We will win the war: a recent exchange
An Alert Reader has asked that I extricate myself from down in the weeds in Fallujah and comment on the overall course of the war. In response, I offer an exchange I recently had via email with a colleague (I hope he won't mind). This exchange took place a month ago, before I started this blog. FOC = Friend of Chester C = Chester FOC: "Well, you make a compelling case regarding unilateral action." [Note: he's referencing a previous conversation we had.] C: "Remember, our action is only unilateral if you define multi-lateral as France and Germany. Frankly they don't bring much to the table anyway." FOC: "However, I still feel that Arab pride is a major stumbling block in winning over the average Iraqi or middle easterner." C: "I disagree: The "Arab pride" concept circulates a lot in the press in the US, as does the "Arab street" concept. But a more powerful cultural force particular to Arabs is at work: they respect power. They go with the winner. There is a tipping point on the ground in Iraq. If we get past it, the majority of the population will support us. I think we have already surpassed this tipping point. Moreover, we are linking the success of our effort with the success of indigenous Iraqi forces efforts, and are thereby making common cause with the Iraqis: our success = their freedom." FOC: "It almost seems to be like a no win situation for the middle class there. I guess I see it from a religious perspective. If we fail, obviously their condition does not improve. If we are successful and transform the region, it means they and Islam were wrong and could not provide the means for a successful nation on their own. It exposes that fact that the majority of these countries have repressive governments and according to Hayek this repression goes hand in hand with unsuccessful economic systems. It took the "Christian" west to be the catalyst for change which implies that we/our system is superior to theirs." C: "I disagree: Saddam was no devout Muslim. And Iraq, since the 1920s, has been the most secular of all Arab states. I think that Al Qaeda and other fundamentalist groups want to influence perceptions such that people on both our side and theirs think the Iraqi campaign IS Christianity vs. Islam. But I think that the truth on the ground in the Arab world is more fragmented than this. I don't think you can make the equation, "Our success = Islam's failure." Islam is not unified. The key religious question in this entire war v. Islamofascism is: "Can Islam support separation of Church and State?" There are many Muslims who would say yes. A higher percentage of Iraqis are amongst this number than in neighboring countries. Finally, it does appear that the "Christian" west is the catalyst for change, but I think the Arabs, particularly the secular Iraqis, are smart enough to realize that the West isn't just the Christian west; it is also the technological west, the free west, the west of individuality, the west of separation of church and state." FOC: "My fundamental question is what did we accomplish." C: "Several things: 1. Opened a new front in the war; provides a staging base for US troops in the mid-East, and a new ally in the Iraqis. Fights fascism on its own turf. 2. Possibility of beginning the democratization process in Iraq -- will affect long-term change in the region. 3. Iraq, not a member of OPEC, will provide counterbalance to the Saudis, once it is producing at full capacity. 4. Saddam gone. No tears shed there. 5. Removal of troops from Saudi Arabia. This had been expensive both politically and financially. 6. Now we know for sure if Saddam had weapons or not: he didn't, but he did everything in his power to make others think he did (even within his own military, where every general interviewed said, "I didn't have them but the unit on my left and right did." -- I think this is the explanation for my gas mask at home), plus we now know that he would have gotten them if he could have, plus we know how corrupt the Oil for Food boondoggle was. 7. If Saddam wasn't working directly with al Qaeda on 9/11, he was at least a passive observer, or offered psychological support -- for that one particular operation. In total, as the 9/11 Commission report states, he offered sanctuary to bin Laden in 90s. That's enough for me. 8. From a humanitarian perspective, no more death camps, mass graves, torture chambers or sanctions causing malnourished kids." FOC: "I have no doubt that Saddam had some bad stuff (or had the potential of making it), however, whatever WMD Iraq had are now in Syria. Our actions did nothing to stop the terrorist from getting their hands on it. It still exists but in another country." C: "Not so sure Saddam had anything, or that Syria got what he had. Could be though -- there was that attempt to make a chemical strike in Amman, by Syrian based bad guys earlier in the year. Overall I think there is more here than meets the eye. We've been exploiting troves of documents we captured in Baghdad. Remember, the CIA had completely infiltrated the AQ Khan network for nuke material sales and that's how we wrapped it up. Some think we even had Khan himself on the payroll and that's why Musharraf pardoned him. I think there is much more here going on than we know." FOC: "Surely the intelligence community could see that Iraq would simply move whatever they had rather than risk handing it to the US, vindicating our cause." C: "No way. The reason Saddam continued thumbing his nose at us is cause he thought he would eventually win. Didn't believe we'd follow through. Can't put our reasoning in his mind. He has a completely different view." FOC: "Instead of solving a problem we moved it to another place while new terrorist poured into Iraq." C: "Even if Syria has weapons remnants now, we know that Iraq doesn't. Fine with me if we move by process of elimination to Syria or Iran. Also, terrorists pouring in to Iraq is a good thing. Once they are there, and have coalesced, it makes it very easy to kill them! We have created this battlefield, we are attracting the enemy to it, and if we beat them on it, it will be a decisive victory." FOC: "So now we are committed there with the only goal left to change the region and that I still feel is next to impossible. All of the leaders of Saudi, Iran, Syria, UAE, Qatar, etc don't want to loose power." C: "I disagree: you are viewing the region too monolithically. Saudi Arabia: has moderating gov't compared to some of its populace. If we lose in Iraq, it will be bad for the Saudi gov't short term, because all the yahoos who support Al Qaeda will turn to Saudi Arabia. The gov't itself is split there between two separate crown princes. One is a would-be reformer, the other would spin the dial back a century or two more than it already is. If we win in Iraq, that is very good for the Saudi gov't short term, but in the long term will cause them to reform -- which we want them to do. Overall: Saudis will choose their short term interest and worry about long term later. "Iran: they are definitely funding Sadr and his group, but the US/Iraqis have been successful in politically isolating Sadr from the mainstream Shi'ites, with the help of Sistani. That is the main avenue for Iran to influence Iraq. They can still find common ground with Sunni insurgents and foreign fighters, but much less so than with the Shi'ites. I think Iran is the next place for pre-emptive action, but the campaign there will look dramatically different from either Iraq or Afghanistan. "Gulf states: UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, maybe Oman, and Kuwait: these are firmly in our camp, all are democratizing, though slowly, and will not be upset to see us win. "Syria: probably assisting Sunni and other insurgents, does not want us to win. We're pressuring them with new sanctions if they don't withdraw from Lebanon, hitting them on a different front. Also have lots of Marines on that border." FOC: "If Iraq is successful, it is a threat to their power and money. They have successfully been able to use Islam to maximize their power and that will be how they discredit anything "good" that happens in Iraq. So to me, even if we do the enormous task of changing Iraq it is still an even larger task to change the region. It will not happen on its own because there are too many forces that oppose our "vision" for the region (French/German/Russia/Radical Islamic/etc)." C: "It's definitely a 15-20 year deal, but I think it's the right way to make things happen. The Russians already support what we are doing, just not materially or with manpower, but that would be counterproductive anyway, after Afghanistan and Chechnya. The Germans will come around and begin to provide increasing support overall, whether in Iraq or not. Esp if Schroeder loses re-election or is ousted. The French are done. Go ahead and write them off. 10 years from now, France will have more Islamic militants than Iraq. Sharia law is already being practiced by immigrants in the slums of Paris. Watching France go down the tubes over the next few years will not be pretty." FOC: "The infidel invaders (the US) are saying "you must do this" while other competing powers attempt to achieve their own vision for the region which is very different from their own. Given the discussion above, which side will the proud Arab most likely go with given the choice? His religion will force him to choose to reject the US. The Koran is very clear about what to do with Infidels." C: "I disagree again, for same reasons as above. Arab world is not so monolithically fundamentalist Islam. Many different flavors, factions, and even secular groups. In the Koran, worse than an infidel is an apostate (according to Bernard Lewis). This is why the Saudi state is being sieged from within for example. And the proud Arab is not so proud. He's really the scared Arab, and has to choose who he fears more: fundamentalist fascism, or the US, or increasingly a secular Iraqi state. I think he will side with US/Iraqis/moderating Arabs when all is said and done because we will have more to offer him than fascism. "By the way, the second round of the battle of Fallujah is going to kick off any day. Marines have the city cordoned and Allawi is negotiating with sheiks to give up the foreign fighters including Zarqawi. We're also using our new Iraqi forces to gather precise targeting intel on the ground, which is why there are so many airstrikes in the city. I think Allawi will fail, and we'll go into Fallujah after the US election (in case there's a casualty spike). It'll take 1-2 weeks to clean the place out, but will be a crushing blow to the insurgents. Look for Iraqi national forces to be heavily involved in the battle, perhaps on an equal footing with the US. If we play our cards right, we may even capture Zarqawi instead of just killing him -- this is a long shot though. Upside of everything: Elections are going to go off with little difficulty in January. I'll go out on a limb and make that statement." -------------- Comment away!