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Long live localism in Iraq?

In the light of President Bush’s visit to Iraq (speech here), David Brooks’s assessment of the slow sea change in thinking about that country is interesting. Brooks argues that a stable Iraq will not come from a (non-existent) non-sectarian center, but from the efforts of local tribes to impose order on their areas. As he puts it,

The crucial question now is: Do these tribes represent proto-local governments, or are they simply regional bands arming themselves in anticipation of a cataclysmic civil war?

To elaborate on this question, I’d add: Will their experience in cooperating with Americans to impose and maintain local security and stability encourage them to cooperate with their neighbors who are also interested in imposing and maintaining local security and stability?

In the course of his column, he cites this NYT Mag article, this piece on the Small Wars Journal website, and this report by Anthony Cordesman.

Update: Here’s something along similar lines in today’s WSJ. An interesting paragraph:

Gen. Petraeus, the top commander in Iraq, often refers to the need for "accommodation." He argues it is unrealistic to think Iraqis will reconcile any time soon. But maybe they can "accommodate" each other. Whether it’s called "accommodation," "bottom-up reconciliation" or "soft partition," U.S. officials quietly acknowledge that they are basically talking about a strategy focused on strengthening local leaders to make them more self-sufficient and less reliant on the central government. "If the central government doesn’t want to take control, maybe the locals will," said one senior U.S. commander who has played a key role in crafting the new approach. "It is too early to tell. We are riding a tiger. It may take us where we want to go."

Discussions - 4 Comments

What I see that troubles me is the conflation of pacification of Iraq with victory in the wider war on muslim mayhem. Bush himself has indicated as much in repeated statements. It needs to be understood that we can pacify Iraq and still lose the wider war. And we can lose that wider war by allowing Iran to go nuke, which will trigger a Mideast arms race. And by allowing Iranian influence to extend far beyond their borders. Iraq is not an end in itself; it's not a battlespace that can be understood in a vacuum. The campaign to stabilize Iraq and stand up a quasi democratic government represents a strategic gambit to overturn dictatorial/shariaa based regimes throughout the Mideast, ultimately, throughout islam.

The problem is way beyond Iraq. And we don't seem to be offering any other solution than the pacification effort in Iraq. Bush has apparently pinned all of his hopes on pacifying Iraq. It's ridiculous! What has he done about impoverishing the house of saud. What has he done about stopping the endless preaching of satanic hatreds? What has he done to stop the madrassas?

Well Dan, it is like riding a tiger. When riding a tiger your main focus is staying on and preventing it from bitting or clawing you. Allah willing the tiget takes you were you want it to go or just as good from the perspective of someone riding a tiger, it lets you part ways peacefully.

I don't mean to ridicule your points Dan, but what leads you to believe that Bush has or ever had the capability to do those things?

You can kill a lot of jihadists, a lot of bomb makers...terrorists...extremists...if you can identify it, you can kill it or weaken it. What isn't clear is that the blowback from the killing and destruction doesn't just create a new wave of recruits and play into the message of "muslim mayhem."

Why this fear of what the enemy is going to do if we demonstrate raw anger towards him? Did we have that concern when Sherman was unleashed "down South?" Did we hesitate for so much as a heartbeat before unloading REPEATEDLY on Germany, Japan and Italy? I'm not concerned what the enemy thinks, during or after hostilities? He doesn't rate that much respect. My only interest is closing with him and utterly destroying him.

Have you ever viewed Frank Capra's "Why We Fight Series" from World War II? At the end of most of the episodes there is a quote from then Chief of Staff, George C. Marshall. And he captures my mood well. For he said that after this war is over, our flag will stand for liberty and our flag will stand for unchallenged, unquestioned American power. That's a loose paraphrase, the original is much better. But that's the gist. That's what we should now be intending. Such a demonstration of power would go a long way towards GENUINE regional stability, and not the "stability" of monsters and murderers.

Immediately after September 11th, much of the Mideast was scared we were going to come a calling. Much to our nation's harm, Bush allowed that salutary fear to dissipate.

Our enemies are not supermen. We have NO reason to fear them; the only thing we rightly have to fear is our own negligence, our timidity, our own reluctance to close with and annihilate them. Our enemies are NOTHING compared to Germany. Absolutely NOTHING. Japan existed for over 2,000 years and NEVER knew defeat. Not until they tangled with us that is. We took on two MAJOR powers simultaneously, and we would have wiped the streets with them regardless of what the Soviets did.

Grant said to Mead's staff "stop dwelling on what Lee is going to do to you, start focusing on what you are going to do to him." That advice should be taken today. Stop concerning yourself whether some pack of shariaa loving dirtballs take to the streets. Instead start making sure they respect you, fear you, stand in awe of you. Do that, victory is assured. Fail to do that, protracted war is guaranteed.

These are grim thoughts, to be sure. There's no denying that. But it's hard won wisdom, it's the distilled experience of generations. It's the Western way of war, which we've gotten away from to our misfortune. We've heretofore spared islam from the wrath that we visited upon previous enemies. That exemption must come to an end. And sooner or later, though I think much sooner than many expect, the fetish of limited war will end.

Grim times. Grim thoughts. Grim choices. But then again, who were we to ever delude ourselves that we would escape the drama of history. What a foolish, post-modern fantasy.

If you would have a fuller statement of what I think we should be doing, I suggest you read Professor Victor Davis Hanson's "The Soul of Battle."

I agree with you Dan. Limited War is absolutely pointless, it breeds hate instead of fear. But sometimes I wonder if the far left isn't right. We aren't there to destroy the enemy but rather to prolong the conflict, build more foreign bases and and create contracts for U.S. firms. Lets look at this objectively...what the hell are we really doing? We are Turtleing up and dodging IED's and motars. We are building a bunch of permanent bases. Sometimes we kill a whole wave of bad guys, sometimes we destroy a weapons cache. We killed Saddams sons...we then captured him...he was hung...we presided over elections...long before this occured Bush declared the end of major hostilities... but this much has occured. At what point do we say mission accomplished, lets go home?

I actually agree almost absolutely with Victor Davis Hanson's thesis in "the Soul of Battle" Wars are a matter of conviction. We fight because we are fundamentally opposed to the ideas and ideals that our opponents represent. You would be hard pressed to find someone who thinks Islamic fundamentalism a greater threat. But as Victor Davis Hanson points out wars are carried best when armies are convicted by the rightness of a cause.

Very few people even know what the hell I am talking about...I am not sure if I even understand my own thoughts. But basically I get the odd sense that this is all inevitable. The damn problems in the Middle East really have everything to do with Islam being in a sort of modernity crisis. The Arab countries have experienced rapid cultural change or even dissolution of their old traditions and habits because of modernisation. Along comes a demagogue/cleric/intellectual/lawgiver Osama Bin ladin...he takes advantage of that and points to a combination of Western economies driving globalisation, Western moral decadence and overweening Western governments using their political and economic supremacy to meddle in and/or destroy other states. Bin Ladin makes plausible arguments that the woes of dar al islam can be laid at the door of America and the West while at the same time reinforcing muslim convictions in their moral and, often, religious superiority and putting themselves on the side of the weaker nations that are being trampled under by hegemonic policies in a kind of solidarity. It is a sick game... nothing we are doing in Iraq can conteract the rhetoric of Bin laden...if anything it supports it, gives them cause to seek a violent death.

Rod Dreher said this:"What I am saying is that as we devise strategies to keep ourselves safe from the convulsions of the Muslim world, we should understand that the violent Muslim response to modernity, and hatred of America as the chief exponent of modernity, should be grappled with as a not unreasonable response to the threat modernity poses to traditional Islamic civilization."

What happens if we withdraw from the Middle east and persue a foreign policy more along the lines of what Ron Paul would have for us? What I am saying is that I recognize an intractable "burden of judgement" operating can't destroy an irrational belief structure by providing the evidence for its continuation. We are at war with an Ontological structure, and we are perpetuating that war by trying to foster globalization and economic development and democracy on a people not ready to order their lives along those lines. How is this in the interest of America? If the thing is good people will be drawn to it forcing it on them we create a sort of teenage rebeliousness towards it that is perpetual...they never come to see our point because the perspective they hold to is self-referentially validated within the scope of their current perspective.

I had a weird dream that I went to heaven and met a muslim extremist that I had killed, I didn't regret it because he would have killed me given the chance. And it was heaven because I got to kill him over and over again. And the line from Gladiator pulsed in my veins: "What we do here echoes in eternity". And I relished in it...but somewhere in the span of eternity the eternal recurence of the same dawned on me, and so the frame slipped and I hesitated and he killed me instead and he was happy...and he stood over my lifeless body chanting praises to Allah...and once he even sawed off my head and took it as a trophy...and he did this for what seemed like eternity, over and over again, and then he slipped and I got the chance to kill him again and so on...until it was no longer heaven but hell and finally we both slipped and just stared at each other...and magically we could speak in tongues to the other...understanding perfectly...and we sat down and had some kaf and explained to the other why he was evil and why he should be killed...and he tried to convert me to Islam and I explained to him that there was no God, to which he replied that if there was no God from whence came this afterlife. To which I had no good reply but to explain that it must have always existed...and we debated forever about why one should kill the other and the grounds of just about everything...but since it was eternity we eventually ran out of things to say with time left over and since we could not agree we resumed killing each other. And this patern continued over and over and over until we agreed to disagree, which was somewhere in the neihborhood of 4 billion earth years but hardly a day in the grand scheme of eternity.

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