When is a first strike not a first strike?
When it's Anticipatory Retaliation.

April 11, 2004

The Very Long View On Iraq

Bravo Romeo Delta

Amidst the entire question of whether we're in a global war or whatnot (and I would submit that we have found ourselves in a multi-decade long Cold War in the Shadows), there's a lot of back and forth about what role Iraq plays in this larger campaign and how it was sold.

Without going into gruesome detail about the fact that the war was sold on many levels, only one of which was WMD, and without rehashing the validity of pre-war intelligence and the fact that David Kay found that the Iraqis had not fully complied with their disarmament requirements...

We get to the essential point - why was Iraq a target? Iraq, whether you like it or not, has an incredibly siginificant geostrategic location for several reasons. Iraq was run by a person with one of the poorest risk evaluation skills seen in modern history (think about containment - if he wasn't coerced into modifying his behavior by the presence of a huge military buildup on his front door...). Iraq also harbored and abbetted terrorists. Iraq also was an incredibly aggressive proliferator. And Iraq was ongoing slow-motion snuff film.

But, really, what's the angle here? The thread, the plotline, why now, and not then? How does this really affect root causes and will help in rooting those causes out?

Well, for background, check this bit right here out. Basically, in a nutshell, this guy wrote in March 2003 that war with Saddam was not only inevitable, but good. Essentially, its kind of an outgrowth of dependency theory (which dictates that states dependent on each other for trade and whatnot tend towards peaceful interaction). This Barnett guy takes it a bit further and notes that states that aren't connected to the rest of the world also are the problem children. He then notes, in a somewhat Friedman-esque manner, that states that are connected (part of the 'core') tend to be stable and so on.

Well, here's the scoop. Wayyy back about a century or so, the number of democracies in the world could be counted without resorting to removal of one's shoes. We get to WW II, and we've got this big obvious fight between fascism and communism and democracy. Hitler, being a bit dogmatic, manages to piss off and get crushed by both the democratic and communist forces. As we all know, that led us into a longer pissing match about communism v. capitalism (both democratic and authoritarian). And, we too know how that worked.

Well, here's the surprising gig. Y'all, I'm sure, have heard of that Sayyid Qutb guy, who gave birth to the abortion that is political islam. Now, a thing to keep in mind, is that he didn't create this from whole cloth - rather he trooped around during the thirties, and thought a lot of glowing things about Stalin, Hitler, and Mussolni. Conversely, he (along with a lot of other folks) decided that the US was corrupt, decadent, effete, doomed to fail, etc.

The reason, however, that this particular war has evolved the way it has is two-fold. First, he didn't really have a goverment - think Marx here. So it took an awful lot of time for his ideas to spread and gain momentum as actionable principles. Secondly, let's be frank, the umma hasn't really been much of a world beater over the last few hundred years.

Now, these two things alone would have relegated Islamicism to the approximate power and influence of the Mormon church, had two other factors not come into play. The first is mass media (you might want to ask Martin Luther about this). Obviously this makes the propogation of ideas really fast. Moreover, it removes the process known as interest aggregation from any sort of geographic constraints. Think about it - if Hitler had been as effective in English as he was in German - and been able to broadcast his speeches via the internet, we could have been stuck with trying to root out are very real and substantial fascist insurgency in the United States during WWII.

The other big factor is globalization. While Barnett argues that the problem children are disconnected - he glosses over a more telling factor - that these states are profoundly well connected - to each other. Look at the most recent exposure of the proliferation black market. Take a look at connections between ETA, the IRA, FARC, and Hezbollah. Connections between the drug trade, arms trade, and insurrection. Folks gotta remember that this globalization thing can cut both ways.

These two things, in combination, meant that a) these groups were able to achieve a critical mass necessary to sustain violence, propaganda, and other sustained political action, much, much faster and earlier than equivalent groups in earlier eras. Secondly, it meant that the action arm may not have to leave behind a mailing address.

So, this started to simmer some decades ago, but went largely unnoticed for several reasons - we were paying attention to the commies, transnational threats weren't nearly as visible as threats posed by individual nations, and frankly, these guys are pretty feckless most of the time. If you start to look at the longer history, things like the non-existence of the PLO prior to the 1967 war make more sense. Additionally, Iran has functionally considered itself at war with the US since 1982. So essentially, we've been (much to our suprise on 9/11) engaged in a Very Long Cold War - perhaps a Shadow War - for decades now. As Ms. Rice indicated, they were at war with us although we weren't at war with them.

Where, then, does Iraq fit into all of this? Those of you who have followed military actions closely may be familiar with the notion of a 'center of gravity and once you hit that center hard enough, the system gets damaged and we start heading to a 'tipping point' after which failure cascades through the other guy's system and he falls apart.

To be fair to some of the war's critics, there are a lot of very clear and present threats a good deal spookier than Iraq ever was. What those critics may not apprehend is that Iraq was the most important center of gravity we could hit given political constraints. Think about this - look at the map. When Iraq goes, Syria and Iran are now surrounded by US troops and US allies in all direction (think about the value of economic sanctions now that Syria is cut off from the sea). The threat of armed force against Saudi Arabia is mooted and allows troops to be pulled out and placed on the flanks of American enemies. The swatting of Hussein for WMD did affect Libya, but more significantly it lead directly to the uncovering of a huge amount of information about the Iranian program. Both of these in concert allowed the proliferation black market to be dealt a grevious wound. You could also argue that the flypaper strategy on this has been effective, but more significantly, it takes some of the political heat of off Israel, because now they are not the only people being screamed at.

So, a better analysis is not that we went to war for any one reason - but rather that we were striking at a center of gravity in a larger, much older conflict, in an effort to disrupt our opponent's systems.

So then, how does Fallujah play into this. Well, the bad guys still operate under the assumption that the US is terribly casualty intolerant. On this, only the historians will be able to tell. The fact of the matter is however, that they could increase their survivability by going to ground, but they have, instead come to the surface, expsoing themselves in an effort to Black Hawk Down us. By way of analogy, think of a ballistic missile sub hiding under the surface. Once she launches a missile, then everyone will know where she's at. It's bad insofar as the missile has been launched, but great insofar as you now know exactly where the other 23 missiles are. Live with the launch, but sink the damned boat.

For the long term, this (both Iraq and Fallujah) is going to be a much harder slog than just about anyone anticipated. But there's may be a very good reason for it. The fact that this has generated the amount of shrill invective and irritation it has suggests to me that it must have been a valuable target indeed. People don't get that damned excited about things they don't care about. Iraq had importance way beyond what I estimated it had, based solely on the reactions of the Islamofacists alone.

The downside is that it will continue to be the focus of their ire (making rehabilitation of the nation much more costly and difficult) as long as they still feel the sting of its loss - or until they just get plain tired out - or we lose.

Looking at it from this perspective, one may note that the commentary about the Iraqis not being defeated harshly enough to kill off the potential for future insurrection misses the point - we're not fighting Iraqis. We're fighting the unholy spawn of fascism and fundamental Islam. And in that war, this is merely a single engagement.

Launched by Bravo Romeo Delta at April 11, 2004 01:46 AM
Watcher of Weasels Retaliates with: Submitted for Your Approval
Watcher of Weasels Retaliates with: The Council Has Spoken!

Retaliatiory Launches

This sounds right to me. What I'm concerned about is that the Bush folks still have not chosen to make their case for Iraq, which leaves them standing in a hole no matter how ill-advised the Clarke version of things really is. You'll note that practically no one really changed their mind as a result of Rice's testimony, and Sony bought the rights to Clarke's book so it'll soon get shoved down our throats in a big dramatic way. The sad truth is that once 48 hours has passed on a story without a detailed and authoritative rebuttal it really doesn't matter what you say, because most people have forgotten what the details were anyway. What they have left is a general impression that's next to impossible to dislodge. It's impervious to facts. It's only susceptible to drama, of a higher order than the events that established the impression in the first place.

The only strategy that's viable for the Bush people is to take the opening provided by Clarke and more recently by Bob Kerry and finally make the comprehensive and authoritative case for Iraq, turning it into a dramatic narrative that frames the debate. At that point what Clarke says won't matter, because he really doesn't have much to say about Iraq.

Will they deploy this strategy in time? I'm not very impressed by the Bush team's political skills, frankly, and I think they'll let this opportunity pass them by as well. The only person they have who's really sharp is Karen Hughes, and she can't do everything.

For want of a horse...

Posted by: Scott at April 11, 2004 05:23 AM
The only person they have who's really sharp is Karen Hughes, and she can't do everything.

Correction, she's the only political person with incisive political savvy. Condi Rice is obviously smart, as is Rummy, etc. And they do have political savvy. But they are not political strategiests who understand "the voting public." And that's the horse that's missing. Hughes seems to have "the gift," but I get the impression she's not in a central role, and her skills may not be up to a challenge this tough anyway.

Posted by: Scott at April 11, 2004 05:35 AM

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