Friday, February 23, 2007

Repercussions from Iraq

Did you know the name of the current US-assisted Baghdad security sweep is Operation Imposing Law? Don't our Pentagon people vet the acronyms formed by these operations? That, or some irony-loving staffer managed to sneak this one by his irony-blind superiors...

Lots of fascinating news this week. Time magazine analyzes the deepening, and spreading, sectarian hatred in Iraq. Mother Jones argues that our presence in Iraq has increased worldwide terrorism. The London Times finds that anti-American feeling is soaring among Muslims.

(BTW, I smiled at this line in the Time article, regarding the Shiite ceremony called Ashura: "The faithful march in the streets, beating their chests and crying in sorrow. The extremely devout flagellate themselves with swords and whips." In other contexts, flagellating oneself with swords and whips would be called "insanity." When the behavior is apparently religiously motivated, it is known as "devotion." Journalists in training, take note.)

Deepening sectarian hatred, an increase in worldwide terrorism, and soaring anti-Americanism. I see three ways to deal with these findings:

1. They are inaccurate.
2. Regardless of their accuracy or inaccuracy, they are irrelevant.
3. They are accurate and relevant.

As I've argued in many previous posts, I believe the findings are both accurate and relevant. If we think of the war in Iraq as part of a larger counterinsurgency campaign, we have to accept that we are losing hearts and minds. If you lose the hearts and minds of the subject population, you lose the counterinsurgency campaign.

It seems to me that we've started a fire in Iraq. Now we're trying to put it out. But what if we can't? Like all fires, it will spread. Our best hope, then, will be to direct it away from ourselves. How?

Attacking a Shiite nation (Iran, that is) right after we've attacked a Sunni one probably wouldn't do the trick. On the contrary, in fighting against the Arab Sunni Taliban, Arab Sunni Iraqi insurgents, and Persian Shiite Iran, we might just accomplish the difficult trick of uniting Islam's feuding sects and nationalities against us.

Perhaps there are ways that Sunnis and Shiites could be left to fight each other, instead? For the cold-bloodedly realpolitically inclined among us, perhaps such fighting could even be... encouraged? If the fire turns on itself, is there a better chance it could burn itself out without consuming the west, too?

You have to be careful with metaphors like these, I know. What's going on in Islam isn't exactly a fire. But are our leaders intelligently, open-mindedly, grappling with these questions?

The always estimable Christopher Hitchens, in a recent Slate article, said almost as an aside, "We cannot flirt, either morally or politically, with divide and rule."

But he never explained why, or what the alternative might be.


Anonymous said...

Insightful as always.
I find it interesting that the idea is floating out there that the US could gain by stoking the fires of aggression between Sunni and Shia; wasn't that a large part of the justification for our involvment in the Iran/Iraq war?

Anonymous said...

Nicely put....I will repost this on my site.

Joshua James said...

Why is Hitchens estimable?

Last time I heard (which, granted, was a while ago) anything by him, he was still desperately trying to make a case that Saddam had ties to al qeda and the attacks on WTC . . .

He seemed so nasty and misguided the few times I've heard what he had to say on television, I couldn't listen any longer . . . do you believe he has something valuable to our country's Iraq struggles?

Anonymous said...

I hate to sound like this, but I think you at least have to consider, if only briefly, that uniting these disparate groups was an intended effect.

If you analyze the motive of an evangelical fundamentalist it can be hypothesized that an all out war with the middle east nations would be a good thing.

Sounds horrible and very unlikely I know. I still have to consider it.

PBI said...

While I enjoyed Hitchens' book "Letters to a Young Contrarian," I have to agree with tj(joshua) that his powers of both observation and communication have become more execrable than estimable in recent years. The example you cite in which he makes a definitive statement without supporting it has become all too common, in my opinion.

Fomenting intra-Muslim conflict may or may not be part of Bush Administration policy, but the "may nots" took a bit of a hit today with this. Seymour Hersh, who is arguably the most effective investigative journalist working today has been digging, and aspects of his report on Cheney, executive power, and the underlying reasons for Negroponte's move from intelligence czar to State (shades of Iran-Contra) strike me as highly plausible. It will be interesting to see if anything comes out of this...

Sensen No Sen

Joshua James said...

Barry, did you catch Frank Rich's column in today's Sunday Times, on the warning of a nuclear attack here in the US?

Be interested to hear your take on it . . .

Barry Eisler said...

Jon and Eric, I don't think the objective of going into Iraq was to cause a Shiite/Sunni war, but Nasrallah does... See Seymour Hersh in the current New Yorker for more.

Maggie, thanks for the repost.

Joshua and Paul, it may be that you're more familiar with Hitchen's writing than I am. I read his pieces in The New Republic, and find him serious and thoughtful even when I disagree with him. Paul, thanks for yet another fascinating link. Agreed on Hersh; the New Yorker article has more.

LDF, sounds like a reasonable interpretation to me.

Joshua, I caught Rich yesterday, like I do every week... I think he and Tom Friedman are the best things in the NYT, along with David Brooks. I agree with Rich, and we've both made the point before: Iraq worsens the threat of terror and is both a distractor from the real fight against it. A reconstituting AQ, with all that entails, is one specific manifestation.

Well, on a lighter note, The Departed took Best Picture honors...


Barry Eisler said...

Sorry, make that Hitchens in Slate, not TNR.

René O'Deay said...

First I have to object to your use of the words: "Insurgents and counterinsurgents."
These people are terrorists plain and simple.
What is so awful is that they have killed more of those of their own faith than any other.

I suggest you check out: for actual body counts. All the links to news stories takes you to the actual pubs around the world, not our media, who have failed utterly in supplying us with the real news that we need.

There are a lot of sites with useful info, but I'll let you dig into that on your own.

The major muslim countries that did not want us to go into Iraq, were afraid we would begin to find out the truth about Islam.

What's interesting are the blogs coming out of those countries and the way they keep getting taken down.

Iran's economy might be collapsing big time. So, we just have to wait for it. Hopefully this adminsitration will... wait that is.

As far as WMD, there was some news last year about certain documents/reports from Wilson being copied in Italy and the orignals sent to Britain and the copies to USA, and those 'copies' were the supposed fake reports, because they were 'copies'. And who would know? Our media? LOL

This is really a private comment for you, so if you do not want to post it, please, don't.


Oblivious to oblivion said...

"...The Bible, for instance, is full of references about what to do to infidels. And it ain't pretty."

Well maybe so - but I cannot remember the last time a Fundamentalist Southern Baptist wrapped explosives to his chest and blew him self up in a shopping mall.

Here is something you all might find a tad bit interesting: The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) is an independent, non-profit organization that translates and analyzes the media of the Middle East. (MEMRI at

Special Dispatch-Iraq/ Reform Project
March 6, 2007
No. 1488

Iraqi Columnist: What Is Happening in Iraq Will End in the Defeat of Terrorism and in the Region's Recovery From Its Ills

To view this Special Dispatch in HTML, visit: .

An article by Dr. Abd Al-Khaleg Hussein was posted on reformist websites such as In the article, the Iraqi columnist argues that President Bush’s new strategy in Iraq is already showing signs of success and that what is happening in Iraq will necessarily end in the defeat of terrorism and in the recovery of the region from its ills once and for all.

The following are excerpts:(1)

"There is nothing that [some] Arabs hate more than the word 'success,' when it appears in connection with the political process in Iraq. To wit: Every article by a reformist who wants the good of Iraq is met with the same unrestrained and pessimistic responses; he is scolded, his opinion is disparaged, he is accused of ignorance, etc. In contrast, anyone who writes an article indicating the failure of U.S. policy in Iraq is praised and glorified, and is characterized as having plenty of objective knowledge on the subject, and acute analytic skills. [These Arabs] want [to see] Iraq turned into piles of rubble in which the owls hoot at night, as their now-buried master, Saddam Hussein, [once] promised. Unfortunately, however, they are fools who know nothing about the logic of history. [They do not realize] that the heavy wheels of history will roll over them mercilessly, and that what is happening in Iraq is destined [not for failure], but for success.

The Arabs Consider It a Virtue Not to Acknowledge Their Mistakes

It is true that the Americans, like all other human beings, make mistakes – but [when they do], they do not give up, and they are not ashamed to sit down and reexamine their strategic plans from time to time in order to determine what went wrong. If they identify the mistake, they acknowledge it and look for an alternative [strategy], until they find the best and [most] efficient option. The Arabs, [on the other hand], consider it a virtue not to acknowledge [their] mistakes...

"When George Bush acknowledges that mistakes were made during the complicated process of liberating Iraq from a dictatorial, despicable, and barbaric regime and establishing a democratic and civilized regime in its place, the Arabs perceive his acknowledgement as evidence of failure and defeat, and [infer] that the Ba'th [party] is undoubtedly 'coming back.'

"The difference between the Arabs and the West is vast. The Arabs think with their [gut] and leave all fateful [decisions] in the hands of a tyrant who drives them like sheep towards the abyss. Their only role is to support the 'unparalleled leader' and to praise him. The [people of the] West, [on the other hand], think with their heads, without ranting. The leader is elected by his people after an intense battle [between candidates], in fair elections. Although he has extensive authority, he does not dare to act before the experts surrounding him – most of whom are academics – conduct intensive and comprehensive research. Plans are implemented only after thorough examination; even after implementation, they are constantly reexamined, critiqued, and amended – a [practice] considered highly shameful by the Arabs (since a [real] man never changes his mind or reneges on his word).

"After four decades of dictatorial rule, which deliberately sowed ignorance among the public, the process of replacing the regime in Iraq is not a [simple] one – especially since the country is surrounded by hostile and malevolent neighbors that wish to destroy it. This grand modernization plan – which seeks to bring Iraq, and the region [as a whole], out of the darkness of previous centuries into the civilization of the 21st century – is not a simple one. It will unavoidably be accompanied by mistakes, casualties, and severe upheavals, but there is always room for reexamining and amending [the plan]. This process must succeed because it cannot fail – for failure means a disaster not only for Iraq and the region, but for the entire world. The political process in Iraq can therefore [proceed] in only one direction: towards success, towards the defeat of terrorism and towards the region's recovery from its ills once and for all.

"What are the indications that Bush's strategy in Iraq is succeeding and that Iraq's enemies are being defeated?...

"The failure of [the attempt by Muqtada] Al-Sadr's faction to boycott the Al-Maliki government. This faction, which has six ministers and 32 representatives in the [Iraqi] parliament, tried to extort Al-Maliki's government. Two months ago, they [tried to] force [Iraqi Prime Minister] Mr. Nouri Al-Maliki to make meeting with Bush in Amman conditional upon an American announcement of a schedule for withdrawal from Iraq. Al-Maliki refused, and in response, [Al-Sadr's people] ordered their ministers and MPs to resign in hopes of embarrassing the government and sabotaging the new plan.

"[Al-Maliki's] response was the opposite of what the leaders of the Al-Sadr faction had expected: He did not capitulate. [As for] Bush, he not only refrained from presenting a schedule for withdrawal, but decided to send more troops (some 21,000 American soldiers) to Iraq, in order to help the government eradicate terrorism and defeat the militias. Instead of sticking to their boycott, Al-Sadr's [people] scurried to rejoin the government, when they discovered... that the situation would [actually] be much better without them. They swallowed their threats, became silent, and [slunk] back [into the government], full of remorse. There can be no doubt that [both] the order to boycott and [the order] calling it off came from their master, the leader of Iran, who pays their salaries.

"We have repeatedly written and warned that Iran and Syria are behind the support for the terrorism in Iraq, and that unless this support is removed, the suffering of the Iraqi people and the region's problems will continue. The American administration has finally understood the danger, given it top priority in its strategy in Iraq, and translated [this understanding] into action by sending [more] naval forces and additional minesweepers to the Gulf to confront Iran. Iran's immediate response was to ask Saudi Arabia to mediate between it and the U.S., in order to remove the threat of war hanging over it and avoid receiving a crushing blow. [Iran] also expressed willingness to help stabilize Iraq. In addition, increasing criticism [has been heard] inside Iran against the vindictive [Iranian] President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: [People] warned that he was leading the country to disaster, and demanded that he be restrained."

The Leaders of Iran and Syria Must Understand the Reality

"Let me emphasize once again that the political process in Iraq is irreversible, and it is inconceivable for it to fail – regardless of whether the U.S. is headed by George W. Bush (a Republican) or by some [other figure] from the Democratic Party. [Even] if the American administration changes, the foreign policy of the U.S. and of the other Western countries will not change, since success in Iraq is success for the whole world and victory for the voice of reason and wisdom – while failure [in Iraq] is a disaster not only for Iraq but for the whole world.

"It is therefore inconceivable that this process should fail. The leaders of Iran and Syria, and all the deluded among the Arabs or anywhere else [in the world], must understand this reality and act accordingly, and minimize their losses by putting an end to the Iraqi bloodbath and listening to the voice of reason and conscience. Otherwise they will bring a grave disaster upon themselves and upon the world." - Dr. Abd Al-Khaleg Hussein


PBI said...

Muslims account for the majority of terrorist violence in the world today; no question. I believe that the point that was being made however, was centered on whatever "inherent" peacefulness or aggression might reside within Islam and Christianity, and law dog fed's contention is accurate: there is plenty of violence queued up for non-believers in the Bible.

It is correct that there aren't a lot of Southern Baptist suicide bombers, but only in the most literal sense. The idea that Christians do not carry out acts of terrorism is not born out by either recent and current history, or my own personal experience. For instance, off the top of my head, there’s Timothy McVeigh who was Roman Catholic, and Terry Nichols who is Pentecostal; they blew up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City killing 168 - including 19 children - and injuring more than 800.

How about the Irish Republican Army? The Ku Klux Klan? I suppose it's possible to argue that anyone who kills in the name of their cause isn't Christian, but both of these groups are organized with significant Christian underpinings, at least as they interpret them. Further, if we discount them as Christian terrorist groups for not being "true" to their faith, then it seems that one must also discount Muslim suicide bombers, since their actions are not endorsed by "true" Islam.

Still not overtly sectarian enough? How about John Salvi, the man who walked into a Planned Parenthood clinic in 1994 and murdered Shannon Lowney and another woman at a second clinic because his faith told him that was the only thing to do? I knew Shannon personally; she was a funny, strong, forgiving and open person, and she was engaged to marry one of my best friends. And even if you discount Salvi as a lone, disturbed individual, you should know that to this day, the Army of God lauds the actions of Salvi on its website. THEY think they're doing The Lord’s Christian work.

Want more? Here are just a few of the home-grown, Christian terrorist incidents in recent years. They're easy to uncover - it literally took me more time to compose this post than it did to find them using Google - and there are plenty more out there:
* Anthrax Scare This Week at Abortion Providers Nationwide
* David Robert McMenemy tries to blow up his car after driving it into a clinic he (mistakenly) believed performed abortions.
* Man gets five years in plot to bomb clinics, churches
* Shreveport couple booked in abortion clinic firebombing
* Teams Ready To Test Sex Shop "Weapon of Mass Destruction"

Our conflict with radical Islam is not some cartoonish, good-versus-evil struggle, it is different sets of people with different interests interacting, and the sooner we understand what makes our enemy tick, the sooner we can end or reduce the conflict. It is remarkable to me the ease with which offhand, tunnel-visioned and factually-unsupported commentary about how only Muslims are terrorists gets tossed around, even today. Given recent history and the actions of our country since 9/11, perhaps I shouldn't be surprised.

Sensen No Sen

PBI said...

An interesting perspective in the MEMRI article, and one I'm sure is held by a number of Israelis, some segment of the population of Arabs, and perhaps even the occasional Persian. That said, it strikes me personally as a bit over-the-top and driven more by ideology than facts on the ground as represented by polls like this one and this one, which indicate that what Iraqis want most is for the U.S. to get out, and that they now believe they were better off under Saddam.

On the topic of over-optimism and the tendency to view the lives of those affected by the invasion in the abstract, I linked to this a while back, but it's worth re-viewing for a little humor with some truly biting commentary: Aasif Mandvi: Forced Perspective. Good all the way through, the last 30 seconds are especially telling, and I think it's worth keeping in mind.

Sensen No Sen

Anonymous said...

Islam on Trial: The Prosecution’s Case against Islam is an article written by a woman named Amber Pawlik.

She made a selection of verses from the Suras in the Koran and found about 53% of them dealt with hatred of infidels. The method she used to select the verses and the verses themselves are described - here.

It doesn't hold out any hope of winning the hearts and minds of those who take the Koran literally.

There's a loophole in all that hate though - here.

YUSUFALI: Except those who join a group between whom and you there is a treaty (of peace), or those who approach you with hearts restraining them from fighting you as well as fighting their own people. If Allah had pleased, He could have given them power over you, and they would have fought you: Therefore if they withdraw from you but fight you not, and (instead) send you (Guarantees of) peace, then Allah Hath opened no way for you (to war against them).

PBI said...

Sorry - this is WAY late to this string, but I thought it worth including, for posterity if nothing else.

The "Islam on Trial" survey is interesting, but also full of holes.

First, while the semi-random selection of verses is a somewhat reasonable place to start, it is not wholly random, rendering any conclusions suspect. Second, the author does not adhere to her own methodology, repeatedly using "notes" after the verses she has selected to qualify them and the subjects with which they deal. In so doing, she pollutes the results, because if she is categorizing a given verse based on its context, she is not categorizing the verse itself.

In other words, if a given verse has to be explained by the context of surrounding verses, then it cannot be categorized as anything. While it may reside in a passage that deals with infidels, or belief, or women, or whatever, the verse itself is more properly categorized as "not topical without context." The fact that this was not done radically inflates the percentage of verses that supposedly deal with "hatred of the infidel."

Finally, in and of itself, even if the author's methodology were solid - which it isn't - the 53% figure is meaningless on its own. Without using a similar methodology to examine the percentage of verses in the Bible or the Torah that deal with "hatred of the infidel," we have no way of knowing if the 53% is low, high or middling in the range of verse-percentage-in-the-source-text-of-major-religions-ealing-with-disdain-for-unbelievers.

Sensen No Sen