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No pussyfooting around please

If the Iraqi local administration in Basra was, as claimed, about to hand over a pair of captured SAS under-cover soldiers that were in their custody to a hostile militia, then it seems that the escalation of tension and violence in Basra should be escalated further… by the British army.

Lesson One of occupying a country has to be to let any local administration know that it is the occupying army that is ultimately in control. The logic is clear: if we are there until Iraq (or whatever comes after the break-up of a unitary Iraq) has been sufficiently stabilised, then we must expect the army to use force to stabilise things, and that is a euphemism for being willing to kill people who oppose that process or interfere with military operations. If the local administration has indeed been infiltrated by enemies with antithetical aims who are cooperating with the enemy, then politics is probably not the answer at this juncture, force is. Unmake the local administration and replace it with another one at bayonet point. Show people in Iraq that some options are simply not on the menu. This is not a normal functioning civil society and should not be treated as one, any more than post-war West Germany was until acceptable institutions were in place to allow it to function as a viable post-totalitarian nation.

If Britain’s government ever wants to extract its forces at some point in the future without leaving behind something almost as bad as what was there before, it needs to be ruthless and none too squeamish. If this is a revelation to the UK government, I cannot imagine what it was thinking when this whole process started. When the decision to use force is made, use it effectively and resolutely, giving the Army the resources and support it needs to prevail… or if Tony Blair is not willing to do that, he had no business using force in the first place. What else was he expecting?

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29 comments to No pussyfooting around please

  • John East

    Perry, I fear your solution will be seen by Blair as rather old fashioned gun boat diplomacy.

    I expect an announcement soon that community outreach workers will be parachuted into Basra to replace the squadies on the ground. They will empathise with, and counsel, the local population, and identify the root causes of their grievances. Once calm is restored, we could set up a few quangos, you know the sort of thing, commissions to investigate equality of opportunities, gender and sexual orientation workshops etc. Once the terrorists and Islamofacists are bogged down with paperwork and political correctness they will almost certainly lose the will to fight.
    As a final measure, focus groups drawn from the local population can be assembled to identify our best exit strategy.

    If we had taken this modern, enlightened approach from day one perhaps we would not have needed to send the army into Basra in the first place.

  • anonymous coward

    When the British took over Basra, they said that they were old hands at the game, and unlike the idealistic Americans their colonial experience had taught them how to deal with the locals. They apparently set out in the old manner: pick one group of locals to keep the others in check (see the British in Iraq in the 1920s). The local Islamists seem to have been the ones the British chose to keep the others cowed, and we have been reading for some time of these holy thugs smashing liquor stores, assaulting insufficiently-clad women, etc. If someone could point out an overview of the British occupation of Basra that takes all these things into account, Samizdata readers would be interested.

    We will see who builds the better new Iraq, John Bull or Brother Jonathan. Certainly the British had Shiites to work with, people who, although susceptible to Iranian influence, had every reason to hate the old regime.

  • Snide

    Quite so. If the previous policy has proved ill-conceived, then the sooner the Brits rectify the situation forcefully, the better

  • Who on earth do you suggest the British be ‘ruthless and none too squeamish’ with? The population? The local police? (But which ones are the good cops and which the bad?)

    It’s all very well flexing the macho muscles – and I don’t mind being tough when tough is needed – but half the problem in Iraq isn’t a lack of ruthlessness but an inability to direct that ruthlessness in an effective and useful direction.

  • srs

    Got to agree Perry, if the exultant hero running up and down the back of teh warrior armoured vehicle had been popped of then it is a good bet that the rest of the crowd would have had at least second thoughts.

    The big problem is that Blairs publicity machine needs the British troops to be patsies, not actually doing whats needed. He had the bottle to take this job on (quelle surprise) but as always his image comes first

  • Grant Gould

    The problem, though, is that the political fiction is that Iraq is “sovereign,” and that rather than occupying (as they plainly are), coalition forces are merely “assisting” the “Iraqi Government.”

    What Britain did was simply and obviously correct — for an occupying power. But it puts paid to the notion of Iraqi sovereignty, which continues to provide crucial political cover in the UN, the US, and other such places that would prefer not to speak of military occupation in this day and age.

    So while militarily and logically sensible, the raid was politically disasterous. And as war is not a military nor a logical but fundamentally a political endeavour, the raid must be judged an ugly mess rather than a smashing success.

  • michael

    Interesting how this post conflates decisive action by the British military with impugning the resolve of Blair and the Govt. John Reid seemed splendidly resolute to me yesterday. Indeed Blair has seemed consistent enough to me over Iraq. Its the BBC and left leaning media that are the squeamish ones – I suggest you focus your ire on them.

  • Its the BBC and left leaning media that are the squeamish ones – I suggest you focus your ire on them

    That could be true, but I am deeply suspicious when you have a government committing forces on one hand and cutting them back with the other at the same time. It might not have come across in my article but it really was as much a question as a statement.

    The SAS under-cover operations sound like exactly the correct sort of things are indeed going on (even if the policy of pandering to the Islamist elements is highly questionable to put it mildly). Likewise, it sounds like the jail break rescue was indeed a good way of smacking the local administration down and showing them who is boss.

    Perhaps my biggest problem is the conflicted schiztoid signals I keep hearing from HMG, alternately resolute and po-mo wishywashy.

  • michael

    I should point out the right leaning media isn’t too clever either. Yesterday in the Daily Mail Max ‘Phil Space’ Hastings urged withdrawal on the strength of Monday’s events. The Daily Mail is increasingly schizo these days.

  • Julian Morrison

    Tear it down and rebuild with what? There is no untainted local material.

  • Robert Alderson

    Three hours after they found out that British soldiers were being held by the local police / militia a British tank crashed down the prison wall. I don’t think we need to worry that the forces on the ground are pussyfooting around.

  • Paul

    Why is no one discussing the fact that these two clowns were driving around in a car “packed with explosives”. Not “a car with some explosives in it”, but one apparently set up as a bomb, no doubt ready to be detonated and blamed on “insurgents”.

    And just what in the hell is an “undercover soldier” anyway?

    Are these SAS men not “unlawful combatants” because they are not wearing recognizable uniforms? After all, this is one of the excuses that were given for rounding up “terrorists” and “insurgents” in Afghanistan and Iraq. The hypocrisy amongst war apologists is astounding.

    This whole incident stinks. A pair of coalition dirty tricksters have been caught out basically rigging up a fake “suicide car bomb” for crying out loud. When will the sheep wake up and see this “war” for what it really is?

  • Why is no one discussing the fact that these two clowns were driving around in a car “packed with explosives”.

    Hopefully they were planning on blowing up some bad guys.

    no doubt ready to be detonated and blamed on “insurgents”

    My! What a fine tinfoil hat you have there! And your evidence that British forces have done that is…?

    And just what in the hell is an “undercover soldier” anyway?

    A soldier trying not to get identified as a soldier. Duh.

    Are these SAS men not “unlawful combatants” because they are not wearing recognizable uniforms?

    The war against the Iraqi government is over and it is now a counter-insurgency. Are you really so dim witted that you do not think it is approriate when fighting terrorists and insurgents to use undercover people? Tactics which might actually be effective are intolerable eh? Like so many of your ilk, it reveals that you are not against the war, you are actually on the other side.

    After all, that is one of the excuses that was given for rounding up “terrorists” and “insurgents” in Afghanistan and Iraq. The hypocrisy amongst war apologists is astounding.

    You seem to have mistaken me for someone else. I could not care less what legal fig leaf is used to kill supporters of Ba’athism and Islamic fascism, I care only for the entirely moral end of overthrowing a tyranny (done) and preventing something as bad from replacing it (work in progress). I care nothing for laws, just morals.

  • Alfred E. Neuman

    I care nothing for laws, just morals.

    Amen, brother. Are you sure you’re not a Rational Anarchist?

  • Paul Again

    Look, all BS aside, you never read about dozens (or hundreds) killed EACH and EVERY DAY in suicide attacks before the “liberation” of Iraq.

    The fact is that the _average_ Iraqi was FAR better off before Dubya Shrub decided that some “regime change” was necessary in Iraq. Do they have electricity and sewage running again yet? Are there any jobs? Oh yeah, American corporations are still “rebuilding infrastructure” where there wouldn’t have been any need to rebuild anything had weapons made by these same corporations not been used to destroy the country in the first place.

    At least with Saddam keeping the Shiites et al under control the country was relatively stable, while now it most certainly is not. (And since when are the Shiites our friends anyway? For most of my 33-years of being alive I have head various U.S. administrations railling on against “militant Shiite Muslims” (Hezbollah, Iran, etc)

    Hell, we’ve all seen the photos of a much-younger Donald Rumsfeld *warmly shaking Saddam’s hand* FFS. There are men in power right now that made millions off of dealings with someone they now brand a dictator and a madman, and who are making millions all over again during the “reconstruction”. Par for the course though. (Manuel Noriega anyone?)

    It’s all a con, and we are the “marks”.

    And Perry: If being on “the other side” means being opposed to the Isreali/Bush/Blair/Haliburton hegemony then yes, I am “actually on the other side”.

  • Every day in Iraq that al-Sadr goes unhanged is a wasted day. He should have been dealt with when he made his initial move.

  • ElamBend

    Mitch, you’ve hit the crux of the matter. At the very least we should have gotten him after Najaf, summer 2004.

  • htjyang

    It’s people like Paul who demonstrate that liberty is truly wasted on some people.

    The order that he so craves was created through terrorizing the population with mass graves and midnight visits from the police. If this is the order Paul likes, he should move to North Korea this instant.

    Paul’s post shows his lack of concern for Iraq and an over-abundant and misguided concern for the US. Iraq was never the issue. For Paul and his ilk, Hate America First is their ideology.

    Paul’s disregard for reality is shown through his point about Rumsfeld’s meeting with Saddam Hussein during the 1980s. At the time, Iraq was battling the theocracy of Iran. It was a matter of choosing the lesser of 2 evils. Nobody said political decisions are easy.

    The rest of us have no animus toward Shi’ite Iranians. We reserve our antagonism for the theocracy in Tehran, a government that does not reflect the will of its people. Raising that point merely demonstrates Paul’s lack of sufficient intelligence to make fine distinctions.

    Not only is he enlisted on the other side, he actively apologizes for Saddam Hussein’s regime with a disregard for facts that would make Goebbels blush. (Then again, Goebbels is probably his ideological soul mate anyway. So it’s all in the family.)

  • Michael Farris

    “I care nothing for laws, just morals.”

    Isn’t that the same rational used by the people 9/11, Madrid and London?

  • With respect Perry I don’t know that ‘replacing the Iraqi tyranny with something less bad’ (to paraphrase you) actually is a work in progress. When I wrote a piece on my blog about conservative objections to this war one of the reasons I cited was that, simply, trying to impose our favoured governmental system (democracy) on a people who might reasonably prefer their own (more or less, a tribal one) is an extraordinarily difficult thing to do. I’m taking a fundamentally conservative view of this but you might still see my point.

    We in the west unquestioningly rate our democratic systems as superior to all others currently existing (I certainly do) but fail to imagine – and, therefore, are quite baffled to discover – that others might not see it that way. In Iraq a substantial number of people have a preference for something we would not call deomocratic. We will therefore have to force our democracy on them – a situation replete with irony.

    These arguments, by the way, are not borne of anti-Americanism (I’m nothing of the sort) nor do they preface a desire to see coalition casualties or a failed project in Iraq. I want the coalition to succeed with minimal – preferably no – deaths.

    But let’s not kid ourselves that this is a country crying out for western-flavoured democracy. They may want rid of Saddam but the evidence is that they want to do things their way now.

    We should partition the country, help the three entities settle and then carefully withdraw. We will end up though with Islamic theocracies in at least one of the states. Perhaps we should have thought of that first.

  • Isn’t that the same rational used by the people 9/11, Madrid and London?

    Er, you don’t think imposing Sharia law on the world has just a teensy part to play in their motivations?

  • …simply, trying to impose our favoured governmental system (democracy) on a people who might reasonably prefer their own (more or less, a tribal one) is an extraordinarily difficult thing to do. I’m taking a fundamentally conservative view of this but you might still see my point.

    I don’t recall saying anthing about imposing democracy, just removing tyranny and replacing it with something (well, ANYTHING) better…

    We in the west unquestioningly rate our democratic systems as superior to all others currently existing (I certainly do) but fail to imagine – and, therefore, are quite baffled to discover – that others might not see it that way.

    Who is ‘we’? I for one question the fetishisation of democracy all the time. I think democracy is vastly over-rated. In fact I share the deep reversations for it that were clearly held by the founding father of the USA (which is why the USA has always been less democratic than Britain, and rightly so) 🙂

    No, I care little for democracy except as a means to an end (liberty) and I never see it as an end in and of itself. Moreover I think it is madness to impose a *truly* democratic majoritarian system on Iraq when what is needed is a constitutional republic that recognises the factional nature of the place and sets in checks and balances to both limit the impact of democracy and regionalise power away from Baghdad (sort of Switzerland-on-the-Tigris).

    Democracy needs to be bound hand and foot so that it is not even possible for a purality to vote Sharia onto the law books. I supported the overthrow of Ba’athism but that is not because I give a damn about replacing it with democracy.

  • Michael Farris

    “Er, you don’t think imposing Sharia law on the world has just a teensy part to play in their motivations?”

    I don’t think they care about Sharia law as law (in the way your or I think of law as a negotiated human process) but rather as pure morality (since they think it comes straight from God).

  • Sylvain Galineau

    “the Isreali/Bush/Blair/Haliburton hegemony ” Yeah, when you put it like that, the Saddam/Kim Jong Il/Kadhafi/Taliban/Castro/Arafat/Chavez alternative is so much more appealing.

    Speaking of moonbats, what I’d love to see is evidence for the believe that “the average Iraqi was far better off before”. This is in fact part of conventional wisdom and unquestioned by most. But….which Iraqis ? The Kurds ? Yeah, they were far better off before their dictatorial government started oppressing and mass-murdering them. The Shias ? Yeah, they were far better off before their dictatorial government started oppressing mass-murdering them. The Marsh Arabs ? Yeah, they were far better off before their dictatorial government started oppressing and mass-murdering them, never mind drain their environment.

    So, let’s see : 80% of the country was powerless, oppressed, abused, raped and tortured, when it was not steps from the mass grave if it dared organize a protest.

    Therefore, one must conclude that the ‘average Iraqi’ had to belong to the oppressing 20% who lorded it over the rest.

  • Law is always imposed even if what led up to it was a ‘negotiated human process’ (and often it is not even that).

    Morality on the other hand is a theory for which one forms a critical preference (or not). You cannot impose morality because even if a law has its basis in a moral theory, you are imposing the law, not the morality which imforms the law. Islam (or Baathism, for that matter) cares little compared to, say, Catholic Christianity about what you think or your moral judgement.just so long as you submit to the letter of the law.

  • We should partition the country, help the three entities settle and then carefully withdraw. We will end up though with Islamic theocracies in at least one of the states.

    I have been arguing for partition as that would still be an improvement.

    Perhaps we should have thought of that first

    You mean by that ‘thought of that first and decided to leave Saddam Hussain and his psychotic children in charge’?

  • Perry,

    You may not state that we should replace Iraq’s tyranny with democracy – and may not even favour that – but a form of democracy is what’s being pushed there. That’s the point. And my point is simply that whatever flavour of democracy we push – or liberty, if we were to try that – it may not be well-received by a culture traditionally organised along tribal lines.

    If you are of the opinion that whatever is being pushed IS better than what Iraqis had (a reasonable assumption) then you might explain why it is the Sunnis are rejecting it and the Shias are simply using it as a tool to further their own aims to be an independent, non-democratic, non-libertarian theocracy.

    My view is they do not want whatever it is the west wants for them; they want only what they’re used to and cultured towards.

    And I stated clearly that our democratic systems were superior to all other systems currently existing. This is not the same as saying that our democratic systems are in themselves perfect or even pretty good.

    As for leaving Saddam in charge (rather than invading Iraq) I wonder if you believe it was kindness on the part of the coalition that led to the invasion?

    In reality, if we were only worried about the Iraqi people’s welfare under a dictator we would probably have done nothing because, faced with murderous dictatorships elsewhere that’s mostly what we actually do do.

    It is possible to hold two ideas in one mind: dismay that such an invasion should have taken place under so many false pretences and in a way so inconsistent with any general principles or values but also pleasure at seeing a vicious and murderous dictatorship destroyed. It is easy to consider the means as irrelevent – such consideration is certainly inconvenient – but when one does that one finds oneself in the same camp as New Labour…

  • then you might explain why it is the Sunnis are rejecting it and the Shias are simply using it as a tool to further their own aims to be an independent, non-democratic, non-libertarian theocracy

    I care little if what comes in the future is not particularly democratic and I never expected it to be ‘libertarian’, just an improvement on Baathism. But what exactly do you mean by “The Sunnis”? Are you including the non-Islamofascist and non-Baathist Sunnis in that, such as the people who do support the allies? And are you saying that the Islamofascist militias of Sadr et al are the only Shia factions to choose from? Given that there is also a secular tradition in Iraq (probably the only thing we have to thank Saddam for), I find it hard to believe there are no alternatives to the religious nutters who were not top level Baathists, even if the religious moonbats seem to be the best organised at the moment.

    I wonder if you believe it was kindness on the part of the coalition that led to the invasion?

    Not at all, but really I do not care why. I think they (in retrospect foolishly) assumed Saddam was telling the truth when he implied he would use (and therefore had) WMDs if invaded and that was a big factor. I certainly believed there must have been something to it and yet clearly it was not in fact the case. To be honest I would have supported Saddam’s overthrow anyway even if I had known the WMD issue was a canard but at the time the WMD thing was certainly one big factor motivating me.

    In reality, if we were only worried about the Iraqi people’s welfare under a dictator we would probably have done nothing because, faced with murderous dictatorships elsewhere that’s mostly what we actually do do.

    So? Does that mean if someone tolerates evil somewhere, they must tolerate it everywhere?