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Game, Set and Match Erbil?

I have been arguing since 2005 that propping up the Iraqi state was never a good idea. ‘Nation building’ was always a preposterous delusion, as if Iraq and Afghanistan could be turned into an Islamic version of Arkansas, if only enough schools were built and wells were dug. Ludicrous.

Also if an independent Kurdistan gives Syria, Turkey and Iran the vapours, I fail to see why from a western perspective that should change anything at all. I mean seriously, well ain’t that too damn bad. Moreover, there already is an independent Kurdistan in all but name, and it has the only viable army in Iraq, which now even controls Kirkuk. Game, Set and Match Erbil… and if Baghdad thinks that is ever going to change, well if they reckon ISIS is rough, good luck taking on the Peshmerga. Even politically, it is clear the Kurdish leaders have consistently outclassed the other players, be they Arabs, Turks or Iranians.

It is by no means clear the current festivities are inevitably heading somewhere undesirable, as it might end up producing something far more stable than a unitary Iraqi state. Yes, ISIS must not be allowed to take over all of Iraq’s oil producing areas, but frankly it is hard to see how they would manage to take and hold anything in the areas that are not overwhelmingly Sunni… they sure as hell will not be taking Kirkuk this side of hell freezing over, that much seems certain.

47 comments to Game, Set and Match Erbil?

  • bobby b

    “Also if an independent Kurdistan gives Syria, Turkey and Iran the vapours, I fail to see why from a western perspective that should change anything at all. I mean seriously, well ain’t that too damn bad.”

    Back when (at least) the USA’s actions were being taken with this concern in mind, we had reasons to want to avoid giving those folks vapors.

    Since then, our longstanding concern for their sensitivities has proved to be a waste, and they are what they are regardless of our hopes and fears. We thought we were humoring them, and it turned out that they were humoring us.

    So I think this statement is easily and obviously made now, in hindsight, but was a crapshoot back when it mattered.

    “Nationbuilding” made Japan into a modernized and democratic world citizen. Maybe that built overconfidence, but the concept isn’t without merit.

  • So I think this statement is easily and obviously made now, in hindsight, but was a crapshoot back when it mattered.

    Well I thought it was obvious back then too, not just in hindsight. And I do not think it was ever a crapshoot, it was 100% guaranteed to fail.

    “Nationbuilding” made Japan into a modernized and democratic world citizen. Maybe that built overconfidence, but the concept isn’t without merit.

    Japan was already a sophisticated technological nation prior to WW2, even if its politics were fucked up. So we did not make them into a modernised anything, beyond providing free urban renewal services from the air. We just made them a non-imperial power with less fucked up politics who play nice with others. Ditto Germany, who were really very modern in 1939. They were only able to survive getting democracy at gunpoint because they had essentially modern extended order societies.

    But Iraq and Afghanistan are third world shitholes with pre-modern tribal societies, and a toxic underpinning political system that happens to be a religion (I think it is interesting that the Kurds are politically pretty secular)… so no amount of “nation building” is going to make a whole lot of difference, and this much should have been obvious from the start of the festivities.

  • Nick (Blame FrenchMEN) Gray

    I don’t think the Turks will now get upset- apparently they even have an office in ‘Kurdistan’, and might be resigned to the big day, whenever that is. The current Iraqi government might not like it, but they don’t seem to be able to stop ISIS, so a separatist movement should have no trouble.
    Q. In what way were Little Miss Moppet, and Saddam hussein alike?
    A. Neither of them wanted Kurds in their way!

  • jdgalt

    I have been arguing since 2005 that propping up the Iraqi state was never a good idea. ‘Nation building’ was always a preposterous delusion, as if Iraq and Afghanistan could be turned into an Islamic version of Arkansas, if only enough schools were built and wells were dug. Ludicrous.

    It’s a preposterous delusion if we weren’t prepared to finish the job (by which I mean stay in occupation 50+ years, to make sure the bad guys’ ideology is really gone as we did to the Nazis). In fact, I’ll go farther: we (for any definition of “we”) should never go to war with any country at all unless we’re prepared to finish the job, either by that 50+ year occupation or by nuking every last bad guy off the face of the earth. Because any lesser effort simply means we’ve wasted all the blood and treasure we put in.

    Of course, against jihadists the 50+ year occupation method will only work if extended to every country that has some jihadists. So it’s not possible, yet.

    I’ll admit that this is not libertarian-purist. But it is not a reductio ad absurdum either. I do believe the jihadists are enough like Nazis to justify resurrecting colonialism — if it were economically feasible. But for now, it’s not. (Though another 9/11-like event in the west, tomorrow or next decade, might very well make it worthwhile by comparative cost.)

    Also if an independent Kurdistan gives Syria, Turkey and Iran the vapours, I fail to see why from a western perspective that should change anything at all.

    I guess that depends on how badly “we” want to keep them in NATO. I’ve advocated kicking them out since they supported the Russian side in the Russia/Georgia war. They also supported the Gaza flotilla. For me either of those things is enough reason to dump them, and maybe even to support a Kurd takeover of Turkey. I’m pretty sure they would treat the Turks more fairly than the Turks have treated them.

  • Regional

    Mister Bear might be apprehensive about it’s Black Sea egress seaway being interfered with.

  • thefrollickingmle

    I think the Kurds are in a fantastic position to obtain nearly all the state they desire. Yes turkey still has some of the territory they desire, but an offer to run the oil north through Turkey (or sold to Turkey for refining) instead of south for export might be their ace in the hole.

    I was one who hoped for an Iraq which wouldn’t be a shithole, badly, and I had also hoped killing off Saddam and co might have given them the chance they needed.
    But I was always against an occupation/rebuilding, Iraq was always going to have a civil war once Saddam was gone (as Id expect iran to if the Mullahs were ever overthrown. A short sharp civil war with whatever winner coming out on top informed they get the Saddam treatment if they crossed certain lines might have been better.

  • It’s a preposterous delusion if we weren’t prepared to finish the job (by which I mean stay in occupation 50+ years, to make sure the bad guys’ ideology is really gone as we did to the Nazis). In fact, I’ll go farther: we (for any definition of “we”) should never go to war with any country at all unless we’re prepared to finish the job, either by that 50+ year occupation or by nuking every last bad guy off the face of the earth. Because any lesser effort simply means we’ve wasted all the blood and treasure we put in.

    No I do not agree. I think the war aims do not need to be even nearly that grandiose.

    Ba’athist Iraq threatens oil supply stability by invading Kuwait and generally being a pain in the arse? Destroy the Ba’athist Iraqi state, pull down Saddam’s statues and then hang him, for extra points have some US General piss on his grave… and then get the hell out after making it clear the same will happen to whatever fucked up successor government emerges if they did not get the message.

    Taliban Afghanistan aids and abets an attack on USA? Destroy Taliban Afghan state, help their rivals take Kabul, kill as many Taliban as possible and then get the hell out after making it clear this can be done again if they ever retake Kabul.

    War aims achieved, no long, costly and futile occupations required. No pointless attempts at nation building needed.

  • Mr Ed

    Perry,

    Absolutely, but it took a while to find Mr Hussein and he was hanged by the locals, not the ‘liberators’.

  • Ed, I am not describing ‘history’, I am describing ‘non-delusional war aims’. Moreover it hardly matters if you do it yourself or it is done at your behest. For example the object was to drive the Taliban out of Kabul… but it was the Northern Alliance who actually marched in there, after much bombing, not the US Army.

  • bloke in spain

    “as if Iraq and Afghanistan could be turned into an Islamic version of Arkansas,”

    It was of course the delusion, by some of the political class, that the people in the middle-east aspire to the democracy of the west & would grasp it if given them.. It was based on the delusion, people in the west aspire to the democracy of the west.
    As a matter of fact they don’t. Most people in the west want things run the way personally suits them & western democracy’s the inconvenient obstacle gets in the way. If they can find a way subvert democracy, the western political class usually do.
    With the experience of their own behaviour to go on, what gave them reason to believe middle-easterners would behave better?

  • It was of course the delusion, by some of the political class, that the people in the middle-east aspire to the democracy of the west & would grasp it if given them.. It was based on the delusion, people in the west aspire to the democracy of the west.

    I think it was a theory worth testing, though. Yes, it cost a lot of blood and treasure but I think it would have done the people of Iraq a gross injustice to continually assume they could not run a country and that a strongman like Saddam Hussein was required to keep them in line, just as it would have been an injustice to assume the ANC could not run South Africa. Whether the assumption is right or wrong, it is still an injustice. Now that the Iraq War has proven the assumption right, and the Iraqis – particularly the majority Shia who have been blubbering about being oppressed for decades – have fucked up the first chance they get to run the place, then we can act accordingly. But I think the Iraqis deserved the chance, even if the smart money was on them blowing it. What we know now about the ability of Iraqis to run their own affairs is worth knowing IMO. No more assumptions and guesses, just evidence.

    The other useful outcome from all this chaos is that it has largely put to bed the assumption held by dimwitted lefties and idiot right-wingers that Israel is the primary cause of violence and instability in the Middle East, and if only they would cease to exist peace will reign supreme over the region. That has now been shown to be utter bollocks. In fact, Israel looks to be the winner out of this chaos in Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Libya, etc. They’re probably waiting at the airport for the next European diplomat to arrive in order to point out towards the desert and say “Told you, you twats!” In fact, I think the Israelis are owed an apology of some kind: they said they were dealing with murderous headcases who were not in the least bit interested in peace, and everybody scoffed at them and said it was the confiscation of olive groves in 1948 that is driving them to hate. This argument doesn’t hold as much water now there are pickup-trucks full of ISIS nutters carting off Iraqi soldiers to be slaughtered in a ditch. I’m wondering how long it’ll be before Hamas and the Palestinians start asking Israel for protection!

  • Oh come off it Tim, everyone knows it is the joooooooos who are responsible for everything, from ebola to ring-around-the-collar!

    Actually more seriously, there is only one great crime against humanity that “The Jews” are truly responsible for, and it is unforgivable.

    The horror…. the horror :-(

  • Paul Marks

    The Kurds do seem to be that much talked of thing “moderate Muslims” – perhaps because their Kurdish nationalism keeps their Islam under control (as it used to do with most Turks).

    They do seem to be the least worst option in both Syria and Iraq (and should be supported).

    And the Kurds breaking away would weaken the increasingly Islamist Turkey.

    Tim Newman.

    Quite wrong – after all Israel was the clear cause of the Mahdi revolt in the Sudan in the late 19th century (a leading British “libertarian” used to be employed by latter day followers of the Mahdi in the Sudan) and of Islamic attacks upon Christians from the 7th century to 19th century.

    You see, after they poison the wells and spread the plague (and sacrifice Christian children for their blood in unholy rituals) the Jews are bored – so they encourage Islamic attacks upon the West.

    It is all obvious really – the “Libertarian Left” will explain it all to you if you ask them (or even if you do not ask them…..).

    We “vulgar libertarians” are just stupid tools of the Koch brothers – we are not wise enough to understand how the Jews are to blame for all things bad in the world.

    Charles and David Koch not Jewish? That is just what they want you to think!

  • PersonFromPorlock

    Perhaps our principal failure with nation building was our belief that imposing democracy on a population with a totalitarian religion (even if it comes in sects) could result in a freedom-oriented state. Had we been willing to impose our notion of limited government on Iraq long enough for a generation of Iraqis to grow up knowing nothing else, something might have been done. But of course, American foreign policy has an attention span of about three weeks, and we don’t really believe in limited government anymore, anyway.

  • bloke in spain

    I think you missed the point there, Tim.
    “it would have done the people of Iraq a gross injustice to continually assume they could not run a country ”
    Why?
    Iraq is currently in the default state for humanity. The stable state. Sometimes, your lucky enough to get somewhere like pre-invasion Iraq where a Saddam-type strongman imposes a bit of order. That’s most of history. Just lately, in a few places, we’ve managed create relatively free democracies. Humanity’s equivalent of juggling six balls simultaneously, in a hurricane, in the dark. It’s not a stable configuration. It’s not why so little could be expected of them but why so much.

  • Sometimes, your lucky enough to get somewhere like pre-invasion Iraq where a Saddam-type strongman imposes a bit of order.

    You are very very screamingly obviously wrong on that score. Saddam was not just a mass murderous tyrant (look up Halabja for starters), he was a huge source of regional instability: he invaded Iran (getting by some estimates about 400,000 Iraqis killed in the process), and he invaded Kuwait. There simply was no upside to Saddam and the Ba’athists.

  • bloke in spain

    @Perry
    “You are very very screamingly obviously wrong on that score.”
    Shall we go back through history naming famous historic figures. Start with Mao or do you fancy Pol Pot? Stalin. The un-nameable Austrian. Lincoln. Napoleon. How long back before historians are writing about “his strong rule brought a period of stability.. yadda, yadda…”? Do you want to make bets on how the history of the ME around the turn of the second millenium will be viewed from the perspective of 2314, with a whole 2 centuries of hindsight to draw on?

  • Thank you for making my point for me Bloke

  • bloke in spain

    I’m sorry, but how am I making your point for you. The ‘Great Helmsman’ is still regarded as the benevolent creator of modern China. Do you want to go to China & argue he wasn’t? In the area we’re discussing: Armenian Massacre? What Armenian Massacre? The French enthusiastically celebrate their revolution every year. Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité. Ever heard of the Vendée Genocide? England’s own heroic Henry V. Do you know what he was doing, led to Agincourt? If I remember the word rightly, la chausée. It was a charming medieval tactic of taking a wander through the territory of another ruler, robbing, burning, raping & murdering, leaving a swath of devastation behind. Intentional economic warfare. Scorching his earth until he had no alternative but to meet you in battle or see the realm impoverished.
    It wouldn’t be too hard to paint Saddam’s Iraq as an island of stability in the aftermath of European undermining of the prosperous, peaceful Ottoman Empire leaving a region of warring factions. It depends who’s writing the history books.

  • How are you making my point? OK, all the examples you give are unitary state/empires. Like Iraq. Or Yugoslavia. Or the USSR. Wrecking them down to their viable parts tends to not just lead to more stability in the long run (not always of course, but usually) but a bit less tyranny overall. That is why I also support independent Basque, Catalan, Scottish, Occitan, Kurdish, Pushtan, Karen etc states. Hell, I am all for an independent Mercia (785 borders). Generally less of a threat to others if deranged and more palatable to the locals.

  • Pardone

    Invading a country and “nation building” is itself an enormous expansion of the state outside national borders, “Mega Government”.

    To impose freedom is a contradiction in terms, and to insult a nation’s dignity by trying to make it your bitch while espousing “freedom!” is arrogant in the extreme.

  • bobby b

    “Japan was already a sophisticated technological nation prior to WW2, even if its politics were fucked up.”

    I think your facts are wrong here.

    We took them from a feudal society in which the top 2% owned nearly all, and forced a huge redistribution of land, money, and power. Large property owners had their assets split up and passed out, resulting in the end of large estates and leaving many very small holdings. IIRC, approximately 40% of Japan’s arable land was taken from the rich and split up and sold off (cheaply) to the rest. This was directly implemented and enforced by MacArthur’s crew.

    During that same time, Japanese workers were encouraged to form trade unions and associations, which were wildly successful and which resulted in a huge power shift in a society in which labor – the bulk of the country’s citizens – had been powerless.

    It was partially a failure of the Japanese industrial base to be able to mass-produce enough war machinery that cost them the war. They had little of this “sophisticated tech” you refer to – all of that came with the industrial experts that were shipped in to help rebuild their destroyed industrial capacity.

    Pre-WW2, Japan was undergoing long-lasting depression, rural famine, and horrendous deflation – the latter brought about because the increasing economic disparity left the industrial section with no customers with money to buy. The government response to this was to place more and more of the economy under military control. By the early ’40′s, the military controlled everything.

    Under military control, all political parties were disbanded, while a new party was formed that was controlled by the military. Most companies, while officially privately-owned, were taken over by the government. The government forced mergers, divestitures, and operating decisions upon these supposed “free” entities. The Japanese people were subject to forced rationing and forced industrial slave labor.

    This, then, was what existed at the close of the war. What resulted from occupation in no way resembled this. I’d argue that “nationbuilding” worked very well in Japan’s case.

  • bobby b

    “To impose freedom is a contradiction in terms, and to insult a nation’s dignity by trying to make it your bitch while espousing “freedom!” is arrogant in the extreme.”

    So, allowing Saddam H to continue to hold complete power over what was essentially a prisoner-population Iraq would have been more “respectful” of the Iraqi people?

    Facile.

  • bobby b

    (cont. to M. de Havilland):

    I forgot to add another important point re: Japan.

    SCAP (meaning MacArthur et al.) essentially wrote for Japan its new constitution in 1947, replacing the Meiji Constitution of the late 1800′s. This new constitution continues to control Japan’s government today.

    Based to a large extent on the Constitution of the US, it contains (among other items) the following provisions: A declaration that sovereignty rests with people, a declaration that the emperor is a symbol of Japan with no political functions, a renunciation of war and non-possession of military forces (Article 9), a guarantee of basic human rights, and the establishment of separation of power among legislative, administrative and judicial branches of government.

    These represented huge changes to Japan – changes that remain in effect today, and that arguably provided the basis for the remaking of the nation.

  • I think your facts are wrong here (…) This, then, was what existed at the close of the war. What resulted from occupation in no way resembled this. I’d argue that “nationbuilding” worked very well in Japan’s case.

    All of the facts you mention are true… and none of them, not a single one, are relevant.

    Japan was indeed a modern nation in 1939, which designed and build its own aircraft, had one of the largest navies in the world and which defeated Britain and the USA in several land and sea battles (indeed Malaya was one of the worst defeats in British military history). They had better torpedoes and competitive aircraft at the start of the war, even if they could not produce enough to win a war of attrition. But it *did* take a war of attrition to bring down Imperial Japan, in marked contrast to Ba’athist Iraq half a century later (a nation incapable of producing almost any of the weapons they fought with, indeed it was a nation in some ways less technologically advanced in 1991 than Japan had been in 1941).

    Japan just wasn’t anything like the USA or the UK, but then that is not the appropriate definition of modern. Neither was Nazi Germany. Imperial Japan was also a tyranny, but that too does not stop it being ‘modern’. The important thing is that Japan had (and has) a modern extended order society rather than a pre-modern tribal society (as per Hayek’s well known definitions). That is why foisting democracy on them at gun point worked. And that is why trying to do that with shitholes like pre-extended tribal Iraq and Afghanistan was never going to work. Moreover the baleful way Islam permeates what passes for Arab civil society makes it more analogous to installing a democratic system in Nazi Germany, hanging all the top Nazis but then leaving the Nazi Party’s underpinning political infrastructure intact. And face it, there is simply no way to ‘destroy’ islam.

    It is striking that the non-Arab Kurds have a largely secular political order and a wider ‘national’ identity (which is why Kurdish nationalism makes the Turkish, Syrian and Iranian states so uneasy).

    So the fact Imperial Japan’s politics were, as I said earlier, fucked up, did not make them a “not modern” nation. Ditto Nazi Germany. Killing their political elite and then imposing a much less toxic albeit in many ways regrettable ‘nice’ centre-left democratic order was ‘successful’ because they were vastly more sophisticated places than Iraq or Afghanistan.

  • Rich Rostrom

    it is hard to see how [ISIS] would manage to take and hold anything in the areas that are not overwhelmingly Sunni…

    Kurdistan is “overwhelmingly Sunni”. ITYM “Sunni Arab”. The quarrel between ISIS and the Kurdish quasi-state is ethnic, not religious. And political – the Kurd ruling clique doesn’t want to share power or revenue with anyone else.

    I have very little trust in the “secular” quality of Kurdistani society or leaders.

  • John Moore

    The fact that our “nation building” failed does not mean that nation building will always fail, or even that it was destined to fail in Iraq. People who were paying attention in 2003/2004 thought that Iraq could have been stabilized relatively easily if we had not thrown out all of the Baathist military, turning many into Sunni rebels. Many of the officers were professional soldiers – not all were Saddam’s hacks. Also, the war plans called for US forces to execute a pincer maneuver with Anbar province in the teeth of the vise. This would probably have given the Sunnis an idea of what US power could do, long before they revolted. Only treachery by France and Germany, in league with Turkey prevented this tactic.

    But… even so, Iraq was quite well pacified by the time Obama made the purely political blunder of removing every single soldier. It is not a coincidence that the Sunni vice president was charged with crimes a couple of days after the last troops crossed into Kuwait.

    What this shows is not that nation building is folly, but rather that the US needs to succeed quickly, before irrational home political forces throw away the victory. As a Vietnam veteran, I’ve seen this act once before, a fact which grieves me. We had a solid victory in Vietnam, every bit as good as the one in Korea, and the Democrats threw the whole thing away.

  • Mr Ed

    Only treachery by France and Germany, in league with Turkey prevented this tactic.

    How is it treachery to not join in a war based on lies and fantasy?

  • Kurdistan is “overwhelmingly Sunni”.

    Actually that really misses the point, Kurdistan is overwhelmingly Kurdish and its leaders are indeed secular, some quite militantly so. Their identity is ethnic not religious and they are not Arabs (indeed they are closer ethnically to the Iranians). ISIS can only dominate a population who take their identity from being Sunni, which ain’t going to fly with the Kurds.

  • But… even so, Iraq was quite well pacified by the time Obama made the purely political blunder of removing every single soldier.

    So nation building in Iraq could have worked if only they were permanently garrisoned by American soldiers? We must have different definitions of ‘worked’.

    What this shows is not that nation building is folly, but rather that the US needs to succeed quickly

    And how do you ‘quickly’ build a ‘nation’ from tribal societies in a third world shithole? You do not, you garrison it and recognise you are now looking after a province of your Empire like the Brits did. Or you blow up the government you didn’t like and then go home after making it clear you will do it again if need be.

  • bloke in spain

    “That is why I also support independent Basque, Catalan, Scottish, Occitan, Kurdish, Pushtan, Karen etc states…. Wrecking them down to their viable parts tends to not just lead to more stability in the long run (not always of course, but usually) but a bit less tyranny overall…Generally less of a threat to others if deranged and more palatable to the locals.”

    Unless it doesn’t

    You do realise your putative Occitania is the other half of Navarre, along with Cataluna to the south? The Pyreneean civil war of 2025?

  • John Moore

    “So nation building in Iraq could have worked if only they were permanently garrisoned by American soldiers? We must have different definitions of ‘worked’.”

    Yes, obviously we do. Nation building makes sense if it results in a government that is favorable to our geopolitical interests, and more democratic than the alternative. Leaving some troops likely would have produced that result.

    It isn’t like we don’t have troops all over the world, sustaining our national interest. We left troops in South Korea, Germany and Japan, and that worked just fine.

    “And how do you ‘quickly’ build a ‘nation’ from tribal societies in a third world shithole? You do not, you garrison it and recognise you are now looking after a province of your Empire like the Brits did. Or you blow up the government you didn’t like and then go home after making it clear you will do it again if need be.”

    You do the former. The latter leaves you with a mess, like after our first war with Iraq.

    However, Iraq and Afghanistan differ. We have/had a great national interest in a friendly state in Iraq. In Afghanistan, we should have done as you suggest – blow them up, and then leave them alone. Iraq is a far more sophisticated country, in a much more critical location, with lots of oil, and not land-locked. Staying in Iraq made sense.

    Unfortunately, the US is led by an ideologue, not a strategist. Obama thus confused the necessity of punishing Afghanistan for 9-11 with a necessity to “win” the war there, which is not possible, unlike Iraq.

  • Yes, obviously we do. Nation building makes sense if it results in a government that is favorable to our geopolitical interests, and more democratic than the alternative. Leaving some troops likely would have produced that result.

    Except you are comparing sophisticated Japan and Germany, who could handle the decidedly mixed blessing of democracy, with places like Afghanistan and Iraq. Did you like how democracy worked out in Egypt btw?

    You do the former. The latter leaves you with a mess, like after our first war with Iraq.

    Nope, you tried occupation and all that got you was a long pointless war. There is no point providing your enemies with IED targets when all that matters is changing the government to a less hostile one. Let the locals sort out the details.

  • You do realise your putative Occitania is the other half of Navarre, along with Cataluna to the south? The Pyreneean civil war of 2025?

    Indeed. That is the next step. My idea for Mercia is just a precursor for a nice independent heptarchy and then an independent Chelsea ;-)

  • Laird

    “It isn’t like we don’t have troops all over the world, sustaining our national interest.”

    The first half of that sentence is obviously true; the second half, not so much. We left troops in Japan and Germany after WW2 because that’s what you do after a major war: you occupy until you’re certain the country is not a threat any more. But there is absolutely no reason that we still have troops there. If Japan needs protection from China (I’m not convinced) it can pay the cost itself (at a minimum it should be reimbursing for every dollar it costs us to maintain our forces there, and I would argue that they should pay us a profit margin, too). The same with Korea. But we shouldn’t have troops in Germany, period. Europe can and should take care of itself. The need for NATO (or at least, for US participation in it) is long gone. Yet we’re still paying roughly 75% of its costs. Rank insanity.

    In any event, none of that is true for Iraq. It is not a “sophisticated” country; it merely has a lot of oil and absolutely nothing else of any value. But that oil is worthless unless it’s extracted from the ground and sold, and in international markets it’s completely fungible. It doesn’t matter which kleptocratic government or medieval warlord controls the pumps; either the oil gets into the market or he goes broke and someone more practical assassinates him and takes over. So the answer to your question is you do the latter. The US public has no stomach for empire and no interest in long-term occupation, not even of oil fields. Unfortunately, what we tried to do in Iraq was a half-assed mixture of the worst features of both strategies. Our political leaders have screwed it up at every turn since the bombing stopped.

  • John Moore

    It would be nice if you read the entire argument, instead of cherry picking, and it would be nicer still if you at least got your facts right. That in mind, I’ll try again:

    “Nope, you tried occupation and all that got you was a long pointless war. There is no point providing your enemies with IED targets when all that matters is changing the government to a less hostile one. Let the locals sort out the details.”

    As pointed out before, occupation once it was done right (the surge, and COIN) led to a pacified Iraq. As was pointed out before, US combat deaths in that Iraq were far lower than the death rate due to accident in the overall military.

    “Except you are comparing sophisticated Japan and Germany, who could handle the decidedly mixed blessing of democracy, with places like Afghanistan and Iraq. Did you like how democracy worked out in Egypt btw?”

    I guess you didn’t notice Korea in the mix.

    Furthermore, “democracy” isn’t the goal. A less repressive and friendly to our interests is all that was required. Iraq met that criterion, until we left it alone.

    Egypt has nothing to do with this. It is far larger than Iraq, and far more backward (yes, that is possible). The right solution for Egypt is an authoritarian government that is friendly to our geopolitical needs. Our Administration, blinded by its ideological idiocy, managed to end up with the former (which it didn’t want) and not the latter (which it did want).

  • John Moore

    Iraq is quite a bit more sophisticated than many others in the region, such as Afghanistan or Egypt.

    First, it is important to look at the world as we have it, not as we wish. It might still be possible to re-establish our position in Iraq, although this last week has made that sadly unlikely.

    Iraq’s oil is not something to be ignored, since it has huge, easily tapped reserves. By getting out of Iraq, after we had won, we have handed control of much of that oil to Iran and Russia.

    But it is more important than that: Iraq sits at a crucial point in the Middle East – between Iran and Syria, adjacent to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. If we had retained our influence, we could have cut the supply line between Iran and both Syria and Hezbollah, destroying Iran’s regional influence and crippling two long time enemies.

    Instead, a destabilized Iraq threatens the oil in the whole region, including its own. An Iraq in hostile hands threatens our interests in the region. The current Iraq enables Iranian misbehavior, and Iran is a real threat to US interests.

    As a direct result of our failure to stay in, we have Iran and Russia, two hostile oil powers, gaining great influence in Iraq. The Russians didn’t send in those Mig’s just to be nice. This means that two powers who both have it in their crucial interest to keep energy prices high have just gained a lot of ground. Rather than having Iraqi oil competing with Iran and Russia, it can now enable them.

    We have ISIS, a competitor to Al Qaeda, in command of a lot of territory (safe haven), money ($1bn just recently taken) and oil. The competition between ISIS and Al Qaeda creates a huge incentive for each to stage spectacular terror attacks in the west – preferably in the US – in order to establish supremacy in the Jihadist world.

    It is likely that this could have been avoided, had we simply *stayed in* – which could have been done at very low cost. If we could go back in, we could ameliorate a lot of this disaster, although it’s probably too late.

  • As pointed out before, occupation once it was done right (the surge, and COIN) led to a pacified Iraq.

    So what? That was indeed the perfect time to declare victory and get the hell out.

    I guess you didn’t notice Korea in the mix.

    Why bother? Like Japan and Germany, Korea is not a tribal society, it is an extended order society. So your point about Korea is what exactly?

    Furthermore, “democracy” isn’t the goal.

    I agree entirely, but you were the one who mentioned it.

    A less repressive and friendly to our interests is all that was required. Iraq met that criterion, until we left it alone.

    And it will again once they sort themselves out. Kurdistan will be independent, friendly and reliably oil producing. Southern Iraq will be a Shi’ite client state of Iran, and stable and reliably oil producing, and the rest of Baghdad-rump of Iraq will probably manage to cling onto the few oil producing areas left to it… and the rest of the country, which is worthless, will be full of Islamist nutjobs (who can be usefully bombed to hell without actually needing to occupy anything really, much like Kabul was occupied by the Northern Alliance with US aircover). It will be more stable in the long run and waaaaaaaaay cheaper to maintain that leaving 10,000 or so IED targets behind.

    If you really want to use US force in Iraq, by all means go back in just to kill as many ISIS nutters as possible when they are out in the open, but FFS the notion of going back in and garrisoning anything is bonkers. That is what those expensive aircraft carriers are for and even the Iranians have made it clear they are happy to see that happen. Actually leaving Baghdad with a bit of a token airforce before pulling out might have been nice too, but as they are hastily buying one from the Russians, that might not have been necessary after all… and it sure saves the US taxpayer some money.

  • By getting out of Iraq, after we had won, we have handed control of much of that oil to Iran and Russia.

    Oil is a fungible product traded globally. It does not matter who ‘controls’ it, just as long as they pump it and sell it on the international market. But in any case I cannot see how Russia now has ‘control’ of Iraq’s oil. And the Kurds are going to sell their rather large chunk via Turkey, much to Baghdad’s chagrin. I would be interested to hear Tim Newman’s views on that, given that is his business.

  • John Moore

    “Oil is a fungible product traded globally. It does not matter who ‘controls’ it”

    There’s a whole lot of geopolitical history that say otherwise. Yes, it’s fungible. But control of it is important, because the world is not a libertarian’s fantasy of a free market. Real world governments can and do mess with oil supplies for all sorts of nefarious reasons. China is not messing in the oil patch (Iran, Libya, Africa, etc) for fun – they fear not being able to buy it when they need it. Russia isn’t in Iraq for fun – they profit, at our expense, when the price of hydrocarbons goes up.

    Since I saw this coming, I’m long in oil ETF’s. And sitting pretty there. But I’d rather be at a loss and have the world in a better place.

    As just one example of the real world nature of the oil markets, the oil crisis of the mid-1970′s was directly a result of oil producing nations conspiring to fix the price of oil, and it caused massive economic dislocations. You can chant “fungible” all you want, but it didn’t do us any good then, because governments have the power to disrupt markets, and have done so throughout history.

    As for Iraq… we did just what you said – we got the hell out. The result is a catastrophe. We would not have had to hold large forces there to keep it together, but by leaving entirely we lost our leverage of Maliki, with predictable results.

    As to your nice future there… Kurdistan *may* stay independent, or Iran and the Shia rump of Iraq may take it by force. Iraq couldn’t, but Iran could, and they have their own Kurd issues. But worse, Iran is, no matter what isolationists want to believe, a real threat to world order and to US interests and US lives. Any actions that strengthen Iran threaten the peace.

    Just out of curiosity, how happy will you be when Iran is a nuclear power with the capability of hitting European capitals and, of course, all the middle east oil production capability? Fungible ain’t gonna help much.

    As to the Sunni nutjob rump’s, the main threat is not controlling oil. IIt is in threatening our allies in the area (Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, especially Jordan, and Israel), which will, among other things, disrupt the oil markets.

    It is in launching terrorist attacks *in* the US and the west. Remember, it was terrorist attacks that got us into this stuff in the first place. What do you think will happen to American isolationism if we have another 9-11, or if Sunni nutjobs grab an elementary school and start pitching disembodies heads out the windows? Yep – we’ll be right back in, but without the strategic advantages we had before.

    My assertion is not that we should invade Iraq, but that we should not have pulled out. You have asserted, against all evidence, that our troops would be nothing but targets. Try backing it up, because otherwise your position fails. Again.

  • But control of it is important, because the world is not a libertarian’s fantasy of a free market

    So you are saying someone with oil is not going to sell it? Ok… lets take a look at Venezuela. They hate the US pretty much as much as anyone can. Do they sell their oil (such as they can extract, being the idiots they are) or do they… what exactly… refuse to realise their asset just to spite the USA?

    Just out of curiosity, how happy will you be when Iran is a nuclear power with the capability of hitting European capitals and, of course, all the middle east oil production capability? Fungible ain’t gonna help much.

    And how is having some US troops in Iraq going to change any of that? Have fun invading Iran ;-)

    What do you think will happen to American isolationism if we have another 9-11, or if Sunni nutjobs grab an elementary school and start pitching disembodies heads out the windows? Yep – we’ll be right back in, but without the strategic advantages we had before.

    So the longest war in US history (you must be talking about Afghanistan because Iraq had very little to do with terrorism and nothing to do with 9/11), which has failed to produce the promised ‘nation building’ still not an indication that approach might be the wrong one, eh?

    My assertion is not that we should invade Iraq, but that we should not have pulled out. You have asserted, against all evidence, that our troops would be nothing but targets. Try backing it up, because otherwise your position fails. Again.

    The war was ongoing, attacks were still happening, ergo it had not yet succeeded, even if things were not as bad that they once were. The troops are not nothing but targets, as they can indeed kill people like ISIS, but that does not bring a ‘nation built’ Iraq any closer to not being a pure fantasy… so the risk/reward ratio seems terrible. This is not a good attrition battle to get into when the other side are indifferent to casualties.

    Moreover all those years and the first serious military crisis Iraq face, its US trained army collapses like a pricked balloon. This does not indicate to you that propping up a unitary Iraq might have been a complete waste of time? The only people with any ability to actually stand up to ISIS seems to be the Kurds and the Iranian backed Shi’ites in the south, who noticeably did not have a whole lot of US support. It almost suggests that not only was US nation building an abject failure, perhaps it was actually counter productive.

  • John Moore

    Oil – already answered, to you – see Arab Oil embargo, 1970′s.

    Iran – the presence of US power in Iraq is a natural aid in dealing with all of Iran’s ambitions. When thinking about geopolitical strategy, it helps to see a coherent big picture rather than getting hung up in minutiae.

    Re: “longest war” – also answered, to you, above. To refresh your memory, I said that Afghanistan, far more primitive and landlocked than Iraq, should have been clobbered and then left alone.

    “ergo it had not yet succeeded.” Nonsense on stilts. You are setting up the strawman of perfection and then knocking it down.

    And hopefully this is it. I don’t feel like repeating myself again, after you have ignored my previous responses to you.
    “attrition” – again, think strategy. Leaving a small number of troops there is obviously not about a war of attrition. It is about leverage. Lots and lots of military strategists, including those advising Obama understood this. He didn’t. Based on this conversation, he is not alone.

    “collapsed” – 3 years *after* the US cut and ran. Doesn’t that indicate to you that cutting and running was a really dumb idea?

  • Re: “longest war” – also answered, to you, above. To refresh your memory, I said that Afghanistan, far more primitive and landlocked than Iraq, should have been clobbered and then left alone.

    Then stop mentioning 9/11 and “American isolationism”, because Iraq has nothing to do with 9/11, that would be Afghanistan and the Taliban.

    “ergo it had not yet succeeded.” Nonsense on stilts. You are setting up the strawman of perfection and then knocking it down.

    The nonsense is your notion that everything was just fine when the US was there in Iraq. What you seem oblivious to is that garrisoning Iraq was not enough, because ISIS (to name but one of the factors) actually boiled out of Syria. So go garrison Syria too.

    Leaving a small number of troops there is obviously not about a war of attrition

    Of course it is, the constant drip drip of US casualties, expensive in monetary and political terms, vs. against an enemy to whom losses are cheap in every way.

    “collapsed” – 3 years *after* the US cut and ran. Doesn’t that indicate to you that cutting and running was a really dumb idea?

    No it suggests the years the US was there failed completely and utterly to “build a nation”. It would have been more effective to just keep Iraq under direct US rule as it would be at least somewhat less corrupt, even if probably no less inept. Appoint a viceroy, call him a khedive for extra flavour, and run the entire place at gunpoint for the next 100 years or until fusion power finally arrives, which ever happens first. Terrible idea actually but better that the whole nation building bollocks.

    What you do not understand is I am not an isolationist. I supported the attacks on both Iraq and Afghanistan, and still think they were correct. But in both cases the rational objectives were remove the government floridly and fatally (done) and then get out, making it clear this would be done again whenever needed. That is not just vastly cheaper, it does not leave exposed forces fighting an endless insurgency against a foe to whom casualties are a feature of the experience, rather than a bug.

    Own the sky, be ready to move strike assets (rather than full blown invasion) quickly and… leave the locals to sort out the politics with that reality hanging over them.

    Now would be a wonderful time to inflict huge casualties on ISIS and their confrères as they are out in the open, but that can be done from the air with at most hundreds (ie FACs) rather than thousands of troops on the grounds, brought in for the festivities (see Afghanistan when the Northern Alliance was still doing the footwork).

    But occupation and ‘nation building’ is a mugs game in either place. Demonstrably it has been a fiasco, and yet you want more of it. Saddam is toast: money well spent. Unitary Iraq has collapsed: nation building was a complete waste of money, time and lives. It could never have worked and so unsurprisingly to anyone paying attention, it didn’t. The US pulled out and lo and behold, the illusion is revealed, the only thing holding the tent up was US bayonets. Where is that nation that was being built?

    Contrast the success in the Balkans with this self-inflicted fiasco. Let the locals sort the mess out and stay remote, not in the middle where everyone can shoot at you.

  • Laird

    Perry has more than adequately responded to the political issues, but I don’t want to allow one other comment, “Oil – already answered, to you – see Arab Oil embargo, 1970′s” to go unremarked.

    Because it wasn’t already answered. The oil embargo of the mid-1970s did indeed result in “massive economic dislocations”, but most of that was self-inflicted. Jimmy Carter responded to the embargo by imposing price controls and gasoline purchase restrictions, which resulted in long lines at the pumps and the embarrassing spectacle of seeing him on TV telling us to turn down the thermostat and wear a sweater. If he had simply allowed prices to adjust naturally most of that would have been avoided, as it would have resulted in a flood of new production. But not only did he prevent the market from putting OPEC into its place, he compounded the error by imposing a so-called “Windfall Profits Tax” on the oil companies. A typically brilliant strategy by one of the most economically ignorant presidents of our time (although the present one may have him beat).

    Oil is fungible; markets will clear; it’s worthless unless extracted and sold; and mideastern warlords and tinpot despots want cash just a much as anyone else. Pointing to the OPEC oil embargo as somehow demonstrating a need for the US to control Mideast oilfields shows both a failure to understand the history of the time and a grasp of economics every bit the equal of Jimmy Carter’s.

  • John Moore

    “Pointing to the OPEC oil embargo as somehow demonstrating a need for the US to control Mideast oilfields shows both a failure to understand the history of the time and a grasp of economics every bit the equal of Jimmy Carter’s.”

    That the oil *eventually* cleared does not erase the immense damage done. That the Nixon and Carter administration responded poorly to the crisis, exacerbating it, does not erase the actual serious nature of the crisis that was independent of those actions. You suggest that prices should have been allowed to adjust “naturally” – but they cannot do that for a very long time when the suppliers have formed a cartel and are restricting supply in order to drive the price well above production costs? The result of that cartelization is that, today, enormous sums of money are controlled by autocratic and very backwards states. That is hardly a good outcome. Likewise, wealth that should have been aiding the economies of the world went to just a few dictators and their cronies.

    “control Middle east oil” is s straw man. The goal is not to control it, the goal is to minimize disruptions in it, and to have its profits not go to hostile powers.

    It is surprising to me that some folks here don’t have the understanding of geopolitics attained by even the poorest and most backwards nations in the region. I suppose it has to do with an faith in free markets that ignores the fact that there are many factors keeping the markets from actually being free.

    Failure to understand the geopolitical implications of hostile powers active in the oil region demonstrates an understanding of history and a grasp of economics every bit the equal of Barack Obama.

  • The result of that cartelization is that, today, enormous sums of money are controlled by autocratic and very backwards states. That is hardly a good outcome. Likewise, wealth that should have been aiding the economies of the world went to just a few dictators and their cronies.

    It matters a great deal less who gets the money than the fact they are motivated to sell the damn stuff on the open market. Indeed I would rather the British state not get so much revenue from North Sea oil as the things they spend it on are generally destructive to civil society. But that matters less than the oil get pumped and sold. The fact US oil companies might get a smaller slice than you and they might like is not going to keep me up at night however, as my lights stay on regardless of who trousers the money en-route.

    Failure to understand the geopolitical implications of hostile powers active in the oil region demonstrates an understanding of history and a grasp of economics every bit the equal of Barack Obama.

    Sayeth the man who wants to fight an endless insurgency for another gawd knows how many years, presumably also adding Syria to the ‘garrison’ list, given that is where the current crop of badness is spewing out from. Seems to me you might be the one who has not correctly interpreted history. The ‘Balkans’ approach is a vastly superior model to work into something applicable locally, whereas yours seems to have ‘Vietnam’ deep in the source code of its more Imperial approach.