Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Seven Myths About Iraq

I recently read this piece of trash, about ten supposed "myths" about Iraq (all of which are antiwar, leaving the "truths" pro-war). This was fortuitous, as I had already begun to write my own "myths about Iraq," to explain the massive, stupid arguments that pro-war people, including people who used to be intelligent before they got caught up in the cult of Bush, use.

There are several canards out there about Iraq that I think we need to deal with if we are to understand the problems there.

(1) The Iraqis want exactly what we want.

I remember hearing Rusty Humphries say one time on his show that he is still convinced that all people desire freedom and have the spark of liberty, or somesuch. This meant that the democratization of Iraq is still doable, because that in the end is what the Iraqis want. The only problem, he insisted, was that they were not certain that we would stick it out with them to give it to them.

In other words, if the Iraqis were certain of us, the freedom-loving majority would stand up to the terrorists and calm Iraq down.

This is also a subtext in Hannity's insistence that with the mightiest military in the world, we could not possibly lose in Iraq if we had the will to win and the determination to do what it takes. As Hannity's goal for Iraq is a united, democratic Iraq that is a friend to the U.S., his position only makes sense under the assumption that, given enough support by the Americans to do so, most Iraqis would choose to remake Iraq the way we want it remade.

Finally, this is the underlying assumption behind any plan to "train the Iraqis faster." Any plan that relies largely on Iraqi forces must necessarily assume that the Iraqis are willing to fight and die for our vision of Iraq, and the only problem they may have is insufficient experience to do so.

In reality, Iraq is fairly tribal, sectarian, and Muslim. Many, many things are far more important to most Iraqis than political freedom, economic freedom, or even basic human freedoms as we understand them. So any plan that relies on Iraqis spontaneously acting like Westerners is doomed to failure.

(2) If we had just changed one little thing, everything would be okay.

In general, this one thing winds up being the setting up of an Iraqi government. The idea is usually either that the Iraqis resent the fact that we "occupied" the country for so long before creating an "Iraqi-led" government, thus alienating Iraqis, or that we let the Iraqis have too much freedom in setting up their government, therefore not getting a leader we could deal with. Richard Perle has often said the former, Jack Kelly recently said the latter.

Generally, the alternative presented is that we should have installed a president of our liking, and written the constitution we wanted Iraq to have and imposed it on them.

On some level, this is accurate; if we spent more time forcing the Iraqis to do what we wanted, instead of trying to coax them to get along with us, we would have avoided some of the problems and a lot of the hypocrisy. However, the problem with looking at things this simplistically is that it ignores the fact that governments need the consent, or at least the acquiescence, of the people to be effective. We could write any constitution we wanted and install any leader we wanted,, and it wouldn't have made any difference. Unless the leader had a 300,000 or 400,000-man private army, we would still have neeed to be there to pacify the people and to enforce his rule.

Richard Perle and Jack Kelly and their ilk either believe that the Iraqi are so stupid that they would have eagerly accpeted a puppet government as different from a straightforward U.S. occupation, or else they believe that the cover of an "Iraqi government" would give us the ability to launch the mass-murderous policies that would likely be necessary to keep the Iraqi in check and submissive.

(3) The mistakes in Iraq were just run-of-the-mill mistakes, things that couldn't have been predicted.

"Mistakes are always made in war," so the saying goes, as evidenced by Orson Scott Card and Thomas Sowell. Those who complain are merely Monday-morning quarterbacks with 20/20 hindsight.

But this ignores the fact that there were people who predicted accurately what would happen who were ignored. Pat Buchanan, amongst others, predicted the guerilla war that would follow the conquest, Eric Margolis predicted Iraq's break-up, Scott Ritter, who correctly predicetd the lack of WMDs, was vilified as being "on the take" from Saddam Hussein, and sordid personal affaris were all brought up.

And yet, we are supposed to still trust the pro-warriors more, and still denigrate the war opponents, based on the fact that "mistakes are made in war," and therefore w should judge a man's position on the war by the purity of his intentions, not by his actual ability to accurately forecast the results of his policies.

Not that war opponents have not made mistakes, most particularly in regards to the number of casualties that would occur in the initial invasion. But the main reason thatwe were wrong is that in the initial invasion we mightily avoided any urban warfare or any attempt to pacify the populace. In other words, we didn't try to complete the conquest. We bypassed all of the people who needed to be brought down at the start, and as a result they were able to create the core of the insurgency in the early days.

Other "mistakes" are simplistic rewrites of the antwarriors' positions: " Critics have been proved wrong repeatedly in their claims that elections could not be held in Iraq or a government formed there. Iraqi voter turnout, even in the face of terrorist threats, has exceeded voter turnout in the United States."

As I recall, the issue was not whether or not elections would be held, but whether or not they would actually matter in terms of breaking the back of the insurgency. We were continuously told by the neocons, and by Cheney in the VP debate against Edwards, that elections had a magical power to quell insurgencies. In reality, tribes voted in the way that would put their ribe in the best position to exercise power over other Iraqis. Claims that Iraqis braved terrorist attacks to exercise the right to vote ignores the possibility that they were also under threat if they didn't vote, and vote for particular candidates. You think that when Moqtada al-Sadr runs candidates, that he didn't send troops in to make sure that all his relatives and neighbors voted Mookie - or else?

As for setting up a government, it is easy to set up a government. The difficulty is in getting the people to actually be loyal enough to fight for the government and to support it.

The pro-warriors were wrong on many issues, and the antiwarriors were correct. No amount of "mistakes are made in war" will alter that simple fact.

(4) We have a clear enemy to defeat, if we set our minds to defeating him.

Generally, this is brought up by those who argue that the reason that we are losing in Iraq is that we are too subdued by the rules of engagement. If were simply more willing to kill the enemy instead of coddling him, we would win easily.

Jack Kelly is among the many who have argued this.

Andrew McCarthy also hints at this in this article:

Unless our actual, overriding purpose in Iraq is to crush al Qaeda and its sponsors — rather than hope we can delegate the job to the newly trained forces of a Maliki-led government — our enemies will have their victory. All we’re otherwise doing is running out the clock and running up our casualty count.

While the rest of the article seems to have an actual policy suggestion, albeit a rather extreme one - that we need to try to take on the entire Muslim world militsrily - that particular line seems to indicate that there is some way that we can do serious damage to Al Qaeda from within Iraq.

This is also implied by those who suggest that our problem is too-restrictive rules of engagement. In general, these calls seem to imply that we have a clear enemy and that if we were simply to kill him, we would win.

In fact, a recent article (which I commented on) is essentially trying to get us to believe that the "enemy" in Iraq is uniting, and is equating this enemy to Al Qaeda (presumably to encourage us to accept that yes, conquering Iraq is a good way to make progress in the war on terror.

The problem, of course, with these ideas is that they ignore or outright deny the fact that we do not have a single clear-cut enemy in Iraq. The fact of the matter is that there is no way to achieve anything resmebling a victory (which I will define as creating an Iraq whose policies are mostly those that benefit the interests of the U.S.) or pacify the insurgency without dominating the country.

Killing the enemy is not enough. They can recruit and regenerate their forces too quickly. The only way to pacify Iraq is to conquer the entire population so as to prevent those who are not currently your enemy from becoming so. A few of those "looser rules of engagement" people seem to realize this, but most still seem to think that we can "kill the enemy" without regarding virtuallyeveryone in Iraq as an enemy, or at least as a peon who lives and goes about his business at our sufferance.

No way, mister. Either we go all the way and pacify the country, or we get out. We can't look at the enemy as some distinguishable entity distinct from Iraq itself.

(5) The enemy interprets the war in the way that we do.

Critics claim that there is no connection between the war on terror and the war in Iraq. They don't seem to notice that the terrorists themselves obviously see a clear connection, which they express in both words and deeds.

Terrorists are pouring into Iraq, even at the cost of their lives, in order to prevent a free, democratic government from being established in the Middle East. They see victory or defeat in Iraq as having major and long-lasting repercussions throughout the region and even throughout the world.

-Thomas Sowell, Another Vietnam?, Part II (previously references in this post)

Let's see. Muslims, enraged that a foreign power is occupying a Muslim country, attack that foreign power.

Yes, there's absolutely no reason for them to do that other than a hatred of democracy.

And that doesn't even address the question of how many of the attacks in Iraq are actually being committed by foreigners rather than Iraqis.

One of the more egregious examples of this is this piece by Amir Taheri, which was met with glee by the Bush-bewitched Penraker. After making a reasonable argument that we are not in a simple sectarian war, with all Shiite Arabs pitted against all Sunni Arabs, and/or both/either pitted against the Kurds, he proceeds to proclaim the war is a political one. The obvious conclusion is that Iraq is moving towards some sort of Hobbesian high-stakes game of Risk, with each tribe placing first and foremost the goal of political power for those who are is relatives. Although alliances and religious loyalty being what they are, these games wind up causing a great deal of sectarian strife (because, on average, two random Sunni Arabs or Shiite Arabs are more likely to be allies than one of each), in the end we are left with many sides, shifting alliances, and in many cases a lack of clearly defined sides.

However, after that reasonably good analysis, Taheri immediately resimplifies the occupation into the political terms with which it was orignially sold to us:

What is happening in Iraq, however, is neither a civil nor a sectarian war (although elements of both exist within the broader context). This war is a political one - between those who wish Iraq to succeed as a new democracy and those who want it to fail.

Words almost fail me. This is the most insane way of reading the previous three pages that I can imagine. What seems most likely from what he wrote before is that the war is a Hobbesian multiethnic one - a bunch of tribes scrambling for their piece of the pie. How that translates into caring specifically about whether a democratic Iraq succeeds - even into Iraqis considering that possibility that a multiethnic democratic Iraq will succeed - is beyond me. No wonder they want to blame Iran entirely for the insurgency, if their understanding is so limited.

Of course, this isn't the first time Taheri has, in the closing paragraphs of his article, basically summarized his thesis in such a way as to contradict everything else in the article. Back in 2004, he wrote this piece denying that Islam is compatible with democracy, because Islam demands things that are incompatible with democracy, and makes no distinction between the secular and the religious [no "render unto Caesar" and all that]. His solution?

Muslims can build successful societies provided they treat Islam as a matter of personal, private belief and not as a political ideology that seeks to monopolise the public space shared by the whole of humanity and dictate every aspect of individual and community life.

In other words, if they do all of the things that Taheri spent the article arguing that they cannot do.

The point is, though, we cannot work on the assumption that we can put ourselves in the Iraqis shoes and anticipate their desires by looking at our own. All cultures do not value the same things equally.

(6) Iraqis don't mind it when we cause civilian casualties.

This was originally told to us in the run-up to the war, supposedly by Kenneth Joseph, a "human shield" who changed his mind when the Iraqis told him how much they wanted the U.S. to bomb them:

Rev. Kenneth Joseph said some of the Iraqis he interviewed "told me they would commit suicide if the American bombing didn't start. They were willing to see their homes demolished to gain freedom from Saddam's bloody tyranny."

The estimable "Hack" Kelly also implied that the Iraqis felt this way in a previously referenced article:

Ethiopia won in short order because it unapologetically used force against vicious people who understand only force. They killed the people they needed to kill without worrying overmuch about collateral damage, and not at all about world opinion. And though the Ethiopian soldiers are Christians, they were hailed as liberators in this overwhelmingly Muslim country.

The implication, of course, is that the Iraqis would not rage with hate against us if we started slaughtering them, but would coo contentedly at the concern we showed them.

The overall message is that we should brutalize the Iraqis if that is hat pacification takes, and that there is no need to concern ourselves with blowback, because they respect power so much and "love a strong horse." There should be no concern that we make them hate us, as long as they fear us.

Maybe. But Middle Easterners have long memories. If we wield our power as a club, we darn sure better make certain to never, ever, weaken. EVER. Because once we do that, we'll be stuck doing it forever, or suffering the consequences the moment we slacken.

In truth, there is little reason to believe that the Iraqis are willing to die for the sake of our mission's success as we define it. Kenneth Joseph is most likely a fraud, and the Ethiopia/Somalia situation is difficult to derive positions on Iraq from. At least one Iraqi blogger definitely doesn't seem to think that a policy of "kill 'em all and let God sort 'em out" is good by her.

(7) Voting means the Iraqis support democracy.

The next person to say "but Iraqi voter turnout was higher than U.S. voter turnout, so they must support democracy," gets a big middle finger.

Then running candidates in the elections must mean that someone is very pro-democracy. So why do we see people like al-Sadr as enemies, when they are eager to participate in the system?

The question answers itself. Being willing to vote when a foreign power occupies your country and makes it the way to obtain political power is not the same thing as believing that the voting booth is the best way to solve political questions, nor does it indicate an ability to sustain democracy in the absence of said occupation.

In short, these 7 arguments (and you can probably think of several more) are amongst the most potent weapons of the pro-warriors to obfuscate our understanding of the situation in Iraq. By asserting false premises such as these, they canmake very ridiculous conclusions seem reasonable, because, given those premises, the conclusions are logical.

Beware of them, and be ready to point out the falws in these arguments whenever pro-warriors use them.

Maybe somewhere there is a good argument that this is a good war and that Bush is running it well and that the Iraqis really want to be New Hampshire ("Live Free or Die!"). But these aren't they.

That is all.

That is all.

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