Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


The problem in Iraq is sectarian/ethnic conflict. The latest edition of the Defense Department report "Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq" (covering August through November, 2006) states that "at the present time, sustained ethno-sectarian violence is the greatest threat to security and stability in Iraq." (p. 23) The report also states that "the group that is currently having the greatest negative affect[sic] on the security situation in Iraq is Jaysh al Mahdi (JAM) . . . [M]ost, but not all, elements of the organization take direction from Muqtada al-Sadr," (p. 19) who controls 30 seats in the Parliament and 6 ministries and is a supporter of the current Prime Minister.

Senator McCain wants to send more troops. So does Frederick Kagan. A lot more troops and heavy repressive measures might stop or decrease the violence (it has increased 22% in the past 3 months (p. 3)) but it will not stop the conflict. Kagan says that once we repress the violence, "reconstruction aid will help to reestablish normal life and, working through Iraqi officials, will strengthen Iraqi local government." But if we allow Iraqi officials to get involved in reconstruction, sectarian disputes will recur over who controls the money and projects. Unless we keep the repression in place indefinitely, sectarian violence will return to what it was.

More training of Iraqis will not work because the Iraqi Army and the police are sectarian organizations. Improving their capabilities will only increase the conflict, as it gives the Shia more tools to kill Sunnis and each other and the Sunnis more incentive to arm and fight back in order to protect themselves. There is little evidence that military training, especially in the short term, can instill in trainees the restraints that militaries in democratic countries practice. In the long term, if the Iraqi government is sectarian and ineffective, it will not be able to provide the logistical and administrative support that troops require to be effective.

Everything depends on ending the sectarian violence. The reality appears to be that a sufficient number in each sectarian/ethnic group wants to dominate. This requires continued fighting. Thus, peace and democracy have been more important to us than to Iraqis. This may now be changing. News reports indicate that an alliance among Shia, Sunni and Kurds may form to exclude the extremists, among them al-Sadr. Ayatollah Sistani, the leader of the Shia, has given his blessing apparently.

This new coalition is unlikely to put an end to the fighting, especially in the short term. Al-Sadr fought to get into the ruling coalition and is likely to fight on when he is out of it. Also, the Badr organization, which is part of the government of Iraq, and the JAM attack one another (competing for leadership of the Shia) and both attack Sunni. Both JAM and Badr receive support from external sources. Finally, "high levels of sectarian violence are driving some Sunni neighborhood watch organizations in Baghdad to transform themselves into militias with limited offensive capabilities." (p. 20)

However, in the long run, if the new coalition forms and if it manages to stay together, if the Iraqi government begins to function and in a non-sectarian way, if this reassures Sunni neighborhood watch/militias, if foreign support for Iraqi extremists declines, if the government can get control of corruption and criminal activity, which supports, profits from and adds to the violence . . ., then the presence of additional US troops might help.

But it is important to keep two things in mind. First, based on the study of historical cases of "stabilization and reconstruction," an analysis by RAND found that

International troop levels should be at least 1,000 soldiers per 100,000 inhabitants and international police levels should be at least 150 police officers per 100,000 inhabitants, especially when there is the potential for severe instability. These numbers are important for policing streets, defeating and deterring insurgents, patrolling borders, securing roads, and combating organized crime.

For Baghdad’s population of 5 million or so, that implies 50,000 troops, a higher number than the upper estimate of the total that would be there following an increase. This would not take care of Anbar province, next to Baghdad that insurgents control, let alone other areas of the country.

Second, General Abizaid, the commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East "argues that foreign troops are a toxin bound to be rejected by Iraqis, and that expanding the number of American troops merely puts off the day when Iraqis are forced to take responsibility for their own security."

One point General Abizaid is making is that the more unlimited our commitment to stability in Iraq appears to be, the less reason Iraqis have to commit to or remain committed to stability.

Discussions - 20 Comments

A very astute analysis...but what are we to do know, exactly?

I don’t know enough about the situation in Iraq to be able to say with any confidence what we should do. I would suggest not sending more troops unless the moderate coalition comes into existence and actually starts governing. The promise of more troops and other support might be leverage to help bring this about. But I am skeptical that more troops will accomplish anything, even if the coalition holds. It may be that we have to acknowledge our failure and focus on not failing in Afghanistan. Succeeding there might compensate for failing in Iraq. Currently, we are not winning in Afghanistan either.

David Tucker, you say acknowledge our failure . Does that mean leave those people to themselves and to the mercy of faction? Then we hope General Abizaid is right and they become stable when and because we leave? There is bound to be a plan for immediate withdrawal - the military seems to have a plan for everything. What do I know? Nothing, and maybe worse than nothing, that being opinion without foundation. But it looks impossible to get out without a mess, so that pulling our guys out seems as messy as leaving them there.

Kate -- Let’s say that pulling out will produce a disaster, moral as well as geopolitical. This does not mean that staying in can be made to work and will not also be a disaster, moral as well as geopolitical. Unless other things change, why will sending more troops change anything? The numbers of troops has never been the key.

The first thing we do is to publicly pronounce that there will be NO Iraqi allowed to leave Iraq for the United States if and when things turn south. That should serve to concentrate the minds of those Iraqis who are holding out hope that they can try to keep a low profile, and if things turn dire, they’ll make a dash for the United States.

Secondly, for those deemed cooperating with the enemy, OR WITH MILITIAS within Iraq, who are members of the government or the various security forces, there will be an immediate death sentence. There has been far too much playing of both sides by members of the government, and members of the security forces. Executions for those caught doing so will also serve to concentrate the mind. And unlike Saddam, these trials for those caught aren’t going to last years, nor months. Executions will be summary. This is a war, it’s not a turf battle for teenage gangs.

Al Sadr, offer to initiate conversations with him, invite him to a meeting, from which he never emerges, for he disappears off the face of the earth. Simultaneous to his disappearance, we start unloading ordnance on his Iranian sponsored militia of cutthroats. And this time, we make sure we seal off the holy sites in Karballa and Najaf, so that he won’t be able to hole himself inside one of them, and defy us to come in and blast him out. We get his followers in some run down ghetto section of Baghdad, amongst his own quasi supporters, and just unload on them. This time, send a tutorial that we’ve been holding back, but that our patience is running thin.

Makes no sense to continue the fiction that problems within Iraq are exclusive to Iraq. Iran entered into several deals with us, they’ve broken all of them. Now it’s time to unleash upon them. Likewise Syria. Tell the Israelis to close in on Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon, and this time, don’t let any of them escape destruction. Seal off all escape routes to the North by airborne insertions behind Hezbollah positions.

We need CONCERTED military actions taken against our enemies in Syria, Iran and Lebanon. CONCERTED pounding will force them to conclude that reports of our will breaking were assuredly premature. Once our forces are on the offensive again, once the President highlighted the many provocations of the Iranians and the Syrians, then the nation will begin to rally to genuine leadership. The left will howl, that needs to be understood. But so what. They’re no longer capable of rational thought upon the war and the measures necessary to procure victory.

These are just some initial suggestions, and could be followed by a host of others, but the main thing is that we resume the offensive against our enemies. We need to tell the world that our patience with internationalism and the UN is over.

David, You’ve focused our attention on exactly how bleak our immediate options are.

Why not partition the country? The Kurds would love this, the Sunnis would probably tolerate this, and the Shia? I honestly don’t know. Regardless, it’s stupid to try to keep peace in a population bound and determined to duke it out. More troops won’t’s a dumb idea...always was.

Partition will irritate the Turks, which is bad in itself (NATO), but will also lead them to do whatever they can to destroy the new Kurdistan. Iran will likely dominate the Shia part of what was Iraq (lots more oil). This is likely to lead Sunni countries to support the rump Sunni area of what was Iraq, so they can fight on to regain what they have lost. I think partition will mean more violence in the region, weaken NATO, and leave our principal enemy in the area stronger. A war over the partioned parts of Iraq is one thing that might save Ahmadinejad’s regime.

Thanks for the very concise deconstruction of the partition fantasy.

We need to bear in mind that stabilizing Iraq should not be the foremost goal of our war against muslim terror. Our basis should be anti-jihadism, stopping the projection of jihadism to the West. There are various ways of accomplishing that. Stabilizing Iraq could prove helpful, to be sure. But it’s not a sine qua non to victory in this war.

One of GW’s big mistakes is to allow the perception to grow that stabilizing Iraq is the only barometer of success or failure in the overall war. Iraq is but a single campaign in an overall war effort, and is but a single geographic spot in a battlespace that transcends Iraq, and extends throughout the Middle East.

Why is more violence between the Sunnis and the Shiites necessarily a bad thing for us? In what way does dividing muslims amongst themselves hinder us in curtailing the amount of jihad projected towards the West?

If stability is the strategic holy of holies, then I can understand that take. But we can guarantee the flow of oil while the Shiites backed by Iran and the Sunnis backed by a coalition of the Arab League thrash it out amongst themselves. And during it all, we can clandestinely lend support to this side or that, just making sure that neither side gets too powerful, gets too close to victory.

I’m not suggesting that should be our policy, but I’m suggesting that it ought to be considered.

As for alienating Turkey, a NATO ally. So what, NATO no longer has strategic validity, it’s a boutique salon, where various discussions occur that mean nothing. NATO isn’t even making good on troop deployments to Afghanistan. Whether an action impacted NATO or not was a valid strategic concern when the Soviet Union existed, but no longer. NATO is dead. It lives in name only. It’s one of the polite fictions of our time, and right now, it’s hindering our strategic response.

We might have to content ourselves with getting a single democratic entity out of this Iraq campaign, and that would be Kurdistan. But hey, one is better than none.

It’s true that a partition plan would have the problems that the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire had. Such division left the Germans in a naturally dominating position. Likewise here, a division could leave the whole area at the mercy of the Iranians, and within their constellation of power. But that’s going to happen anyway if we allow the Iranians to get the bomb. Why are we worried about partitioning resulting in enhanced Iranian power, when if we do nothing about their Manhattan Projection it will inexorably lead to exactly that arc of Shiite influence and power.

So if you are consistent with a policy hostile to partitioning because of resulting Iranian domination, then you need to be equally hostile to any policy that allows Iran to go nuclear. Once Iran gets the bomb, their level of intelligence involvement in Iraq will soar. So even if the Iranians aren’t successful in Iraq yet, once they get the bomb, it’s only a matter of time, before they work their will in Iraq.

So what’s the answer? Recognize the foremost muslim sponsor of mayhem and blood, recognize that there cannot be a coherent war effort without going after them, and get after ’em.

Dan -- "we can guarantee the flow of oil"

I don’t see how we could.

"NATO no longer has strategic validity"

It is nonsensical to say that it is bad that NATO is not doing more in Afghanistan and then say that it would be better if it did less or nothing there. Also, NATO as always is for the U.S. a question of influence in Eorupe and, through Turkey, in the Muslim world. Both are important. Therefore, NATO is important.

I said nothing in my posts about stability being the most important objective in our foreign policy, so I don’t know what you are talking about when you bring that up. As I made clear, more violence between Sunnis and Shia in Iraq might well mean more violence between them in the region as a whole. This brings us back to oil, the most obvious implication. But why do you think more Sunni/Shia violence would lead to less violence against the US and its allies?

As for Turkey, let them do their question is, where was the 4th ID when we needed it? Screw ’em...and they aren’t ever getting into the EU. If you lie down with Ottomans, you get fleas.

"Fantasy?" I think you are the folks who are dreaming. Iraq has NEVER been a real nation, which is why it required a dictator to hold it together. What the West giveth the West can taketh away...Iraq was a British construction, and it is now over. Let’s keep the real friends we have (Kurds) and drop the rest.

Dave, we can always seize the wells. But beyond that, we could always build coal to oil plants in the United States, about 150 should do. We could become an oil exporting power, for as ALL of OPEC is to oil, the United States is ALONE to coal. That’s how much coal we’re sitting on. We can transform that into perfectly refined oil, and do so cleanly. We could easily take care of Japan, Britain, Australia, and all other industrial powers who would like to remove themselves from Mideast crude. And this technology isn’t a pipe dream of the future, this technology exists today, in fact, existed yesterday.

We had a situation during the ’80s where our Navy had to insure the movement of crude during the Iraq/Iran war. We did it then, we can do it today. It really depends on what we’re willing to do. The only limitation we have in this war, in what we do to our muslim enemies, is one we impose upon ourselves.

Remember that line in The Matrix, where Morpheus tells Neo to "Free your mind!" That’s what we need to do, we need to move beyond the tired nostrums of yesteryear, devised to make sure the US/Saudi nexus continued to exist.

The reduction of OPEC’s ability to fix prices is as much a strategic objective in this conflict as was the destruction of the German synthetic abilities in World War II, as well as the destruction of the Romanian Ploesti facilities.

Remember when the President told us that "ALL national powers" will be brought to bear to secure victory, that hasn’t happened. For to do so would entail severing the US/Saudi nexus. Too many lobbyists, too many law firms, too many former governmental officials, too many Americans have spent decades on the Saudi dole, and that has exerted a profoundly corrupting influence. Look at Baker’s anti-Jewish ISG report. The idea of throwing the Jews to the barbarians is a profoundly Arab sympathetic view, now isn’t it. And he isn’t the only one to hold such views.

None of us has ever known what it’s like to have Prince Bandar sitting across a table from us, and ask us: "Now what can we do for you?" Just think about that for a second, just think of what it’s like to have someone with such cash, with a history of "taking care" of former government officials ask you that question.

We need to break ourselves free from the Saudi money flowing copiously around all of Washington. Just take a look at how many former officials were in on the Dubai ports deal. It read like a who’s who of American politicians. Everybody’s hand was getting greased on that one, and that type of stuff has got to stop. Otherwise, we will never be able to mount the type of war effort necessary to prevail over our jihadist enemies.

As for NATO, it’s Victor Davis Hanson who pronounced the thing dead, him and many another. I’m not complaining about NATO’s involvement in Afghanistan. I’m not shocked by it, I expected non-performance. I expected them to demonstrate themselves a fraud. I would have been shocked had NATO formed new corps to take the field. THAT would have stunned me. My observation about Afghanistan should not be seen as a complaint, merely an observation of a symptom, a symptom of a sickly old alliance, which has outlived its founding purpose, outlived its enemy, and outlived the Cold War.

David, you read too much in thinking all of my post was in response to you.

Now, I’m not actually advocating a naked cynical policy of setting muslim against muslim, of letting the savages have it out amongst themselves. But think about it, one atrocity will be followed by another, and each group will be trying to exceed in horror their opponent’s terror. Remember, as much as the industrialized world needs to procure oil, the Mideast despots need to sell it. Our economies are diverse, and we have at our command ways of generating energy without any reliance upon Mideast crude. Their economies don’t exist absent the sale of crude. We have far more power over them than we imagine. Again, lack of imagination is killing us, we can’t imagine a future where jihadists detonate nukes in service of their deity, we can’t imagine ways of impoverishing the muslim states by creating energy without any purchases from them, we can’t imagine ways of using our military to our advantage.

THE LAST question in your post cuts to the chase however, which is exactly the point that I raised with one of the foremost sponsors of a policy of setting muslim against one another. Not only is there no guarantee that violence against us will diminish, there is also no guarantee that they actually will set to devouring themselves, they could easily team up. Iran supports Al Qaeda, even though they are Sunni and Wahabbs. Iran has no problem working with Sunnis and Shiites.

But then again, there is a long track record of the Sunnis and the Shiites going after one another, and it’s not bad strategy to pit enemies against one another.

Imagine yourself five years hence. Iran has the bomb, is able to project power in to the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Iraq. What chance does an Iraqi government have of sustaining itself against the tide of propaganda, hate, evil and blood that will emanate from Tehran after they are unassailable behind nuclear ramparts. What power will Iraq have to fend off Tehran then? Answer: None.

So, what then is the purpose of our "surge" in troop levels. All such an increase in American troop strength will accomplish is but a delay of the reckoning. Iran will dominate Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinian areas. It will happen. It’s written in stone.

There is only one way to stop that happening. And that is destroy the present Tehran regime, destroy their President, destroy their ruling religious council, destroy their mullahs, destroy their Revolutionary Guard, destroy their nuclear facilities. Make an example of them, for all other muslims to see, and learn from.

Here’s the deal, either we will vanquish Iran, or Iran is going to dominate the mideast, and cast their black, satanic cloud over Western civilization itself. A whole mess of people are going to die in the next ten years. and mostly because we refused to polish off the mullahs when we had the chance, and more than enough provocation.

dain, I don’t see how we can be dismissive of Turkey in any way. Aren’t we suggesting that Iraq and other countries in the Middle East follow their pattern of a mostly secular, democratic government? If we undermine that, well, isn’t that just being inconsistent and unnecessarily destabilizing?

Dan, Where do you live? I mean, what country do you live in? We can always seize the wells? Don’t we have to live with, work with, what we have and what we are? "All national powers" are not being brought to bear to secure victory because we are a democratic country and the nation is too divided on the subject to do so. You write as if we were the monolithic militaristic empire the Left sometimes suggests we are. We are not that.

David, I found your piece and your following comments which make it more complete, utterly convincing and throughly depressing. I thank you for writing it and for answering my questions. Have a very happy Christmas!

Kate, the Iranians are at war with us, and the Saudis are pouring billions of dollars into anti-American hate all across the planet. Their money is funding our enemies. In any other century, such action would have resulted in declarations of war. The house of al Saud is up to their neck in blood and jihad. Likewise the Iranians.

As for public opinion, GW had all the mandate he needed after 9/11, and had all the mandate he needed after he won a decisive reelection.

FDR and Lincoln availed themselves of far more latent wartime Presidential authority than this man has ever considered.

Dan, I do not disagree with you about any of that, really. Maybe I do not think that GWB had all the mandate he needed to do whatever was needed even right after 9/11. I think he did what he could, given a lot of reasons, and Iraq was really pushing it. I don’t see that his reelection was all that decisive, either, and the Republican Congress clearly did not feel he had what it took to do much of anything. Maybe it is a failure of Bush, or maybe he never had the political mandate to do what needed to be done, or maybe it is that the power of the presidency is diluted since the Nixon years. Or maybe the American people still do not see clear threat, being comfortable in so many ways. Maybe Homeland Security, and all, have done such a good job, we do not take any threat seriously, anymore. I don’t know exactly why America is what it is right now and I deplore our fatuousness as much as anybody. But I think that for the time being, America is going to muddle through this and probably regret it later. Obviously, some of us regret it, already. "We should do this. We should do that." and maybe we should, but I don’t think we will. It is a grievous thing.

I think our efforts in Iraq have gone the extra mile to fix a broken country. We couldn’t just kick Saddam’s butt and then walk away, so we stayed (at an enormous cost) to set up something resembling a modern nation. Those who argue that it would have been better to leave Saddam in power have only to look at the mass graves he created, the decrepit state of Iraq’s infrastructure, and his massive abusive of oil money to realize how wrong they are.

No, we did the right thing...twice. It’s really not our fault that these people are too stupid to embrace the gift we gave them. Time to either partition the place or just come home. Putting in more troops will just increase our casualties.

As for Iran, if we don’t have cladestine operations in that country this minute then that is Bush’s fault. We should be funding insurgencies there...these people need to be seriously messed with, but an invasion will only alienate the few friends we have on the ground. No, let’s "Iraqize" Iran...give them a taste of their own medicine.

Did you guys see this, by David Warren? I think you’d like it.

Do you think we, America has the nerve?

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