Iraq War

Here is my analysis of how the Iraq war went down.

On 9/11, the US was attacked by Arab Muslims, not Afghans. The world knew that the Arab Muslims were angry, burning the US flag etc, but basically did not understand why they were angry with the US instead of their own dictators who were oppressing them. E.g. why were they burning the US flag instead of pictures of Saddam? The particular Arab Muslims that had caused 9/11 had been based in Afghanistan, so Afghanistan was liberated. But then we needed to do something about Arab Muslim culture, so that we could find out why they were behaving strangely, and then potentially kill them.

Iraq was the ideal place to find the answers to these questions. It had no history of Islamic fundamentalism, was under probably the most brutal dictator of them all, had a reputation for being the smartest Arabs, it had Kurds which seemed to be reasonable already, it had an active war that was only paused by a ceasefire, and it had 3 major groups. How exactly could those 3 groups live together in peace and harmony without a European-style liberal democracy? And surely the Shia must at least want democracy, since they have the numbers. That meant we should be able to get local allies to sign up to new security forces.

But really we had no idea what to expect. Some were saying that Arabs can't handle democracy. Some were saying that the Arabs would unite and fight to the death against the external invader. I personally was holding out the hope that the Iraqis would defect en-masse as soon as the planes were overhead, and their safety was assured. That is what I would have done had I been them. However, more realistically I expected them to surrender as soon as they were confronted by ground forces. I didn't expect anyone to suicide for a dictator. So I thought the war would take 3 days, which is how long it would take the tanks to get to Baghdad unopposed. In the end, neither the pessimistic scenario nor the optimistic scenario played out. It was something inbetween. Some people really did want to suicide for a dictator. Or more precisely, suicide so that they could kill some infidels. Or salvage honour. Or something like that. Whatever the reason, it needed to be investigated. This friend/foe determination is actually the most important scientific question in the history of humanity.

Given that war was going to be waged, we needed to decide HOW to wage that war. Afghanistan had shown that you can liberate a country with 200 special forces plus air power, if you can make use of local allies. There were no visible local allies in Iraq, except for the lightly-armed Kurds. Replicating Afghanistan didn't look very practical, plus, it was important to set up modern institutions to see if democracy "worked" if we just put all the components in place. It really needed an occupation in order to do that, rather than trying to get the Kurds to do everything. Plus the US had protection against chemical weapons which the Kurds didn't.

Another option would have been a 500,000 man army based on the standard doctrine "the more you use, the less you lose". It worked fine in 1991. But there were two problems with this. One is that it continues setting the bar high for liberating a country. If we talk about liberating a country and everyone says "well you need 500k troops for that", then we basically won't be able to liberate any more countries. Because no-one's going to spring for such a major commitment unless there is some widely-agreed-upon US national interest at stake, which there probably won't be. The second problem is that 500k troops would actually be sufficient to control the Iraqi people. It would have exchanged one authority for another. And there are two problems with this. One is that it might have provoked a war with the Iraqi people, who felt oppressed by the US. And since we didn't actually want to force the Iraqi people to do anything, that would have been a complete waste of life. The other is that we wanted to find out what on earth Iraqis would do if there was no-one controlling them. What values had they internalized? What forces would emerge from the vacuum? How would the Iraqi people react to the emerging forces?

So, for all these reasons, a relatively light force was used. About 113k coalition forces were used in the 3.5 week liberation. It was built up to 160k later. During the liberation, British forces got to Basrah fairly early, but didn't enter. The goal there (or at least, my goal) was to find out whether the Iraqi people would rise up against their oppressors by themselves. Surely at least the Shia would take their freedom? If not, perhaps they would collapse without a fight if their command and control from Baghdad was cut. So let the Americans cut that first before entering Basrah. In the end, Basrah seemed to collapse before the Americans had got into Baghdad. The British entered and THANKFULLY two things happened. First, some Iraqis started looting. Secondly, the other Iraqi people asked the British to do something about the looting. No-one was interested in fighting the infidels. What a relief! A large part of the war had just been won. The British didn't stop the looting. It was better to let the Iraqis let off steam instead of coming in to slaughter civilians. Property can be easily replaced from Iraq's oil wealth, whereas a war against the Iraqi people triggered by a heavy-handed response to looting would have been disastrous.

The Americans entered Baghdad. Fortunately most of the Iraqis chose not to fight. They trusted the Americans to not be conquerors. Well, some did, some didn't. Families like Zeyad's were split down the middle. A hell of a lot of psychoanalysis was required to explain this phenomenon. What made some Iraqis back the invaders while other Iraqis backed a dictator? Extremely divergent positions to take.

Prior to the war, the US had been talking about "shock and awe", a theory that if they dropped 10 times the number of bombs as they did during the 1991 war, that the Iraqis would become shocked and awed and surrender. It would have been an extremely callous thing to do if they had actually done it. Slaughtering huge numbers of conscripts who were probably allies or neutrals if we gave them an opportunity to escape. In the end, only 1/10 of the number of bombs dropped in 1991 were dropped. The US was benevolent and even tried to spare enemy soldiers, nevermind enemy civilians. And of course, the enemy soldiers reciprocated by both deserting and defecting. Much more of the former than the latter. This was all totally outside of standard military doctrine. We needed to form a new doctrine for wars of liberation rather than wars of conquest. Where the US is just a proxy for local freedom-lovers. That is also why the US soldiers weren't allowed to show the US flag. This was NOT to be seen as an American conquest. Some US soldiers were pissed off about this policy. TOO DAMN BAD! It was important to avoid riling the population by rubbing their nose in defeat. We wanted as many allies as we could get.

Another thing of note was that in the 1991 war, where there was a long aerial bombardment to soften up the Iraqis, it was basically a complete waste of time, money and lives. The Iraqis didn't need to be softened up. They wanted to surrender at the first opportunity. So in the 2003 war, the ground war started before the air war. To give the conscripts the best possible chance of avoiding needless death. Once again, totally against normal military doctrine. And once again, totally the correct thing to do. Even at 3.5 weeks, it set a gold standard for war. Only 100 allied lives lost. It was phenomenal.

After the 3.5 week war, the US was actually in a position to stick in a new pro-US dictator, sack a few people from the Iraqi army and replace them with people who had defected during the war, and leave. 100 allied lives required to change a country from foe to friend. But getting a new dictator wouldn't have gotten to the heart of the problem - what was inside Arab Muslim brains that made them fly planes into skyscrapers to see if that would help revive the Caliphate? We needed to tease that information out of them, with an environment of complete freedom (including being convinced that the US was not oppressing them, by seeing anti-US demonstrations etc), and taking opinion polls, watching political parties start, watching what religious figures did, watching freedom of speech take hold, seeing the results of secret ballots, and of extreme importance, allowing psychoanalysis to take place via the Iraqi blogs that emerged.

The Iraqi blogs showed that there were Arab Muslim Iraqis who were IDENTICAL to US neocons. So there was nothing genetic about Arabs that made them want dictatorship, and the label "Muslim" was no indicator of friend or foe either. The problem was something deeper. Something that split families. Families in both Iraq and in western countries. The answers were in the Iraqi blogs. Basically it revolves around the definition of "freedom". To the pro-war, freedom is "not subjugated" while to the anti-war, freedom is "not occupied". There's a lot more to it than that, as I have written about previously.

Unfortunately the Iraqi neocons turned out to be a minority. Their political party flopped. Iraqis instead chose to vote for the numbnuts that Sistani blessed. The Iraqis chose a constitution that says that Iraq is part of the Arab and Muslim worlds, rather than free world. Not even the Kurds thought that grossly offensive. However, they did get a bill of rights, and the numbnuts aren't that bad. The Iraqis voted along sectarian lines instead of economic lines, which is unfortunate. However, they have somewhat compensated for this by creating a national unity government. I don't see how they can make democracy work in the long term without mandating non-sectarian parties. Basically they need a Left and a Right party on economic lines. Have a 2-party system for a couple of decades before opening the system up for more parties. But I don't think this should be forced on them by the West. We should just suggest it as individuals. The Iraqis have freedom of speech with which to hear our suggestions, but it's in their hands.

Then we had the phenomenon of the insurgency. This was an absurd insurgency. People were throwing their lives away to oppose the will of the majority of the Iraqi people. How did they hope to win, quite apart from the immorality of it? In order to win they needed to somehow stop the US from churning out new Iraqi soldiers. They needed to find some way to cut the logistics. They failed to do this. And so they subsequently failed in battles against the US forces. In their frustration they resorted to random murder of Shiite civilians to see if that would somehow help. It didn't, and eventually drew reprisals and we had unbelievably vicious sectarian violence. All totally pointless as it had no military effect. The terrorists were fighting the wrong war!

Bizarrely, insurgents took over Fallujah at one point. No-one knew what they were hoping to achieve by doing that. When the US went to clear them out, the Iraqi politicians lied and accused the US of killing women and children. Fine. The US stopped what they were doing and let the Fallujans have a taste of "terrorist paradise". After a few months of that, the Fallujans were begging the US to come in, and the Iraqi politicians agreed! Hopefully the Fallujans spread the message about how living in "terrorist paradise" was not much different from "Beyond Thunderdome" and that everyone should vote for moderate secular parties instead of terrorism! Getting the Iraqis to vote for a non-enemy government was an extremely important objective of the war. The US soldiers were very unhappy about retreating from Fallujah and allowing the terrorists to boast that they were able to defeat the mighty US military. TOO DAMN BAD. There were more important things at stake than the US soldiers' pride. The Iraqis now have a victory to salvage some of their own pride so that they don't feel ashamed about the 3.5 week war. They can instead say "well, if we had WANTED to fight the US, we could have won, just like we did in Fallujah". It's important to not rub the Iraqi people's nose in defeat.

Al Sadr tried the same thing in Najaf. He took over Sistani's mosque. The people of Najaf got to find out first-hand what this thug was like, and to tell all their friends how bad it was. It was important that the Iraqis stop thinking in terms of a particular ruler who could come and save the day, but instead, vote for a party committed to solving their problems. Al Sadr was left as an interesting force. To see what the Iraqi people would do about this self-proclaimed saviour who was clearly not interested in human rights and freedom of speech etc. And the best thing that came out of his absurd takeover of Najaf was that Sistani issued a fatwah telling people to sign up to the new security forces. Previously he had actually been under pressure to declare a jihad. So, that's why Al Sadr wasn't killed by the US. He was left as a reminder to the Iraqi people about what a horrible alternative they faced if they didn't vote for moderate parties. The best advertisement against a theocracy was Al Sadr himself. My psychoanalysis of Al Sadr is that he was responding to a genetic instinct "subjugate or be subjugated" which occurs in a security vacuum. His poor understanding of modern warfare made him think that he had a chance of gaining power, so he took it. This is actually the natural state of humans - some sociopath risking all to seize power. These Arab dictators are not unnatural. It is our liberal democracies that are unnatural and require a lot of effort to organize fighters to pledge loyalty to the people rather than a ruler.

One of the elements to getting a democracy jump-started was to have professional security forces that the Iraqi people trusted. Given the horrors committed by the previous security forces, that was potentially an impossible task. How can you get the Iraqi people to believe, REALLY BELIEVE, that the new security forces are not just the old ones rebadged? The only way to be sure of this, or at least, have the best chance of success, was to disband the old army, and have a complete power vacuum while the new army was recruited. The Iraqi people knew that the new security forces really were new. Because they watched them being grown, and welcomed their presence to fill the security vacuum. It all worked! Polls showed that the Iraqi people loved their new security forces, and there was no shortage of volunteers to join them. That was another big part of winning the war.

Another point of interest was that the US needed time to set up elections. There was a hell of a lot of distrust at the US's motives. The entire world was telling the Iraqis that the US was there to steal oil. Even one of my otherwise-intelligent Australian colleagues thought this. To me it was totally absurd. But the rest of the world is not rational, and you must operate in that environment. Germany and Japan took 5 and 7 years before elections were held. The Iraqis were agitating for early elections. Even before the insurgency had been defeated. The best interests of the Iraqis would have been for US adminstration for a couple of decades to entrench good government, peace and security, and a non-sectarian 2-party system. But to do that would have required going to war with the Iraqi people, basically due to a misunderstanding of intentions. Not a good move!

Sistani was actually very agitated at the delay in holding elections. It took the UN to calm him down. For anyone who thinks the UN is useless, you only need to look at this. The UN served its purpose as a genuinely independent arbiter. When the UN said elections needed to be delayed, Sistani accepted it. Once again, a war due to a misunderstanding of intentions was avoided. That gave us the breathing space to transition from a decent US administration by Paul Bremer (basically the best government that the Iraqis will ever have), to a fairly decent SELECTED Iraqi government (Allawi), before transitioning to whatever numbnuts the Iraqis would choose. This gave the Iraqis an opportunity to experience first hand what good government looked like. They had an actual point of reference, and could say "we want to go back to Allawi" or "we need to copy the Americans". They are now empowered to do these things if and when they change their minds.

As I write this, the insurgency and sectarian violence still exist, and the "surge" is designed to try to calm things down. US soldiers are basically being used as policemen, which is not what they're meant to be used for, but there isn't much alternative when you need cops in a hurry. The real solution is for the Iraqi security forces to come online. And they are indeed very close to doing that now, at least in terms of the numbers. Now they're sorting out logistics. It's just a technical matter for the military to sort out, and shouldn't be interfered with.

Basically the actions Bush has taken have been totally correct. It had to be done this way. And the US should continue what it is already doing, which is organizing the Iraqis to take over security. That is meant to have happened country-wide by the end of November 2007. At that point, the US should only have token forces in the country to prevent military coups and external invasions. The troops are needed in other theatres now. The theory that Arab Muslims can't handle democracy is incorrect. They managed to produce a much better government than Saddam. There's still a hell of a lot of issues for them to sort out, but they are empowered to do so. The theory that you can't install democracy by force of arms is also incorrect. You can. The theory that you can't hand people freedom on a silver platter, that they need to fight for it themselves, was never true (e.g. Grenada and Panama), but in this case the Iraqis can genuinely say that they fought for their freedom themselves. Yes, the US took away Saddam's jackboot, but the Iraqi people did most of the rest.

This war was a complete and utter success. The high murder rate (how high compared to South Africa I wonder?) notwithstanding. The continued US presence is just a form of foreign aid, making the task of enforcing Iraqi law a bit easier for the Iraqi government. But even without the US presence, the insurgents have no chance at all of overthrowing the government, which is all that matters. The Iraqi government can take drastic action at any time if it wants, such as conscripting all military-aged males to go and guard the oil pipelines. No-one can stop this and it will halt the high murder rate. At this point in time there is no need to do so. The murder rate will be brought down simply by increased policing. At the current murder rate, it will take 20 years for the Iraqi population to be reduced by 1%. It is totally irrelevant. This can be sustained forever. There's no reason to give in to terrorist blackmail. Freedom is far too precious. Take a look at the price the Russians paid in WWII. And the Russians didn't even get freedom at the end of it. The Iraqis have paid a much lower price and they're actually getting freedom for it. Better than being killed by Saddam just to keep a dictatorship in place.

Iraq has indicated that it wants to join NATO. That is Iraq's future. Instead of wasting money on expensive planes, Iraq can bludge off the US like everyone else does. It could have been much better. It would have been wonderful if the Iraqis had turned around and said that they know how horrible dictators are, and they are going to lead the free world in liberating the rest of the non-free world, starting with Iran. That didn't happen. Maybe the Iranians will become the enthusiastic liberators once they have been liberated themselves? Let's hope so. I hope we'll find out in December 2007. In the meantime, we'll watch the effect that freedom of speech and a noisy parliament has on the Iraqi people. There's no obvious sign that they are a threat to the rest of the free world, so that's a good start.

When the history books are written, they are going to say "In 2003 the US led a coalition to replace a particularly nasty dictator in Iraq with a democracy". That's all. No-one's going to give a damn how long it took, how much it cost or how many lives were lost on any side.

There was one very exceptional thing that occurred during the initial 3.5-week war. In Najaf, some Iraqis had heard a rumour that the Americans were going to stop them from praying at their favourite mosque and were extremely irate. The basic problem here is that they are missing the bit from the Enlightenment where you get information from multiple sources. This is something that needs to be solved in time. Anyway, they were approaching the US soldiers in a threatening manner. They were unarmed. It could have been very nasty indeed. The US commander told all his soldiers to kneel down. And then they retreated. The only time the US has ever retreated was when faced with unarmed civilians. The way the US soldiers behaved on that day was one of the most beautiful things I have seen in my life and made me cry. The love of life they demonstrated was profound. They had no quarrel with these people, no matter what strange thing was in their brain, and avoided an unnecessary fight. If the world behaved rationally and morally there would have been a Nobel Prize issued for this. Instead, this blog post will have to do. I wish the rest of the world could see the beauty that I see. Far more beautiful than the Grand Canyon, Marilyn Monroe or the Mona Lisa.

The US is not getting a word of thanks for its effort in liberating Iraq. Instead it's having abuse hurled at it. The US continues to do the right thing by not responding to the abuse, not getting angry, and instead just calmly continuing to entrench freedom in Iraq. At least the US government is. Some in the US are getting frustrated and calling for ROEs to be relaxed so that some sort of carpet bombing can occur. Others in the US are calling for forces to be withdrawn and don't give a damn about what happens to the Iraqi people after that. But the US government itself, and the US soldiers, continue to be the most moral actors on the planet. Don't go to the Pope for moral guidance. Go to the US government. Everything you need to know can be derived from the US's behaviour as a nation-state as it interacts with other nation-states. Turn the other cheek, love thy enemy etc. It's all there. PLUS protecting the innocent. Something the Pope badly needs to learn.

However, I do have one complaint. Prior to the Iraq war, Bush told Saddam that if he laid out his weapons he could avoid war. If Saddam had reacted the same way that Gaddafi did, it would have been disastrous. All the above things would not have happened. 27 million people would still be slaves. So it is possibly only coincidentally that Bush did the right thing. SHAME ON YOU BUSH.

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