Thursday, August 02, 2007

Half a loaf

Philip Carter argues that the Surge is ultimately doomed to fail because Iraq is no closer to governing itself. And while there may be gains in security, the country remains a political failure. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates looks at the depth of the Sunni-Shi'ite divide.

Gates told reporters as he flew back to Washington that gains made in security in western Iraq's Anbar province and at the local level were cause for optimism, but he acknowledged they were offset by divisions at the top.

"In some ways we probably all underestimated the depth of mistrust and how difficult it would be for these guys to come together on legislation, which let's face it is not some kind of secondary thing," he said.

"The kinds of legislation they're talking about will establish the framework of Iraq for the future so it's almost like our constitutional convention," Gates said.

"And the difficulty in coming to grips with those we may all have underestimated six or eight months ago," he said.

Now the really interesting question, as I've argued in earlier posts, is whether the Surge actually makes divisions at the top worse. Empowering grassroots organizatons and giving them ownership over local security may actually weaken central institutions. Why would you look to squabbling politicians at the top to provide security that you know darned well it is being provided locally and by the Iraqi Army/Coalition Forces?

But on the other hand, grassroots empowerment is the only sure basis for creating a national political consensus. Recently Hillary Clinton's college thesis on organizing guru Saul Alinsky was released. One of Alinsky's tenets is that truly stable organizations can only be built from the bottom up.

In the past Iraq has been held together by one form of strongman or the other. It can be rebuilt as a tyranny on that basis again. In fact there are those who preferred that it be reconstructed that way, by a Saddam-like successor. But it can't be rebuilt as a democracy unless it is founded from the bottom up. Now while I think the Surge creates the necessary preconditions for Iraqi political stability it does not create sufficient. That requires something else. Either an architectural change which will split Iraq into several viable countries (which may then war against each other for access or resources) or America will have to mobilize the grassroots in order to push the politicians at the top into line. Petraeus may have solved part of the problem and that's something at least. But the other half of the problem remains outstanding. Let's see whether the diplomats are up to being as creative as the soldiers.

But one thing that I think has been overlooked by analysts who have been focused on US troops numbers, is the role an integrated Iraqi Army has played in the Surge. When Michael E. O’Hanlon and Kenneth M. Pollack wrote their optimistic article in the New York Times, this bit did not escape me: "In addition, far more Iraqi units are well integrated in terms of ethnicity and religion. The Iraqi Army’s highly effective Third Infantry Division started out as overwhelmingly Kurdish in 2005. Today, it is 45 percent Shiite, 28 percent Kurdish, and 27 percent Sunni Arab."

The ultimate long guarantor of security for everyone in Iraq is an integrated Iraqi Army. That means that people are only as sure of staying alive as they are of keeping a national army together. Without the Iraqi Army, the different communities will have to fall back on their respective militias and face a probable war. Thus, the politicians may themselves be held hostage to the need for unity. In which case the soldiers have been very, very clever indeed.


Blogger dla said...

I don't believe I know of a society that became a functioning democracy - of any sort, from top-down government.

As usual I blame our demented MSM for propagating such notions.

I would think it should be obvious that Iraq must come together at the individual level first, and then some sort of government will be empowered. That is impossible to do when tyrannies rule (Saddam, Al-Qaeda, Democrats, etc.)

8/02/2007 07:34:00 PM  
Blogger sbw said...

"... offset by divisions at the top."

Well, hell's bells, this country is offset by divisions at the top.

I wouldn't say there is much room for either side in the United States to get together. Does that mean we should give up?

Not in the least. It means we should find a different, more compelling way to explain what is important and why.

Now you try. What is it about democracy that makes it worthwhile? Most people can't explain it. Can you?

8/02/2007 07:58:00 PM  
Blogger j willie said...

It's not just the MSM, although they do lead the cheering squad. But look at what Gates said to the reporters. The problem with Gates is that he is a career bureaucrat; he doesn't step outside the box, much less think outside of it. How could he think that all this top down stuff was going to happen in 6-8 months? I don't remember the exact dates, but US constitutional organization probably took 15-20 years, did it not? (Somebody here knows and I'm not sufficiently motivated to look it up). But we all know there were the colonies, and then the Confederation before there were "these United States" - bottom to top, not top to bottom. Yet, the MSM/Democratic alliance now demands the Iraq do it ass backwards in less than two years, or else!

8/02/2007 08:03:00 PM  
Blogger Pangloss said...

One way we can give Iraq enough time to organize from the bottom up is if the Democrats rejoin the war, if they feel re-empowered in the narrative of the battle of Iraq. I have a plan.

In 2006, before the elections that the Democrats won on the corruption issue, they were demanding four things from Iraq: A new secretary of defense; A new strategy; a new general; and more troops. Rumsfield resigned within a week of the elections, to be replaced by Gates. The strategy of drawing troops down while leaving the Iraqis to do all the security themselves was changed to the active security plan known as the Baghdad Security Plan, Anbar Awakening, and the operations of the Belts. Casey was replaced by Petraeus. And the Surge added about 35,000 combat troops and even more support personnel, most of them Iraqi and American contractors.

The Democrats got everything they wanted, and now the strategy they demanded is winning in Iraq!

And if it weren’t for the despairing peacemonger chorus led by useful idiots like Cindy Sheehan and Code Pink, and the despairing media led by the AP and Reuters with their obsessive-compulsive focus on US body count only, with every other aspect of the war being treated as irrelevant, then the Democrats would have realized that far from being hopeless, the situation has actually become quite good for the country, and for them!

Democrats can claim that the success of the Surge was their own idea! And you know what? They’d be right!

8/02/2007 09:15:00 PM  
Blogger Utopia Parkway said...

Obviously it can still go either way in Iraq. The Iraqis must step up to the plate and take responsibility in a way that provides stability and a better life for Iraqis. Even with the apparent successes of the surge time is running out. They've got months, not years to reach their tipping point. It seems attainable but the Iraqi Pols don't seem to be moving decisively.

Frankly this is very important for the US. If the surge succeeds, resulting in a significant improvement in security, but the Iraqis ultimately fail this will mean that the Bush-Wilsonian strategy is wrong. Muslims cannot rule themselves in a democracy. The outcome will be seen by US haters as bloodying the US's nose and preventing future US adventures. I think instead it will make the US carefully weigh any future entanglements and most likely make our future wars mean wars.

I have thought this from the beginning. This war was an experiment. This war was the nice war. This war was the war where we tried to cleanly separate the evil enemy govt from the innocent population. If we fail in this war then in future when we face someone like Sadam we will just destroy his country. Top to bottom. No boots on the ground. Bombs away. Geneva conventions be damned.

It just isn't that hard for the US to destroy a place like Iraq or other Muslim sh*tholes, from which our enemies plot and attack us.

If this war proves conclusively that Muslims can't build their own democracy when given every opportunity then if they threaten us we will have no alternative but to destroy them.

I think that most who are calling for our hasty withdrawal haven't considered that this is the likely result of our failure.

8/02/2007 09:43:00 PM  
Blogger Utopia Parkway said...

What is it about democracy that makes it worthwhile? Most people can't explain it. Can you?

A couple quotes for your edification:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Both TJ and AL were eloquent and brilliant. They explained it quite clearly. Pay attention to the parts about individual freedom.

8/02/2007 09:50:00 PM  
Blogger Bret said...

dla wrote: "I don't believe I know of a society that became a functioning democracy - of any sort, from top-down government."

Some of the former east-bloc countries.

Spain (Franco to post-Franco).

Chile (Pinochet to post-Pinochet).

8/02/2007 09:50:00 PM  
Blogger vnjagvet said...

And, Pangloss, if I could get my way by waving a magic wand, I would have the administration get your message out to the public, giving due credit and touting a successful "bi-partisan war policy", which is now working.

Then, I would have Hillary! pledge to carry out this non-partisan war policy if elected.

Unfortunately, this will not happen, will it?

8/02/2007 09:59:00 PM  
Blogger unaha-closp said...

"The ultimate long guarantor of security for everyone in Iraq is an integrated Iraqi Army. That means that people are only as sure of staying alive as they are of keeping a national army together. Without the Iraqi Army, the different communities will have to fall back on their respective militias and face a probable war. Thus, the politicians may themselves be held hostage to the need for unity. In which case the soldiers have been very, very clever indeed."

By Jove, he is right.

This is about making the government of Iraq attractive to politicians of Iraq. Politicians do not care about democracy, only for power and opportunity.

What is it about democracy that makes it worthwhile?

There is nothing inherently worthwhile in democracy if it is unable to produce a power base, but thankfully democracies have been proficient at this. Iraq needs a powerful army to attract politicians like flies.

8/02/2007 10:20:00 PM  
Blogger NotWhoIUsedtoBe said...

Geez, the guy calls for more troops in Iraq back in 2005... even to the point of a draft... and when we get them he says it will fail.

8/03/2007 12:15:00 AM  
Blogger Kevin said...

The US failure in Iraq has only served to reinforce the theory of Self-Determination developed by John Stuart Mill more than 150 years ago. Concerning the “the virtues needful for maintaining freedom” for people living under tyranny “It is during an arduous struggle to become free by their own efforts that these virtues have the best chance of springing up” (emphasis mine). That is, giving what liberty is, intervention by a foreign power necessarily fails because only the people themselves can grant themselves liberty by braving the labour and danger that are the costs of liberty. If an outside power does it for them they have achieved nothing.

Now sure, a totally defeated country like post-WW2 Japan or Germany can be helped along, but these two highly able peoples would have developed a functioning system with or without US help, although one would like to think their systems are that much better thanks to US help. But to start wholesale with an Iraqi society that was not at all defeated and to magically turn it into a functioning democracy is even more ignorant than elite Marxists who tried to transform peasant societies into proletarian in direct constrast to the Marxist slogan: ”The liberation of the working class can come only through the workers themselves”.

Any propaganda campaign that pretends that Iraqi society is going through a “bottom up” revolution because of the surge is both dead wrong and totally ignorant of Arab culture, which is anything but “bottom up”. One only has to read Iraq the Model before the surge to see some real “bottom up” efforts at security within the different neighbourhoods in Baghdad, where individual apartment dwellers were forming informal militias to protect themselves against rival militias. But the way of the Arabs means that even these efforts will eventually get swallowed up by larger tribal structures, which are aristocratic in nature. This is certainly the case in the Sunni heartland, where recent decisions by tribal elites to turn against Al Qaida have nothing to do with any “bottom up” revolution, just as these same elites decision to ally with Al Qaida in the first place after the US invasion was hardly “bottom up”.

In my opinion the genius of what Gen. Petraeus has achieved is that he has basically stopped fighting the morally dubious war of aggression that is OIF, and has instead, somewhat subversively, switched to just fighting a morally defendable war in response to Al Qaida’s aggression in Iraq. For wars of aggression (whatever bullshit reasons given by the aggressors) are always wrong but wars against aggression always justified. After the US invasion of Iraq, Al Qaida amazingly found itself in a morally superior position in that it had the right to go help the Iraqi people against the crusaders. This is why their initial propaganda in the Arab world was so strong. But of course they didn’t come selflessly to help; they actually came to do the same thing the US was looking to do, to impose their will on the Iraqi people. Gen. Petraeus jumped on the opportunity to reverse the moral position of the US and has put all his efforts into attacking Al Qaida and has put next to none into imposing US will on Iraq. This results in a short-term rise in US moral and is a long-term recognition of the irrationality of the initial campaign to impose liberty on Iraq.

8/03/2007 02:52:00 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Liberty for Iraq? How do you offer liberty to peoples who have for centuries thought it ok to prostrate themselves four times every day, facing east, and surrender their individuality to a god who has before them a man (don't see the girls up you?) who presents himself as a menacing avenger for all who do wrongs as he and his special elite brethren decide?

Kinda tough to get up off your knees and proclaim a new, individual independence, even if you espouse some form of collective brotherhood (with an emerging sisterhood, too) of new true believers.

Most of these muslim true believers seem to live in nation-states run by what? Some form of dictatorship. Double trouble for these "individuals" no?

Sure, we can argue all day about what is an individual, just like that smart ass clown who tried to tell us what "is" is and who sought to redefine sexual behavior away from oral copulation.

Lawyers, just give me a break here: Read your Plato, write a new brief.

Master/slave is an old game, but it does have many faces.

Democracies are designed to support the individual.

Other forms generally don't; they suppress him and her.

However, every parent wants a level of safety for their children. Secure this reality, and explain how the individual is a critical part of realizing such. You just might then be able to sell (successfully) a new form of government to those who have lived under repression (choose your form).

Then again, what do you do with the person, or peoples, who have come to love the "taste of the whip?"

Let's ask that wise man, Harry Reid? Or his cleavage sister, Nancy Pelosi.

8/03/2007 03:57:00 AM  
Blogger PeterBoston said...

It will take years, perhaps even decades, to realistically assess the utility of the Small Footprint war. Even then the small sample size will have been influenced by too many unique local variables to formulate a definitive war policy. UP is dead on with his observation that Iraq is an experiment into unchartered waters, but that being said the United States will acvhieve additional strategic advantages from the invasion.

The United States has an overriding strategic objective in the Gulf Region - to deny any victory to Al Qaeda. Not necessarily the AQ of Bin Laden but an AQ which subsumes the notion that pan-Islamic fundamentalism has the muscle to determine the political composition of a nation state. Afghanistan under the Taliban is AQ's crowning achievment, as short lived as it was. If that's as far as it ever goes then Bin Laden's AQ will never rise above an historical oddity.

The chances of achiving priority number one are very high regardless of the relative success or failure of the Iraqi national government. A Saudi or Moroccan Salafist is as much a foreigner in Anbar as GI Joe. The locals are going to side with whoever can deliver the most effective kinetic energy. That is always the USA but only for so long as there are actually US soldiers on the ground to man the weapons. If the Surge can kill or run off enough AQ trigger pullers the locals will likely be willing and able to prevent AQ from regaining any substantial influence in Anbar and the other Sunni provinces. I suppose AQ will always have the ability to kill unarmed civilians, but that is a long way from exercising legitimate or even de facto political power.

8/03/2007 04:18:00 AM  
Blogger wretchardthecat said...

"After the US invasion of Iraq, Al Qaida amazingly found itself in a morally superior position in that it had the right to go help the Iraqi people against the crusaders."

I doubt the Shi'ites, who constitute the majority of the Iraqi people, ever saw al-Qaeda as their moral superiors. The Shia had no objection to America toppling Saddam; but some objected to the US preventing them from driving the Sunnis out wholesale. The ideal for them would have been for the US to have left immediately after toppling Saddam. I doubt the Kurds ever saw al-Qaeda as their moral superiors either. The ideal for them would be for the US to stay to guarantee their safety from the Sunni Arabs and the Shi'a. But not even the Sunni insurgents, the old Ba'ath thugs at the start, likely thought Zarqawi their morally superior. They knew a thug when they saw one. But they did think al-Qaeda might help them return to their position of superiority in Iraq. Who imagined al-Qaeda to be morally superior? Some people in the West, perhaps. Orwell once remarked, "there are some things so stupid that only an intellectual could believe them." Yet the Sunni insurgents soon found that making deals with al-Qaeda for power was like making a deal with Hitler, only worse. But by then, intimidation supplied what disillusionment had lost.

I've written elsewhere that the Iraqis were not so stupid as to think al-Qaeda were good guys. Terrorists don't need to be regarded as good guys. They need you to fear them. Once the Iraqi government and Coalition were able to provide a modicum of safety, the exact regard of those who knew al-Qaeda best became clear for all to see.

I might add that the Left will probably discover, in due course, what the Sunni insurgents have painfully learned already. You will always wind up the junior partner of radical Islam. Denigrated, despised and maybe even dead. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

8/03/2007 04:46:00 AM  
Blogger desert rat said...

When the Iraqi, in 2003, moved to self-start a "Bottom Up" democratic movement, through local elections, the US shut them down.

The Bush Administrayion did, not the Democrats, not the MSM, not the usual suspects of the Belmont Club. No hermans y amigos, it was the Administration, Mr Bush and his Team of experts that wanted, no demanded, "Top Down" democracy.

We enjoy the fruits of their efforts, today. While casting about for others to blame, for the poor decisions made by the US Government, makes you all look small.

8/03/2007 05:54:00 AM  
Blogger 3Case said...

...still...tryin' to an enemy...whose principal to hide....

8/03/2007 06:32:00 AM  
Blogger wretchardthecat said...

I was just on the blogger round table with Philip Reeker, US Embassy Baghdad, on the subject of PRTs. And it was clear that they were trying to building things from the bottom up in an society where the tradition of local government (as opposed to tribal government) was nonexistent. But it was also clear that the assets necessary to accomplish this are pretty thin. They're still building the doctrine. And there's no enabling bureaucratic structure. One of the things, for example, that Ambassador Crocker had to do was waive the State Department security regs to get people out. To provide any security at all, the PRTs either have to be embedded or escorted, except in places like Kurdistan where they can mostly operate unescorted.

Interestingly, the PRTs found the military's reserve system very useful because it provided a pool of specialists for which State had no analogue. There was some reference to the need for the equivalent of a Goldwater-Nichols for the civilian arms of government to provide an institutional cure. But that's still prospective. The sense you got was that State is trying to field people and is succeeding somewhat, but that many hurdles remain.

To summarize, from what I understand there's a clear recognition now -- and there may have been a former reluctance -- to create the capacity to conduct political work at the grassroots. But there remain questions about whether a) it is still possible, given the time elapsed; b) US Government agencies can mobilze effectively to accomplish this task.

8/03/2007 06:39:00 AM  
Blogger wretchardthecat said...

My own sense, without any pejorative reflection on State, is that they are struggling to match the political work with the security gains. And this is due, I think, almost wholly to the circumstance that we are now asking diplomats to do something they never in their wildest dreams thought they would be doing. As Mr. Reeker ran down the list of this or that person voluntarily leaving a post in such and such European capital for duty in some provincial Iraqi dustbowl you got the sense that the State guys were individually making one heck of an effort but that the institutional capacity still isn't there.

Now I'll hazard the guess that much of the traditional public policy community doesn't fully realize the need to create this bottom-up capacity; doesn't see the need to match networked insurgents in counter-organizing capacity because serious diplomacy has always been top-down diplomacy. It's always been ambassadors talking to foreign ministers or presidents. The very same people who complain that the US only knows how to deal out military solutions are often the same who fail to realize that the US doesn't do "expeditionary" political work. And this PRT stuff will always remain a bastard child to be disowned the instant Iraq folds up unless it becomes institutionally clear that an exclusive return to the cocktail party circuit is no longer in order.

The capability to politically work at a grassroots level in failed or failing states is an essential capability. Barack Obama recently mooted an invasion of Pakistan, and one of the things he will need should he do it is a PRT-like expeditionary capacity to accompany the military folks. He'll need it but I daresay he doesn't know he needs it. He's still stuck with the oldspeak of using military gestures and sitting down with dictators to create peace, like it was some photo-op. Whoever becomes President, whichever party wins, the need to create an expeditionary political capacity will remain.

8/03/2007 07:05:00 AM  
Blogger desert rat said...

They win because they control, 3case, everywhere we are not, according to General Lynch.

They will not engage in a military battle, while the US would not engage in a political one.

The political component wins, if the military will or can not destroy the enemy.

Iraq is a political problem, a police matter, much more so than a military one. Transforming the US military into an Iraqi police has not, nor will it, win the political battle. The best that can be hoped for is an intermission, between rounds, as the US sends the fighters to their perspective corners.

When the referee leaves the center ring, the fight will resume.

8/03/2007 07:28:00 AM  
Blogger desert rat said...

The analogy, Iraq to the US, the Articles of Confederation, the Constitutional Convention, etc., is flawed to an extreme.

As during the period of time from the defeat of British General Charles Cornwallis at Yorktown to the ratification of the Constitution, the French Army did not remain to guarentee the "appropriateness" of that US Constitution.

If they had, the patriotic revolutionaries of the Confederated United States of America would have taken them on, in turn, as they had the English and their Hussian contractors.

8/03/2007 07:37:00 AM  
Blogger PeterBoston said...

The Small Wars Journal discusses
Organizing for Counterinsurgency at the Company and Platoon Level
. Many of the tasks that we would normally attribute to State are being performed by NCOs and grunts. This is the institutional memory we would lose, to our detriment, if the Democrats run-away-from-the-problem strategy succeeds.

I think that Thomas Barnett has come up with the most useful descriptive terms for contemporary geopolitics - The Core, The Gap, Leviathan, and SysAdmin. You don't have to agree with Barnett on every point to keep these terms useful. I certainly cannot produce a better term than SysAdmin for the functions wretchard is alluding to.

8/03/2007 07:44:00 AM  
Blogger David M said...

Trackbacked by The Thunder Run - Web Reconnaissance for 08/03/2007
A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the check back often.

8/03/2007 08:11:00 AM  
Blogger PeterBoston said...

The US Revolutionaries had a functioning home-grown economic system complete with well developed institutions like courts and banks when they took on the British army. Although economic activity went dormant during the fighting the institutional memory was never lost.

I really don't know if the Iraqis have been successful in developing even these basic institutions in the peaceful provinces. Iraq was considered a good target for democratization because the population was relatively well educated and there was a Western experienced diaspora. If they have not been able to institutionalize the basics of a civil society at the micro level then why not?

Would that indicate that Arabs/Muslims are simply not capable of self-governance? That seemed a silly idea a few years ago but maybe it should be reconsidered.

8/03/2007 08:12:00 AM  
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8/03/2007 08:47:00 AM  
Blogger LarryD said...

The Kurds took advantage of the no-fly zone to build their own economic and political infrastructure. Which is why they're years ahead of the rest of Iraq. Outside of the Iraqi Kurds, who in the Arab/Muslim world actually has any experience at self-governance? Only the Palestinians, who have been corrupted by anti-semitic propaganda for about two generations, while their Arab brethren kept them as un-integrated refugees so they'd be good cannon fodder against Israel.

The news that the Iraqi Army is now far more integrated than it started out, and is also almost cleansed of sectarianism and corruption, is a very good sign. The Iraqi Army might function as an Academy for future politicians and public servants, improving Iraqi government.

8/03/2007 08:51:00 AM  
Blogger desert rat said...

The Iraqi were on their way to local representitive government in the Summer of 2003, the US put a halt to it, installed their own "mayors" and watched Iraq go to hell in a n=hand basket.

Timeline the Insurgency, it did not start until after the local elections were cancelled, by US, beginning the "Occupation". When the elections were canceled, the Liberation was over.

Occupation Forces Halt Elections Throughout Iraq

By William Booth and Rajiv Chandrasekaran
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, June 28, 2003; Page A20

SAMARRA, Iraq -- U.S. military commanders have ordered a halt to local elections and self-rule in provincial cities and towns across Iraq, choosing instead to install their own handpicked mayors and administrators, many of whom are former Iraqi military leaders.

The decision to deny Iraqis a direct role in selecting municipal governments is creating anger and resentment among aspiring leaders and ordinary citizens, who say the U.S.-led occupation forces are not making good on their promise to bring greater freedom and democracy to a country dominated for three decades by Saddam Hussein.

The go-slow approach to representative government in at least a dozen provincial cities is especially frustrating to younger, middle-class professionals who say they want to help their communities emerge from postwar chaos and to let, as one put it, "Iraqis make decisions for Iraq."

"They give us a general," said Bahith Sattar, a biology teacher and tribal leader in Samarra who was a candidate for mayor until that election was canceled last week. "What does that tell you, eh? First of all, an Iraqi general? They lost the last three wars! They're not even good generals. And they know nothing about running a city."

The most recent order to stop planning for elections was made by Maj. Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of the 4th Infantry Division, which controls the northern half of Iraq. It follows similar decisions by the 3rd Infantry Division in central Iraq and those of British commanders in the south.

In the capital, Baghdad, U.S. officials never scheduled elections for a city government, but have said they are forming neighborhood councils that at some point will play a role in the selection of a municipal government.

8/03/2007 08:56:00 AM  
Blogger John Aristides said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

8/03/2007 09:05:00 AM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

Aristedes - some of your posts are way-smart and enlightening, but sometimes you just get wrapped around the axle with jargon until you're incomprehensible. You might want to keep Mark Twain's excellent advice in mind: "Never use a quarter word when a nickel word will do."

And it's really hard, too, when you sprinkle quotes throughout your piece, trying to figure out which is the quote and which is you.

Normally, I wouldn't critique someone's writing style like this but like I said, some of your stuff is very interesting and I'd like to hear what you have to say, if I could just figure it out. (I've also read other comments that indicate that other folks are having the same difficulties I am.)

8/03/2007 09:22:00 AM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

Re: half-a-loaf winning in Iraq, following observation via Instapundit. The writer is saying that what does or doesn't happen in Iraq isn't important, that we need to be looking beyond the microcosm of Iraq to what is or isn't happening with Muslims as a whole across the world, and that overall, we seem to be demonstrably winning because the world's Muslims have decided they don't love their terrorists any more.

I'm not sure I agree since they're still blowing each other up in Indonesia, beheading each other in Thailand, raping each other in Darfur, and not letting women drive in Saudi Arabia. And as far as I know, outside of Iraq there have been absolutely zip, zilch, nil incidents of a Muslim turning in another Muslim to the authorities when they find out about proposed terrorist activities.

Everyone is missing the most important point about what seems to be happening in Iraq!

There is only one major question that dominates everything else in Iraq -- what are the customers buying? When it comes to those selling al Qaeda terror bombings of civilians, the customers are deciding in increasing numbers that they don't like it.

I can understand liberals, given their love of government and its top-down "solutions", focusing on the state of Iraqi democracy. I don't understand libertarians and those who focus on the market missing this.

What is important is that ordinary muslims, not just in Iraq, are looking at the terror bombings killing ordinary Iraqis and deciding that this is not what their religion is all about. More and more of them are deciding that they don't want it anymore. So support for the terrorists and their cause is declining among muslims in Iraq and around the world.

Hey people! This is good. THIS is the big issue. The whole point of democracy in Iraq is to show ordinary muslims how life can be better when you don't obsess about blowing up infidels. If we are making progress on that main goal anyway, without as much progress in the originally chosen method, let's focus on that important point.

Sure, a stable democracy is better than not having one. It would still pay huge dividends. But let's not get diverted from the primary goal which is reducing the danger from Islamic terrorists. If the terrorists continue to lose support from those they seek to influence, we are making progress --real and very significant progress.

8/03/2007 09:26:00 AM  
Blogger John Aristides said...

I left a too-long comment above, so I moved it, here.

Short version:

A localized, viral strategy cannot work without a system-wide, top-down strategy. And vice-versa.

It's not either/or. It's both, carefully calibrated to each other.

8/03/2007 09:47:00 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...


Trying to hold back the hands of time, will get your arms ripped. Ripped off that is. Iraq is no more. Long Live Kurdistan!

8/03/2007 09:55:00 AM  
Blogger John Aristides said...

Point well-taken, Nahncee. I tend to write stream-of-consciously.

I quoted Tocqueville to the effect that America was an idea before it was a reality. My purpose was to show that there is nothing inherently impossible about manifesting political abstractions. The preconditions are 1) having the right idea for the reality, or, alternatively, 2) having the right reality for the idea. Since in Iraq we've brought our idea with us, what should concern is 2: how do we get to the right reality for our idea, democracy?

Systems theory shows us how "reality" can evolve. A system is normally found situated around a robust status-quo called an equilibrium point, which is defined by "stability" or "robustness to change." Unless a threshold-perturbation enters the system, it will continue to revolve around its present equilibrium. Saddam's Iraq was in such an equilibrium state, though writers like Hitchens believe the internal pressure was almost at the threshold. Then the US came in and pushed Iraq's 2002 equilibrium to criticality -- the US military was the threshold-perturbation (a pleasant euphemism).

So let's say the odds of democracy precipitating out of the fog of war were 1 in a 1000. Well, in high entropy states (i.e. critical states), odds tend to equalize. It's like playing a lottery. The odds of you winning are 1 in a 1,000,000 let's say, but since the picking of the numbers happens at such a high degree of uncertainty, all outcomes have equal odds; everybody has the same chance of winning.

Now, reality can never be completely scrambled, so there are always some outcomes that are favored, even in high entropy zones. For instance, Iraqis are Muslims, so there was little chance that Iraq would become an outpost of Mormonism following the war. Muslimness was an attribute of the system's components that was not thrown into the entropy grinder. Whatever happened, Muslimness was going to come out on the other side.

But other cognitive factors can be thrown into an entropy grinder. Beliefs about reality, for instance (as in Anbar Sunnis beliefs about Al'Qaeda). Loyalties, strategies, priorities -- all these can be dissolved and rebuilt with high enough heats and pressures. At the system-wide level, rules of organization, political philosophies and ethics can be placed up for grabs. So long as the system has yet to be pulled toward another equilibrium -- so long as it remains critical -- specific outcomes remain immanently viable.

These are facts about the ways systems behave, and society is a complex system. If, like Muslimness, America injects herself as a constant -- i.e. doesn't offer herself up to uncertainty -- then we can have a big say over the ultimate outcome of Iraq, an outcome that still might accord with our vision of a stable, well-functioning democracy in the heart of the Middle East. That is a simple implication of a rock-solid fact.

The Chinese define crisis as an admixture of danger and opportunity. Systems theory has elevated that intuition into an empirical fact. Pace our faux-elite, Iraq's high entropy is not a sign of failure; it is a signal of remaining opportunity.

8/03/2007 10:27:00 AM  
Blogger Alexis said...

Whatever else may be said, USA Today is reporting that Iraqis are developing a taste for American products.

8/03/2007 11:16:00 AM  
Blogger Mike H. said...

We speak of the Iraqis as if they were from the same culture that we are and have an immediate understanding of the mechanism of Democratic rule. We speak of the Iraqis as if they hadn't spent 39 years under a dictatorship that equalled the Kim r'egime in North Korea. How long would it take the North Koreans to overcome their maltreatment? 4 years? The Iraqis need time and that's with the model that we're providing. The Kurds had 10 years.

8/03/2007 11:48:00 AM  
Blogger jj mollo said...

Good point Mike H.! But I do think there are differences. The Kurds seem to be a much more tolerant people from a cultural basis.

8/03/2007 01:53:00 PM  
Blogger Red River said...

The Thirteen Colonies bickered before, during, and after the Revolutionary War. Once we had won, they scrapped the old Articles of Confederation and came up with the strong central government model we have today.

Even then there were a few duels.

Iraq probably would be better off with a model like ours that has a strong executive than its current setup.

8/03/2007 02:21:00 PM  
Blogger sbw said...

utopia parkway: Both TJ and AL were eloquent and brilliant. They explained it quite clearly.

Yet even they didn't say that democracy allows for continuous correction ... for always being open to consideration of finding a better way. Democracy codifies the humility that we may not be perfect. There may be other forms that do that but they do not come to mind.

People don't often see the dynamics. It is process that is worth fighting for, not a single result.

8/03/2007 02:33:00 PM  
Blogger biggerdiggler said...

I tremble when I think about the consequences of US failure in Iraq. This campaign to create a decent, consensual, humane government in a muslim country, if it fails, necessarily means an unequivical rejection of US methods.

And just what methods are the alternative? Look deeper and more objectively into the brutal Soviet conquest of Afghanistan and repression of Chechyna, the Serbian liquidation of Kosovar muslims, the savage Ethiopian conquest of Somalia and the bloodthirsty Chinese ways of internally controlling their Muslims. Who can say that they were/are unequivically wrong in dealing with their muslim "problem?"

Either they or we have it right. Personally, I believe that OIF was the last and best hope for Islam, and it has failed. Muslims and the Western Left could have and should have grabbed onto it with all their might. They didn't.

"This war was an experiment. This war was the nice war. This war was the war where we tried to cleanly separate the evil enemy govt from the innocent population. If we fail in this war then in future when we face someone like Sadam we will just destroy his country. Top to bottom. No boots on the ground. Bombs away. Geneva conventions be damned."

Amen, brother. Amen

8/03/2007 02:49:00 PM  
Blogger Mike H. said...

jj mollo some Kurds just stoned a young girl in what amounted to an honor killing. They are from a similar culture to the Arabs and Persians and would have similar adjustments to make concerning a democratic construct. And they are Sunni after all.

I think that if we can give the Iraqis a suitable period to create a stable, consensual, government we will have won. Regardless of the appearance of the eventual political product. Part of the task will be to minimize interference from Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria and Turkey.

All of this would be more easily accomplished if we had everyone on board. Our political battles are endangering our real world battles. Somehow we need to surmount the partisan strangle hold that will weaken us to the detriment of our society. It's my understanding that there are 3% of the people who disagree with me and other factions who are in the ballpark or have no opinion. The future as always, is unknown.

8/03/2007 04:46:00 PM  
Blogger j willie said...

DR, wonder why it is that you are the only one who found that analogy not useful. Many others picked it up and built on it for the benefit of further discussion. You, on the other hand, presume that it was intended as anything other than a natively familiar, and broad, example of building from botton up. And, in your inimitable fashion, your use of it is destructive to collegial, collaborative dialogue. Is that what makes you so big?

8/03/2007 08:12:00 PM  
Blogger Cedarford said...

FRom Instapundit via Nahncee- Hey people! This is good. THIS is the big issue. The whole point of democracy in Iraq is to show ordinary muslims how life can be better when you don't obsess about blowing up infidels.

False concept. Most of the leaders of the head-choppers come from very well-off families who drank deeply of that "better life" and rejected it.

Bin Laden. Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri. Ramsi Yousef. Mohammed Atta. Rahman Binalshibah. Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who masterminded 9/11 after a comfortable life and 4 solid years immersed in the blessed democracy of America, where he had an active social life, dated Americans, had friends.

The Arabs have had 80 years of observation of having the "blessings of secular democracy" at work in Turkey, home of the last Caliphate.

They haven't bitten.

The "trick" is how to get the US out of spending another 10 years and another trillion dollars and much blood trying to sell "the blessings of democracy" on those murderous ingrates.

In some lands, democracy is a universal aspiration. It is a miserable mismatch to the culture.

The Wilsonians, Sharanskyites, and Neocons were wrong and they have royally screwed the hapless Bush into a corner. The bumbling President will have a difficult time ever admitting democratic top-down government, which is essentially nothing more than tyranny of the majority of a pack of radical religious, incompetent Shiites who are also at their own sectarian throats when not screwing over Kurds and Sunnis, was a mistake that must be rectified.

I don't think he has the ability to man up and say government in Iraq must transition to a military government with a federalist system. The man is pig-headed on matters like Open Borders, tax cuts for the wealthy, and his "wonderful, noble freedom-loving Iraqi guys". Admitting all his Wilsonian ideas turned to BS is just too tough...

So that will be up to Congress and the American military to discuss and set up for the next President to Where enough military assets and power and control reside in the Sunnis and Kurds to block full civil war. A junta that will pledge to work towards bottom up democracy and set up adequate societal base for an eventual "democratic" system at the 10, 20 years and where the military remains, as it has in so many nations that struggled and still struggle to create democracy, ready to intervene to safeguard law, rights, and secular institutions..

8/04/2007 03:34:00 AM  

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