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Parsing political from traditional Islam

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Those seeking superficial "culture talk" to pigeonhole Islam as a theology and a political force should skip this note as I conclude this trio with a tour of Mahmood Mamdani's dissection of the idea that "religion drives both Islamic culture and politics and that the motivation for Islamist violence is religious fundamentalism." Were it only so easy. No more monolithic a block than 'Christianity,' Islam is a sea of interpretations, large and small. Olivier Roy notes that Muslims "disagree, while all stressing that the Koran is unambiguous and clear-cut."

Remember that the magic of bin Laden is his marriage of two heretofore distinct arms of Islamic thinking, the ultra-strict, quietist Wahhabi (Salafist) school and the more autonomous and activist strand of political Islam of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood (which was itself injected with the thinking of Sayad Maududi's Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) from Pakistan where it still holds sway today).

Conceptualizing Islam interlinked with socio-economic and political systems, Islam became a "movement which struggles (jihad) to enforce "the way of life," and in the hands of the Brotherhood fleeing to Saudi Arabia to avoid persecution, it "took control of Saudi intellectual life, [shaping] the country's religious and political awakening after the Iranian revolution of 1979. A new generation of radicals carried this new activist Wahhabism into the Middle East and Asia. (This is not the only time that Wahhabism has been "elevated to the status of a liberation theology," as Kepel notes, Ronald Reagan used Saudi money and religion to "free the region of communism." Isn't blowback wonderful?)

Soon came al-Zawahiri's brilliance in the tactical shift from the "nearby enemy" to the "faraway enemy," the strategic adoption of Palestine as a rallying point (which bin Laden had only paid token service), the advancement of political terrorism as a legitimate and cost-effective means of attack, the need for a new infrastructure to manage, operate, and recruit in pursuit of jihad, and the creation of a stateless and thus largely untargetable entity. (I still find al-Zawahiri the more essential thinker than bin Laden.)

I was more than intrigued by Mamdani's parallels between neoconservatives and jihadists:

In addition to the mix of interest and ideology, the two groups share global ambitions and a deep faith in the efficacy of politically motivated violence, and both count among their ranks cadres whose biographies are often tainted by early stints in the Trotskyist or the Maoist left. Both jihadists and neoconservatives are products of the Cold War, when ideologically driven violence was embraced by all sides, secular and religious.

Jihadist politics are "heir not only to the traditions of the quietist Salafism and the Muslim Brotherhood, but perhaps even more so to recent secular traditions, such as Third World anti-imperialism and the Reaganite determination to win "by any means necessary." It is most certainly not a simple cultural extension of Islam.

Mamdani sees Europe's Muslims as "active subjects struggling to establish a new citizenship in adverse circumstances--some of which, such as racism and unemployment, were familiar to earlier immigrants; others, such as the stigma of a terrorist culture, are new." In a discussion too long to report here, he summarizes ideas which would indicate that traditional Islam could coexist. The problem is that political Islam whose ideologues are former leftists not clerics or ulema (teachers) likely cannot.

Mamdani believes that the Afghan jihad's influence cannot be overstated in understanding "why jihadist Islam, an ideology of marginal political significance in the late 1970s, has come to dominate Islamist politics":

the birth of jihadist Islam, which embraces violence as central to political action, cannot be fully explained without reference to the Afghan jihad and the Western influences that shaped it. In the 1980s, the Reagan administration declared the Soviet Union an "evil empire" and set aside the then-common secular model of national liberation in favor of an international Islamic jihad... Afghan rebels used charities to recruit tens of thousands of volunteers and created the militarized madrassas (Islamic schools) that turned these volunteers into cadres. Without the rallying cause of the jihad, the Afghan mujahideen would have had neither the numbers, the training, the organization, nor the coherence or sense of mission that has since turned jihadist Islam into a global political force.

Mamdani drives home the fact that that political Islam's growth has been nonlinear and hybridized by specific political projects. Political Islam may bifurcate between indigenous and immigrant arms, with one taking precedence over the other, but at least he is offering a far less simplistic means of analysis. He does not answer the question if political Islam will mimic the melding of Marxism and local nationalisms to create entities strong enough to pull down regimes, but he says to look to Iraq where:

Every Middle Eastern movement that opposes the American empire--secular or religious, state or nonstate--is being drawn to Iraq, as if to a magnet, to test out its convictions [in] a free-for-all [that] will influence the course of political Islam for years to come.

Part 12

Whither Political Islam?
Mahmood Mamdani
Foreign Affairs, January/February 2005

Gordon Housworth



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Putting aside militant ire, can Muslim moderates merely survive their conservatives?

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Being shouted down amid chants of "Liars! Liars!... You are all Zionists! You are all infidels!" while being lunged at by conservative Muslims does not inspire confidence that moderate Islamist introspection can proceed safely, if at all.

For readers unfamiliar with Sunni sects, it is important to understand what has been called "fatwa chaos," i.e., that there is no central authority responsible for issuing penultimate rulings on doctrinal questions as there exists in Shias or, for that matter, Catholicism. Each Imam can preach and invoke within an enormously wide latitude, thus opening the possibility for contradictory "sweeping, ill-defined statements [that can be] interpreted as a mandate to undertake any violence, no matter how vicious."

Katzman believes that "Islamic reformers will always face an uphill battle [as] whenever they attempt to depart from Qur'anic literalism, they become vulnerable to charges from radicals of infidelity to Islam. This poses what is probably an insurmountable problem for those who would reform Islam."

Robert Spencer (of JihadWatch not for the faint but valuable material once one gets past the necessity of a PC mindset) doubts "whether Islam would or could develop interpretative traditions analogous to those in Judaism and Christianity that mitigated the force of bellicose passages of the Old Testament -- in other words, how this Islamic renaissance would manage to blunt the force of Qur'anic literalism (and literalism in Hadith [oral sayings of the Prophet] interpretation also) so that they would not continue to be inspirations for violence and fanaticism."

Spencer wryly observes that the [NYT] implicitly acknowledges [that] the extremists are not a "tiny minority," and are not as discredited as the Times would have had us believe on many other occasions, but are in control of the interpretation of Islam, such that the faith must be "wrestled back" from them [yet when he makes that observation he is] called an "Islamophobe."

Having long been of the opinion that Islam had its reformation and its Luther (many of whose brutal prescriptions have been softened for lay readers over time) in the person of al-Wahhab, I can agree with Spencer's position that "The primary point of similarity that that both Luther and Wahhab led movements that purported to strip away later accretions and get back to the core elements of their religions. That al-Wahhab's reformation was violent and virulent is a reflection on the core texts of his religion, to which he dedicated himself and his followers with all-encompassing zeal." Unfortunately, it is that Wahhabism that so frequently wends its way across the net today to waiting eyes.

When cast against Sheik Yousef Qaradawi whose "Islamic Law and Life" program on Al Jazeera (and thereby an extremely influential cleric among Sunnis) implied that all US nationals in Iraq could be targets and that "Resistance [in Iraq] is a legitimate matter - even more, it is a duty," and Abdel Sabour Shahin who states most foreigners in Iraq are legitimate targets, I can only hope that Abdul Rahman al-Rashed is correct in sensing that "there is a movement in the Arab world, if perhaps not yet a consensus, that understands that Muslims have to start reining in their own rather than constantly complaining about injustice and unfairness. The violence has not only reduced sympathy for just causes like ending the Israeli occupation but set off resentment against Muslims wherever they live."

It is worthwhile to read the 10 point statement from the Cairo Islam and Reform conference as it offers some insight into the overhead of "reviewing the roots of Islamic heritage [Hadith included], ending the monopoly that certain religious institutions hold over interpreting such texts and confronting all extremist religious currents." For a religion whose adherents have been imbued with immense pride for centuries that "Islam was spread by the sword, that all Arab countries and even Spain were captured by the sword" such that most of the Arab street believes that "the religion of Islam is the religion of the sword," the reformists have a challenge before them. Egypt's most senior religious scholar, Muhammad Sayed Tantawi, immediately labeled the attendees of Islam and Reform as a "group of outcasts."

Perhaps it is true that "even raising the topic [of reinterpretation of Islam] erodes the taboo that the religion and those schooled in it are somehow infallible," but the struggle will be long and I think dangerous as it is all too easy for a reformer to be ruled an apostate to the faith by a conservative cleric with a following and thus be open to summary execution for that 'lapse' of faith.

Part 3 of Islam's trajectory

The War Inside the Arab Newsroom
By SAMANTHA M. SHAPIRO
New York Times
January 2, 2005
Mirror

Europe's Muslims May Be Headed Where the Marxists Went Before
By CRAIG S. SMITH
New York Times
December 26, 2004
Mirror

Muslim Scholars Increasingly Debate Unholy War
By NEIL MacFARQUHAR
New York Times
December 10, 2004
Mirror

Gordon Housworth



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If Islam follows a Marxist trajectory, what kind of Islam will it be?

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I've long held that Marxism, despite its protestations, was a secular religion. Like any deity-based religion, it had a teleology and metaphysics, prophets and saints, a potent means of proselytization and assimilation, and to my mind operated very much like the Holy See at its zenith of power.

While Islam appears to have succeeded Marxism as Europe's "ideology of contestation" its practitioners hale from very different roots. As Marxism then and Islam now:

  • Working class political voice, immigrants included
  • Voice of idealism amid disillusionment (that "transnational ideology" leading to Utopia)
  • Similar working-class political districts (moving from Communist to Communist-led and Muslim-populated to Muslim administrations)
  • Pragmatic, law-abiding mainstream but with an extremist element

Initial Marxist outreach to Muslims replacing working-class populations withered as Communists failed to promote Muslims within their organization and disillusioned Muslims dropped political action as a means to improve their lot. Many, but not all, Muslims predictably turned to religion and the solace of self-reinforcing group increasingly isolated from European society. The danger of painting with too broad a brush is shown in Holland's aftermath of Theo van Gogh’s murder:

The Turkish immigrants live mainly quiet and increasingly prosperous lives. The most problematic minority in terms of [crime and maladjustment] are Moroccans. [In a recent conference to identify extremists while protecting innocent Muslims] The Turkish representative spoke perfect Dutch, wore a business suit, and agreed with the proposal. The Moroccan representative spoke broken Dutch, and still needed "to consult" with his mosque.

Those Muslims opposed to cooperation are only isolated physically within European society as they are vibrantly and instantly connected by satellite TV and internet to the most fundamental Imams and the most vitriolic cant.

It is not at all clear to me that the broader Muslim population of Europe will follow Communism's shedding its revolutionary extremism, shifting to assimilation within European democratic political life:

Disowned by the pragmatic left, Europe's militant Marxist fringe was isolated and repressed, while governments pursued social policies that to some measure addressed the grievances of the poor and dispossessed, which had animated the radicals.

It is also not obvious to me that "Islam's role as a beacon for the downtrodden may wane, in part because of its very success" when that success is described in Anglo-European terms as the "necessary compromises with the surrounding community that are inherent in economic and political participation could dull its edge and sap its momentum, as they did for Marxism." Given the open resentment and ostracism showered on Muslims even in formerly tolerant Netherlands (and excepting the remarkable strides made by Turks), I find it hard to accept Kepel's view that:

Once the more mainstream, upwardly mobile Arab or African young people move out of their working-class neighborhoods, "they aren't perceived as Muslim any more, and the vast majority aren't interested in using their religion as a social and political marker."

While I do agree with his comment that "Beyond the militant minority, the inward-looking fundamentalists are by definition politically insignificant," it is not their political insignificance that concerns me but rather their militancy, their willingness to unilaterally enforce a Borg-like assimilation on their terms, and without notice, put another Theo van Gogh in the street for affronting them.

Part 2 of Islam's trajectory

Europe's Muslims May Be Headed Where the Marxists Went Before
By CRAIG S. SMITH
New York Times
December 26, 2004
Mirror

Muslim Scholars Increasingly Debate Unholy War
By NEIL MacFARQUHAR
New York Times
December 10, 2004
Mirror

Gordon Housworth



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Does Arabic have a word for Desaparecido? French and Spanish does.

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When you are familiar with the desaparecidos ("The Disappeared") populating the miniature killing fields of Guatemala and Salvador (often times a preexisting garbage dump), when you as a gringo in the bush fear arrest by the military as much as kidnapping by the guerillas, when the hapless, innocent Indios were killed by the military by day and by the guerillas by night...

Having been closer than most to fruits of a desaparecido effort, I can say that it is vicious, capricious, replete with collateral damage to innocents, instills fear while moderating behavior, creates blowback of some magnitude at a later date, but works in the short-term. Could be Plan B, and not just for Iraq. I've already forecast a return to such programs in Central America to deal with the Maras (gangs), Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Mara 18:

the law enforcement tools on offer mimic that of terrorism, covert and overt military force, without the programs that address the social and economic forces that create the draw to gangs. The problem is already so great in Central America that states are reviving conventional military strength and counterinsurgency strategies along with extralegal paramilitary and vigilante enforcement, while adopting zero-tolerance laws that bypass rules of due process. Mechanisms once directed at leftists and political dissidents are now directed at gang members.

Enter Iraq. With painful realism settling in among senior civilian and military ranks that recent actions against Fallujah's insurgents have merely dispersed the intended targets while continuing to enrage ordinary Iraqis, there is active debate on resuscitating "the Salvador option," the training and arming of paramilitaries operating in concert with US spec ops to liquidate insurgents, jihadists, their enablers and facilitators. One proposal sends "Special Forces teams to advise, support and possibly train Iraqi squads, most likely hand-picked Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and Shiite militiamen, to target Sunni insurgents and their sympathizers, even across the border into Syria, [although current thinking] is that while U.S. Special Forces would lead operations in [Syria while] activities inside Iraq itself would be carried out by Iraqi paramilitaries."

I find discussions of "whether this would be a policy of assassination or so-called "snatch" operations" for covert interrogation to be moot as if such a program mimics its predecessors, once gone, forever gone whether one is interrogated or not. Liquidation squads would be controversial only to outside observers. Were insurgents/Baathists to be candid, I submit that they would consider it a long overdue response even though they would be its targets. Welcome to symmetry in asymmetrical warfare.

Compared to some 100,000 gang members, Iraq is manageable only if one is sufficiently ruthless, can operate beyond public scrutiny, and employ surrogates so as to claim plausible denial. The Baathist-insurgent marriage of convenience is now so large, so well armed, that their backlash would be phenomenal:

[number of gunmen in Iraq that] carry out terrorist actions against the citizens and are outlaws. Their number in all parts of Iraq is between 20,000 and 30,000 and they are mostly in the Sunni areas where the population there, almost 200,000, is sympathetic to them. But they do not provide them with any material or logistical help. For example, they do not report their activities if they have the information. [gunmen are] Ba'thist remnants, hard-line extremists, and others. If 20 percent [of an estimated 2 million Ba'th Party members are presently involved in armed operations] then their number is large and all of them are members of organizations and have weapons. A large number of people are working with the Ba'thists to earn a livelihood after finding themselves without jobs, especially those who were in the former Iraqi army.

The majority of Iraqis are what I call insurgent-neutral, neither aiding or providing logistical support, nor alerting the authorities. A desaparecido program would instill fear of aiding the insurgency:

The Sunni population is paying no price for the support it is giving to the terrorists. From their point of view, it is cost-free. We have to change that equation.

Running it as a covert op under a US presidential finding sidesteps nettlesome oversight and insulates the military from legal peril. No surprise that Prime Minister Ayad Allawi "is said to be among the most forthright proponents of the Salvador option." I am more curious as to, say, Turkish interest in seeing Kurds so trained, the ramp-up time to force maturity and preemptive Insurgent/Ba'athist counterstrikes. There will be no rear area and no noncombatants.

Part 11

‘The Salvador Option’
By Michael Hirsh and John Barry
Newsweek
Jan 8,
Updated: 10 Jan, 2005

Iraqi Intelligence Service Chief Interviewed on Terrorism, Related Issues
AL-SHARQ AL-AWSAT
Interview with Major General Muhammad Abdallah al-Shahwani, director of Iraq's National Intelligence Service, 4 January
(FBIS Translated Text) Wednesday, January 5, 2005

Gordon Housworth



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If it can't be realistically won - settle for Realpolitik

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RAND's James Dobbins makes a related case for US withdrawal in the same Foreign Affairs, stating that as a "result of its initial miscalculations, misdirected planning, and inadequate preparation," the US has lost trust and consent of Iraqis, will not win them back, has abrogated its duties and responsibilities of an occupying power under the Fourth Geneva Convention, and that each passing day of US action insures that we "lose further ground on the central front of Iraqi opinion" - what could be called moderates in that area. In short, the US has "already lost the war":

Moderate Iraqis can still win it, but only if they wean themselves from Washington and get support from elsewhere. To help them, the United States should reduce and ultimately eliminate its military presence, train Iraqis to beat the insurgency on their own, and rally Iran and European allies to the cause.

Timing and diplomacy has much to do with US success as we must try to reduce growing resistance without leaving a vacuum that triggers a civil war while involving all frontline and local elements. Unpalatable perhaps but recognizing Realpolitik has merit:

In order to stabilize Bosnia in the mid-1990s, the United States had to work with Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and Croatian President Franjo Tudjman, the two individuals personally responsible for the genocide it was trying to stop. In 2001, Washington worked with Iran, Pakistan, India, and Russia to install a broadly representative successor to the Taliban, even though those states had been tearing Afghanistan apart for a generation.

Dobbins contrasts that to a US approach in Iraq that had no "underlying strategy designed to secure the support of neighboring states" and that, conversely, in framing its occupation as part of a regional democratic transformation, "actively diminished incentives for regional collaboration."

Extricating the United States from the costly conflict in Iraq, ending the insurgency, and leaving behind a representative Iraqi regime capable of securing its territory and protecting its population cannot be achieved without the support of the Iraqi people and the cooperation of their neighbors. [The US] will have to redefine its goals in Iraq in terms that the populations and governments of the region can identify with. The U.S.-led campaigns against terrorism and for democracy are tainted in local eyes by their association with the doctrine of pre-emption and their application in occupied Iraq and occupied Palestine. Whatever their considerable objective merits and potential long-term appeal to Arab audiences, the war on terrorism and regional democratization are not themes around which Iraqis and their neighbors will unite, as they must if the current insurgency is to be defeated.

I see echoes of Luttwak's comment that "All have much to lose or gain depending on exactly how the U.S. withdrawal is carried out, and this would give Washington a great deal of leverage that could be used to advance U.S. interests":

Wielding the promise of withdrawal, for example, could give Washington valuable leverage, compelling Iraqis, Iraq's neighbors, and much of the international community to look beyond their desire to see the United States chastened and toward their shared interest in Iraq's long-term stability. Thus the Bush administration should carefully modulate two simultaneous messages: a clear desire to leave Iraq and an equally clear willingness to stay until the Iraqi government, with the support of its neighbors and the international community, proves capable of securing its territory and protecting its citizens. Washington should establish that its ultimate goal is the complete withdrawal of all U.S. forces as soon as circumstances permit and that it has no intention of seeking a permanent military presence in the country.

The forthcoming elections are trouble. If elections occur, the new government will have modest legitimacy at best as Shiites and Kurds may be represented, but Sunnis will not. Larry Diamond says, "The fear is that it's too late to bring the Sunnis in by Jan. 30 and that the country is headed for a very serious train wreck. There'll be an escalation of violence, if you can believe that."

leaders of Sunni-dominated political parties have not been easy to bring on board… the Iraqi Islamic Party, the largest Sunni political movement in post-war Iraq, recently pulled out of elections citing security concerns, while the Independent Democrats, led by well-known Sunni moderate Adnan Pachachi, are calling for a postponement of the Jan. 30 poll date… hardline groups such as the Muslim Scholars Board simply refuse to participate until all U.S. forces leave Iraq.

We need to do something positive as "Allowing for its population's smaller size, Iraq suffers every month--sometimes every week--losses comparable to those [of 11 September] Iraqis are as likely to attribute these losses to the U.S.-sponsored war on terrorism as to the terrorists themselves." The very hard part is Luttwak's process prescription:

A strategy of disengagement would require bold, risk-taking statecraft of a high order, and much diplomatic competence in its execution. But it would be soundly based on the most fundamental of realities: geography that alone ensures all other parties are far more exposed to the dangers of an anarchical Iraq than is the United States itself.

Part 10

Iraq: Winning the Unwinnable War
By James Dobbins
From Foreign Affairs, January/February 2005

Iraq: The Logic of Disengagement
Edward N. Luttwak
From Foreign Affairs, January/February 2005

Gordon Housworth



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If it can't be realistically won, then what must we settle for and be prepared to accept?

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Disengage, now, while we still have a substantive chance to affect the principle players, before a flawed election 'winner' sends us packing, robbing us any shard of legitimacy or influence. Prepare for things to get very much worse in the short to medium term as Iraqi elements, Baathist, Sunni, Shia, insurgents, moderates and conservatives work out a messy restructuring of a post-Saddam government.

For liberal and conservative reader alike, before you descend with accolades or attacks, permit me this digression. Active in the 8th century, Pope Gregory III was said to apply three tests to every papal bull brought before him:

  1. What fairness suggests
  2. What the law allows
  3. What will work

Whenever I find that a negotiation has collapsed, I know that the third test has been breached (What will work) and that the parties are likely working hard on tests 1 and 2. As a corollary, when things don’t "work" as I believe that they should, then I’ve failed to identify one or more stakeholders or a substantive interest of at least one stakeholder. (Readers are recommended to try the tests as honest answers will point to workable options.)

Readers who have come this far in the series will know that I think things are not working despite prodigious efforts of US military units on the ground, are getting worse, the fix - if one can call it that - is as costly, damaging, and futile as Israel's handling of Palestine. When in a hole, stop digging, or at least tunnel out.

No less a grey eminence in defense circles than Edward Luttwak had made that blunt assessment in Foreign Affairs. For those readers unfamiliar with Luttwak, his is a towering, piercing, and unsentimental mind (see his comments on our intel capability here). While it's said that he doesn't 'write often' what he does write is trenchant. Strategy:The Logic of War and Peace and Coup d'etat remain classics that readers overlook at their peril. Luttwak is direct:

WITHDRAW NOW... The United States has now abridged its vastly ambitious project of creating a veritable Iraqi democracy to pursue the much more realistic aim of conducting some sort of general election. In the meantime, however, it has persisted in futile combat against factions that should be confronting one another instead.

The United States cannot threaten to unleash anarchy in Iraq in order to obtain concessions from others, nor can it make transparently conflicting promises about the country's future to different parties. But once it has declared its firm commitment to withdraw--or perhaps, given the widespread conviction that the United States entered Iraq to exploit its resources, once visible physical preparations for an evacuation have begun--the calculus of other parties will change. In a reversal of the usual sequence, the U.S. hand will be strengthened by withdrawal, and Washington may well be able to lay the groundwork for a reasonably stable Iraq. Nevertheless, if key Iraqi factions or Iraq's neighbors are too shortsighted or blinded by resentment to cooperate in their own best interests, the withdrawal should still proceed, with the United States making such favorable or unfavorable arrangements for each party as will most enhance the future credibility of U.S. diplomacy.

Luttwak does not omit basics such as the need for "careful planning and scheduling of the withdrawal of U.S. forces from much of the country--while making due provisions for sharp punitive strikes against any attempt to harass the withdrawing forces," but he gets to the point that Iraq cannot "be transformed into a successful democracy by a more prolonged occupation," the parties have much to lose in an anarchical Iraq - perhaps more than the US, and need to work it out rather than have many of them shooting at us while we cannot shoot back in a creditable manner that does not fan Iraqi and Arab ire.

Part 2 of If it can't be realistically won

Iraq: Winning the Unwinnable War
By James Dobbins
From Foreign Affairs, January/February 2005

Iraq: The Logic of Disengagement
Edward N. Luttwak
From Foreign Affairs, January/February 2005

Gordon Housworth



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Winning the war without intelligence, Part 2

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Edward Luttwak is no less piercing and unsparing today in his criticism of the CIA and our intel ability, humint collection, analysis, and policy formulation:

One reason why the CIA favours rendition [summary deportation of suspected Muslim extremists to Arab states for interrogation] is its lack of interrogators who know foreign languages -- and I mean not just difficult languages such as Korean, but also easy ones such as colloquial variants of Arabic, or indeed modern standard Arabic, in which fluency requires only a few months of moderate effort. Companies instruct their salesmen to pick up Arabic when assigned to Middle East spots, but the CIA is apparently a less demanding employer. The CIA's degeneration, however, is of far broader scope. The Mormons and cow-college graduates who have come to fill the ranks of the Directorate of Operations since the Ivy League's post-Vietnam desertion are simply too provincial for the basic craft of the espionage trade, the recruitment and handling of foreigners as agents. So long as the Cold War lasted, the solid products of satellite photography and all manner of electronic intelligence masked the erosion of espionage skills without which there is no going after terrorists. While competent case officers with languages and tact are few, deep-cover operatives are absent -- the US has been engaged with Iraq since 1990, but the CIA did not have one agent in its government when war started anew in 2003, nor any operative on the ground. Now, ordinary Army and Marine officers are doing a better job of recruiting Iraqi informants than the CIA.

Regarding yellowcake:

The moral of the [Niger] story is that when policy makers want bad intelligence to suit their policies, they get it. [Niger started] with French intelligence out to trip up the Americans and their allies [first offered to] to Italy's Panorama magazine, whose star reporter, Elisabetta Burba, soon uncovered the deception, and told the US Embassy at the behest of her Editor, Carlo Rossella. [The Italian] foreign intelligence service SISMI [passed] the forgery to the CIA station in Rome [as] highly suspect paper [and the] CIA station in Rome was entirely undeceived.

Regardling Ahmad Chalabi:

If Chalabi knew that far from being proto-democrats most Iraqis were entrapped by tribalism, fanatical religion and clericalism, he did not tell anyone: his aim after all was to overthrow Saddam, not to justify his despotism as mere necessity… His only sin actually was not to contradict those who greatly wanted to believe that Iraqis could lead the democratic transformation of the Middle East.

The moral I take to this an other stories is that our intel capacity beyond "national technical means of collection" has failed us against new adversaries and that it is little wonder that the military wanted a far greater hand in intelligence matters than the 9/11 commission was originally proffering.

Back to our dealing with the insurgents at hand: Isseroff disagrees with Van Creveld's premise that the weak always triumph, stating that if is "correct then changes in strategy are hopeless, political maneuvers are beside the point and improved intelligence will not help," yet isn't kind to the US:

Americans are fighting the Iraq war stupidly. The wholesale destruction of Fallujah is symptomatic. It illustrates the same problems that Dayan found in Vietnam 40 years ago. The Americans concentrated massive firepower against an elusive enemy. At the end of the battle, Fallujah was more or less destroyed. The Americans gave the Iraqis have more reason to hate them as well as their own government. However, Zarqawi and most of the other insurgents escaped unscathed. They will no doubt use the anger stirred up by Fallujah to recruit more insurgents.

While I'm not convinced of the inevitability of Van Creveld's 'small is victorious' argument, it is difficult to argue with his observation:

he who fights against the weak—and terrorists are weak by definition—and loses, loses. He who fights against the weak and wins also loses. To kill an opponent who is much weaker than yourself is unnecessary and therefore cruel; to let that opponent kill you is unnecessary and therefore stupid.

Part 9

Torture of the evidence
A Review by Edward N. Luttwak
The Times Literary Supplement
November 7, 2004

How Not To Fight Terrorism
Martin van Creveld
Center for Unconventional Security Affairs
CUSA Occasional Paper #1, September 2003
[originally presented April 5, 2002]

Gordon Housworth



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"The Americans are winning everything--except the war”

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Almost all of the Americans he had met were pleasant enough. None, however, could tell him how they were going to win the War. Most could not even give him a convincing reason why the US had to be [there] in the first place; at last one had said that, had [the President] been presented with a way to get out, he would have jumped on it and withdrawn his troops. What really infuriated them was any attempt to question their motives. As far as they were concerned their cause was noble and just. The fact that the [adversary] States did what they could to support the [Insurgents] was bad but understandable. They were, however, puzzled by the attitude of their European allies. Those Europeans supposedly shared America’s liberal-democratic values. Still many of them were strongly critical. At a loss to explain the problem, the Americans attributed it to cowardice, envy, and the resentment that arose from Europe’s own recent failure in waging "Imperialist" war. To make things stranger still, the determination of American decision-makers to ignore world public opinion was counterbalanced by their extreme sensitivity to the views of their own electorate.

'There' - Vietnam. President - Johnson. 'Adversary' - Communist. 'Insurgents' - Viet Cong and North Vietnam. Moshe Dyan the interviewer visiting the US on his way to Vietnam as a war correspondent in the 1960s. Title from Dayan's Vietnam Diary.

Who says Iraq cannot be like Vietnam? Who says we are wining? What defines 'win' and what will it cost? Zbigniew Brzezinski doesn't flinch from the cost, lack of will and resources, and likely outcome:

Iraq is not another Vietnam, he says, but it could be "a protracted mess." Since he does not believe the country is willing to commit 500,000 troops and hundreds of billions of additional dollars to create a democracy in Iraq, "we have to scale down our objectives, because we're not prepared to commit the means necessary to achieve these objectives." Prospects for success are dim, he said, "We have to accept the probably reality of a Shiite, theocratic government, which is not going to be a genuine democracy…And we'll have to accept, probably, a limited role for ourselves in Iraq."

Similarities:

nothing could make up for the lack of accurate and timely tactical intelligence. Its absence was due partly to cultural obstacles, partly to the physical conditions of the country, and partly to the nature of the war itself; in Dayan’s own words, the information available to the Americans was limited to: "1. What they could photograph; 2. What they could intercept (SIGINT); and 3. What they could glean from low-ranking prisoners." As a result, they were using sledgehammers to knock holes in empty air. So far they had not succeeded in inflicting unacceptable losses on the enemy who kept reinforcing. Even if they did succeed, it was hard to see how the South Vietnamese would be able to set up a viable government in the shadow of the gigantic machine that "protected" them; whether that machine would ever be withdrawn was anybody’s guess. As to what he was told of the war’s objectives, such as defending democracy and helping the South Vietnamese people, he considered it "childish" propaganda; if many of the Americans he met believed in them, clearly nobody else did.

Wryly noted:

[Walt Rostow] was the first American to whom Dayan spoke who was prepared to admit that the US objective was not just to help South Vietnam but to set up a permanent military political presence in South East Asia so as to counterbalance the growing power of China.

Difference:

[McNamara] admitted that many of the figures being floated by the Pentagon—particularly those pertaining to the percentage of the country and population "secured"—were meaningless at best and bogus at worst. No more than anybody else could he explain to Dayan how the Americans intended to end the war. What set him apart was the fact that he was prepared to admit it

Part 2 of Winning the War

Annus Horribilis in Iraq
By Joseph Cirincione
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Dec 2004

How Not To Fight Terrorism
Martin van Creveld
Center for Unconventional Security Affairs
CUSA Occasional Paper #1, September 2003
[originally presented April 5, 2002]

Gordon Housworth



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Implications beyond the lessons learned, Part 2

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A wider group of potential adversaries beyond insurgents are analyzing our performance in Iraq and may find us wanting or find simpler ways to check US efforts. (This could be as simple as denying US access to the region thereby preventing the regional buildup that we have come to prefer. It is instructive for US nationals to remember that many nations other than France see the US as a hyperpuissance, or "hyperpower" that must be contained. A nation other than the target could cooperate just to keep us at arms length.)

India observed that "developing countries, especially the threshold powers, need to review their threat perceptions," given that the US may "willy nilly" attack less advantaged states. Deterring US action in third world nations required:

acquisition of electronic technology, consolidation of research and development, covert acquisition of technology, establishing priority thrust lines, and developing dual- use technologies, to name a few means to close the technological gap with the US. To this technological approach, they suggested practical additions, including deception, increasing automation, developing both passive and active means to protect critical sites, and developing integrated command, control, communications, and intelligence. Of particular interest, they suggested research and development efforts in lasers, electronic countermeasures, UAVs, thermal imaging, and missile guidance technology.

As an aside, it should be noted that these items bracket the Military Critical Technologies (MCTs) that remain the target of sustained state and commercial intellectual property theft against US commercial firms and military contractors. (See What are they stealing now?)

Russia seconded the fear of US hegemony while marveling at its first use of "joint operations" (the integrated use of multiservice assets coupled with precision munitions) and its ability to operate in maneuver-intensive environments. Presaging problems yet to materialize, Russians felt that US/UK forces didn't counter "urban warfare well and felt that a well-executed urban fight would give the US pause," that the US did not achieve "contactless" battle, and that the US "may be vulnerable to close combat." Russians went so far as to state that Iraq had the means to inflict major damage on US forces but chose not to do so. I think the jury still out as to the reasons why, e.g., enlightened self interest, prior planning by certain units or command personalities, opportunistic planning, etc.

It is now painfully clear that Ba'athists, insurgents, and jihadists have shown us that a 'rear area' no longer exists and that we have returned to an Old West "battlespace" with a "mobile, lethal, and determined enemy, prone to acts of "terrorism," could attack at any time and from any direction [against] long lines of communication, along which there were relatively few friendly forces available to provide security."

The US must still find a way to deal with urban operations as urbanization is only increasing, opponents will not confront US forces symmetrically and so will include urban/complex terrain and socio-political issues to their advantage. Army planning drawn on recent Army experience involving urban operations, contemporary Russian and Israeli efforts, and historical assets from Vietnam and WWII has yet to show an efficient and politically sensitive (read minimize collateral damage) response posture that works. At a minimum, the reliance upon sigint sources and the blindness to non-romance languages and cultures must end -- an admitted mighty effort but one absolutely necessary in a multipolar world where adversaries can come from any corner.

Perhaps I read in too much, but a second reading of On Point gave me the impression that its authors were telegraphing a message as to US vulnerabilities and what external observers could learn from OIF:

They might conclude that apparent US dependence on technical intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance may afford opportunity to shield, hide, or deceive. They may conclude that RPGs with more powerful warheads, including perhaps tandem warheads, may offset US armor. For that matter, they may conclude that the Iraqis did not make the best use of urban terrain, and they may confront the next US operation rather differently. They may conclude that the US forces in the field transition too slowly and are vulnerable to classic insurgency operations. They may even believe that US forces are vulnerable in nonlinear, noncontiguous operations.

Part 8

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Looking at implications beyond the lessons learned through establishment eyes

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While Iraqi conventional and auxiliary forces could "not match the US forces in marksmanship, tactical technique, and the ability to adapt rapidly" in intense close combat, they:

did show "considerable competence in shielding forces, in reaching similar conclusions as their opponents on what constituted defensible terrain, and in demonstrating the ability to maneuver forces despite coalition control of the air and tremendous advantages in technical means of gathering intelligence. The Iraqis successfully shielded some of their equipment and managed to mount coordinated counterattacks… executed ambushes and, in some cases, attained tactical surprise. They found ways to close the range and, in more than one case, fought effectively enough to compel reaction.

So much for the popular received wisdom that US ground forces achieved "absolute tactical dominance based on Iraqi ineptitude," equipment, and actions. The Center for Army Lessons Learned issued On Point in May 2004, an 'after action' report issued after Baghdad fell but without the achievement of OIF's strategic goals. While parts of On Point dealt with tactical lessons learned, the Survey Group authors, which included Major Wilson, who recently asserted that the US invaded Iraq without a Phase IV Post-combat plan for occupation and stabilization, and that the Army fails to recognize a "a people's war" even as they fight it, also looked at implications that transcend tactics and will only be become clearer in later training and combat developments.

The report went so far as to examine US vulnerabilities though its own analyses as well as those of other nations. Iraq learned and applied lessons from Desert Storm, Serbia, and Chechnya, and I think that Iraqis prospered the farther they moved to asymmetrical warfare. On Point's identification of a wide range of Iraqi threats from army to insurgents, the "combination of enemy conventional, unconventional, and information operations" along with a number of conditions that included humanitarian assistance, and changing political/social factors were signposts for the insurgent/jihadist attacks still to come.

It becomes quickly evident that apparent success in urban operations meant Phase III combat operations in urban areas, and not a Phase IV rejuvenated insurgency. With the advantage of hindsight it is painful to read:

Rather than simply viewing urban areas as complex terrain occupied by an enemy force, Army planners took the approach that a city is a system of systems. Political, civil, social, religious, military, power generation and distribution, transportation, water distribution, and a host of other systems combined, interacted, and adapted constantly. Understanding these systems and how they interacted seemed key to understanding how to conduct military operations there. Accordingly, intelligence officers and planners joined traditional intelligence analysis with the system-of-systems approach in an attempt to truly understand Iraqi cities--starting with Baghdad.

How woefully inadequate this appears today. The paramilitary threat that confronted US/UK forces was not anticipated. While it was understood that urban operations "would be characterized by a series of transitions: battles and engagements followed by security operations and humanitarian assistance," only the very few anticipated the "frequent transitions from major combat to support operations and back again."

Worse, our intel capability to predict and interdict insurgent actions has paled in comparison to our early successes against uniformed, conventional forces:

military intelligence and national intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance means worked well. For the most part, [we] knew where the Iraq uniformed forces were, could target them, and could provide data on their whereabouts to tactical units. Tracking the paramilitary forces and estimating Iraqi intentions proved more difficult.

Now it is US/UK forces that are on the receiving end as insurgents improve their intel gathering and penetration capability as they build organizational depth:

The insurgents have good sources in the Iraqi interim government and sometimes in local U.S. and coalition commands… 'sympathizers' within the Iraqi government and Iraqi forces, as well as the Iraqis working for the coalition, media and NGOs, often provide excellent human intelligence without violently taking part in the insurgency… [Civilians and noncombatants] are often pushed into providing data because of family ties, a fear of being on the losing side, direct and indirect threats, etc.

Our intel assets did not have the humint streams to gather operational information on Iraqi forces, relying instead on signals intelligence collection that insurgents have learned to counter:

U.S. intelligence is optimized around characterizing, counting and targeting things rather than people, U.S. dependence on Iraqi translators and intelligence sources is a key area of U.S. vulnerability and one the insurgents have learned to focus on.

I fear that we are nearly as blind as we were in the early days of the Afghan effort. Much as in Afghanistan, insurgents countered by restricting cell phone use for C2 while increasing use of couriers and the net, and halted bank transfers in favor of off-books charities and criminal activities for funds.

Technology's impact was also diminished in Phase IV as US forces had difficulty in tracking insurgent/jihadist elements and so controlling the fight. Precision munitions had to be used much more sparingly. The "rapid fielding" of urban combat equipment was not rapid enough for resourceful insurgents with IEDs, RPGs, and suicide bombers.

Part 2 of Implications

Gordon Housworth



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