Saturday, November 8, 2014

A little context

One of my all-time favorite bloggists, Betty Cracker, remarks dryly at Balloon Juice:
Haven’t we been training the Iraqi military for 10 years now, to the tune of tens of billions of dollars? They’ve got to be the most trained motherfuckers in the world by now.
Well, um. Indeed.

Actually, there is a kind of case that this move—doubling the number of US troops in Iraq—is not quite as idiotic and counterproductive as it looks at first sight. I'm not sure how good a case it is, but I do want to clarify (in the general interest of demonstrating to doubters that this is not the fourth term of George W. Bush and that the White House is at the moment in the hands of a little-known band of insurgent moderates intent on bringing a moderate amount of rationality—not, obviously, an extreme amount, because that would be so extreme—into our foreign and security policy) that the case exists. But it needs a little context that neither our spox nor our media seem able to supply.

Advisors from the Royal Australian Air Force landing in South Vietnam, August 1964. Wikipedia.
The main thing is that the situation in Iraq has been developing in some unexpected ways—unexpected, I mean, by me. I'm on record as convinced that irredentist Shi'ite creep Nouri al-Maliki would never leave the prime minister's office and allow a government to be formed without him, but he did, and while I couldn't imagine that a new PM brought out from his Da'wa Party would do any better at responding to the needs of the Sunni Arab population, something like that has gotten started—a kind of Petraeus Awakening–style movement in the West:
In the vast province of Anbar, some 5,000 tribesmen are backing government efforts to take part in the fight and receive arms and financial compensation. With tribes often numbering 30,000 to 40,000 people, the effort still has a long way to go, however.
Of course this would mean nothing without the cooperation of the Da'esh forces, but those warriors are doing their best to make it work out, by killing all the Anbar Sunnis they can and making themselves as hated as possible, violating the counterinsurgency manual in a worse way than the previous occupying army (ours) did, although the population still seems unconvinced that they are actually worse than the Iraqi army:
The brutality meted upon the tribes by the Iraqi government is no better and often perceived as worse because of its sectarian character. In the words of one tribal leader, Zaydan al-Jubouri: “We chose ISIS for only one reason. ISIS only kills you. The Iraqi government kills you and rapes your women.” 
What seems very remarkable in this context is the report of an Anbar provincial team paying a call on the Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in Najaf—remember him? the fiery youth with his own East Baghdad militia who fled to Iran to finish ayatollah school? He's back now, gray-bearded but as anti-American as ever, and still calling for intersectarian cooperation in the name of Iraqi patriotism. The Anbar authorities evidently take him at his word and went to ask for his support in Parliament for the organization of a paid Sunni National Guard, which the Da'wa government may not want them to have.

Anbar is also the main destination of those new 15,000 US advisors; the fighters they're supposed to be "training" would be the potential members of that National Guard and some veterans of the original "Awakening", which was broken by old Maliki and his Sunni-hating minions. And to be honest, pace Betty, they could probably use some training.

That reach out for a cross-sectarian political alliance of the Anbar sheikhs to the Najaf imams explains how it is that they qualify for American help under the Obama strategy: like the Yazidis and Iraqi Kurds, and later the Syrian Kurds in Kobanê, and unlike the various Sunni insurgent groups in Syria or the official Iraqi army as currently constituted, they've shown a readiness for politics.

If I'm understanding this correctly at this point, the condition on American aid in Iraq and Syria is that you get it only if you can demonstrate that you don't need American leadership; you've got to be able to lead yourself, as demonstrated by your ability to work across ethnic and religious boundaries, because America is not going to offer to lead you any more. The lunatic paradox at the heart of American nation-building exercises has always been that thing where we try to convert people to democracy at gunpoint: "You will love freedom, right now, or we'll kill you." It seems to me that in Iraq and Syria Obama has actually worked out an alternative, though one that certainly can't work fast.

Of course if you want to believe that you have to believe those "advisors" are really advisors, and I realize how delusional that sounds.

Moqtada al-Sadr, at the funeral of some loyalists killed by an (ISIS?) IED. Photo by Alaa al-Marjani for Reuters, via Al-Monitor.

NPR invites James Jeffrey (a State Department career guy who was Bush's ambassador to Turkey before being sent by Obama to Iraq) to castigate the president's plan because its advisors are too advisory: Jeffrey wants them in the field directing operations, because "we" have to "win" some "territory" in western Iraq, right away: "The Anbar sheikhs can't wait!" Please understand, hippies, that Obama's most dangerous enemies are our enemies too, the ones who won't give up that fantasy of spreading democracy by the sword—Real Leaders—, who hate him because he's trying to allow the bits of world they've broken to heal themselves. And they're very, very powerful, a permanent establishment, in principle much more powerful than he is.

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