Habakkuk on Iraq

Adam Silverman,Thanks for that most interesting and helpful clarification of the current state of play in Iraq.This may be a stupid question, but if the 'diasporan movements' don't have 'indigenous support bases' why do the 'indigenous movements' have so little power? And is this a stable situation over the longer term? Can the 'powers that are' permanently capture 'huge chunks of the Iraqi Security Forces' in such a situation? And can they hope to prevail over the 'traditional and/or tribal Sunnis and Shi'a' and the Sadrists?JohnH"That is certainly not part of any US end state I've ever heard of." Me neither! And that all by itself would lead one to be skeptical that it could actually be happening."The problem is not simply that, as the Colonel says, the ability of the United States to control history is far too limited for one to be able to infer from a given outcome either that the USG wanted it, or from the fact that the USG did not want it that it could not have happened.When one actor has overwhelming power, the name of the strategic game for many other actors will be to find ways of getting this power to act in their interests. Allying with it is one way.Others include using superior guile to outwit the overwhelming powerful actor, and make its own power work against it. One way of doing is a classic insurgency technique — manoeuvre the security forces into a situation where they have to tread a narrow line between not responding and appearing weak, and responding in ways that make them the insurgents' recruiting sergeants — very easy to do, particularly if you let yourself be baited into letting anger get control of you. Another is manipulating the overwhelmingly powerful actor into using its strength in one's own interests.The attacks on the World Trade Center are an interesting variant of the former approach — although fortunately the sectarianism and cruelty of the jihadists, among other things, have limited their ability to capitalise on the success of their ploy to inveigle the United States into ruinous involvements in Muslim lands.Although definitive evidence is lacking, little that has happened recently has served to dispel suspicions that the Iranian exploitation of Ahmed Chalabi's ties to the neocons was one of the classic displays of the latter tactic of all time.To avoid being the victims of either tactic, it is necessary that the United States – and also my own country, Britain — wise up. One central part of this is precisely grasping the limitations of one's ability of to influence outcomes in other societies. Another is shedding the deeply ingrained delusion that we 'modern', 'scientific' and 'rational' people understand the world, while others less fortunate do not. Where the kinds of understanding required to play Machiavellian games are at issue, this is commonly the precise reverse of the truth. The 'informational advantage' lies not with us, but with them.  David Habakkuk

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25 Responses to Habakkuk on Iraq

  1. JohnH says:

    What is being suggested here is that the US effort in Iraq was a debacle. It is a testament to the magnitude of USG incompetence.
    I have some experience with Morocco. Within 10 year of securing the country early in the last century, the French had already built the foundations of a modern society–railroads, ports, modern coastal cities, large scale agriculture, mining, etc. The basic structure of the economy that the French created has endured to this day.
    By contrast, within 10 years, the US will have left behind what? Widespread destruction, hundreds of thousands of refugees, and a couple gigantic military bases?
    What Habakkuk says is true, but some conquers have been savvy enough to influence the situation to their advantage. The US appears to have been absolutely clueless.
    Which begs the question of why the outcome in Afghanistan would be any different? Haven’t the McChrystals and Petraeus of the world learned anything? (I pick on them, because they took the lead in advocating escalation.)

  2. Nightsticker says:

    Colonel Lang,
    “The ‘informational advantage’ lies not with us, but with them.”
    Very insightful. Couple this with Boyd’s 3 levels of warfare [the moral, the mental, and the physical and the idea that a higher level always trumps a lower level]and you get a good indication how this is all going to end up eventually.
    Personally, I favor the Archilocus approach:
    “Some barbarian is waving my shield, as I was obliged to leave that perfectly good piece of equipment behind under a bush. But I escaped so what does it matter. Life seemed somehow more precious. Let the shield go; I can purchase another equally good.”
    USMC 65-72
    FBI 72-96

  3. Adam L Silverman says:

    I think what you see with Dawa and ISCI is that they’ve reimported their followers from exile and that’s a great deal of their base of support. I can tell you that almost all of the more traditional/tribal/rural Shi’a I spoke with are exceedingly suspicious of these folks. I had one tell me that the late Ayatullah Uzma Hakim was a Zoroastrian, not a Muslim, let alone a Shi’a Muslim. I had several other Shi’a, both elite and notables, as well as internally displaced persons (IDPs) tell me that the ISCI/Badr crowd are fire worshippers, which I took to be a reference to the Zoroastrian offshoot religion Mithraism (nothing else made sense given the reference and context). I was told repeatedly that most of these people aren’t really even Iraqi or Arab, they’re Iranian and Persion, that Farsi is their native language not Arabic, and on it went. While some of this is, of course, internal Shi’a disputes regarding claims to power, I heard this over and over and over again.
    While I strongly recommend that you go to both the old/original Abu Aardvark and Abu Muqawama sites and do site searches for “powers that are” and read Professor Lynch’s and Dr. Parker’s excellent analyses, my take is that the structure of the Iraqi governmental system is part of what is keeping the more national groups with indigenous support from breaking through. Muqtada al Sadr has allowed himself to be coopted by the Iranian clerics in his pursuit of Shi’a religious credentialing. As such he is himself not on the scene much, if at all, to lead his movement – either substantively or as a figure head (I know people tend to take one view of his role or the other). Moreover, when PM Maliki declared rules in 2008 that any political party affiliated with a militia would be banned from participating in elections, this was pretty clearly directed at the Sadrists given that the Kurdish Pesh and ISCI’s Badr Corps had been folded into the Iraqi Security Forces and were therefore no longer militias. There was some concern that Maliki would try this with the Awakening/SOI folks, and there have been some reported roll ups of SOI leadership and groups in Baghdad City, as well as during the Diyala campaign. but largely they didn’t do it. I think, at the time, it was because they were armed and still pretty tightly tied to the US military security presence. Since then, however, Maliki has tried to coopt a lot of these folks by setting up his own Dawa oriented Awakening Councils.
    I think the more important reason that those with a lot of indigenous support haven’t been able to push back is threefold: 1) the numbers game – most of the Awakenings folks are Sunni, and Sunnis are about a 20% minority, so even if all of them supported the SOI and all of them voted, its still not enough to change things electorally at the national level. At the provincial level results would be mixed depending on locale, 2) the US decided that the Sadrists were outside the realm of polite company. As a result the only large scale, popular, indigenous Shi’a movement was largely off limits. And before anyone reminds that the Mehdi Army are terrorists and insurgents, I’m aware of that. But the Sadrists also have two other movements: the Office of the Martyr Sadr and the Sadrist Way. Essentially the Sadrists are the Iraqi version of Hezbullah or Hamas – they have a violent militia, but they also have a political party/movement, as well as an organization dedicated to doing social services such as healthcare, food delivery, education. What we should have done was found a way to disaggregate the movement, 3) from what I was able to observe, there was no concerted effort to really teach Iraqis how to form things like political parties, contest elections, campaign, organize, etc. This was supposed to be part of governance engagement, and it may have been done in some places, but usually the effort was to get the Iraqis that were running things to become competent in running them.
    My final point is that the initial planning, as we all know, was horrible for what happens once the initial invasion was successful. While many attempts were made to catch back up, and a whole lot of really qualified and really good, dedicated folks, both military and civilian, made an effort to rectify this, the whole that was dug by poor initial planning, followed by the removal of GEN Garner and the establishment of the CPA, and the failure to capitalize on the political opening created by the COIN breaks of 2007 and 2008 has made it impossible for the situation to be rectified.

  4. JohnH says:

    An additional question springs to mind: would Silverman care to speculate on how much residual influence the US will have in Iraq? Will it be more or less than–say–Jordan?
    The reason I select Jordan is the following: if the US maintains that level of influence, it can be argued that the US did not leave totally empty handed, as it did in Vietnam.

  5. Charles I says:

    Thank goodeness for ignorance and hubris.
    The neocons often seem so very adept at manipulating American politics from Fox to PNAC to the Long War I shudder to think of their agency were they so adept in their other target arenas.

  6. Assuming all foreign forces are gone from Iraq by Thanksgiving 2011 (a big assumption I admit) where will Iraq stand as a nation-state vis a vis Iran and the other Arab states? Bottom line will the “occupation” have strengthened Iraq and improved its ranking (not sure where it was before US and other invaded)among that profile or will it have been weakened? I argue that given finances, and loss of up to 4-5 million of its most capable citizens due to migration and death from hostile actions it will be another decade before Iraq has regained it standing on the world or Islamic stage equivalent to where it was when the invasion took place. And question, how long will it take the “new” Iraq before it engages in nuclear politics and WMD development? Also what are the status of the Tribes post-invasion? They seemed to be suppressed under Saddam but yet were tolerated! What will their status be in the ‘new” Iraq? Will Iraqis in Jordan return to Iraq? What incentives do they have to do so or not do so?

  7. Patrick Lang says:

    I knew the old Iraq well. I think the country has been weakened vis a vis Iran and this will take a long time to self-correct.
    Iraq will inevitably return to the business of gas weapons and atomic weapons in the effort to balance the situation between it and Iran.
    Saddam skillfully played the tribes against each other and did all he could to meddle with the traditional status of individual sheikhs. He was fairly successful at this, another manipulator. “He should have been a British political agent.”
    Iraqis will return to Iraq. They are Iraqi and yearn for home. pl

  8. JohnH says:

    Silverman’s latest comment raises some intriguing questions. It appears that the ruling elite is very isolated. They are cutting their ties to the US and have built no popular base.
    The questions are:
    -Who is watching their backs? Can Iran really be effective in serving that role?
    -How could the US have missed such an obvious opportunity, exploited so successfully in Latin America and much of the Arab world?
    -Alternatively, has control of the oil ministry given the ruling elite all the money it needs to buy itself protection?
    -If so, why do kings in other petro-states still need the US to watch their backs?

  9. Jackie says:

    John H,
    I’m trying to understand your second entry, so I have a question for you. If a country invaded your country on trumped up charges of WMD and propaganda, wrecked your country, killed your family and your fellow countrymen, bombed your house, looted your museums, failed to build anything meaningful or repair anything including electricity, drinking water and sewers…how much influence would you like that invading country to have on you?
    If the US has zero influence in Iraq, that’s fine with me, it doesn’t deserve any after this performance. I’m American, by the way, and this was not our finest moment.

  10. Patrick Lang says:

    Your belief that the ruling elite in Iraq are very isolated is not right. The various Shia political parties have many supporters. The Iranians perform the function of “fishing” for influence among these partieswith an aim of exerting as much influence as possible.
    In which Arab and South American countries does the US insure the continued power of the regime? Tell us which ones and what the mechanisms for the maintenance of imperialist power are. pl

  11. Patrick Lang says:

    Unless the Iraqi government insists there will be several thousand trainers, logisitcal deliverers and embassy security left after that.
    I hope the Iraqis do insist on total withdrawal but human nature being what it is, greed will probably overcome nationalist twaddle. pl

  12. Jackie says:

    I heard on NPR this morning that the US would have civilian advisors in Afghanistan for many years. How did the poor Afghans get by all these years without our wise counsel? Aren’t they a heck of a lot older civilization than us?

  13. curious says:

    “there was no concerted effort to really teach Iraqis how to form things like political parties, contest elections, campaign, organize, etc.”
    In which country does such thing ever thought? This is not civic class material we are talking, but the tricks and strategies of political party. (ideology, organization, pattern of interaction, funding, evolution, etc) Maybe political science class discussion about electorate engineering or public relation case study, but as “this is how political party suppose to be and behave”? ……..no wayyy…. I’ve never heard such educational class. Inside a political party meeting probably.
    “In which Arab and South American countries does the US insure the continued power of the regime? Tell us which ones and what the mechanisms for the maintenance of imperialist power are.”
    Honduras would be one of latest and obvious example.
    The common methods are:
    – control of weapon supply, training of elite force, presidential guard, and intelligence agency. Kill or eleminate the rest. Once the people with guns are on one side, everything else is trivial. (basic military junta and righwing coup scenario.)
    – Then telecommunication line. anywhere from financing, supply of equipment, interconnect access, etc. (I call it soft SIGINT)
    – Money. (corruption is name of the game.) access to capital is second.
    – Controlling media message is another favorite. (Media personality mostly are stupid and vain)
    after that it’s pretty much what AIPAC is doing. Various combination of soft power to manipulate legislative body. And watch the interaction and actively participate. Usually it doesn’t cost a lot to manipulate tiny country, specially if the entire arms force and business elite are pro-US.
    Beyond that there is the more dirty stuff. Basically, what al qaeda is doing in term of insurgency. (political polarization, injecting money to one party, kidnapping, assasination, etc. All by proxy of course.) Followed by things like sanction, embargo, cut from IMF, refuse clearing bank transaction.
    Venezuela, Zimbabwe are example. Zimbabwe for UK mining industry and industrial farming property. Venezuela for oil obviously. How about Ukraine? The orange crew wrecked the country economy and now the guy who supposedly lost by a squicker is winning by a landslide?
    Apropos example, Haiti. (much of the techniques are still in use to control various countries) Or why is relationship with Costa Rica is not hot?
    It is alleged that a popular uprising against Sam threatened American business interests in the country (such as HASCO). Because of these competing interests and the possibility of the cacos-supported anti-American Rosalvo Bobo emerging as the next President of Haiti, the American government decided to act quickly to preserve their economic dominance over Haiti.[2]
    American President Woodrow Wilson sent 330 U.S. Marines to Port-au-Prince on July 28, 1915. The specific order from the Secretary of the Navy to the invasion commander, Admiral William Deville Bundy, was to “protect American and foreign” interests. However, to avoid public criticism the occupation was labeled as a mission to “re-establish peace and order…[and] has nothing to do with any diplomatic negotiations of the past or the future” as disclosed by Rear Admiral Caperton.[3]
    The Haitian government had been receiving large loans from both American and French banks over the past few decades and was growing increasingly incapable in fulfilling their debt repayment. If an anti-American government prevailed under the leadership of Rosalvo Bobo, there would be no promise of any debt repayment, and the refusal of American investments would have been assured. Within six weeks of the occupation, representatives from the United States controlled Haitian customs houses and administrative institutions such as banks and the national treasury. Through American manipulation, 40% of the national income was used to alleviate the debt repayment to both American and French banks.[4]Despite the large sums due to overseas banks, this economic decision ignored the interests of the majority of the Haitian population and froze the economic growth the country needed. For the next nineteen years, advisers of the United States governed the country, enforced by the United States Marine Corps.
    All those are fairly common and obvious stuff nothing exotic or secret. All over wiki and documents archives.

  14. Patrick Lang says:

    “control of weapon supply, training of elite force, presidential guard, and intelligence agency. Kill or eleminate the rest.”
    More leftist fantasies. because the US would like to control events you believe that we can do this? You think we are gods? Something like the “toasters” on “Battlestar Galactica?” pl

  15. JohnH says:

    Silverman said, “Dawa and ISCI is that they’ve reimported their followers from exile and that’s a great deal of their base of support. I can tell you that almost all of the more traditional/tribal/rural Shi’a I spoke with are exceedingly suspicious of these folks.”
    But Lang said, “The various Shia political parties have many supporters.”
    I’m having trouble reconciling the two statements.
    As for the US role in propping up regimes, I’m surprised that the colonel can ask that question with a straight face. Outside powers routinely try to tip the internal balance of forces in foreign countries in their favor. And it has been a traditional role of the US government in many places, not just Latin America and the Arab world. In the Arab world, the prime example is Saudi Arabia, where FDR basically declared the House of Saud a protected species.
    There’s also pretty credible evidence that US support regularly helped tip the balance against communist efforts to democratically gain control of the government in Italy.
    In the old days of the Monroe Doctrine, US involvement meant sending in the troops to protect whatever two bit dictator represented the oligarchs. Then it became the work of the CIA. More recently that task has been delegated to groups like the National Endowment for “Democracy,”
    who are working hard against the regimes of Chavez, Morales, and Ortega. If you recall, Rumsfeld even took time away from making war in Iraq to go to Managua and see how the US could help prevent Ortega’s election. Most recently, the US military lent Soto Cano facilities to support the overthrow of the democratically elected Honduran government, thereby protecting the oligarchy.
    Getting back to Iraq, who’s watching the backs of the ruling elite, if not the US? And if the US is providing that service, doesn’t that give them considerable influence with the ruling elites?

  16. Jose says:

    Why can’t we accept Iraq for what it truly is?
    American efforts at nation building were designed to produce government that was favorable to American and Israeli interest, not Iraqi aspirations.
    Having crushed all forms of local political activity, a vacuum was created that only organized Iranian-backed groups could understand and thrive in.
    Iraq is not Morocco or Honduras, but three different countries united by the British (now American and Israeli) needs to use one group against the other.
    The Iranians won because the clever Persians did not care who won, only that they knew who made their victory possible now and in the future.
    In contrast, ask the SOI how they feel about the Americans or the Kurds about the Israelis when the civil war starts.
    In the end, the Iraqi’s will fight each other until they have had enough.
    Unity, if they want it, will come when they find a tempting target to blame for all their problems like Lebanon.
    I believe we Americans will be the target of that anger for many years to come.
    IMHO, we are trying to find out what when wrong when the answer is that this was a bad idea from the beginning.
    P.S. curious, do you really think we have that much power in Latin America given all the friends Fidel has down there?

  17. curious says:

    “because the US would like to control events you believe that we can do this?”
    That question has never been asked. Most of these activities are at the level of “because we can” and because it needs to be done this week for some short term political gain. Nobody cares what happens 15-20 years down the road, let alone what happen if a brutal military junta runs itself for 30-40 years.
    Nobody ever asked what happen to political ecosystem of a country during and after an instalation of military regime. Why everything turns mono culture, inbred, dependence on US aid, can’t seem to have initiative, internal trade collapsing, social stagnation … The eventual need for freedom, democracy, human right song and dance. As if people are so stupid, they don’t know they want freedom and not getting tortured.
    Haiti is an example of the cummulative effect. It is US’s North Korea. The result of 20 years duvalier rule is devastating to tiny banana republic island like haiti. No political activists or thinkers left. No political opposition survives. Viable political alternative doesn’t exist anymore.
    The relevancy in Iraq? In places like Iraq, people knows. Maybe not the illiterate villagers, but the ruling class and the intellectuals certainly are informed and know the game.
    How they dole out the latest oil contracts certainly shows an attempt to counter long term US influence by bringing in other big players.
    Iraq is not afghanistan. They are a big country which had a fairly comprehensive intelligence operation. Combined with Iranian input, trying to micro manage Iraq political affair and pulling Chile/Philippine gag won’t work.
    The amount of manpower needed to maintain that sort of arrangment and the eventual big blow up will be devastating. (yes 15-20 years down the road. The question that all the current smart people hasn’t asked yet.) There certainly isn’t going to be any semblance of “democracy” any time soon, specially with the need to have purple finger theater to show the world. All current talk about Iraq has nothing to do with self determination, Iraqis or democracy. It’s pure DC political project.
    At least my biggest fear where Iraq old military institutions merge with al qaeda didn’t seem to happen. Now that will be serious enough mistake to bring down the country.

  18. Charles I says:

    Juan Cole today cites analysis that shows secular parties are being targeted for exclusion:
    “Reidar Vissar breaks down the some 500 candidates excluded by party and finds that the list targets the secular parties.”
    “Some More De-baathification Metrics”:
    The exclusion list did not identify party affiliation perhaps in attempt to obscure the focus. That has now been done.
    Vissar previoulsy asked Sectarianism or Despotism?. It sounds like a bit of both, aimed at the former Sunni “ins” who have found it so difficult to engage non-kinetic politics.
    We have delivered up sectarian despotism where democracy and freedom were touted once the WMD threat was, er, dealt with, empowering Iran to boot.
    However new developments closer to home beckon;
    “Venezuela oil ‘may double Saudi Arabia’
    An oil pump in Venezuela
    Venezuela holds the largest oil reserves outside the Middle East
    A new US assessment of Venezuela’s oil reserves could give the country double the supplies of Saudi Arabia.
    Scientists working for the US Geological Survey say Venezuela’s Orinoco belt region holds twice as much petroleum as previously thought.
    The geologists estimate the area could yield more than 500bn barrels of crude oil.
    This assessment is far more optimistic than even the best case scenario put forward by President Hugo Chavez.
    The USGS team gave a mean estimate of 513bn barrels of “technically recoverable” oil in the Orinoco belt.'”
    I recently cited new US SOF developments in Columbia that saw new military unit basing rights that were not components of Plan Columbia and the DEA operations in Columbia. Virtually the same wekk, it was reported that Columbia would be moving some helicopter units to be stationed on the Venezuelan border.
    Jose, you ask curious:
    “P.S. curious, do you really think we have that much power in Latin America given all the friends Fidel has down there?”
    Doesn’t matter what curious and I think, what do the people who control the USG think? They appear to have a remakably robust belief in American exceptionalism and power projection coupled with astounding ignorance of the human canvas upon which their designs are played out.
    Dope and oil, a big war usually ensues eventually, be great to be proven wrong.

  19. Patrick Lang says:

    Charles I
    “Dope and oil.” Presumably you are saying that we will invade Venezuela to steal their oil (not having learned our lesson in Iraq)
    Are we going to invade Venezuela because we want the drugs or to damage the drug trade? pl

  20. Charles I says:

    Pat, you presume too much. I’m not saying you’re going to invade.
    I’m saying there’s a lot of dope down there. Now there may be even more oil,and military dispositions are being reported in the area.
    That’s all.
    I have made the argument that historical examples abound of the vector of dope, oil and war. I read the news, posted a few pertinent bits here, hard to know what to make of them until more is known. I didn’t make up either the US military basing arrangement nor the reports a few weeks ago of the movement of the Colombian Air Force helicopter units being moved to new station by the Venezuelan border.
    I would posit a continuing build up of US involvement on one side, a reaction on the other, increased use of paramilitary/proxy elements that, like Vang Pao, or General Phoumi earlier in Laos, you have no idea what else they are up to, or where supporting one militarized faction against another will ultimately lead, at what cost, including perilous blowback at home, never mind the poor wretches in the battlespace.
    This has been taking place in Columbia in the last couple of decades. Playing whackamole with cartels and favourites with paramilitary proxies does not tend to stability or the rule of law.
    Certainly it distorts domestic politics in a manner that is unsustainable by an outsider except at ever greater cost until ultimate withdrawal.
    Human Rights watch and others have long Complained of paramilitary involvement in indigenous/peasant harassment and displacement, often associated with development pushes that follow the geosurveys as day follows night.
    The Ties That Bind: Colombia and Military-Paramilitary Links”
    for a detailed review of just some of the activities in the field.
    Last book I looked in, venuzuela was right next to Columbia.
    The discussion above has turned to just how much the US has been played in the middle East. The opinions generally do not paint your policy makers, legislators or the forces attempting to carry out these warped, non-existential missions in the best light. A few years from now, a few whacko moves by Chavez, a few spurts of cartel-jockeying ultra-violence, many banana peels and Fox broadcasts later, who can rule out deterioration/escalation.
    Where I see smoke, I look for a pope or a fire. I don’t look away until my curiosity or physical security is satisfied,
    We peak oilers may be right too, one never knows. In any event if your government wasn’t angling in on a pool of oil that may be double the Saudi’s just down the way, why as a gas-guzzling American I’d want to know why the hell not.
    Bring the Army home from Columbia. Legalize the blow. Spend the money on gas and rehab.
    That would ensure that should a big war occur, you’ll be well out of it.
    But where there’s dope and oil, there’s money to be made, better by the US than China.

  21. Patrick Lang says:

    Charles I
    Canadian socialized medecine is good. Surely care givers are available. pl

  22. Charles I says:

    They don’t treat the hopeless cases.

  23. Fred Strack says:

    Curious said: “Nobody cares what happens 15-20 years down the road, let alone what happen if a brutal military junta runs itself for 30-40 years.”
    I have to disagree. The post WW2 occupation of both Japan and Germany are examples of just that concern.

  24. Cloned Poster says:

    South America would be viewed by the “experts” as a very soft target. In a nation v nation war (ie. bombs, drones and cruise missiles) USofA would kick ass, beware of Obama making a soft hit on Chavez in 2012, when the Presidential Election gets going.

  25. Patrick Lang says:

    Yes, but that would be followed by the usual guerilla resistance. pl

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