Friday, August 04, 2006

From the Memory Hole: Warnings About Iraq

For all of those pundits writing in 2006 about what is happening in Iraq, yet another reminder of what analysts and observers were saying three years ago. I bring this up now to ask, what happened? People saw the problems, diagnosed the disease, provided a remedy. Is it because these approaches were seen as too comfortable with ambiguity, not maximalist enough, not keeping with what we thought we could achieve? Moreover, what are we learning for the future?

From commentary by Professor Andrew A. Michta, from the version that appeared in in the August 8, 2003 Commercial Appeal:

The situation we face in Iraq is radically different. We are operating in an environment that has little connection to our cultural and political heritage. Although Iraqis support the notion of democracy in the abstract, the cultural norms and values the West brings are different.

More important, religion forms a potent barrier to cooperation and acceptance. The West has been historically viewed as an intruder and a colonizer, while its technological and military supremacy has been a searing humiliation across the Arab world. We may think of ourselves as liberators, but to the Iraqis we are just as likely to appear as occupiers.

Iraq has no nationally recognized leadership that can unify various clans and religious groups. The pro-American Iraqi governing council, now in the making, has a long way to go to gain even a modicum of national acceptance.

We should reconsider our insistence on making Iraq a democracy and focus instead on improving its internal security and economic conditions. It is imperative that we contain the centrifugal religious and ethnic pressures that threaten Iraq's integrity as a state, and time is short. By some estimates, we have perhaps two months to get it right on the ground or confront a rapidly deteriorating situation.

That means focusing on working with indigenous Iraqi clan leaders, improving internal security, training the new Iraqi police and military forces, and internationalizing occupation troops as quickly as possible to assist the U.S. and British forces who are fighting the guerrilla war.

In the end, an authoritarian but pro-Western and consolidated Iraq may be all that we can hope to achieve during the next five years. Such an outcome would fall short of the declared goal of bringing about democracy, but it would ensure that Iraq does not disintegrate and become a breeding ground for terrorism.

With continued Western assistance and American guidance, in perhaps 10 years the country may be in a position to move toward democracy. But if we continue to insist that democracy is the only immediately acceptable solution to Iraq's problems, a volatile mix of religious politics, ethnic violence and irredentism will likely engulf the country once the U.S. and coalition troops have pulled out.

How can you accomplish this while threatening Iran and Syria?

How can you do this if your "democratization" program also threatens Saudi Arabia because of the rise of the Shia?

How can you move forward if you are concieved by the population to be helping the enemies of Islam?

As Odom said: "Let's get on the boats and leave."

Or as Cordesman said: "Preparing for a self-inflicted wound"; so let's get out.
Keep in mind this was written three years ago and if adopted them might have avoided the problems we have now. We could have done this and gotten on the boats and left much earlier rather than trying to remake the country.
If you accept the premises of the writer, then it is difficult to see how anything could have held the country together. The best you could have hoped for was a return to the status quo ante circa 1958, and that of course led eventually to Saddam Hussein.

The case for going into Iraq was to excise a supposedly imminent WMD capability, but the underlying assumption behind doing so was (1) that a proper long-term US policy was to play whack-a-mole with every nuclear threat that surfaced in the Islamic world, on the further assumption (2) that we would perpetually have the will and the ability to crush Islamic countries that wanted to go nuclear. Although it is possible that the White House wants to fight a war with Iran next year to set back Tehran's nuclear program, my guess is that this policy has ended for the time being.

But in the long run Arab and Islamic societies face the problem of all traditional societies in the modern world (and also of post-modern states like the Third Reich and the USSR): they must either become more liberal, become less competitive, or forcibly replace the modern world with the kind of world they want. If we resist the last option by force or by containment, then in the long run traditional societies will change.

The problem with democracy promotion was its de-coupling of internal change from external security. The program should have been to open NATO to extension beyond Europe on a long timetable. A program like this is probably what will bring traditional societies in Eurasia and Africa into our system when they are ready.
dvid billington:

How about US & EU (the Imperial "We") refraining from doing anything in ME?

How about leaving these states to find their own way?

You speak of liberal democracy as though it is some sort of Utopia. China is neither and is doing quite well as a state and as a polity.

The "Mdern World" is a Western-Christian construct that cannot be maintained in the long run.

We are witnessing the death of the post WWII world; in this new world US & EU will be important players but no longer dominant.

A US war against Iran will be a catastrophe for US: she cannot win (dictate the terms of peace) and Iran will not loose-a long war over many years with unpredictable consequences for every one.
Anonymous 6:48,

I am inclined to agree with you on the prospects of a war with Iran. The question is whether radical Islam will stop at the borders of the Abbassid caliphate. Radicals regard the modern world as a threat to their existence; if they can be persuaded to adopt the position of the Soviet Union after 1945, then we can avoid a larger world war and possibly look forward to a distant time when the Middle East changes of its own accord.

The modern world is not just an ideological construct. It is the threefold advantage of superior weapons, the civilization capable of producing them, and the ability to sustain this advantage. I do not believe that traditional societies can overcome this threefold advantage unless they modernize at least in part, and then they must defeat the modern world or enter a crisis themselves.

I don't deny that the modern world could lose an all-out war (if that is what you anticipate). It is also possible that traditionalist forces in modern societies could undermine and destroy modernity from within. An important subset within modern societies has been at war with the Eglightenment for the last three centuries.

China is not doing well without democracy. It is attempting a modernization strategy very similar to that of late Tsarist Russia, except that in Russia the country had food and oil to export whereas in China these commodities have to be imported and will rise in price in coming decades. A democratic system might be no better at meeting these needs (and might be worse). But an undemocratic system gives popular unrest no outlet except violence.

I am not saying we should impose democracy on the Middle East or elsewhere. What I am arguing is that we should invite countries on its periphery to join NATO on the same terms that we have offered to the emerging democracies of southern and eastern Europe.
David, I agree with you in the generalities - which is that democratic often moves linearly - stepping from one border to the next in gradual manner - and that an international institution should be designed to consolidate middle eastern democracies, with or w/o Israel.

NATO is the wrong tool. Much too overtly a tool of American interests. It shouldn't be any pre-existing institutiton at all.

Nick, as for what happened:

Is it because these approaches were seen as too comfortable with ambiguity, not maximalist enough, not keeping with what we thought we could achieve?

Something like that. Ever heard the phrase that there is one wise man, nine knaves, and ninety fools out of every hundred people? The wise men are hardly ever running the show, and never has that been truer than the past six years.
I think your phrase up there is too delicate. The ability to lead a country depends on creating as ironclad as possible a belief in the outcomes that the leaders claim will occur. There was no way to gain support for invading Iraq with analysis like Michta's, so it was ignored. Nay, it was, when neccesary, suppressed. The leadership wanted to invade Iraq because it felt like a strong, superpower-type of idea. That was the extent of their logic. They then constructed the rationale, facts, and output scenarios that they felt would convince everyone to let them do this.
This is old news, Nick.

Did the Nixon Center ever officially retroactively withdraw its support for the invasion of Iraq? And, did the Nixon Center ever really have a free hand to come out against the war to begin with?

Jordan W.
david billington:

I disagree with the way you use categories such as "modern", "traditional" etc. to delineate the contours of the current situation in the world.
Fundamentally, the juxtapositions of “modernity” and “tradition”, in my opinion is invalid because it attempts-in my opinion- to generalize the history of Western European development to the history of other people. I believe that is conceptually problematic and un-doable in practice: it does not increase our understanding of the historical process currently unfolding in front of our eyes. I think, for example, pre-Industrial has more of an analytical content than “Traditional”: traditional Hindu and traditional Japan are vastly different.
By “Modern” as far as I have been able to decipher, it is meant the North American & Western European culture with its inheritance of the Trinity of Liberty, Christianity, and Rome. This “Modernity”, now in its post-Christian phase, claims its Civilization to be superior to the rest of the world. And the basis of that superiority, as you have written, is its ability to develop more potent way of killing human beings.
But, the nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them are 1940s technologies. And every non-Western center of power in the world either has mastered that or is in the process of mastering them. In that sense, the only “traditional” area left in the world is the Sub-Saharan Africa. (That is even if one accepts your “Traditional” category concept as valid-which I do not since it is too imprecise.)
Also mentioning “Enlightenment” in connection to them is irrelevant: European History is not some sort of generic history of mankind to its pattern every other historical tradition must succumb sooner or later. And what was so great about Enlightenment: the Holocaust was the direct descendant of that tradition. The Catholic Church-that so-called bastion of Darkness & Reaction-it its darkest inquisitorial period, did not cause as many deaths as the religious and ideological wars of Europe caused over the last 300 years. Without Reformation & Enlightenment, millions of people who were murdered for ideological and religious reasons would have lived.
Islam, Hinduism, the Far Eastern Tradition: these are no longer “traditional” cultures. They are partially-industrialized cultures/civilizations rapidly developing the weapons to neutralize the military preponderance of US & EU etc. MAD is a great equalizer.
Specifically about Islam: the talk about Caliphate is a red-herring: it was dead as a political force by 12-th Century and neither Iran nor so-called radical Sunni Muslims are interested in the Caliphate project: they have bigger fish to try: namely the change in the dictatorial governments ruling their countries. And on this need for empowerment I am with you.
NATO is not the right forum for what you suggest (I am actually in agreement with your approach but not the vehicle of it). NATO is a military alliance which supplies a nuclear blanket of security for its members. (Another reason why Russia does not belong there, by the way).
EU would be a better forum but I am afraid that is not practical. European people so not want Muslims in that union. East Europeans were at least Christians. Look at how Europe is asking Turkey to sell its Islamic Soul to become a crippled European. It is just not feasible. EU is a Christian club: we need new fora to move ideas similar to yours forward.
"Radicals regard the modern world as a threat to their existence; if they can be persuaded to adopt the position of the Soviet Union after 1945"

And why should anyone take the policy of a country that no longer exists and whose population in its successor states now have deaths exceeding births by over a million a year as any sort of a model?

One would think that its an indication that what you call the "modern world" is indeed a dire, lethal threat to them.

Anonymous 11:35 and you may be correct that NATO is the wrong institution for absorbing more of the world. A federal Europe could serve just as well if it decides to open itself to more than just Europe. But I think it will be easier for Europe to be open to military ties with countries in the Middle East than to the more comprehensive civilian ties implied by the EU model. Perhaps what might work is a military federation of Europe that is open in a military sense to a larger periphery.
Anonymous 11:35,

I agree that there are serious objections to Eurocentric interpretations of world history and that there is no uniform definition of "traditional" society except in the negative sense of being not modern (or Western). But as you observe, the major Asian cultures have borrowed aspects of modern Western civilization in order to be competitive with it.

The question is whether these cultures will do well if they reject what is now called a strong civil society. Although I have differences with him in other respects, what James Bennett says about civil society in his Anglosphere Primer may be useful reading as a perspective on whether Asian modernization is a viable alternative to the more liberal West:

Ballistic missiles are 1940s technologies but the state of military defense will not remain forever unable to render these systems obsolete. At some point, ballistic missiles and their warheads will be possible to intercept and destroy. Certainly not in a few years but quite probably in a few decades. To remain competitive, societies will have to adapt, and that means their social characteristics will have to make them adaptable in the ways that new military needs will require.

The lesson of the twentieth century seems to be that societies with the most intellectual freedom do best at remaining on the leading edge of the science and technology required for competitiveness in the long run. It remains to be seen whether societies that restrict intellectual freedom can remain competitive. (I might add that that the West could be constrained by this rule too if it succumbs to fundamentalism.)

On the Enlightenment, historians recognize two Enlightenments running together, the liberal and the radical. The roots of totalitarian genocide are in the latter, not the former. Reactionaries oppose both and are anxious to obliterate the distinction.
Anonymous 4:18,

Sorry, by the Soviet model, I did not mean for the Middle East to adopt the institutional model of the USSR after 1945. I meant for a Middle East under radical control to accept an offer of peaceful coexistence, if the US is willing to make such an offer.
"Sorry, by the Soviet model, I did not mean for the Middle East to adopt the institutional model of the USSR after 1945. I meant for a Middle East under radical control to accept an offer of peaceful coexistence, if the US is willing to make such an offer."

I understood what you meant. And any self-respecting Radical would look at the fate of the USSR and the present situation of the successor state populations as a grave warning of the consequences of trying to appease the US.
Appeasing the United States, if the Yeltsin reforms can be called that, was only Russian policy after the USSR collapsed in 1991. Soviet society was not successful and robust before it began following the advice of American consultants. How would Islamic radicals avoid social decay if they ran the Middle East for the next five to seven decades?

If you are saying that radicals would avoid coexistence, what alternatives do they have?
david billington:

Thank you for your reply.

Yes, there might be counter measures invented against nuclear weapons and rockets but then, inevitably there will be counters to those counter measures.

My point, however, is this: the invention of nuclear weapons deliverable via rocket forces is a seminal event in human history; its long term ramification, in my opinion, is that they will become great equalizers. Yes, you can kill your neighbor but not before he has blinded you in one of your eyes: a pyrrhic victory.

One has to look at the political history of Japan or Italy to see if there is a strong civil society there in those 2 states and if so whether that sector had political power. What do you think?

Also: you have a raised a great point about the ability of Asians to innovate: my answer is no-neither Japan, nor China, nor India, nor Iran, nor Turkey etc. are capable of innovation. May be in a couple of hundred years but their cultures currently does not have that capacity.

I will elaborate below an example:

Since prior to Enlightenment, there was an interest in Foreign cultures and peoples among Europeans. They trained scholars to read Sanskrit, Arabic, Persian etc. and in later centuries recovered the lost histories of these people.

Nothing like that obtains among Muslims, Hindu, and Orientals. When they come to US, or Europe, or Russia they overwhelmingly study hard sciences, engineering, and medical science. I will guarantee you that in the following areas of research: US History, European History, South American History, Western Philosophy, Christian Theology and Dogmatic you will not find a single Ph.D. thesis written by an Arab, an Iranian, a Chinese, and Indian, or a Korean.

But you will find hundreds of people in the West who have published on Islam, on Buddhism, on China, on Hinduism etc.

This is not because of lack of funding. It is because these non-Western people, at least within their current cultural context, cannot see any benefit in learning the intellectual history of the Western people.

There is more to say on that subject but this space does not permit it.

About Enlightenment: you are entitled. To me it was a project to destroy the Church.

About so called Radicals among Muslim people: As Patrick Buchanan said: the reason they attack us is because we are there interfering in their affairs.

As for Europe being involved in ME: I just do not see it. In ME you have to ask yourself: Who is to be protected from Whom? And then, why should Europeans die for some security issues in the Middle East? And certain ME states do not trust EU and EU does not trust them. No my friend: we are lurching towards a war of US & EU against Islam, willy-nilly.
The fascist warmongers and profiteers in the Bush government have perverted America's cores principles. I could fill pages with the abuses, deceptions, and failures, but with respect to this dicussion and one of the most notable perversions or mangling of principles applies to the concept of this socalled thing we call "democracy".

I have repeatedly requested that all the socalled experts present some definition of what democracy is, and what exactly are the criteria for constructing, maintaining, and defending this socalled "democracy" and have received nothing but dead silence.

Does a democracy accept and actually promote the radical, systemic, and insidious erosion of the peoples core rights, freedoms, protections, privileges by select cabals, cotories, commanderies, or cronies in, or beholden to the fascist warmongers and profiteers in the Bush government?

Does a democracy accept and actually promote torture and rendition as government policy?

Does a democracy attack the press, and any and every voice of dissent, or opposition, or alternate opinion for daring to question the radical abuses, deceptions, catastrophic failures, woefull lack of accounting, and wanton profiteering by socalled leadership?

Does a democratic society systemically redistribute the nations wealth and resourses to the richest 1% of population at the expense and dertiment of the other 99% of population.

Does a democracy accept a leadership the intentionally and systemically deceived the people with regard to the justifications for attacking and occupying a sovereign nation and hurling our daughters and sons to an exceedingly bloody, costly, noendinsight, wayward misadventure and war in Iraq, - and fail to adequately account for the costs or articulate the objectives for the nightmare?

Does a democracy spy on it's own people without due process or just cause?

Does a democracy allow the partisan leadership to break the law repeatedly and insistenctly, and contually operate above, beyond, outside, and in total disdain for the rule of law, and the laws of the land?

What is this thing called democracy.

Maybe when we all reach an aggreement of what exactly democracy is, then we will be better prepared to advance the ideas, ideal, and practical application of the principles that define this thing called democracy.

From my pedestrian perspective, America may have once been a democracy, but we are fast unraveling and shapeshifting into a totalitarian dictatorship run by fascist warmongers and profiteers who spurn the law, accountability, and the best interests of the American people, and PERVERT the core principles that formally defined our once more perfect union.
Anonymous 12:26,

I hope your forecast of a war between civilizations does not come true. I agree that nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles are a seminal event in world history but the history of war does not preserve an unbroken continuity in the balance between offense and defense. Much more typical is a pattern of alternation, in which defensive weapons (eg. machine guns) dominate for a while and then offensive weapons dominate for a while (eg. tanks). Post-1945 aerospace weapons should follow this pattern in the long run. (But I hope I am wrong and you are right because the world will be much less stable if nuclear weapons no longer deter.)

Regarding non-European scholars, there is a distinction between (1) people who are scholars in the traditional kinds of faith scholarship and (2) people who operate in the idiom of modern Western languages and secular academic disciplines to study both the West and non-West.

The proper comparison of Hindu, Buddhist, and other scholars in the first group is with Western Christian Bible and Church scholars. A number of Asian and African converts to Christianity have studied Western theology and Church history at a high level of scholarship as part of their sense of Christian vocation. If you mean to argue that Hindu scholars took no interest in Christian Europe, the proper question you need to ask is whether any Christian Bible scholars took an intrinsic (ie. non-proselytizing) interest in Hinduism.

The second group is recent and (in the areas of history with which I am familiar) focuses mainly on interactions between the West and the non-West. But there are Asian, African, and Latin American social scientists and humanists in universities around the world whose field of research and teaching is essentially Western; even when their field of study is their own non-Western society, they work in terms of Western disciplines, although they often see the limits of Western thinking about their culture of origin. An example would be the philosopher Kwasi Wiredu of Ghana.

I don't think Ph.D. theses are the standard for measuring scholarly interest. You need to look at the larger body of work that a scholar produces over a lifetime or at least over a larger part of his or her career. Claudio Veliz (New World of the Gothic Fox) is one example.
Dimitri K. Simes, president of The Nixon Center, has generally explained his stance on the Iraq war in some of his recent writings, such as the "Realist" column in The National Interest in the winter 2004/05 issue, drawing a distinction between dealing with a security threat by discrete means versus undertaking a major transformational exercise.

I'd also call TWR readers' attention to a fascinating symposium held in December 2002, prior to the war, at the magazine and center, with comments from L. Paul Bremer, Joseph C. Wilson, James Schlesinger and others as another point of reference.
David Billington:

Why do UK and France insist on retaining nuclear weapons? Against who are these weapons to be deployed? Are they making UK and France safer?

No my friend: leadershio starts from the top: US and EU have been weakening international disarmament instruments for the past 25 years. Their position is securuity for them and insecurity for everyone else. Thatis untenable.

About the Ph.D. thesis etc. my point was that these cultures are not interested in learning and exploration and innovation: they have an instrumentalist mentality and are trying to learn techniques. The Ph.D. thesis measure was just an example.

I recall two people I met in college: A Conservative Jewish fellow studying Buddhism and a Catholic studying Tibetan Buddhism.

You will never find-and mark my words- a conservative Hindu or a conservative Muslim or a Chinese fellow studying the Reformation. Never: they think that they have nothing to learn in the realm of philosophical and religious ideas from people outside of their cultural millieu.

These cultural contexts cannot be addressed and modified through representative systems of government. India is a democracy but, in India, in spite of all the outsourcing, their own people say "Don't come here for innovation.". The individual Indian, in America, is innovative though because the cultural context is different.
Gee, Michta writes this in 2003 and it takes 3 years before Pace and Abizaid can come to same conclusions.
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