Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Friday, December 30, 2005

The Hidden Dangers in Iraq

I have been talking to some of my colleagues from the region. And they all sing the same tune, whether they be Kurdish, Arab, or Iraqi. Iraq, they say will split into 3 sectors: Kurdistan to the North, The Shiites to the south, and the Sunnis in the big oil-less middle. Today, one of my colleagues brought me this article from the San Jose Mercury News, "Kurds in Iraq prepare to form a state in the north". This article basically talks about the strength of ethnic identities in Iraq and how the militias are posing as the Iraqi army for now, but will be ready to move once the U.S. military is out of the way.

This reminds me of the former Yugoslavia. It was a collection of ethnic groups that had been held together by the force of a single dictator. Once Tito was gone, Yugoslavia was only able to hold together for a few years before it disintegrated into a civil war that for the moment has resulted in 3 countries, and perhaps more if Montenegro and Kosovo go. But the analogy ends there. There was no oil to fight over and there was no Iran sitting next door, ready to move in.

It appears that all the groups have agreed to appease the Americans to get us out. Then, they will begin hacking at each other. Iran is poised to participate. Currently, there are reports in Arab media about silent militias supplied by Iran in Iraq. They are quietly waiting for us to leave.

The Arabs believe that this fragmenting of Iraq was part of the American strategy all along. I disagree. I fail to see much benefit to the U.S. While the U.S. may get preference with Kurdish Oil, we wouldn't with Shiite oil from the South. My guess is that the Shiites will be under the heavy influence of Iran. In fact, Iranian influence may well insure that the southern oil ends up in China.

We know that Iran is close to having the bomb if it doesn’t already. And what a target they have with 150,000 U.S. troops sitting in Iraq!

The Turks may be able to live with a Kurdistan so long as its territorial integrity is not threatened. It has loosened some of limitations on its ethnic Kurds to placate the EU, and perhaps to ease some of the ethnic tensions should a Kurdistan arise from Iraq. They will get plenty of help from the U.S.

My hunch is that the U.S. has been quietly using Turkish air bases for its Iraq activities and that the U.S. has plans to attack Iran in which Turkish air bases will be used. It isn't in Turkish interests to hamper the U.S. If you view Turkey’s profile you will see it is the 3rd largest recipient of U.S. military hardware (although these numbers seem to contradict those that I took from the Military Census and posted yesterday in my comments. The statistical criteria may be different.). The Clinton Administration was especially generous with Turkey. Of course, having a plan and using it are two different things.

Then there are the effects that a fragmented Iraq would have on Syria, Israel, and the rest. The neo-cons opened a can of worms in Iraq that I am certain they hadn’t bargained for. They still thought it was 1991 and we’d have unified Iraqis throwing roses at us.


Anonymous said...

I'm not convinced an independent Kurdistan (with oil) would be such a bad thing. They'd have to find ways to deal with the Turks especially that would be profitable for the Turks and at the same time, Turkey is getting lots of pressure from the EU to ease up on the Kurds living in Turkey.

The relationship between Shiite Arabs and Iran is more troubling as would be a poverty stricken, oiless Sunni state with a grudge against America and isolated from everyone would be Afghanistan all over again.

This is exactly why people said not to invade in the first place.  

// posted by Raised By Republicans

Anonymous said...

One thing the USA is not short of is enough weapons too turn a country into a smoking hole in the ground, and no pesky international rules of engagement requirements to stop them dropping fuel air explosives, daisy cutters and the like. The US may have something to work on in their nation building abilities, but no-one doubts their ability to bomb the crap out of a place.

Hence I would have thought that there would be no way the Iranians would use a nuke, especially against the Americans. You drop a nuke on the US, and you guys won't be thinking nation building. (Then watch the Lockheed Martin and Boeing share prices...) I would doubt the Iranians would be that crazy. 

// posted by Koala Boy

Anonymous said...

I agree with Koala Boy about Iran being deterable. Even Hitler and Saddam were detered from using chemical and nuclear weapons against equally armed opponents. Iran is ruled by a much more inclusive form of dictatorship than either NAZI Germany or Baathist Iraq. They should be more effectively deterred.

But my fear is not a what a nuclear armed Iran would do to the USA directly. I'm more concerned about what they would to their more immediate neighbors that don't have nukes themselves (like the Gulf States and the "Stans" in central Asia). Would an Iranian dominated Shiite state in what is now Southern and Eastern Iraq make that situation worse? I think it would.

As for nation's not something a country's leaders can learn how to do. One can't buy "democracy in a can" and go around giving or imposing it on other countries. The very premis is flawed. Democracy can only be sustained by underlying economic conditions that cannot be imposed by military force. I've posted in the past about how I think dependence on oil exports prevents stable democracy. I said in those posts that if we wanted to help Iraq, we should let the insurgents blow up all the oil wells and put all the aid money into small business loans and sports shoe and computer chip factories and then wait 20 years. 

// posted by Raised By Republicans

US West said...

RBR is correct. And even if Iran nuked the US, depending on the size of the bomb, there may be no one left alive to retaliate.

The real danger lies for Israel. They also have the bomb. What Iran wants is the Muslim Bomb to counter Israel. The whole region is a proverbal powder keg.

RBR is also right about nation building. Arabs have to make very nasty trade off in the Middle East.

If they want stability, security, and secularism they have to sacrifice western-style democratic freedoms. If they want western-style Democratic freedoms, they sacrifice stability and security and this leads to a lack of secularism. For generations, Arabs have chosen stability, security, and secularism over freedom as we see it.

When you attempt to nation build in the Middle East, the outcome will always be the same . . . chaos. And when there is chaos, people search for leadership. And in the Middle East, they find it in the Mosque.

Now, what you see happening is that stability is threatended now in some places, like Saudi Arabia and Syria. Why? Because the royal families have gone to such excesses, as traditional style monarchies will, that resentment is building. Arab democracy will not be like ours if and when it arrives.This is how "democracy" must come- at the hands of the people who have deemed their leadership unjust. This is how the oldest and most successful democracies have come about.

Anonymous said...

USWest makes a very important point. Democracy comes only when the people actually seize power, by checking the executive authority, be it monarchical or otherwise. Arabs will do so for their own reasons, not for ours.

However, I disagree with this assertion: "For generations, Arabs have chosen stability, security, and secularism over freedom as we see it." I think, rather, that this choice was imposed upon them by their leaders. And the path to democracy will entail instability, insecurity, even periods of violent religiosity. Iran is a place where we begin to see the contest for power playing itself out within an institutional, rather than military, context. That is the beginning of democracy.


// posted by LTG

Anonymous said...

To understand why you end up with Arab dictators of varying degrees, you have to understand how Arabs view leadership and obtaining it. It is embedded in Islam and it is embedded in the culture. You may not like or agree with the leadership, but since the majority in the community agree that this is the leader, you go with it. Arabs place community "harmony" or loyality over their own interests and often despite reason. I've seen it in action on a small scale several times in my own work environment and I have discussed it in great detail in previous blogs.

Granted, some of the leadership has been imposed, in the Arab view,largely because of geopolitics influenced by the West (i.e. U.S.). Since they can't really revolt against their own leaders, they blame the U.S., the West, whatever. This is why Arabs (speaking is a hugely general manner for the sake of arguement) appear more willing to shed blood to battle "the West" or Israel, but not to overthrow their own leaders.

Egypt is a prime example where all the elements are there for major change and it isn't happening. But most Egyptians will tell you they resent the level of U.S. money in their country. Amd the level of anti-Americanism is high. 

// posted by USWest

Anonymous said...

USWest writes: "Arabs place community "harmony" or loyalty over their own interests and often despite reason."

Really? An informal survey would suggest that the Arab countries are among the most politically violent and unstable in the world. Certainly, Sunni Arabs in Iraq are not behaving this way, are they? I am skeptical of such cultural explanations of behavior, particularly when I'm not sure they even line up with observations. 

// posted by LTG

Anonymous said...

Just plain scarry. 

// posted by paulsen

Anonymous said...

Cultural explanations for political phenomena are not valid. The roots of Arab dictatorships are the same as the roots of subsaharan African dicatorships: economies that dependent on state distribution of aid money (Egypt) or a single export comodity such as oil or coffee (pretty much everyone else).

Cultural explanations also confuse effect with cause. Culture is a symptom of socio-economics not a cause of it. Government types are also a symptom of socio-economics. That much Marx was 100% correct about.

Cultural explanations are popular however because they are easy to make and difficult to either nail down to specific predictions or tests. So they have great potential to score "points" in cocktail party arguments. But they have zero predictive power in real life.

I also believe cultural explanations are inherently racist. They come dangerously close to saying that Arabs have dictatorships because they are Arabs. Poppycock!

In the past people made similarly silly statements about French, German, Italian, Spanish, Latin American, Greek, Japanese, Korean and Chinese cultures. Yet we now see thriving democracies in conjunction with all of those cultures. Why should we think Arabic culture is different? 

// posted by Raised By Republicans

US West said...

I was trying to avoid going into details, but since RBR managed to call me racists and stupid all in the same post, I feel compelled to better develop my point.

Allow me to start with a caveat. Not all Arabs are Muslims and not all Muslims are Arabs. There is Arab culture and Islamic culture and the two are intimately tied together. In the Middle East, Islam is an undeniable force. Islam represented a cultural and political revolution for a region that was dominated by nomadic tribes. By the time of Mohammed, some of these tribes were beginning to settle, but the tribal ways of conducting business were still alive and well, which meant things were pretty much in a state of brutish nature. Mohammed was attempting to create a body of religious law that would moderate tribal behaviors by changing the thinking of the people involved, no different than what Jesus, Confucius, or Buddha did. This is why Islam is so detailed and far-reaching in its scope. When you start to study it, it is quite impressive and quite complex. The documentation alone is incredible. But I digress.

Generally, the violence in the Arab world is directed more towards outsiders, than towards insiders. Fitna (Muslims killing Muslims) is forbidden. But, as with many rules, there are exceptions and loopholes. Insurgent attacks that kill Muslims and suicide attacks that kill anyone are generally viewed as unacceptable to the larger Arab public. For instance, the recent attacks in Jordan brought street protests against suicide bombers. But they are applauded in Palestine because they are deemed as legitimate weapons in a larger war.

Fitna is not wrong if your fellow Muslim is collaborating with an enemy of Islam. Islam prohibits violence against people in general and requires that Muslims appreciate and emulate the good in other cultures and reject the bad. Muslims are required to live peacefully with non-Muslim neighbors. So violence is frowned upon. However, if your neighbors are attempting to destroy your "way of life" or if they strike the first blow against you, you are duty bound to defend yourself. The argument among fundamentalists and even some non-fundamentalist is that Western imperialism constitutes the first blow against Muslims and must be countered. Since there is no high authority in Islam (unless you are Shia), and since the duties described above are meant to rule individual actions within the community, an individual can choose to declare jihad and then raise his friends to do the same. Again, however, to raise a formal "jihad" it is recommended that an individual do so first through consultation or Shura. But interpretations of Islamic law are up to individual interpretation.

Shura is how all decision-making is to be done and it pre-dates Islam. It is how pre-Islamic tribes selected leaders and made decisions. Islam adopted this concept. Liberal Muslims point out that the roots of representative democracy are thus solid in Islam. More conservative Muslims say that Islam requires submission to existing rulers, however they are chosen, so long as they govern according to Sharia or Islamic law. This law also mandates that the chosen ruler be just, and justice logically follows if he is ruling according to Sharia

Rulers are required to seek consultation with their advisors, but they are aren't required to follow the advice given. When the ruler has made a decision, his advisors are required to carry out his decision, even if they don't agree with it. The people have chose him through Shura and that is the final rule. In a way, we are no different. We had a contested election in 2000 and we allowed the Supreme Court to rule and we had no choice but to accept that. This is how you avoid anarchy.

Since Sharia law, like all law is open to interpretation and fluid depending which Islamic sect you belong to, it is fairly easy to allow an unjust ruler to continue ruling. That is what I was getting at when I said that community harmony is often held higher than individual opinion. Once the leader is selected, that 's it. This is one of several reasons why many Palestinians (for example), while unhappy with Arafat, didn't try to replace him.

As for RBR, whose academic sensibilities were offended at the very mention of culture . . . I agree that culture is shaped by socio-economic forces at the root. That is why anthropology is interesting. How societies were formed and what sustained them contributes to our understanding of people today. Political science is the study of soceity and how it is organized and run. How it can avoid understanding the culture behind that boggles me.

States are made up of nations- of people. States are human enterprises. In the nature vs. nurture argument, we all understand that both interact to form an individual who then participates in society. The snobbery of political scientists toward culture creates is a serious blind spot in the analysis that tries to reduce International Relations to pure politics. Perhaps if political scientists bothered to consider culture, there would be more diplomacy beyond protocol in the world. And I hardly understand how attempting to understand the mindset of a given group of people by trying to understand their culture is racists. Political science is one component of social science and the humanities. It isn't the be all and end all.

I work with Arabs, and what I am telling you is what Arabs tell me about themselves, what I read in the Arab media (translated for me, of course), and what anthropologists have written about Arabs. I might see the same thing in a different group of people if I worked with them and attempted to understand what motivates them. Because I understand French history, I understand why they chose a strong leadership model and why their attitudes towards foreigners are as they are. These things don't come from a vacuum. They are part of a longer historical thread that influences every aspect of the society

So, RBR, I suggest you step down from your high horse.

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