Iraq as Potential Failed State

Belmont Club’s latest post is worth reading. Wretchard argues that the Iraqi insurgents are best understood as gangsters rather than nationalists; they seek not so much national political power as chaos, which they would exploit by carving out regions of local control where their violent business enterprises may thrive. In this regard they closely resemble the Afghan warlords and the gangs that have gained considerable power in some of the weaker Latin American countries. This argument implies that we should systematically reshape our national-defense tactics to deal with gangster insurgencies (as we are already doing, to some extent, in response to events if not by plan), and that we should recognize that the strategic threat posed by ruthless and increasingly powerful anational gangs may transcend more-visible nationalist threats to our security.

9 thoughts on “Iraq as Potential Failed State”

  1. First we jail the biggest supra-national criminals of all, U.N. and it’s gang of thugs. :-) But seriously, this is a Leftist destabilizing tactic that Hussein learned form Castro – release prisoners – not all prisoners jailed by a Dictator are Political, probably the majority are serious Criminals – a Dictator doesn’t want competition. Remember the boatloads of Cubans Castro let go in 1980, a high percentage of them were just-released Cuban criminals, who turned Florida into a murder-capital – hell, Scarface and Miami Vice was practically a spin-off. The Leftist, injustice-driven Mainstream Media reports only on the sympathy and political cases and projects that view onto everything else, not on the hardened criminals and gangsterization – elements and behaviors which frequently reflect the Left’s tactical wing.

  2. Recently we were characterizing these forces as islamo-fascists. Now they are gangsters. Both of those characterizations oversimplify matters. The Terrill monograph that Belmont Club quotes refers to “religious … ethnic political parties … and tribal” factions. No question though, these non-governmental organizations are a security threat: “Just as we see states coming together around the world against the non-state forces of the Fourth Generation, so those non-state forces will also come together in multi-faceted alliances. The difference is likely to be that they will do it faster and better. And, they will use states’ preoccupation with the state system like a matador’s cape, to dazzle and distract while they proceed with the real business of war.” [William Lind More on Gangs & Guerillas vs. the State 4/29/05]

    Reading about the China Rim and pressure for oil though, it looks like we’ll have to be configuring our military for both non-state and inter-state conflicts. We’ve been talking about the China-Taiwan issue for a while now, for another example where nation-states are primary characters.

    Aside: I was interested in Belmont Club’s statement “however devoutly the Left may wish that” in regard to withdrawal from Iraq. In context it’s unclear whether BC is referring to Andrew Terrill’s monograph or her/his own perceptions. In either case that kind of comment reflects the simplistic shorthand that fuels the islamo-fascist/gangster labelling problem noted above. I’m for withdrawal, but there are a lot of different factions in the Left camp, and I represent a very eccentric point of view.

    Reminds me of poor Fred Phelps saying James Dobson is going to hell for being “too soft on gays.” Sheesh.

  3. I think there’s a lot of behavioral overlap between “Islamofascists” and “gangsters.” Wretchard argues that the anti-democratic terrorists in Iraq function more like gangsters than like nationalists, have much in common with gangsters in other countries, and that our recognition of these points makes analysis easier. That makes sense to me unless someone has a better theory.

  4. Coming full circle? Back to 11/9/2003: “[T]he Bush administration continues to portray its adversaries as an assortment of die-hard Baathists, criminals, thugs and foreign terrorists….” New York Times Milt Bearden “Iraqi Insurgents Take page from Afghan Soviet Resistance”

    If you label the enemy like this, then you seem to overlook the nationalistic and religious motives involved. Is that too simplistic?

  5. If who labels the enemy like what, and is what too simplistic? Are you referring to what I wrote, what Wretchard wrote or what the NYT writer wrote?

  6. Jonathan, sorry for the opacity, mea culpa. If we label those whom we regard as our enemy with labels that are only good enough for government work, then we have taken the first step toward shutting down dialog.

    demimasque in the recent article on modernism had, for example, a helpful, at least to me, differentiation of trotskyite/stalinist/leninist orientations.

    Using islamo-fascist and gangster interchangably to denote people with wide-ranging motivations hardly seems helpful. Besides gangster has the rap or john dillinger tommy gun overtones that take one away from the issues germane to our adventures in Iraq.

  7. Mark,

    Thanks for the clarification.

    I don’t know. I think one has to start somewhere, and the islamofascist/gangster models are a good start and are not incompatible. We can refine our terms as we refine our understanding.

  8. Jonathan, Thanks, I was typing that at work last night as we were closing, and thought I’d lost the post when I tried to submit it. So I went home and worked on it some more.

    There is a Palestinian girl at work who tells about life over there, about arranged marriages and modern pressures on that custom and so on. She talks about visiting her grandmother, who is occasionally placed under house arrest while Israeli soldiers take over the upper floors of her home because they constitute the high grand in that neighborhood. After the last presidential election she was asked how her family felt about the outcome. Her dad was disappointed because he felt the possibilities for dialog in the Middle East would have been improved under Kerry. The salient point being the value he placed on dialog, even when the conflict was directly affecting his family and one might imagine other things would be higher on his list of priorities.

    A recent play review was making the same kind of point: “The only chance for change in the Middle East, the only chance for peace, is through open, honest communication among people on both sides. It won’t work unless everyone is willing not only to speak candidly, but to listen respectfully and try to understand.”

    I’ve appreciated the level of discussion here on Chicago Boyz, but I am trying to imagine what it would be like to sit down with people who have different perspectives on the Iraq situation. Are we like people standing outside of the stadium at a sporting event, while the paying customers can view the live action, and players are actually playing the game?

    In a context of dialog, the use of labels that are easily construed as slurs is counterproductive. I can imagine Al-Muhajabah form the veiled4allah blog saying something like:

    “What’s wrong with the term “Islamofascist” is when some people apply it to any Muslim who seeks to an integration of Islam and politics, even if that Muslim condemns Bin Laden and Zawahiri. Such a distortion inhibits debate. / There are certain policies and certain beliefs that are fascist and rightly deserve to be called so, policies and beliefs that dehumanize those who are of a different religion or ethnic group and that promote violence against the other religion or ethnic group.” (2/20/03)

    This is a limited view of fascism because it only identifies one of a cluster of related ideas and actions that define fascism’s cultural and political pathology. If we identify the Baathists as fascists, then it’s misleading to use that same label for the other groups that have very different motives for engaging the coalition troops in combat.

    If we give Al-Muhajabah a sympathetic hearing, then it is possible to move the conversation forward to the currently proclaimed goal of advancing democracy. Maybe someone with an understanding of Muslim religion and culture could explain how shariah can play the role of a constitutional limitation above democratic decision making. Perhaps an Al-Munaqabah might explain “that a good shura system could probably pass for what most people understand as democratic even if it isn’t exactly the same as one of the Western systems. … [Shura involves] consultative decision making.” (ibid. 2/21/03)

    Then maybe someone would pick up on Michael Hiteshew’s fine observations about “the importance of Islamism as an outlet,” and contrast it to the Pat Robertson/Dominionist/Religious Right movement here in the states and ask if politics is working as an outlet for religion here in America.

    If we aren’t set on imposing our system on them “for their own good” (for our own good?), then a dialog might accomplish some wonderful and astonishing things.

    John Camp’s Kidd character uses Tarot cards as a gaming system. He defines Tarot as “superstitious shit” when it’s used for magical interpretation. He observes that “(f)ormal game systems, the kind developed by the military, were intended to force planners out of habitual modes of thinking and to test new theories. The tarot is less structured than the formal systems, but it still forces you outside your preconceptions (Empress File p.15.).” If we replace “tarot” with “conversation” in the preceding sentence, then we have identified one of the primary values of dialog with people whose views vary from our own.

    For me, entering the conversation here has forced me to translate vague intuitions and unexamined assumptions into text that can be contested and perhaps defended. It’s lots of fun to do some writing again.

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