Category ►►► Buck Up, Old Chap
July 28, 2007
British Withdrawal From Basra: Is They Is, or Is They Ain't?
The British are beginning to withdraw from patrolling and policing Basra province, starting with the capital city of Basra; the question is whether the Shia there are or are not ready for self rule.
First of all, this clearly is more fallout from what the lads at Power Line call "the Browning of Britain," the replacement of Tony Blair by new Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Brown, like the rest of the Labour Party, has never been as gung-ho about the Iraq war as was Blair; so it was inevitable that with the passing of the Blair-era (the Blaira?), Britain would begin easing out of Iraq.
But that's not necessarily bad. After all, neither we nor the Brits ever intended 2003 to presage the colonization of Iraq -- no matter what the Democratic rabble thought (or hoped). What would be bad, however, is if it turns out the Brits are leaving too soon, based upon political rather than military calculation. And on that question, there is no consensus:
As American troop levels are peaking in Baghdad, British force levels are heading in the opposite direction as the troops prepare to withdraw completely from the city center of Basra, 300 miles to the south.
The British intend to pull back to an airport headquarters miles out of town, a symbolic move widely taken by Iraqis as the beginning of the end of the British military presence in southern Iraq....
Skepticism is widespread in Basra, as in Baghdad, about whether Iraqi forces are ready to take over. Both the British and Americans will have to assuage the fears of Iraqis that they are being abandoned to gunmen and religious extremists. And both are likely to face intensified attacks from propaganda-conscious enemies trying to claim credit for driving out the Westerners.
Basra is much more culturally monochrome than, say, Baghdad, where our counterinsurgency is centered; the former is almost entirely Shiite. This means there is little of either the specifically sectarian violence (Iraq Shia killing Iraq Sunni for supposed collaboration with al-Qaeda) or of al-Qaeda style mass-casualty bomb attacks. But they have their own problems, summed up by one British civilian official:
“Basra is a totally different environment from what the Americans are facing,” said a British official in Basra. “The problem here is gangsterism, not violent sectarianism. And a foreign military is not the right tool for closing down a mafia.”
Iraqis expressed the same view, saying that militia leaders in Basra typically act more like bandits and extortionists, lining their pockets rather than instituting a Taliban-style religious state. But an unchecked "mafia" can be just as deadly:
“Right now the militias are busy concentrating on getting the British Army out of Iraq,” he said. “After that is done they will turn on the people and try to control them in a very difficult way.” ["He" is "Riyadh, a 22-year-old Iraqi and Basra native who is an interpreter for the British."]
“They will kill people who don’t do what they want,” he added. “There will be no punishment by courts; they kill people on the streets.”
But he acknowledged that if British troops stayed they would be sucked into further deadly confrontations with militias using civilians as cover, leading to inevitable innocent casualties and more hostility.
“If they leave, the militias will eventually fall apart,” he said. “There will be no reason to join them because they will not be fighting the British Army.”
This is what the British hope, but cannot guarantee, will happen.
And that's what makes the withdrawal from Basra so interesting, anent the Iraqi security forces: "Is they is, or is they ain't" ready to take over?
This will be an excellent, if scary, test of the Iraqi National Police and the local police; I do not expect them to pass with the proverbial flying colors; but at least we'll learn whether they're headed in the right direction and what areas still need improvement. The question is, can the Iraqi police, likely infiltrated by Shiite militias, clean up the corruption caused by those same militias?
If so, that would be an incredibly hopeful sign. If they can make at least some progress, that would be encouraging; but if they gleefully join in the looting of the oil-rich province, then that would be a flashing neon warning sign that the Iraqis are not yet ready for prime time.
So keep watching the skies...
October 29, 2006
I think we're beginning to see a new phenomenon among conservatives: CDS, or Condi Derangement Syndrome. Like its near namesake BDS, it's diagnosed by several recognizable symptoms:
- Reflexively gainsaying anything Condoleezza Rice says, disparaging everything she does;
- Reading every statement of hers in the worst possible light (preferably one that fulfills the descriptor "treasonous");
- Toadstool-picking statements to prove the above;
- Imputing astonishing conspiracies to her malignant influence;
- Caricaturing Ms. Rice as (a) a liberal, (b) a Socialist, or (c) feeble-minded.
Some of the kindest, most intelligent, and otherwise fairest people have fallen into the Carvillesque trap of CDS... including, sadly so, my friends over at Power Line. The latest example: in an interview, which Scott Johnson quotes and dismisses as "tripe," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the following:
[Cal] Thomas [for Jewish World Review] asks Secretary Rice what evidence she has that the denizens of such an independent state would give up the dream that actually seems to drive them -- the dream of eliminating Israel:
SECRETARY RICE: Well, you can look at any opinion poll in the Palestinian territories and 70 percent of the people will say they're perfectly ready to live side by side with Israel because they just want to live in peace. And when it comes right down to it, yeah, there are plenty of extremists in the Palestinian territories who are not going to be easily dealt with. They have to be dealt with -- Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in the Palestinian territories -- they're terrorists and they have to be dealt with as terrorists.
But the great majority of Palestinian people -- this is -- I've been with these people. The great majority of people, they just want a better life. This is an educated population. I mean, they have a kind of culture of education and a culture of civil society. I just don't believe mothers want their children to grow up to be suicide bombers. I think the mothers want their children to grow up to go to university. And if you can create the right conditions, that's what people are going to do.
QUESTION: Do you think this or do you know this?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think I know it.
QUESTION: You think you know it?
SECRETARY RICE: I think I know it.
(Look, I may be hysterically overstating things; but it is Sunday morning, after all... the very time for histrionics and overstatement.)
Scott Johnson derides Dr. Rice's answers. But why? What exactly is wrong with what she said? One can (if one chooses) interpret them as ludicrously suggesting that all it takes is another peace-process agreement, and all will be well. But that's not the only, or even the most plausible, way to take her position -- especially considering later parts of the same interview that Scott did not quote.
Let's turn it around. Suppose Scott is right, and Rice's answers to Cal Thomas are completely, ludicrously wrong. What, then, must we conclude?
- That Palestinians are unique among all the people of the world in their irrationality;
- That while others, from Rwanda-Burundi to the Soviet Union to Nazi Germany, eventually come to their senses, act rationally for their own enlightened interest, and stop killing one another -- Palestinians are incapable of doing so;
- That their incapacity cannot be cured; nothing can be done; hence, it must be a genetic mental deficiency that prevents them from thinking rationally, even if reality were to be clearly separated from the decades of propaganda and privation that have warped and twisted their thinking.
This is, to say the least, a rather odd way of looking at the problem. The last point -- that it's genetic -- is implicit in the idea that nothing can be done to awaken the Palestinians to the reality of their situation... so why bother trying? This belief is the inversion of Condoleezza Rice's faith:
[T]hat kind of ideology of hatred and hopelessness does not have a chance against an ideology of hope and a better future. We just have to realize that because of the way that the politics of the Middle East has developed for the last 60 years, that ideology of hope and a better future has not been there.
She says, that is, that Palestinians have not had the opportunity to make a rational choice; when forced to choose between several irrational choices, they pick an irrational one. Scott chose not to quote this answer; I presume he considers it as foolish as the ones he did quote.
that people are really good at heart.
A lot of conservatives believe precisely the opposite: they believe that humans are born corrupted and evil, or at the best, utterly amoral, and that without careful watching and frequent walloping, any of us is one meal away from instigating an intifada.
The is a dour, neo-Calvinist view of the world, utterly at odds with rational-choice theory:
Rational choice theory assumes human behaviour as guided by instrumental reason. Accordingly, individuals always choose what they believe to be the best means to achieve their given ends. Thus, they are normally regarded as maximizing utility, the "currency" for everything they cherish (for example: money, a long life, moral standards). As the modern formulation of much older descriptions of rational behaviour, Rational choice theory belongs to the foundational theory of economics. Over the last decades it has also become increasingly prevalent in other social sciences.
Rational choice theory is an individualistic methodology and as such conceives of social situations or collective behaviors as the result of individual actions. However, rational choice theory is not only applied to individual human actors. Often, the same pursuit of cherished values is assumed for collective entities, for example corporations or national governments.
Neo-Calvinism presumes final collapse is predestined. They take Yeats as their prophet:
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
But predictions of imminent obliteration litter the ground like broken leaves in October. The patron saint of American conservatism, Ronald Reagan, never bit into the dessicated wafer of neo-Calvinism; he was always exuberent, joyous, excited and hopeful. He was very much like Condoleezza Rice is today; perhaps some have forgotten?
When Reagan called upon Mr. Gorbachev to "open this gate" and "tear down this wall," Reagan's own closest advisors thought he'd gone loopy. Surely he knew the Soviet Union would last a thousand years; it was predestined! Only a madman (or a Reagan-era Sovietologist like Condoleezza Rice) could hope for the impossible.
But what does Rice actually mean when she says that "hatred and hopelessness does not have a chance against... hope and a better future?" What must happen? What timescale is she thinking of? Here is the illuminating rest of her answer from that same interview by Calvin Thomas:
I don't believe that most people in the Middle East really want to blow themselves up and believe in this ideology any more than most Russians actually wanted to believe in international communism. There are always extremists who are going to do that. There are always ideologues who are going to believe and they are always going to recruit from a pool of disaffected people. So you both have to lessen the pool of disaffected people, give them alternatives, and people choose other paths. I just don't see a society yet where that hasn't been the case.
She is not being Pollyanna; she is a realist of the old Cold-War school... but one who chose the Reagan model of hope over the Buckley model of fatalism.
She knows the monumental difficulty of what she asks; but she is unwilling to concede defeat before the endgame is even in sight. Rice does not say that Hamas can lie down with Israel next Thursday after lunch; but that the way to the future is ultimately through capitalism and individualism -- the only Godzillas strong enough to defeat the Monster Zero of jihadism. Militant Islamism will ultimately die because it is a religion of death, and the worship of death. If there is any predestination, it is that final darkness cannot defeat the light.
(Of course, if darkness does win, you lot won't be around to say "I told you so!" So I'm on firm ground here.)
IIII Recessional and Exeunt
To paraphrase the president, you're either with the rational-choicers, and you believe that if you remove the beam from the eyes of the Palestinians, they will, in the end, discover that they love their children more than they hate the Jews.
Or you're with the neo-Calvinists, who believe that we're all destined to fall at Ragnarok, and the best we can hope for is that we dwellers in Asgard drag the giants of Jotunheim down with us when we go.
We who live in a world of hope may be wrong; but hope does not make us fools, or at least not utter fools.
October 15, 2006
The Lizardarian Manifesto
In the face of electoral adversity, I will be courageous, steadfast, loyal, honest, graceful, and optimistic. To wit:
I will not be a craven.
Regardless of media threats, I will not be cowed or silenced; I will not be shamed or frightened. I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed, or numbered. I will not be made to feel guilty for being a partisan Republican. If they don't like it, they can jolly well get stuffed.
I will not be a doomhawker.
Despite adverse polls, I will not cringe. I will push forward, conceding nothing, yielding no land, handing no freebies to the Democrats. I will not roll over. I will not concede defeat before the votes are even cast, let alone counted. I will contest every contest until the last possible moment. While I may allocate scarce resources where they will do the most good, I will never start a sentence with "after we lose, we'll have to...."
Elections are like sunrises: you always know when they'll come, but you never know what they'll look like until they arrive.
I will not be a sore winner.
Where Republicans prevail, I will not engage in schoolyard taunts, no matter how disguised. I will never imply that winning makes us better people than the Democrats: we may be better, we may be worse, but neither is determined by who won the election.
I will not be a sore loser.
Where Republicans lose, I will not idly charge electoral fraud: that charge is a powerful explosive that must only be used when (1) the evidence is absolutely overwhelming, and (2) the fraud determined the electoral result, and (3) the fraud is reversible.
And even then, I will think three times before opening my yap... is this trip to the courthouse really necessary? Is it in the best interest of the party, or is it just my own rage at having lost? We're not a bunch of damned Democrats, for God's sake.
I will never tempt other Republicans to despair.
We get quite sufficient invitation to that state from the media, thank you. We don't need to do it to ourselves!
I will never argue that "the best way to win is by losing."
When we lose an election, that means we lost, you dolt. Nobody ever wins by losing; that's the loser's way of gloating over his own ineptitude, as if it were a plus instead of a big minus.
Finally, I will never use setback as my excuse for despair.
The first rule of Life 101 is that nobody always wins: even Douglas MacArthur was defeated and driven out of the Philippines. Even Ronald Reagan didn't get everything he wanted... his pick for Secretary of Education never managed to make himself unemployed, and we still have that department today.
Adversity is a given in this vale of tears. Take it like a man, even if you're a woman. Suck it up, fix your problems, and charge into the next election with courage, grace, and optimism.
We may lose a contest, but the Democrats can never defeat us; only we can do that to ourselves.
But if we pull up our pants with courage and vigor and step out bravely, sword in hand, even after being sent reeling;
If we never say die;
If we never recognize final defeat;
If we never give up;
If we stand ever ready to give the last full measure of our devotion;
If we have faith;
If we adopt the credo of the Spartans at Thermopylae, death before dishonor;
Then in the end, we shall prevail, ourselves or those who follow... and even the grandchildren of our adversaries shall have cause to remember our names.
And that is no mean thing.
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