The False Assumption of the Surge
We got into this war in Iraq based on a series of false assumptions; some may even say a great deal of “false knowledge”. The key false assumption was that Iraq had Weapons of Mass Destruction. Of course it was really only a matter of convenience that it was this particular false assumption that was used as the primary political battering ram to “sell” the war to the public; it was, after all, the one with the largest fear quotient. Vice President Cheney spent days upon days inside the agencies that make up the Intelligence Community (IC) in order to “find” the “evidence” they needed to close the deal on the sale of the war. The IC has phrases for this, some of which are very similar to “cherry-picking” and “politicization”.
Unfortunately, it would seem that this administration is dipping into the ‘false assumption well’ again in order to make its case for the latest quixotic attempt to save face. I would say it was an attempt to win the war, but since winning strategically has never trumped the politics of this war, I will refrain. You have all heard this false assumption several times. In fact, one cannot hear the call for a “Surge” without the attendant prefatory statement that is the false assumption. The reason we are barraged with this false assumption is that the entire argument for “staying the course”, or the latest incarnation of said strategy, “surge”, is dependent upon its tacit acceptance.
The false assumption I am referring to is that if we were to withdrawal from Iraq the region will plunge into chaos. The supporting assumptions are that it would become a haven for global terror organizations and, at the very least, and really the most important to this administration, collapse would impede the flow of oil. The reason we are constantly reminded of this assumption before they pitch their latest plan for “success” is because their entire strategy becomes moot if it’s proven to be false. Therefore, it must become more than an assumption; it must become a meme that can become the very foundation from which they operate. Well, I call BS.
This false assumption rests on some pretty dubious analysis of the history of the region as well as our own history with respect to a similar war, Vietnam. Remember the Domino Theory that never came to fruition? The reality is that if we were to simply get out of the way, we would cease being the target of opportunity and focal point for collective rage. And, in getting out of the way we finally give them what they have wanted all along, the independence to get on with their lives they way THEY see fit. If that means killing each other over a thousand-year-old argument about succession of holy power, than so be it. If it means the violent resolution of grudges formed because of actions taken on behalf of the argument above, then in the end, it’s their business. If it means gaining control of their resources without having to sign them over to western corporations, even better.
The argument that Iraq will become a haven for extremist is only true if the context is a local one. The reality is that the extremists that will be located in Iraq will be locally oriented for the most part and regional at best. Even IF they had global aspirations they would be too busy trying to survive in an environment that isn’t exactly friendly to them to actually plan and execute a global, international attack of any consequence. This particular assumption rests on a series of false assumptions that all Islamic extremists are the same in scope, aspirations and capability; really not that far a leap from the thought that all Muslims are the same – an assumption causing bitten tongues throughout the war lover factions. The reality is that even OBL was a local extremist until he realized that he was never going to change Saudi Arabia as long as America was willing to fund the government and turn a blind eye to their approach to dealing with those who didn’t agree with their policies. Of course no one wants to ask why the Saudis refused to deal with OBL instead of exiling him to become someone else’s problem – mostly ours.
The next assumption that the region will fall into chaos is an extreme case of poor risk analysis. There are two factors that weigh into any risk analysis: expected cost and probability of occurrence. While a regional conflagration would indeed be costly, the reality is that such an event of that scale has little probability of actually occurring. Why? Because the ability of relatively stable Arab countries to control internal insurgencies is quite robust. I believe Friedman called it “Hama Rules”. The Saudis will never allow extremists that threaten their power and stability to operate within their borders; same for the Syrians and Iranians. So, that leaves Iraq as the battle ground over which they will vie for control and resources. Well, guess what, if they are busy trying to secure their piece of Iraq, they won’t have much in the way of time or resources for us.
This issue is further ameliorated by the fact that Wahabi Sunnis and their radical off-shoots, the backbone of Al Qaeda aren’t exactly liked by the rest of the Muslim world. Muslims are all about unity of identity, but they aren’t so accommodating when it comes to having some self-appointed, know-it-all clerics telling them how to run their lives or countries. Of course, when faced with a choice between us telling them how to live their lives and the clerics, well, we lose. So, why not remove the choice? Why not let them work through their own problems for once? I guarantee the biggest reason Iran will be kept in check will be because the two Sunni powers that exist adjacent to Iraq, Syria and Saudi Arabia, will not allow a Shia dominated power to control so much land and the resources that come with it. And, if we aren’t fighting that fight for them, they will have to expend their own resources to work it out either on the battlefield or, if they are smart, in the diplomatic meeting room. If they are expending resources and are focused on such things, they won’t have the time, resources or inclination to lash out at us.
Lastly, the real fear that keeps the war/energy lobby (and they are one in the same) awake at night, because their portfolios rely on it, is the fear that oil and energy resources will be curtailed. Well, this is so foolish on so many fronts that it saddens me because it demonstrates a clear lack of reason from people who should know better. First, if we had spent the $300+ billion dollars we have spent on this war on developing alternative energy resources and greater energy-use efficiencies, we wouldn’t care even IF it did happened. But, alas, that wouldn’t have padded the pockets of those in power. Second, IF it were to happen, it would be the wake-up call we have needed for the public to realize just how dependent we are on other’s resources – and how angry we have been making them via our heavy-handed exploitation. This is a dependency this administration obviously ignores given its approach to securing global good will. Third, and most importantly, it ain’t going to happen.
What would most likely happen if there was any disturbance in the oil market, that wasn’t based on pure speculation, is a rise in oil prices, not a loss of production. Well, that is just as bad for the war cheerleaders in the energy lobby as anything because the public will only tolerate so much and continued energy cost increases coupled with continued reports of record profits by energy companies may very will be a tipping point that could bring down the whole cabal of greed that is the war/energy sector.
Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Gulf States that rely on the lone resource that keeps them in power are not going to allow a bunch of malcontents and religious fundamentalists to get in the way of continued resource exploitation and the associated accumulation of wealth. Again, forcing them to deal with the reality of the threat to THEIR livelihood will be a much more efficient and expedient approach to dealing with the global threat of religion-inspired terrorism. As long as we continue to act as high-horse imperialists the extremist we supposedly fear so much will have an iron-clad argument for Jihad. The second we wash our hands of it, they will no longer be able to appeal to the emotions of the Muslim world. They will be left to go back to attacking the very hands that have been feeding them, clandestinely of course, all this time.
Also, we should not forget the calls to patriotic loyalty and emotion that have us considering the morale of the forces in the field and the blow a loss would deal them. Well, it didn’t take too long for the American public and the military to figure out that our loss in Vietnam was not the fault of the soldier, but of the political leaders that used them to political ends based on dubious reasoning. It will take them even less time to come to that conclusion this time.
The American soldier will, and should, be honored for choosing the warrior path, executing their operations superbly, and following the orders of their commander, regardless of how irrational they may have been. A loss in Iraq, if we can call it that, will rest squarely on the architects that predisposed us to losing by ignoring the Generals and others who told them what it would take to do it right. And, what makes it even more egregious is that they were ignored for political purposes because the truth of the cost in resources and treasure (and reason) would have made the “sale” untenable. It’s this TRUTH that President Bush and his administration fear the most. And, it’s this TRUTH that will have these same people finding new emotional strings to pull and “new ways forward” until they can walk away from the mess in 2008. And, we shouldn’t be surprised by such an approach by W et al as it is an MO he has demonstrated throughout his life.