Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Frayed Ends of Sanity

You'll note that I've written quite a few posts the last few days. I've been staying pretty late at work and I take "breaks" by searching the 'Net; when something piques my interest, I writes me a little post. And today this article piqued me off. I'm concerned with the authors overall point but he gets so much wrong in the middle that I am forced to unleash the Fisk 'o Fury on him. Here is paragraph numero uno:

In the twelve-course meal that is the war in Iraq, America has just been served the first entree. The fight with IraqÂ’s state armed forces was merely the amuse-bouche. The subsequent guerilla war with the Baath, as distasteful as we found it, was still just the appetizer. Over the past two weeks, we have been presented with the first of the main courses, Fourth Generation war waged for religion. If, as is traditional, this is the fish course, our reaction suggests it is flounder.

Huh? Easy on the French, buddy. Part of writing is making a point; this first paragraph has one, but it's deeply buried. Clearly we swept the Iraqi army like so many fleas, but this Baath "guerilla war" thing has been on a pretty low-level, so the "appetizer" analogy isn't so bad. The "past two weeks" is referring to the recent Shiite thuggery commited at the behest of Al-Sadr. I believe when Lind refers to the course as "flounder" he is referring to us; it would be far more appropriate to apply it to Sadr's goons. They captured many government buildings, but were quickly thrown out; Sadr himself found a mosque to hole himself up in, but then got scared that the mosque wasn't enough to protect him and has moved; he's currently negotiating his own surrender so that he can face the murder charge awaiting him as a result of his ordering a cleric's murder. Go see here and here and here and here and here. The Belmont Club did an excellent job covering this. This is a lot to read so to summarize: Sadr is really an Iranian proxy trying (unsuccessfully) to destabilize the situation because Iran is fearful of having a free Iraq as a neighbor.

Frankly, I was surprised how quickly this dish arrived. It seems Mohammed’s kitchen is working rather more speedily than usual. While a broadening and intensifying of the anti-American resistance was inevitable, I did not think it would reach its present intensity until this summer. The fact that is has erupted so early has political as well as military implications. The full scope of our disaster in Syracuse err er, sorry, Iraq – may be evident before the party conventions, as well as prior to the fall election. Might Bush do an LBJ and choose not to run? Will a Kerry who voted for the war be a credible nominee? Military disaster can displace all sorts of certainties.

It's obvious that most Iraqis would prefer that we weren't there, but they also recognize the need for us to create a secure situation before we depart. It was and is far from "inevitable" that the "resistance" would broaden. Sadr's rebellion was a flash in the pan; a last gasp power grab by a weak leader and his gullible band. Then Mr. Lind makes a horrible analogy, by name-dropping Syracuse, he is implying that we are like the Athenians, in overstretching ourselves and biting off more than we can chew, resulting in our ultimate demise. Bullshit. We're not trying to conquer Iraq, for starters. And it's difficult to argue that Iraq is truly stretching our nations resources; on a short-term basis our existing military forces are stretched but if the political will existed we could pay for a much larger military. Moving on, Lind speculates that Bush might not seek his party's nomination a la LBJ. Again, bullshit. The security situation is helping Bush by demonstrating that national security is still a big issue (and people recognize Kerry is weak on this issue).

It is not yet a disaster, some may say. On the tactical level, that is true, although it may not be true much longer. But on the strategic level it is not just one disaster, it is four:

It is still a potential disaster at worst, even on the strategic level. And the only sure way it will be a disaster is to turn tail and run as Lind is implicitly suggesting.

The pretense that we came to “liberate” the Iraqi people and not as conquerors is no longer credible. Faced with a popular uprising, we effectively declared war on the people of Iraq. The overall American commander, General Abizaid, “gave a stark warning for the Iraqi fighters, from the minority Sunni as well as the majority Shiite populations,” according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “’First, we are going to win,’ Abizaid said, seated at a table in a marbled palace hall…’Secondly, everyone needs to understand that there is no more powerful force assembled on Earth than this military force in this country…’” That is the language of conquest, not liberation, and it destroys the legitimacy of America’s presence in Iraq, both locally and around the world.

What the frell is this guy talking about? He needs to read something other than Paul Krugman columns. There was and is no "popular uprising." If there were, we would be in some deep dren, but it ain't happened yet. And we have handled ourselves with incredible restraint in minimizing civilian casualties; we declared war on those who are trying to kill us, that's it. General Abizaid's comments are true. We ARE the world's most powerful force and anyone dumb enough to fight us directly will die in short order. And having a strong military force in country does not imply a particular purpose (i.e. conquest), as Lind suggests.

We have now picked a fight with the Shiites, who control our lines of communication and who make up a majority of the Iraqi population. I thought that even the Valley of the Blind that is the CPA would have better sense than to make this final, fatal strategic blunder, but it seems they can always find a new ditch to stumble into. We did it over the utterly trivial matter of Muqtada al-Sadr’s newspaper printing lies – this from an American administration that long ago won the Order of Pinocchio, First Class, with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds. While many Iraqi Shiites don’t much like al-Sadr, they like seeing Americans kill fellow Shiites even less.

Ummm, no. Sadr (who does not represent all or even many Shiites) picked a fight with us. It would have been foolish to allow him to spew his violence-inciting invective without response. The Shiites understand that if we leave, they will be stuck with people like Sadr in charge. That would be bad, for them and us. We are doing now what we should have done when we first invaded Iraq: eliminate those who cannot accept a free Iraq.

The Marines threw away the opportunity to de-escalate the fighting with the Sunnis in Fallujah and instead have raised the intensity of anti-Americanism there. For months, the Marines trained for de-escalation. But because of one minor incident of barely tactical importance, the killing of four American contractors, the de-escalation strategy was thrown out the window and replaced by an all-out assault on an Iraqi city. The Marines may have been given no choice by the White House, but it also looks as if their own training did not go very deep; the Plain Dealer quoted a Marine battalion commander in Fallujah as saying, “What is coming is the destruction of anti-coalition forces in Fallujah. They have two choices: Submit or die.” That is hardly the language of de-escalation.

Methinks it was the Sunnis who escalated the fighting, not the Marines. The killing of the contractors was a gauntlet thrown by the wolves inhabiting Fallujah; if we had not responded we would be seen as weak and ineffectual. Once again we're doing something that should have been done earlier: draining the Fallujah swamp of criminals and thugs opposed to any non-kleptocratic government.

Finally, our whole “say good-bye at the end of June” strategy depends on the reliability of the Iraqi security forces we have been busy creating. But when faced with fighting their own people on behalf of Christian foreigners, most of them went over or went home. This was utterly predictable, but its effect is to leave us without any exit strategy at all.

The June hand-over date is primarily a symbolic move. We won't be leaving, and we're developing strategies to enhance the reliability of Iraqi security forces (like stiffening their ranks with Special Forces personnel).

So what comes next? The current violence may follow a sine wave, ebbing and then flowing again, with the whole curve gradually trending up. Or, it may rise in a linear, accelerating curve, in which case we will soon be driven out of Iraq, possibly in a full-scale sauve que peut rout. The former appears more likely, but it still leads to the same ending, if taking a bit more time to get there.

Undoubtedly the violence will ebb and flow. It seems more likely that the violence will follow more of a lightly damped sine wave than an unstable one (i.e. the violence will gradually decrease over time as the Iraqis start to take charge of their own affairs though there will be some spikes in violence). The Iraqis are faced with a clear choice: the American way, or the Iranian way. And the many protests and widespread discontent in Iran pretty clearly show which is the way of the future.

Unlike traditional twelve-course dinners, this one does not finish with a dessert or a savoury. It ends, to borrow one of John Boyd’s favorite phrases, with the “coalition” getting the whole enchilada right up the p--- chute. You cannot get anything you want at Mohammed’s restaurant.

Whatever. Mr. Lind's primary point, that we may have bitten off more than we can chew, is a matter of concern. But clearly he has swallowed the mainstream media's negatively exaggerated version of events hook, line and sinker. Interpreting everything in the worst possible way is rarely going to be correct (and that's coming from an admitted pessimist [errr, actually realist, but usually realism=pessimism]).

No comments: