Three Questions On Iraq

Over at the The Volokh Conspiracy, Orin Kerr asked three questions for bloggers who support the war and ask them to post their answers and send him links. His questions are in italics below followed by my answers. This is a big subject and I have tried to be brief so the usual caveats about generalizations apply. I may also tweak and update this as the day goes on.

First, assuming that you were in favor of the invasion of Iraq at the time of the invasion, do you believe today that the invasion of Iraq was a good idea? Why/why not?

I still believe it was a good idea. The case for invading Iraq can be divided into two sections: A narrow case based on the direct threat posed by Saddam himself and the wider case based on the regional effects of destroying his regime.

The Narrow Case: The case for invading Iraq was always about Saddamís potential future threat. Saddamís Iraq was a rouge state with the technical capacity to create weapons of mass destruction such as nerve gas that could be deployed by terrorist networks anywhere in the world. Saddam had the demonstrated both the ruthlessness to carry out the attacks and the bad judgment to believe he could get away with it.

Everything discovered since the war has reinforced this concept. Saddam had no intention of abandoning WMDís . One of his potemkin programs involved the creation of ricin and aflatoxin both protein-poisons useless for battlefield use. Their only possible use was as terror weapons. Saddam support of this program shows a clear strategic intent to have a mass-casualty terrorist capability.

Saddam did not have the large-scale extant stockpiles of chemical weapons like everybody assumed he did at the time of the war but this means little to the case. He did not need large amounts of weapons such as nerve gas to carry out a mass-casualty attack. He still commanded the technical cadre that had created the weapons in the past and who could have done so again in short order.

Wider Case: Destroying Saddamís regime was a necessary step in regional reform of states that give rise to Islamic associated terrorism. No reform could begin in Saudi Arabia while U.S. troops were stationed there to protect against Iraq. Withdrawing U.S. troops from Saudi Arabia has prompted internal reform and even an unprecedented slow-boil civil war. Syria is far more pliable even to the point of beginning to withdraw troops from Lebanon. Terrorism against Israel is drying up and reform within the Palestinians is beginning. The Mullahs of Iran face rising internal opposition. Libya has surrendered its WMD programs. All these effects can be linked to the invasion of Iraq.

Second, what reaction do you have to the not-very-upbeat news coming of Iraq these days, such as the stories I link to above?

I think the major media gives about as good an idea about the situation in Iraq as the local TV news gives about the crime rate in your hometown. If all you knew about any community came from TV reporting you would conclude that it was murder central. If-it-bleeds-it-leads applies to Iraq as well.

Independent sources of information show a much better picture. A few back of the envelope calculations show that fewer than 1/10 of one percent of the Iraqi population is involved in the active insurgency. Iraq is a nation of 25 million people. If only 1 percent were willing take up arms against the coalition we would have an active insurgency of 250,000 thousand people. The true upper limit is around 20,000 while the best guess is between 5,000 to 10,000. Most of those are the survivors of Al-Sadarís militia. The active Sunni insurgency is in the range of 1,000 to 3,000. Al-Sadar and the Sunniís do not coordinate. They are two separate groups with opposing goals.

The insurgency is geographically limited. Most sections of the country see little or no political violence. Most Iraqi have never even seen a Coalition soldier.

If most of the country opposes the Coalition where are the mass protest? Such protests are not illegal and small protests occur all the time. Why donít the people rise up and vent their true feelings? The Coalition would be powerless against such a tactic and everybody knows it. Why hasnít the provisional government ask the Coalition to leave or at least registered a protest? Iraqi want the foreigners to leave but only after the country has stabilized. I think that attitude is very healthy.

Also, look at all the nightmare scenarios that many predicted that did not happen. There were no huge masses of refugees. There were no Stalingrad-like battles for the major cities. There was no large-scale ethnic conflict resulting in a nation wide blood bath. In fact, there hasnít been any significant ethnic conflict at all.

I expected to lose about 2,000 America lives in the war more or less evenly divided between the war and the reconstruction. The resistance seen so far is a bit more than I personally expected but is not off the charts. I expect there will be some violence in Iraq for at least another decade.

It is important to remember that large-scale historical events like the invasion and reconstruction of Iraq always look like an unending series of screwups to the people living through them. Only the distance of history lets us believe that such events are ever carried out cleanly and efficiently.

Ē Third, what specific criteria do you recommend that we should use over the coming months and years to measure whether the Iraq invasion has been a success?Ē

I can recommend several criteria:

Net Population Movement: Look how people vote with their feet. The net migration into Iraq today is still positive. More people are returning than leaving. Internal migration of people is also indicative.

Electricity and Oil production: Electricity consumption is the best overall indicator of economic health and growth. Unlike monetary measurements it cannot be easily faked and it can be centrally measures. Electricity trends in Iraq are slow but positive. Many outlying regions are getting electricity for the first time since the first Gulf War. Oil production is also a good indicator. It is hard to produce oil in a war zone where a hand grenade can take out a pipeline. Increasing oil production is indicative of increasing stability.

Secondary Elections: Any thug can get elected to office once. The real test of a democracy is when an office holder loses an election and steps down. Until that happens we wonít know if we have truly succeeded.

Terrorism: Ironically, if Iraq does not suffer from some terrorism in the future we will have failed. Terrorism is only useful as a tactic against democratic or proto-democratic states. Police states do not suffer from terrorism. There was no terrorism during Saddamís rule for example. Terrorist can only function against a state that has limited police powers and a free press. The occasional terrorist attack in the coming years in Iraq will mean that the power of the state is limited and that the press is free enough to report the attacks.

The key to winning this conflict is persistence. If we strongly communicate that we intend to stay until we succeed the insurgency will lose heart and those sitting on the fence will be encouraged to cooperate.

I believe the next 6 weeks will be telling. The immediate goal of the insurgency is to cause Bush to lose re-election. They will try to increase the tempo of their operations to that end. They will interpret a Bush loss as victory on the chance that Kerry will be more likely to withdraw and as a sign that Americans do not back the war long term. Fearing we will abandon them each, little group of Iraqi will begin to scramble to salvage what they can for themselves and their extended families.

If Bush wins re-election, especially by a wide margin, the insurgency will rapidly wind down. The insurgents will see only at least four more years of fighting Bush. If Kerry wins, it will explode regardless of how effective and determined Kerry is in prosecuting the war. The insurgents and fence sitters will not believe he will fight to the finish.

5 thoughts on “Three Questions On Iraq”

  1. I hope you’re correct, Shannon, but I think that the “insurgency” (read as “terrorism”) is likely to last at least until the Iraqi elections in January. True, they hope to influence the US elections, but also create fear in Iraq to keep Iraqis from the poles so they can claim the election is not legitimate.

  2. Finally, there’s a discussion at about the Thomas P.M. Barnett essay preview to the book, The Pentagon’s New Map. contributors approach the issue from a slightly different perspective.

    Barnett’s essay deals with many of the issues in both your discussion, and the discussion I linked to above.

    Thanks again for an excellent read.

  3. I think that the most important thing to remember is that Iraq isn’t a separate war so much as a theater of operations.

    In order to fight Islamic fundamentalism outside of the United States, we needed to gain a foothold in the region.

    We did start in Afghanistan to hunt down Al Qaeda (and for reasons unknown, many americans still believe that the War on Terror is only a war against Al Qaeda). It is tough to use this as a base for operations in the Middle East as it is merely on the edge and we want a more centralized location.

    So we had Afghanistan and Pakistan on our side at the moment. Remember the axis of evil? Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq border Iran. I think that we took Iraq first as a way to pressure Iran while gaining an important position at the crossroads of the Middle East and also attempting to secure Iraqs WMD programs. We also took out a brutal regime led by an imperial fascist (Mr. Hussein wanted to rule all of the Middle East).

    I think that Iraq was supposed to be a “magnet” for the terrorists and this wouldnt catch as well in Afghanistan which is very mountainous. So we have all of these terrorists pouring in to fight us in Iraq. The think is that when people like John Kerry say it was a distraction from the War on Terror, they couldn’t be more wrong. It is actually the main theater right now. We chose where to battle and the jihadists followed. It is certainly a distraction for their “War on America” and take it that they would rather spend more resources defending what they consider Muslim soil against infidels than planning to attack our increasingly more secure homeland.

    And one more thing: those who still think that not catching OBL amounts to us losing the War just to get it, they still think it is a police action.

    Overall, I think that it is a pretty good strategy. I may have not explained it well enough, but I think that it is good.

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