Iraq June 30th


Chris Dierkes

Chris Dierkes (aka CJ Smith). 29 years old, happily married, adroit purveyor and voracious student of all kinds of information, theories, methods of inquiry, and forms of practice. Studying to be a priest in the Anglican Church in Canada. Main interests: military theory, diplomacy, foreign affairs, medieval history, religion & politics (esp. Islam and Christianity), and political grand bargains of all shapes and sizes.

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  1. Avatar E.D. Kain says:

    Clear and informative as ever, Chris. Thanks. I think you cut to the heart of what bothers me about so much of the analysis surrounding Iraq:

    Those types of analysis are so focused on the US side of it to the exclusion of the locas themselves; there is no agency from the Iraqis. Everything is determined simply by what the US does (or doesn’t do as the argument may be).


  2. Avatar Patrick Duffy says:

    The “facts on the ground” were that Sadaam was the leader of an oppressive minority, not unlike the whites in South Africa. Any step towards democracy was going to result in a Shia led government. To the extent that a government that could only rule by oppression, i.e. force, has been replaced by one that has general support, then what America has done is a step in the right direction.

    By “general support,” I do not mean to imply that everyone agrees with Maliki, et al., but rather that there is the glimmer of the concept of a loyal opposition, at least among the Shia who do not support him. The Sunni can choose to stand aloof, but that won’t get them anywhere. In the long run, they will have to reconcile themselves to being deal making players. Likewise, the Kurds are, essentially, allied with the Shia at the moment, even if only to continue an implied federal government. (Remember that a provincial government beholden to the local people, rather than the government in Baghdad, is still a strange concept in Iraq.)

    The real key is whether Maliki will pass power to someone else when he loses popular support, or whether he will try to retain power by force, a la Iran. Americans have a tendency to love the ‘man on a horse’ in other countries, if only because it is so easy to deal with one guy who can make a decision, rather than having to mess around with all kinds of legislators, etc. We have this puritanical history of not wanting to simply buy off the legislators, the way the foreigners buy American congressmen and women.Report

    • Avatar Chris Dierkes in reply to Patrick Duffy says:

      Definitely as soon as democracy was going to be introduced, then the Shia (by dint of numbers) win out. I still don’t really think much will happen in the way of integration of Sunni whether or not they stand on the sidelines or not. Pretty zero-sum in my estimation.

      But that’s a good point you raise about whether Maliki will stay on past his best by date. Or whether down the road there is ever peaceful transfer of power. I could see the country not going as far down that road as say Egypt or now Iran appears to.

      What I do think is the Sunni are basically out of power and are going to be left to criminality, joblessness, anger, frustration, and lack of political voice for a long time to come.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Patrick Duffy says:

      You’re right that Saddam was responsible for the state terror against Shi’a that kept him in power. Unfortunately, because of our actions we now are partly responsible for the retributory social violence against Sunnis that followed, as well as that which was used to combat the insurgency and ultimately ethnically cleanse large parts of Baghdad and other cities.

      At the end of twenty years in country, it will be a moral abnegation of the first order on our part if the dominant historical analysis of our involvement in Iraq is limited to a simple comparison of two states of affairs there: pre-invasion — Saddam in power, butchering, representing an ethnic minority, violently oppressing the majority; and post-involvement (best-case scenario) — permanent “non-combat” U.S. presence securing natural resources and supporting Iraqi security forces, absurdly corrupt but nominally representative Shi’a-dominated parliamentary government in power, Sunnis legally and electorally oppressed. If what we are doing as citizen observers when or if such a rosy scenario as the second of these unfolds is sitting back and congratulating ourselves for a job well done without taking into account the carnage that we unilaterally (ie without the consent of Iraqis) unleashed on the country in the making of the new reality there, we will be putting on a breathtaking display of historical amnesia and moral arrogance.

      Ours is not to decide when the political order in foreign countries have run their course and to go in and use our obscene level of hard-power advantage to bring about, at whatever cost to those directly affected, new political orders conceived in ignorance of the societies to which we are attempting to apply them. Historical change is lethal. It astounds me to see the level of appetite that still remains among many Americans to see the U.S. continue to attempt to play that role in the world.Report

      • Avatar Chris Dierkes in reply to Michael Drew says:

        I didn’t support the invasion, so I’m with you on that.

        I don’t think the Shia-stan Iraq or whatever you call it will turn out as well as quickly as Kurdistan. I see Kurdistan heading in a kind of Singapore-esque direction. But as long as Iraq doesn’t go totally Egypt it will be a helluva lot better than the surrounding neighborhood (minus Turkey). I still opposed the thing and certainly opposed so stupidly allowing a giant vacuum to be created. I generally favored something more like a de-centralization or even a separation into different countries (a la VP Biden), if chosen by the people and not imperially done by the West of course. Still I expect Sunni-stan to have a very bad time going forward. Hope I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure that’s where it’s headed.Report

        • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Chris Dierkes says:

          I’m definitely not responding directly to you on this (see below), but rather to the generic sense that we must have been right to invade since now the majority rules Iraq, as if the costs to along the way to Iraqis and the question of whether establishing that political order was our decision to make were irrelevant.

          And yeah, my rosy scenario is very rosy by design.Report

  3. Avatar Michael Drew says:


    Another truly remarkable post on war and politics. I do greatly appreciate your pushback against the notion that we are close to any kind of conclusion in Iraq. If we listened to the likes of Peter Feaver, we’ve been at that point since, oh, May 2003.

    In that context, my quibble is very minor, but nevertheless here goes. In regards to your (I guess really Ricks’) five Acts, I think the division points you give make sense, but i wish there were some way to give a better sense of the true reality encompassed within each. Ideally it would be quantitative as well as qualitative, including for example the start and end dates and the number of American and Iraqi casualties incurred in each (completed) Act, as well as a conceptual description of what as going on in the country during each. If it did, I think we would see that the description given for Act II rather grossly understates the magnitude of what went on during those years (which given the scope of this post is perfectly understandable; that’s why I wanted to amend this comment). As just one example of what we don’t see reflected in the phrase ” The Rise of the Insurgency and the failure of the US to win the peace phase” as the Act II subtitle is the civil war that occurred. (You do mention it elsewhere in the post.)

    Perhaps in lieu of attempting more technically accurate descriptors for Act titles, we could simply opt ofr more evocative language, for example: Act I: Blind into Baghdad (following Fallows); Act II: Iraq’s Long, Dark Night in Hell; Act III: U.S. Doubles Down Irrelevantly As Iraq’s New Strongman Emerges; Act IV Maliki Consolidates Shi’a Dominance, U.S. “Leaves”; Act V: Shi’a Dominance Further Facilitates Rise of newly Authoritarian Iran, “Non-Combat” U.S. Soldiers Remain Indefinitely To Ensure Natural Resource Security.Report

    • Avatar Chris Dierkes in reply to Michael Drew says:


      I like your version of the Five Acts. At some points, I’ve wondered, but never really followed up on it, whether extending the metaphor we could have Scenes.

      Like Act II, as you point out, is of a magnitude far greater than what came before or after.

      Act II Scene i: Bremer’s Viceroyalty. (disbanding of army, de-baathification, de-unionization)
      Act II Scene ii: Rise of Insurgency (failure to take note by Americans)
      Act II Scene iii: Bombing of Samarra Mosque turns Moqtada al Sadr & Shia death squads against the Sunni as the Civil War takes on a new bloodier phase
      Act II Scene iv: Ethnic Cleansing of Baghdad by Shia & increased casualties on American side.
      Act III Scene v: The Elections

      Something like that maybe?Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Chris Dierkes says:

        You are on to something. Act II is certainly epic in and of itself. Some analysts might see Act II as emblematic and typical of the entire effort writ large, but others might see it as representative of the central tactical and moral struggle (ie victory) that lay at the heart of the effort all along. There will be a battle of worldviews-cum-souls about which is the proper way to view the events of 2005-08, on which much future U.S.-foreign-policy direction will rest.Report

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