Friday, September 10, 2004

Attitudes in Iraq

Babble on.

To those of you who still don't read Belmont Club, I offer a cyber-slap to the head. Go to Belmont Club. Do not pass GO, do not collect $200. Wretchard's writing is essential reading.

As usual, his analysis of yesterday's Center for Strategic and International Studies report on Iraqi perceptions and attitudes is well thought-out and tightly written. Because he already attempts a precis of the report, and because each of his words is so meticulously chosen, I won't thrash about searching for ways to summarize his summary, but will instead recommend you read his piece in full. I will, however, hone in on a couple of interrelated points regarding the personal safety of Iraqis that I find interesting.

I believe this report supports the assertion that the tenuous day-to-day physical security situation for ordinary Iraqis is the single biggest limiting factor to any other progress. From the source report:

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the data collected on the insurgency is its constancy. U.S. government and military sources tend to focus on how many Iraqi insurgents have been killed by U.S. forces, estimates of numbers of insurgents, or numbers of attacks on U.S. forces. This input driven data almost seems to exist in a vacuum, unrelated to the persistence of the insurgency and its continued effect on daily life in Iraq, in particular on the high numbers of Iraqi civilians who have been killed in its wake. Senior U.S. officials continue to estimate the number of insurgents at around 5,000, although these are far off from the 15,000-35,000 totals quoted by Iraqi and U.S. intelligence officials. It is still unknown exactly how much of the insurgency represents terrorists who have flooded across Iraq’s open borders, and how directly those terrorists are working with the Iraqi insurgency.

Although in the immediate aftermath of the war, the insurgency focused on attacking U.S. forces and Iraqi infrastructure, massive bombing attacks that have disproportionately impacted Iraqi civilians began late last summer and have continued since then. The insurgency’s focus also shifted early on to targeting Iraqis seen as collaborating with the U.S.-led occupying authority, including Iraqi police officers and government officials. Those attacks have continued since the transfer of power, and the insurgency now seems to be aimed at anyone, Iraqi or foreigner, who is linked to Iraq’s interim government or efforts to support that government. (Bold by Babbler)

If the U.S. and her allies are seen to be delivering on their promises to improve the lot of the average Iraqi citizen, any support for the insurgency will dry up immediately. This conclusion is supported by the fact that Iraqis "have reacted positively to the heightened presence of Iraqi police officers and the ICDC, optimistic that they will ultimately gain the upper hand in dealing with crime and the public safety situation generally." This is simply common sense: no reasonable individual chooses to live in an unsafe environment.

But by attacking Iraqis who support rebuilding efforts, the domestic terrorists sabotage the foundation of any new civil society. There can be no economic progress without workers willing to leave their house to go to work, or without customers willing to leave their house to buy goods and services. There can be no political discourse when potential leaders are intimidated into remaining silent, or are murdered upon gaining office. The physical safety of the population is the key to all other issues in Iraq.

Wretchard concludes his piece with the following sage, but uncharacteristically incomplete observation:

One of the principal conclusions of the CSIS report, with which I wholeheartedly agree, is the pivotal role that Iraqi institutions themselves must play in reaching the "tipping zone". It is not American boots on the ground that constitute the long-term critical resource, but Iraqi ones.
True, but isn't the obvious next question whether Iraqis are currently equipped to create and operate those institutions? If you throw a non-swimmer into the deep end of the pool, you're more likely to end up with a body floating face down than you are to end up with Ian Thorpe. The implication that Iraqis should take responsibility for their own safety and security, for their own government at every level from national to municipal, for all of the infrastructure upon which the flesh of a modern nation is draped - yesterday if not sooner - assumes they are capable of accepting that responsibility right now.

I don't believe they are capable at this point. So while the "long-term critical resource" is undoubtedly Iraqi boots on the ground as Wretchard asserts, the critical intermediate step to achieving genuine Iraqi institutions must involve American and British personnel - and anyone else who has expertise building the instruments of a modern civil society.

In short, while Iraq is certainly not a (gag, shudder) quagmire, it is far more complicated a problem than the Bush administration anticipated. Once again, Belmont Club says it best:

If anyone is hoping Iraq will become an infamous, unmitigated catastrophe, don't hold your breath. This report does not predict it. If anyone is hoping that America will be able to leave Iraq in a couple of years to the tune of brass bands marching over a carpet of strewn flowers, don't hold your breath either.

Babble off.


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