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The Iraq paradox (update)
Posted by: McQ on Monday, January 21, 2008

Excellent article by Michael Gordon in the Washington Post. Gordon has been covering Iraq, on the ground, with the troops, for a few years. He contrasts that with what he's hearing on the campaign trail. And he's not impressed by either party's candidates when it comes to Iraq.
The politicians, on the other hand, seemed more intent on addressing public impatience with an open-ended commitment in Iraq, either by promising prompt withdrawal (the Democrats) or by suggesting that victory may be near (the Republicans).
When the first armored vehicle crossed the Line of Departure and headed into Iraq, a long-term commitment was established, whether we want to admit it or not. That is if we indeed want a stable Iraq that isn't a threat to the region or the world.

But the politicians have boiled this very complex situation and problem into the two camps you see summarized above.

The NY Sun gives us a look at the Democratic approach:
The next talking point for Democrats has emerged in respect of the Battle of Iraq. The three leading contenders are agreed — this emerged at Las Vegas — that President Bush should refrain from negotiating a deal with Iraq's government on the long-term presence of American soldiers in the country. Senator Clinton asked Senator Obama to co-sponsor her legislation "to try to rein in President Bush so that he doesn't commit this country to his policy in Iraq." Mr. Obama opined, "The notion that President Bush could somehow tie the hands of the next president, I think, is contrary to how our democracy's supposed to work."
Of course that's precisely how this democracy has worked for two centuries with presidents making foreign policy decisions as is their duty. If you agree with Obama, no decision, no treaty, not much of anything would be done in that sphere because it couldn't help but "tie the hands" of any future president - especially one who might not agree with the decision. And Obama is assuming the next president will disagree with such a decision (an assumption not at all yet in evidence).

OTOH, the Republicans act as though it's almost over and Democrats shouldn't complain.

Here's reality:
But counterinsurgency is inherently a long-term proposition, and that assumption has driven much of the military thinking about the future, even as it heightens the political debate at home.

“Unless you are suppressing insurgents the way the Romans did — creating a desert and calling it peace — it typically can take the better part of a decade or more,” said Andrew Krepinevich, a military expert at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

“The paradox,” he added, “is that counterinsurgency requires convincing the Iraqis of our staying power. At the same time, the American people view success in terms of how quickly we can pull out.”
And he's precisely correct. I've heard MG Rick Lynch, commander of the 3rd ID and MNF-C say it twice in two different interviews - the first thing the Iraqis asked when we pushed into their neighborhoods with the COIN strategy is "are you going to stay". When they were told 'yes' then they cooperated and aided the Coalition effort.

One of the things Michael Yon said in an interview (on PunditReview radio) had to do with an epiphany he witnessed when negotiations were underway with the 1920 Brigade leaders in Baquba to join the effort. Essentially the insurgents told the CF that they didn't trust them and that thought the CF would use the insurgents to gain more power in Iraq. The CF commander told him that in reality he, the commander and his troops, wanted to go home just as badly as the insurgents wanted him to go home. But he wasn't going anywhere until al Qaeda was rooted out and destroyed. That swung the deal.

That same sort of epiphany has taken place all across Iraq, but it is based mostly on two things - one, we haven't quit despite the propaganda claims of AQ and the insurgents, and two, we're going to stay, but only as long as it takes to make Iraq stable and able to defend itself.

That is going to take time as the strategy we've adopted requires time. And neither the Democrats haste to leave or the Republicans "victory is near" mantra reflect the reality on the ground in Iraq. Obviously progress has been huge in the past 6 months. In fact, "huge" doesn't even begin to describe it. But it has a long way to go - years to go - before Iraq is in a position to go it alone.
Anthony Cordesman, a military specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies who regularly visits Iraq, put it this way: “You have to grade all the candidates between a D-minus and an F-plus. The Republicans are talking about this as if we have won and as if Iraq is the center of the war on terrorism, rather than Afghanistan and Pakistan and a host of movements in 50 other countries.

“The Democrats talk about this as if the only problem is to withdraw and the difference is over how quickly to do it.”
If a Democratic president were to do that, the result could be catastrophic. OTOH, he, or she, might get away with it. But is it worth the risk after the investment in blood and treasure to this point?

So what might be a real world interim strategy which might satisfy both sides? Look at Iraq as a long-term investment and adjust our focus to address that commitment. But, that doesn't mean we have to keep the troop levels we have now. And, in fact, around July, we'll return to the pre-surge levels of 15 combat brigades.

If I were President, I'd explore the possibility and ask DoD to plan for a further reduction of the combat brigades to 10. Obviously, it would have to be consistent with the situation on the ground and not just a reduction. I'd expect them to justify any such reduction both tactically and strategically.

Why 10? Because that's the magic number which addresses so many of the problems of the military and thus national security problems found in this extended deployment. We can sustain, without further harm to the Army in particular, 10 deployed combat brigades indefinitely. Tours could be cut, down time between deployments would be lengthened, training, maintenance and other necessary skills retaught and relearned.

That, I think, is an achievable goal at some point in the not too distant future. Obviously then, as you monitor Iraq's progress and find opportunities to do so, you reduce that level of combat power even more.

Instead we have the competing all-or-none visions out there which may sound great to the base of each side, but, as usual, reduces a complex situation to simple partisan solutions. Both sides are being dishonest about what it will take to make Iraq a success. The Democrats don't seem to care whether it is a success or not and the Republicans are attempting to rush something that shouldn't be rushed for political reasons. The question is, do any of them have the political backbone to tell it like it really is and put an actual plan that realistically addresses the needs of both Iraq and US national security on the table?

UPDATE: This is precisely the wrong sort of thing to do now and it points to exactly what is being said above as it pertains to Republicans.
The Pentagon is considering Gen. David H. Petraeus for the top NATO command later this year, a move that would give the general, the top American commander in Iraq, a high-level post during the next administration but that has raised concerns about the practice of rotating war commanders.

A senior Pentagon official said that it was weighing “a next assignment for Petraeus” and that the NATO post was a possibility. “He deserves one and that has also always been a highly prestigious position,” the official said. “So he is a candidate for that job, but there have been no final decisions and nothing on the timing.”
Screw prestige and screw "he deserves one". Yes to both of those, but not now. You've got your second in command, LTG Ray Odierno leaving next month. Now is not the time to be be even considering pulling Petraeus from Iraq. NATO will be there when we're in better shape than now in Iraq. At the moment it is much more important to the troops on the ground to know that there will be continuity in command, especially through a commander who has been successful.
 
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Start by defining the conflict and the goals, and take into account the following: a) America’s commitment is inherently limited by the fact it is a democracy and public opinion matters; b) public opinion will usually only support a long term commitment if it is seen as necessary to our national interest or as bringing benefits to the US which can be measured and recognized as significant; and c) public opinion might support a mission for human rights or some other good, but only if there is real burden sharing with other states.

The point of contention seems to be "b". Those of us who think we should find a way out of Iraq do not see continuing the fight to create a stable Iraq as being in the national interest of the US, nor do most of us see it as an essential part of counter-terrorism — indeed, I believe we’re actually helping Islamic extremists with our policies there (though not as much as we were pre-2007). We also have to see the costs of the war in terms of: 1) economic costs, and impact on the US economy; 2) opportunity costs in terms of military power — with so much in Iraq, can we handle real threats elsewhere?; 3) costs in terms of domestic unity, are we divided as a country?; and 4) costs to the American people in terms of families and individuals who sacrifice greatly to serve in Iraq, but who pay a large personal price due to the consequences.

If you want to convince people like me that those costs are worth paying, then you really have to focus on "b" above. Usually the approach has been a vague "the Islamofascists want to kill us and destroy our civilization" with examples of beheading or 9-11 to show what they’re capable of. The problem with that "argument by example" is that says nothing about their capacity to actually damage us, their numbers, their real potential. All the evidence I see points to a relatively weak movement in most of the Muslim world, and al qaeda having very limited potential. The best argument I’ve seen has essentially been one that points to how they can leverage their power to harm us greatly by attacking our economy via oil flows in the Mideast.

So, if we can step back from the usual back and forth about American foreign policy and really address what our goals are, what the cost is, and why it’s worth the cost, in specific terms (not just vague rhetoric or metaphors), that would be helpful, and could even be persuasive.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
Erb:
If you want to convince people like me that those costs are worth paying,
Convince people like you?

You mean people who lie continuously until they are backed into a corner, then pretend that they are listening long enough to push the reset button and start with the same blabber all over again as if they had never been responded to?

I would suspect that anyone interested in convincing you, or anyone like you, of anything doesn’t know you.

You are good for one thing, Boris: batting practice.

 
Written By: Martin McPhillips
URL: http://mcphillips.blogspot.com/
Prof -
It’s worth the cost to try and get some stability in the region.
If you can’t see that, there’s not much point in discussing it.

The alternative of doing nothing, or waiting for the Euro’s to do it, has already been demonstrated, but you don’t want to acknowledge that.
 
Written By: looker
URL: http://
It’s worth the cost to try and get some stability in the region.
If you can’t see that, there’s not much point in discussing it.
Wow, how condenscending!

So you’re saying "I’m right and if you don’t agree with me then it’s not worth discussing." I’ve found that argument to be made most often by people who can’t support their argument, but still really think it true.

Unless you can specify the costs and benefits, and go into it with detail, there is no reason for anyone to believe you. And if you don’t persuade people, then public opinion will ultimately guide policy in a way you don’t like. Because, I’ve been studying these issues in detail for a long time, and like a lot of other people, I ’don’t see it.’
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
I would think that 9/11 gave a good demonstration of how a non-state group with some state support, a safe haven, and essentially non-existent resources can destroy wholesale. I wouldn’t think that point needs to be constantly reiterated. If it does, I assure you that the enemy will provide as soon as we’ve slacked up enough to give them time to prepare.

As to the national interest question, there are several interests at play, from both "liberal" and "conservative" (or, more realistically, from Jacksonian, Wilsonian, Hamiltonian and Jeffersonian) roots. First, we have an interest in the Middle East being stable, so long as the majority of the world’s oil comes from there. This interest does not trump all others (sometimes instability is useful, particularly when short term instability is the cost for the replacement of a regime that is providing long-term instability), but it is a key interest nonetheless. Another key interest is the spread of modernism, self-governance, and liberty to places which have not previously known them. A third interest is to prevent a new uprising of anti-Americanism and anti-liberalism in Iraq, and to tamp down Iran’s and Syria’s adventurism; all of which come down to reducing the possibility of further wars involving us in the region. A fourth interest is much more nebulous; the US acts as an exemplar to the world. As such, if we cut and run — especially after winning — we guarantee that our enemies will swing solidly behind the idea that all they have to do is fight us long enough, and we’ll quit. This is explicitly the reasoning bin Laden used in taking on the US to get us to stop backing the Saudi monarchy, and it is the reasoning that many of our enemies have used since Viet Nam. We have begun to dispel that impression, and so long as we stick to our guns (literally, in this instance) in Iraq, that impression goes away; our enemies and potential enemies will know we will not simply give up and go home, at least, not always, so they cannot count on our doing so. That will in turn prevent wars that would otherwise occur.

Reasonable people can disagree over whether invading Iraq was a good idea. Even agreeing that invading Iraq was a good idea, reasonable people can disagree over whether occupation and "you break it, you bought it" was a good policy. Given where we are today, though, I cannot see a reasonable position advocating our withdrawal which is also realistic. I can see plenty of fantasies that involve our withdrawal leading to utopia, but no realistic scenarios that do not lead to more mistrust of the US, more and bloodier future wars, a reinvigorated Islamist and especially jihadist movement, and an inability to engage in future crises before they become intolerable and lead to much worse problems.

In short, our interests are worth the cost we must pay to serve them. The consequences of leaving are a cost worth avoiding and avoidable.

 
Written By: Jeff Medcalf
URL: http://www.caerdroia.org/blog
Hey, I said it wasn’t worth discussing with you because I already know, through prior discussion, any evidence is not going to sway you a bit.

You want people to constantly respond to the same arguments you make.
You’ll trot out that we didn’t ask world permission, and that this effort is different than any effort we’ve made previously (so pointing to the utility of the effort with examples like Korea, or Germany, or Japan, is totally lost on you) and that we’re in decline, and that Iraq was proof that the military can’t be used to create governments, and that blood and treasure is being wasted, and so on and so on and so on.
Not to mention that the Euro’s don’t like us, and we screwed up, and it’s a colossal failure, NO MATTER WHAT HAPPENS IN THE FUTURE.

You’ve projected that we all thought it was going to take 15 minutes and it would all be ship-shape, and now that it’s not, we should turn tail and get out ASAP. I doubt most of us ever believed it was going to be all warm and fuzzy and happy in a short timeframe - I admit, going on the 5th year doesn’t leave me breathless with joy, but I never expected we’d be totally out of there even after a well run 3 years. I fully expected, and do expect, we’ll be there as long as we’ve been in Germany, or Japan, or Korea.

I mean, you’re the one advocating 3 distinct nations inside what is now Iraq as a viable solution, as if there won’t be relentless problems akin to those you see in modern Palestine as people who didn’t want to be partitioned, or will lose their lands in the partition you favor, seek redress at the end of a gun.
As if this is a better solution than trying to make good in eliminating Hussein.

So, what’s to discuss with you? You don’t see it as a worthwhile effort and see the US in decline. On this subject there’s no common ground between us, other than we’re both Americans.

You’re one of the people this article - A malevolent righteousness which repels most Americans - was referring to. You talk a good game about not wanting us to fail, but after reading a lot of what you have to say on this subject, you’re one of these people.
 
Written By: looker
URL: http://
I would think that 9/11 gave a good demonstration of how a non-state group with some state support, a safe haven, and essentially non-existent resources can destroy wholesale. I wouldn’t think that point needs to be constantly reiterated. If it does, I assure you that the enemy will provide as soon as we’ve slacked up enough to give them time to prepare.
9-11 shows that terrorists can hit. So we need an active counter-terrorism policy and homeland security, and we need to cooperate internationally to try to thwart terrorism. The good news is that 9-11 did relatively little real long term damage, and their subsequent attacks in Madrid and London were even more minor. So yeah, it’s a threat, but it doesn’t appear they are a threat to our very civilization or anything like that. Indeed, they don’t appear very popular even in the Islamic world.

First, we have an interest in the Middle East being stable, so long as the majority of the world’s oil comes from there. This interest does not trump all others (sometimes instability is useful, particularly when short term instability is the cost for the replacement of a regime that is providing long-term instability), but it is a key interest nonetheless.
Yes, I agree. In fact, that’s one reason I agree that just leaving Iraq quickly could do more harm than good, even though I think our actions there have increased rather than decreased stability. But here we agree on the interest, though we may disagree on the means to achieve that interest.

Another key interest is the spread of modernism, self-governance, and liberty to places which have not previously known them.
I only agree that we should encourage peaceful modernism, but I don’t really see an interest in actively trying to change other cultures to be more like us. That’s too much like social engineering, and I suspect it would fail and create a backlash. Also, modernism may take different forms in other cultures than it does in the West, I don’t think we can expect modernized Islam to have the same cultural and political values as the modernized West (which took hundreds of years to create the kind of secularized Christianity that defines our culture now).
A third interest is to prevent a new uprising of anti-Americanism and anti-liberalism in Iraq, and to tamp down Iran’s and Syria’s adventurism; all of which come down to reducing the possibility of further wars involving us in the region.
One of my arguments on why going to Iraq was such a mistake is that it has created a stronger role for Iran in the region, as they no longer fear us. Syria and Turkey are forging a closer alliance, something unlikely otherwise. I’m also not concerned with making sure Iraq is liberal, as long as its stable and not anti-American, the Iraqis can plot their own course.
A fourth interest is much more nebulous; the US acts as an exemplar to the world. As such, if we cut and run — especially after winning — we guarantee that our enemies will swing solidly behind the idea that all they have to do is fight us long enough, and we’ll quit.
There is a danger to that line of thought — that if we are in a situation that is hurting us we’re afraid to get out because we’re afraid of what others will think of us. Ultimately, if it’s in our interest to leave we have to do so in a way is credible. Perhaps not cut and run, but also not to keep digging ourselves in a hole. Also, I think shifting from militarism to more cooperative multilateralism is a better exemplar. But OK, if we leave, it has to be in a credible manner and not just cut and run.

As for al qaeda, if we left Iraq tomorrow they couldn’t take on the Sunnis and Shi’ites who would oppose them.

In short, our interests are worth the cost we must pay to serve them. The consequences of leaving are a cost worth avoiding and avoidable.
And if public opinion does not allow staying? Democracies ultimately follow what the people want. Then it’s a question of how do we leave. And, ultimately, I think that’s the question we have to ask since I doubt there is much desire by the American people to stay a long time and the price, especially when the dangers are so uncertain. Think about McQ’s post — the Republicans are trying to say it’s almost over, while the Democrats just want to leave. The issue is too hard for both sides — the Democrats know that just leaving has negative ramifications, the Republicans know that we aren’t really near victory. Both sides are playing for political audiences, and not really discussing this, the war about Iraq is an artificial rhetorical constructions, with each side pursuing a narrative that neglects the complexities of the case. If anything, from our diverse perspectives it seems perhaps there is a common thread: we must not lose credibility or have the Mideast fall apart.

To this end questions arise like: 1) are we really taking into account the true situation in the Mideast and its cultural/historical situation — are we imposing our own ideas of how politics should be in a place where that’s not yet feasible (again, it took the west centuries of conflict); 2) are we really assessing the actual threat, or are we speculating on possiblities; and 3) are we capturing fully the costs to us of the war, including things that might actually be undercutting the interests Iraq was meant to address.

I do think policies in 2007 were markedly better (not just the surge, but diplomacy and other efforts) than in previous years so that gives me some hope.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
Erb:
The good news is that 9-11 did relatively little real long term damage,
The good news is that we got off easy on 9/11. It could have been far, far worse. And it was a wake-up call.

That’s why we had to show that the collective security apparati (in this case the one that operates through the UN Security Council) was serious. It was, after all, set up to handle regime’s like Hussein’s and the case against him was the most thoroughly adjudicated case in the history of the UN.

Hussein had sufficient personal resources (and the Iraqi state as a resource) to wage covert asymmetrical warfare against the U.S. of a kind that would have made 9/11 look like a traffic violation. He was also a psychopath with an extensive international security service (most notably for supressing or killing Iraqi ex-pat dissenters).

Regime change in Iraq upheld a standard of conduct within the sovereign state system, showed that unstable region and its unstable states that the U.S. was serious in its role as world leader, and brought the American Left out of the academic and crank woodwork where we could see you.

All that said, Iraq has been, for a war with such an important objective, quite a bargain. It has also clarified a number of situations, not the least of which is the condition of Europe, which is tragic.
 
Written By: Martin McPhillips
URL: http://mcphillips.blogspot.com/
Wow, how condenscending!
After reading this phrase coming from YOU, I threw up a little in my mouth.

Remember that little gem you busted out in the Anarcho-lib threads, about "people who think they’re always right"?

Consider it busted on out you, as I told you it would be when you opened your yap on Iraq.
 
Written By: shark
URL: http://
Remember that little gem you busted out in the Anarcho-lib threads, about "people who think they’re always right"?

Consider it busted on out you, as I told you it would be when you opened your yap on Iraq.
On Iraq, I’m not sure how to move forward. I agree with the post that the politics of Iraq is getting surreal, but the problems are real. That’s why I put forth a few basic questions to explain how I’m reading this, and see how those of you who might have a different perspective might read it. I doubt very much that if you read the comments here or elsewhere that I would come off sounding any more like I’m certain I’m right than others who state an opinion — and unlike many, I try not to ridicule those who have a different opinion than my own, I try to focus on the argument and issue.

Iraq is a serious issue facing our country at a tough time. I’m reading this and engaging people like Jeff because I want to take seriously different perspectives, and maybe figure out if, in talking with each other, we might find ideas that we would not have otherwise found. If I were comfortable in just spouting off my own view and ridiculing those who disagree, if I thought I was always right, I wouldn’t post here, why bother? I think you are being biased in thinking that I am certain I’m right, while not noticing the style and tone of others posting who have a different view. Perhaps you notice it more from people you disagree with than from those with whom you agree.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
Erb:
On Iraq, I’m not sure how to move forward.
No? You’ve been calling for surrender for five years. You always seemed fairly confident that surrender and defeat were precisely the way to move forward.

But I get it. You’re pretending again to be opening your mind, as you do after every 188th public humiliation or so.

You’re so very pragmatic.
 
Written By: Martin McPhillips
URL: http://mcphillips.blogspot.com/
Scott Erb mentions "national interest". What exactly does that mean?

Imagine taking a giant saw and cutting a specific country loose from its continental plate and submerging it in the magma below. All the people there would be killed and all its resources lost. How would that event affect the life of an average American?

A. It would be harmful,
B. It would be helpful, or
C. It would not affect us.

If you answered A or B, intervening is in our national interest. If you answered C, we should leave it alone. Examples:

A. When Saddam occupied Kuwait, the risk of an invasion of Saudi Arabia was high. Also, Kuwaiti oil revenues in Saddam’s hands would accelerate his WMD program and further destabilize the region, one which is vital to our oil based economy. The loss of this region would be highly detrimental to our daily lives. It is in our interest to expel Saddam from Kuwait.

B. When Al Qaeda used Afghanistan as a base to train and equip terrorists to attack us. We had no significant economic stake in Afghanistan with the exception of opium. If Afghanistan went away it would eliminate the al Qaeda sanctuary, the Taliban and 75% of the world’s opium. It is in our interest to clean out the nest of terrorist vermin in Afghanistan.

C. CNN always gets us into trouble when they show starving babies with swarms of black flies on their faces and warlords blowing each other to pieces. Somalia was such a place. We need nothing in Somalia and have no interest there. Killing the flies and the warlords would neither benefit or diminish our lives. The Somali problem is best handled by NGOs and peacekeepers from neighboring countries. Our operation there was not in our national interest.

The stability of the Middle East is a vital American security and economic interest.
 
Written By: Arch
URL: http://
One of my arguments on why going to Iraq was such a mistake is that it has created a stronger role for Iran in the region, as they no longer fear us.
Question -
When, exactly, did Iran ’fear’ us?
Was that before or after they took our embassy staff hostage for a year and mooned us?

I was just wondering when they ’feared’ us, because I haven’t seen it.
Now, should they fear us, perhaps, but do they, and have they in the last 28 years?
I don’t think so.
They’re pretty confident we’re in decline.
 
Written By: looker
URL: http://
looker to Erb about Iran:
I was just wondering when they ’feared’ us, because I haven’t seen it.
They appeared to fear us as we took down Hussein in 2003 when, according to the late NIE, they stopped their nuclear weapons program. They continue to enrich uranium, however.

I also think that when the Israelis were killing Hezzbollah in Lebanon at quite a clip and everyone was saying that Hezzbollah was an Iranian creature, that Iran got the heebie-jeebies.

And when the Israelis did that quick hit on Syria a few months back, and Syria said nothing, Israel said nothing, and we said nothing, that Iran got a good look at the kind of thing coming their way. (Most importantly, Putin said nothing about the Syria thing, as best as I can recall.)

I think everyone is pretty much on notice that consequences are what’s on the table. Consequences for backing terrorists; consequences for building atomic weapons. Let’s see how things work out with Iran’s uranium enrichment in the coming months.

Call me an optimist.
 
Written By: Martin McPhillips
URL: http://mcphillips.blogspot.com/
If you answered A or B, intervening is in our national interest.


Most things are not just a matter of ’intervening,’ but how and to what extent. In terms of the current policies towards Iraq, the question is of options and best tactics. I think the lesson we’re learning is that military power is of limited value in cases like this, and in fact blowback can do more harm than good. That’s an important lesson to learn. That doesn’t help us know what to do moving forward though. I do hear that Iraq is starting to develop opium crops — ah, the free market works!
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
Scott,
[al Qaeda and the like] don’t appear very popular even in the Islamic world.
Indeed, that is one of the great benefits of the Iraq campaign to date: making al Qaeda fight in Muslim lands (where they’re killing Muslims instead of "infidels," has made them unpopular.
I only agree that we should encourage peaceful modernism, but I don’t really see an interest in actively trying to change other cultures to be more like us. That’s too much like social engineering, and I suspect it would fail and create a backlash. Also, modernism may take different forms in other cultures than it does in the West, I don’t think we can expect modernized Islam to have the same cultural and political values as the modernized West (which took hundreds of years to create the kind of secularized Christianity that defines our culture now).
I don’t know that we need to change other cultures to be like us. Certainly, the Japanese and the Koreans and the Taiwanese are little enough like us, other than being modern, secular, industrial nations with a large degree of liberty. Like these examples, modernism in the MENA area will likely take different forms than in the West. I’m OK with that: I just want the jihadis to become utterly discredited, and the various dictatorships and tyrannies to be replaced with representative governance, individual liberty and some measure of tolerance of others. Or at the very least, I want no overt security threat coming from that area.

One thing that you mentioned at the end really bothers me: we seem to equate elections with achieving our goals. But that’s a sham; look at Venezuela as an example, or Iran (which has elections). It is not elections, but the institutions and social contract of a free society that we should be encouraging. We should not have been focusing on creating a national government or holding national elections in 2003-4. Instead, we should have been very upfront and put up a plan: first create governing institutions at the local level and let them handle local matters; simultaneously, create land titling systems and other property-rights protecting institutions, independent courts under secular laws (probably in addition to religious courts for private lawsuits, if both sides agree to the religious court’s right to decide the case) to protect from fraud, and so forth. If we want or need to rebuild societies, we need to set up meta-rules that allow them to come to their own solutions politically, but within an institutional framework that would make their transition to tolerant, secular modernity smoother and more likely.
One of my arguments on why going to Iraq was such a mistake is that it has created a stronger role for Iran in the region, as they no longer fear us. Syria and Turkey are forging a closer alliance, something unlikely otherwise.
Arguable. The previous situation (low level warfare and a crumbling sanctions regime) was unsustainable, and after 9/11, we needed a way forward towards marginalizing jihadism. Creating a modern democracy was a better choice than most of the alternatives, because if it succeeds, it can convince a large number of Muslims to forego terrorism, xenophobia and some of the other ills Islamic society historically has been prone to. Such a society had to be created in an Arab country, and in the heart of the Arab world, because any fringe or non-Arab countries would have been dismissed, no matter how successful, as "not like us" by the majority of Arab Muslims. Given the unsustainable situation re: Iraq anyway, and our desire to get out of Saudi Arabia, it was probably the best possible choice.

This does not mean that we are done: we might have to fight Iran (probably won’t have to fight Syria), because Iran is a huge destabilizing influence in the area. We made a mistake in not backing the Shah to the hilt in 1979; had we done so, Iran would likely be more like S. Korea today than like anything else: secular, modern, liberal, tolerant, and vaguely anti-American like much of the world. I hope we don’t have to fight Iran, but it only takes one to make a war, and Iran is bellicose enough (a sign of fear, not strength, on their part) that they might not back down without being smacked, and I’d rather it be us conventionally attacking Iran than Israel attacking Iran with nuclear weapons; and frankly, that might come down to the choice we face if Iran doesn’t abandon its nuclear ambitions.
I’m also not concerned with making sure Iraq is liberal, as long as its stable and not anti-American, the Iraqis can plot their own course.
Concur without reservation.
There is a danger to that line of thought — that if we are in a situation that is hurting us we’re afraid to get out because we’re afraid of what others will think of us. Ultimately, if it’s in our interest to leave we have to do so in a way is credible. Perhaps not cut and run, but also not to keep digging ourselves in a hole. Also, I think shifting from militarism to more cooperative multilateralism is a better exemplar. But OK, if we leave, it has to be in a credible manner and not just cut and run.
Frankly, if we leave wearing body armor, we’ve lost. The only credible way to leave is after the Iraqi society is both self-governing and self-protecting, as well as internally stable. That’s a minimum of five to ten years out. If you’re talking about leaving after those conditions are set, I’m with you, though I suspect that we’ll end up maintaining a few bases and some units (more air than ground) in Iraq for decades to come: the region is important and we need bases, and Iraq will want our tripwire to deter potential enemies (cough, Iran, cough, Syria) from getting too adventurous. If you are talking about leaving before that, then I will refer to my previous points about how that would be spun, and the results we would see because of that perception.
As for al qaeda, if we left Iraq tomorrow they couldn’t take on the Sunnis and Shi’ites who would oppose them.
I’m not sure that I can grant that because Iraq would experience a huge resurgence merely because they would be seen as having defeated the US. But even if I did grant your statement, and assume that Iraq would not be troubled by al Qaeda, we would certainly see far greater meddling from Iran, and we would see al Qaeda gaining huge influence in Pakistan and N. Africa (particularly NE Africa). I’m not willing to take that risk, frankly. I want the jihadis discredited, or dead, and gone before I’d be willing to assume that they wouldn’t make a comeback. I certainly wouldn’t be willing to hand them something they could spin as a victory (and many, including many in the US, would be happy to believe their spin).
And if public opinion does not allow staying? Democracies ultimately follow what the people want.
Indeed, we get the government we deserve, good and hard. Here’s the thing, though: should we be forced out by public opinion, the enemy would grow stronger and would eventually strike hard again. We would then rise up in anger than makes the 9/11 followup look mild, and there would be a vast bloodletting. I’d like to avoid that.
Then it’s a question of how do we leave. And, ultimately, I think that’s the question we have to ask since I doubt there is much desire by the American people to stay a long time and the price, especially when the dangers are so uncertain.
I don’t think public opinion is as fixed as your statement suggests: with the casualties tapering off, and clear signs of success, public support for our presence in Iraq is rising. So it’s quite likely that public opinion will allow us to stay. If not, then we will be in for a much harder next couple of decades than need otherwise be the case. It would not be the first time we’ve snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
If anything, from our diverse perspectives it seems perhaps there is a common thread: we must not lose credibility or have the Mideast fall apart.
I think that is true. Where we seem to differ is that I think that the fastest way to lose credibility is to abandon our allies, especially because (as in S. Viet Nam), they will be killed if we abandon them, and that the fastest way to have the Mideast fall apart is to show the anti-American, anti-Western, anti-modern actors in the Middle East that we won’t fight them to the end. That would remove their fear of defeat, and would encourage them to a redoubling of efforts. Moreover, the US would not be able to go back in quickly, because if public opinion forces us out, it will be much more against us going back in than it would have been against us staying. And that means, again, that our enemies will have a much freer hand. Then, when we finally have gotten to the point that things are so bad we must intervene, it will be much harder than had we simply stayed and finished it in the first place.
To this end questions arise like: 1) are we really taking into account the true situation in the Mideast and its cultural/historical situation — are we imposing our own ideas of how politics should be in a place where that’s not yet feasible (again, it took the west centuries of conflict); 2) are we really assessing the actual threat, or are we speculating on possiblities; and 3) are we capturing fully the costs to us of the war, including things that might actually be undercutting the interests Iraq was meant to address.

I do think policies in 2007 were markedly better (not just the surge, but diplomacy and other efforts) than in previous years so that gives me some hope.
I really hope that we are taking these things into account; the evidence I have seen tells me that we are, but we see such a small slice of heavily-filtered reality that it’s hard to know for sure.

 
Written By: Jeff Medcalf
URL: http://www.caerdroia.org/blog
I think the lesson we’re learning is that military power is of limited value in cases like [Iraq], and in fact blowback can do more harm than good.
That’s not the lesson I’m seeing. Our military power seems to be doing exactly what we went there to do: denying a base to the enemy, creating a society whose conditions challenge those of hostile societies and thus deny the enemy their propaganda, and so on. In fact, it is our political power that is limited: we are constrained by what people will accept while they are being openly propagandized against their own government by their own nation’s press. That’s a far higher burden to meet than military success, and it is why everyone who wants to fight the US (since Viet Nam) attacks not our military, but our will.

 
Written By: Jeff Medcalf
URL: http://www.caerdroia.org/blog
Jeff:

Scott is now looking at a more "nuanced" position. Unfortunately, if your job is to preoect and defend the United States, you should not take risks that your intell is flawed or that you will see some mythical adverse reaction as a result.

Arabs, as Osama Bin Laden tells us, always go with the strong horse. Rather our enemies fear us than like us.
 
Written By: Arch
URL: http://
Thanks, Jeff, for the thoughtful response.

On culture: The Mideast suffers from having been part of the Ottoman Empire, and is the least free and least democratic part of the planet. Given how difficult it is historically for democracy to develop, especially in places with ethnic and religious divisions, I think we have to not expect too much. China, Russia and Iran are all modernizing, albeit in very different ways. Japan started in the 19th century by mimicking Prussia, and had itself a very rocky development. Even after WWII it was a one party state dominated by the old patterns of a close business-finance-government connections. Absent only was the militarism. As Edmund Burke noted, culture really defines politics — we’ve been fooled by ideology to think there is a one best way to modernize or organize politities.

As for what we should have been doing in 2004-05. I think you make a number of good points. One reason I worry that a stable, self-governing Iraq might not even be possible any time soon is because we didn’t prevent corruption from returning, Iraq is one of the most corrupt places in the world right now. Corruption destroys polities from within, and prevents real rule of law from taking root. Your plan at least would have tried to stop that sort of thing from developing, it’s awfully hard to kill once it takes root. Still, I’m more skeptical than you that we really have the capacity to shape or even set up the structures to help others shape their own systems — especially post-Ottoman systems. And, of course, Saudi Arabia can’t stay like it is forever, but how its going to change is beyond me.
Arguable. The previous situation (low level warfare and a crumbling sanctions regime) was unsustainable, and after 9/11, we needed a way forward towards marginalizing jihadism. Creating a modern democracy was a better choice than most of the alternatives, because if it succeeds, it can convince a large number of Muslims to forego terrorism, xenophobia and some of the other ills Islamic society historically has been prone to. Such a society had to be created in an Arab country, and in the heart of the Arab world, because any fringe or non-Arab countries would have been dismissed, no matter how successful, as "not like us" by the majority of Arab Muslims. Given the unsustainable situation re: Iraq anyway, and our desire to get out of Saudi Arabia, it was probably the best possible choice
I understand and respect that argument — it’s in line with the traditions of Woodrow Wilson and JFK. However, I end up being more realist than idealist on these issues. It is true that democracies tend not to fight democracies, and that economically linked states with interdependencies are unlikely to go to war. I agree that this was the logic behind the choice to go to war, and it has a very appealling quality — we make ourselves more secure while helping others advance away from extremism to stable democracy and markets.

I just am skeptical that it can be done, and I believe using military force to do it is very dangerous, and can have a negative backlash.
This does not mean that we are done: we might have to fight Iran (probably won’t have to fight Syria), because Iran is a huge destabilizing influence in the area. We made a mistake in not backing the Shah to the hilt in 1979; had we done so, Iran would likely be more like S. Korea today than like anything else: secular, modern, liberal, tolerant, and vaguely anti-American like much of the world. I hope we don’t have to fight Iran, but it only takes one to make a war, and Iran is bellicose enough (a sign of fear, not strength, on their part) that they might not back down without being smacked, and I’d rather it be us conventionally attacking Iran than Israel attacking Iran with nuclear weapons; and frankly, that might come down to the choice we face if Iran doesn’t abandon its nuclear ambitions.
We won’t fight Iran because we’re too militarily overstretched and Iran can do too much damage. They are much bigger than Iraq was, and considerably stronger. Moreover, as the anti-American backlash in Iran showed after we invaded Iraq, it would be foolhardy to expect Iranians to welcome an American intervention, even Iranian reformers who dislike the current regime warn America not to get involved in Iranian affairs. It’s a task that we are incapable of achieving, in my opinion (plus I think the "iraq syndrome" of a public sick of war is stronger than you realize).

And Iran is the most modern and democratic state in the region, except for Israel. I think left to its own devices, it’ll be a regional power, but will learn as all powers do that it’s in its interest not to make itself a target. I think ultimately it would hurt our interests and Iran’s future if we were to attack it, Iran would be one hundred fold more difficult than Iraq.
Frankly, if we leave wearing body armor, we’ve lost. The only credible way to leave is after the Iraqi society is both self-governing and self-protecting, as well as internally stable. That’s a minimum of five to ten years out. If you’re talking about leaving after those conditions are set, I’m with you, though I suspect that we’ll end up maintaining a few bases and some units (more air than ground) in Iraq for decades to come: the region is important and we need bases, and Iraq will want our tripwire to deter potential enemies (cough, Iran, cough, Syria) from getting too adventurous. If you are talking about leaving before that, then I will refer to my previous points about how that would be spun, and the results we would see because of that perception.
I just don’t think the result you want is possible, I think the power of Iraq’s internal culture and dynamics overcomes anything we can do. That’s our fundamental point of disagreement, I think you’re setting out an impossible task, and that trying to do it will only make matters worse. However, I also think you vastly overestimate the power of spin (perhaps as Americans we tend to do that, since our political discourse is dominated by spin). If we have a hard nosed Machiavellian diplomacy, make deals and play groups against each other, we can leave while still keeping the radicals marginalized. No government in the region, and most people don’t support al qaeda. So what if they claim "they" won. That doesn’t mean much, it’s not like it’s some kind of magical path to increased power for the extremists. They too are limited by internal dynamics and the culture of the system. They are weak and internally divided — and even if the US leaves in a "peace with honor" moment of relatively stability before more problems in Iraq, I don’t think it’ll help al qaeda much.

What does help al qaeda more than anything is the current situation in Afghanistan. The Taliban are really resurgent there, and that’s more of a threat than anything...but nobody seems to be talking about it.
I’m not sure that I can grant that because Iraq would experience a huge resurgence merely because they would be seen as having defeated the US. But even if I did grant your statement, and assume that Iraq would not be troubled by al Qaeda, we would certainly see far greater meddling from Iran, and we would see al Qaeda gaining huge influence in Pakistan and N. Africa (particularly NE Africa). I’m not willing to take that risk, frankly. I want the jihadis discredited, or dead, and gone before I’d be willing to assume that they wouldn’t make a comeback. I certainly wouldn’t be willing to hand them something they could spin as a victory (and many, including many in the US, would be happy to believe their spin).
I think it’s inevitable that Iran will have great influence in Iraq, but Iraq will also influence Iran and that’s good. If we want a presence, I still think partition would be best, and we could keep a presence in Kurdistan (that also could help us assure Turkey and Syria, with their budding alliance, don’t decide to get involved there). I don’t think Iraq matters at all to what al qaeda does in Africa or Pakistan. Again, I think you vastly overestimate spin, and underestimate the damage done by the fact our presence in the region is a daily irritant to those who see us as a foreign invader trying to shape their destiny. Even moderates dislike US intervention, to them it reeks of colonialism. That puts us in a really tough spot.

As for public opinion, check pollingreport.com, there hasn’t been an increase in support for the war, this war has created an anti-interventionist attitude among Americans which I think compares to the seventies.
I think that is true. Where we seem to differ is that I think that the fastest way to lose credibility is to abandon our allies, especially because (as in S. Viet Nam), they will be killed if we abandon them, and that the fastest way to have the Mideast fall apart is to show the anti-American, anti-Western, anti-modern actors in the Middle East that we won’t fight them to the end.
I disagree. I think more important are the deals, the diplomacy and the balances of power that we help initiate and maintain. I think we can extricate ourselves from Iraq without giving up other interests — and I think you underestimate the danger in taking on a task that might be beyond what we are capable of, especially given that US public opinion does not want this to go on for a long time.

I guess at this point we have a clear rationale for why we see things differently: I emphasize culture and internal dynamics as driving politics, with military power relatively ineffective at affecting changes on those fronts, especially in post-Ottoman Arabia, and having dangerous side effects. I am in the tradition of realism. You are more optimistic that military power to get rid of anti-western elements or would be dictators will be effective in allowing normal Arabs to pursue their own path to modernism, and if we do it, we can help bring about a sea change in Muslim and Arab thinking and political development.

I’m not sure how we can figure out which of us are right. You can point to some places where military power has worked, I can point to failures in efforts to modernize third world countries (especially those with sectarian divides), but we have some core differences in our base assumptions. I’m more conservative, in a traditional sense. But I appreciate your comments and will take them seriously as events unfold, and look to see if there are signs you might be right.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
On Iraq, I’m not sure how to move forward. But I’ve got a pretty good idea. As long as moving forward means giving up and getting out, so that we anti-war people are proven right, then it’s progress. I agree with the post that the politics of Iraq is getting surreal, but the problems are real. Especially our problems on the anti-war side, because there are some tentative and irrelevant indicators that we might be wrong, such as lower violence, solidifying civil society, Democratic silence on the issue, and al Qaeda in complete disarray. But those are irrelevant and temporary. They’ve got to be temporary. I’m a professor of political science, and my superior discernment tells me they must be temporary, because otherwise we’d be wrong, and the anti-war left in this country has never been wrong. Well, maybe about Stalin, a little bit. But I’m not even sure about that.

That’s why I put forth a few basic questions to explain how I’m reading this, and see how those of you who might have a different perspective might read it. Of course, I’m not really going to pay a lick of attention to those different perspectives, since they come from neocons that lack my deep understanding of the issues, and besides, their word count isn’t nearly high enough to be taken seriously. Anyway, I doubt very much that if you read the comments here or elsewhere that I would come off sounding any more like I’m certain I’m right than others who state an opinion, except for the fact that I never, ever, ever give up pressing my own perspectives, even when the facts, the history, and the logic are all completely against them. So I guess you would say that I’m not certain I am right, but I am completely certain that you are all wrong.

I’m just dedicated to exposing my point of view because even though I’m not certain, my opinion is still a lot more valuable that all you people I condescend to debate. And unlike many, I try not to ridicule those who have a different opinion than my own. Except for calling people emotional, of course. And stating things in such a condescending way that the ridicule is implied. But I don’t just come right out and call people a clown, or an idiot, or anything like that. Despite the fact that, for some reason, many others call me such names all the time. I just don’t understand it, but I do not let it affect me.

That means I try to focus on the argument and issue. My arguments and my issues, that is. I don’t really focus on anyone elses arguments, because they are all inconsequential. Iraq is a serious issue facing our country at a tough time. I’m reading this and engaging people like Jeff because I want to take seriously different perspectives, even though I have not figured out how to do that yet because all the perspectives here are so wrong-headed. Maybe in talking with each other, we might find ideas that we would not have otherwise found. Of course, I’ve never actually found an idea here that changed my mind, which suggests that none of the ideas here are any good except mine, but I’m willing to do my part to help others find ideas they would not otherwise find.

If I were comfortable in just spouting off my own view and ridiculing those who disagree, if I thought I was always right, I wouldn’t post here, why bother? I assure you, I get no pleasure from being condescending and smug. Nor from showing that I can outlast anyone who takes me on, by posting and posting and posting no matter how long a thread goes on, ensuring that I get the last word, no matter how many times I have to repeat myself.
 
Written By: Ott Scerb
URL: http://cluelessprof.maine.edu
I’m going to wait until tomorrow to answer Prof. Erb’s latest, on the grounds that I’m too tired right now (and too tipsy, come to that) to reason clearly. However, I’d like to say one thing to Scott’s persistent attackers: you guys really are making yourselves look bad.

It’s like this: let’s assume for a moment that Scott has proven time after time in prior comments to shift the debate around, move the goal posts, refuse to argue in good faith and so forth. Then, your cynicism and criticism of him would be somewhat understandable. But it would still make you look bad, because from where I sit, Scott is trying to engage on the issue, and you guys are acting like my five year old: nah nah nah you did it first you poopy head. Well, Scott’s obviously intelligent and reasonable — a casual perusal of his comments shows that — so even if it is ultimately futile, your refusal to engage intelligently leaves him on the high ground and you on the low ground, looking like asses at best.

I’ve often disagreed with Scott’s premises, and it’s clear that we have a disagreement on that basis right now, but the least you could do is either argue in good faith and attempt to persuade, or just shut up. The alternative to remaining silent and being thought fools, which alternative you seem to be embracing, is to open your mouth and remove all doubt. I’m all for everyone piling on Scott, but at least keep some dignity while you’re about it. (And for that matter, I really don’t want to hear you guys bellyaching about the decline in political discourse since the mid-1980’s.) Besides, what if you (and I) are wrong?
 
Written By: Jeff Medcalf
URL: http://www.caerdroia.org/blog
. "He deserves one and that has also always been a highly prestigious position,"

How times change. At one time commanding an army in the field AT WAR was considered highly prestigious, the kind of job a real soldier dreams of. I can imagine what folks like Marshall and Patton would say.
 
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
Ott Scerb writes:
If I were comfortable in just spouting off my own view and ridiculing those who disagree, if I thought I was always right, I wouldn’t post here, why bother? I assure you, I get no pleasure from being condescending and smug. Nor from showing that I can outlast anyone who takes me on, by posting and posting and posting no matter how long a thread goes on, ensuring that I get the last word, no matter how many times I have to repeat myself.
Well, Ott wins the "best parody in the thread" competition, again, nosing out Jeff Medcalf’s parody of someone believing he can argue with Scott Erb in "good faith."
 
Written By: Martin McPhillips
URL: http://mcphillips.blogspot.com/
Wait, I missed this, from Boris himself:
I’m not sure how we can figure out which of us are right. You can point to some places where military power has worked, I can point to failures in efforts to modernize third world countries (especially those with sectarian divides), but we have some core differences in our base assumptions. I’m more conservative, in a traditional sense. But I appreciate your comments and will take them seriously as events unfold, and look to see if there are signs you might be right.
And we have a winner in the self-parody category. Could there be any room left in that Erb trophy case?
 
Written By: Martin McPhillips
URL: http://mcphillips.blogspot.com/
Scott,
I guess at this point we have a clear rationale for why we see things differently: I emphasize culture and internal dynamics as driving politics, with military power relatively ineffective at affecting changes on those fronts, especially in post-Ottoman Arabia, and having dangerous side effects. I am in the tradition of realism. You are more optimistic that military power to get rid of anti-western elements or would be dictators will be effective in allowing normal Arabs to pursue their own path to modernism, and if we do it, we can help bring about a sea change in Muslim and Arab thinking and political development.

I’m not sure how we can figure out which of us are right.
That is a fair statement, with caveats. The principle caveat is that I am not an idealist; I am an engineer. I look at what has gone before, and think of it as predictive. My reading of history, and particularly of the triggers of change, tells me that there are many ways to trigger societal change, and those include putting existential pressure on the society, and removing ossified structures that inhibit change. The military is capable both of putting that pressure on a society, excising or minimizing those parts that are most troublesome, and of removing obstacles when those obstacles can be traced to particular people or groups.

That the military is capable of this is self-evident, and I believe you would have to agree that the existence of anecdotal evidence of times when this has happened confirms that it is possible for the military to effect societal change. The existence of anecdotal evidence of times when the military has attempted and failed to bring about such change confirms that it is possible for this kind of effort to fail. The real question is whether the military can affect such change in this situation, that is, in Iraq today in particular and in the Arab/Muslim world generally over the next generation, and in the way we desire.

That is, of course, a much harder question to answer, but not impossible, as long as we are cognizant of the possibility of error. While there are several ways to attempt this, the most common is also the least useful: reference to theory. While there is a great deal of theory about how the military can and cannot affect change (including quite notably the Marines’ "Small Wars Manual" from before WWII and the current counter-insurgency doctrine written by General Petreaus, which are the guiding doctrinal documents for the fight we are waging, as well as Machiavelli and a number of other authors), the problem with theory is that it is inherently backwards-looking; it seeks to explain what was, and how to bring about the conditions necessary to achieve objectives, but does not generally provide a framework for evaluating whether considerations other than those most evident might derail or enhance such an effort. Instead, I would suggest using the same tools that weather forecasters use: look at what has happened before, and determine statistically what outcomes occur given a particular set of conditions. A little calculus and statistics allow us to isolate factors and groups of factors to determine whether the set of conditions currently in evidence are likely or unlikely to lead to a satisfactory resolution, and what the error margins are.

For example, let us say that we have analyzed 100 different situations where the political objective in undertaking military operations was to pacify a country somewhat hostile to the protagonist, and led by a government actively belligerent towards the protagonist. We might find that about 30% of such operations are successful. Let’s further say that of those who succeeded in defeating the enemy military, and engaging in a counter-insurgency afterwards, 60% were successful. Now at that point, absent any other factors, we could say that (having obtained the preconditions), we have a 60% change of success. (Obviously, the analysis would be quite a bit more complex than the trivial example, because we would have to include morale of both military and civilian forces, training effects, cultural artifacts, the general record of success of the military in question, and on and on.) Conversely, we can look at the problem from the other side as well: in cases where a military beat an insurgency in the field, then withdrew before it had utterly destroyed the insurgency, what are the odds of success. In any case, having determined the odds of success at each stage, the argument would move to whether that chance of success is worth the cost, which is a values argument not subject to such analysis.

Unfortunately, I am unaware of anyone having compiled sufficient statistics about prior conflicts for such a project to have data available at the start, and I don’t have time to compile the data. But I do think that the question of our chances of success is answerable, given the time to put together the raw data.

So in my case, I revert to my understanding of history, and of the military, and to the extent I have good information, of Iraq and the Muslim world. I suspect that our odds of standing up an independent Iraqi state, without it splitting into parts or being absorbed in whole or in part into a neighboring country, are quite good. Our odds of that Iraqi state being cooperative with America, should we succeed in establishing it, are excellent. Our odds of that state proving to be a trigger for change in the rest of the Muslim world are somewhat low, and our chance of avoiding a war with Iran in the next decade or two is almost non-existent, absent an internal political change in Iran.

Looking from the viewpoint of what happens if we withdraw prior to the establishment of a satisfactory peace within Iraq, and of a state capable of securing itself, I suspect that the odds of Iraq falling into tyranny are somewhat high, and of all or parts of Iraq either breaking away or being absorbed by another country to be near even. I suspect that the odds of the enemy (both Iran/Syria and the jihadis being emboldened and stepping up their attacks on us is very high, and the odds of us losing nearly all of what support we do have in the Arab world (and consequently, of support for representative and secular government generally in the Arab world) are almost certain.

I suspect you disagree, but I’m curious how you would rate these odds, or others that you think are significant, because it would be easier to do a statistical analysis on a subset of issues than on the whole set.

 
Written By: Jeff Medcalf
URL: http://www.caerdroia.org/blog
Actually, the work I mentioned might have already been done. I’ll look more closely at this when I have a bit of time.

 
Written By: Jeff Medcalf
URL: http://www.caerdroia.org/blog
That the military is capable of this is self-evident, and I believe you would have to agree that the existence of anecdotal evidence of times when this has happened confirms that it is possible for the military to effect societal change. The existence of anecdotal evidence of times when the military has attempted and failed to bring about such change confirms that it is possible for this kind of effort to fail. The real question is whether the military can affect such change in this situation, that is, in Iraq today in particular and in the Arab/Muslim world generally over the next generation, and in the way we desire.
Effect social change, perhaps, but with great difficulty in shaping how that change will look. I’ve got a rather Burkean view of culture; namely, culture is a powerful force for stability and consistency, and if it gets disrupted things are more likely to go poorly than well — and that real change requires cultural change. Democracy historically has been very difficult to create, as has stable modernism. Europe took centuries to develop that, the Christian church fought over a century to avoid losing power, and didn’t accept secularism until late in the 19th century. For the Arab Muslim world to go from the deep freeze of the Ottoman authoritarianism and authority to a very conservative set of religious clerics, followed by a century of chaos and more authoritarianism, full of corruption (which is hard to kill) would require much more than the kind of effort the US is engaged in. Iran is closer, actually (Persia was never part of the Ottoman Empire, and isn’t Arab), but obviously they have a long way to go too.

I wonder: if we left (in an orderly manner, leaving Iraq as stable as possible — not a quick get out as fast as possible), would the Iraqis, who already dislike al qaeda, be better off, even if it takes awhile for them to overcome their internal problems? I do think that it’s rare that outside powers do a country good when they try to intervene. MacArthur did a decent job with Japan, but they were an aggressor state thoroughly defeated, and he did his homework getting to know the culture, living there (he followed a lot of what Machiavelli suggested — Machiavelli’s really an early genius in understanding these things). Japan had already been modernizing though.

I’ll see if I can find any kind of analysis like you describe; almost everything has been studied (and the U. of Michigan’s correlates of war study has statistical comparisons of about every aspect of war), but I don’t know anything looking at that issue off the top of my head. Right now, I’m a bit more worried about al qaeda choosing a weak point in the western economy to try to get some kind of hit, not to do so much physical damage, but to push an already tottering economy into full recession. That’s the biggest danger now, IMO.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
Good, you found the correlates of war data! It’s really a rather amazing study over decades. I think our problems with Iraq actually reflect a bit on Hayek’s analysis of government planning. When we went from winning the war (easily accomplished) to trying to construct a social order, we not only got involved in social planning but doing so in another culture with even less information than we have at home (and social engineering here hasn’t worked to well). Humans tend, I think, to fill in the gaps of our knowledge with how we would imagine things to work in our culture, and that didn’t work. We’re learning, but is it enough?
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm

 
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