Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The end of empire

The Washington Post has an article describing operations by in an area south of Baghdad that features forces both American and Iraqi; Iraqi forces of high and low quality in an area that is part rural and part urban, in an area contested by Sunni and Shi'ite. The area is called the Shakariya triangle and a map of the area is shown below.

Image from Google Earth

The triangle's three points are Sadr al-Yusufiyah on the Euphrates to the northwest, the Jefur al-Sakur Bridge on the Euphrates to the south and Yusufiyah to the east. The region is a fault line between Iraq's Sunni and Shiite Arab populations and a scene of flaring sectarian violence.

As they make the first sustained effort to seize the triangle, U.S. troops in recent days have discovered more than 100 large weapons caches  ... This offensive is playing out in the 600-square-mile sector that is the 2-10 Mountain's area of operations, a mix of rural Sunni farmland to the north and west and a dense urban setting to the south and east.

As Shiite militias have gained strength across the region, they have been trying to move into cities such as Mahmudiyah and Latifiyah, escalating sectarian violence. The Iraqi army brigade in the region is having mixed success. A powerful and competent pair of battalions in the east is working hand-in-hand with U.S. forces, while two other Iraqi battalions in the west struggle with mass desertion.

In many ways, the area is representative of Iraq as a whole, with areas of great promise bordering others where progress is largely unknown. "It is a complex situation," said Col. Michael Kershaw, the U.S. brigade's commander. "We have two different realities, and we have to build on what we have in Mahmudiyah and move west, where in some ways we're starting at the beginning. It's going to take time."

One clue to just how much time it may take can be found in re-examining broadly similar historical events. And the closest analogue is probably Yugoslavia. For most of modern history Iraq was part of the Ottoman Empire, which contained an extraordinary diversity of ethnic communities who for long existed in a modus vivendi. But the Empire broke down when the rise of nationalism within it proved too strong for the imperial structure to contain. Kurdish nationalism, just to give one example, was already rising in the 19th century. The final demolition of the Ottoman Empire by Western Powers during the Great War did not stop these historical forces. Indeed the "decolonization" process following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire resembled in many ways the instability which swept through Africa after the collapse of European empires on that continent. The enormous convulsions in Armenia and Turkey and the Balkan Wars after the Armistice are all examples of what happens in the aftermath of a regime change.

If Iraq was at the eastern end of the Ottoman Empire, its western end was in the Balkans. The underlying ethnic tensions in the Balkans were masked by the emergence of the Socialist Federalist Republic of Yugoslavia under the strongman Marshal Tito. Held together by an army that was once considered one of the finest in postwar Europe, it seemed the model of stability. Indeed, the 1984 Winter Olympic games were held in Sarajevo. The story of Yugoslavia's collapse after Tito's death, while not an exact analogue, provides an historical yardstick to measure just how long it takes for remnants of a fallen empire to rearrange themselves.

Like many of the political parties in Iraq, such as Moqtada al-Sadr or al-Qaeda in Iraq, Slobodan Miloševic' in Serbia and President Franjo Tudjman in Croatia sought to use the Yugoslav Armed Forces and its government agencies to advance their respective agendas. In the Balkans this led to an open conflict called the Yugoslav Wars, normally reckoned from 1991 and which continues, albeit in slow motion, to this very day. One can make the case that Saddam was to Iraq as Tito was to Yugoslavia; that the ethnic minorities in the Balkans have the counterparts in the Sunnis, Shi'ites and Kurds of Iraq. One very striking difference between the two ex-Ottomans is that, except for fitful attempts by Russia to intervene in Yugoslavia and the arrival of some Jihadis in Kosovo, there was no foreign intervention to oppose NATO. Had hostile and powerful nations fueled the Yugoslav wars as Syria and Iran are now fueling their clients in Iraq, NATO might have found its task much harder. Indeed, had the United States undermined the European effort in Yugoslavia to the extent that Europe has diplomatically opposed American efforts in Iraq, events in the Balkans since may have been far different. Moreover, the international press never demonized Western efforts in former Yugoslavia to anything like the degree it depicts Iraq.

But to return to the question of "how much time" it may take to bring about a stable successor state in Iraq, the answer may possibly be at least as long as it has taken for the situation in Balkans to partially resolve itself. There are two interesting sets of maps at a Wikipedia entry which show what Yugoslavia looked like during the Balkan Wars and how it looks today. It is still a work in progress. Kosovo, for instance, is still under the administration of the United Nations. But the crisis in the Balkans had better publicity.


Blogger Annoy Mouse said...

Wretchard said;

“Had hostile and powerful nations fueled the Yugoslav wars as Syria and Iran are now fueling their clients in Iraq, NATO might have found its task much harder. Indeed, had the United States undermined the European effort in Yugoslavia to the extent that Europe has diplomatically opposed American efforts in Iraq, events in the Balkans since may have been far different.”

Different indeed, this paints an elegant picture of world wide perfidy and its destabilizing effect on world politics. Could it be that the European sellout is the catalyst that rearranges world powers from a Western centric bulwark to Iran-China-Russia dominated polity? So is payback a bitch slap or is it time to turn the other cheek. I suppose we’ll take is as always but still cannot forgive the Europeans their vaunting spite.

10/24/2006 08:33:00 AM  
Blogger Gudovac April 1941 said...

Interesting analogy - but in Yugoslavia it was locals and mainly locals only fighting amongst themselves, while they fought they tried to get foreign allies to intervene - by the time NATO intervened the various factions had pretty much exhausted themselves.

Many observers concluded that the Clinton's administration efforts (Holbrook espcially) only lengthened the war, without changing the outcome.

10/24/2006 08:44:00 AM  
Blogger Guy Barry said...

Wll I just hope the not so well trained Iraqis don't let the Americans down.

10/24/2006 09:14:00 AM  
Blogger Charles said...

Annoy Mouse said...
So is payback a bitch slap or is it time to turn the other cheek. I suppose we’ll take is as always but still cannot forgive the Europeans their vaunting spite.
A couple years ago an Italian official under Berluscinni went up to Brussels. I think the Italians nominated him for a senior position there. He returned without taking the job. His comment afterwards was that much of the unelected high officialdom in the EU was homosexual.

imho much of the US problem with the EU and the American media has been that Bush is perceived as being anti sodomite.

similiarly the problem with the democratic party in the USA is that the democratic party is perceived as a place that does not produce men.

10/24/2006 09:34:00 AM  
Blogger RWE said...

The Serbians repeatedly threatened to get their ethnic relatives, the Russians, to start a nuclear war over the intervention in Yugoslavia. And while never mentioning active involvement, the Russians did halt a cooperative military activites with the U.S. due to their displeasure with Clinton's Excellent Balkan Adventure.

And Islamic terrorist groups did send people to the Balkans - as the Clinton Admin looked the other way - perhaps figuring they needed all the help they could get.

But I think that what really kept the Balkan conflict at a low level was that no one outsde the locals saw it as important enough to be worth doing in the first place. With the USSR gone there was no threat of Soviet expansion into the area (which had been predicted by Gen Sir John Hackett in his WWIII book back in the 80's). There were no vital resources to protect, no fault lines between empires to consider.

Anything not worth doing in the first place is worth doing only half-assed, if at all.

The Balkans war only offered promises by candidate Bill Clinton in 1992 and photo-ops for his candidate wife greeting refugees in New York in 1999. But unlike Iraq, no one really gave a damn.

It was the Seinfeld War: the war about nothing.

10/24/2006 09:51:00 AM  
Blogger Annoy Mouse said...

"...his comment afterwards was that much of the unelected high officialdom in the EU was homosexual."

Thanks Charles, that explains everything.

10/24/2006 10:39:00 AM  
Blogger Woman Catholic said...

Thanks Charles, that explains everything.

The only thing it explains is what homophobic gutter Charles' mind rolled into. Don't engage a person's actual stand on the issues, it's much easier to just wave your hand (presumably without a limp wrist) and say, "See, there goes another gay person."

10/24/2006 11:46:00 AM  
Blogger Charles said...

Incredible Fishing Story

10/24/2006 11:49:00 AM  
Blogger Charles said...

Be serious tt.

The Italian offical was looking for a job. The people who interviewed him naturally asked his opinions on various issues. His opinion on homosexuality naturally didn't fit with theirs. So he didn't get the job.

It is normal behavior for an employer to want to hire someone whose opinions are within the pale of whatever is considered to be acceptable orthodoxy. After all if Berluscinni's man came to you looking for a job and expressed anti sodomite opinions would you employ him.

I think not.

10/24/2006 11:57:00 AM  
Blogger Gudovac April 1941 said...

"........ by Gen Sir John Hackett in his WWIII book back in the 80's........"

That scene was well written - as was the first third of the book - however the last third of the book seems to have been banged out on a very tight schedule.

The image of Soviet aircraft rampaging through the US troop carrying air armada 'somewhere over' the Atlantic described in that book has stayed with me for a long time.

10/24/2006 12:02:00 PM  
Blogger Yashmak said...

"After all if Berluscinni's man came to you looking for a job and expressed anti sodomite opinions would you employ him?"

Of course not, but based on teresita's past commentary, she doesn't do the whole introspective self-examination thing very well. It's enough just to condemn the ideas/positions of others.

She's like a microcosm of the DNC in that respect.

10/24/2006 12:42:00 PM  
Blogger Robert said...

In comparing the Balkan mess in the '90s with Iraq and Afghanistan, it is useful to remember that the Former Yugoslavia fighting was largely between Christians on one side and Muslims on the other, especially in Kosovo. In Iraq and Afghanistan Muslims are fighting Muslims, largely. And the conflict is much bloodier and more intense. So the integrity of the Islamic world is looking pretty shaky. And that's a good thing for those who have no wish to suffer from the attentions of a united, focussed death cult.

10/24/2006 12:51:00 PM  
Blogger Roderick said...

I didn't notice Charles engaging in homophobia. He was merely explaining what the Italian official thought.

As for his remarks about the Democrats, they are spot on.

10/24/2006 01:05:00 PM  
Blogger Cedarford said...

Interestingly, Niall Ferguson just posted an article echoing his book "Colossus" - why America is unfit to assume a "New American Empire" by it's nature.



Essentially, Ferguson says we have some people in America (the Neocons) that want us to be the New Rome, New Britannica. Saving Israel by fighting a series of major wars to keep Israel's regional nuclear and biowar monopoly intact. Rushing to the 4 corners of the earth to use our military to "save people". To keep all the sealanes open, to provide defense for all of Europe and Asia. To intervene in various hotspots. And provide the UN with all needed logistics for peacekeeping and a lion's share of humanitarian demands.

But we are unable to do this because:

1. Americans are deep in debt. Unable to sustain empire without assent from our major creditors Japan, China, and KSA without paying a very heavy price.
2. Americans are unable to sacrifice. Besides tax cuts for the wealthy in wartime and all sorts of debt-financed new goodies - beyond "We support the troops! cheerleading", America is singularly unwilling to commit it's sons and daughters to joining the military in numbers needed not just for Iraq - but to make other military actions possible. The idea of a Draft creates panic and ideological rage - even the among the neocon chickenhawks whose sons and dughters best serve by being at Harvard Law or investment banking tutelage through Elite networks contacts.
The French Empire required 1.6 of every 100 French in the military. The British Empire required 0.9 of every 100 Brits to be a soldier. America now has 1.4 million. Less than the number America has in prison. 0.06 per 100 Americans. A military designed for high tech warfare against a conventional opponent with numbers kept low and financially sustainable by "the nuclear option" - but not enough for the US to even subdue and effectively rule over a pissant, broken nation like Iraq. Small enough that foes like Venezuela, N Korea, Iran, Syria know it is impossible for the US to invade while we are in the Iraq "quagmire" - and to know that if we ever do invade, they can tie our support-heavy, combat light ground forces into knots with an insurgency. And the idea of a Draft to end this weakness - again, sends Lefties and war-lovers alike into paroxisms of rage and panic-type fear.
3. America has a short attention span and think high tech toys substitute for other critical aspects of empire - deep knowledge of cultures, a class of adept foreign administrators, ruthlessness, ability to exploit and gather in the wealth from the reaches of "American Empire" sustain that empire. (Instead of gaining financially, a mandatory requirement of raison d'etre of other empires - we bleed treasure).

Obviously, a critical point was Bush's determination after 9/11 that he would not ask Americans to sacrifice anything - but would instead go with what Rummy said was "bare bones" military that would work if everything went as planned - and give the Americans more goodies like "free" (China-financed) prescriptions and grwo Fed Gov't by 40% to create more debt-financed artificail jobs.

But this mess is bigger than Dubya.
It's the America our vaunted democratic system demands.

And it is futile to blame Europe.
Or China.
Or Brazil.

They thought Iraq was a bad idea. They have no Israel lobby working to maintain Israel's position by US blood and treasure. They have Drafts and conscript (even Europe generally has a 2-year national service obligation) - they do not burn out a dedicated core of volunteer military active duty and reservist professionals to keep tax cuts for the rich and "no sacrifice necessary" thinking going.

If we are to have Empire, or keep even close to the commitments we are taking on sustainable..we have to address the major drawbacks and fecklessness with which America is currently foundering.

10/24/2006 01:13:00 PM  
Blogger RWE said...

Yes, that book was a memorable effort. It was interesting that it predicted the breakup of the USSR and revolt of the Warsaw Pact in response to a very limited nuclear exchange. Some people said he was nuts about that. In reality, it took far less.

The Soviet interdiction of the Reforager airlift ws memorable to me as well - and then became more so after I found out Certain Things while at the Pentagon.

The sequel to that book was "Systemic Shock" by Dean Ing - which picked up where Gen Hackett left off - and did WWIV.

These "alternate universe" visions show that as bad as the world can look today, it could have turned out far worse.

10/24/2006 01:28:00 PM  
Blogger Annoy Mouse said...

The sexual orientation lobby will have it that we are to pay homage and bow to their superior sense of humanity and moral clarity. I marvel at the sight of an attractive women walking confidently down the street in the tow of a fat ugly female that burps and spits, makes grunting noises and wears a T-shirt that says “Boys Stink”. I lived in a large Seattle Victorian in the early eighties with several men and a lesbian prositute and asked her how she felt living with guys, she replied; “I feel safe, I have never been beaten up by a man”.

But though it is an affliction of self desire they are identified with that which they yearn-for before they would stand along side their fellow citizens in a war for all liberal freedoms, cravings first, civility, if ever. These are the people from the land of broken toys and they are neurotic and politically progressive in the Marxist sense as their highest political goal is to teach your children that their genital-flection is noblest, to be admired, and above all to be honored in a way that mommy and daddy woun’t.

10/24/2006 01:32:00 PM  
Blogger Jamie Irons said...


Yeah, well, that NeoCon adventure in Iraq sure has paid handsome dividends to the Israelis. Hezbullards, Iranians, Syrians, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt...the whole lot of 'em, trembling in their boots at the power of the Greater and Lesser Satans.

Jamie Irons

10/24/2006 01:40:00 PM  
Blogger Charles said...

I find the Iowa Electronic Markets to be the most reliable poll of political markets. People buy contracts on who they think will win like they do for pork bellies, currencies, wheat oil or any other commodity. These are considered to be knowledgeable players.

In years past the liberal press has put out polls that wildly inflated democratic numbers-- only to see the democrats fall at election time. The Iowa Electronic Markets never made the same mistakes.

This shows that while the odds are still that the democrats will take the house -- in the last couple days there has been a momentum shift toward the republicans.

Iowa Electronic Markets For the Control of the House of Representatives

This shows that despite the noise about the senate -- knowlegeable players have had a stable belief that the pubbies will likely likely retain control of the senate.

Control of the Senate

10/24/2006 02:04:00 PM  
Blogger Chieftain of Seir said...


Are the similarities between your post and Spengler's most recent essay all in my head?

I have been told that you read Spengler....

10/24/2006 02:08:00 PM  
Blogger John Samford said...

Ceaderford, I don't think that word means what you think it does;

Main Entry: em·pire
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English, from Anglo-French empire, empirie, from Latin imperium absolute authority, empire, from imperare to command -- more at EMPEROR
1 a (1) : a major political unit having a territory of great extent or a number of territories or peoples under a single sovereign authority; especially : one having an emperor as chief of state (2) : the territory of such a political unit b : something resembling a political empire; especially : an extensive territory or enterprise under single domination or control
2 : imperial sovereignty, rule, or dominion
3 capitalized (Empire State, nickname for New York) : a juicy apple with dark red skin that is a cross between a McIntosh and a red Delicious apple

I doubt that you were talking about fruits, so any time you see America and the word 'empire' in the same paragraph, you Bullshit detector should go off.

The US Constitution makes it IMPOSSIBLE for America to be an 'Empire', since there is NO absolute authority in America. We will have no kings or tyrants to rule over us.

Hegemony is the correct word;

Main Entry: he·ge·mo·ny
Function: noun
Etymology: Greek hEgemonia, from hEgemOn leader, from hEgeisthai to lead -- more at SEEK
1 : preponderant influence or authority over others : DOMINATION {battled for hegemony in Asia}
2 : the social, cultural, ideological, or economic influence exerted by a dominant group {extend their own hegemony over American culture as a whole -- Mary K. Cayton}
- heg·e·mon·ic "he-j&-'mä-nik, "he-g&- adjective

Any time a professional writer uses 'empire' instead of 'hegemony' in reference to the USA, they are lying to you. You need to scroll the fool.

10/24/2006 03:43:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...


I sometimes read Spengler, but not on this occasion and on this subject.

10/24/2006 04:17:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

Of course the "empire" referred to in this post is the Ottoman Empire. Although people tend to forget it now the entire face of the Middle East -- the "initial conditions" if you will -- came from the Ottoman and Western European rule in the area. That includes the establishment of Israel too.

Despite being a superpower for 60 years the US has not redrawn the map of the Middle East. It has never annexed any land. Even in Iraq it has not sought a permanent presence. From an historical perspective the supercilious moral superiority of Europe towards America is not only ironic but hides a deeper problem. Europe created a whole slew of artificial borders not only in the Middle East but in Africa. In an era when national boundaries, even stupid ones, are sacrosanct, this amounts to a chronic legacy of woe for the hegemon. With Europe withdrawn from power politics, America is carrying its load of historical garbage.

10/24/2006 04:24:00 PM  
Blogger 49erDweet said...

Excellent, thoughtful post W.

Sure easy to see from her over-reaction what rock's tt's boat. And as usual C4 sees through a weird prism and runs off on a diagonal. So what else is new? Never-the-less, it is instructive to read them in order to comprehend the twisted logic of DNC minds.

IMO the pubbies have done virtually zip to earn the right to return to DC. Except that the dimmies have done even less! Talk about a real quagmire, do we vote for the do-nothings or for the terminally stupid?

I guess I'll hold my nose and make the best choices among the candidates available. But isn't there a ground swell for change building somewhere here-abouts?

10/24/2006 04:30:00 PM  
Blogger sirius_sir said...

Cedarford is right. The neocons are working overtime to keep Jewish interests safe and intact.

But who knew they were as clever as this: Link

10/24/2006 04:53:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

The real goal of this post is not to assign historical blame -- that is always pointless -- so much as to suggest that Iraq, and even the War on Terror, is grounded in large historical factors. It is not the creation of the GWB or of William Jefferson Clinton. The obsession with the question of "who failed to stop Osama Bin Laden" is fine, but only up to a degree. It will be a Long War because of its deep historical roots.

The mechanism for dealing with the cleanup of the detritus of Europe's empire, including that of the Ottoman's and the Tsar's which are the aid agencies and the UN, is woefully inadequate. So far Europe has largely washed its hands of the problem externally, but internally it has absored the backflow of empire and we are watching that play out in Londonistan and France even today. In a sense the fact that America never had an Empire like Europe may be its greatest blessing. The idea that other countries should be helped to stand on their own rather than become part of some greater Metropolitan France may prove a wisdom greater than possessed by any of the storied leaders of Europe's past.

10/24/2006 04:54:00 PM  
Blogger Woman Catholic said...

wretchard wrote:

In an era when national boundaries, even stupid ones, are sacrosanct, this amounts to a chronic legacy of woe for the hegemon.

The only national boundary that is not sacrosanct is the United States national boundary, if the citizen-militia who elects to patrol that border (because our own government won't do it, and won't build a fence, and won't supply troops beyond a vague promise made for the press in the Rose Garden) tries to speak, the nutballs storm their meeting and shut them down.

10/24/2006 05:54:00 PM  
Blogger RWE said...

It is said that God invented whiskey to prevent the Irish from ruling the world.

I think that God invented the United States of America to prevent ANYONE from ruling the world....

10/25/2006 05:49:00 AM  
Blogger charlotte said...

Comments 04:24:19 PM and 04:54:44 PM merit being expanded upon in an Internet essay that also should be paper-published in the States, Europe, and the ME.

Africa, Asia, Latin America, Australia, Antarctica, and the International Space Station, too.

10/25/2006 07:54:00 AM  
Blogger Tarnsman said...

To sum up C4:
"It's the Jooooos!"

Geesh, the tinfoil hat is a little tight around the temples, my friend. BTW, it isn't the tax cuts. Record tax revenues are flowing into the US Treasury right now, WITH those tax cuts. It's the unwillingness of Congress and the American public to cut all the "feel good" entitlement programs and spend the money on where it is needed. I see no effort on anyone’s part to increase the size of the Armed Forces and Reserves, and spend the monies needed to raise the forces needed to fight this fight. Everyday I drive down the 405 pass a recruiting billboard for the LAPD advertising for cops. $58,000 starting salary. How much is the starting salary for a solider? About $22,000. And the cop gets to go home every night. And gets a great benefit package. Offer a cop’s salary for combat troops and you think they would have any problems filling the ranks? Heck, a lot of formers would probably re-enlist. Guess it’s going to take an American city getting nuked before we get serious about the effort.

10/25/2006 10:11:00 AM  
Blogger viki_25 said...

Yes, it is true, Its a nice one.I will look regulary for news.


The Player

10/29/2006 05:40:00 AM  

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