Benjamin on Jihadi Iraq

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"The suggestion that a jihadist takeover in Iraq would follow a U.S. withdrawal verges on preposterous. It is the latest in a parade of straw men dispatched to scare up support for wrongheaded and failed policies."

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"The real threat is civil war. But here too it is not clear how much the U.S. can do to prevent it. If the Shiites and Kurds do not ameliorate the grievances of Iraqi Sunnis, civil war is probable. Keeping U.S. forces in Iraq in such circumstances would at best delay the inevitable."

Daniel Benjamin in the LA Times

Benjamin and I probably disagree less than one might think from a cursory examination of his opinions here.

In his understandable eagerness to refute Cheney, he seems to accept the idea that the insurgency is primarily made up of the international Jihadis associated with Al-Qa’ida in Iraq (AQ Iraq).  It is quite obvious that AQ Iraq is primarily involved in suicide bombings in the present situation.  They care nothing for countries or nationalisms of any kind and Arab national governments are as much their enemies as anyone else.  It is is true that the international jihadis do not have and will not have the numbers, organizational skills or weaponry to "take over" and run Iraq.

On the other hand, Benjamin accepts the idea that "civil war" is the more likely outcome in Iraq.  This formulation is a bit of a mystery for me.   Why isn’t the present situation a "civil war."  If you believe that what is being fought out is a struggle between Sunni Arabs and the rest for power and resources, then why is this not a civil war?

To hold that it is not a civil war is to accept the Bush Administration’s thesis that the Sunni nationalist/tribal/Baathist/former military guerrillas do not have the support of a large segment of Sunni Arab society.

Anyone who claims to know anything about insurgencies should know better than that.

Surely Benjamin knows better.

Pat Lang

http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-benjamin24nov24,0,4137156.story?coll=la-news-comment-opinions

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4 Responses to Benjamin on Jihadi Iraq

  1. Michael Murry says:

    Pat:
    Your most important point deals with a general failure of people to define clearly what they mean by the term “civil war.” Almost a thousand days into this civil war in Iraq, and we still have only a few Americans — such as yourself and retired Army General William Odom, to take only two examples — willing to point out this glaring deficiency. I’ve had it out with Professor Juan Cole in e-mails over this issue, since — at least until recently — he refused to see a “real” civil war in Iraq because no large-scale clashes between rival armies, like “Gettysburg” or “Antietam” (my examples), had yet taken place. General Odom, on the other hand simply sees “Iraqis fighting Iraqis” (as you also say) for power and rescources; a fight that began almost immediately after we knocked over the political, economic, social, and military order in Iraq: thereby creating a predictable power vacuum that we could not fill. Iraqis now fight openly — as they have for almost a thousand days now — to fill it. Civil War.
    As others in this discussion have pointed out, America doesn’t want to face the terrible situation it created in Iraq. The failure to “call a spade a spade,” so to speak, derives from the fact that America wanted to create a deck of hearts and flowers, hasn’t done so, and now refuses to see all the spades busy at work digging graves — for both Iraqis and Americans in Iraq. The psychologists call this “denial.” The American government (currently under Republican Party mismanagement) fairly reeks of it.
    The Vietnamese Civil War (at least the Second Indochina version of it), became an American War on Vietnam with the introduction into that domestic conflict of America’s Lunatic Leviathan military: driven insane by its own internal political and interservice bureaucratic rivalries for ever-expanding “roles” to play in wreaking havoc on a tiny but ancient country it did not even remotely comprehend. Frances Fitzgerald called it “an Orwellian Army that knew everything about weapons and tactics but did not know where it was.” Now, as then, the American Orwellian Army knows all about bombing houses (“safe” or otherwise) but doesn’t recognize the cultural-social-political landscape it inhabits — so it continues to blindly thrash about in frustration, wrecking the joint and hurting itself in the process.
    The American War on Iraq will revert to the more basic, lower-level Iraqi Civil War once America leaves Iraq and stops serving as the self-appointed and self-financing (not even hired!) gun for the Shiite-Kurdish Alliance. Then, like when the Vietnamese resumed their own interrupted civil war after the Americans left Vietnam, someone will “win” (or even call off the fight) and the Iraqi Civil War America started will quickly conclude.
    As far as I can tell, the American government doesn’t want to militarily withdraw from Iraq because it doesn’t want one (or some combination) of the Iraqi factions to “win.” I suspect that the American government fears — with good reason — that its favored faction (or combination thereof) might just take off its pants and run off in its undershorts like Melvin Laird’s “almost-stood-up-until-we-betrayed-them (after 20 years)” Vietnamese faction-du-jour thirty-five years ago. How embarrassing.
    The current American government just doesn’t want to face the hideous embarrassment of watching Iraq and its neighbors figure out for themselves how they want to live in their own neighborhood. It doesn’t have to get any more complicated than that. If it does get more complicated, that only fogs the issues and postpones the inevitable day when, as Frances Fitzgerald said, the American government has to face its worst nightmare: “confronting the consequences of peace.”

  2. Eric says:

    How Refreshing.
    I was going to say something, but Michael’s already said it.
    Time to kick back and go for the brewsky!

  3. Rider says:

    Col. Lang, your points are so well taken. I am one who is just now waking up to the fact that a civil war has been going on in Iraq for some considerable time. Your insights and those of Michael Murry posted above and elsewhere on this site have been most helpful.
    Benjamin, at least in this piece, discusses the question of jihadist Iraq in a kind of Iran-free vacuum, as though Iran were not part of the picture. What do you think Iran is going to do once we are out? Will Iran try to take control of Iraq’s oil?
    If Iraq is a tarbaby, I think of Iran as Bre’r Fox. “Bre’r Rabbit he socked dat Tarbaby again real hard. But Ol’Bre’r Fox he just lay low.” Of course, that won’t last. Then what?

  4. W. Patrick Lang says:

    Rider,
    I think that Iran will be content with partial Shia control of Iraq so long as the parts dominated are the ones they want. pl

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