Skypecast: Foreign Policy into 2009 (Audio Content)

Scott and I discuss economics, the global political frame, and the future into 2009.  We begin by discussing a recent fairly grim post of mine (Happy New Year!!!) and then discuss potential creative ways out of the morass.

[Click the links below, pts1 & 2 for the audio.]



Thomas Barnett post
My apocalyptic post
James Poulos’ Uncrackables
John Robbforeign-policy1

Scott’s post/embedding of the audio (if you have trouble on mine)

Some Apocalyptic Thoughts for Monday Afternoon

Warning:  This is some very disturbing analysis.  I hope I’m 100% wrong on this one.  I’ve also thought the scenario I outline below was possible for 2009 but through the end of October/early November, I thought it still somewhat remote.  I’m less confident and increasingly pesimisstic about the potential for this scenario to be very real, very much in play (more and more likely by the day it seems as of now with no wise leadership or counter-movements to help block the momentum).  So be warned.  I’m not in the business of fear-peddling or fear-hyping, but these are dark thoughts.  There are not the only ones within my brain, but I have been appalled (even fairly cynical me) by the responses across the board to this crisis and the sense that there is no Wizard behind the curtain.

I’m increasingly growing very disturbed by the way global events are proceeding.  A chain of potential explosions across the grid of the globe looks frighteningly more plausible by the day.  Meanwhile the US media is caught in wonderful tales of some pathetic Illinois Governor and a dude launching his foot wear. Here in Canada it’s about the potential of a coalition government.

All of which still assume a top-down model of power, a kind of view of the stability of large scale social organization that may all be swept away.  Reading the newspapers and frankly much of the blogosphere is becoming an increasingly useless exercise for me.  Particularly when it comes to political discussion:  left, right, libertarian, progressive, blah blah.  All of those discussions are assuming the continued existence in some form or other or our social-technological cultural foundations.

To me its increasingly as if reading the news in the ancient ziggurat/city-state culture a few months before Alexander the Great came conquering across Eurasian and installed the Hellenistic world and swept away the decaying, crumbling previous world era.  Like I said some apocalyptic thoughts.

The economic story would go like this:  the American consumer is dead and has been flogged to the breaking point of exhaustion.  Who then is going to buy all those Asian products?  Who can they sell their wares to?  The Asian economies contract leading them to stop buying the commodities across the Global South (esp. Latin America and Africa) that have led to that bubble (see the mass decrease in the price of oil recently).  Huge deflationary movements across the global simultaneously.  Much more rapidly and the fragility (i.e. non-redundancy) of the global platform system bleeds out.

As Niall Ferguson in his epic The War of the World, the great catacylsm and spasm of violence across the globe emanating from Europe during the 20th century (First War, Second War, Cold War) consisted of the inter-locking reality of the three “E”s:  empire, economics, and ethnicity.  Empire being the death of imperial systems.  See the decline of the US.  Also with all the talk of the coming Asian Century (rise of India/China), this could all be swept away by the economic meltdown.  The Asian Century that wasn’t in other words.  Still-born Asian Century.  The vacuum created by the implosion of economic and imperial systems, is filled by ethnic hatreds that flare up to the consternation and shock of many who assume a cosmopolitan order of peace and security (all fine when the economy and governance is roughly holding up).

The most likely early hot spots of ethnic hatred is the band of the Middle East (Lebanon, Iraq, Kurdistan, Iran, Syria???, through obviously Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India).  Other increased zones of violence would be Gap-status countires in the Western Hempishere (on smaller scale but still bloody).  Revived narco-fueled wars across Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, Ecuador, El Salvador, southern Mexico.  Other ranges of violence: The Horn of Africa (another Somalia implosion on the horizon) as well as violence across the middle band (Chad, Sudan, Nigeria, and potential flare ups again in Congo).

The massive de-leveraging must continue and the question is only whether the end of the fall (which has at least 9 months, probably 12 to 24 to maybe even 36-40 to go. who the hell knows at this point) will end us worse than the build up.  Exposed, exhausted, and de-legitimized.  The space of de-legitimization to be filled by ethno-nationalistic movements across the board.

With the breakdown of nation-state systems (orange and blue in Spiral colors), comes a mass re-reddifying both in memetic coloring and potentially in real blood, merged with increased technological capacity (global platform) plus increased cognitive flexibility and complexity however merged to earlier moral/social systems. Roving bands of pirates (e.g. Somalia), terrorists (e.g. Mumbai), criminal networks (coming here already to Vancouver in preparation for the 2010 Olympics, particularly the global sex slavery/human chattel trade) counteracted by potentially increased technocratic elites holding onto whatever power they can, as civil libertiese erode due to the inability to come up with a worldwide republican security theory, class lines harden in the post-industrial societies, the social contract of the 20th century continues to break down (ask Ford, GM, Chrysler) as the Nation-State gives way to the (increainsgly predatory?) Market State.

Ferguson forget a fourth E:  Environment.  As in environmental degradation/destruction as a potential accelerant to the fire of the other three.  Something along the lines of Diamond’s Collapse scenario.

The idea that an infrastructure stimulus will jump start the US economy out of this bog seems increasingly detached from reality for me.  At the pace things are moving, if the wave swells become large enough, it isn’t going to matter, as it could all be swept away by the mega-forces aligning at the moment.

Like I said, God how I hope I’m  completely wrong on this one.

The Canadian Coalition Question

I sent this response to a friend via email re: Canadian coalition thoughts. I should have added that I thought the Gov. General’s decision to let PM Stephen Harper put the Parliament in recess (“prorouged” in the parlance) was a really big mistake. If we she was going to do that, she probably should have just refused the Coalition, refused the elections, and forced everybody back to work. Events are spinning far too fast, far too out of control, for this bush-league crap on both sides.

[Blank], I didn’t get a chance to answer your question about my thoughts on the coalition.

Some thoughts.

1. The natural governance of this country belongs to the left, minus a fracturing of the left. That has occurred in the last few years, hence the Conservatives have held (minority) power. The Liberals have always (mis)interpreted that “natural” reality (with some history behind them) as they being the natural party of the country. They are now learing that won’t always be the case in the 21st century.

2. Harper played a dumb dumb hand. He should have known that the left (and here I am including the Bloc as left-wing econ/pol) basically is pretty well ball-less, except for any moment when their ability to suck from the public teet will be taken from them. Only then will the leftites grow a pair and he is now seeing to his chagrin.

2a. Furthermore, Conservatives used to be modernist enough to believe results actually mattered. Sorry charlie, but they still do, postmodern world and all that included. You can’t govern like a majority party when you don’t get elected to one. To quote the great philosophers The Jeffersons, “fish don’t fry in the kitchen/beans don’t burn on the grill.”

2b. He is of course going back to classic right-wing “the gut politics of fear and loathing”–with his whinning about “we waz robbed” and “the socialists and the separatists are coming, the socialists and the separatists are coming!!!” Quick somebody put a couple lanterns up in the old north side of parliament. Which in essence communicates, “don’t vote us, just don’t vote the other guys.” Not exactly a winner of a strategy to say the least.

3. And here my emotional reactive side will speak. F–k all these guys. How can they be playing this level of kindergarten schoolyard politics now of all times? That’s probably an insult to kindergartens everywhere, in which case I apologize to them. This is also what happens when you put some humanitarian political-lite figurehead CBCer in for Gov. General, which should otherwise be a figurehead job but now of all times actually matters. And the person possibly least qualified to deal with it has the power. Exit/$64,000,000 Question: Who is she getting her advice from at this point?

4. Procedurally something has to be give in this country. Almost all the Anglo-American countries with paraliamentary systems are still dominated by two party rule: e.g. GB, Australia, US. But it has gotten to where this is a multi-party country. Either you rule by coalition in a multi-party democracy, you kill the other parties at the polls, or it don’t work. No cake and consumption simultaenously on this one. The only Anglo-paraliamentary system that has a tradition/culture of coalition building I can think of (off top of my head) is Israel. Obviously that scenario is complicated by the existence of Jewish/Zionist religious parties. But the basic danger of coalition building is utter fragmentation and small 9th parties, as it were, having massively dispropotionate weight since the coalition relies on them to pass something. (Opening for NDP? Greens?). Either get rid of the other parties or learn the art of coalition government.

5. While in theory I’m not opposed to coaliton governance, this is a kinda shady way to do it seems to me. Ideally, they should have run on a coalition platform. Something doesn’t feel quite right about it. But not because of the evil “SS” (socialists, separatists) coming upon us. The Liberals get handed their worst lost basically since Confederation and they get to be in power? Again, results actually matter. In a way I would say new elections, but they will be even lower turnout and further disillusion anyone from participation. Moreover, this coalition and temporary power grab could be in the medium/long term very bad for the Grits. They need a major thorough cleansing and overhaul: party platform, image, leadership, method of elections, age/gender, the whole works. They won’t do that if they get power in the interim because the right shot itself. Their leadership are arrogant fools, and they need to get a lesson in humility, or minus that as a possibility, shown the door.

6. So if the left does come into power, Afghanistan is going to loom huge. That will of course also depend on what Obama does or doesn’t do there, and whether NATO is viable in the 21st century.

On the domestic front, The Bloc will as they always will exist solely to suck up some free cash for Quebec. Who wants to be ideological anymore? Separatism? Come on, that’s so 1970s. The NDP will attempt to pull left in a more Neo-Keynesian fashion in the current economic meltdown. I’m fairly skeptical of infrastructure build up working as a way to get over a liquidity, solvency/credit crisis, but it would be good as build up for infrastructure. If such were to be the case, there will be stories years later of boondoggles and public back-scratching about who gets what projects.

If the coalition comes in, the right could self-destruct as they descend into a frenzied mania and cannibalize their own. The whole party has really been built on Harper. If he goes down, so may go the ship. The coalition could hold for a time, but its fissures will eventually surface one way or another. If they can find someway to deal with them, and deal with the econ crisis, they will be sitting fairly pretty. If not, both the right and the left will fracture and then who the hell knows what happens. In that scenario, plus real econ disaster, look from strange plus potentially scary outcomes (right wing or left-wing protectionism and/or nationalism). And the potential for a total constitutional crisis and the de-legitmation of The Confederation.

7. Plan B (or is it C or D?) at that point becomes go local and go hard. The formation of local resilient communities that weather the transition to the post-crisis form of economics, urban landscape across a series of vectors: security, food, currency/trust,

Just some thoughts.

Skypecast: Integral Politics (Audio Content)


Click the link above for a discussion of integral politics between Scott and I–the first in what we are hoping will be a series.  We had a technical glitch or two (per our usual) but is I believe worth the listen [I’m of course biased on this subject :)]

A whole mess ‘o links for those interested:

Ken Wilber:  (Basic Summary of his Model).  Video Introduction to Politics through his Philosophical Lens.
Ha Joon Chang (The Economic Developmental Piece):  Here and here.
Thomas Barnett (The Brief):  Here, here, here, and here.  Barnett’s map here:

Spiral Dynamics:  Here and Pt. 1 of an 8 part series of shorts that show each level of development (all 8 are on youtube).

Iraq in ’09

Eric Martin over at American Footprints has a good piece on recent goings on in Iraq and the broader question of Maliki and his view of power.

It has been asserted by some of the brighter lights in the progressive foreign policy firmament that, due to this dynamic [ed: unconditional troop presence], the US must begin to remove forces (and threaten, credibly, a complete withdrawal) in order to focus the mind of Iraq’s leadership on addressing grievances of minority groups that it could previously afford to ignore – by virute of the presence of those US forces.  However, Reidar Visser argues that The Surge may have rendered even this bit of hoped-for leverage impotent.  Maliki might not view the threat of withdrawal with the same sense of urgency that he would have at some point in the past…

Indeed I think Visser is quite accurate.  To answer David Petraeus’ question way back when “How does this end?” only one of three ways:

1. A new dictator/strongman (call that The Maliki Option)
2. The Lebanonization of Iraq.
3. Federalization/Full Partition of the Country (The Yugoslavization of Iraq)

#3 is already partially the case with the Kurdistan as a separate country de facto (not de jure at this point).

So any discussion of the future of Iraq is always already a discussion of the non-Kurdish parts of Iraq. i.e. Even if Maliki becomes dictator it’s only of the non-Kurdish parts of Iraq.

Martin (via Visser) is discussing the possibility of number 1.  [Martin quoting Visser discusses some potential manuevers to stop this reality none of which I think would work–but give them a look you might find them possibly effective].

#2 involves the US leaving and the civil war re-ignitng but this time–unlike in #3 or the First Iraqi Civil War from 2004 to 2006–there are cross-ethnic/cross-sectarian alliances a la the Lebanese Civil War.  The Mahdi Army folks could hook up potentially against with the Sunni Tribesmen in an alliance of convenience against the Iraqi Army/Badrists.  Or the Kurds could be fighting Sunnis one day (on the Kirkuk side) while fighting the Shia government the next (potential flashpoints on the more eastern flank of the country).  Alliances woud shift, be temporary, and it would be hard to figure who is fighting who, good guys and bad guys and all the rest.  The net result of which would be a hollowed out state and the proliferation of militias (a la Hezbollah) that become de facto states-within-states with a weak central government, though the country still formally holds together, and is played by the neighboring powers (Iran as Syria in this analogy and the Saudis as well the Saudis in this analogy) in their quest for regional dominance.

Number three would be more like what we saw in the first phase of the Iraqi Civil War prior to the Surge.  Ethinc cleansing of the Sunni from Baghdad, refugees, and the Shia controllling the country.

But I see no way that the proposals of holding the country together as a democratic state make any sense in this regard.  There is no way these populations can be held together under the current circumstances under democratic rule.  Maliki could become a strongman who allows a more open economic situation–if he can get a handle on the violence–bring in foreign investment etc and try to make Iraq a kind of Malaysia/Singapore of the Middle East.

My general sense is that #2 and/or #3 is more likely.  But Maliki got more time with how the Surge has gone than I thought he would.  But the Tribesmen at the end of the day want a Sunni government and it ain’t gonna happen.  Maliki, Sistani, the Iranians their entire plan is based on one aim and one aim only–to keep the Shia in power.  No pressure from the US is going to change those aims.  Those aims are in direct conflict.  Not to mention Sadr and his aims (which are of a different sort still).

At the end of the day, I just don’t see a way in which Maliki’s future is tied to a deal with the Sunni.  Now that the Tribesmen are armed, seems to me he will have to defeat them before any such peace could be gained.

Is the democratic process going to continue after the US leaves?  Interestingly the only one who seems to be putting his chips in that pot is Sadr.  He could run a nationalist, pro-democratic, Hezbollah-like campaign in the event of a Lebanon-like reality in Iraq.

Published in: on November 7, 2008 at 8:36 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Spreading Fire

This doesn’t sound good:

U.S. military helicopters attacked territory inside Syria close to its border with Iraq Sunday, killing eight people in a strike the Syrian government condemned as “serious aggression.”

A U.S. military official said the raid by special forces targeted the foreign fighter network that travels through Syria into Iraq in an area where the Americans have been unable to shut it down because it was out of the military’s reach.

“We are taking matters into our own hands,” the official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the political sensitivity of cross-border raids.

Whatever vague hopes there are out there for a Syrian-Israeli peace deal probably aren’t helped by this kind of thing.  Certainly the Syrian-Iraq border has been a porous one through which all kinds of fighters, smuggling, and even refugees have passed in the years since the fall of Saddam.  Also, news of this probably doesn’t help I’m guessing at the very sensitive time of trying to negotiate a SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement).

Published in: on October 26, 2008 at 4:01 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Draft Iraq-US Security Agreement

Agreed to in principle.  Patrick Cockburn has the details.

Iraq and the United States have finally agreed on a security pact which would mean that US forces would withdraw from Iraq by 2011, American and Iraqi officials said yesterday.

And snuck at the bottom but extremely important:

The US has given ground on crucial issues. On the legal immunity of American troops Mr Dabbagh said: “Inside their bases, they will be under American law. Iraqi judicial law will be implemented in case these forces commit a serious and deliberate felony outside their military bases and when off duty.” Contractors, who have more men in Iraq than the US army, will no longer have immunity.

That last line is huge and I’m imagining the Private Military Contractors (PMCs) are going to start a pullout because their deal of legal immunity from Iraqi prosecution is a huge selling point on their side.  If some PMCs are still going to go, their asking price just went way up.

The US will hold soldiers more and more on bases to prevent prosecution, even the possibility of a scenario where civilians might accidentally be killed/wounded.

Because Iraqi justice is hanging gallows justice.  What this point towards, is what Thomas Ricks said might occur during Act 4 of the 5 Act Iraqi tragedy/drama that is about to unfold (The Surge was Act III).  In Act IV, which is the draw down/pull out of Iraq (which was inevitable, contra whatever “victory” talk McCain is on about) the Iraqis have to be seen to be anti-US, particularly Maliki and Crew, in the coming fight for who is going to control the country.

Maliki (as Cockburn notes) went to see Ayatollah Sistani (the guy who forced the US to have elections remember and ended Bremer’s tenure) and Sistani ok’ed the deal.  So it looks as if it will have no real problem passing through Parliament.

Readers will know that I am quite fearful that the Civil War is only in a kinda slowdown/temporary truce moment and the second the US starts major pull out, it’s bound to re-ignite.  I’m hope I’m wrong, but there is a 2 year window Obama has to try to manage some political arrangement, regional in character, that will prevent bodies in the street.  I just don’t see how the Sunni Tribes do not go after the Shia government/army.   The Sunnis have no chance of winning.  Iraq is now a Shia country essentially forever going forward.  Kurdistan has its more or less independence.  Even the Turks had to recognize it the other day.

But the Sunnis can do a lot of damage and are not going to take minority/out of power/dominance by the Shia lightly.  That is the ones who have left (the millions who have already fled and the hundreds of thousands who are already dead obviously aren’t part of that scenario).

I’ve also said that I think the only thing that might be salvagable is preventing the violence from spilling over into a regional war.  Which is the why the Turkish meeting with the Kurdish regional government is so important.

Published in: on October 16, 2008 at 11:34 am  Leave a Comment  
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debate live thread

[All times Pacific Standard]

8:05 McCain’s preening-hood was on display at the beginning, but he did manage to modulate it (slightly).  McCain had some moments where he looked relaxed and in command of his facts/talking points.  But the repeated shots at Obama was not pretty.  What is clear to me over the psychodrama that is his campaign especially in the last 48 hours or so, is that for all this “Obama is the Messiah” talk (he’s an image, a dream, gives a good speech), it’s all driven clearly by the fact that Obama gets under McCain’s skin.  McCain can’t handle not being the media darling.  Jilted lover with the media.  (Que sera, sera I say).  Obama just thinks McCain is a honorable old fool.  He has the decency and good sense not to get personal as McCain wants to do.  Not flattering.

McCain’s viewpoint is very limited to the 20th century.  His crieria of who is ready to lead is totally predicated on his insider-carpetbagger-aristocrat background.  Obama certainly isn’t that, so he doesn’t pass the test (whereas Hillary would by McCain’s standards).

I don’t know ultimately how Obama will turn out as president (if and when).  But I do know that I supported him from the get go (way back like 20 months ago now) because I’ve always sensed he had a different insight than all the others.  Even the ones I like (like Biden).  That intuition I find borne out again tonight.  I’m willing to take that chance, not because I know for sure Obama is the greatest being ever or something but because the way of operating that the Boomers have done has served its time and is now over.  They can help in the new order. Lend a hand if Bob Dylan were singing about it (or get outta the way).  But whatever, the same can not do.  While I still have some serious policy disagreements with Obama (check the thread), I didn’t see anything to dissuade me tonight.  I saw Obama give what I think was his strongest debate performance by far to date.

8:00 One correction. I said that McCain was only interested domestically in tax & spending cuts. Forgot Nuclear Power. (Yippee!!!–isn’t that what the Iranians say they are building their reactors for? Oh nevermind).

7:38 The ending was pretty flat from both of them as I said earlier. But overall I have to give it to Obama. Especially during that middle portion. McCain showed that the only domestic agenda he cares about is spending and the only foreign policy is Iraq and Russia/Georgia.

Obama looked sharp and in control. McCain settled in towards the end I think but at the beginning was really jittery.

7:37 McCain gets the last line and it’s actually a pretty decent one: He knows how to heal wounds of war, deal with enemies, work with friends.

7:36 McCain came back to Reform, Peace, Prosperity. Haven’t heard that slogan (only one of 15 or so he’s had so far this campaign) for awhile. I think that was given the McCain Campaign, four iterations ago.

7:35 McCain says that the veterans know he will take care of them. Except that he voted against the last bill (and the Webb GI Bill).

7:34 But little mini-comeback by referring to global vision versus the tunnel vision-“all chips in” on Iraq that is Bush-McCain.

7:33 I don’t like Fear the Chinese Dragon lines here from BO. Almost as dumb as McCain’s League of Democracies/Fear the Autocracies. The balloon is going on both of them.

7:31 BS on McCain Alert. If we lose in Iraq, al-Qaeda will have a base there. Not uh when the Sunni Tribesmen, Shia gov’t/Army, and/or Kurds kill them dude.

7:29 Neither of them are very strong on the “Are We Safer Question?”. Did Obama just support Star Wars (er Missile Defense)? Haven’t heard that before. Ugh.

7:27 McCain taking credit for Homeland Security? You can have it. If Biden were here, he would blow his top on McCain’s suggestion that they have done most of the recommendations.

7:22 Thumbs down to Obama for Georgia/Ukraine NATO entrance. Apparently it was all Russian aggression now in the CW (Larison is probably head in hands now). No Georgian aggression.

7:21 McCain’s story about Abkhazia where he saw a poster Putin for President just undermined his whole argument about how it was Georgian territory. Apparently they thought it wasn’t Georgian territory.

7:13 McCain’s attempt at a joke/dig at Obama for a seal just bombed out. McCain doesn’t get the difference between preparation and precondition. A precondition is say “Unless you stop all nuclear activity you will not get to talk with us.” Preparation is we put the issues we will discuss on the table. I was five seconds ahead of him as on a few others.

7:11 He is going back to Axis of Evil. Iraq had no WMDs. North Korea gets the message that if you don’t have a nuke you get overthrown (minus a security agreement) and BOOM–Builds one. And Iran…..same thing?

7:08 oh shit. he just flipped Kissinger wanting to talk with Iran on McCain after McCain just cited Kissinger & Nixon go to China. BAM!

7:06 zing. Obama hits McCain on how you need China and Russia (which my esteemed colleague would admit are not democracies).

7:05 League of Democracies. If I had liquor nearby, that would be a triple shot. On to Iran….

6:54. McCain just mispronounced the name of the new President of Pakistan. And now we are going to have THE SAME SURGE in Afghanistan as in Iraq. W-T-F? Who are the Awakening in this version? The Shia?

6:53. Obama’s strong on Afghanistan in his answer (though I still harbor question his policy). McCain is answering about the 80s. He just said we couldn’t leave Afghanistan like we did after the Soviet War. Except that is exactly what happened when we went into Iraq. McCain has got nothing on Afghanistan.

6:46: Obama’s got a very good answer on the troop funding. Obama is the only one to see strategy as a beyond one country tunnel vision. Strategy as Overall Strategy.

6:41. What is up with McCain bringing up the no-hearings on Afghanistan. Really he is so petulant. Obama just needs to keep it cool. McCain just said Obama doesn’t know the difference between a tactic and a strategy. Hello pot, kettle here.

6:39: Allright. Onto foreign policy. McCain’s answer on Iraq just made no sense. The lesson from Iraq was we can’t have a failed strategy that we will cause us almost to lose. Except that the STRATEGY is elections, the push for national reconciliation, creation of strong central government, NOT THE SURGE. Sorry Johnny. The Surge did not change the STRATEGY. The Surge is a tactic pinned to the Strategy which exists only to serve the goal (unified democratic Iraq).

6:35: Obama is getting to the issue of values. This is smart imo. McCain only has his value as less government/less spending. I don’t know it plays in this economy. Republican economic deregulation orthodoxy–like none of this fallout just happened.

6:30 [PST]: I wasn’t expecting it go about budget hawk wonkery. Kinda weird and has essentially nothing with the Bailout.

6:27 [PST]: Good question from Lehrer. What can they not do post-bailout? Obama is dodging a bit. He says he is still going forward with health care, energy, education, infrastructure. I think he actually is right–i.e. those things have to be done–but where is the cash? Do we just bust the budget because you know the Republicans get the levers of power again, they will f it up again. And the Democrats always have to come in (a la Clinton) and have their agenda screwed via Republican monetary malfeasance.

6:21 [PST]: McCain is giving the US has the 2nd highest corporate tax rate we need to be more like Ireland. Except that it’s on the books as the 2nd highest, there are so many loopholes, that the payout is much lower. Obama just makes the same point.

6:20 [PST]: WTF is with McCain’s monomania against earmarks? Seriously. Seriously dude. Now you wanna pick this fight?

6:19 [PST]: Obama is quick to make sure he doesn’t get the tax raiser/big spender librual.

6:17 [PST]: oooh. interesting. Obama has got his numbers and is calling McCain out on tax cuts for the rich. He’s doesn’t want McCain to grab populist ground. Pretty shrewd.

6:14 [PST]: McCain has got his talking points ready. Spending, responsibility, increased gov’t (nice Great Society shot there). I don’t know how this plays. God he just said earmarks are a gateway drug (like pot?)–DRUG WAR on EARMARKS? The Bears in Montana? WTF? How does this have anything to do with the financial crisis?

Surge Redux

As a follow up to my previous post about winning/losing & the surge, I thought this was interesting (h/t A.Sullivan):

By tracking the amount of light emitted by Baghdad neighborhoods at night, a team of UCLA geographers has uncovered fresh evidence that last year’s U.S. troop surge in Iraq may not have been as effective at improving security as some U.S. officials have maintained.

Night light in neighborhoods populated primarily by embattled Sunni residents declined dramatically just before the February 2007 surge and never returned, suggesting that ethnic cleansing by rival Shiites may have been largely responsible for the decrease in violence for which the U.S. military has claimed credit, the team reports in a new study based on publicly available satellite imagery.

“Essentially, our interpretation is that violence has declined in Baghdad because of intercommunal violence that reached a climax as the surge was beginning,” said lead author John Agnew, a UCLA professor of geography and authority on ethnic conflict. “By the launch of the surge, many of the targets of conflict had either been killed or fled the country, and they turned off the lights when they left.”

The surge as John Robb long ago pointed out was not winning but rather acceding to the reality of militia control of Iraq.  [Really that started with the Anbar Awakening which contra McCain preceded the Surge but whatever…]

The issue as I tried to make clear in the previous post (one among many) is the centrality of the political.  The surge can not succeed (or frankly fail) when it is hooked to a unreachable political  goal with an overall strategy (national reconciliation) which itself can never be achieved because it is a strategy attempting to reach an unreachable point (goal of democratic, unified Iraq). 

Particularly when the surge follows on the reality of ethnic cleansing because the cleansing is at heart political:  namely the fight over who gets to control the corpse of what used to be the Iraqi state.  The “failure” goes back to the inabiilty to “mind the gap” created in the wake of the destruction of the Baath police state in 2003-2004!!!!  The peace was already lost (i.e. two years+ prior to the surge).  Once it became clear that the US was not going to fill the vacuum, and that everything was returning to a Hobbesian state (weirdly with a Leviathan there but not a backup to deal with state formation)–i.e. the war of all against all–the Shia and Sunni got on doing what they had to do in that situation….a civil war. 

The Surge following upon all that could not and did not reverse that reality. How could it?  How could in a post-ethnic cleansing situation could anyone ever seriously ask about winning or success?  When hundreds of thousands are dead and millions more are refugees? 

What the Surge did do was prevent the vacuum from being filled–hence the anger of Maliki at the US for financing the Sunni Awakening Councils which he correctly perceives as a threat and not getting out fast enough.  He wants to fill that vacuum.   We will see whether the Surge has allowed groups to re-arm providing them the (false imo) hope of an attempt to recolonize and undo the ethnic cleansing.  If so, it is going to be scary violent. 



Re: Surge Succeeding?

I know this has been decided now because everybody keeps saying the surge has succeeded and I must look like some horrible anti-American left winger to question that assertion….but here goes.

As you may recall, the point of the surge as announced by President Bush was to create “breathing space for national reconciliation.”  So in the technical (sorta literal) sense of that formulation the surge succeeded.  It did create that breathing room.

Of course the reconciliation never happened.  And is never going to happen.  In Bush’s self-declared criterion for the surge, the clear implication being that the breathing room is a means to an end (reconciliation) or at least a means to a bigger means (reconciliation) which is itself a means to an end (peaceful democratic Iraq).

So achieving the means but the means not translating into the ends by most standards would be considered a failure.  I mean really what is the point of achieving the means if the means doesn’t lead to the end desired?

This is however not a knock on Petraeus or the soldiers.  They achieved their end of the deal.  They did so as much if not more through finesse than brute strength (contra many right-wing cheerleaders) but did so nonetheless.  But they were set up for a failed mission for the get go and that is entirely missed in all the discussion about “Are we Winning or Losing?”  Winning and Losing what?  Winning battles? Sure.  But winning battles and even having a better COIN doctrine has not, does not and will not translate into lasting political achievement (losing).  Or rather into a situation where winning/losing as we normally conceive of them doesn’t apply.

The key point to remember in this is that Iraq under Saddam was a police state and the United States destroyed and utterly overthrew the remnants of that state–particularly under Bremer with de-Baathification, army dismemberment, etc.  The US however did not replace that vacuum that inevitably arose in the aftermath of that police state wipeout.

The United States during the Gen. Casey years of Big Superbase Entrenchment (prior to the Anbar Awakening and later the Surge) left the vacuum open and it was filled by the Civil War.  At that point mostly Shia-Sunni (the potential for Kurd-Sunni and even Kurd-Shia Civil War is increasing by the day for Civil War 2.0).

What the Petraeus COIN did was put a seal around the vacuum but did not fill it.  It prevented/hampered others from filling that void and then made side-deals with essentially all available militias outside the sealed vacuum.

But the vacuum remains to be filled.  And that is why no reconciliation will take place.  Because A)there is no legitimate government with which to make deals  B)everybody is simply waiting for their moment to rush the vacuum so why make deals prior to the fight?  Why possibly screw yourself and your militia/ethnic grouping for the future prior to what is actually going to decide that outcome (i.e. violence)?

The surge then failed because it never had a chance to succeed. (edit: relative to the goal) . Petraeus will go so far as to say that the US military can not win the peace.  i.e. It can continue to win military battles but it can not enforce national reconciliation.  On that score he is right (contra McCain) yet there is another piece to add: the presence of the US occupation works as the primary excuse for the lack of a reconciliation.  The political reconciliation desired is not going to hapen anyway in my opinion, but the US army occupation allows everybody to use that as an excuse to not do so anyway.  [And not fight openly at the moment either.]

iow, There will be no reconciliation as long as US troops are there.  The reconciliation won’t happen until there is a new equilibrium reached vis a vis the nation-state vacuum.  That is, until after a new round of fighting I fear.  I generally favor the Biden-Gelb plan for federalization but that looks like a no go from the Iraqi side.  The leadership and the populace it appears both wants to go at each other across ethnic-sectarian lines and yet not devolve either (excepting Kurdistan of course).  That is in my mind a recipe for bloodshed and perhaps the Lebanonization of Iraq where the next civil war cuts across lines with certain Sunni groups perhaps aligning with certain Shia groupings and vice versa.

But the continued policy of the occupation only grows the seal around the vacuum.  It never fills it.  Maliki is doing his best to try and use the occupation (and the training of the Iraqi Army/Shia militia) to allow him to fill the vacuum as a Shia Neo-Dictator (the only the country is held together with a strong government) playing his hand now to push the Americans out.  He both needed them to build up his forces and now needs them out of battle/the streets to gain his legitimacy with the populace.

If violence re-erupts on a much larger scale (as I’m afraid to say I think is inevitable) I wonder whether we will look back on the surge as a kind of timeout before round 2 rather than success.

Update I: This is far from the best analogy, but what I’m trying to get at is something like creating a strategy that is going to create breathing room in my life so that someone can send me a trillion dollar check.  Whatever we decide are the appropriate mechanisms whereby to achieve that strategy, let’s surmise I meet them, i.e. I do create the breathing room for receiving my trillion dollar check—it doesn’t matter.  Because no one is ever going to send me a trillion dollar check (national reconciliation in this analogy and then even further out/by extension democratic stable unified Iraq).  So if I achieve that strategy (“breathing room”) but it is hitched to a completely unrealizable goal (reconciliation/trilliion dollar check receipt) what is the point of having the strategy?  And what sense does it make or even matter if the strategy (breathing room) is achieved or not?  Why focus on the strategy when the goal is unreachable?

The trillion dollar check example of course is harmless.  All that’s lost is my time (and perhaps some money).  But with the surge of course it comes at the cost of more wounded and dead soldiers and debt.  [The calculation of dead relative to Iraqi civilians is hard to decipher in this context, but the calculation relative to the US is clear].

Update II: What I’m really suggesting is that the question about succeeding or not succeeding is the wrong question.  In some ways it can be said to have succeeded, in other ways I would say not (given that is it’s connected to a failed/unrealizable goal which has to effect the status vis a vis a determination of the tactic like it or not).  But ultimately the question is about the goal of the democratic unified Iraq and the primary means of trynig achieve that goal being through a national reconciliation (so-called) political deal.  The surge is simply a tactic to give space for the strategy (reconciliation) which is the way to achieve the goal (democractic unified Iraq).  Each layer (tactic-strategy-goal) can be thought of as kind of emergent (not defined solely by the addition of its simpler parts) and hence judgment regarding effectiveness or not depends on which layer we are discussing.  My assertion is that only looking at the tactical level is the simplest (in the bad sense, aka simplistic) form of evaluation.

The flaw of the McCain position has always been that victory at the lowest level of complexity (tactical-military) will automatically bubble up into more complex layers (political).  This is why he still uses the frame of a war–because then the way to win is through military battles.  But if as I’m suggesting each layer has emergent properties then this entire view is stopped short right there.

Published in: on September 17, 2008 at 9:20 am  Comments (2)  
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