Archive for March 2007

Short Blog Vacation

March 24, 2007

Because of other commitments, the reader should not expect additional posts to this blog for the next two weeks.


American Strategy in Iraq

March 24, 2007

Juan Cole reprints in his blog the opinion of Professor Kahl of Minnesota on the apparent counterinsurgency strategies of the United States since the beginning of the Iraq war. Let me summarize briefly Professor Kahl’s points. He divides the COIN operations into four phases.

Phase 1: Denial. Until April 2004, there was a general denial that an insurgency existed. The result was that the different commanders were pretty much on their own. Some concentrated on providing the population with protection, while others conducted aggressive search and destroy operations. This phase ended with the Fallujah uprising and the revolt of Moqtada al-Sadr.

Phase 2: Learning Curve. The military woke up to a problem and began developing new strategies and tactics. It took more seriously training Iraqi forces. Yet the bulk of the effort still went in to alienating search and destroy efforts. Only in early 2005, did the leaders begin to systematically learn from their mistakes.

Phase 3: Getting it. The military now began a number of experiments, especially in Tal Afar and Ramadi to place the emphasis on the protection of the people. This effort was, however, compromised by two other factors. First, the military had begun in 2004 to consolidate its basing by closing many of its smaller bases in the countryside. The was a natural development of the idea that we needed to reduce the Iraqi perception that their country was under occupation. But it also meant that the forces were less able to implement the people protection mission. The other problem was that we simply did not have enough forces for the hold strategy. We attempted to fill the gap with Iraqis. But this effort took more time than had been imagined.

Phase 4: Doing it. In January 2006, Bush announced a new strategy that would make possible the achievements foreseen in Phase 3. We would bring in more troops and we would assign more to population protection. Kahl notes that this was not actually a new strategy. The strategy had been created in Phase 3. But it was an effort to provide additional forces that might make the “clear, hold, and build” option actually work. But as Kahl further notes, this might be too little and too late.

Iraqi Opinions

March 24, 2007

Juan Cole leads us to consider some recent polls. A recent survey by the British Opinion Research Business (ORB) showed that Iraqis had remarkable confidence in spite of all that has happened. Support for Prime Minister Maliki was much more widespread than had been expected. In their polls, increase in support compared with September was quite dramatic. Not surprisingly more Shi’a preferred the present system to Saddam’s, yet the difference was not as great as might have been expected (51% of Sunnis preferred the Baathist regime; 66% preferred Maliki). Only 15% of Shiites believed they were in a civil war, while 40% of Sunnis believed this. (I would note that this was a countrywide poll, and many of those reported as Sunni were in fact Sunni Kurds, a fact that should temper our surprise at the results.) Yet it might be discouraging to the surge folks that 53% nationwide thought that the security situation would improve after foreign troops left, while only 26% thought it would get worse.

According to Cole, the most recent USA Today poll showed that 83% of Shiites and 97% of Sunni Arabs oppose the presence of coalition forces in Iraq; 75% of Kurds support them. By more than 3 to 1, Iraqis say the presence of U.S. forces is making the security situation worse. The respondents want the foreigners out, but only 35% want them to leave immediately, perhaps six months to a year would be best. 40% of Shiites want a theocracy governed by Islamic law. 58% want a strongman to rule. Even 34% of Kurds reject democracy. This seems to contrast remarkably with the growing support for Maliki, who is, after all, the first person to come to power by a more or less democratic process in a long time. I think the association of a foreign occupation force with “democracy” has given the system a bad name for the moment. In any event, few Iraqis are likely to be willing to fight for democracy. What they are willing to fight for, other than security, is still up in the air.

Afghanistan: Less is More

March 21, 2007

Rory Stewart, who works out of Kabul, is presently a guest Op-Ed writer for the New York Times. He has been making a concerted effort to tell us, and the West, to “back off”in Afghanistan. This is very counter-intuitive for me. I was one of those who counseled when we went to Afghanistan after 9/11 to be sure and “do it right” This meant to follow the post-World War II example of what we did in Germany and Japan: massive assistance, total occupation; reeducation on many levels etc. According to this analysis, we sent far too few troops to Afghanistan and spent far too little. We still might have been right, but Stewart makes one wonder. In the present environment of limited resources and reluctant publics in both Europe and America, he is certainly worth listening to.

His basic idea is that the Afghanis simply do not understand the priorities we place on our assistance. They increasingly feel that we have spent a lot of money and accomplished very little. Some are even nostalgic for the return of the Russians. “At least, they built bridges, roads and airports”. Instead of talking in general terms about building democracy or reforming the economy, we should talk to the Afghans more, find out what they really want and need, and help them with that. He finds the Afghans have responded favorably to, “excellent models, from U.N. Habitat to the Aga Khan network, which has restored historic buildings, run rural health projects, and established a five-star hotel and Afghanistan’s mobile telephone network.”. And he speaks of a functioning soap manufacturing business that an American woman has promoted.

In many areas we seem to be fighting the people instead of the terrorists. He finds that in many areas our opponents have no fixed political agenda; they are certainly uninterested in attacking Europe or the United States. He reports a Dutch experience in one area where they found that if left alone, the Taliban defeated themselves with their ideological preaching. He contrasts Dutch inaction to the British offensives in the South which accomplished little besides the alienation of large areas. He asserts that “Pacifying the tribal areas is a task for Afghans, working with Pakistan and Iran. It will involve moving from the overcentralized state and developing formal but flexible relationships with councils in all their varied village forms”.

His conclusion is that we were more correct than we knew when we sent only limited forces into the country after 9/11. We may be making a mistake in trying to reverse this policy. I guess Afghanistan is not Iraq. (Or maybe it is?)

Iran in Iraq

March 21, 2007

In the last few days the Times has given us a summary of the recent economic penetration by Iran into Iraq. We could view this negatively, as many in Washington are wont to do. But from the viewpoint of all but the hardest line Sunnis, it should be considered as a real harbinger of hope for the future.

The stores are full of Iranian produce, air conditioners, automobiles and much else. Several Iraqi cities, including Basra, depend on Iran for their electricity. Iran has loaned Iraq one billion dollars and is establishing a bank in Baghdad. Iran is helping to relieve a severe gasoline shortage in Iraq by bringing gasoline in from Turkmenistan. Iranian trade with the Kurdish region now amounts to one billion dollars a year. Iranian tourism, particularly to the shrines in Karbala and Najaf has added considerably to the economy in some areas. Iran has assisted in the building of tourist facilities in both cities.

Thoughts on Resolving the Democrat’s Dilemma

March 15, 2007

Unfortunately, the only good strategy most democrats have for getting out of Iraq is a rewriting of the argument that we shouldn’t have gotten in, and when we got in, we should have done x, y, and z. This is all true, but as David Brooks point out in today’s Op-Ed, it doesn’t add up to much. The Bush Republican’s “more of the same” doesn’t look that intelligent either, but at least it is a strategy that the observer can get his mind around.

The problem that Brooks points out is that the Democrats are looking for a middle strategy and the situation doesn’t seem amenable to such a solution. Another problem is that there has been some improvement under the surge. Outside of Baghdad, Maliki has gone to Anbar Province for the first time and he seems to have one faction of Sunnis there that support the government. As strategies develop, mature and fade away, there will always be gains and losses, and at no time are we likely to be able to decide much more clearly than we do today.

Another difficulty is that those who want to leave, necessarily emphasize American losses. Losses, and grievous injury are always sad, but the number are still about a tenth of what happened in Vietnam when we had a smaller national population. This emphasis on American losses seems most hard-hearted in that it ignores the many many times greater Iraqi losses of life and property, losses that go on every day, and are likely to go on if we leave. No one can say whether this loss will be enhanced or reduced if we leave. And this inability necessarily holds the tongues of the democrats. The real possibility that leaving could make things worse, and they could certainly be worse, keeps the discussion returning to how many of our “boys and girls” have been damaged. This is not a very humane approach. If a Democrat could somehow come up with any strategy that guaranteed a reduction in these Iraqi losses, he or she should be canonized.

So what should the critic say and do? I do not know, but here are some points. We should agree:

(1) to emphasize the wishes of the Iraqi people, both as represented by the government and other political leaders, as well as regional, factional and militia leaders. Keep in continual contact with such leaders. Start to define and refine what we do in light of their feelings and desires. Do not take it upon ourselves, for example, to keep the Iranians out. If and when and where, Iraqis want help in keeping out Iranians, help them. If they want Iranian help elsewhere, welcome it.

(2) to let them structure their society as they wish. In particular, this means that we should not insist on the privatization of the oil industry. Most Iraqis see this as another plan to rob them of their heritage. It is not all that, but we should respond to their desires. More generally, we should not insist on a blueprint for the economy. They have a legislature. It is up to this body to make laws.

(3) Provide Iraqi institutions, civilian and military, with the best equipment as soon as we can — and provide it with the maintenance facilities that go with it. For example, their troops should have our body armor and they should have the new trucks that cannot be blown up with roadside bombs. It would be best if such items were manufactured in Iraq.

(4) Encourage the operation of more government facilities and offices outside the Green Zone. It will be dangerous at first, but if they can develop with our assistance an ability to hold ministerial conferences and even parliamentary sessions outside this area, it would have great symbolic importance.

(5) Encourage agreements between violent groups and the government that will offer hope to the “enemies” that they can play a role in a new society. There are surely some enemies that this would not affect, but many others would no doubt be amenable to a believable offer.

(6) Accept and protect the separation of ethnic groups where this seems to be a better choice than trying to maintain mixed neighborhoods indefinitely. Help should be available for resulting redeployments of population, with some more creative solutions than simply refugee camps. Wherever possible work with the leaders of ethnic factions to define their minimum aims, so that they might be able to agree with their neighbors on “boundaries”. Some groups will have no minimum aims, but many will.

(7) Encourage the development of protected zones in the less dangerous parts of the country which could serve as magnets for those Iraqis who would like to return to the country. Emphasizing using our forces to protect such areas.

(8) In general, deemphasize aggressive campaigns and air strikes where these serve the purposes of the Americans in terms of our concepts of how to fight the war. In many cases, where the Iraqis clearly want and need such support, it should be given, but this should be their responsibility, not ours.

Afghan Democracy

March 8, 2007

In a recent Op-Ed, Rory Stewart who runs the Turquoise Mountain Foundation in Kabul and has been much involved In Afghan and Iraq affairs lashes out at what he sees as the foolishness and pretension involved in our project to make Afghnaistan into a fully functioning democracy in the next few years. He claims that few Afghans have any idea of what democracy is, and even if they knew, they have many other items higher on their agenda. He is contemptuous of the frequent assertions that the people prefer democracy to shari’a law. Repeating the claim doesn’t make it so. In many areas they prefer to have Taliban rather than foreign troops in control. Elsewhere, warlords are often in power locally because the people prefer them to the alternatives. He attacks our misconceptions only because they lead to poor policy.

This is not to say that the American amd NATO effort has had no achievements. The streets of Kabul are relatively quiet, the Hazara minority nearby is more secure and prosperous than it has ever been. With the right kind of international assistance the country can become more humane, prosperous and stable.

The difficulty with Stewart’s analysis is that it leaves the United States and NATO with no overarching ideological objectives. We have defined success in terms of democracy. We have not given ourselves an alternative. As I have written elsewhere, such an alternative is badly needed. We need to realize that many countries in the world are much higher on the scales of human happiness without democracy than are others with democracy. We should not be apologetic about supporting Musharref, a military dictator next door in Pakistan. He deserves our support because he is able to hold a fractious country together and resist the siren song of Islamic fundamentalism. By doing so, he is able to support a higher level of human rights in many regards than would be possible if the true opinions of Pakistanis were to be heard through the ballot box. Likewise, we may well end up in Afghanistan with a “controlled democracy” that does not allow enough dissent to really become democratic, but which is able to preserve the peace, cut down on dependence on opium, and improve the educational standards of the people, particularly the women.