Archive for Vietnam

The Rising Cost of Stupidity and Brutality

Posted in Afghanistan, Afghanistan War, Middle East Conflict, US Domestic Politics, US Values and Freign Policy with tags , , , , , on February 26, 2012 by whatafteriraq

The recent flaps concerning indiscretions by American troops in Afghanistan (urinating on Taliban corpses, burning copies of the Quran) and Syrian brutality against its own population have one very common and powerful thread: both were acts that were not intended for widespread public attention or scrutiny but have become, in the new vernacular, “viral.” They both illustrate that the impact of electronic mediation has both a liberating and a constraining impact.

The simple fact that arises from the electronic mediation of the world is that potentially there is no such thing as entirely private behavior. The ability of handheld video cameras recording and sending via satellites images of the horrors of war made their first appearance in coverage of the latter stages of the Vietnam conflict, and the images of violence they portrayed helped turn public opinion in this country against the war. What those early electronic “pioneers” could do is peanuts compared to the capacity to transform private acts (or public acts you would just as soon remain unobserved) into full-scale media events. The ability to be stupid or to behave intentionally atrociously now carries a much higher price than it used to have.

The recent uproar over Quran burning and corpse desecration dramatize this impact. People have been righteously indignant over these acts in ways that almost totally miss the point. What was done in both cases was not new or more despicable than has been done in the past; they were not. Past indiscretions in warfare, however, generally occurred when the cameras were not around, so that stupid behavior was only a non-electronic memory of those who witnessed it. Cell phones with the capability to take what are effectively motion pictures means anyone who does virtually anything anywhere has it potentially immortalized electronically; Facebook and similar outlets guarantee whatever is done is an instant global media event. Do something really stupid and the world knows about it. When one of your buddies records the event with the full knowledge of the participants (the urination episode) the stupid add to the problem by acting as willing producers and stars of the production. Afterwards, somebody (normally the government) has to apologize for the indiscretion, an action that is itself subject to criticism.

This phenomenon has spread to purposive acts of thuggery and atrocity. The Arab Spring, after all, is ingrained in global minds as much for the brutal resistance of besieged regimes recorded on shaky mobile phones as it is for anything else. Syria is just the most recent and egregrious example of brutality as a television event. Once again, the point is not that such behavior exists in any unique sense in Syria, or in Egypt and Libya before it. Governments and others (occupying powers, for instance) have been doing this for millennia. Imagine for a moment Genghis Khan and the Golden Horde sweeping across the Eurasian plain slaughtering everybody they encountered as a modern media event. The point is that such behavior was much easier to get away with when it could be denied and no contrary hard evidence like motion pictures could be broght to bear as counter evidence. That is impossible now; if you are a despot who wants to savage your population, you probably still can do so, but you cannot keep it a secret or within the realm of plausible deniability. The cost of thuggery has risen; whether (or when) that cost becomes too great to bear is a question for any potential brutalizer.

This cost extends to domestic public behavior. In the United States, the Rodney King beating in Los Angeles should have been the warning bell. The LAPD is still living down those privately recorded images of police brutality, and everytime a cop uses arguably excessive force, part of the reaction is going to be from the video accounts of those actions. The result is to change how police act and is a conscious part of contemporary police training.

The point is the same in both venues. The bar of acceptable behavior both in international crises and in domestic actions has been raised by the knowledge that just about anything that happens is likely to be subject to outside scrutiny. It does not matter if an indiscretion is committed by a 19-year-0ld soldier in the traumatic aftermath of battle or a 20-year-old college student getting drunk at a fraternity party; whatever you do may well be on global television, and even if it is not, it is still out there somewhere in cyberspace ready to come back and bite you in the posterior at some point in the future.

Institutions try to confront and surmount these problems to minimize them, but such efforts are almost inevitably incomplete. The U.S. Marines, for instance have produced an impressive guide on appropriate behavior by Marines in Afghanistan (“Afghanistan: Operational Culture for Deployed Personnel.” Quantico, VA:: Center for Advanced Operational Cultural Learning, 2009–available on the web) that specifically covers urination and Quaran burning. Obviously, not everyone read or internalized it. The simple fact is that in war particularly, people will do stupid or evevn venal things. In the past, most of these transgressions went unobserved or not noted; today, no stupidity goes unnoticed. 

These simple new parameters are a fact of modern warfare (or modern life more generally) that are not going to go away. They cannot be reversed, and the best that can be done is to try to understand and contain them as much as possible (damage limitation). This is a new and, I think, sadly underdeveloped area of inquiry and understanding, with implications that need to be incorporated into future planning. One particularly evident area is that of military occupations, which will be the subject of the next posting.

Intellectual Sclerosis, Sycophancy, and Spinelessness and War Decisions

Posted in Afghanistan, Afghanistan War, Getting Into Iraq, Iraq and Vietnam, Iraq War with tags , , on July 11, 2010 by whatafteriraq

The decision process by which the United States has blundered into ill-chosen, ill-conceived, and unwinnable wars since the middle 1960s has been disheartening but consistent. The process began with the convoluted decision process by which the country shambled into Vietnam, and has continued with the decisions to become immersed in feckless conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

What is disheartening is that the decision process in each case has been essentially the same and has reached the same, wrong decision, making one mindful of Einstein’s definition of insanity as doing the same thing repeatedly but expecting different results.

This observation certainly does not rise to the level of revelation, but it came back to mind while reading an article in last week’s Newsweek (“The Afghan Endgame,” by John Barry, Sami Yousafzai, and Don Moreau). In the article, the authors remind us that at the time the U.S. decided to bumble its way into the Afghan Civil War, there were voices within the government that counselled us not to do so, and did so citing very specific reasons, essentially all of which have proven to be correct . In this case, the vessel for this analysis was a group of CIA analysts dubbed the “Red Team,” whose job was to critique mounting plans to make war on and in Afghanistan. Their conclusion, according to the article, was that “the best America could reasonably hope for was to do as the British did in the 19th century and adopt the Afghans’ own tradition of paying off provincial warlords and sending out occasional punitive expeditions against the recalcitrant.” The paper, quite appropriately, was titled “Chaosistan.”

The Red Team, of course, has proven absolutely right in its conclusion about the initial war plan: “this plan can’t work.” Moreover, there are some indications that the latest U.S. initiative of working directly with the warlords represents a tardy recognition of the Red Team’s work. Whether it does or not is not the point, however.

The exposure of the Red Team effort reveals the similarity between the decision processes that led the U.S. into Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. In each case, there was ample warning, both from inside and outside government, that the proposed course was a mistake, placing the country in an unwinnable, quixotic campaign from which extrication would prove difficult. In all cases, those political elements in the United States who believe that all world problems can be solved by the application of American military muscle argued (falsely), that American vital interests would prevail and that if the American military was given the proper support, it could solve the problem (this latter assertion providing, of course, the excuse for explaining failure when a flawed policy failed: the military was not given adequate support, and if they had been….). In the process, those who argued against involvement were ignored, even after they were proven correct by later events. One would have thought that the mistake of ignoring Vietnam critics would have resulted in at least some appreciation that the dissenters might, just might, have a point when the decisions to go into Iraq and Afghanistan were made. Apparently not. Why?

As the title suggests, I propose a three-pronged explanation of sorts. It is, by no means, scientific, and its alliteration is also intended to indicate it probably should not be taken entirely literally. It does not, however, mean there is no truth to it. Here we go.

1. Intellectual sclerosis. The dictionary defines sclerosis as “hardening of a tissue or part of the body” in an unnatural way that makes that body part perform inadequately. While the term is normally associated with things like arteries, I suggest that the inflexibility underlying sclerosis can also be applied to intellectual processes. In this case, the sclerosis can be thought of as the ingrained Cold War mentality that the solution to all problems with some apparent military content is the application of U.S. military power. By extension, it is somehow unpatriotic and effete to suggest that military power is not the appropriate answer.

2. Sycophancy: A sycophant, of course, is a “servile or self-seeking flatterer; parasite; toady; lickspittle.” The upper reaches of virtually all private or public organizations have ample supplies of sycophants surrounding the leaders of those organizations (e.g. CEOs, generals, presidents of the United States). The role of the sycophant is to tell the leader how great and how smart he or she is, and thus how correct their decisions, regardless of their quality, are. Sycophants nurture and breed scleroris by a) enthusiastically endorsing sclerotic decisions, and b) by developing the same sclerosis to apply should they become leaders themselves (which, of course, they hope their sycophancy will make more likely).

3. Spinelessness. The definition of spinelessness is, literally, having no spine, and in its figurative sense, means “without courage, determination, or moral force.” Spinelessness enters the equation when people who could or should object to sclerotic, sycophant-supported bad decisions do not forcibly object to those for fear of the consequences, normally political. In the three cases of Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, spinelessness has been much in efforts as otherwise thoughtful analysts recoil in fear from the sclerotic warmongers who made the wrong decisions about going to war.

One might, of course, add a fourth “s” word to the mix: stupidity, or question the sanity (using the Einstein definition) of those who continue to make these ultimately misinformed decisions. That would not, however, be the point of the exercise. The point is: how can the decision process be improved so that prescient but unorthodox and unpopular perspectives are given their proper shrift. The lesson of Vietnam was supposed to be no more Vietnams, but that lesson was forgotten in Iraq and Afghanistan. A lesson of Afghanistan will, one hopes, be no more Afghanistans. The question is how to avoid the fate of no more Vietnams.

A Critical Decision Point in Afghanistan

Posted in Afghanistan, Afghanistan War with tags , , , on November 4, 2009 by whatafteriraq

Although supporters of the Afghan War (including the Obama administration) hate the comparison, the outcome of the recent runoff election fiasco in Afghanistan suggests a parallel with the American experience in Vietnam.

In 1963, the United States was supp0rting the government of Ngo Dinh Diem. His regime did not enjoy great support in the country, was notoriously corrupt and repressive, and Diem was a master at ignoring American advice about how to improve the situation in the country. Meanwhile, the situation on the ground continued to deteriorate, with South Vietnamese control gradually contracting to control of major cities, while the National Liberation Front/Viet Cong (NLF/VC) and their North Vietnamese allies increasingly controlled the countryside. It was increasingly clear that “our” side was going to lose unless something happened.

That something was the assassination of Diem and his brother Ngo Dinh Nhu in late 1963 as part of a coup. The exact nature of American complicity in this action remains a matter of conjecture that goes beyond present purposes. Suffice it to say that the United States neither acted decisively to prevent what happened nor openly mourned the passing of Diem.

The death of Diem, however, created a critical decision point for the United States that may have its parallel in Afghanistan today. In Vietnam, retrospective (and the ignored advice of a few within and outside government at the time) suggested that the murder of Diem provided the United States to cut its losses in an unwinnable war by simply saying, in effect, “We have done our best here, but they cannot get their act together, so we are leaving.” That path was not taken; instead, the US backed a series of military governments and ultimately lost in Vietnam.

There are clear parallels today. Hamid Karzai is, in many ways, Ngo Dinh Diem. Understanding the frailty of historical comparisons, Marzai’s record is not that much different than Diem’s. In particular, an article in yesterday’s Washington Post by Scott Wilson and Rajiv Chandrasekaran (whose book, Imperial Life in the Emerald City, is my favorite on Iraq), included a depiction of Karzai that entirely befitted Diem, arguing Karzai’s “record raises doubts about his willingness to take the steps necessary to reform his government.” Whether Karzai himself is corrupt or not is beside the point: his regime reeks of corruption. He has promised to root all the corruption out; so did Diem. Diem didn’t mean it; does Karzai?

The United States’s plan for additional forces also harkens back to those dark days of 1963. In recent days, we have been told that the purpose of the forces is to reinforce government control of major cities, leaving the hinterlands (which, of course, is the hotbed of insurgent support) to the Taliban while the government develops its own forces. This emphasis is grotesquely reminiscent of the map of Vietnam in 1963. Things did not work out so well then. Why should they now?

The bottom line of a comparison between 1963 and now is that the bogus election and small melodrama of the cancelled runoff provide the same kind of critical junction that Diem’s death did. The election outcome is an open sham, and everyone knows it. Does this mean there is a chance to ask the same question that was raised and discarded in 1963? Should we (or can we) say, “Hamid, you have had your chance and you’ve blown it. We are leaving, except possibly with some Special Forces to harass and chase down Al Qaeda. Good luck!”

I don’t expect anybody in government seriously to consider this alternative, but is it any worse than what we are doing now?

The Long Road Ahead in Afghanistan, I

Posted in Afghanistan, Afghanistan War with tags , , , , , on September 11, 2009 by whatafteriraq

Recent developments in Afghanistan–discontent over the elections, increased violence, likely US military calls for additional manpower, growing U.S. public disaffection with the effort–have all coalesced to increase the intensity of discussions about what the United States seeks to accomplish in that far distant country, what the barriers are to achievement, and how long it may take to get to wherever we want to go. The general consensus among decisionmakers and supporters of the war outside the government is that the effort will be long and hard. No one seems to dispute that assessment. What the assertions leave out, however, are two crucial elements to analyzing and reaching some reasoned judgment about the whole thing: what are the barriers to getting to a desirable end state, and is it worth it?

Answers to the first question can be enumerated, based on past experience that the United States and others have had in these kinds of situations but which the defenders appear either to be unaware of or choose to ignore–mostly because they do not like the answer they get. The second question asks for a more subjective judgent, although it is one that is best informed if one fully understands the barriers along the way.

Let me suggest that there are analytical ways to approach the problem of what can be done in Afghanistan. It is the purpose of this, and subsequent articles in this series, to raise some of the things that must be addressed and resolved before a reasonable, realistic assessment of the road ahead in Afghanistan can be determined. Almost all of the elements in the analysis are based in prior experience, most notably in Vietnam but alsewhere as well. For analytical purposes, let me propose the following “model” to help organize the discussion. It can be represented by a simple heuristic formula:

Goal Attainment=Successful COIN (both military and political)+Successful Post-COIN Development (State-building).

The formula suggests three complex sets of concerns: what do we (and the Afghans) want as an outcome? how do we overcome the insurgency and provide a framework for post-conflict Afghanistan? and what activity is required to produce a post-conflict that achieves the overall goals?  This posting will begin to address some of the complexity of the first element in the formula; subsequent posts will will address the other elements.

The question of goals is the situation in the target country, in this case Afghanistan, that is dictated by the interests of the various parties to the conflict. It is the definition of Sir Basil Liddel-Hart’s “better state of the peace” (hereafter BSOP, a concept developed in Snow and Drew, From Lexington to Baghdad and Beyond). What kind of post-war Afghanistan is one in which the United States can say it has won?

Here the problem begins, because what the United States wants out of the Afghanistan experience may well not be the same thing that Afghans want. This is a familiar problem that occurs whenever an outsider interferes in an otherwise internal war, and resolving differing visions of the BSOP may complicate a successful resolution and may even make a resolution acceptable to both the outsider and the side it is assisting impossible (of course, the U.S. BSOP is fundamentally incompatible with that of the opponent, the Taliban, although that also may be a variable in the deliberations).

For the United States, the preferred BSOP is a free, stable, preferably democratic (although what that means is negotiable), anti-Taliban Afghanistan that fulfills the most basic American interest, which is an Afghanistan that excludes and facilitates the destruction of Al Qaeda. The real basic American interest, of course, is the last one, and the other elements of the BSOP are what we see as conditions that will facilitate the basic interest of Al Qaeda destruction.

It is not so clear what the Afghans see as the BSOP or if, indeed, there is any single set of conditions that would form a national consensus. It is not, for instance, at all clear that many Afghans care much one way or the other about political democracy or that they actually want a strong, stable central government unless their particular ethnic group has sufficient authority within that entity to protect their group. That rejoinder in mind, one can hypothesize an Afghan set of conditions that constitute their BSOP: an Afghanistan that is stable, prosperous, and which ends the occupation by the outsiders, including the United States.

Clearly, these sets of objectives are not the same. Since the Afghan BSOP is my own construction, one can argue that it is biased to make my point regarding incompatibility, but I would suggest that regardless of how one constructs the Afghan BSOP, one is unlikely to find a set of outcomes that is clearly entirely compatible with those of the United States. Most importantly, any set of objectives that does not include removal of the occupiers represents a distortion about how any country feels about outside interference, and that is especially true in Afghanistan, given its history.

Are the goals reconcilable? If so, how? It is the general practice of an outside party to find “natives” who share their worldview and to promote them to power and counsel. Hamid Karzai fulfills that role in Afghanistan. But does what he wants represent the desires of the rest of the country? Probably not, and support for Karzai is almost certainly inversely related to the degree of his association with the Americans (a dynamic the al-Maliki government is learning in Iraq).

One of the differences is certainly about what kind of postwar stability the country wants. From an American perspective, the answer (although rarely phrased this way) is the westenization of the country: a strong central government with popular support that can engage in the kinds of orderly development that can transform Afghanistan into a vibrant, secure, and anti-Al Qaeda place.

But is this what the Afghans want? Afghanistan has NEVER had a strong central government, and the ethnic basis of Afghan politics suggests that the emergence of a government that represents the aspirations and loyalties of most of the population is a pipe dream, or at least a long-term goal well beyond the immeidate or near-term horozon of possibility. What if the best one can expect in Afghanistan is a reversion to the very loose, tribally based system of government (based around the loya jirgas) that existed in pre-Soviet Afghanistan? Such a structure would be, as it always has been, highly decentralized, with great degrees of regional autonomy and tribal control. What if this is what the Afghans want? And what if that autonomy included the continued de facto provision of sanctuary to elements of Al Qaeda?

These are not fanciful questions to ask. They are also indicative of the kinds of conflicts that almost always emerge between the indigenous elements in the kinds of states where outsiders intervene and the intervenors. If there was agreement about how to run the place, after all, there would probably not be a full-scale insurgency that required countering. The indigenous population eventually has to sort out the situation and reach its own accord, which may or may not have much to do with the interests and desires of the intervening party.

In these situations, who prevails? There are two additional dimensions of the question of how to resolve incompatibilities between the BSOPs of the indigenous population and intervenors. One is to whom this the outcome more important? The other is the value-laden question of which set of objectives should prevail.  These questions will form the base for the next posting.

Gaza and Asymmetrical Warfare

Posted in Israel-Palestine Peace Process, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Middle East Conflict, Middle East Peace with tags , , , , , , , , on January 19, 2009 by whatafteriraq

A ceasefire has been announced in Gaza. For the moment, it seems to be holding. The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) is leaving, and the Gazans are sifting through the ruins, predictably finding more bodies. Has anybody really won anything in all this. Probably not, if one projects the outcome very far into the future.

Gaza is a clear example of modern warfare in action: a powerful, frustrated, conventional power facing an unconventional, rules-defying, but much weaker opponent. It is the classic scenario of what is called, since Donald Rumsfeld popularized the term, asymmetrical warfare. The essence of this approach to the ancient problem that an inferior force faces when confronting an overwhelmingly more powerful opponent is how to avoid defeat. For the superior force, it is how to achieve victory. For the inferior force, the first rule is to avoid fighting the way the more powerful opponent wants you to, because the more powerful force is assured success if you do. On the other hand, if you can change the rules, you may prevail by simply outlasting the opponent. The United States first learned this in Vietnam, and arguably should have learned it in Iraq and may eventually learn it in Afghanistan. The Israelis seem intent on not learning this lesson at all.

Although the dynamics of asymmetrical warfare (which I discuss in some length in When America Fights and National Security for a New Era) are complex, two lessons stand out that bear directly on the fighting over Gaza. One is a variation of Mohammed Ali’s “rope a dope” strategy; the other is the dilemma of success.

Ali’s rope a dope strategy involved allowing the opponent to pummel his arms and torso until his foe either thought he had weakened Ali or had worn himself out, at which point Ali would attack and put him away. The “rope” part of the analogy derived from the fact that Ali bounced off the ropes while the pummeling occurred; the “dope” of course was the opponent’s belief he was accomplishing something.

The analogy with Hamas in Gaza is not perfect, of course. Hamas and the Gazans absiorbed a pounding not because they wanted to, but because they had no choice. The Israeli military machine was much too powerful for Hamas to confront, and doing so would have been suicidal. Instead, they melted into the general population (another characteristic of modern asymmetrical war) and let the Israelis pound away, as the world looked on with increasing horror at the toll in civilian dead. When the Israelis finally stopped punching, Hamas was still standing. Outside the United States, the Israelis end up looking like blood-thirsty, baby-killing barbarians and Hamas manages almost looks better. Who is the “dope” here?

Being lured into this kind of situation illustrates the frustration of being the strong power. Israel has been the victim of deadly harassment by Hamas for some time and had become very frustrated by it. According to a New York Times analysis today (1/19/09), Israelis had adopted the Hebrew phrase “baal habayit hishtageya,” whic translates as “the boss has lost it” to describe their frustration. As one official explained, “The phrase means that our civilians are attacked by you, we are not going to respond in proportion but will use all means we have to cause you such damage that you will think twice in the future.”

The problem is that this punishment may cause the attacked state to think twice in different ways than the attacker intends. As one Palestinian Gazan, described as a member of Fatah, put it, “But a guy whose child has just been killed doesn’t want peace. He wants war.” In this case, he wants Hamas.

This leads to the second problem, which is measuring success. For the opponents in asymmetrical warfare, one of the asymmetries is that success–or victory–has different meanings for the two sides. For Israel, the only real sense of victory meant  destroying Hamas and thus its continued attacks on Israel. Nothing short of ending those attacks constitutes victory–the Israelis could only win by winning. Hamas, on the other hand, could not possibly defeat the Israelis, but it could survive their onslaught and return to fight another day–Hamas won by not losing.

So who won? In the very short run, Israel can probably argue success, because Hamas attacks will probably not resume in earnest for awhile. The Israelis expect a few token rocket attacks so Hamas can demonstrate its resilience, but not much more. At the same time, Hamas has survived, and the victims of the attacks will undoubtedly provide it with new recruits who hate Israel at least as much as their fallen comrades did. In the end, nothing will have changed much.

All this suggests the enormous frustrations of modern asymmetrical warfare. The Israelis reaction to Hamas was understandable, but in terms of accomplishing any meaningful long-term goals, it was arguably stupid as well. While I do not pretend to know the secret to creating a lasting peace between Hamas and the Israelis, I am pretty sure that beating Hamas to death will not work for the Israelis. Maybe they should try something else, like honest negotiations and reversing the Israeli populating ot the West Bank. Just a thought.

Those SOFA-Schlepping Iraqis

Posted in Getting out of Iraq, Iraq and Election, Iraq and Vietnam, Iraq War, Leaving Iraq with tags , , , , , on July 10, 2008 by whatafteriraq

In one of last week’s posts (“Schlepping toward the Center”), I described the process by which the Obama and McCain positions on Iraq were moving toward one another. This week, it is the Iraqis’ turn to join the parade.

Two pronouncements by the Iraqis in the last two days demonstrate their ability to master the schlepping game. In a widely reported statement on July 8, Iraqi National Security Adviser Mouwaffak al-Rubaie repeated Iraq’s reluctance to enter into a new open-ended Status of Forces Agreement with the United States. “We will not accept any memorandum of understanding that does not have specific dates to withdraw foreign forces from Iraq.” Sounds like they are going to force the US to leave at the end of the year, doesn’t it? Score one for Obama?

Not so fast. They may want the US to leave, but maybe not right away. In a statement released July 9, 2008, “Iraqi spokesman” Ali al-Dabbagh issued a clarifying schlep that moved the Iraqis back toward the McCain move to the center: The pullout, he said, “could be 2011 or 2012, We don’t have a specific date in mind, but we do need to agree on setting a deadline.”

The United States was quick to pick up on this Iraqi move toward the American center. Lt. General James Dubik, US Army commander in charge of training the Iraqi army, announced that training could be completed in 2009 “as early as April. Could be as late as August.” Once that army is trained to its projected strength of about 565,000, it presumably can take over responsibility for more and more Iraqi provinces’ security, which in turn triggers the withdrawal process Obama advertises. It does not, however, mean everyone can come home (or move one country over to Iran, or two countries over to Afghanistan), because there will be residual needs such as intelligence provision, air cover, and special forces missions by the Americans (which sounds remarkably like US actions in Vietnam in 1972 in Vietnam under the policy of Vietnamization).

The net result of all this, of course, is mostly to show the Iraqis are learning thedir American electoral politics. Simply refusing to negotiate some form of new SOFA would undercut the McCain position of staying until there is victory. Since McCain might win, that’s bad American politics for the Iraqis. At the same time, negotiating a long-term presence for the Americans in a new SOFA is bad politics two ways. First, it antaonizes the vast majority of Iraqis who want the US to leave. Second, since Obama may win (possibly probably will win), such an agreement would leave the appearance of tying the hands of the new administration, which would not endear the Iraqis to that regime.

How do the Iraqis solve their problem? They join the schlepping toward the middle. And it could well work. As Andrew Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) is quoted in todays’s Washington Post, “If they can establish a clar schedule for withdrawal, it is probably a schedule the next president will accept.” That schedule, of course, could be dateless, with figures to be added later.

Source: Tyson, Ann Scott, and Dan Eggen. “U.S. General: Iraq Forces to Be Ready in ’09.” Washington Post, July 9, 2008, Aii.

America’s Iraqi Quisling Problem

Posted in Getting out of Iraq, Iraq and Vietnam, Leaving Iraq, Morality of War with tags , , , , , , on May 19, 2008 by whatafteriraq

Vidkun Quisling (1887-1945) was a Norwegian politician and former military officer who collaborated with Nazi Germany in its plans to occupy Norway in World War II and who, as a reward for his “service,” was made head of the puppet Norwegian government during part of the Nazi occupation of that country. At the end of the war, he was tried and executed by the Norwegian government for treason. His name became a synonym for collaborator and traitor. To be a quisling is to be someone who gives aid and comfort to an occupying enemy and to be deemed a traitor who deserves a horrible fate among his or her countrymen.

Every war that involves an invasion, conquest, and subsequent occupation of a country creates its collaborators with the occupiers. Collaborationists are necessary for an occupation when the occupying power does not know much about the country it occupies or how it works, and especially when there is a shortage of people among the occupiers who speak the local language. The United States’ occupation of Iraq qualifies as needy for all those reasons, and as a result, the Americans have recruited and hired literally thousands of Iraqis to aid in their administration of the occupation.

Those employees look like classic quislings to much of the Iraqi population that opposes the occupation. Even if the Iraqi who serves as a translator in a U.S. Green Zone office did not collaborate in facilitating the invasion, he or she is aiding the occupation and is, by virtue of that action, a traitor. When the United States leaves Iraq, those quislings left behind face a very grim, and probably short future.

The Iraqis who have served the United States understand this problem, and their fate was described in a “60 Minutes” segment that aired on May 18, 2008. Those who remain in Iraq working for the Americans hide their identity and particularly their occupations for fear of being killed if their true lives are exposed. Many others (over a million) have fled to Jordan and Syria, where they live in the most tentative exile. They are, for instance, not allowed to work, because the local labor markets cannot absorb them; as a result, they exist on whatever savings they may have brought with them. When that runs out, they are set adrift. They cannot return to Iraq for fear of being killed. Most want to come to the United States, but the U.S. government refuses to admit most of them (only a trickle of those who have applied have been allowed to enter the country).

This creates a very real moral quisling problem for the United States. It happened before in Vietnam.When the United States evacuated that country, thousands of Vietnamese tried to flee with their American “benefactors” (remember the scenes of Vietnamese being literally kicked off the struts of American helicopters evacuating the U.S. Embassy in Saigon). All the major candidates for the presidency in 2008 have said the U.S. must do better by our Iraqi allies than we did by our Vietnamese allies. But we aren’t. Why not?

The U.S. government is, of course, the Bush administration for this purpose, an it has set the policies the State Department is enforcing on Iraqi immigrants seeking entrance in to the United States. Officials of the administration presumably have ordered (or at least encouraged) the ponderous processing of Iraqi immigration requests. Partly, the reason must be that admitting a lot of Iraqis who fear returning home is an admission that the U.S. mission of creating an idyllic, moderate democracy has failed, which the administration refuses to do. Partly as well (and ironically), the U.S. government no doubt fears that some of those applying are really terrorists (whom the action in Iraq was supposed to help eliminate): in this case, the problem is that we do not really trust those whom we recruited to help do our dirty work. Partly, it probably also reflects the nativism and anti-immigrant sentiment surrounding the illegal immigrant question.

Regardless of why it is happening, the result is a national disgrace. Iraq may have a quisling problem, but the United States created it by imposing the occupation, and if the United States retains a shard of honor toward those it befriends, it will take care of those quislings it has created. The Nazis lost and were in no position to save Vidkun Quisling. What is our excuse?