Thursday, March 16, 2006

The "Civil War" Red Herring

Discussion of late in media and government circles about whether or not Iraq is "on the brink" of civil war or will ultimately experience a "genuine civil war" has become quite surreal. All of this pondering and ruminating demonstrates the fundamental myopia of American observers of Iraq, an incapacity to see past any model in which all Iraqi actions must be understood as a response to the US occupation. If a wake-up call on this score was needed the attack on the Golden Mosque in Samarra should have sufficed. Right now virtually every action undertaken by political players in Iraq is directed at other Iraqis, not the US. Even attacks on US soldiers are part of larger maneuvering to acquire purchase as the Iraqi political field realigns itself. Call it anything you like- "civil war," "internal conflict," "the Grand Waltz"- by any name the fundamental contest right now is between the Iraqis themselves, the US is largely an interested bystander.

If the Golden Mosque attack was not enough, Saddam Hussein's cynical comments at trial yesterday should be a clear indication of just how little the US factors into the current political calculations of Iraqi combatants. Hussein's call upon Iraqis to stop fighting one-another and turn their guns on the US is not only farcical but disingenuous. A report just published by the US army shows that up to the last hours of his regime Hussein remained far more fearful of his fellow Iraqis than he was of the US. Hussein's top commanders operated under the assumption that they would have access to secret stockpiles of chemical weapons. They were shocked to find out that no such stockpiles existed, and that Hussein had refused to admit as much only out of fear of uprisings in the Shi'ite south. Hussein's bluster at trial is as empty as the stockpiles of WMD's for which he was overthrown, he knows from personal experience that Iraqi factions' fear and enmity of one-another will ultimately trump their concern about the US.

The only salient questions about the current Iraqi-on-Iraqi conflict are a)how intense and destructive it will become; b)how it will ultimately be resolved. Outside groups like the US, Iran, and foreign jihadis can exert some limited influence with regard to the former question, but have virtually no control over the latter. Right now the battle lines are basically drawn between those who oppose the emergent government in Baghdad and those who accept it. Anti-government forces remain "underground," irregular, and technologically unsophisticated. There are as yet no standing "anti-government militias," nor are there likely to be as long as US forces remain in Iraq. It is uncertain, however, whether such militias might not spring into existence as soon as the US troop presence falls below a critical level. Even if such an event did not occur, having no standing militias has not prevented the anti-government insurgency from waging a horrifically violent and destabilizing campaign of terror.

In other words, the best case scenario is that the conflict in Iraq remains basically bipolar along current lines and at current levels of violence. Pronouncing that this situation is "not a civil war" is both cold comfort to those who are living through it and little help toward planning for future policy. Moreover, as "tolerable" as the current situation may be, it is very difficult to predict with any assurance that it will not get much worse. Groups that are currently participating in the political process may decide to break away and take a violently independent stand. Any number of scenarios are possible: the Mahdi Army vs. the government vs. Sunni insurgents; SCIRI vs. the Mahdi Army vs. the government vs. Sunni insurgents; SCIRI vs. the government vs. Sunni insurgents vs. the Kurdish pesh murga etc. etc. etc. ad infinitum. The conflict could quickly degenerate into a fluid multipolar bloodbath akin to what Lebanon experienced in the 1980's. The key fact in contemplating all these variables is that none of these developments hinge upon how Iraqis feel about the US, all will be determined by how much (or how little) Iraqis trust and are willing to cooperate with one-another.

Being that the US has virtually no control over this latter condition, US policymakers should give up asking purely semantic questions such as "is this/will this become a civil war?" and begin focussing on what are the likeliest long-term outcomes in Iraq given the intrinsic conditions of Iraqi society and politics. In other words, no matter how violent the conflict becomes or how long it persists, what forces are likely to emerge intact once the situation stabilizes? Answering this question requires relinquishing the illusion that the US may control the long-term evolution of the Iraqi political field. Perfect predictions are impossible, but the clearest guide of what will emerge as Iraq moves forward is the state of Iraqi society and politics prior to the US invasion.

The career of Saddam Hussein provides one model of a stable homeastasis toward which Iraqi politics has gravitated in the past- an authoritarian oligarchy centered on the kinship and clan ties of a single family. That formation is not likely to recur, as the conditions which helped it gestate (the rise of the Ba'ath Party, the Cold War) are gone. The breakup of Iraq or the absorption of parts of Iraq into Iran are also unlikely, otherwise they might have occured earlier during the Iran-Iraq war.

One key figure to watch at present is Moqtada al-Sadr, as more than anyone else he excercises an authority which germinated in the social and political conditions of pre-invasion Iraq. The only person that might surpass al-Sadr in that claim is the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, but his authority is rooted in ancient tradition where Moqtada's represents a very current response to events and circumstances in present-day Iraq. The Sadrist movement is an extraordinary phenomenon in the history of the Arab Sh'ia community. Oppression and economic hardship combined with the charismatic leadership (and violent demise) of Moqtada's father and uncle have caused a volatile millenarian movement to coalesce among his followers. Moqtada himself does not bear any of the standard credentials of a regular Shi'ite cleric, his leadership rests entirely on the charismatic legacy of his family and the millenarian fervor of his adherents. Though novel, the deep-rootedness of al-Sadr's authority is demonstrated by his remarkable durability- he remains a key player in Iraqi politics despite having led two rebellions against the US occupation.

A close examination of al-Sadr's post-occupation career reveals the precariousness of religious leaders withn the Iraqi political field and provide a potential barometer of the fortunes of the emergent government. In the wake of the humiliation of Ba'athism Islamic religion enjoys the broadest political prestige in the wider Iraqi community, greater even than that of the emergent government and the democratic processes of which it partakes. Neither the orthodox Shi'ite clergy or Sadr's maverick community, however, stand a real chance of emerging victorious from a total contest of "all against all." Sectarian distinctions make religion as potentially divisive as it is motivational in Iraqi society, thus strategically handicapping any leader who would appeal to religion as a key to mass-mobilization.

Of all the leaders appealing to religious rhetoric and authority al-Sadr enjoyed the potential to ride his religious message the furthest, if anyone ever stood a chance of forging an Iraqi "theocracy" he did. I confess to a degree of speculation, but in much of al-Sadr's rhetoric I perceive the possibility that he was flirting with a politically instrumental act of apostasy. He seems to have envisioned a break with orthodox Shi'a and the formation of a "third way" predicated on the charismatic legacy of his own family, a new Islamic community which could integrate both Sunni and Shi'ite Arabs and disaggregate (this is key) itself from the non-Arab clerical community of Iran. Such a community would have been a very powerful force, one that could potentially have emerged victorious if a political collapse in Iraq had become severe enough.

That possibility (admittedly remote) seems to have been precluded by the Samarra mosque bombing. The bombing incited a spontaneous and brutally violent wave of anti-Sunni retribution from al-Sadr's followers. Al-Sadr himself would have been powerless to rein in his followers in the wake of the Samarra atrocity, and the resulting rift of bad blood is not likely to be bridgeable by any act of apostasy. That attack and much of the gratuitous anti-Shi'ite violence seems, in part, to have aimed at just this result- to prevent either Moqtada al-Sadr or anyone else from formulating a religious message that can bring disparate forces together across the sectarian divide.

All this is to say that the strategic valence of the Iraqi conflict is conditioned by forces that the US cannot control and to which the US is largely irrelevant. Al-Sadr's decision to remain within the political process indicates that, for the moment, the emergent Iraqi government enjoys the greatest chances of rallying the critical mass of support necessary to survive and impose a resolution in the current conflict. Al-Sadr may yet break from the government, but that decision is more likely to arise from a prior weakening of the government (through corruption or in-fighting) than to be its cause. Though this gives some cause for optimism, the very fact that the continued legitimacy and stability of the government hinges on al-Sadr's participation (and others much like him) indicates that in its final form it may be far from the model of liberal democracy hoped for by the Bush regime.

What should be clear is that the complexity of the situation in Iraq is such that the US presence cannot induce a particular or predictable outcome. The degree of violence in Iraq may rise steeply in the wake of a US withdrawal, but the resulting outcome of that violence is not likely to be very different than it would be had the US stayed longer. The ultimate fate of Iraq lies in the hands of Iraqis, the best policy the US can hope for is to help the Iraqis get wherever they are going with as little bloodshed as possible.

8 comments:

Charles Kovit said...

Dear Madman,

I have read your March 16th essay entitled, “The ‘Civil War’ Red Herring” and was very impressed by the organization, depth and thoughtfulness of your analysis. I note your basic observations there is a “current Iraqi-on-Iraqi conflict” and that “the US is largely irrelevant.” I respectfully take issue with both of these contentions.

It is true that most of the terrorist attacks are now being directed at the Iraqi people, rather than the American military. That appears to be due to a recent tactical judgment made by the terrorists that the routine daily slaughter should be directed at defenseless Iraqi civilians, because killing Americans is becoming increasing difficult and costly. Indeed, as vital anti-IED technology and tactics continue to improve and Iraqis supplant American soldiers on the front lines, killing Americans will probably be left more and more for special high impact operations.

In any event, there is no real “insurrection” against the fledgling democracy in Iraq. That is simply a misnomer that has been enlisted by the mainstream media to further its political agenda of choice, much in the way of “domestic spying,” or long ago and more successfully, “McCarthyism.” In this instance, the message is: America is losing its sons in fighting a vain war; or America is the problem, not the solution – the catalyst for mayhem, not peace, progress and civil liberties.

To be sure, scores of bodies being blown to bits daily tends to feed simplistic media-based claims of insurrection. But objective facts tell a different story. The most recent election, which you ostensibly discount, proved that the vast majority of Sunnis, along with the Shiites and Kurds, now clearly accept the legitimacy of the new government and are most interested in moving forward.

What Democrats and mainstream media have uniformly been calling an insurrection or fomenting Civil War is essentially a continuing murderous assault against the Iraqi people, carried out by two factions. One is the al-Qaeda terror network, through its agent Zarqawi, in tactical coordination with a group of remaining reprobates from the deposed Baathist leadership. The other is a scattered horde of operatives of the maniacal mullahs from Iran. Leaders of both these groups know and rightly fear that but for the indiscriminate mayhem they perpetrate, the Bush administration’s Iraq policy would be an overwhelming and glorious success. Indeed, but for the foreign terrorists, the Iraqi people would by now be fully enjoying a new birth of social freedom, and leveraging their happy combination of economic liberalism and oil wealth into the type of broad-based prosperity heretofore unknown in the Middle East.

For reasons too obvious to mention, that success would be a severe if not fatal blow for tyrannies like Iran and terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda. So, they continue their daily tactic of cowardly sneak attacks upon the innocent Iraqi population. The so-called insurrection is no more than a testament to the ability of a relatively few well-funded Muslim extremists to hold a country (or at least the Sunni triangle) at bay with terrorism. But it doesn’t alter the fact that these are simply the misdoings of well-funded psychopaths and warmongers, neither of whom have any appreciable political capital among the Sunni or Shiite populations. Rather, the “Iraqi People,” that is, all those who voted in the national elections, as well as local spiritual leaders like Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and even hotheaded Moqtada al-Sadr, know who blew up the Golden Mosque. That is why it did not provide any compelling impetus for insurrection. Was there anger directed at average Sunnis by that dastardly deed? Yes, but relatively little, for a short period, and by a relatively few hot heads.

It is thus wholly counterintuitive to apply the term “insurrection”, or to predict a “Civil War” – unless in furtherance of a political agenda urging defeat or embarrassment of the Bush administration. Rather, the phrase “Front Line in the War on Terrorism” is much more apropos. Indeed, the erstwhile drumbeat from The New York Times and other leftists about Iraq being “Bush’s War,” and “Unrelated to the War on Terrorism” is now being gradually exposed for the canard the American people knew it was when they reelected Bush President. True, they met some substantial success in cravenly ignoring the fact that al-Qaeda’s Zarqawi is the leading terrorist in country. But it is proving more difficult to laugh off the nascent release of a burgeoning number of declassified documents establishing both close diplomatic ties and anti-American operational planning among Osama, Sadaam and the Taliban.

In any event, with terrorism continuing to run rampant in the Sunni triangle, it is wrong to suggest as you do that American involvement is ineffectual in the pursuit of peace. Rather, the American military remains the only protection that the vast majority of normal, peace loving Iraqis of all backgrounds have against being massacred by the competing terrorist factions, as those factions attempt to wipe out the new democratic government and each other. Concomitantly, these terrorists are indeed the enemies of America, as much as the enemies of Iraq. In Iraq, we are precisely where we should be in fighting the war on terrorism. It is difficult and deadly – a new kind of war to be sure. But we should continue to take the fight to them in Iraq and anywhere else intelligence leads. President Bush knows this, and has courageously staked his Presidency on it. Those who advocate cut and run (not you) fail to comprehend that the terrorists are at war with us, and having secured their “backfield” in Iraq, would follow us back to American soil, to continue the job they started on 9/11.

We can only hope that the program of training an army and police force comprised of patriotic Iraqis of all stripes is, as we have been told, going well and nearing completion. When it is complete, we can only hope that the Iraqi forces successfully ward off the terrorists and stabilize the nation, for their benefit, and that of the greater civilized world. Then, our brave heroes can return home, with a reduced but still potent force remaining at hardened bases, ready to be deployed if and when circumstances dictate.

Importantly, these goals can only be accomplished with the support and confidence of the American people. But as we know all too well, that is less than certain. Ironically, if there is any genuine insurrection going on, it is right here in the good old USA. The Democratic Party leadership, bitter and disgruntled, has become a veritable fifth column, stirring hope in the hearts of America’s enemies. So-called useful idiots like Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, John Kerry, Al Gore, Dick Durbin Joe Biden and Ted Kennedy engage in rhetoric bordering on sedition, declaring the war unwinnable; denigrating and insulting our political and military leaders with reckless vitriol; referring to Abu Graib and Guantanamo as though they were sadistic torture chambers; demonizing the Patriot Act; undermining the Echelon terrorist surveillance program; and openly rejoicing in the exposure and elimination of vital East European interrogation facilities. Then, when Republicans dare to object, they whine and cry without irony about how dissent is their patriotic right.

Clearly, the Democratic Party has placed its craven desire for a return to power in Washington ahead of the best interests of America. Almost from the beginning of the war, they have conspired with leftists who control mainstream media and (now) the academic establishment to resurrect their 1968 triumph over an American presidential administration. This malodorous triumvirate is now doing their utmost to foment a colossal American defeat through cynical manipulation of the one variable they can still impact in the near term: American public opinion. True, their victory will leave the nation weak and reeling, and more vulnerable to terrorist attacks. But so what? They didn’t seem to mind it during the Carter years, and after all, they will have accomplished their larger goal: protection of Roe v. Wade.

Regards,

Charles Kovit

Madman of Chu said...

Dear Mr. Kovit,

Thank you for your lengthy feedback. While I appreciate your interest in my post, I of course disagree with your basic position. Your point rests on assertions that, on their face, don't make sense:

"It is true that most of the terrorist attacks are now being directed at the Iraqi people, rather than the American military. That appears to be due to a recent tactical judgment made by the terrorists that the routine daily slaughter should be directed at defenseless Iraqi civilians, because killing Americans is becoming increasing difficult and costly."

Even if we allow your assertion that "killing Americans is becoming increasingly difficult and costly (not particularly well-evidenced)" to stand, your assumption that this explains why attacks are being leveled at Iraqi civilians is quite bizarre. If the principal enemy the insurgents are fighting is the U.S., why would attacks on Iraqi civilians make sense? Despite high Sunni turnout in the last election, polls show that 49% of Iraqis (in a country that is 20% Sunni) favor attacks upon Americans. Why would an anti-US force squander that kind of good will among Iraqi civilians by waging war upon them if their principal target was America?

You might insist that the real long-term goal is to forestall democracy in Iraq, but this makes little sense either. Events in Israel/Palestine demonstrate that democracy is no absolute impediment to the forwarding of an Islamist agenda. Moreover, it is difficult to see how the attack on the Golden Mosque in Samarra is either a necessarily "anti-democratic" or "anti-US" act. If, as you say, the entire insurgency is a foreign conspiracy led by Zarqawi and Iran, the Golden Mosque bombing makes little sense either. The Golden Mosque attack was as anathema to the Iranian government as it was to most Iraqis, so at the very least there cannot be one conspiracy but must be at least two- one Sunni and one Iranian. If the Iranians are conspiring to bring down the Iraqi government it is a wonder that they are giving so much support to leaders within the political process like Ali al-Sistani and Ali al-Hakim.

Your comments fly in the face of the published research of the US government and military, which declare that the largest proportion of the insurgents in Iraq are Iraqi Sunni Arabs, and that even among this group the largest contingent are ex-Ba'athists and "rejectionists" unaligned with foreigners like Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. These elements have deep-seated social, economic, and ideological motives to oppose the emergent government in Baghdad that have nothing to do with either US policy or the pan-global Islamic jihad of groups like Al Qaeda. Iraq has unfortunately become a front in "The War on Terror" because the Coalition invasion has afforded figures like Zarqawi a purchase they never had before in Iraq and never could have gained before the collapse of Saddam's regime. That "international terrorist" element is a minority (albeit a very destructive one) in the insurgency, however the majority of the current insurgency lack any motive to commit terrorist attacks outside of Iraq and are not likely to pursue such a course no matter how the current internal conflict in Iraq is resolved.

Your ideas about a "Democratic insurgency" in the US are quite absurd. Bush's approval ratings have fallen to 40% and under, an even lower percentage approve of the current state of the war in Iraq. Even if one assumes that all Democrats are of one mind on this issue (demonstrably untrue) disenchantment with the war obviously bleeds over party lines. It is phantasmagoric to insist that Democratic rhetoric, media coverage, or academic conspiring contributes more to the current climate of political opinion that the Bush regime's own woefully ill-advised early promises of quick victory, "mission accomplished," a self-financing reconstruction etc. etc.

Madman of Chu said...

P.S.

While I thanked you for your feedback, I feel obliged to point out that much of your very, very lengthy comments are completely unresponsive to my post. For example:

"In any event, there is no real “insurrection” against the fledgling democracy in Iraq. That is simply a misnomer that has been enlisted by the mainstream media to further its political agenda of choice, much in the way of “domestic spying,” or long ago and more successfully, “McCarthyism.” In this instance, the message is: America is losing its sons in fighting a vain war; or America is the problem, not the solution – the catalyst for mayhem, not peace, progress and civil liberties."

Nowhere in my post do I use the word "insurrection," so from the outset it is unclear with what aspect of my post you are taking issue. Perhaps you object to the words "anti-government insurgency"- if so you should state so in clear language. All of the other sturm-und-drang about "the mainstream media," "McCarthyism," etc. etc. are complete non-sequiturs, I wouldn't know how to respond to these comments were I to try. Ultimately you take aim here at views that are explicitly contradicted both in this post and others on my blog, without at least acknowledging that fact, leaving me at a complete loss as to how to resurrect "dialogue" from this diatribe.

This is only one example of many, many places where you express opinions that are completely irrelevant and unresponsive to this post. I am happy to host your comments on my blog, but if you are not interested in an exchange of ideas and are searching for a forum in which to express your own you should perhaps start your own blog.

Charles Kovit said...

Dear Madman,

Frankly, I am disappointed by your response. I was looking forward to a lively debate, but instead I got a churlish rant.

Are you able to take criticism without copping a supercilious attitude?

Despite having to revisit your snit, I will answer your contentions. But I doubt that I’ll continue after this.

First, how can you (honestly) label it "bizarre" for the terrorists to believe they can gain tactical advantage over the Americans by systematically murdering innocent Iraqis? Attacks on Iraqi civilians makes sense because (a) they hold the country under siege and prevent social and economic progress (for which the Americans would receive international (if begrudging) credit) from taking root, and (b) they advance the seditious American media's nightly portrayal of Iraq as a living hell hole that is spiraling out of our control, without (c) running a substantially greater risk of getting caught or killed trying to attack hardened and courageous American soldiers.

Do you find it bizarre that if progress takes root, the terrorists lose?

Do you really think that it’s just as easy to attack the best conventional fighting force in the history of the world, as it is to slaughter innocent and unwary civilians?

Do you not believe that the terrorists laugh through their beards at the servile American media playing directly into their hands; or resolve to provide ample carnage for it by press time on a nightly basis?

Moreover, while you deny it, I believe that you wrote the article in substantial part due to your ostensible realization that there is a nascent shift of the terrorists' bombs and machine guns from Americans to Iraqis. As a disgruntled liberal of the academe, you are rightly concerned that a noticeable drop off in American casualties may pose a setback for the mainstream media effort to disgrace President Bush. So, you now purport (admirably, I had initially thought) to lead the charge to change the rhetoric in the echo chamber from “Bush, the Killer of our Sons to benefit Haliburton,” to “Bush the Moron who Blundered Haplessly into the Midst of Someone Else's Civil War.”

Perhaps I am most aghast at your citation of the Palestinian election as evidence that an Islamist movement would have a place in a legitimate democratic society. If you haven't noticed, even the French are having trouble with that one.

Further, what exactly is your point about the Golden mosque? Did you actually understand my letter? I made clear my estimation that, as is evident, there are two COMPETING terror groups, al-Qaeda thru Zarqawi with the Baathists, and the terrorist operatives of the Iranian Mullahs. They hate each other, but they both hate the Americans more and need them out of the way before they start killing each other over control of Iraqi oil. In this regard, would you at least deign to consider the possibility that al-Qaeda blew up the Mosque? Why?:

Reason 1: Get the Shiites to start the full blown Civil War that will likely hatchet the American war effort and bring us home in weakened disgrace.

Reason 2: Hand the seditious mainstream media the kind of quagmire story that they dream about.

Further, are you really biased/brainwashed enough to believe a poll that suggests that 49% of Iraqis favor attacks on Americans? Isn't that just a little bit far fetched? Maybe they want Sadaam to return and gas them too, right?

Moreover, I know your central point is that foreign policy towards nations with hostile or backward cultures must be based on an understanding of their particular needs and sensibilities. Fine, I agree. Lets hold a seminar. But the Baathists? They are Iraqi Nazi's! YOU might want to get in touch with their feminine sides, but I want them dead, along with the rest of the terrorists and their enablers.

Finally, you may be too high and mighty to address my honestly expressed opinion that the Democratic Party is acting as a fifth column to bring down the Bush administration, without regard to its effect on the interests of America. But I believe it simply cuts too close to the heart of the left wing political agenda, and I understand your not wanting to discuss it.

Yours,

Charles Kovit

P.S., You may have taken a principled exception to the positions and assertions set forth in my initial correspondence, but they were not meant as a personal affront. Take the chip off of your shoulder. No one is attacking you, just your opinions. There is room for conservative voices in the community of ideas.

Madman of Chu said...

Dear Mr. Kovit,

Using ad hominem slurs like "snit," "churlish," "rant" does not constitute an argument. Your tone here seems somewhat defensive- you claim to worry that I have taken "personal affront" at what you said, but it is you who insist on casting the exchange into personal terms.

As to your reply-

"First, how can you (honestly) label it "bizarre" for the terrorists to believe they can gain tactical advantage over the Americans by systematically murdering innocent Iraqis?"

I wrote no such thing. I wrote that your argument was bizarre. You claimed that insurgents have only begun killing innocent Iraqis because it has become too difficult to kill Americans. This line of argument is bizarre because-

1)It presumes that the same kind of result can be achieved through killing innocent Iraqis as can be achieved through killing American soldiers,

2)It ignores the fact that the insurgency has been targeting innocent Iraqis for the past three years, so this is no adjustment to new circumstances but a fixture of the insurgent program from day one.

The list of reasons you give for why #1 is true are based on demonstrably faulty logic. Your claim that Iran is engineering the insurgency doesn't make sense on its very face- you haven't explained why pro-Iranian groups would be part of the same government the insurgency is fighting to undermine.

Let's overlook the Iran part of your equation and examine your claims re Al Qaeda- that Al Qaeda is setting the agenda for the insurgency and that its ultimate and consistent target is the US. Would what is happening in Iraq make sense if that is true? The main motive for sowing chaos in Iraq would be, as you say, to discredit the US by causing this experiment in democracy to fail. But the bombings and chaos are lengthening the duration of the US occupation of Iraq, thus delaying the day when the government of Iraq will collapse. If Al Qaeda wanted to embarrass the US through the collapse of the Iraqi government, why not wait until after the US had withdrawn (or at least drawn down) and then start their campaign of terror against the Iraqi populace? Perhaps their goal is to delay the withdrawal of US troops, so as to slowly bleed the US of money and personnel? But if that were the case the US could foil their plan by withdrawing sooner rather than later.

The reason that the Department of Defense is not contemplating a
swift withdrawal is that they do not agree with you. Literature you can download on the Bush administration's own websites proclaims that the agenda of the insurgency is not set by Al Qaeda, that the vast majority of insurgents (even those led by Zarqawi) are Iraqis fighting for reasons and goals of their own.

"Moreover, while you deny it, I believe that you wrote the article in substantial part due to your ostensible realization that there is a nascent shift of the terrorists' bombs and machine guns from Americans to Iraqis. As a disgruntled liberal of the academe, you are rightly concerned that a noticeable drop off in American casualties may pose a setback for the mainstream media effort to disgrace President Bush."

You believe? It is difficult to see where you can expect "lively debate" against these kind of ad hominem assertions thrown out on absolutely no evidence. It is also rather cute of you to insinuate that I am unhappy about the survival of our troops (proof that you cannot have read anything else that I have posted on this blog) and abjure me "not to take it personally."

"Perhaps I am most aghast at your citation of the Palestinian election as evidence that an Islamist movement would have a place in a legitimate democratic society."

I made no such claim. Hamas' victory simply proves that an Islamist group need not necessarily fear democratic political institutions, that those political institutions can be bent to serve the ends of radical Islamist ideology. That is not likely to happen in Iraq, but that fact results from the peculiar facts of Iraqi demographics, not from some intrinsic threat that electoral processes pose to the insurgency.

"Further, what exactly is your point about the Golden mosque? Did you actually understand my letter? I made clear my estimation that, as is evident, there are two COMPETING terror groups, al-Qaeda thru Zarqawi with the Baathists, and the terrorist operatives of the Iranian Mullahs. They hate each other, but they both hate the Americans more and need them out of the way before they start killing each other over control of Iraqi oil. In this regard, would you at least deign to consider the possibility that al-Qaeda blew up the Mosque?"

My point about the Golden Mosque is that it serves little end except to incite sectarian violence, and that that agenda cannot be reduced to an opposition to the US. Your insistence that Iran is behind any of the instigations of sectarian violence continues to fly in the face of reason. Can you point to a terrorist attack that was clearly the work of Iran? Can you explain why Iran would seek to undermine a government in which its allies control a plurality? Your analysis is so off on this score that it casts doubt on your perspective on everything that is going on in Iraq.

Moreover, your strident repetition that sectarian strife serves the anti-US agenda of Al Qaeda is tendentious. It might serve Al Qaeda's agenda to some degree (see my discussion above), but it unequivocally serves the interests of many, many native Iraqis, and Al Qaeda could not operate in Iraq unless it did. If such atrocities were truly a wholesale "foreign import" to Iraq three years of nation-building and democratic processes should have been enough to make them impossible. The fact that they are accelerating proves that they are a homegrown epidemic, and the US must treat them as such if an effective policy is to be devised to counter them.

"Moreover, I know your central point is that foreign policy towards nations with hostile or backward cultures must be based on an understanding of their particular needs and sensibilities. Fine, I agree. Lets hold a seminar. But the Baathists? They are Iraqi Nazi's! YOU might want to get in touch with their feminine sides, but I want them dead, along with the rest of the terrorists and their enablers."

Again, lampooning and distorting my views does not constitute an argument. Please show me where in my posts or comments I discuss finding the Ba'athist insurgents' "feminine side" or express any desire that they be anything but dead? You fail to see that killing the insurgency requires first understanding it, and assuming that the insurgency is motivated exclusively by an anti-US agenda not only misreads it, but is the shortest route to defeat.

"Finally, you may be too high and mighty to address my honestly expressed opinion that the Democratic Party is acting as a fifth column to bring down the Bush administration, without regard to its effect on the interests of America. But I believe it simply cuts too close to the heart of the left wing political agenda, and I understand your not wanting to discuss it."

I did refute your opinion about the Democratic Party, you don't seem to care to respond. Perhaps it cuts too close to the bone to realize that poll numbers show a definite percentage of Republicans now disapprove of the Bush regime's conduct of the war, I can understand your not wanting to discuss it.

"There is room for conservative voices in the community of ideas."

This goes without saying. Please show me where I deny this.

Charles Kovit said...

Dear Madman,

I respect your decision not to edit me out. Frankly, based on your first response, I thought you might.

Accusing me of an ad hominem attack, as you do, is no more than a phony tactic of public discourse most frequently associated with liberals. You receive my pointed but perfectly respectful and forthright position statement, personally attack me for it like some self-styled G-d on high, and then cry when I respond by correctly characterizing your tone as defensive, embittered and haughty. It’s my opinion that your last post was the product of a churlish snit. Let’s leave it to your readership to make up their own minds about whether that was (a) an accurate portrayal, and/or (b) an ad hominem attack.

Above all, please try for once to understand that this is NOT personal. Yes, you are a very intelligent young man. And as I have repeatedly said before, we are not enemies. Its just free speech.

In any event, I will no longer now debate the merits, because:

1. I have made my points, and at this point, your responses are becoming way too obtuse; and

2. Your strained absolutions of al-Qaeda, Iran and the Baathists is making me ill.

Indeed, lets wait awhile and pick this up again in due course as history unfolds.

Regards,

Charles Kovit

Madman of Chu said...

Dear Mr. Kovit,

I am churlish, haughty, "God on high," and make you ill, but nothing in your remarks is ad hominem. Hmmmm. You might want to consult a dictionary.

As for understanding that this is not personal, I have never done otherwise, ad hominem remarks notwithstanding. It is you who seem to be confused on that score.

I'm sorry to read that you are incapable of addressing my arguments.

Yours amiably,

Madman of Chu

Madman of Chu said...

One final note for anyone who might be reading-

I don't feel that any of my comments above were intrinsically illogical, but I do regret that Mr. Kovit's stridently partisan tone rattled me into casting my arguments into terms that may seem more extreme than they really are. Mr. Kovit is undoubtedly right that SOME of the violence going on in Iraq is rooted in foreign agitation, but it is a leap beyond logic to insist that ALL of the violence (either anti-US or anti-government) originates in that cause. Yes, Al Qaeda is operating in Iraq. But they have also launched attacks in Indonesia and Morocco and Saudi Arabia and the Phillipines and Jordan. Why have they been able to sustain such a high pitch of destructiveness in Iraq where their provocations have been so intermittent elsewhere? Perhaps Mr. Kovit would insist that they are trying harder in Iraq. That may well be true, but could anyone seriously believe that that is the final explanation? No matter how you slice it, the degree of violence in Iraq can only be explained by the fact that Al Qaeda enjoys a critical mass of domestic support in the Iraqi populace and is likely acting in coordination with indigenous Iraqi secular groups.

As to Iran, Mr. Kovit accuses me of "absolving" them, but this is unfair. I have no trouble believing that Iran has conspired secretly to harrass and kill US forces in Iraq (and continues to do so), and I find such actions execrable. But again, it defies logic to insist that Iran has given any support to the anti-government insurgency. Iran has far much more to lose from the collapse of the government as it is currently constituted than it would stand to gain. The very fact that one can distinguish between motives for attacking US troops and motives for subverting the Iraqi government speaks to the underlying thesis of my post- that the US is increasingly a marginal player in the central contest going on in Iraq.