February 28, 2008

"Concerned Local Citizens"

Randall Parker points to a so-depressing-it's-funny article written by Nir Rosen in Iraq called "The Myth of the Surge."

John McCain is running on a strategy of Winning in Iraq, but nobody seems to know whose side we are on these days. We started out being on the side of the guys who are most closely associated with Iran. Lately, we've been on both sides at once. But nobody seems to be on our side. The whole situation makes Catch 22 sound like Euclid's Elements.

Now, in the midst of the surge, the Bush administration has done an about-face. Having lost the civil war, many Sunnis were suddenly desperate to switch sides — and Gen. David Petraeus was eager to oblige. The U.S. has not only added 30,000 more troops in Iraq — it has essentially bribed the opposition, arming the very Sunni militants who only months ago were waging deadly assaults on American forces. To engineer a fragile peace, the U.S. military has created and backed dozens of new Sunni militias, which now operate beyond the control of Iraq's central government. The Americans call the units by a variety of euphemisms: Iraqi Security Volunteers (ISVs), neighborhood watch groups, Concerned Local Citizens, Critical Infrastructure Security. The militias prefer a simpler and more dramatic name: They call themselves Sahwa, or "the Awakening." ...

The American forces responsible for overseeing "volunteer" militias like Osama's have no illusions about their loyalty. "The only reason anything works or anybody deals with us is because we give them money," says a young Army intelligence officer. The 2nd Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment, which patrols Osama's territory, is handing out $32 million to Iraqis in the district, including $6 million to build the towering walls that, in the words of one U.S. officer, serve only to "make Iraqis more divided than they already are." In districts like Dora, the strategy of the surge seems simple: to buy off every Iraqi in sight. All told, the U.S. is now backing more than 600,000 Iraqi men in the security sector — more than half the number Saddam had at the height of his power. With the ISVs in place, the Americans are now arming both sides in the civil war. "Iraqi solutions for Iraqi problems," as U.S. strategists like to say. David Kilcullen, the counterinsurgency adviser to Gen. Petraeus, calls it "balancing competing armed interest groups." ...

But loyalty that can be purchased is by its very nature fickle. Only months ago, members of the Awakening were planting IEDs and ambushing U.S. soldiers. They were snipers and assassins, singing songs in honor of Fallujah and fighting what they viewed as a war of national liberation against the foreign occupiers. These are men the Americans described as terrorists, Saddam loyalists, dead-enders, evildoers, Baathists, insurgents. There is little doubt what will happen when the massive influx of American money stops: Unless the new Iraqi state continues to operate as a vast bribing machine, the insurgent Sunnis who have joined the new militias will likely revert to fighting the ruling Shiites, who still refuse to share power.

"We are essentially supporting a quasi-feudal devolution of authority to armed enclaves, which exist at the expense of central government authority," says Chas Freeman, who served as ambassador to Saudi Arabia under the first President Bush. "Those we are arming and training are arming and training themselves not to facilitate our objectives but to pursue their own objectives vis-a-vis other Iraqis. It means that the sectarian and ethnic conflicts that are now suppressed are likely to burst out with even greater ferocity in the future."

Okay, but isn't "vast bribing machine" a reasonable definition for most governments? And maybe quasi-feudal isn't so bad? Europe puttered along for a long time being feudal. Indeed, perhaps what Iraq and Afghanistan need is formal feudalism: tell a warlord or gang leader that you're now the Earl of Fallujah, so start behaving like an Earl who expects to leave a prosperous Earldom to his son, the Second Earl of Fallujah.

Parker suggests that maybe we should just bribe more guys, which would have to be cheaper than occupying the place.

The hopeful thing is that people do eventually get tired of violence, although it can take awhile, such as three decades in Northern Ireland. My vague impression is that one of the sticking points in the 1998 agreements in Belfast was that the IRA men wanted jobs as policemen. They wanted to spend their declining years trundling about the old neighborhood, smiling at little children, cashing government paychecks, pocketing the odd bribe, whacking upside the head with a shillelagh anybody who gives them any lip. Is that too much to ask for?

Whatever happened there, anyway? My impression is that Southern Ireland finally woke up and started making lots of money, so the fighting in Northern Ireland started looking less like a zero sum game and more like a waste of time.

Are there any lessons to be learned from Northern Ireland that could be applied in Iraq?

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

26 comments:

Anonymous said...

The hopeful thing is that people do eventually get tired of violence, although it can take awhile

Maybe it's just me, but hasn't awhile already passed by in Africa?

braindead said...

Well, Steve was talking about a generation. In Africa the life expectancy is relatively low (30-40), so by the time people figure out violence is not worth it they are already on their way out. The next generation of course will not listen but tries it out on its own, and thus the cycle goes on. So maybe Steve's theory only works when life expectancy goes over a certain magic value which is not being matched in most of Africa, save perhaps South Africa.

Perhaps this helps explain why the Afrikaners, who were armed to their teeth with modern weaponry including nuclear weapons, decided it was better to live under a corrupt black government than to continue fighting indefinitely?

Seve really has some bright ideas!

georgesdelatour said...

Steve

Northern Ireland was and is part of the UK, because that is what most of the people living there want. Contrary to the IRA version of history, there is abundant evidence that British governments have always wanted to get rid of Ulster, ever since the Republic achieved independence. But, so far, they can't. It's stuck to the UK, like a giant fly-paper.

Most Southern Irish are quietly relieved that the North is not governed by them. The thought of an all-Ireland parliament with Ian Paisley and his supporters constantly disrupting business is hardly attractive. And this is what a "United Ireland" must mean, unless a million Protestants are to be ethnically cleansed first.

The IRA never had enough ArmaLites and Semtex to drive a million Protestants out of Ireland. After 20 years they realized this, and agreed to the power-sharing deal that's been on the table since the early 1970s.

Any lessons for the US in Iraq? First, Iraq is never going to be governed directly as part of the USA. There will never be members of Congress for Baghdad or Basra. But this means that no amount of American force can prove psychologically decisive. Everyone in Iraq, friend or foe, is always planning secretly for the day when America leaves. Napoleon's old saying, that "you can do anything with bayonets, but you can't sit on them" is exactly right.

Iraq's fate will ultimately be determined by regional forces, by the hard realities of the regional balance of power, not the temporary deployment of US troops. I suspect that Iraq cannot be both a democracy and a state with its present borders intact. This is what President Bush's father thought.

J. said...

General Petraeus has understood how the Middle East works and is now operating within the system. It is very encouraging that the American Army has such learning capabilities. Anyone who mentions bribes is an idiot and should volunteer to Jimmy Carter's next peacemaking mission in Kenya and/or Congo.

Reader said...

Causing all this chaos appears to be part of the plan in Iraq. Sure, the official line is that we're there to bring peace, stability, and democracy, but does anyone take the stated justifications for the Iraq War at face value anymore? Especially when our actions there are suggesting the exact opposite?

Anonymous said...

Didn't the Irish Republicans have a lot of Stateside financial support? Maybe the Irish-American money train slowed down and the Irish had to think about other options.

simon newman said...

(I'm from Northern Ireland) By the early '90s the IRA had been heavily infiltrated by MI5 and their operations were failing. Sinn Fein/IRA was losing political support. In 1992 their political leader Gerry Adams lost his MP's seat in West Belfast to a moderate Irish Nationalist, due partly to Protestant tactical voting (I rememer staying up all night to see it on TV). This left Sinn Fein/IRA without any MPs. It was at this point that the IRA began seeking to end its war, several years before the Republic's economic take-off.

Born Again Democrat said...

I believe Steve's remark about the limited life-cycle of violence only applies to peoples living within a civilizational framework, which is totally lacking in Africa. Absent such a framework imposed from without, a barbarous hobbesian world of violence could go on forever.

Derek Copold said...

They wanted to spend their declining years trundling about the old neighborhood, smiling at little children, cashing government paychecks, pocketing the odd bribe, whacking upside the head with a shillelagh anybody who gives them any lip. Is that too much to ask for?

Considering how many of the IRA were and still are into criminal racketeering, yes it was way too much to ask for.

Still, considering that they are a terrorist group, the IRA didn't do so poorly. Their bagmen get feted as statesmen these days and they get a number "vote until you get it right" referenda on Northern Ireland's status. And to provide encouragement, they most likely still have stocks of arms hidden about that they never turned in.

David Davenport said...

... including $6 million to build the towering walls that, in the words of one U.S. officer, serve only to "make Iraqis more divided than they already are." ...

Gosh, "towering walls" is a somewhat pejorative way to describe larger gated communities, which will likely be coming soon to our American cities.

Ross said...

". My vague impression is that one of the sticking points in the 1998 agreements in Belfast was that the IRA men wanted jobs as policemen."

That wasn't a big sticking point, I think that proposal was more the IRA trying to see what proposals they could get away with. I suspect that there was a tacit agreement to let the IRA continue their smuggling and extortion rackets, although no one will ever admit to that.

Anonymous said...

This is about Iraq,not Ireland,but as a side note,didnt the fighting in Ulster end because Tony Blair and Bill Clinton came on the scene? Blair was no fat-headed Thatcher,or bumbling Major;he was the New Way Guy;he stood up for the rights of the Irish in N.I,which is what the people wanted(they were not crazed Islamo-militants,nor crazed Eretz-Israelis,just people who wanted peace) Popular sentiment demanded that the IRA make peace,and that the vile,nasty Ulster Defense folks cooperate,too. Clinton and Blair are not great staesmen;they wanted a win,a relatively "doable" success.Most Presidents didnt give a rats ass about N.I. whatsoever,which is why the English were allowed to screw it up so badly for so long. :) Speaking of which,McCain is now saying that he's glad Al-Qaeda is in Iraq,else theyd be shooting God-fearing Americans here. Umm,is he nuts? As to lessons from Ireland,I can think of one:get all the people outside Iraq,like the Iranians,and the Arab states,to play a role in figuring out this mess.-Josh?

Anonymous said...

The critiques of the surge are waaaaay off base. The surge was a tremendous success in real terms, reducing violence and collecting lots of bad guys. The problem is that the whole country could not be surged, so there are still pockets of bad guys. GEN Petreaus is a brilliant man, his strategy looks murky and insane, because Iraq is murky and insane. But at its core, it is brilliant. Divide and conquer is its essence. He has successfully divided the insurgency and redefined who the "bad guys" are and who the "good guys" are. Al Qaeda are almost universally despised by Iraqis for their attacks on civilians, so we agree to arm and fund one type of insurgent to fight another type. The Awakenings are a great success and the first indication that we understand how things work. The insurgency, at its root, is about money and power.

They fight for money. Whoever has power, has money. If we give the local sheik money to not fight us, he orders his boys to do something else. The Sunnis are realizing that they won't be the dominant power, but they do want a cut of the oil wealth. The Shiites, in classic Iraqi style, want it all for themselves. The insurgency won't end until all serious factions et a big enough cut. Hopefully, this arrangement will bring that about. There's plenty of oil money to do this with.

-D

Matra said...

In addition to Simon Newman's points the UVF and UFF (loyalist Protestant paramiltaries) got a lot better at killing members of Sinn Fein/IRA and their family members. Throughout the Troubles the Loyalists generally shot Catholic civilians at random as, unlike the IRA they did not have obvious sectarian targets (ie. RUC, UDR - similar to National Reserve forces in the US, etc). After a few decades the Loyalists became more professional and better organised (smaller cells). Sinn Fein/IRA's change of heart came not long after the Loyalists started to have success killing Sinn Feiners.

Anonymous said...

There are almost zilch lessons from Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland was a "dealable" situation that if Britain wanted to simply abandon it, it could have, to either the Ian Paisley Rhodesia types or the IRA or let them fight it out. At no point was the South ever serious about claiming Northern Ireland and marching up there. And even if they had it would not have impacted Britain's future in that an independent Northern Ireland or absorbed into the South would not then claim Britain and fly planes into buildings until it submitted.

According to Totten and Yon, who were there embedded on the ground, what happened was AQI over-played it's hand by usurping Sheik's power. Taking money, women, property and setting themselves up as Sheiks (who were foreigners). Petraues was "lucky" in that by that time local Sheiks were fed up and wanted their power BACK.

It's not bribes but the pivotal nature of US security guarantees. US forces mean that Iran can't directly power grab and even local Shia would rather have graft/corruption/etc. go to them than masters in Tehran. US forces guarantee a sort of defacto federalism on the ground, making Baghdad an irrelevant talk-shop, and removing the threat of Shia cleansing Sunni out of their areas or AQI or other groups attacking Shia.

Surge alone would not work, and Sunnis getting tired of AQI usurping power would not do it. Took both according to those who were there. [Bribing would not work, because in Iraq they'll take the bribe and then just keep killing. Self-interest by tribal sheiks however does work. ]

dearieme said...

"he stood up for the rights of the Irish in N.I.": I believe that I told you, Steve, a few weeks ago that one striking feature of catholic Irish nationalists is that they simply define other varieties of Irishmen as not being Irish at all. Who would you like to define as not being American at all?

Anonymous said...

So maybe Steve's theory only works when life expectancy goes over a certain magic value which is not being matched in most of Africa, save perhaps South Africa.

I believe Steve's remark about the limited life-cycle of violence only applies to peoples living within a civilizational framework, which is totally lacking in Africa.

Or DC, Philly, Detroit, etc...

Glaivester said...

According to Totten and Yon, who were there embedded on the ground, what happened was AQI over-played it's hand by usurping Sheik's power.

That explanation only makes sense if you believe that AQI was the major part of the insurgency.

Anonymous said...

Gary Brecher made the case that it was to do with the string of financially crippling but relatively bloodless terrorist attacks that the IRA committed in England during the late 80's/mid nineties (Nerf War vs Real War ).

I think Steve's idea about Ireland's prosperity effecting the peace in the north (as a reason for it's continuance if not an actual cause) is probably a related factor as well. As the comedian Chris Tucker said, "how mad can you get when you're living in a mansion and driving a BMW?"

Don't demographics have something to do with it as well? I seem to remember Ian Paisely grousing about how Catholics breed like rabbits and reading some news story regarding how many embittered unionists were emigrating to Scotland.

Muswell Hillbilly said...

In late '07 I talked to a LTC who had just got back with the 82nd Airborne, and he had seen firsthand the process of arming these Sunni groups.

His attitude was to sort of shrug and say, "Well, they'll most likely be turning those weapons on us pretty soon..."

simon newman said...

anon:
"Don't demographics have something to do with it as well? I seem to remember Ian Paisely grousing about how Catholics breed like rabbits and reading some news story regarding how many embittered unionists were emigrating to Scotland."

This was a destabilising factor - Irish Nationalists hoped to have a voting majority fairly soon. The decline in the Irish Catholic birth rate may have been a stabilising element, as it has been elsewhere. Fewer excess young men looking to make their reputation.

matra is correct that Sinn Fein/IRA were losing a fair number of people to Loyalist hitmen, but this affected mostly Sinn Fein lawyers, local politicians and such. The Dublin-based IRA ruling council was not affected, nor were their top leadership in Northern Ireland.

The IRA switch to economic terrorism in the '90s did have an effect on weakening the resistance of the John Major government in particular; which made several concessions. I guess an Al Qaeda type attack on eg the London Underground might have had the opposite effect, certainly the attack on Harrods in the '80s had only hardened British resolve.

Hibernia Girl said...

I think Steve's idea about Ireland's prosperity effecting the peace in the north (as a reason for it's continuance if not an actual cause) is probably a related factor as well. As the comedian Chris Tucker said, "how mad can you get when you're living in a mansion and driving a BMW?"

I think, too, that prosperity both in the Republic and NI has got a lot to do with it -- and the prosperity is largely coming from that great cash cow, the EU. Literally billions of Euros in grants have gone to NI (and billions more to the Rep of Ireland) -- the Paisleys and the McGuinnesses of the world (and their constituents) don't have time to be arguing anymore -- they're too busy raking in all the Euros? ;-)

mq said...

Leaving aside the question of whether bribing the Sunnis is a wise or sustainable strategy over the long run (I think not), can anyone explain why the U.S. should be spending $150 billion a year keeping 150,000+ troops in Iraq and pissing off the entire Muslim world (Muslims outside of Iraq are the actual source of terrorism) just in order to play both sides in an Iraqi civil war?

Mencius Moldbug said...

A broader question is: are there any lessons from the British Empire that the US could apply?

For one, go here.

How many British soldiers did Cromer have in Egypt? 6000 for a population of 10 million. With no aircraft, of course, or anything like that. And the whole show was run by a man named "Evelyn."

Iraq has 30 million people, so if we round up, we get 20,000 soldiers. Take that, Gen. Shinseki!

How did Cromer do it? Read his book - you'll see.

Anonymous said...

We should install a strongman(too bad we killed the best guy for the job) who runs Iraq. We tell him that he has 2 jobs: keeping the oil flowing and keeping things nice and quiet. Pay him a billion or so a year and some under the table to a bank account in Zurich or the Caymans.

Splendid Chap said...

Back in the early days of the US coalition mission in Iraq, my advice to the insurgents was to lie low, pretend to be peaceful until the coalition leaves, then do what you have to do. I suspect that they are finally taking my advice, several years late, and tens of thousands of dead insurgents later.

Not many people around here have had very good instincts about Iraq.