Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The politics of the "Surge"

Robert Haddick (Westhawk) has a remarkable article at Tech Central Station which examines the possible consequences of the "Surge" on Iraqi political unity and concludes that it may strengthen -- or completely shatter it. (Hat tip: Desert Rat) Haddick first addresses the question of whether America can be played like a violin to support the Shi'ite interests. But interestingly, there is more than one Shi'ite faction and the first thing they will squabble over is who will play the violin.


The American intention to simultaneously attack the Sunni extremists and al-Sadr's militia seems to favor Mr. al-Hakim. If the Americans (and Kurds) crush al-Sadr's organization, Prime Minister al-Maliki would seem to no longer have the support necessary to retain his office. The Americans have a replacement in mind: a moderate, cross-sectarian alliance of the Sunni Islamic Party, the Kurdish parties, and Mr. al-Hakim's SCIRI party. Mr. al-Maliki and al-Sadr have thus far convinced Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani to refrain from blessing this arrangement on the principle that it would break up Shi'ite unity. It is ironic that the Americans may be determined to do with force what they cannot seem to accomplish through political negotiation and persuasion. ...

American pressure on Iraq's political situation will likely cause Shi'ite divisions, now in the background, to explode into the open. The U.S. army in Baghdad could find itself in the middle of not only the three-way civil war among Iraq's Shi'ites, Sunnis, and Kurds. It could find itself among armed clashes between Shi'ite factions, as the British have observed in southern Iraq. The American "surge" campaign in Baghdad, rather than strengthening Iraq's central government, could instead shatter it. Is this what the U.S. intends? Probably not. But no one should be surprised if Mr. al-Hakim rises to power on the back of the U.S. army in Baghdad.

Commentary

Whatever the US intends -- and it has probably made some sort of calculation -- what will result when the balls all carom off each other on the table may be altogether different. If the last four years in the Middle East hold any lesson it is that nothing can be safely predicted in the long term. Like any complex system, events on the ground can only be roughly estimated over the immediate future. But in fairness, the problem of blurred vision afflicted other parties too. Westhawk notes that the Sunnis kept betting on the wrong color; and they are now down to their underpants.

The Sunni insurgency is near its end. Far too late, the Sunnis now realize that only the Americans can protect them from the Shi'ite ethnic cleansing campaign. The Sunnis would like to be able to use the American army to protect them against the Shi'ite marauders. Amazingly, the Americans would like to help, as part of their goal of political reconciliation. But even the Americans can't help the Sunni Arabs now. The decentralized, cellular structure of the insurgency protected it, for a time, against American counterattacks. But now that cellular structure, without a central leadership, means there is no one in control and no one to talk to the Americans or the government to negotiate a truce.

Given the complex nature of Iraq and the Middle East in general, the real requirement of the surge is strategic clarity and operational agility. It requires a revolution in leadership as much as an increment in firepower. In the coming days, if Westhawk is right, America will face a series of tricky challenges; a sequence of questions -- all of which have to be answered correctly for the test to come out right. This puts a premium on clarity and decisiveness. The question is whether Washington has these attributes in any quantity.

(BTW the remark about a cellular structure being "without central leadership" with "no one in control" is one of the main reasons why WMDs in terrorist hands will be catastrophic for the Islamic World. I have argued elsewhere, principally in the Three Conjectures, that this development would not only probably compel a vastly disproportionate counterstrike against all the usual suspects, but in addition create the possibility of sectarian strife within militant groups of unimaginable destructiveness.)

14 Comments:

Blogger Meme chose said...

"a vastly disproportionate counterstrike against all the usual suspects"

Bush's entire policy in the Middle East will eventually be seen by history as a noble, perhaps ultimately unsuccessful, attempt to prevent this from happening. From soon after 9/11, he saw farther than his opponents and despite all the 'war crimes' babble was the greater humanitarian.

1/23/2007 04:26:00 PM  
Blogger Wu Wei said...

I agree that politics is the key to this whole thing. Because unless there are Sunnis ready to fight Sunnis and Shiites ready to fight Shiites, then we shouldn't be doing this. The Petraeus strategy depends on having local troops & police to take over for us. Those must include Sunnis & Shiites so they can take over long term.

I disagree with the comments about the Shiites playing us like a violin and the Sunni Resistance using us. I don't believe that we will allow either to happen.

General Petraeus will not sit in the middle of Baghdad with only US troops while all Iraqi factions shoot at them. Either Iraqis step up and are willing to die for their country, or we will let them fight their civil war.

The main purpose of this exercise is to force the Iraqis to make choices, and to do it in front of the whole world.

1/23/2007 05:09:00 PM  
Blogger dla said...

Rattle a Saber, after you've already demonstrated that you can and will use it, and your enemy will take notice.

Tried and true. al-Sadr has decided to join the political process. The Mahdi army/militia is getting nervous.

What is funny, (at least to me), is that the US doesn't need an extra 20K soldiers to clean out the militias. But it is hard to just rattle the Saber when you've already got it up to the hilt in somebody. So we take our sweet time bringing in extra troops, etc...all in full view of the world and wide-eyed clerics who have everything to lose and nothing to gain by dying.

1/23/2007 08:07:00 PM  
Blogger Eggplant said...

Meme chose said...

"Bush's entire policy in the Middle East will eventually be seen by history as a noble, perhaps ultimately unsuccessful, attempt to prevent this from happening. From soon after 9/11, he saw farther than his opponents and despite all the 'war crimes' babble was the greater humanitarian."

I agree with Meme Chose. Future historians will see President Bush as an anti-"Neville Chamberlain". They'll argue that Bush had the foresight to see the next World War coming and the courage to make the unpopular choices to avoid it but in the end being ineffective at preventing the disaster from starting. Future historians will argue back and forth at whether a more competent President could have prevented the war or whether the "system" had been too damaged by the Cold War to avoid this next war from starting (a bit like World War 2 being a continuation of World War 1).

I also suspect that future historians will comment that this coming war demonstrated the incompatibility of weapons of mass destruction with liberal democracy. We're at the twilight of a Golden Age. Enjoy it while it lasts.

1/23/2007 10:36:00 PM  
Blogger Wu Wei said...

> The Sunni insurgency is near its end. Far too late, the Sunnis now realize that only the Americans can protect them from the Shi'ite ethnic cleansing campaign.

Really? The Sunnis just shot down one of our (civilian) helicopters and are battling US troops man to man for control of Central Baghdad as I write this.

A U.S. security company helicopter crashed as it flew over a dangerous Sunni neighborhood in the central Baghdad where insurgents and Iraqi security troops fought a prolonged gunbattle, and a U.S. official said five American civilians on board were killed.


Sunni television also bragged that they were the ones who shot down a different helicopter, a military one, a few days ago, killing a dozen US troops.

Sunnis attack our Marines every day in Anbar, and there are always enough Sunnis & Al Qaeda to launch a car bomb or two among Shiite civilians every day.

1/24/2007 01:57:00 AM  
Blogger Anointiata Delenda Est said...

meme chose said...
Bush's entire policy in the Middle East will eventually be seen by history as a noble...

Absolutely right, mc.

A gift, wasted on a bunch of savages. And I'm talking about the Democrats.

Wretchard said...
WMDs in terrorist hands will be catastrophic for the Islamic World

I presume you mean this in the context of the Global Shortage of Virgins?

ADE

1/24/2007 03:27:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

> The Sunni insurgency is near its end. Far too late, the Sunnis now realize that only the Americans can protect them from the Shi'ite ethnic cleansing campaign.

Really? The Sunnis just shot down one of our (civilian) helicopters and are battling US troops man to man for control of Central Baghdad as I write this.


Wrechard's point wasn't that they have stopped fighting but that the Iraqi Sunnis have lost so thoroughly that they can't even surrender. If you take the ones we kill as being representative of the ones still fighting the Sunni "insurgency" in Iraq is 90% foreign fighters (mostly Saudi). The native Sunni population of Iraq desperately needs to find a way to make peace with the Americans but they have no control over the mostly-foreign elements who continue the attacks.

1/24/2007 09:32:00 AM  
Blogger Cosmo said...

meme chose, ADE:

While I agree with you as to what history's judgement SHOULD be, I am concerned that history will be written not by scholars, as in the past, but by the Gramscians who've re-written so much of it, teach their versions of it in our universities and who are, at present, providing history's 'first draft' in our 'news' media.

1/24/2007 10:03:00 AM  
Blogger Wu Wei said...

> The native Sunni population of Iraq desperately needs to find a way to make peace with the Americans but they have no control over the mostly-foreign elements who continue the attacks.

But what they could do is (1) denounce the attacks on Shiite civilians, with their clerics issuing fatwahs against it; (2) join the Iraqi Army, or form their own purely defensive unit to protect Sunni territory, like the Baghdad turf we pass on after "clearing" it; (3) start talking about their peace plan; (4) even if they disagree with Maliki, support the system of government instead of saying it is an invalid, occupation system; (5) cease fire against us, and stop planting IED's; stop shooting our helicopters down over Sunni territory, then shooting the passengers in the head with a pistol, as just happened; (6) talk like Shiite citizens are human beings, not just targets...

1/24/2007 10:13:00 AM  
Blogger Wu Wei said...

Speaking of politics, with one speech President Bush got a majority in a poll to agree with the "surge". That's a CBS poll going from 47% to 52%. Now Democrats will be lying more than usual when they say the public is against the war.

The sad thing is that instead of Bush will now go silent again, while the Democrats attack his approach 24 hours a day.

1/24/2007 11:08:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

wu wei: It would be lovely if the Iraqi Sunnis would do everything on your list but my point is that because they (the Iraqi Sunnis) are no longer involved in most of the recent attacks and do not control the foreign element who are doing the actual fighting they simply cannot do number 5) on your list. This makes the rest of the items on the list difficult as well for various reasons.

To see why, consider this old but funny joke:

A Game Warden was out in his boat when he heard a kaBOOM on the far side of the lake. He motored over to the source of the noise and found Bubba, a redneck who had given him trouble for years paddling around picking up stunned fish. Bubba nods to the warden, takes another stick of dynamite out of his box, lights the fuse and throws it into the lake. KABOOM! Water guysers into the air and more fish float to the surface. The warden stares a Bubba with his mouth hanging open and then pulls up beside Bubba's boat and ropes the boats together.

"Bubba," he says angrily "Don't you know that that is illegal?"

Bubba thinks for a minute but doesn't answer. He just reaches into the box, pulls out another stick, lights the fuse and hands it to the warden. Finally, he speaks. "Warden, are you gonna talk, or are you gonna fish?

1/25/2007 12:52:00 PM  
Blogger Wu Wei said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

1/26/2007 04:08:00 AM  
Blogger Wu Wei said...

> my point is that because they (the Iraqi Sunnis) are no longer involved in most of the recent attacks and do not control the foreign element who are doing the actual fighting

That's the same story the Sunnis have been telling ever since the war started: we Sunnis are innocent, and everything is the fault of our Al Qaeda guests, the ones living in our neighborhood.

It is false. Some Iraqi tribes have turned against Al Qaeda, but many openly support them. If a Sunni tribe is too weak to fight off Al Qaeda, all they need to do is give us intelligence information.

The reality is that the Sunnis have been fighting a one-sided civil war from the moment we stepped foot in Iraq. They try to kill American & British soldiers, kill Iraqi government & police officials, destroy electricity and infrastructure, and relentlessly kill Shiite civilians. They won't join the police or army, but would rather have chaos instead, with the hope that they can bring the Sunni dictatorship back.

It's amazing that after four years we keep falling for the Al Qaeda excuse.

Watch what we do, not what we say

1/26/2007 04:10:00 AM  
Blogger Wu Wei said...

I think the biggest mistake we made in this war was being neutral between the Shiites and the Sunnis, treating them as if we were the same. They aren't. The Shiites have supported the government since the beginning, and the Sunnis have resisted it. For three years the Shiites, in the name of peace and trying to have a democratic Iraq, stood by and let the Sunnis slaughter their people.

If one side wants a war, and is fighting it, then war is inevitable. Nothing can stop it. Even if we and the Brits fight a counterinsurgency war against the Sunnis to prevent Iraqi civil war, that is still war.

Instead of fighting the Sunnis ourselves, or fighting them at all, we should have armed the Shiites and encouraged them to fight back. Everyone has the right to self defense. A government has the right to put down a rebellion.

1/26/2007 04:25:00 AM  

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