Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

March 9, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

CIVIL WAR WATCH....In congressional testimony today there was more openness than usual about the situation in Iraq. General John Abizaid: "There's no doubt that the sectarian tensions are higher than we've seen, and it is of great concern to all of us." Donald Rumsfeld: "There is a high level of tension in the country, sectarian tension and conflict." Rumsfeld then punted on the civil war question, saying only that the conflict had not yet become a civil war "by most experts' calculation." That's not exactly a huge vote of confidence.

Not sure what to make of this. But definitely a little less bluster than usual.

Kevin Drum 11:59 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (60)

Bookmark and Share
 
Comments

As soon as we're gone, whether it's next month or in three years, there will be a civil war and a de jure partitioning of Iraq, which actually is the best possible outcome as the three primary ethno-religious groups will never get along.

Posted by: Jeff II on March 9, 2006 at 12:02 PM | PERMALINK

With regards to the recent reports of American troops being cheered in Sunni areas, remember that the British troops were cheered and served tea by Catholics in Northern Ireland in August 1969 when they were being burned out their homes by Protestant mobs. That was a love that didn't exactly weather the test of time.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/august/14/newsid_4075000/4075437.stm

Posted by: B.W. on March 9, 2006 at 12:09 PM | PERMALINK

A civil war has been going on for some time; no one wants to be Howard Cosell and "tell it like it is."

Posted by: Mazurka on March 9, 2006 at 12:18 PM | PERMALINK

This testimony notwithstanding, things in Iraq seem to have quieted down a bit since the recent mosque bombing (which, incidentially, I suspect may have been a Reichstag-type incident). Or at least the country hasn't exploded in the way some people initially thought it would.

Posted by: Peter on March 9, 2006 at 12:27 PM | PERMALINK

Not sure what to make of Rumsfeld blowing a little less smoke up our citizens asses?

Where there is no smoke there is a raging fire.

Civil war is imminent.

Posted by: koreyel on March 9, 2006 at 12:30 PM | PERMALINK

Never, ever believe the NY Times.

Here's what Rumsfeld said:

"From what I've seen thus far, much of the reporting in the U.S. and abroad has exaggerated the situation, according to General Casey. The number of attacks on mosques, as he pointed out, had been exaggerated. The number of Iraqi deaths had been exaggerated. The behavior of the Iraqi security forces had been mischaracterized in some instances. And I guess that is to say nothing of the apparently inaccurate and harmful reports of U.S. military conduct in connection with a bus filled with passengers in Iraq.

Interestingly, all of the exaggerations seem to be on one side. It isn't as though there simply have been a series of random errors on both sides of issues. On the contrary, the steady stream of errors all seem to be of a nature to inflame the situation and to give heart to the terrorists and to discourage those who hope for success in Iraq.

And then I notice today that there's been a public opinion poll reporting that the readers of these exaggerations believe Iraq is in a civil war -- a majority do, which I suppose is little wonder that the reports we've seen have had that effect on the American people.

General Casey has reported that overall levels of violence have not increased substantially as a result of the Golden Dome bombing. To be sure, violence continues to slow Iraq's progress. That's a fact, and we know that. In the coming months Iraqis will face difficult obstacles in controlling illegal militias, and we know that. They're working to try to strengthen their ministries, and we're trying to help them. And their efforts to fashion a unity government that will represent all elements of their society is clearly being delayed by the situation in Iraq. Nonetheless, the leadership being shown by the Iraqi security forces, by the Iraqi government officials in the wake of these attacks against the shrine has to be seen as encouraging, despite the apparent unwillingness of some to accept it."

http://www.defenselink.mil/transcripts/2006/tr20060307-12619.html

I don't know why Kevin thinks that we are on the verge of a civil war when "overall levels of violence ".

Yeah, the media is hyping up a nascent civil war. But we are no closer to a civil war today than we were a month ago.

Again, never, ever believe the NY Times.

Posted by: Al on March 9, 2006 at 12:40 PM | PERMALINK

Just curious for the US history buffs - when did OUR Civil War start getting called the "Civil War"?

Posted by: Robert on March 9, 2006 at 12:43 PM | PERMALINK

The number of Iraqi deaths had been exaggerated.

Huh? Either these people are dead, or they are not. Or is there some third state for Iraqis - perhaps it's known as "last throes"?

Posted by: craigie on March 9, 2006 at 12:44 PM | PERMALINK

Interestingly, all of the exaggerations seem to be on one side. It isn't as though there simply have been a series of random errors on both sides of issues. On the contrary, the steady stream of errors all seem to be of a nature to inflame the situation and to give heart to the terrorists and to discourage those who hope for success in Iraq.

Right, not counting all the errors and exaggerations that got us into Iraq in the first place, no doubt.

Posted by: craigie on March 9, 2006 at 12:45 PM | PERMALINK

Al,

You mean, "never, ever believe the NY Times unless it is publishing information a Right Winger likes". I hear 'wingers quoting the NYT all the time - as long it works into their "truthiness".

Posted by: Robert on March 9, 2006 at 12:45 PM | PERMALINK

Is a religious war also a civil war? Seems to be in Iraq . . .

Posted by: GK on March 9, 2006 at 12:45 PM | PERMALINK

"Again, never, ever believe the NY Times."

Correct, given their reliance on Chalabi and on the defense department concerning WMD's in the run-up to the Iraqi invasion, their hero-worship of GeeDubya post-invasion, their sitting on the NSA spying program for a year until after the 2004 elections . . . those in the Right Wing NYT clearly cannot be trusted.

Posted by: GK on March 9, 2006 at 12:51 PM | PERMALINK

"most experts" = my flunkies.

Posted by: lk on March 9, 2006 at 12:56 PM | PERMALINK

Just curious for the US history buffs - when did OUR Civil War start getting called the "Civil War"?

Don't have an answer for you, but I think our Civil War, and others like the Russian one, the Chinese one, etc., keep people from calling a spade a spade in Iraq. People seem to expect a "proper" civil war to feature organized armies conducting recognizable set-piece battles. By those standards (and if you conveniently overlook the proliferation of militias), Iraq doesn't quite make the cut. But by any sensible measure, Iraq has been in a civil war for a couple of years now. It's not a working society. It's a collection of factions, each of which is willing to inflict lethal violence on its rivals.

I expect that round about 2012 we'll pull out, after pissing away a trillion and a half dollars, and a couple-few thousand more GI's. We'll try to gloss it over with some vacuous slogan, but it'll be a strategic defeat.

Posted by: sglover on March 9, 2006 at 12:56 PM | PERMALINK

Less bluster than usual? YOu mean, after nearly trying to infere that the US news media bored on traitorous for somehow trying to inflame the situation and 'emboldening' the enemy?

Most anything after that kind of audacious statement could be considered 'less bluster'.

Posted by: Kryptik on March 9, 2006 at 12:57 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, another thing: Why hasn't that ignorant fuckwit "Al" enlisted?

Posted by: sglover on March 9, 2006 at 12:57 PM | PERMALINK

The generals are smartly lowering expectations so if worst case happens it won't be a shock. If this is a civil war it's working to benefit our troops. It's only 9 days but the casualty count in March is less than 1/2 of the prior 12 months.

Posted by: rdw on March 9, 2006 at 12:57 PM | PERMALINK

On a related note, why hasn't that ignorant fuckwit "rdw" enlisted?

Posted by: sglover on March 9, 2006 at 12:58 PM | PERMALINK

"I don't know why Kevin thinks that we are on the verge of a civil war when "overall levels of violence "."

According to the NYT, the mosque bombing has already triggered a civil war.

Posted by: Freedom Fighter on March 9, 2006 at 12:59 PM | PERMALINK

The generals are smartly lowering expectations so if worst case happens it won't be a shock.Posted by: rdw

Perfect example of the hard right talking out of both sides of its ass.

I think Pace is one "the generals," and according to his talking points last Sunday, things are going swimmingly. Just those pesky "dead enders."

Posted by: Jeff II on March 9, 2006 at 1:02 PM | PERMALINK

I'm too old and I already did my service. Not that it matters. My vote counts just as much if I were a hero like John McCain or a draft dodger like Bill Clinton. This is America.

Posted by: rdw on March 9, 2006 at 1:02 PM | PERMALINK

"On a related note, why hasn't that ignorant fuckwit "rdw" enlisted?"

How do you know he isn't? Are you projecting the fact that you would never enlist onto others?

Posted by: Freedom Fighter on March 9, 2006 at 1:02 PM | PERMALINK

BTW - last night I overheard a DC bureau chief for one of the US major papers say flat out:

The situation in Iraq is worse than you can imagine, and it's getting worse every day.

(Not that I was eavesdropping, but...)

He then went on to explain how much more difficult it was to organize adequate security for his people, and complained a bit about how expensive he was.

Then the kicker, he basically said that all of the US papers were scared to report how bad it really is due to the intense pressure from the White House and the right wing nuts.

G*d help us and all our troops over there. And G*d help the Iraquis. What we are doing right now is really reckless endangerment.

Posted by: Samuel Knight on March 9, 2006 at 1:03 PM | PERMALINK

Wait... didn't the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs just say, on Sunday, that "Everywhere you look things are going great in Iraq"... or something to that effect?

Posted by: lewp on March 9, 2006 at 1:04 PM | PERMALINK

"I don't know why Kevin thinks that we are on the verge of a civil war when "overall levels of violence "."

The left has a vested interest to see Iraq fail. I think Kevin is just doing his bit by posting hopeful "news" items for his readers.

Posted by: Freedom Fighter on March 9, 2006 at 1:05 PM | PERMALINK

How do you know he isn't? Are you projecting the fact that you would never enlist onto others

I'm a vet, navy, '89-'95. So welcome to Club L'Ignorance, Freedom Fuckwit.

Posted by: sglover on March 9, 2006 at 1:06 PM | PERMALINK

Abandon All Hope Now.............Beat the Rush!

Posted by: R.L. on March 9, 2006 at 1:10 PM | PERMALINK

Perfect example of the hard right talking out of both sides of its ass.

Not at all. It's savvy media mgt. Look at GWB. The MSM and DNC gave the impression when was the dumbest SOB on the planet. After he got through the Gore debates without slobbering all over himself he led in the polls and defeated Gore.

GWB's been beating you at this game for 4 election cycles now.

As we speak Americans are worried about a nasty civil war and Iraq collapsing. Yet we have the lowest casualty rate in 2 years. We've had a steady schedule of Iraqi's controlling more territory and taking a much higher profile. If the good news continues we'll have a chicken little moment with the Democrats playing the chicken while GWB announces a 10,000 troop withdrawal.

Posted by: rdw on March 9, 2006 at 1:12 PM | PERMALINK

Then the kicker, he basically said that all of the US papers were scared to report how bad it really is due to the intense pressure from the White House and the right wing nuts.

These blowhards are the biggest cowards on the planet. There's no shortage of MSM twits ripping GWB nor has there ever been. The problem they have in Iraq is the Iraqi's hate American jornalists. They want the US to stay as long as possible to kill the insurgents. This wold cover the Kurds, most of the Shia, and a portion of the sunni. Those with a vested interest in keeping the insurgency going and chasing America out want American journalists so they can either cut their heads off on TV OR kidnap them for big bucks. Iraq is like Mexico and South America. Kidnapping is major business.

Posted by: rdw on March 9, 2006 at 1:19 PM | PERMALINK

Robert: Just curious for the US history buffs - when did OUR Civil War start getting called the "Civil War"?

That is an interesting question. It was certainly thus named during the war itself; recall the following:

"Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure."

That was at the end of 1863. I'll see if I can come up with earlier references, but my vague and unproven instincts tell me that the North at least was referring to it as the "Civil War" almost from the start.

Posted by: S Ra on March 9, 2006 at 1:23 PM | PERMALINK

Since Dick Cheney had more draft deferments than Clinton, and Clinton actually made himself available for the draft (unlike Cheney) near the end of our involvement in Vietnam when he ran out of deferment options, how is it that Cheney is not considered a draft-dodger by the RWLemmingdompubbiehood?

Posted by: GK on March 9, 2006 at 1:25 PM | PERMALINK

rdw, getting killed in Iraq is not part of a "game."
What is it with you wingers and these "game" metaphors?

Posted by: Ace Franze on March 9, 2006 at 1:27 PM | PERMALINK

Look at GWB. The MSM and DNC gave the impression when was the dumbest SOB on the planet. After he got through the Gore debates without slobbering all over himself he led in the polls and defeated Gore. Posted by: rdw

Actually, that's the exact opposite of what happened. He did slobber all over himself, though not nearly as badly as he did facing Kerry ("It's hard. Hard work."), but they gave him a pass because he essentially stated no extreme policy positions at all, or simply lied through his teeth about them.

Again, the hard right talking out of both sides of its ass.

Posted by: Jeff II on March 9, 2006 at 1:30 PM | PERMALINK

When Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld and company were discussing the pros and cons of toppling Saddam by invasion, would it have been standard practice to keep notes or audio tapes of the deliberations?

It'd be nice, some day, to see how those fellas thought this through.

Posted by: ferd on March 9, 2006 at 1:34 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, another thing: Why hasn't that ignorant fuckwit "Al" enlisted?

Why hasn't "sglover" signed up as an al Qaeda suicide bomber yet?

Posted by: Al on March 9, 2006 at 1:37 PM | PERMALINK

There is no civil war in Iraq. Where are the re-enactors, libbos? Huh? Huh?

Posted by: NoCivilWar on March 9, 2006 at 1:38 PM | PERMALINK

When Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld and company were discussing the pros and cons of toppling Saddam by invasion, would it have been standard practice to keep notes or audio tapes of the deliberations?

It'd be nice, some day, to see how those fellas thought this through. Posted by: ferd

Ferd, the "plan," if you can call it that, was nearly a decade old, first envisioned by Wolfowitz in about 1992. He presented it to Cheney who essentially told him the time wasn't right.

Posted by: Jeff II on March 9, 2006 at 1:40 PM | PERMALINK

Salem Chalabi, Ahmed's nephew, gave a talk at the Yale Club in Boston last night. He as much as admitted that Iraq is in the midst of a low grade civil war. He used the Lebanon analogy at least 5 times. The tone of the talk was not terribly encouraging - Iranian elements have thoroughly infiltrated the major Shia political parties, the Sunnis refuse to compromise, Saudi Arabia continues to provide large amounts of financial aid to the insurgents via Syria, radical Shia elements are already trying to plan how to ethnically cleanse Basra, the Kurds are harboring politicians suspected of stealing billions of dollars from the Iraqi treasury, etc. On the plus side the US Ambassador is doing an amazing job just keeping things as quiet as they are. The fact that the civil war is still low-grade means it can still be headed off. Chalabi appears to believe that the country needs to be divided into a federal state, more or less along ethnic lines with Baghdad as an independent federal entity. Without US troops things would get much worse. You have to be a fool or a paid propagandist to think things are "going well" in Iraq. It's people like Al, ironically, who are doing the most to undermine the war effort. If war supporters would engage seriously with the challenge of Iraq maybe they could convince Americans it's worth the effort. But when morons run around saying "it's all good in Iraq, it's the media's fault" then they shouldn't be surprised when the average American decides the occupation is a farce.

Posted by: Vanya on March 9, 2006 at 1:40 PM | PERMALINK

Al makes an important distinction with sarcasm. Al is no more "pro-America" than sglover is "pro-al Qaeda".

Posted by: NoCivilWar on March 9, 2006 at 1:47 PM | PERMALINK

Al says:
"Never, ever believe the NY Times" and then posts an extract from a DoD News Transcript of 7 March 2006 to "prove" the NYT misquoted Rumsfeld.

However, a quick look at the NYT story (check the link, AL - sound familiar?) shows the story was posted today and that it quotes Rumsfeld's statements made to Congress today, Thursday, 9 March 2006.

Those date-thingy's can really be hard, right Al?

Posted by: Paul E. Tickle on March 9, 2006 at 1:48 PM | PERMALINK

Let me add one more thing, I think it's becoming increasingly ridiculous to talk about "Iraqis." In a year at most that concept will be as antiquated as "Yugoslavs" and "Soviet citizens." There are Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites who all live in Mesopotamia. That's it. There are really no "Iraqi" military forces worth mentioning. There are Kurd, Sunni and Shiite military forces. American unwillingness to recognize tribal and ethnic differences is a big reason that the US made such a hash of the occupation.
It was also interesting to hear Chalabi talk about the American media - he gave the Washington Post and Christian Science Monitor high grades, the NYT mediocre, but he certainly did not appear to agree with the MSM hating wing-nuts who show up here. Oh, and a good blogger on Iraq, according to Chalabi - Talisman Gate.

Posted by: Vanya on March 9, 2006 at 1:48 PM | PERMALINK

Rumsfeld then punted on the civil war question, saying only that the conflict had not yet become a civil war "by most experts' calculation." That's not exactly a huge vote of confidence.

Most experts oughta be able of performing the higher math. As in 2 + 2 = . . .

And folks wonder why "experts" aren't taken at their word isn't taken as Gospel in the Dubai ports deal ...

... or for that matter in military or Constitutional matters...

Posted by: SombreroFallout on March 9, 2006 at 1:51 PM | PERMALINK

Redefining terms is exactly the MO of these scam artists.

Taxation=socialism.
Enforcing Bribery Laws=Criminalization of Policits.
Fair Elections and Freedom=purple fingers.
Civil War=When Rummy says so.

Posted by: Osama_Been_Forgotten on March 9, 2006 at 1:52 PM | PERMALINK

Vanya wrote: If war supporters would engage seriously with the challenge of Iraq maybe they could convince Americans it's worth the effort.

Most of the "war supporters" who post comments here are not really war supporters per se. They are Bush bootlickers. Their "support for the war" is based on "Bush can do no wrong." Admitting that there are serious problems in Iraq and that any change from the Bush administration's current policies might be needed would be admitting that Bush can make a mistake. They will never, ever, ever admit that. They really couldn't care less about Iraq, or about America for that matter. All they care about is slavishly worshipping the glory of their fake, phony little god-king, George W. Bush.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on March 9, 2006 at 1:53 PM | PERMALINK

Robert >"...when did OUR Civil War start getting called the "Civil War"?"

From Wikipedia (not the most reliable but...)

"...Writings of prominent men such as Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman, P.G.T. Beauregard, Nathan Bedford Forrest, and Judah P. Benjamin used the term Civil War both before and during the conflict..."

and...

"...Ultimately the distinction between a "civil war" and a "revolution" or other name is arbitrary, and determined by usage..."

or maybe you are asking when it began to be labeled the "Civil War" instead of the "civil war"

No idea but probably someone in a library somewhere would know (Library of Congress ?)

[snark]
and, not to be too off the deep end, how can a war be civil at all, with violence and all that ?
[/snark]

"...We don't have news, we have stories inspired by current events..." - Stirling Newberry

Posted by: daCascadian on March 9, 2006 at 1:54 PM | PERMALINK

>But we are no closer to a civil war today than we were a month ago.

Wouldn't you like to be able to show these words to the "Al" of March 9th, 2005, and March 9th, 2004, and March 9th, 2003?

Wearing out a bit, Al? Sound kinda tired. Can't keep reality at bay much longer, you know. Let it flow. Otherwise I gotta wonder what kind of stupid shit you'll be posting March 9, 2007 after your brain totally implodes from the erosion of all internal structures.

Posted by: doesn't matter on March 9, 2006 at 2:07 PM | PERMALINK

VANya sezz:

the Sunnis refuse to compromise, Saudi Arabia continues to provide large amounts of financial aid to the insurgents via Syria, radical Shia elements are already trying to plan how to ethnically cleanse Basra, the Kurds are harboring politicians suspected of stealing billions of dollars from the Iraqi treasury, etc. On the plus side the US Ambassador is doing an amazing job just keeping things as quiet as they are.

Isn't it fascinating how our nominal "ally" (read: employer) Saudi Arabia is funding the "insurgents"? NO shortage of $$$ there -- a veritable Ho Chi Minh Trail of fiscal and other support. And guess what -- they don't need Syria as a conduit, either.

It's no plus that the US ambassador hides the goings-on over there. (As I understand it, he's more of a realist that others.) Further, you'll recall the extremely strong likelihood that Negroponte played a critical role in setting up death squads, sectarian or otherwise.

That's not exactly 'keeping the lid on things' -- nor could it ever be. Those death squads are merely the final solution in a long series of steps taken to obliterate national civil & cultural institutions, military/political unity, and cultural cohesiveness. Those provocations have been virtually endless. The ratcheting up of death squad activity is merely a last-ditch provocation. In the face of which the IRAQIS have been remarkable strong in refusing to be drawn into or provoked into a full-scale civil war.

Let me add one more thing, I think it's becoming increasingly ridiculous to talk about "Iraqis." In a year at most that concept will be as antiquated as "Yugoslavs" and "Soviet citizens." There are Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites who all live in Mesopotamia. That's it. There are really no "Iraqi" military forces worth mentioning.
...
American unwillingness to recognize tribal and ethnic differences is a big reason that the US made such a hash of the occupation.

Let me add one more thing. Not recognizing cultural values & taboos across the
board was precisely the point -- the distinctions between the 3 groups is irrelevant. Making a "hash of the occupation" at the national level was merely a means to hasten the breakup of Iraq.

You're engaging in a lot of wishful thinking. Germany, France, England all cohered into nations -- though the Welsch, etc., didn't disappear. Analogy's wrong, too Yugoslavia and Russia was divided by religion, culture, and history. Not Iraq -- which differs from neighborhing states in the commonality of its religous groups and a strong secular tradition.

To assume Iraq's breakup is inevitable is both reckless and self-serving. Accident of birth, sure; not necessarily its fate to come apart, though. Especially not with a common enemy; see the history on how that works.

It was also interesting to hear Chalabi talk about the American media - he gave ... the NYT mediocre [grades], but he certainly did not appear to agree with the MSM hating wing-nuts who show up here.

Of course he doesn't. There's no sweeter irony than someone named Chalabi dissing the NYTs. And why would he agree with those that protested Judith Iscariot Miller's stenography of every spoon-fed lie delivered by Ahmad Chalabi, Donald Rumsfeld & Co.?

The Yale Club could do themselves a big favor and start selecting their guests more wisely. And they could start by talking to the rest of their own country -- which is certainly, demonstrably, better educated.

Posted by: SombreroFallout on March 9, 2006 at 2:41 PM | PERMALINK

If it wasn't called a "civil war", would it be less dangerous? Sheesh, you guys have an incredible capacity to miss the point.

For folks who insist that terrorism ought to be handled as a law enforcement problem, it's pretty odd that sectarian violence and gangsters in Iraq are somehow elevated.

Murtha is still right: the way the good guys win, is for American troops to cease being targets, while a Shiite majority government starts to govern as an Iraqi government, not a Shi'ia one.

For once, be SERIOUS, guys: this isn't Bush's problem. It's an AMERICAN problem.

Posted by: theAmericanist on March 9, 2006 at 2:58 PM | PERMALINK

"A high level of tension"??? I understand Rummy wanting to put as positive a spin as possible but this is ridiculous.

Posted by: ET on March 9, 2006 at 3:08 PM | PERMALINK

Actually, that's the exact opposite of what happened. He did slobber all over himself, though not nearly as badly as he did facing Kerry ("It's hard. Hard work."), but they gave him a pass because he essentially stated no extreme policy positions at all, or simply lied through his teeth about them.

The dolt kicked your ass 4x's.

Posted by: rdw on March 9, 2006 at 3:18 PM | PERMALINK

It's people like Al, ironically, who are doing the most to undermine the war effort. If war supporters would engage seriously with the challenge of Iraq maybe they could convince Americans it's worth the effort.

Good point, in fact, doubleplusgood, since it gores an ox that I like to see gored. On the other hand, given the genesis of the Iraq fiasco, what else can we expect? The war's costs were lowballed -- outrageously, ludicrously so -- from the beginning.

This, incidentally, was another strong reason to oppose the thing from the start: If you're gonna propose a project that's sure to be long and costly, you'd better be honest about it, or the thing is likely doomed to collapse in disillusion and recriminations. Again, the incompetence that let the "Republican grown-ups" blithely disregard this simple maxim is simply staggering. They're reminiscent of the court of the last Czar.

Posted by: sglover on March 9, 2006 at 3:25 PM | PERMALINK

"Not recognizing cultural values & taboos across the board was precisely the point -- the distinctions between the 3 groups is irrelevant."

I'm sorry Sombrero, you're engaging in wishful thinking, or you're a Baathist. The divisions between the "Iraqi" ethnic groups are as profound, if not more so ,as those in ex-Yugoslavia. First of all "Iraq" itself is an artificial idea imposed by the British in the 1920s. The ethnic tension is not new. Even under the Ottomans the Shia in Basra petitioned to be in a separate vilayet from Baghdad. The Kurds certainly have no loyalty, no historical or cultural ties to this state, and Saddam's massacres didn't improve things. The artificial state of affairs is to keep a unified state where no tradition or cultural reason for unity exists.
You appear to be reading what you want to read rather than what I wrote. Chalabi did not diss the NYT, said it was "OK", which I thought coming from him was far, far more enthusiastic than a Glenn Reynolds would expect.

Posted by: Vanya on March 9, 2006 at 3:46 PM | PERMALINK

"The divisions between the "Iraqi" ethnic groups are as profound, if not more so ,as those in ex-Yugoslavia. First of all "Iraq" itself is an artificial idea imposed by the British in the 1920s. The ethnic tension is not new. "

No kidding, Sherlock. And what happened to the British in Iraq? Did the factions remain fractious, or did they oust their occupiers?

But accident of birth is not evidence that Iraq's coming apart at the seams is predestined.

Most erroneously you stand the relationship btw Yugoslavia with Iraq on its head. The gulf between religious and cultural groups in Yugoslavia is by definition more extreme. Christian v. Muslim, not to mention Catholic/Othodox. Say what you want about Iraq, but it doesn't come close to that chasm. The telling proof is this: Serbia, etc., didn't need an external event to set off ethnic cleansing; in stark contrast, it required external malfeasance to push these three very different groups up to, and past, the brink of civil war. By this I DO NOT mean the removal of Saddam Hussein, and I do not mean the ensuing chaos, destruction, and incompetence. Even at that point, Kurds, Shiites, and Sunni resisted engaging in civil war, even at a low level. It's only the advent of death squads, and extreme provocation that has taken infighting to this level.

Tito never had an external enemy to hold Yugos together -- not that it would have mattered in his case.

Iraq may be parceled out between Iranian, Saudi Arabian, and Kurdish or even Turkish spheres, if things get bad enough. But don't assign that result to internal strife, when the available evidence indicates the cause is external meddling on all fronts.

Further, Tito imposed rule from within --

You dissemble to suggest the strife is based on these divisions, rather than an ongoing set of provocations initiated by conscious American policy. The fire-sale auction of national assets, the closing of the free press, arbitrary arrests of critical _moderate_ religious leaders, destruction of the national library, 'misplacement' of oil revenues -- and Negroponte's death squads.

Posted by: SombreroFallout on March 9, 2006 at 4:12 PM | PERMALINK

Coupla thought fragments in last post.

But you get the point. Yugoslavia came apart spontaneously, in the absence of external threat. Tito was native; Bremer/Bush is not native to Iraq. Iraq could and would unify against an foreign occupier -- were it not for these inexplicable provocations, explicitly delivered by American forces, overt and covert. As this continues, they might well yet do so, though the heavy involvement of neighboring states mitigates against that possibility.

But this is a nationalist resistance movement, not an insurgent campaign w/o local support.

And guess who trained certain Iraqi folks in car-bombing tactics? Hmmm? Track that one down, if you got the courage.

It's remarkable just how reluctant Shiite, Sunni, and Kurds have been to move to all-out war. Witness the pullback from the recent spasm of violence that erupted after the bombing of the golden domed mosque.

Re Chalabi and the NYTs - you get my point. OK/dissing NYTs' coverage -- what's the difference, really? There's plenty of irony to go around, whichever angle you take. Saying NYTs coverage is "OK" is just silly. How unexpected of a Chalabi to forgive the Times' supposed liberal stance when they so eagerly printed Judith Iscariot Miller's lies? It's both a left-handed compliment and a diss through damning by faint praise. Condescending as hell, too. What's a Chalabi's opinion worth on the general topic, anyway, let alone on press coverage of Iraq?

Posted by: SombreroFallout on March 9, 2006 at 4:53 PM | PERMALINK

Sombero, our major point of disagreement is that you appear to think that Bush and company are competent and could have plausibly designed a conscious American policy to exploit ethnic strife. Frankly that strikes me as prima facie ridiculous, all evidence suggests to me that Bush, Rumsfeld, Cheney et al. are incompetent fools. Now it may well be that Iranian agents through Ahmed Chalabi and others were smart enough to encourage American intervention in Iraq in order to provoke ethnic strife, from which Iran is today the main beneficiary, but in that case the blame for what is happening in Iraq has to be laid at least partly at the feet of Iran.

Furthermore, the history of ethnic tension in Iran from 1945 to 1990 is far worse than Yugoslavia. Tito never gassed Slovenian villages or had to put down massive Bosnian uprisings. It is beyond naive to pretend that all three Iraqi ethnic groups lived in peace and harmony until the US showed up. You do remember that the Kurds have lived in their de facto state since 1991? Wolfowitz, Feith, Rumsfeld all shared the same misconception you do - that Iraqis are first and foremost "Iraqis". It is true that Saudi Arabia and others have played a major role in fomenting and encouraging ethnic tension, it is also true that the US has been tragically inept at preventing this from happening. But I don't see evidence that this is conscious policy, more like bungling. Maybe I am the one being naive, but if Bush really is hiding a scheming devious plan he is one of the greatest conspirators in human history.

Posted by: Vanya on March 9, 2006 at 5:18 PM | PERMALINK

Vanya, vanya. Do not assume I hold any misconceptions, least of all that one. Nor do I share that misconception with Wolf, Rummy, etc.

Consider: it may well be that Bush and Company are just as smart as they are stupid. Although I agree with Bush is from many angles preposterously moronic and effectively incompetent, it is also true that by many measures he is a brilliant political communicator. W/o detailing that, I'm saying that these folks mean what they say, and as remarkably repugnant as these views are, this (mal)administration is -- or can be thought of as -- "intelligent" in some ways.

It's just naive to parrot 'stoopid, stoopid' as though there isn't some light burning in DC.

More important, you're not grasping the Yugoslav-Iraq historical reality. To call the Balkan history "ethnic tension" is extraordinary understatement of (forgive me) historic proportions. It'd been a bloodletting, and nothing less. You can go back to the 1400s or further, and cutting off the analysis in 1945 is to miss the point. (Also, you switched from Iraq to Iran in that last post: "tension in Iran from 1945 to 1990..." Picking that time frame means literally nothing when you consider the critical events that frame that span; you're comparing apples and non-apples. In the broader sweep, genocide in the Balkans (WWII..etc., etc.)

Despite many problems, including authoritarian rule and "ethnic tensions" Iraq did form many national instutions, including a tradition of secular rule, technological advancement, etc.

Bottom line: you miss the critical events. Iraq kicked out the British, a common enemy. The US is now a common enemy. Yugoslavia didn't need an external intervention to spontaneously come apart -- it's history of ethnic hatred and ongoing genocides was too great and too long. Iraq, in stark contrast, didn't descend into civil war EVEN GIVEN the chaos and destruction post-US invasion. Iraqis of all ethnic persuasions have been extraordinarily reluctant to move towards ethnic civil war, given the circumstances. Consider: even in the middle period, when car bombings were carried out not by insurgents but by Armyremnants/Baathists against new-Iraqi Army recruits -- it STILL wasn't ethnic-based violence. It was old vs. new, native vs. American-allied Iraqi recruits.

Very complex, but what we know doesn't support the knee-jerk, highly prejudiced view of Iraqi's as inherently "tribal," unstable, and violent. To quote Thomas Friedman, your view is "borderline racist." They're human beings, and not prone to do what's not in their best interest, nor what would threaten their continued existence, unless they were pushed to the brink and had to act to ensure their very survival. Simply the same reaction to dictatorships and death squads as occurred in Nicaragua and El Salvador -- and colonial America.

Posted by: SombreroFallout on March 9, 2006 at 6:03 PM | PERMALINK

Hey, I could say your view of Yugoslavia is borderline racist. To claim that there was no external intervention in Yugoslavia is also a vast simplification - the Germans played a key role in encouraging the Croats and Slovenians to leave, precipitating the entire disaster. I lived in Bosnia in the late 90s. The vast majority of "Yugoslavs", whether Bosnian,Serb or Croat, (and like the vast majority of Iraqis), did not want any part of a civil war. There was very little historical hatred among younger people in the 1970s and 1980s. Nonetheless people remained Croats, Slovenians, Macedonians, etc. first - Yugoslavs second. That worked fine for most of the population. But it only takes a small committed minority to cause real trouble in a country where people give greater allegiance to an ethnic group than to the nation state. In Iraq it is the same story. Of course most Sunnis and Shia don't want a civil war. But there are real historical grievances that ambitious political leaders can take advantage of to bolster their own positions. This snowballs, as the various factions start pointing at each other and become increasingly suspicious. I don't know why you appear to think that civil wars spontaneously erupt when the lid comes off. In Yugoslavia it took a slow boil from the time of Tito's death, over 10 years, until real violence took place. The Russian revolution was the same way - the Tsar was overthrown in 1917 - only by 1919 when it became clear to various factions that violence was the only avenue left did the revolution disintegrate into a bloody civil war. In Iraq it has been the same process, Sunni leaders aren't idiots, most of them want a peaceful solution but as time passes and they begin to lose hope that they will ever regain their previous status appeals to violence begin to appeal to more and more people. On the Shi'ite side patience is wearing thin, many Shi'ites feel Iraq should be theirs and they were willing to wait for a while, but their patience is not endless. To say as you do "Iraq, in stark contrast, didn't descend into civil war EVEN GIVEN the chaos and destruction post-US invasion. " is no point at all, why would a civil war break out on day one? I'm not arguing at all that Iraqis are "inherently unstable or violent", I'm arguing that there are real if latent ethnic grievances between these groups and it was a huge mistake for the US to ignore the possibility that a US invasion would inflame these tensions. Personally I don't think separatism is a good thing, I think Yugoslavia was a much more interesting country than the microstate that have emerged. The Ottoman empire was a much better deal for most of the residents of the Middle East than the semi-criminal pseudo states the US and Great Britain created in Iraq, Jordan, Saudia, Palestine and Syria. But it's too late now.

Posted by: Vanya on March 9, 2006 at 6:33 PM | PERMALINK

Vanya! Babe!

I agree with you about the Ottoman Empire, as well as the US-Brit role in setting up these states in the Middle East. And about Yugoslavia as well -- It was always held up as a valiant non-allied country during the Cold War -- one who had the guts and smarts not to buy into either Western or Eastern sphere of influence. And the common sense not to return to the bloodletting of the various partisans that operated pre-WWII. Note well I'm not picking on any one group when I say that. Yugoslavia was widely- and much-admired where I hail from, for both of those traits/choices/.

But it's obvious that that history goes way, way, way back. Much further than just to 1945.

I'm well aware of the German "role" -- but you can't seriously equate that with the American invasion and occupation of Iraq, can you?

The Germans did not invade Yugoslavia. If they "encouraged" the Serbs & Croats to leave, So What? It was still the Serbs and Croats who took those steps, they did out of fear and a knowledge of their own history (45 year is the blink of an eye), and choosing to do so is their own responsibility, not Germany's. (Though I'm aware of Germany's historic involvement, pre-1945, can't recall their interests are served by the breakup.) But the US DID invade Iraq; there's no equation of the two events, and the US action was by far a more explosive -- "shock and awe" far outweighs Germany's "encouragement," on the face of it.

Of course the process is as you describe. But blame-shifting and scapegoating is not the way to go. It won't work to substitute Germany for those who carried out the deeds in Yugoslavia. It won't work to equate Germany with the US. There is no substance to the idea that those Other Guys -- the Iraqis -- are less civilized or less capable than "YOU" Guys -- the Yugoslavs.

The "tribal" epithet is used to convey that they are somehow more "primitive" -- and with some impact, I might add. It's used to degrade them in your own heart and mind, to evade responsibility (by my fellow US citizens&govt).

This is the cradle of civilization, after all. If we'd bother to honor their culture, things would be much different at this point.

Finally: What makes you take Wolfowitz & Rumsfeld at face value? They're not known for their honesty. When they say "Iraq" as a nation will hold together -- don't believe for an instant they'll work towards that end. It's not even their objective.

So it is YOU that shares a common misconception with the unstated but obvious assumptions Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz. That misconception is that Iraq cannot hold together as a nation. At least, not if its civic and national institutions are consiously destroyed, not if it's put on the rack and tortured, not if it's drawn and quartered along ethnic and religious lines. You overlook the elephant in the room: the one sure way to subdue a nation, of course, is to partition it.

So YOU share a common misperception with Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz -- that Iraq will inevitably come apart. BushCo will hang them if necessary to accomplish that.

And provoking civil war is worst sort of self-fulfiling "justification." IF Iraqi's 'aren't capable' of holding together a nation -- then we of course we must stay to do it for them. You broke it, you bought it." (Of course, even Colin Powell's analogy is fucked up. Break a vase at Pottery Barn and you don't get to stay in the store for 111 years breaking all the vased you can find. You gotta pay, and then go home.)

Posted by: SombreroFallout on March 9, 2006 at 8:52 PM | PERMALINK

It occurs to me that what will ultimately evolve in Iraq is a version of the "good fences make good neighbors" principle that has dramatically lowered the violence level in Israel.

I can envision an Iraq on the Switzerland style of cantonments who get along because of convenient mountains providing a degree of separation. In Iraq there is going to be some ethnic cleansing to rationalize certain boundaries and to discourage car bombing, but a society with an extraordinary number of check points is not necessarily one that can not function economically.

A good case in point would be Cyprus, where the wall between Greeks and Turks post 1970's actually promoted peace and a type of reconciliation. Or in Northern Ireland, where wires and fences have kept the lid on for decades, with the exception of the occasional march into the wrong neighborhood by one group or another just to get in the face of their enemy.

Modern technology may play a role in this. Hopefully bomb-sniffing robots will come down in price even below the cost of fielding dogs (whose handlers are always at risk of being blown up.) If cars can be safely checked and waved through roadblocks expeditiously, civility and prosperity should return rather quickly. The same for foot traffic, if explosives on the body can be reliably and safely detected by a quick walk through a concrete gate/chute.

With luck, Iraq will settle down nicely this summer. The wild card, of course, is Iran. I believe the Iranians are getting more aggressive because they know they are losing--it's desperation time for their covert operations in Iraq.

Posted by: Michael L. Cook on March 11, 2006 at 1:11 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

Read Jonathan Rowe remembrance and articles
Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

Advertise in WM



buy from Amazon and
support the Monthly