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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Friday, 12 December 2003

Getting down to basics in Iraq - get mean or get out...
Okay, I'm surfing the net and find a cut-to-the-chase piece on this Iraq war thing we're doing at the moment. And it seems to me this fellow at is good at getting to the real issue. We elected to have this war. And we did. We're there and no matter what the liberal left says, we have to deal with what we've done.

So we "win" this war, or we haul ass out of there.

Warblogging was founded in July of 2002 by "George Paine" - that's a pseudonym and it's hard to find out who he is. But the site has been referenced in Time Magazine, on the Reuters news wire, on National Public Radio, in The Village Voice, in The Globe and Mail, in Der Spiegel, and the Village Voice. So it's not ocscure.

Here a bit of what George says, with my comments.

The full article is here:
Can the War Be Won?
December 11, 2003,

It opens with a bit of history, or an historical claim.
Guerilla wars are not easy things to win. History is full of great powers -- ranging from the United Kingdom to France to the Soviet Union to the United States of America -- losing guerilla wars. I think that it can be stated with authority that guerillas tend to win guerilla wars.

The Jewish groups fighting the British and Arabs for the state of Israel won their guerilla war. The Mujahedin in Afghanistan won their guerilla war. The Viet Cong won two wars against two great powers. The Khmer Rouge won their war. The Tamil Tigers aren't necessarily winning, but they're not necessarily losing either. The Irish Republican Army won, at least to some extent. The African National Congress won. The Kosovo Liberation Army won, and the FARC now control 40% of Columbia. The British lost in Iraq the first time around, and in Mandatory Palestine too. The Sandanistas won, at least for a while. The Algerian guerillas pushed the French from Algeria. The American rebels beat back the British redcoats.

Hundreds of guerilla conflicts can be listed, and in only a handful of cases could the superior military power be called the victor. And, when the superior military power wins it's generally only with significant losses.

There's a very good reason for this. Guerilla wars are usually wars in which the outcome matters an incredible amount for one side and not nearly as much for the other. Groups that engage in guerilla warfare are generally invaded or occupied peoples. They feel they are fighting for their very freedom, for their very lives. On the other hand their opponents are usually less invested in the conflict. The war they're fighting is often very far from home and very far from the actual national interests of their own countries.
Now that last comment is an interesting one.

We have been told this war is in our interest, that it's vital to our survival. In the run-up to the war we were told about the weapons of mass destruction and how they posed a grave threat to us, and we had to act - in self-defense. These guys, we were told, had connections to the guys who brought down the World Trade Center and messed up the Pentagon and killed three thousand of our folks. Invading Iraq, tossing out its government and occupying Iraq with a government we appointed, was just and right. And too, Saddam Hussein was an evil man and it was our duty to free the Iraqi people of him.

Now that these claims have been put aside - except for the one about Saddam Hussein being evil - we vehemently argue we have done this to bring a free-market, capitalist secular democracy to the region. Doing this will remake that factious region into one of peace and prosperity. It will be a shining example.

Well, as nice as that might be, the concept is a bit abstract compared to the previous explanations, and thus less than compelling. It doesn't "matter an incredible amount to our side" - because it is so idealistic, and perhaps not very compellingly "realistic." It doesn't stir the soul and make one want to enlist to save motherhood and apple pie, or even applehood and mother pie.

But we do have a wonderful military, with awesome powers. So?

This fellow claims we are not likely to win the war, or the occupation, or whatever, even so:
... Strictly speaking, militarily speaking, the Iraqi insurgents are no match whatsoever for the might of the American military assembled today in Iraq. But if the history of assymetric warfare has taught us nothing else it is that assembled military might means little when a conflict matters incredibly to one side or another. Those who engage in guerilla warfare don't need to win on the field of battle. They don't have to completely decimate the enemy's forces. Instead they simply have to do more damage to their enemy than their enemy considers the conflict worth.
Okay, make the assumption that this effort, however abstract and idealistic, is worth it. A whole lot of people do not think so, but make that assumption. Well, George (Paine or Bush), what must we do?
... There are two ways for America to "win" the occupation of Iraq. We can either completely and decimate the insurgency, crushing their ability to fight, or we can "win the hearts and minds" of the insurgents, thus removing their will to fight.

So far it appears that the United States is attempting to adopt a mixed-bag strategy -- attempting to both destroy the insurgency and win the "hearts and minds" of ordinary Iraqi people.
Well, yes. See "Who would Jesus assassinate?" We ask our consultants. Lieutenant General William "Jerry" Boykin and his Christian Army learn from the Israelis for details. We have started doing in Iraq what the Sharon government does so well in Gaza and the Left Bank: targeted assassinations, destroying homes as a "disincentive" to those who support our enemy, capturing and holding the relatives (wives and children) of the bad guys to get them to give themselves up. And that last item, although it kind of sounds like kidnapping and a sort of ransom demand from one point of view, from another point of view it's simply a way to win this thing. At the same time we rebuild schools.

We'll crush the bad guys and make the others love us and our way of life.

Is it possible? By these methods?
... I don't think it possible to completely destroy the insurgency.

The very nature of an insurgency such as that being conducted in Iraq is that the insurgents blend into the civilian population, using sympathy or fear (or both) to hide among innocents. The insurgents have been successful enough in hiding among the regular Iraqi population that the United States military has itself resorted to a campaign of intimidation and retaliation -- destroying the farms and, in some cases, houses of those who refuse to cooperate in the hunt for insurgents.
Well, yes. But it seem we must use "intimidation and retaliation". What's the option?

And finally, is it all worth it?
... What are the stakes for America in Iraq? The stakes are incredibly small compared to the Iraqi stakes. The entire invasion was predicated on the notion that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction that posed a threat -- imminent or otherwise -- to the United States of America. It has now been proven that Iraq either did not have such weapons or at least that those weapons never posed a direct threat to America. The American pain threshold in Iraq, therefore, is very different than the American pain threshold in Vietnam. It is certainly measured in thousands of troops rather than tens of thousands, and may even be measurable in the hundreds.

I think that at this point America is down to only one option for "winning" in Iraq: abandonment. It's time for the Bush Administration to say, "We made a mistake, we screwed up, and we can't win this war." It's time to leave.
I don't see that happening. We have our pride, if nothing else.

Posted by Alan at 14:39 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

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