM

"Now explain why we're being attacked by Shia."

They want a bigger slice of the pie and think violence will get it for them. If the Lefties have their way, they will be successful.

Posted by: Ex at April 6, 2004 06:55 AM

I hate to get off on a rant, but if this is the kind of reasoned debate we can expect on these issues, we're seriously screwed.

HA: Yes, "rightly." Are you so determined to deny US responsibility for any of its actions that you want to pretend it wasn't us who deposed Saddam and ended Baathist minority control? You can't simultaneously praise Bush for ousting Saddam and then pretend the Baathists have no right to be angry at us for taking away their control of government.

Mork: While I respect your attempt to be "sensitive" to the fact that the Iraqis may have a different value system, treating them as inscrutable and beyond our understanding is as orientalizing and offensive a gesture as Bush's "they just hate freedom." Our leaders are ignorant and arrogant not because they pretend to understand the Iraqis, but because they chose to listen uncritically to Iraqi dissidents who told them whatever they wanted to hear. Even if you, I, and MJT can't fully understand the complexities of the Iraqi mindset, I'm pretty sure Chalabi understood it enough to turn it to his advantage, and maybe we should have looked at our local expert a little more carefully.

Everybody else: First, we lost in Vietnam. There's no woulda, no coulda, no shoulda. We fucking lost. Losing "every battle except the one that mattered" is loser talk for "we almost won" but it's still fucking losing. Second, Iraq is not Vietnam. Fuck the desert/jungle, Communist/Muslim, and all the other useless dichotomies everyone tries to make. Iraq is not Vietnam and learning "what we did wrong" in Vietnam can only help us understand ourselves, not the Iraqis. It should have been clear after Vietnam that wars for which there is no clear justification will be opposed by large numbers of the American public, and if the leadership failed to make a convincing case, failed to anticipate public scrutiny, or spent more time demonizing protestors rather than listening to their concerns, that is a failure of the administration and not of the protestors. Third, "what we did wrong" in Iraq was convincing ourselves it would be easy. Bush administration officials pushed "shock and awe" down our collective craws, used words like "cakewalk," fired military officials who insisted we'd need more troops, and refused both to understand the true costs of the war, and to divulge even the costs they did anticipate until after we were committed.

Now that we're in, we have to stay in and finish the fucking job. Not declare "Mission Accomplished" when it's pretty fucking clear the mission is far from accomplished. Not decrease troop strength to appease the "military family" voting bloc. Not insist on leaving on June 1st, whether our goals are accomplished or not, because that's the politically expedient time to do so. It means staying in and finishing the job we started, no matter how bad it makes us look, because THAT'S OUR RESPONSIBILITY and because the alternative is far worse. More importantly, it means looking at and learning from our failures rather than covering them up.

PS - Iraq isn't Vietnam. It's worse.

Posted by: Jeremy at April 6, 2004 06:58 AM

Jermemy: Is this aversion to freedom for the Iraqi race genetic? What other races have this natural aversion? Curious.

PS: Fuck the Baathists and their rights. They have as many as do/did concentration camp guards.

Posted by: Ex at April 6, 2004 07:03 AM

Mork: While I respect your attempt to be "sensitive" to the fact that the Iraqis may have a different value system, treating them as inscrutable and beyond our understanding is as orientalizing and offensive a gesture as Bush's "they just hate freedom." Our leaders are ignorant and arrogant not because they pretend to understand the Iraqis, but because they chose to listen uncritically to Iraqi dissidents who told them whatever they wanted to hear. Even if you, I, and MJT can't fully understand the complexities of the Iraqi mindset, I'm pretty sure Chalabi understood it enough to turn it to his advantage, and maybe we should have looked at our local expert a little more carefully.

Jeremy - you're putting a whole lot of words into my mouth that I did not and would never say. In fact, I agree with every word you wrote from "Our leaders" on, and I don't think it's the slightest bit inconsistent with anything I've said on this thread, except that I'd change "not because" to "not only because".

Posted by: Mork at April 6, 2004 07:04 AM

Oops. Make that "June 30th" for the scheduled time of our abandonment of the mess we made.

Posted by: Jeremy at April 6, 2004 07:04 AM

Now explain why we're being attacked by Shia.

You mean the Moqtada, right? That explains itself. They're sociopathic theocrats. They'll be just a memory six months from now.

MT, the answer to your quandry is "time". Reliable hammer and justice for three or four years will show the Sunnis what they can predict from us.

Posted by: Jim at April 6, 2004 07:04 AM

We AREN'T being attacked by MOST of the Shi'a. Sadr, who isn't even a real mullah, is an Iranian tool putting his dead father's network to as much use as he can manage under the orders of Itranian mullah Al Haeri. The entire Shi'ite Religious Council have condemned the violence, including head Ayatollah Sistani (who himself signed off on the Iraqi constitution because, as religious head of th Iraqi Shi'ites, which constitute a 60% majority of the Iraqi population, a popular vote places him in the catbird seat). Once this young thug's few jihadist hotheads are dropped, it should be mopped up fairly quickly in Baghdad - that is, unless Iran infiltrates reinforcements.

Posted by: Salamantis at April 6, 2004 07:04 AM

And still another good Fallujah article:

After Fallujah
We cannot permit the outrages in Mogadishu and Fallujah to have similar effects
William Kristol

http://www.weekleystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/003/945uchaa.asp

Posted by: Salamantis at April 6, 2004 07:08 AM

Jim,

Three or four years? And retaining enough control to apply "reliable hammer and justice" for the duration? Is this what you thought you were signing on for in invading Iraq?

And I could have sworn that we were going to leave Iraq to the Iraqis at the end of June.

Posted by: Jeremy at April 6, 2004 07:20 AM

One, if they fight the US they are going to bring a hammer down on their heads.

That's a laugh Michael. The last thing I expect is any kind of "hammer" to be used in Iraq. Bean bags more likely, and maybe if they're feeling REALLY virile they'll wheel up the big speakers and blast some really loud music and hope it irritates the muktar, and perhaps our forces might even resort to using foul language. The Left of this country will do everything in their power to turn this into another vietnam.

Posted by: David at April 6, 2004 07:27 AM

As long as we're trading links, Donald Sensing noted the same Bowden article, and pursues the thoughts a little more closely.

And on a historical note, MacArthur was actually losing in Korea - quite badly, too - when he was recalled. He was not merely disobeying orders, but was actually attempting to usurp the authority of the president. He went to the press, demanding that the war be widened to China (he in fact had requested nuclear strikes on Beijing, called for an alliance with the Nationalists in Taiwan, and tried to threaten the Russians with airstrikes from Europe). While his recall was shocking at home, it was done with the unanymous support of the Joint Chiefs, and the tide had turned immediately upon Ridgeway's appointment. Recalling him was absolutely the right decision, both militarily and politically - and Truman deserves credit for doing it.

Posted by: Independent George at April 6, 2004 07:28 AM

Hey Jeremy, please get back to your lefty catfight with Mork about which one of you is more sensitive. It was very entertaining!

Posted by: docob at April 6, 2004 07:28 AM

HA:MJT,

They rightly blame us for their predicament.

Rightly?

I don't mean we deserved it. All I mean is that their hatred of us is logical from their warped perspective. We did end their Saddamite gravy train. Not that I have a scrap of sympathy...

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at April 6, 2004 07:29 AM

Now explain why we're being attacked by Shia.

They are a minority faction, led by an Iranian-funded cleric, who want an Islamic fundamentalist state. They will not get it for two reasons. One, most Iraqis don't want it. Two, we won't let them have it.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at April 6, 2004 07:34 AM

>>And I could have sworn that we were going to leave Iraq to the Iraqis at the end of June.

Nope, that is just when we plan to hand back civilian power.

Posted by: Actually reads at April 6, 2004 09:02 AM

Regarding Vietnam, one of the chief causes of our defeat was a large contingent of Americans who were not simply against the war...they were instead on the other side.

They hyped the US and South Vietnam atrocities, but ignored the Vietcong murder of thousands of teachers and other innocents. Some on the Left even supported the Vietcong outright through funding, propgagnda and even terrorist actions (the Weathermen, etc).

This biased reporting in the media and selective outrage made it impossible to politically win the war, even though we were winning on the ground (and we were winning despite the terrible political and military leadership we had running the show).

It appears history does repeat itself.

Posted by: Ex at April 6, 2004 09:10 AM

MJT -

In two weeks, Sadr will be an entry in some rifle company's 'things done today' logbook.

Ted Kennedy will be headlined on CNN for accussing George W. Bush for supporting outsourcing of major league baseball talent.

The current operations under way in Iraq will remove a significant segment of the remaining armed resistance. It marks the first, not the last, time that Iraqi security forces cooperate with coalition forces in combat.

We are racing against the bruised pride factor in Iraq. We have freed them...but if they don't do a lot of the heavy lifting to make it work, if they cannot rightly judge that they were the ultimate engines of their new government, they will reject it as an imposition.

It is in our interest that Saddam is gone. It is in our interest that the Iraqis transition to a functional representative government. It is in our common interest that the factions that refuse that outcome be dealt with directly and unequivocally.

Sometimes I think our State Department is a larger obstacle to U.S. interests than any barbarian in a cave or dictator in a palace. I know they have a lot more resources; time fills I guess.

I'm outta here. Y'all have a fine day.

Posted by: TmjUtah at April 6, 2004 09:53 AM

Jeremy, Bush has said all along that we're going to have a military presence in Iraq for a long haul. Don't confuse that with the handover this summer.

Also, you don't really mean that the Sunnis had a right to be feeding from the fascist gravy train and profiting from holocausts, did you? Of course not. You don't think the Nazis in 1945 had a legitimate grievance with being ousted, so you mustn't think the Sunnis do, either.

MT has explained his meaning of "rightly" quite well.

Posted by: Jim at April 6, 2004 10:38 AM

Actually I assumed we would be moving permanent bases from the West Germany to Arab states and Eastern Europe and these bases would be there almost as long as the ones in W Germany.

al Sadr thought he was going to win the upcoming election, now that he knows he is not, I think he decided to try a different tact. In the hopes that the Americans might run. He made a huge tactical blunder. And will get most of his supporters killed, which actually works in our best interests.

Posted by: James Stephenson at April 6, 2004 11:11 AM

Jim,

Perhaps you could explain to me just how I should view the handover this summer. You seem to be saying that we're going to hand over civilian control but retain enough military control to continue applying "reliable hammer and justice" to subversive elements for the next three or four years. Exactly what kind of control do you think we are handing over?

And how can you possibly interpret my statement that I agree with Michael and understand why the Baathists resent the Americans for ousting Saddam as equivalent to supporting their control over the majority... and by extension pretend that I'd support the Nazis. You're being disingenuous and you know it.

Posted by: Jeremy at April 6, 2004 11:26 AM

Mork, on the lessons of history:

That history should at least teach us a little humility about our capacity to get things right in Iraq. It's not that we're bad people, it's just that, for whatever reason, we don't have the capability to do this stuff.

Is it just me, or does anyone else find this truly appalling?

Actually, history shows that Japan and Western Europe were pretty radically changed after World War II (to our benefit, one would think), but I guess that's the part of history we shouldn't pay any attention to. And while I admit humility is a virtue, using it as an excuse to allow the world to go to hell in a handbasket isn't. (The Handbasket Solution used to appeal to me, but certain events led me to the conclusion that the world eventually comes knocking, bringing hell with it.)

So maybe it's time we re-learned how to do this stuff. I expect a lot of that learning will be of the "on-the-job" variety. We will make mistakes. But I'd rather we make mistakes in a good cause than get nothing wrong while waiting for the knock on the door in the middle of the night.

Posted by: Mark Poling at April 6, 2004 11:42 AM

Jeremy,

You said that we can't "pretend the Baathists have no right to be angry at us for taking away their control of government." I guess you mispoke, then. Because now you say that you agree with MT, who stated that, on the contrary, the Baathists' perspective is "warped". MT's implication is that the Baathists/Sunni do not have a right to rule or to kill us, but rather they "rightly blame us" only in their demented way. Descriptive and normative language are sometimes easily conflated; gotta watch that. Oh, and by the way, I said that you would not support the Nazis; better watch that, too.

Exactly what kind of control do you think we are handing over?

Administrative control, and some political control. But with the size of our military there for the foreseeable future, not military control.

Posted by: Jim at April 6, 2004 12:29 PM

By the way "rightly blame us for their predicament" cashes out to "are correct that we are the ones who put them in their predicament." It's descriptive, not normative language, though somewhat ambiguous as HA pointed out. "Have a right to be angry at us" is clearly normative language.

Posted by: Jim at April 6, 2004 12:34 PM

Jim,

I'll admit to a careless use of language, but please give some attention to the context. Michael said the Baathists are now out of favor and rightly blame us for their situation, and judging by his subsequent clarification, I understood him correctly in the first place. HA questioned the term "rightly," as though the Baathists were somehow mistaken in their impression that we were responsible for gettting rid of Saddam. I attacked HA for what I interpreted for a knee-jerk denial that anything the US military does in Iraq can have negative consequences. Whether or not I was being fair in my treatment of HA is a matter that may be debated, and my language may have been intermperate, but parsing my post to imply I believe the Baathists are right to attack us is simply deceptive.

As to the question of handing over control, while I'm sure the CPA is eager to hand over administrative control to Iraqis, I have to question how much political control the Iraqi government could possibly have while a substantial US military presence remains in Iraq, and how much legitimacy it will hold in the eyes of the Iraqi people. An Iraqi government that is perceived as a US puppet may do more harm than good to the prospect of setting up a sustainable democracy there. And frankly, I don't see what kind of government there could really be in place by late June. Bush needs to stop letting the election determine his Iraq timetable and start listening to those on the ground.

Posted by: Jeremy at April 6, 2004 01:32 PM

Jeremy,

Very well, then.

For my part, I remain less pessimistic, almost polyannish, even giddy at times, I admit. The Middle East is going to have a good century, and so are we, thanks to the people who are dying for it.

Posted by: Jim at April 6, 2004 01:50 PM

Jim,

I lack your optimism, but sincerely hope you are correct.

Posted by: Jeremy at April 6, 2004 02:08 PM

A few points:

1. The handover is 4 months away. Is there a clear , bright line who about who gets the control, in various sectors? For example, is there going to be a three person executive team? What happens if there is in-fighting? Who solves it? What happens if the political leader whom we hand control over to, does things that are "counter" to american interests?

On the weekend, Richard Lugar (Republican) and a democrat, forget who, were voicing their concerns about the plan (or lack thereof) of the transition of power. Does anyone else here besides me, have a sinking feeling in their stomach over this?

2. A point that has been made, but by isolating this post to only "Fallulah" this discounts the worrisome nature of the Shiite rebellion (or religious fascist Sadr). Fighting has taken place over the weekend in over 7 major cities in Iraq, so this cannot be isolated to one town. This ALSO is very worrisome.

3. The possibility of civil war. The "vietnam" analogy has never held up - there aren't russians supplying arms to the insurgents in Iraq - but could this be similar to Algeria, and France?

I think the best model you can have, is something like what is in Afghanistan. But clearly, there are problems in Arghanistan, as it currently is. But if this "best" model holds up, then political power will "devolve" into at least, nominally, separate areas of control.

And, even though everyone makes the point that there are the three areas of Iraq, the Kurdish, the Sunni, the Shiite, the reality is a LOT more complicated.

If I were a betting man, I view civil war like activity as more than a 50% chance. How about others?

Posted by: JC at April 6, 2004 02:33 PM

JC,

Christopher Hitchens wrote a recent article in Slate about comparisons between Iraq and Algeria.

Here's an excerpt:

Those making a facile comparison between the Algerian revolution depicted in the film [The Battle of Algiers] and today's Iraq draw an equally flawed analogy. Let me mention just the most salient differences.

1) Algeria in 1956—the "real time" date of the film—was not just a colony of France. It was a department of metropolitan France. The slogan of the French Right was Algérie Française. A huge population of French settlers lived in the country, mainly concentrated in the coastal towns. The French had exploited and misgoverned this province for more than a century and were seeking to retain it as an exclusive possession.

2) In 1956, the era of French and British rule in the Middle East had already in effect come to an end. With the refusal by President Eisenhower to countenance the Anglo-French-Israeli attack on Egypt at Suez in November of that year, the death-knell of European colonialism had struck. There was no military tactic that could have exempted a near-bankrupt France from this verdict. General Massu in Algiers could have won any military victory he liked and it would have changed nothing. Frenchmen as conservative as Charles de Gaulle and Raymond Aron were swift to recognize this state of affairs.

Today, it is Arab nationalism that is in crisis, while the political and economic and military power of the United States is virtually unchallengeable. But the comparison of historical context, while decisive, is not the only way in which the Iraq analogy collapses. The French could not claim to have removed a tyrannical and detested leader. They could not accuse the Algerian nationalists of sponsoring international terrorism (indeed, they blamed Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt for fomenting the FLN in Algiers itself). They could not make any case that Algerian nationalism would violate the Non-Proliferation Treaty or even threaten to do so. Thus, French conscripts—not volunteers—and Algerian rebels were sacrificed for no cause except the lost and futile one of French reaction. The right-wing generals of the Algeria campaign, and some of the extreme settlers, actually did conduct an urban guerrilla rearguard action of their own, in Paris as well as Algeria, and did try to bring off a military coup against de Gaulle, but they had been defeated and isolated by 1968.

I would challenge anybody to find a single intelligent point of comparison between any of these events and the present state of affairs in Iraq. The only similarity that strikes the eye, in point of guerrilla warfare, is that the toughest and most authentic guerrilla army in Iraq—the Kurdish peshmerga—is fighting very effectively on the coalition side. Not even the wildest propaganda claims of the Baathist and jihadist sympathizers allege that the tactics of General Massu are being employed by General Abizaid or General Sanchez: Newspaper and political party offices are being opened not closed, and just last month the Saddam ban on Iraqi pilgrims making the hajj to Mecca was rescinded.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at April 6, 2004 03:18 PM

Thanks Michael,

That's good information. It is good to remember you can never really compare the past to the present, but hopefully, you can learn from the past. I suppose that goes for comparisons to Algeria, Vietnam, or Germany and Japan after World War II.

The Algeria comparison for me is a minor point.
The major point is the optimism/pessimism question, and the historical and other valid/invalid reasons for the projections. I guess what will be seen, is on the scale of occupations, interventions, the final outcome of this one will fall:

On a scale from 1 to 10, ten being most successful.

10 - Germany, Japan
9
8 -
7 - Bosnia,
6 - Afghanistan, US
5 - Iraq?
4 Lebanon (Israel)
3
2 Algeria, Aghanistan (USSR)
1 Vietnam, Haiti

People more historically minded than me, feel free to fill in the rest.

And Iraq?

I'm not married to these numbers - just attempting to start a conversation...

Posted by: JC at April 6, 2004 03:40 PM

Mark (Poling): there are a number of historical and cultural reasons why the post-WW2 analogies may not be a good fit. In particular:

  • both Germany and Japan had been devastated by years of war ... there pretty much wasn't anybody left with any fight in them.
  • America was on a total war footing, and able to allocate resources (money and people) accordingly.
  • Germany was a western european culture, with many shared understandings and values (though some not!)
  • Japan was a highly collectivist and conformist society, and the symbolic and temporal leadership of the country gave the reconstruction full support.

And just to be clear about why I think Vietnam is relevant. It's not (yet) because of overwhelming strategic and military similarities, but, as Jeremy put it above, the lesson is not about Iraq, it's about us: how we approach problems, what strengths we have, and the limits of our power.

If we don't learn from our mistakes, we will keep repeating them. I don't see what's controversial about that. I also don't see what this Administration has learned from Vietnam.

Posted by: Mork at April 6, 2004 04:26 PM

I have another reason why Vietnam is not Iraq.

April 5-6 is not the Tet holiday.

Posted by: Hipocrite at April 6, 2004 05:08 PM

Hipocrite: April 5-6 is not the Tet holiday.

What's your point? That Iraq actually is just like Vietnam with different surface details? Please advise.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at April 6, 2004 05:49 PM

Even though the Tet offensive was a huge military victory for the U.S., the Left made sure it resulted in a political defeat. I'm afraid that they will do the same with the current battle in Iraq. The Left will defeat this country, not our external enemies, but our INTERNAL ones.

Posted by: David at April 6, 2004 06:05 PM

David, if you end up defining the enemy as the majority of the American people, you have something of an analytical problem, wouldn't you agree?

Posted by: Mork at April 6, 2004 06:33 PM

Iraq is nothing at all like Vietnam. Saying it is so would be a bigger mistake than taking false lessons from a war that has so captured the imagination of the American Left that it cannot see beyond that war.

Posted by: Ben at April 6, 2004 07:41 PM

DAVID...

Look, man, I'm gonna once and for all ask you to actually define just who and what it is you're talking about when you refer to "the Left". By "the Left" do you mean the 45-50% of people in this country who are in any way left of center or is it something else?

You accuse "the Left" of treason. You accuse them of wanting to turn Iraq into Vietnam. You accuse them of trying to "defeat this country". I think we deserve to know just who the fuck you're calling out, here. Is it only the most die-hard ANSWER types or is it Me, Joe Lieberman, Evan Bayh, Bill Clinton, and every Democrat who ever lived?

There are, indeed, radical leftists on the Far Left. I would go as far as to say that these folks fit your description to a tee. They're anti-American, anti-liberal, and probably even guilty of treason if you must put it this way. These folks make up a good .25 to .5% of the population.

Define your terms, lest you live in trolldom the rest of your days. These generalizations are well beyond inappropriate.

Posted by: Grant McEntire at April 7, 2004 01:41 AM

The definition of the "Left" isn't as important as 1) discussing what success in Iraq would/ should/ could look like, as compared to failure; and 2) how screaming and attempting to monopolize attention with prior WMDs & blame for 9/11 diverts thought away from the more important (1).

In point (2) the similarity with Vietnam is this -- a biased liberal press, angry at the Rep Pres (from 68 on), implicitly supports America leaving ... meaning the commies win; and commie Pol Pot kills millions (-- but that's not anti-war folk's fault!). Anti-Republican partisanship is more important to many than what is best for the world.

MJT cares more about the world, in my reading.

The Iraq handover details are underdiscussed -- I hope that it means some identified Iraqi, or group, will have more decision making power. I wish it would be local mayors, but expect to accept most power centralized on top somewhere.

As a what-if, take the Sadr case after the handover. Now an Iraqi decides to put out a warrant for "somebody's" arrest; the suspect holes up in an important Mosque; an Iraqi, not Bremer, decides whether to surround the mosque, invade, blockade, or what. Yes, with American advice on what the Americans think is best, and what orders they are willing to support, or not. And certainly with American military backing up any Iraqi force. But an Iraqi making the decision -- that's what authority means.

With limits. Specifically, I see no chance of an All American/coalition assault on a mosque -- if this is the desire of the Iraqi decision maker, he will be told (by Bremer?) no. But perhaps a combined Iraqi security force AND an American assault? Almost certainly acceptable would be an Iraqi assault, with American backup, to come in as needed -- including, perhaps, MASSIVE tear gas inside, and possibly hi-tek night vision goggles, and an evening assault, etc.

The 1 July limits of Iraqi decision making and American military control should become subjects of debate -- far more important than the Clinton-Bush under Clarke's mediocre advice who gets how much blame.

Another Vietnam lesson we prolly haven't learned -- give money at the local leader level. NOT at the (more) corrupt top, at the place where it needs to be spent, so normal Iraqis see a difference; and so those who want to help have some resources to make a difference.

Posted by: Tom Grey at April 7, 2004 05:29 AM

Mork:

And just to be clear about why I think Vietnam is relevant. It's not (yet) because of overwhelming strategic and military similarities, but, as Jeremy put it above, the lesson is not about Iraq, it's about us: how we approach problems, what strengths we have, and the limits of our power.

And that's why I'm so bothered by the "It's George Bush's Viet Nam" from Ted Kennedy and what I'll call the Quagmire Left. That response is purely reactionary; it has nothing to do with real analysis. It's just perversely wishful thinking.

Your points about the ways in which Western Europe and Japan after WWII differed from Viet Name are valid, but then you must also acknowledge how Viet Nam is different from Iraq. One key difference is the Chinese aren't bankrolling a hostile army right across a porous border, I'd think. (I am not discounting Iran and Syria meddling, but size counts.) Then there's also that whole dessert versus jungle thing.

If you're making the case that the administration isn't effectively selling our occupation of Iraq domestically, I'll listen. But if you really are saying "it's about us" (although I find such a construct to be uncomfortably narcissistic) then I'd hasten to point out both you and I are part of us. And unless you really want to abandon Iraq to the forces and the anti-Enlightenment, stop with the facile "we can't do this because we couldn't in Viet Nam" stuff.

Posted by: Mark Poling at April 7, 2004 10:25 AM

DAVID...

I'm still waiting for an answer. Scroll up and read what I wrote and what I asked of you. Then please reply.

Posted by: Grant McEntire at April 7, 2004 02:43 PM

Mark, I'm still not sure that you're really understanding the point I'm trying to make.

Looking at Vietnam, there are two levels on which to analyze our failure and learn lessons from it. The first is to determine the mistakes we made: things like misunderstanding the nature of the conflict, underestimating the importance of local institutions to which people would meaningfully adhere, etc. etc.

The second level is to understand why we made those mistakes. That is, what is it about our approach, methods and capabilities that we would have had to be different to avoid us making those mistakes. This is why I say the issue is about us and not about Vietnam.

If you address the first level of analysis but not the second, you may not make exactly the same mistakes, but sure as hell you'll make others that are equally disastrous.

It's that second level of learning that I see failing here. We may not be making (exactly) the same mistakes, but the same forces, assumptions and frames of reference that caused us to fail in Vietnam are threatening to cause us to fail here: these include things such as a failure to understand the limits of military power, making simplistic and naive assumptions about the impact of our actions in alien cultures, and underestimating the importance of and difficult in achieving local identification with the institutions we seek to support.

Posted by: Mork at April 7, 2004 03:12 PM

Mork, I'd say we understand the limits of military power better than any culture in history, because we place more moral and political limits on military power than are imposed by practical physics. Back in the seventies, there was this charming measure of realtive strength between the US and the USSR. It was the number of times over that each could depopulate the planet. The number I remember for both was around 20.

To be totally blunt, the only impact on the alien culture I care about, in the long run, is the one that says to said culture "do NOT go messing with the United States." Political changes in the Islamic world over the last year make me confident we have moved in the right direction.

Finally, local customs and institutions that are amenable to liberal democracy should be studied and cultivated. Those that aren't should be in trouble. Actively promoting democracy is a good investment because my second point is only reliable when the cultures we're talking to (or more precisely, the countries, or whoever's funding the people who might attack us) happen to be sane. Democracy seems to be the most effective method of promoting group sanity. Therefore, promoting Democracy is not only the morally correct thing to do, it's of strategic value as well.

I could go on, but this has been too long already. Questions are helpful, but if you think we're screwing up, suggestions would be appreciated as well.

Posted by: Mark Poling at April 8, 2004 09:02 AM

Grant,

For my purposes, the Left is an umbrella term for people left of the center, including Liberals, Hard Left, communists, etc.

Some Leftists are actively anti-American and really do hate this country (the Hard Left and commies), others are passively anti-American and don't hate this country, but are destructive to it nonetheless. I would put the majority of the Left in the latter category. Liberals, certainly, I consider destructive simply by the sheer weight of their silliness.

Posted by: David at April 8, 2004 11:20 AM

Thanks, David. That's all I wanted.

Keep in mind, as a centrist liberal myself, I can't say that I agree with you: Would have to argue Pat Robertson and John Ashcroft to be far more destructive to our founding principles than Joe Lieberman, but we'll save that for another time. Thanks again.

Posted by: Grant McEntire at April 8, 2004 04:35 PM

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