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The Sunni Awakening
May 19, 2009 8:08 PM   Subscribe

Heads in the Sand. "The so-called Sunni Awakening, in which American forces formed tactical alliances with local sheikhs, has been credited with dampening the insurgency in much of Iraq. But new evidence suggests that the Sunnis were offering the same deal as early as 2004—one that was eagerly embraced by commanders on the ground, but rejected out of hand at the highest levels of the Bush administration."
posted by homunculus (35 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
Rachel Maddow - Mark Perry's scathing critique of efforts to scuttle Sunni Awakening
posted by homunculus at 8:17 PM on May 19, 2009


I'm all for scathingly criticizing the Bush administration for the many obviously stupid things they did, like starting the war in the first place and much of what followed, and I'm all for continuing this practice now that we know it works, but it seems to me that the virtues of this particular approach - plying the armed insurgents with cash - can't really have been that obvious except in hindsight and it's probably overly partisan to knock them so much for it. Even if it had been a "just war" I don't think I'd be willing to be very critical of an administration slow to take this up.

The real problem is that they so lightly engaged in preemptive war in the first place. It's that act that put us in the position where stupid mistakes, much less a misstep on a tough decision, can cost thousands or tens of thousands of lives.
posted by XMLicious at 8:54 PM on May 19, 2009 [3 favorites]


s..s...surely
posted by leotrotsky at 9:01 PM on May 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'd thought the Iraq clusterfuck had exhausted its capacity to make the mind reel, but new facets of its all-encompassing idiocy keep presenting themselves, each one of them large enough to be the scandal of a generation all by itself, and they just keep coming.

At what point do you conclude that no-one is that comprehensively stupid, and the goal was specifically not to succeed, in the sense that you or I would define success? At what point do you conclude that the object was a huge, unwinnable war which served purposes like providing cover for the movement of countless billions of dollars to well-connected cronies, or keeping a huge military presence with none of the constraints on its conduct that peace would dictate?
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:07 PM on May 19, 2009 [6 favorites]


Arms dealers be runnin' this bitch, yo.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:16 PM on May 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


Conspiracy of noise.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 9:18 PM on May 19, 2009


You mean the Bush administration was somehow incompetent? Surely you jest.
posted by zardoz at 9:21 PM on May 19, 2009


So when we stop paying these guys and pack up and leave (fingers crossed), what happens then?
posted by PostIronyIsNotaMyth at 9:56 PM on May 19, 2009


So when we stop paying these guys and pack up and leave (fingers crossed), what happens then?

We're not going anywhere, our troops will just pull back from FOBs, levels will be brought down commensurate with projected strategic protection needs like tanker convoys and pipelines, general counterinsurgency ops will be suspended and commanders will interface only with Iraqi political representatives rather than local warlords.

But it's anyone's guess what actually happens then.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:01 PM on May 19, 2009


>the virtues of this particular approach - plying the armed insurgents with cash - can't really have been that obvious except in hindsight <>

Actually, one of the reasons we encountered so little resistance during the initial invasion was that we promised to pay everyone-- the generals, the soldiers-- off. We dropped leaflets advertising this fact to Saddam's armies.

(Later, of course, we reneged on those promised payments.)

At any rate, then, we had at least some evidence early on that money could be influential in these matters.

posted by darth_tedious at 10:04 PM on May 19, 2009


You, as glad as I am to read all this piling on in 2009, one can't but ask why the FUCK it was Sy Hersh all by his lonely (I exaggerate, but you know what I mean) trying to report on the bullshit that was going down five, six, seven years ago? Why am I put in mind of the financial reporter fool currently on book tour? Aaargh.
posted by mwhybark at 10:13 PM on May 19, 2009


it seems to me that the virtues of this particular approach - plying the armed insurgents with cash - can't really have been that obvious except in hindsight
A fascinating piece in the May 19 Defense News quotes Gen. Tommy Franks, chief of U.S. Central Command, confirming what had until now been mere rumors picked up by dubious Arab media outlets—that, before Gulf War II began, U.S. special forces had gone in and bribed Iraqi generals not to fight.
-- "Smart Bribes: Centcom's real secret weapon," Slate, May 20, 2003.
posted by kirkaracha at 10:23 PM on May 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Actually, one of the reasons we encountered so little resistance during the initial invasion was that we promised to pay everyone-- the generals, the soldiers-- off.

Successfully bribing that group of people - the Iraqi national military who were already in possession of a wealth of military assets and resources - would not make it obvious or straightforward that it's a good idea to hand out cash to insurgent groups that are operating on a comparatively shoestring budget, IMO. It's not automatically clear to me that doing so would result in turning them as a group over to our side against Al-Qaeda and against ethnically distinct insurgent groups instead of simply funding the effort against us and funding warlordism in general.

It's not like enthusiastically handing out cash to Iraqis has never backfired on us. (Like funding Saddam during the Eighties.)

Again, I think that now that we know it works we should continue doing it, I just don't think that this issue is as obviously the product of stupidity or myopia as most of the rest of the Bush administration actions.
posted by XMLicious at 10:23 PM on May 19, 2009


it seems to me that the virtues of this particular approach - plying the armed insurgents with cash - can't really have been that obvious except in hindsight and it's probably overly partisan to knock them so much for it.

I'm all for checking gut partisanship at the door, but this doesn't seem overly partisan to criticize them for it--not when the people running the war in Iraq were asking permission to do it, not when they recognized that it was a viable strategy.

The whole theory of counterinsurgency warfare is based on the premise of isolating the insurgents to cut them off from support: Turn the people against them, peel off allied groups. Hell, that's exactly what they did in Afghanistan: They paid the Northern Alliance tribes who were formerly cozy with the Taliban to switch sides. IIRC, they also used bribery in the invasion, paying certain generals to not be too quick to move their divisions into defensive positions or to assist other units.

Nothing about the Sunni Awakening was unusual or brilliant. It's SOP in counterinsurgency warfare.
posted by fatbird at 10:26 PM on May 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hell, that's exactly what they did in Afghanistan: They paid the Northern Alliance tribes who were formerly cozy with the Taliban to switch sides.

But didn't they also end up paying bribe money in exchange for Afghanis to "betray" and finger people who were then put in Guantanamo or other prisons, who later turned out to be either completely unconnected to Al-Qaeda or the Taliban or turned out to simply be local enemies of their accusers?

There are things that are blisteringly obvious - like running around starting preemptive wars at the nation-state level in the name of fighting terrorism is going to harm as many people as terrorism itself would and possibly many many more, or that acceding to torture of our enemies will result in U.S. personnel being tortured in the future. This just isn't in the same category and shouldn't be treated as if it is.
posted by XMLicious at 10:44 PM on May 19, 2009


More like "Heads in their asses."
posted by paisley henosis at 10:47 PM on May 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's interesting to see this stuff come out post bush. We knew they sucked but it's kind of amazing to see the mechanism of their suck exposed under the harsh light of day. Rumsfeld's Bible Quotes is one of the more amazing ones.
posted by delmoi at 11:15 PM on May 19, 2009


In November 2004, the Jordanian government helped sponsor another summit in Amman, in the futile hope that talks might somehow avert a second battle for Fallujah, known to be imminent.

Christ. I was in Mosul at the time. The morning after the 2d Battle of Fallujah began, Sunni insurgents launched coordinated attacks on Mosul to try and take over the city. And yet only a year earlier, General Petraeus and the 101st Airborne Division had managed to create and maintain a relative peace with the Sunnis in Mosul. Which fell apart after he and the 101st left, and his particular methods were basically discontinued. As I recall, US forces ended up backing the Kurds in Mosul instead.

Hindsight may be 20/20, but more than a few somebodies understood what the hell was going on long before the Sunni Awakening.
posted by lullaby at 11:15 PM on May 19, 2009 [4 favorites]


There are things that are blisteringly obvious - like running around starting preemptive wars at the nation-state level in the name of fighting terrorism is going to harm as many people as terrorism itself would and possibly many many more, or that acceding to torture of our enemies will result in U.S. personnel being tortured in the future. This just isn't in the same category and shouldn't be treated as if it is.

Your absolutely right. The first is criminally negligent, the second is just totally incompetent. I don't really see how that takes away from the point...
posted by Chuckles at 12:21 AM on May 20, 2009


So who's singing on American Idol tonight?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:59 AM on May 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


>Successfully bribing that group of people - the Iraqi national military who were already in possession of a wealth of military assets and resources - would not make it obvious or straightforward that it's a good idea to hand out cash to insurgent groups that are operating on a comparatively shoestring budget, IMO.<>

At the risk of beating a dead horse, those unbribed and then unemployed soldiers and bureaucrats became the insurgents that took to shooting and bombing our troops.

For that matter, the fact that we could successfully entice the highly organized and wealthy national military would only increase the odds that we could do so with small, disorganized guerrilla bands comprised of guys with plenty of bullets but unreliable income...

posted by darth_tedious at 1:26 AM on May 20, 2009


Is this the place to point out we haven't had a *Real Housewives of Metafilter" series yet?
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:31 AM on May 20, 2009


(I was going to point out that this isn't really new news or new knowledge, but lullaby did it for me.)
posted by lodurr at 5:15 AM on May 20, 2009


I reject the assumption that there was some "better" way we could have managed Iraq. War crimes are not improved by effective supervision.

Or as music critic Robert Christgau said in a different context: Maybe they are good at what they do. But in this case, what they do is so terrible that this only makes it worse.
posted by Joe Beese at 5:38 AM on May 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


OK, but this is hardly new news.
posted by caddis at 5:56 AM on May 20, 2009


plying the armed insurgents with cash - can't really have been that obvious except in hindsight and it's probably overly partisan to knock them so much for it. Even if it had been a "just war" I don't think I'd be willing to be very critical of an administration slow to take this up.

Isn't this like War Games 101? I thought this is how we ended up in the current shit storm - by plying the Afghani Mujahadeen with guns and cash to fight the Soviets.
posted by spicynuts at 6:14 AM on May 20, 2009


spicynuts: "I thought this is how we ended up in the current shit storm - by plying the Afghani Mujahadeen with guns and cash to fight the Soviets."

Never underestimate an imperial power's ability to make the same mistake over and over again.
posted by Joe Beese at 6:23 AM on May 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Didn't we talk about this already? Maybe I just read about it somewhere else. It all starts to flow together after a while.
posted by PuppyCat at 6:36 AM on May 20, 2009


I reject the assumption that there was some "better" way we could have managed Iraq.

What? Just because something is a mindblowingly stupid idea to begin with does not mean it's automatically impossible to make intelligent or even good decisions after that.

Especially in the period immediately after the invasion - say, the summer of 2003 - there was definitely a better way to handle the war. Just because we missed the boat on that doesn't mean there wasn't the opportunity to keep it from becoming such a clusterfuck. It turns out that the same fuckups in charge who started the war weren't so great at continuing one either.
posted by lullaby at 6:41 AM on May 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


Never underestimate an imperial power's ability to make the same mistake over and over again.

Oh hell no I pretty much assume that the same mistakes will be made over and over til the end of time. What I was getting at though was the point made by XMLicious that the approach of throwing money everywhere and anywhere was not obvious to the people running this thing. Subsequent reading of the thread shows that they did throw money around, just not at the Sunnis.
posted by spicynuts at 7:11 AM on May 20, 2009


Americans confronting an armed force and not understanding the motivations and goals of the opposition? Say it ain't so.
posted by mikeh at 7:15 AM on May 20, 2009


At what point do you conclude that the object was a huge, unwinnable war which served purposes like providing cover for the movement of countless billions of dollars to well-connected cronies, or keeping a huge military presence with none of the constraints on its conduct that peace would dictate?

That's the conclusion I drew from No End in Sight.
posted by ryanshepard at 7:40 AM on May 20, 2009


credited with dampening the insurgency

Is this some desert-specific war tactic, or did the author mean to say "damping"?
posted by otherthings_ at 7:48 AM on May 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


damp⋅en
  /ˈdæmpən/ Show Spelled Pronunciation [dam-puhn] Show IPA
–verb (used with object)
1. to make damp; moisten: to dampen a sponge.
2. to dull or deaden; depress: to dampen one's spirits.


That's dictionary.com though so YMMV.
posted by spicynuts at 8:17 AM on May 20, 2009


Insurgency tomorrow!*

*weather permitting
posted by dirigibleman at 8:56 AM on May 20, 2009


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