A place like many others
Robert Kaplan's article in the Atlantic, The Coming Normalcy, is a curious mixture of pessimism and optimism. The pessimism stemmed from his doubt a solution could be found for anarchy in the Third World, from which would come terrorism, plagues and humanitarian catastrophe.
Twelve years ago in this magazine, I published an article, "The Coming Anarchy,” about the institutional collapse of Third World countries owing to ethnic and sectarian rivalries, demographic and environmental stresses, and the growing interrelationship between war and crime. Was it possible that Iraq, of all places, might offer some new ideas about how situations of widespread anarchy can be combated? It certainly was the case that, despite a continuing plague of suicide bombings, significant sections of the country were slowly recovering from large-scale violence, as well as from the effects of decades of brutal dictatorship. The very U.S. military that had helped to bring about the anarchy in Iraq was now worth studying as a way to end it, both here and elsewhere in the Third World.
Kaplan describes how much of what passes for an insurgency is actually crime which had escaped the modus vivendi it had enjoyed under Saddam but had now been dislocated from its old containing vessel. Reining in this chaos meant constructing a new order to replace Saddam's.
In these very early stages, at least, ending anarchy is about, well, ending anarchy. A nation-state must monopolize the use of force. In Iraq, that means killing some people and apprehending others. "You're dealing with a gang mentality,” explained Captain Phillip Mann of Antioch, California, a thirty-two-year-old intelligence officer and graduate of Fresno State University. "There is a pool of young men in Mosul without jobs who sell drugs, and do kidnappings. With a high inflation rate and little economy, being an insurgent pays. You've got to make the insurgency a very unattractive profession to these people, who are not motivated by religious ideology.” One thing they sell is pornography, which is found by the new Stryker brigade in Mosul whenever insurgent hideouts are overrun. "We've adopted a gang-tackle approach,” Mann went on. "If we get shot at, like in Palestine [a retirement community for former regime generals in southeast Mosul, which supported the insurgents], we surround the area and go house to house, every time. We keep doing this till people get tired and start helping us. Our message: ‘We don't give in—we're not going away, so work with us.'
Iraq as viewed by those who lived inside it looked extremely different from those who saw it from the outside. At a meeting with municipal officials and police chiefs that Kaplan attended, a mukhtar or local official was furious at what he believed was an American decision to release prisoners from Abu Ghraib.
"I cannot resume my role as mukhtar,” he said. "They will kill me. The contractor down the street was threatened if he continued to repair the neighborhood. If you are so serious about security, then why did you Americans release prisoners from Abu Ghraib?” Many of the detainees that had lately been released from Abu Ghraib were known to be hardened criminals from the Mosul area, and the release had undermined the credibility of American troops here. Turner replied that the decision was one taken by Iraq's own new government. The former mukhtar wasn't convinced. For Iraqis meeting with Americans in Mosul, the name "Abu Ghraib” had a different connotation than it did in the United States. Here it meant not brutality but American weakness and lack of resolve.
To the mukhtar, concerned about surviving in the streets of Mosul the word Abu Ghraib meant something different from the Amnesty International bureaucrat worried about presenting his next report. One of Kaplan's recurring assertions in The Coming Normalcy is that the American shortcomings for dealing with situations like Iraq -- which he views as prototypical of an anarchic Third World society -- go far beyond any defects in planning for the invasion of Iraq peculiar to the Bush administration. In Kaplan's view the long-established bureaucratic instruments are simply structured wrongly: they are too monolithic and uncoordinated to effectively transform any typical anarchy into democratic order. He thinks the armed forces, whose lives are at stake, have adapted most by pushing responsibility downward to the brigade rather than the divisional level. "Flattening" the decision-making and intelligence cycle process has helped the Army and Marines get on top of the military aspects of the insurgency, but it hasn't helped reconstruction much. Everywhere he went, soldiers and Marines asked, 'where is USAID, where is the State Department?' And the answer unfortunately, was that neither USAID nor the State Department had the money or the bureaucratic configuration to fight a joint battle with the military against the chaos of post-Saddam Iraq.
"We can race around the battlefield and fix little problems,” one Army major complained to me, "but where is the State Department and USAID to solve the big problems?” Whereas commentators in Washington tend to blame the machinations of Donald Rumsfeld's Pentagon for keeping the State Department out of Iraq, all of the mid-level military officers I spoke with—each of whom desperately wanted to see civilian aid and reconstruction workers here—said that if the State Department got the requisite funding, it could be as bureaucratically dynamic as their own battalions, and infrastructure-rebuilding would not be where it appeared to be: at the zero point.
Philip Bobbitt argued in his book, the Shield of Achilles, that Napoleon's strategic revolution consisted in fielding armies so large that any sovereign who opposed him would, in matching the size of his force, be compelled to wager the entire State, and not simply a wedge of territory in confronting him. Napoleon's campaigns were designed to kill enemy armies -- and thereby enemy states. What Napoleon failed to realize in his 1812 campaign against Russia was that the Tsarist state was so primitive that the destruction of its army simply did not mean the corresponding demise of its state. Like the proverbial dinosaur of pulp fiction, Russia had no central nervous system to destroy and lumbered on, like the bullet-riddled monster of horror stories, impervious to the Grand Armee. What Russia had on its side was chaos as epitomized by its savage winters.
Saddamite Iraq, like most terrorist-supporting states threatening the world today, are like the landscape of 1812 in that they were cauldrons of anarchy given a semblance of shape by fragile, yet brutal shroud-like states. Occasionally some force of exceptional virulence would escape or be set loose to ravage the outside world: destroy a temple in India, athletes in Munich or a subway in Paris. Through the 80s and 90s the rest of the world toted up its losses at each outbreak, mended its fences and hoped it would never happen again. But after September 11 the problem grew too big to ignore, yet the question of how to destroy anarchy, already by definition in a shambles, remained.
Anarchy is self-defending, as the failed United Nations relief mission to Somalia in 1990 discovered to its cost. It will appropriate relief supplies, money and aid workers themselves as gang property, the economic basis of its system. Anarchy absorbs violence just as it absorbs relief and even gains strength from it when weapons, designed to disrupt ordered societies, are unleashed on it. Countries like Pakistan, Syria, Iraq and Iran are defended less by frontier fortifications than by the sheer toxicity of their societies. Not for nothing did Saddam release tens of thousands of hardened criminals from jail immediately before the invasion of Iraq. They were his wolves upon the frozen steppes.
It would be a serious mistake to think that the problem of confronting national security threats within the context of anarchy is limited to Iraq. Iraq is simply where the West must come to grips with The Coming Anarchy because it cannot step around it. And it is not the only place. An earlier post noted how the eviction of the Taliban from Afghanistan has simply shifted the fighting to Pakistan, the country in which the Taliban was first born. The real metric in any war against rogue "states" will not be the reduction of strongpoints, like Tora-bora given such prominence by the media, but the reduction of anarchy which constitutes their energy core.
Kaplan correctly understands that no campaign against Iran, Syria or any similar state can be expected to succeed until the lessons of OIF are successfully internalized. And the key he hints, is learning how to use force to allow indigenous order to emerge. If Napoleon wrought the army-killer in the 18th century as the answer to his strategic dilemmas, America must invent a anarchy-killer in the 21st; or a globalized world in which boundaries are ever more tenuous will be permanently at risk.