Thursday, July 27, 2006

Small Minded Hobgoblins

In May of 2005, Vice President Cheney famously uttered the statement that the Iraqi insurgency was in its "last throes." In June of 2006 (13 months deep on the last throes calendar), a reporter gave Cheney a chance to admit his error and explain why an insurgency that he had deemed defeated more than a year earlier, continued to rage. His response was as unrealistic as it was self-refuting: Cheney said he still believes that the Iraqi insurgency is in its last throes - and that it also was when he said it over a year ago. He'll likely continue believing this for as long as the insurgency lasts. Some throes.

Now it appears that Ralph Peters is taking a page out of Dick Cheney's playbook of foolish consistency. Back in March, Peters took a couple of brief tours of Baghdad, and came back to write a scathing column entitled, "Dude, Where's My Civil War." As the title indicates, the premise of the column was that there was no civil war in Iraq - and that any impression to the contrary was the result of misinformed or biased reporters who were by and large spending their days on hotel verandas rather than getting out of the Green Zone to get the real story. The truth being a relatively peaceful Iraq, whose placid citizenry were generally warm and friendly to US troops. And nowhere were there signs of violence.

So it was with some interest that I turned to Peters' latest effort, entitled "Back to Baghdad." I figured this column would take the form of a watered-down mea culpa ("guess there was a civil war after all..."), or even a slightly disingenuous explanation that things had changed dramatically since March ("there wasn't one then, but now there sure is a civil war"). But from the opening line onward, Peters went all Cheney on us:

When I visited Baghdad in March, there was no civil war. There is no civil war in Iraq today.

Nothing, if not consistent. The closest Peters comes to admitting error is his exploration of the fact that there "might" be a civil war in the near future. The reason, he opines, is that whereas there was political violence with religious overtones previously, now the conflict is becoming primarily one of religious character. Why the religious quality of the fighting changes the description of the conflict is never really explained by Peters, other than a couple of tangential points about the potential for greater bloodshed and more difficult resolution when religion enters the equation as a primary motivator.

In particular, I found these passages rather odd for someone claiming that there wasn't then, nor isn't now, a civil war in Iraq [emphasis mine throughout]:

For three years, the violence was about political power in post-Saddam Iraq. Sunni Arab insurgents and Shia militias may have been on opposite sides, but the conflict was only a religious war for the foreign terrorists. [...]

The earlier fighting was over who should govern. Increasingly, it's about who should define Allah's will on earth. Nothing could be more ominous.

So let me get this straight, for three-plus years warring factions fought (with ever mounting body counts) over political power - with certain factions opposing a sovereign government in an attempt to usurp its leadership. But that wasn't a civil war? But it could be if the same sides start fighting over religious affiliations? My head, it hurts.

Obviously, the situation Peters describes would fit almost any definition of civil war - whether it be found in a dictionary, or in more academic settings. But Ralph Peters, like Dick Cheney, has decided to stay the course.

Speaking of staying the course, Peters is all for it, though he is concerned about the trajectory of events in Iraq. His proposed course of action, and appraisal of costs and benefits, however, is as wrong-headed as his analysis of the nature of the conflict. Some examples:

For the first time, we may face a problem we have no hope of fixing. We can defeat the terrorists. We can defeat a political insurgency. But when our forces find themselves caught between two religious factions, the only hope is to pick a side and stick to it, despite the atrocities it inevitably will commit.

We're not ready for that, psychologically or morally. Yet.

Ah yes, the "only hope" we would have is to pick a side in a religious war within Islam, and then get psychologically prepared for the atrocities that will undoubtedly flow from such warfare. By the way, those sides would be (roughly): the Shiites, with backing from Iran, opposing the Sunnis, with backing from Saudi Arabia, et al.

If we pick the Shiites, I would imagine Bin Laden and Zawahiri would dance a jig of jubilation considering the propaganda windfall (note: al-Qaeda is already spinning a tale of collaboration between the US/Israel and Iran). Recruitment would be a breeze as young Sunni men would sign up in droves, eager to strike at us - the ally of the Shiites. Not to mention that our efforts would result in the further empowerment of Iran - which I doubt very much is in our interests.

If we pick the Sunnis, on the other hand, well, then we'd be in the uncomfortable position of aligning with Saddam's Baathists and al-Qaeda type jihadis in an effort to topple the purple-fingered, democratically elected government we helped install to much paradigm-shifting fanfare.

Good call Ralph. In his next stop on the tour d'ignorance, Peters pulls into Amoral Junction:

We helped make this mess. Instead of relentlessly destroying terrorists and insurgents, we tried to wage war gently to please the media. We always let the bad guys off the ropes - and apologized when they showed the press their rope burns.

Ah yes, as anyone versed in counterinsurgency doctrine and 4th Generation Warfare will tell you, we were not brutal enough. Nothing wins over the hearts and minds of a people like ruthless disregard for their well being and safety. More Abu Ghraibs, Hadithas and check-point shootings, please. That would have won the day. And if it weren't for you meddling media types....Speaking of which:

Now the only way to avoid an outright civil war is for our troops and the Iraqi army to break the sectarian militias in a head-on fight. The media will howl and we'll see a spike in American casualties.

Peters thinks the Iraqi army is going to help us break up the sectarian militias? Which army exactly? The one that lacks motivation, that won't fight against its brethren, that is heavily infiltrated with sectarian elements as is? Brilliant!

Next, Peters makes a go at blaming the Iraqis for petulantly wasting our precious gift. When in doubt, shift responsibility elsewhere - another trusted Cheney tactic. Interspersed within these passages emerges another frightening attitude: an exuberance for the carnage that might be released:

The alternative would be to let Iraq fail. And we need to ponder that possibility honestly....We can force the Iraqis to do many things, but we can't force them to succeed. If the jealousy, corruption and partisanship in the Iraqi government prevent the country's leaders from dealing forcefully with Iraq problems, we should no longer sacrifice our troops.

Here's the brutal reality: If Iraq is destined to become yet another monument to Arab failure, there could be far worse outcomes than a bloody civil war...We should be drawing up contingency plans to move a reinforced division and adequate airpower to the Kurdish provinces in the north, to withdraw the remainder of our forces to the south, and then to let Iraq's Sunni Arabs and Shias go at it.

Let's raise another "impossible" issue: If the Arab world can't sustain one rule-of-law democracy - after we gave Iraq a unique opportunity - might it be a useful strategic outcome to watch Arabs and Persians, Shia and Sunni, slaughtering each other again? [...]

If they won't unite to fight for their own country, we'll have to accept that our noble effort failed.

Unsurprisingly, Peters sets a timeline of one Friedman:

We should never publicize a timetable for a troop withdrawal, but here's what President Bush should have told Iraq's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, yesterday: "You are failing your country. We'll give you six months. If your government can't produce a unified response to sectarian violence that treats all sides impartially, we'll withdraw our troops and our support. Then you can fight it out among yourselves."

This final part perfectly caps off an otherwise rambling, contradictory, myopic and strategically daft column:

Failure in Iraq would be a victory for terror. In the short run. But the terrorists might then find themselves mired in a long and crippling struggle. An Iraqi civil war might become al Qaeda's Vietnam, not ours.

Good point Ralph. Our super-secret, double-reverse plan to lure al-Qaeda into a trap by creating a failed state which is the site of a bloody, de-stabilizing Islamic civil war in the heart of the oil producing - and jihadi producing - world. Dude, that is so visionary.

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