We do not see clearly.

69637110_jhbjvtwj Here we have a pair of linked articles.  They are linked by the same unwillingness of the United States to understand the local situation in the Middle East, the state interests of Iran (as opposed to its religious ideology) and the need to adapt our own policy to local reality.

We do not see clearly.

In Basra the British have been defeated by the local interests of the several Iraqi Shia factions and their militias.  Their assumption that southern Iraq was a reproduction of the counter-insurgency environment of Ireland has been proven wrong.  The Shia militias are far stronger and more virulently anti-Western than "the boys" ever  were.  The depth of popular support for these militias is overwhelming.  Those who are taking the Crystolian path of rejoicing in the success of the "surge" in central Iraq have little to say of how the US is going to cope with the British loss of southern Iraq to Shia militia control.  In this situation of competition among Fadhila, the Maliki government, Dawa (to the extent that it is separate from Maliki), the Sadrists, and ISCI (SCIRI), Iran is doing well in a skilled game of playing off one group against another to ensure that there will not be a clear victor.  This should be seen as reflective of a realistic analysis of Iranian state interests.  In an idealized world Iran would seek only the victory of the Shia community without regard for its own future ability to manipulate the situation, but, this is not an idealized world.  This is the other of the two worlds, the one in which countries still exist and have interests.  The devotion of Iran to its state interests can also be seen in the willingness of Iran to give limited support to non-religious insurgent groups.  For Iran the goal of helping these groups push America towards the door is sufficient to justify some strengthening of the enemies of the religious Shia community.

Jalal Talabani, a master of the art of the possible, and Hamid Kharzai have now both tried to tell the Bushies and their Crystolian chums that Iran is a potential asset rather than the inevitable and latest inhabitant of the doghouse to which the US consigns its mythic enemies. (Mythic enemies are often real enemies as well) 

We had the Libyans out in the doghouse for a long time until someone told Qaddhafi that a modicum of drama in yielding to the need to confess his evil would produce wondrous results.  Now we have Iran and Syria occupying adjoining doghouses. 

Both are signaling a desire to negotiate their differences with the US.  In the Bush administration with its Manichaean view of the universe, there has been no willingness to do anything other than to arrange the unconditional surrender of the two countries.

One imagines a scene in which Bashar Assad and Ahmedinajad walk up a slope together to the tent in which they will offer their swords.  Oh! I forgot.  We did that scene at Safwan.  pl 



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29 Responses to We do not see clearly.

  1. Binh says:

    How do you think the loss of the South to the anti-U.S. Shia factions will effect the supply line logistics that you have written about? Can we expect more attacks on convoys coming from Kuwait?

  2. Col., when not reading your blog, I am currently reading Rabelais’ Gargantua and Pantagruel .
    In this early 16th century satire, the hero, Gargantua, defeats an opposing army by undoing his codpiece and taking a leak so massive that it drowns them.
    This makes as much sense as anything the Bush administration now is doing in Iraq.
    I propose a copy of Rabelais’ masterpiece be sent to the White House. It would help their thinking tremendously.

  3. Wayne White says:

    The impact of the British withdrawal could very well be quite serious, not only related to its impact on the internal Iraqi political and security situation and the problem of Iranian interference, but also because the most important overland U.S. supply line (from Kuwait to Baghdad and many other points north in Iraq) runs through this increasingly rebellious and unstable region.
    Down the road, we could easily find ourselves in a situation in which significant numbers of troops desperately needed to address security challenges in central, western and northern Iraq have to be diverted south in order to secure that vital supply line.

  4. Edward Merkle says:

    With all due respect, the President has the vision of the average fourth-grader learning morality tales for the first time. How can we expect a clear view of a complicated scene when we have a simpleton at the helm?
    And how complicated is this scene? From the first WAPO article: “The city is plagued by “the systematic misuse of official institutions, political assassinations, tribal vendettas, neighborhood vigilantism and enforcement of social mores, together with the rise of criminal mafias that increasingly intermingle with political actors,” a recent report by the International Crisis Group said.” And this is one city! So let’s just wade in here, with the help of God, and just take care of the “evildoers.”
    We should all be grateful for the bureaucratic aspect of our government and military systems and the people of critical thinking skills within them, to maintain us through this deficient leadership.

  5. jb vanover says:

    One gets the feeling that some of these more ideological-prism types (manning the desks at the overcrowded VP office) see a Sunni-Shiite civil war as not the worst of possible worlds.
    But even a mild imagination can conjure real bad blowback right to the heart of america, i.e.
    1) $100 barrel oil due to infrastructure, distribution attacks.
    2)Perceived proAmerican islamic leaders on the run, nukes in the hands of unfriendlies.
    3) Overseas American interests (commercial and political) diminished and under constant threat.
    (do you mean Kristolian?)

  6. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Col. Lang:
    Libyans later expressed disappointment at what they received for their “surrender” – they expected far more and received far less.

  7. Cloned Poster says:

    Your puppet Iraqi PM is in Turkey today and he labels the PKK as a “terror organisation”.

  8. Irans Rising Influence

    Pat Lang throws some cold water on the idea that all indicators are moving in the right direction at least on the military front in Iraq, citing reports that the Brits have failed in Basra.
    In Basra the British have been defeated by the local interests…

  9. Frances says:

    Col. Lang: “Iran is doing well in a skilled game of playing off one group against another to ensure that there will not be a clear victor.”
    Do we know how much of the factional politics of Basra is indigenous to the area and how much involves Iranian influence? I’m doubtful that Iran controls these internal politics much better than we do. Or, in any case, these problems would be similarly intractable even if Iran were not nearby.
    Undoubtedly, Basra’s factional politics work to Iran’s benefit much more than to ours. But, in the end, Iran’s interests were inevitably going to be served by the US decision to destroy their greatest regional threat and to put their co-religionists in control of Iraq’s “government.”
    From the WP article: “Although neighbor Iran’s presence is pervasive — with cultural influence, humanitarian aid, arms and money — U.S. officials and outside experts think that the Iraqi parties are using Iran more than vice versa. Iraqis in the south have long memories of the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, one U.S. official said, and when a southern Shiite ‘wants to tar someone, they call them an Iranian.’ He said the United States is ‘always very concerned about Iranian influence, as well we should be, but there is a difference between influence and control. It would be very difficult for the Iranians to establish control.'”

  10. david says:

    I am not convinced the Iranians currently have a coherent strategy in Iraq. Politically speaking, they have strategic depth and can afford the ambiguity.

  11. Montag says:

    As someone once observed, pragmatic governments cannot afford to have “friends,” only “interests.” The Iranian government boasts of their good relations with bordering Armenia because as Shia they naturally sympathize with the underdog, but it’s really a case of national interests coinciding. As Christians the Armenians are completely outside both the Sunni-Shia Divide and the Arab-Persian Divide, have no natural conflicts with Iran, and have problems with their neighbors Turkey and Azerbaijan–so their narrow border with a friendly Iran is almost a windpipe for them. Go tell the Armenians that Iran is an existential threat and they’ll laugh at you.

  12. JohnH says:

    Christopher Parker and Pete W. Moore published an instructive article called the Iraq War Economy: http://www.merip.org/mer/mer243/parker_moore.html
    Much of what American propoganda calls militias actually turn out to be business organizations trying to carve out their own turf–localized oil production, oil distribution, and control over other trade routes and supply lines. Necessarily they compete for control of the economic prize and fight for protection of their assets and to secure additional ones. In this sense the US government and Baghdad shiite elite are just other militias that want to consolidate their economic control over the local players and extract the value added (profits) for themselves and their cronies.
    To broker peace, someone will have to offer the militias shares of a bigger pie. And it’s looking more and more like the Iranians might just turn out to be the most honest brokers.

  13. walrus says:

    It’s 0400 here and I can’t sleep, having just put down Barbara Tuchman’s “The March of Folly” that I am once again re-reading. I’ve just finished the chapters on the Six Popes whose idiocy sparked the reformation that destroyed large chunks of the power of the Catholic Church.
    Now Tuchman embarks on the saga of how the British lost it’s American colonies and opines on the theme that underlay this particular folly:- the pursuit of a principle for no reward, and the pursuit of a policy at a cost that was totally and utterly outweighed by the potential losses if it failed.
    I am afraid that America has reached the same point as the British reached in about 1763, and is in the early stages of it’s own catastrophic demise through following policies that are definitely NOT in its own national interest. That’s what is keeping me awake and posting.
    This has come about for the principle reason that the American electoral system is broken, in that the financial resources required for election dictate that corporate interests and the very rich dictate policy, period. The fumbling and dissembling of the recently elected Democrats in Congress demonstrate this perfectly.
    The fury of their grass roots supporters is already palpable, but their spineless behaviour (and continued spineless behaviour no matter how many are elected) is predictable, because their policies are not determined by the needs of their electorates, but by the needs of their sponsors.
    It’s really quite simple: the policies being followed with regard to Iraq and the entire Middle East are determined by:
    1. The requirement from the military industrial complex for a demon large enough to stimulate as much defence spending as possible. That demon is being supposedly confronted in “The war on Terror” and against “Islamofascism”. These contests are not designed to be won, since it is not in the interests of the instigators (on both “sides” for it ever to be concluded. This is Orwell’s war against Oceania.
    2. The requirement by the American oil industry to secure access to the remaining Middle Eastern supplies. These lie in Western Iraq and Iran. Saudi Arabia is just about tapped out, but that is supposedly a closely guarded secret, even though their reserves have not been upgraded for ten years during which we know they pumped and delivered half of it.
    3. The interests of Israel in ensuring that prosperous Arab states do NOT appear, since they would be in a position to require the solution of the Palestinian problem, as well as compete for American attention and investment dollars.
    All of these forces come together in the AEI and AIPAC, and it is a demonstrable fact that the Bush Administration and successive Congresses of both parties will do their bidding to the harm of the American electorate and the genuine interests of America.
    To borrow a phrase from a French General following the German invasion “Nous sommes emmerde”, and the powers that be intend pushing us deeper into the merde for their own interests, not ours.
    If supply lines through the South are cut, and pressure is placed on airfields and the roads North, then I believe we are going to see a replay of the siege of Kut.
    Technical arguments on how we may get ourselves out are pointless. If there is ever a new edition of Tuchman’s book, the last chapters will be describing America’s fall into the dustbin of history. I think I can see it coming, and it deeply saddens me.

  14. ked says:

    to paraphrase that great American pop philosopher, Bruce Springsteen; “… blinded by our might…” or was it “… blinded by the Right…”? the WH band should study the hidden meanings in r&r lyrics before starting more wars.

  15. Ben P says:

    It seems to me that the military strategy has become and is becoming increasingly divorced from the “political” strategy.
    What I mean is that what Petraeus is doing is using the state of Iraq as he found it in early 2007 and using it to the US military’s advantage as much as he can, rather than to its disadvantage. In other words, by providing various tribal and neighborhood (Sunni) groups weapons, he’s ensuring that – for the time being at least – they’re shooting in the other direction. The Sunni groups then get resources and bargaining power. What this strikes me as is not really counterinsurgency at all, which tries to win over civilian populations to support the ostensible government. But the Sunnis – of all stripes – despise the Maliki government and its various Kurdish and Shi’ite hangers-on.
    What Iraq has become since the invasion is a warlord society and Petraeus has merely acknowledged that and is using it to his advantage. This of course leaves out the majority Shi’ite population (with its own militias, to be sure), as you note here. The unspoken part of this, however, is that this ISN’T counterinsurgency and that Petraeus – I think perhaps deliberately – is slowly working to undermine “political process”, which, to be frank, has been one of the greatest boondoggles in history.
    You are far more cynical than the people carrying out this “strategery.” They have a certain childlike sinerity which is touching to watch. – The US is not doing very much arming of the tribes and villagers. It is not necessary. There are guns and arms everywhere in Iraq. It is more a question of cooperation. – I don’t think this process holds back “reconciliation.” If such a thing is possible, which I doubt, then this acquisition of armed and coherent power by the sunnis is more likely to force compromise than to inhibit it. pl

  16. michael savoca says:

    An interesting piece by General Volney Warner retired about how the lessons of Vietnam and the current wars in Iraq / Afghanistan are mirror images of each other. The General lost his granddaughter to the present war and acknowledges his vision is colored, but makes the point that the present administration entered the frey without sufficient panning for counter insurgency.
    there appears to be a typo in the article but you’ll get the sense….

  17. Mark from NJ says:

    Iran does not have to be a problem. Most Iranians love America and most Americans.
    Bush behaves very oddly for someone who claims to be a conservative and a Christian.

  18. Ben P says:

    To whom responded to my post (I’m sorry I can’t see who):
    Fair enough. I guess my original post didn’t quite get across my meaning. I don’t know if Petraeus et al. see what they are doing is contributing to a “modern democracy” in the sense it was (and I think at least in some quarters, still is) understood as the goal of the mission.
    What I’m saying is that the Anbar strategy is sort of a recognition (whether purposeful or not) that warlordism/tribalism is what will salvage the mess. Also, that the idea that the Iraqi government functions or thinks of itself in anyway like, say, the United States or Sweden was ridiculous. It is also a government of warlords.
    As such, perhaps a best case scenario is Lebanon, although I think this is probably too optimistic at this point. Maybe right now we are in 1982 to make a rather poor comparison. But Iraq is right now at a much lower point in terms of human development than Lebanon ever was. The situation in much of the country, in terms of factors like unemployment, sanitation, infrastructure, et al., is simply desperate and much of the technocratic class has left the country or been killed or coopeted.

  19. Curious says:

    Nobody is taking any chance. It’s all about big Iraq implosion. Rusia and China are certainly prepping themselves.
    … the Shanghai Cooperation Organization is indeed making a very big point by way of holding its large-scale military exercises from August 9-17. The SCO is loudly proclaiming to the international community that there is no “vacuum” in Central
    Asia’s strategic space that needs to be filled by security organizations from outside the region.
    The exercises, code-named “Peace Mission 2007”, will be held in Chelyabinsk in Russia’s Volga-Ural military district and in Urumqi, capital of China’s Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous region. The SCO summit is scheduled to take place in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek on August 16. After the summit, in a highly symbolic gesture, the heads of states and defense ministers of all SCO members – China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan – will watch the conclusion of the joint military exercise in Urumqi.

  20. geos says:

    pl says:
    You are far more cynical than the people carrying out this “strategery.” They have a certain childlike sincerity which is touching to watch.
    For all the talk of Iraqi factions I wish I understood which factions were responsible for U.S. policy: Are you saying former Ambassador-to-Iraq John Negroponte has a child-like sincerity or are you saying that the same folks are still making the decisions?
    I had thought that Cheney had been forced to bring in some of the old hands?

  21. Curious says:

    It seems to me that the military strategy has become and is becoming increasingly divorced from the “political” strategy.
    Posted by: Ben P | 07 August 2007 at 05:03 PM
    War is continuation of politics by other means. It’s classic and still true. A country can’t win war if the leadership doesn’t know what he is doing. (diplomacy, domestic politics, etc.) Everything will unravel quickly.
    A general certainly have limited understanding and resource when it comes to on going international diplomacy. A general won’t have a clue how to run a national health care system, fixing international investment, or border issue with Turkey. etc.
    therefore: Iraq mess. It’s drawn by delusional neocons and executed by Bush incompetent gang. It’s a wonder the army is still in one piece in Iraq.

  22. PeterE says:

    A few years ago I read Kennan’s memoirs during his years in Russia. He (and presumably his colleagues at the U.S. embassy in Moscow) had a deep knowledge of Russia: language, culture, economy, etc. Back in the U.S. most of the decision makers knew little or nothing about Russia (or Europe). Keynes describes a similar situation at the Versailles Conference. Likewise, according to Halberstam, for Vietnam. And now, since 2003, for Iraq. I wonder why. A guess: Michael Oakeshott has part of the answer in his essay “Rationalism in Politics”.

  23. Clifford Kiracofe says:

    Good point on the SCO and Central Asian geopolitics. Iran has a relationship with the SCO as well. Energy security is an important interest of this grouping of states.
    Meanwhile, an Aussie paper reports continued US strongarming of India per the Iran-Pak-India pipeline deal.
    “Bruce Loudon, South Asia correspondent | August 08, 2007
    WASHINGTON turned up the heat yesterday on India over Iran, demanding that New Delhi “diminish” its trade with the “nuclear outlaw”.US Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said Washington expected India to be “part of the international mainstream in trying to deal with one of the most difficult security problems we face internationally today”.
    The comments were aimed at the strategically significant Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline deal that is being negotiated by the three powers despite opposition from the Bush administration.”
    Seems to me the Administration should be lobbying the three countries to get some US companies in on the deal. Every one billion in US exports is roughly 20,000 jobs here at home according to some trade specialists.
    Instead, contrary to our national interest, we are running up a 1 to 2 trillion dollar tab in Iraq for the unnecessary and regionally destabilizing war/Bush crusade (which we “lost” long ago), isolating Iran, insulting India, and constraining Pak economic development.

  24. Abu Sinan says:

    Keep in mind that the Brits never beat the ‘RA anyways.
    When you have to helicopter even your trash out of places like Crossmaglen and the like, you have not beaten them.
    I spent a lot of time in these areas just north of the border in Ireland. The squaddies were so scared that they would not drive certain roads, policemen had to be escorted through areas with entire squads of soldiers fully armed.
    These same squads of soldiers were still doing foot patrols in Crossmaglen and Jonesebough up until 2001, I saw them with my own eyes.
    If you cannot beat a few hundred Irishman right next to your own country, you are not going to beat thousands of Iraq Shi’a thousands of miles away.

  25. geos says:

    Colonel Lang says:
    Iran is a potential asset rather than the inevitable and latest inhabitant of the doghouse to which the US consigns its mythic enemies.
    Someone please educate me otherwise but I don’t think U.S. foreign policy has in the last century shown much precedence for having non-confrontational relationships with truly independent regional powers.
    The rhetoric I hear about Iran sounds to me much like the sort of talk one heard about China: I think there are a sizeable number of people not willing to forget what the Khomeneists did to SAVAK just as there were people who couldn’t forget what the Maoists did to the Kuomintang. It took the stalemate (and senseless slaughter thereof) of the Korean War to take the wind out of the sails of people (like Macarthur) who wanted to refight the Chinese revolution with American soldiers. And then it took until Nixon, almost twenty years after Korea, for reality to become official U.S. policy. And still you get the sense that there are people in D.C. who want confrontation with Beijing.
    The idea that the U.S. could have pragmatic and presumably mutually beneficial relations with Iran without some really sobering evidence (see Korean War) that the relationship wouldn’t be based on U.S. supremacy strikes me as wildly implausible.
    Can someone tell me different?

  26. Dana J says:

    “We do not see clearly” – Pat, this says it best. Absolutely nobody has any idea on how to admit failure in Iraq. Or on what happens next. Think about the Iraqis, do you think that they will be waving flags at our troops as they drive home after we have killed at LEAST half-a-million of them (going on a full million by the time Bush leaves office)? Does anybody think that they will be thanking us for liberating them from Saddam? Or will they be thinking of the fathers, mothers, brothers & sisters that we have killed, and wanting to get even somehow, anyhow? What if things settle down, our troops come home,and then the Iraqi parliament revokes the oil laws we pushed on them, or even demands that we hand over Bush, Cheney & co for war crimes? Do you think that the short sighted idiots running our government have thought that far ahead? They like to talk about re-making reality, but they have no true vision. God, this country is in a mess, and Obama, or Hillary or anybody isn’t going to be able to dig us out of the pit bush has gotten us into (Iraq war is going to cost over a TRILLION $).I have a feeling that any “new” administration is going to realize that we are stuck there for a long, long time, and the troops are not coming home anytime soon (except in pieces & bags)

  27. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Another View point:
    Look for “Diplomatic/Strategic Evolution in Iraq…”

  28. Cold War Zoomie says:

    On a related note, an interesting article in the Wash Post this morning:
    Sunni Allies
    One LTC explains that he thinks the Sunnis have decided to cut deals with us primarily because they realize that they have lost. Driving out AQ is just secondary.
    I doubt the Sunnis feel like they’ve lost. They recognize the stalemate with us. They cannot defeat us and we cannot defeat them with our current level of committment. So they changed tactics, helping us meet our objectives for leaving. Simply give the occupiers what they want and wave bye-bye when they leave. Then overthrow the Green Zone house of cards.

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