May 26, 2005
Up Shiite's Creek?
Here's a sober way to begin the long Memorial Day weekend. Juan Cole, a history professor at the University of Michigan, writes a challenging blog called Informed Comment, offering his expertise on what happening in the Middle East. Often readers ask him for answers, not just questions, about the quagmire that is Iraq. His latest post tries to help, beginning, "there aren't any short-term easy solutions to the problems in Iraq.
"The US military cannot defeat the Sunni Arab guerrilla movement any time soon for so many reasons that they cannot all be listed." But he gives it a go, contending:
The US has only 10,000 troops for the entire Anbar province, a center of insurgency with a population of 810,000. He cites estimates from an Iraqi official that 40,000 guerrillas are active, and another 80,000 people closely support them.
The guerrillas know the clans, the terrain and the urban landscape. They know Arabic and are Muslims, which gives them sympathy from other Muslims. "American audiences often forget that the US troops in Iraq are mostly clueless about what is going on around them, and do not have the knowledge base or skills to conduct effective counter-insurgency," he writes. Outside Kurdistan, the Americans are widely distrusted, and are seen as Christian occupiers.
More problems: US military tactics of replying to attacks with massive force, increasingly alienate Sunni Arabs. Cole contends it will take the new Iraqi troops three to five years before they can acquit themselves well against the militants. It doesn't help that they are largely Shiite and Kurdish. Even so, "there is every reason to believe that the new Iraqi military is heavily infiltrated with sympathizers of the guerrillas."
What does this mean? That the United States is stuck in Iraq for the medium term, and perhaps the long term, he concludes. He sees the guerrilla war raging for at least a decade, maybe 15 years.
In the long run, say 15 years, the Iraqi Sunnis will probably do as the Lebanese Maronites did, and finally admit that they just cannot remain in control of the country and will have to compromise. That is, if there is still an Iraq at that point.
Before we fire up the grill, how about a ray of hope.
Or a sense of place that didn't make the paper.
Or a little about bloggy Arabia.
How tiring. Another bit of partisan proseletyzing about the "quagmire" in Iraq. It's Vietnam all over again, folks!
I'd point out the evidence otherwise (www.chrenkoff.blogspot.com), but you probably aren't interested in having your well-informed and factually-supported world view challenged with facts and information.
Do you even read anything that doesn't tendentiously support your oddball view of US foreign policy and military operations?
I know Juan Cole doesn't.
Posted by: William Young | May 27, 2005 8:24:36 AM
A couple of Sunday's ago, the Philly Inq. ran a story about how the election in Iraq is causing more chaos, etc. All hope is lost, etc.
Selective quotes were used.
The same writer could have spun it thusly: since the election has instilled hope in Iraq and has inspired many in the Middle East the terrorists (not insurgents) know the jig is up and are desperate. Therefore, they will get more violent.
Does anyone think indiscriminate violence is an effective strategy for the hearts and minds of Iraqis?
Posted by: Geoff | May 27, 2005 8:35:24 AM
D, I SWEAR I'm not doing this just to promote my little dumb site, but this image is the one that requires a better narrative:
That image won't be found in the MSM either, because it wasn't shot by a journalist or someone pretending to be one for pay. And yet it's 100 times more compelling than any image of Iraq so far, don't you think?
Who are the bad guys here, and what would you do to stop them? I don't know if it's worth $200 B or however much this is going to wind up costing. But whatever we can do for that little girl... or for her friends... I would do it, wouldn't you?
So how's that fit into the narrative? Sh!t happens, let's go cover something else?
Posted by: Undertoad | May 27, 2005 10:07:55 AM
UT: That is an amazing photograph, particularly blown up to the size you've chosen for your site. I'm also linking directly to the story about the picture, which Michael Yon, now in Iraq, posts on his site:
It's a good counterpoint you offer to this debate - yeah, but what choice have we when we see something like this.
But one objection: the 'let's go cover something else' part. I have many friends who have spent months and months and months over there as reporters, and they are working under the hardest conditions I have ever seen. I've done reporter duty in the Balkans and in Israel during real fighting, and real terror, and it is nothing like what it is like to try to do the job in Iraq. We don't move on. We are still there, plugging away. We are paying attention.
Posted by: Daniel Rubin | May 27, 2005 10:33:29 AM
Some background on Cole:
"When Karen Kwiatkowsky, a retired US Air Force Lt. Colonel critical of US policy in Iraq, analyzed the war aims of the Neocon network, Cole berated her for not pointing to a Jewish conspiracy. “I am surprised she left out what surely was the Neocons’ major concern, which is that Iraq, Iran and Syria stood in the way of Ariel Sharon’s continued theft of Arab land in the Occupied territories and potentially elsewhere...”
...Ignoring facts that even CBS accepted, Cole states that “Saddam Hussein never gave any real support to the Palestinian cause, and he did not pay suicide bombers to blow themselves up.”
...Cole is capable of dangerous sophistry regarding his own chosen subject of study: “Are there Muslims who are fascists? Sure. But there is no Islamic fascism, since “Islam” has to do with the highest ideals of the religion.”
Nice, levelheaded guy you're featuring here, Daniel...
Posted by: db_cooper | May 27, 2005 10:38:35 AM
Please, please stop linking to Juan Cole as if he has any idea what he's talking about. There are plenty of others out there who have a pessimistic view of the war in Iraq whose personal fortunes won't rise with the success of the insurgency and the wounding of the Bush administration. Mr. Cole represents a very dangerous and destabilizing factor in the American politic: the 'experts' on the Middle East from academe. I studied at NYU and learned from these people, including from people like Edward Said and Tim Mitchell. But any student of the Middle East understands that people like the departed Said, Robbins and Cole represent an advocacy position for one side in the conflict. They are not interpreters of a very confusing situation for Americans who are very undeducated on the region. They are advocates. I read Cole to understand one aspect of the insurgency's political thinking (I'm not accusing him of being the enemy, I'm just saying that he verbalizes the insurgency's talking points well). But having gone through many years of post-graduate education in Cole's field, I know that it's a huge misjudgment to consider what Cole has to say as anything but propaganda. The man is the Ben Hecht of the Jihadi movement. Please don't misguide your readers into thinking he's coming from the well-reasoned center.
Posted by: Sam Jaffe | May 27, 2005 10:51:15 AM
That's a clever post, db. You've done some heavy editing of an opinion-soaked piece. It is background, but it is background from an equally "unlevel" point of view. My feeling about Cole is that he has been the most useful in explaining how extremists think - something we need to know. When I wonder why portions of the world hate us, I go to read him, because he's got a good, multi-layered sense of it. I was reporting in Israel when the news broke about Saddam Hussein paying between $10,000 and $25,000 to the families of dead suicide bombers via the PALF. That is giving support to the Palestinian cause, in my book. But I still read Cole regularly, and I wouldn't tar him so casually.
Posted by: Daniel Rubin | May 27, 2005 11:08:57 AM
D, I know "let's go cover something else" is a bit of a cheap shot... because if that little girl isn't getting blown up by guerillas, she's facing the crappiest of regimes and has no real hope and no real future.
I sure don't have an answer here but I feel like the overall narrative of Iraq that we have is lacking. You know why. The everyday news concentrates on each daily event, and that tells us basically nothing. Imagine seeing Philadelphia from the point of view of local news coverage: you would assume that the highways are covered in blood and every neighborhood has a house on fire with crying displaced families. OK, maybe that's an accurate narrative. But you get my point.
Posted by: Undertoad | May 27, 2005 11:12:48 AM
"That's a clever post, db. You've done some heavy editing of an opinion-soaked piece."
Well, I could have just posted the entire piece into your blog, but I dont't think you would have wanted that. Which is why I provided the link to the original, which in turn has links to the sources.
"It is background, but it is background from an equally "unlevel" point of view."
These are Cole's own quotes, Daniel.
"My feeling about Cole is that he has been the most useful in explaining how extremists think - something we need to know."
It isn't that hard to figure out how the extremists think - they tell us all the time what they are thinking and what they wish. At the end of the day, the Sunni insurrectionists are former Baathists. They didn't have any problem killing lots of their own countrymen when they were in power, and they have no qualms about killing lots of their own countrymen to try and get back into power.
"When I wonder why portions of the world hate us, I go to read him, because he's got a good, multi-layered sense of it."
Yeah, that "it's the Joos" underlying attitude sure gives him a good multi-layers sense.
"I was reporting in Israel when the news broke about Saddam Hussein paying between $10,000 and $25,000 to the families of dead suicide bombers via the PALF. That is giving support to the Palestinian cause, in my book."
Something that Cole denies or downplays.
"But I still read Cole regularly, and I wouldn't tar him so casually."
He tars himself with his own words, Daniel. And you are twisting yourself around in circles to avoid confronting that basic fact.
Posted by: db_cooper | May 27, 2005 11:22:43 AM
"When I wonder why portions of the world hate us,"
My former mother-in-law, who was a full-blooded Pathan, was also hated by that same element. She wasn't an American at the time, and she had never been to America. She was a small woman and wouldn't hurt a fly. Yet she was shot at on two occasions.
Her crime? Being a convert to Christianity. And being a woman preaching the Gospel in a Muslim nation.
You want to know why much of that part of the world hates us? Look less at what we do and more at what the fanatics there believe. And Cole is an apologist for those fanatics.
Posted by: db_cooper | May 27, 2005 11:29:42 AM
You want to know why much of that part of the world hates us? Look less at what we do and more at what the fanatics there believe.
Taking either in isolation will be misleading. Certainly there are fanatics with ideological motivations. But there are plenty of stories of Muslims and Arabs who were pro-America, not only in the movie-consuming way, but in a sophisticated Western-educated way involving personal familiarity, and who have been turned into protesters by our actions in the Middle East (past but largely present).
Here's one interesting piece of research looking at the unfortunate positive-feedback loop in which an occupation in response to an insurrection gives impetus to more resistance, which then requires continued occupation, etc...
Posted by: acm | May 27, 2005 2:34:54 PM
(that first part was a quote. apparently we can't use italics. acm)
Posted by: acm | May 27, 2005 2:36:20 PM
"But there are plenty of stories of Muslims and Arabs who were pro-America, not only in the movie-consuming way, but in a sophisticated Western-educated way involving personal familiarity,"
You mean the ones we've seen in large numbers out denouncing Islamic terrorism? Or the large groups who hit the streets to demonstrate against the 9-11 attacks?
Oh, wait a minute, that didn't happen...
Posted by: db_cooper | May 27, 2005 3:30:36 PM
Juan Cole is an arrogant tool.
Posted by: That Dude from Philly | May 28, 2005 7:42:54 PM
I asked Juan Cole if he wanted to comment about the Frontpage Magazine account, which he called a form of character assasination, and he pointed me toward a post he wrote after it appeared. Here it is in its entirety:
Posted by: Daniel Rubin | May 29, 2005 10:31:35 PM
I think most secular liberals lack the necessary theological knowledge to make an informed decision about why the Muslim world, by and large, hates us and has a large segment willing to kill us.
I'll boil it down for you: Islam has no belief in original sin. They also believe that righteious Muslims should be dominate. And for a long time, they did dominate.
Then, the West began to dominate. What was this due to? Corruption in the Muslim world. Since they have no belief in original sin, they believe that corruption comes from the outside. So the Muslim world must be purified and outside, corrupting influence has to be silenced/killed/etc.
Combine that with anti-Semitism, rampant socialism in that world fueled by Soviet influence (not to mention the socialist mantra that everything is capitalism/America's fault) and a religious history that condones violence against infidels, you have a bad situation.
All due to not believing in original sin. Bad ideas have consequences.
Posted by: Geoff | May 30, 2005 9:26:06 AM
The problem is not Muslims. The problem is not Islam. The problem is radical Islamism, an extremist totalitarian ideology that demands not tolerance, not respect but deference. And that deference will not be reciprocated. The radical Islamists are not fighting for equality. They are fighting for superiority.
Posted by: That Dude from Philly | May 30, 2005 7:10:20 PM
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