December 13, 2006

Real civil war

People who want to see the US leave Iraq should ponder this New York Times story reporting Saudi Arabia's willingness to finance a Sunni insurgency in Iraq.

What is happening in Iraq is not all-out civil war. "Sectarian conflict" may be a bureaucratic sounding bromide but it is more accurate. The violence is being perpetuated by local cells intent on fomenting civil war, be they al Qaeda, Saddamites, local Sunni resistance fighters, or Shia from the slums or within the government. That is quite different to full-scale ethnic cleansing, which is likely should the US pull its troops out.

Consider Britain's withdrawal from the Indian subcontinent, which led to Partition. This resulted in hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of deaths. It directly led to several wars, the division of East and West Pakistan into two countries, the tragedy of Kashmir, and in Burma the adoption of a brutal, isolationist regime.

The situation in the Middle East could be just as bad. The papers have hinted at the possibility of an implosion leading to foreign powers fighting proxy wars in Iraq. Now we have specific, concrete reports about Saudi intentions to pursue exactly that, against Shiites in Iraq and against Iran. There was also a news report this week in the FT about the six nations of the Gulf community pooling resources to develop a nuclear bomb to counter Iran.

I supported the US invasion of Iraq. Some of the assumptions that underpinned that have not been bourne out, even if the reasons I cited at the time were valid by themselves. I was wrong; the invasion has been a disaster. But not an unmitigated one; not one without hope. It would take the shameful, hasty withdrawal of America's military presence in Iraq to turn this into an unmitigated disaster.

Posted by Jame at 06:40 AM GMT

And if you get a civil war anyway? With US troops sitting there looking on? I don't see why it should eventually be any different from Bosnia, with the US taking on the role of the hapless UN and watching as a full scale civil war and ethnic cleansing takes place. And what could they do to stop it? Shoot at both sides?

Very often I comfort myself, having bought a duff stock that drops 50%, that while "the assumptions that underpinned (it) have not been bourne out. . . the reasons I cited at the time were valid by themselves". But it is a meaningless observation, an utter waste of breath. I am still down 50%.

Posted by: eurof on December 14, 2006 08:35 PM

You will notice that I did say I was wrong.

And yes, shoot at both sides.

Posted by: Jame on December 15, 2006 02:23 AM

Well, at least it would be what they call a "target rich environment". But not in a good way.

I don't think that can be viewed as a serious policy proposal, and I don't think it would fly politically in the US. Certainly being shot at by both sides is what you deserve as a country, given the spectacular global disaster you have single-handedly caused. No, once you get there it would be far better to pick a side, and throw your weight uncritically behind them. When one side dominates properly, fewer people will finally die.

Posted by: eurof on December 15, 2006 09:02 AM

The US presence will mitigate too much meddling by the neighborrs, which keeps the situation more stable than it could be. The military presence also gives the US a degree of leverage in trying to get the various key players to agree to some sort of compromise. While America can't force a deal, or guarantee one would work, the alternative - let them just slug it out - doesn't seem like a better idea.

"Picking a side" also seems more likely to foster long-term carnage than trying to create a deal that will accommodate the three main sects and some of their various branches. Are we to simply back a Shia or Sunni campaign of ethnic cleansing in order to bring "stability" to Iraq? Because that's what your so-called proposal implies.

Posted by: Jame on December 18, 2006 08:56 AM

NO it shortens the inevitable period of death and destruction that will occur when you inevitably leave. I am not the only one to have thought of it, look at this:

Also, your participation could help mitigate the death and destruction that would otherwise happen as one side dominates, could deter the more middle of the road Sunnis or Shiites (whoever you don't back) from joining the civil war -- in effect, you would guarantee victory for whoever you back. You could spend billions on improving the infrastructure and economy of whoever you decide could be the loser, which you would otherwise spend on bombs and guns.

Most settled multi-ethnic countries have undergone often lengthy periods of ethnic violence before one side eventually dominates and peace prevails. The UK, the Swiss, the Spanish. The greatest gift you could give the Iraqis now would be to speed the awfulness up, and get the bloody business over with. Because it will happen -- after your criminally incompetent invasion and deeply stupid handling of the aftermath -- you guaranteed it.

Posted by: eurof on December 18, 2006 09:02 PM

Even the charnal house of Saddam Hussein's regime was unable to really put down the marsh Arabs, the southern Shia and the Kurds, without resorting to sustained police terror, chemical weapons attacks and the like. How is the United States to "pick a side" and ensure this faction would actually be able to dominate, without resorting to horrendous and prolonged violence? Instead of trying to create Saddam v. 2, isn't it better to try to cajole the factions into some kind of live-and-let-live accord?

Posted by: Jame on December 19, 2006 01:21 AM

Eurof's take is premature, but not necessarily inaccurate in the longer term. For now, the U.S. should stick with promoting the democratic government. If we reach the point where the democratic government collapses, then it will be reasonable to pick a side and give Iraq Saddam-lite.

It's important to note that the U.S. military is not fighting the antagonists responsible for most of the trouble in Baghdad - the sectarian militias - at the wishes of the Maliki government. To the extent there is a civil war in Iraq, the U.S. is not one of the belligerents. There is perhaps an intermediate phase between supporting the democratic government and "picking a side" that would consist of the U.S. simply annihilating some of the more unctuous militias, such as Al-Sadr's.

U.S. efforts in Iraq to support the democratic government will absolve the U.S. of future complaints that it hasn't tried hard enough to promote democracy in the Mideast, and free the U.S. to respond with more emphatic displays of force against Islamic state and non-state barbarism in the future. If the European view from pre-2003, that Arab states are not capable of democracy, is shown to be accurate by events in Iraq, then in the future the U.S. will be justified in employing much harsher measures. It is certainly easier for the U.S. to degrade Arab political and economic capabilities than bothering to attempt to reform them.

As I said, all of this is premature. It took the U.S. about 15 years to end violence in the Philippines after the Spanish-American War, and I see no obvious reason to expect things in Iraq to settle down after just three or four years.

Despite the violence, many things in Iraq continue to improve and will probably continue to improve so long as the U.S. presence remains and U.S. cash injections continue.

Posted by: Sterling on December 19, 2006 05:59 PM

Jame, you are already seeing "horrendous and prolonged violence" and it is likely to get worse. It can either be in a way you can try and control and mitigate, or it will be in a way you cannot control, and other weaker forces (Iran, Saudi) will try instead and fail.

Sterling, the view that "Arab states are not capable of democracy" is not a "European view from 2003", rather a US view from previous administrations, including republican ones. After all, it is not EU money that supports non-democracies in Egypt and Jordan, and guarantees Saudi security. You are referring to an intra-US debate, leave us out of it.

Posted by: eurof on December 19, 2006 10:48 PM

Of course it's a European view. Don't be stupid. If EU practice is any indication, you Europeans don't even trust your own hoi-polloi with democracy.

Posted by: Sterling on December 20, 2006 02:03 AM

Hmm. Not quite sure how to respond to that. I never knew that e.g. UK, French and German official policy was to prevent democracy in the ME. I thought they were all for it. What EU practices are you referring to? Perhaps you are confusing the traditional US realist belief that muslims aren't ready for democracy because they'll all vote for Islamist parties like Iran, that held by Bush 1, with a tradional European belief that you can't force people into being democratic by threatening to kill them if they don't.

Your use of "Hoi Polloi" is also wrong here, it means "the people" or "the many". You wrote "your own the people". Try "soi polloi". Don't quote ancient greek at me, you ignoramus.

Posted by: eurof on December 21, 2006 09:17 PM

My use of "hoi-polloi" is correct, as "hoi-polloi" has an English-language connotation and meaning apart from its strict Attic meaning and usage, which means it is governed by the rules of English usage. Plus I was being ironical in using it at all, though as ever you remain impervious to irony regarding your own classist delusions and biases. Snob.

The EU is a huge clusterfuck of anti-democratic practices and institutions - a bureaucracy with little obligation to answer to actual democratically-elected representatives of its member states. This should come as no surprise because Europeans in general have never been tremendously comfortable with concepts such as democracy, egalitarianism, etc.; Europeans of the continental variety even less so than Brits. Your choice to dwell among the former is just one more mark against you.

Finally, of course it is possible to threaten or cajole nations into maintaining democratic states. The U.S. has been doing just that over much of the world since the end of the Second World War. Western Europe in particular has had greater political stability over the last 60 years than at any time since Caesar conquered Gaul - all because we've been squatting over you with tanks and nukes and such, keeping the commies from taking over and wrecking the place. The French and Italians in particular had to be restrained from surrendering their democratic state apparatuses to communists.

Posted by: Sterling on December 21, 2006 10:01 PM

Ah you are talking about the EU institutions. Yes you are right, they are only indirectly democratic, they are controlled by the member states -- which are in fact all democracies, but are not yet run by elected officials.

Europeans of the continental variety invented democracy you ignorant baboon. "Republic" is not a word inherited from the Iroquois. Arguably, European electoral systems with proportional representation are MORE representative of the popular will than UK and US first past the post systems. Certainly the country I live in is UNarguably more democratic than yours. It is direct democracy,where most important questions are settled not second hand by majorities of representatives, but majorities in referenda, decided by the people themselves.

I refuse to be lectured on this subject by the country who believes so much in democracy that they disenfranchised huge swathes of their adults on the basis that they were slaves and black for the 1st 100 years of its existence, and who instigated coup d'etats in Chile, Greece, El Salvador, Guatemala, almost in Italy, supported Franco in Spain, the Saudis, the Shah, Mubarak, Saddam (until the 1990s) etc etc.

You are a fucking idiot. Can't you just go away?

Posted by: eurof on December 23, 2006 02:34 PM

FYI, I hail from the State of New Jersey, which was the first sovereign entity in the history of the world to bestow universal suffrage regardless of race or gender, on July 2, 1776.

Ninety-four years later, in 1870, the existing universal white male suffrage in the United States was extended to include all men, regardless of race, with the passage of the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

You, on the other hand, hail from a country which in 1870 permitted only about 32% of the male population to vote. I would be surprised if more than a tiny, tiny handful of that 32% were anything but Caucasian, even though Caucasians probably represented a minority of the people under British rule in 1870.

Did you have a point?

Posted by: Sterling on December 23, 2006 06:19 PM

Bravo Jersey, I didn't actually know that.

Are you completely unaware of Jim Crow?

"Did you have a point?"

Yes, quite obviously I made many points in my last comment, and you chose to address only one of them, and ineffectually at that.

Posted by: eurof on December 24, 2006 12:32 AM

Wow, you must not be paying attention. What about our failure in Iraq, from the very first decision to invade, has not been "unmitigated?" We owe the world, and especially the Iraqis, one huge appology.

And the journalists on the ground were saying this is a civil war for months ago. How many Iraqis must kill other Iraqis for it be count in your book?

I also don't see mention of the fact that Bush is no responsible for more American deaths than Osama. Just keep telling yourself "we can win". It may be a lie, but is sure is comforting.

Posted by: Ralphus on December 27, 2006 03:41 PM

Wow, you must not be paying attention. What about our failure in Iraq, from the very first decision to invade, has not been "unmitigated?" We owe the world, and especially the Iraqis, one huge appology.

And the journalists on the ground were saying this is a civil war months ago. How many Iraqis must kill other Iraqis for it be count in your book?

I also don't see mention of the fact that Bush is no responsible for more American deaths than Osama. Just keep telling yourself "we can win". It may be a lie, but is sure is comforting.

Posted by: Ralphus on December 27, 2006 03:41 PM

I know it's the christmas season and all that. But Saddam Hussein has just come to a rather unsavoury end and none of you has burst into print about it. I mean, even Sterling or especially Sterling should be crowing about this.
Where is everyone?

Posted by: kartika on December 30, 2006 11:12 PM

Howdy. Asia and America are once more connected online following the Taiwan earthquake which severed the ocean cables.

Saddam's dead. Yea.

Posted by: Jame on December 31, 2006 06:08 AM

Eurof - Continentals invented modern democracy? Republic is not an American word?

OK, fine - ancient Greece, Republican Rome. Europe created a series of precedents and ideas that set the stage for 1776, from the Magna Carta to Locke and the French philosophes, but what democracy was taking place in Europe when Thomas Jefferson wrote that all men are created equal? Or when Jefferson was elected to the presidency in 1800?

Posted by: Jame on December 31, 2006 10:29 AM

Yeah, couldn't they have waited until after we left Jordan? Our guide in Wadi Rum cried after the execution and then proceeded to show us his gun.

Posted by: michelle on December 31, 2006 02:57 PM

Eurof's assertions are absurd. Much of Europe has little more experience with democracy than does Iraq, and the institutions of democracy and universal suffrage really only became entrenched in Western Europe, excepting the UK, during the decades-long deployment of hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops. What does it matter if Greeks invented democracy when they can barely manage to operate one today? Do the French get extra credit for each new republic they spawn, versus we poor Americans who have had the same one since 1789?

As for crowing about Saddam going to the gallows, why? He deserved worse; this outcome is satisfactory but I take no joy from it. It is worth noting that Iraq has now managed something no European state ever has - formally trying and executing a deposed tyrant.

Posted by: Sterling on January 1, 2007 02:03 AM

Modern forms of representative government are as much European as they are anything else. The US prediliction for imagining they have any ownership of the concept is a fiction taught only to american schoolchildren. Republic is a latin word. Res Publica.

Jame, I think you are confusing the idea of democracy with that of limited representative government. It's the latter that is the genius of your constitution, which was based on the British one of the time, not the extension of the franchise. In the 1790s and early 1800s, there were no "democracies" in Europe as we know them, but there were some with limited representative governments, including Great Britain. Previous to that, the Dutch had operated a republic for most of the 17thC, with great success. Hungary too, was one I think. Before and during, there were numerous republics in Italy and Germany. But you are right if you point out they we the exception rather than the rule.

If it is the broadness of franchise you refer to, then sadly you are right, though I do think the States' exclusion of women and blacks and having a property requirement was not "modern democracy". According to Wikipedia, the French had universal suffrage in 1792, but we all know how that ended. In fact the Wikipedia entry for "Universal Suffrage" makes interesting reading, likely to unsettle Sterling. It does confirm his point abot Jersey though I note it also looks like they nipped that in the bud pretty quickly.

If Jefferson wrote "all men are created equal" in the morning, he was fucking his disenfranchised slaves in the afternoon. When he was elected in 1800, only 6 of 16 states had any popular vote, and those that did used a property requirement, and excluded women and slaves. Just like the UK at the time, except no-one was allowed to have slaves.

The thoughts that underlay the US constitution, however, were all European in origin, stemming from Spinoza to Hobbes, Burke and Locke. I don't think the Iroquois had much influence.

Posted by: eurof on January 1, 2007 09:50 AM

Eurof - we Americans don't imagine we have ownership of the concept or originated it, but we do believe we've lived up to it longer and more consistently than any other nation. Many of us also believe that although a big chunk Europe now follows the forms of democracy, those states lag in embracing the flattened social strata that goes hand in hand with democracy.

That's why, though polled majorities in several large European states were in favor of Saddam Hussein's execution, the leadership of those states freely and openly condemned the execution as morally repugnant. Apparently European elites place little trust in the moral judgments of the peasantry.

Posted by: Sterling on January 1, 2007 06:39 PM

I meant to write "...longer and more consistently than any other large nation," because obviously several small states or cities in Europe have longer traditions.

Posted by: Sterling on January 1, 2007 06:42 PM