April 19, 2004 5:27 PM   Subscribe

The Pentagon as Global Slumlord -- by Urban Theorist Mike Davis (author of City of Quartz and Ecology of Fear):
The battle of Fallujah, together with the conflicts unfolding in Shiia cities and Baghdad slums, are high-stakes tests, not just of U.S. policy in Iraq, but of Washington's ability to dominate what Pentagon planners consider the "key battlespace of the future" -- the Third World city.
His recent essay, Planet of Slums provides more on the ever-growing living- (and battle-?)spaces for hundreds of millions.
posted by amberglow (31 comments total)
Interesting link

Speaking of Fallujah, here's an account from inside the city by a British woman who used to be Raed's house mate.
posted by homunculus at 7:20 PM on April 19, 2004

Links. Thanks, amberglow.
posted by homunculus at 7:23 PM on April 19, 2004

With some exceptions, large cities around the world can be broken into districts. Upper class, industrial, middle class, commercial, ghetto/red light/criminal. The strange exceptions are like Rio in Brazil, where a 10-foot high wall is being considered to ring their slum area.

This matters, tactically, as instead of having to police the whole city, perhaps only a single district will be the "hot area". Examples being the slum area of 'Sadr City' in Baghdad, and the industrial district of Fallujah.

This truly matters in many ways, with a clear example being how to police even a major metropolitan area. The clearest example as a model would be Los Angeles. The same tactics used to suppress the Watts riots and the South Central riots apply elsewhere.

The poor rule the slums for a time during the disturbance, destroying their own homes and businesses. The police/army/and citizens of other districts just try keep the situation contained to the poor district. Action is taken after the violence subsides: slowly, methodically, and with overwhelming force.

The bottom line is that you let the poor eat each other. It does not matter if you rule over them as long as you prevent anyone else from organizing them. They do not have the resources to keep up a fight for long, and soon, the "cooperative" poor will turn against the troublesome,
turning them over to the authorities in exchange for subsistence instead of starvation.

Cruel but effective.
posted by kablam at 7:24 PM on April 19, 2004


That reminds me of the experience invaders of China had for centuries -- it was possible to produce an army to invade, but it was not possible for that same army to govern effectively. Thus, the famous Mongol wisdom:

"You cannot rule China from horseback."

Enter the Manchu...
posted by Ptrin at 7:36 PM on April 19, 2004

Ptrin, this is indeed a classic problem Alexander of Macedonia ("the Great") conquered from India to Spain but he held on to it for a very brief time his legacy was spread of culture (and death and mayhem). The Visigoths who sacked Rome only stayed for a few days then moved on for the Romans to return and pick up the mundane business of administrating an Empire.
posted by stbalbach at 7:40 PM on April 19, 2004

Ptrin: My point is that you don't want to rule. All you want is for those countries that have uncontrolled slums filled with violent radicals to control their own problems.

If you look at all the slums of the world, how many are breeding grounds for international terrorists?

Granted, a lot of them breed vicious criminals, but they have no philosophy. They are a criminal problem for this reason, not terrorist threats. Even if they form criminal cartels, such as the enormous Chinese Triad, they don't really get in the way or slaughter innocent civilians beyond ordinary crimes.

Even drug cartels that fund and support revolutionary movements do not really wish to rule. They just want money and crude power.

So the problem is considerably isolated to countries that have large slums full of disaffected people, who have a philosophy of destruction that involves terrorism and conquest; most likely a Vandal-like desire to destroy hated modern civilization and technology and restore a primitive way of life.

All told, there are such places, but their numbers aren't truly overwhelming. Optimally, with some support and reform, their own governments can handle them.
posted by kablam at 8:15 PM on April 19, 2004


I wasn't speaking of us as the invaders, but of the insurgents. They have the abillity to overthrow the governments in their cities (see: Najaf) but they do not have the ability to govern effectively; thus, they are soon rejected by their own supporters. For this reason, while such insurgents are certainly a danger, they are not exactly a threat.

On the other hand, if you get a group of insurgents who prepare, as the Manchus did, to rule as well as to fight, then you have a problem. Imagine a Najaf-like situation in which the shops stay open. That is a threat.
posted by Ptrin at 9:39 PM on April 19, 2004

Granted, a lot of them breed vicious criminals, but they have no philosophy.

This, unfortunately for the west, may no longer be true.
posted by jeffj at 12:24 AM on April 20, 2004

Squalor doesn't really seem very effective at generating terrorists. Terrorists these days arise from the (relatively) prosperous immigrant communities in Western Europe, and from educated or even wealthy classes back in their homelands. The shock troops of Al Quaeda and Hamas are, by and large, a fairly comfortable, if totally enraged, bunch.

My theory is the really poor don't have the leisure to develop the nihilistic-chauvenistic worldview of a terrorist, and, even if they did, those with the physical and mental fitness to execute terrorist missions are probably more concerned with using that fitness to feed their families.
posted by MattD at 10:35 AM on April 20, 2004

"When the fighting is over in Fallujah, I will sell everything I have, even my home," said a resistance fighter who gave his name as Abu Taif Mashhadani. He wept as he recalled his 8-year-old daughter, who he said was killed by a U.S. sniper in Fallujah a week ago. "I will send my brothers north to kill the Kurds, and I will go to America and target the civilians. Only the civilians. Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth. And the one who started it will be the one to be blamed."

Revolts in Iraq Deepen Crisis In Occupation
posted by y2karl at 11:55 AM on April 20, 2004

The young American Marine is exultant. "It's a sniper's dream," he tells a Los Angeles Times reporter on the outskirts of Fallujah. "You can go anywhere and there so many ways to fire at the enemy without him knowing where you are."

"Sometimes a guy will go down, and I'll let him scream a bit to destroy the morale of his buddies. Then I'll use a second shot."

"To take a bad guy out," he explains, "is an incomparable 'adrenaline rush.'" He brags of having "24 confirmed kills" in the initial phase of the brutal U.S. onslaught against the rebel city of 300,000 people.

Cross reference this against googling for Iraq Ambulance or Fallujah Toilet Sniper. Being poor is an entirely different problem from being shot while driving an ambulance or trying to get to the outhouse. How does our intrepid Marine know he's just shooting "bad guys"?

It seems clear to me from this passage that the Tiger Force mentality is still alive and well in the military.
posted by ilsa at 11:57 AM on April 20, 2004

I'm with MattD, except that these places are fertile recruiting grounds for anyone with an ideology and any kind of practical assistance (which is desperately needed). It reminds me of how in the 60s, the Black Panthers recruited a lot of people by setting up community centers and giving free breakfasts, etc. (Not that the Black Panthers are at all like Al Qaeda. of course.)

And our soldiers in Iraq are obviously not trained or equipped for what they're doing, even with the "Yodaville" exercises.
posted by amberglow at 12:10 PM on April 20, 2004

amberglow> And our soldiers in Iraq are obviously not trained or equipped for what they're doing, even with the "Yodaville" exercises.

As far as I can see the Fallujah operation has been quite successful in terms of communicating the military consequences of city-wide organised resistance. In a region of Iraq generally considered to be the most hostile to the US an entire city has been isolated and resistance progressively exterminated. That kind of thing sends quite a message. The longer term consequences are obviously debatable, but what makes you think that the soldiers involved in the operation aren't adequately trained or equipped?
posted by snarfodox at 4:15 PM on April 20, 2004

Successful? They shouldn't be putting an entire city under siege in the first place! We have no control of the situation, and are simply keeping people from leaving or entering. We're not going after anyone, or trying to solve the problems, or negotiating or anything. We're simply locking it down--at huge cost to our army and the Iraqi people. Sadr is not there, and every day this continues means many more Iraqis that hate us.
posted by amberglow at 4:25 PM on April 20, 2004

The Iraqis are well aware of the firepower we possess, and don't care. What we need to be doing requires finesse and diplomacy, not isolation and extinction.
posted by amberglow at 4:27 PM on April 20, 2004

amberglow> The Iraqis are well aware of the firepower we possess, and don't care.

The resistance fighters may not care about the firepower arrayed against them, but nonetheless the people who are involved in attacks on US forces are consistently being killed. It is particularly apparent in an urban battleground with an extremely large number of nearby non-combatants that other people are being killed as well, and that is a horrible consequence of being at war. In terms of military thinking however an opposition force is being neutralised, as per the assigned objective. The cordon is to maintain target availability within a designated combat zone where concentrated military force can be projected.

The sharp division between a professional military and civilian political oversight in the countries involved in combat operations seems to have some interesting consequences for the way in which the conflict is waged. The modern military culture of force projection and how it is implemented operationally must make it difficult for politicians to understand exactly what they are going to unleash when they ask for the completion of an objective.

amberglow> What we need to be doing requires finesse and diplomacy, not isolation and extinction.

It appears to be the case that US, British and Australian combat troops have been instructed by their governments to treat resistance fighters as not being state-sponsored combatants. They are therefore classified by those governments as ‘terrorists’ and as far as I know none of the mentioned governments will therefore negotiate with them or even afford them certain other rights generally granted to state-sponsored combatants.
posted by snarfodox at 5:07 PM on April 20, 2004

In terms of military thinking however an opposition force is being neutralised, as per the assigned objective.
That's why the military phase of invading Iraq should have ended long ago. We're now treating the people of Iraq as an opposition force--It's a horrific mistake we're making.
And they're not terrorists--they're people being bombed and attacked by an occupying foreign force. We would respond the same if, say, Cleveland was being treated the way Fallujah is.

If they are really being classified as terrorists and as an opposition force, then we'll never win, unless they're all killed, which is not how you "liberate" a country.
posted by amberglow at 5:13 PM on April 20, 2004

amberglow> That's why the military phase of invading Iraq should have ended long ago.

The fear is that withdrawing military forces from Iraq would lead to a politically undesirable outcome for the US and its allies. Certain individuals with a political agenda incompatible with that of the occupying force may set themselves up in positions of authority using the people that are currently involved in the armed resistance as muscle. The obvious way to prevent this is to kill those people first. You don't need to kill all of them: just enough of them to make sure that they don't have the ability to project enough force to threaten the powerbase of the Iraqi nationals whose political views the US and its allies do support.
posted by snarfodox at 5:41 PM on April 20, 2004

but aren't we too late on that score already?
posted by amberglow at 7:16 PM on April 20, 2004

Massive Retaliation

Do you see the contradiction that both writers obviously understand but seem oddly unwilling to face squarely? In a place like Iraq, the only way to gain control is to make it clear that you are not to be trifled with — with overwhelming force if necessary. But on the other hand, we've come a long way since 1920, and that kind of occupation, which was only barely acceptable to western public opinion even then, is certainly not today. What's more, it's even less acceptable when George Bush has been claiming for over a year that Iraqis are not our enemy, but rather a grateful populace eager for liberation.

Like it or not, this contradiction probably makes large-scale foreign interventions almost impossible today, especially in the Middle East. It might very well be true that the only way to hold a country like Iraq together is to have huge troop levels and a willingness to crush opposition ruthlessly if necessary. But the fact is that we don't have huge numbers of troops, and American public opinion — thankfully — won't tolerate massive retaliation of the kind the British got away with in 1920. That's simply not the kind of society any of us want to be.

This presents a problem for war supporters. If they really believe that overwhelming force is necessary to beat down the Iraq insurgencies, as many of them seem to, who do they think is going to do it? The commanders on the ground seem well aware of the kind of conflagration they'd set off if they tried this, and are likewise well aware that public opinion in 21st century America simply won't put up with tactics more often associated with police states than with liberal democracies.

So what's the answer? Or is there one?

posted by y2karl at 7:34 PM on April 20, 2004

A Report on Mesopotamia, by T.E. Lawrence, August 2nd, 1920.
posted by homunculus at 7:44 PM on April 20, 2004

I think these guys have it right: (from y2k's link, in the comments) This is a purely academic argument. We don't have the troops to send and we're not getting any from any other country. The ONLY deadline that matters is the November US election. After that, the Chimperor will declare victory and head for the exits as Iraq turns into a bigger version of Yugoslavia/Lebanon/Afghanistan and the next generation of terrorists practices on whatever puppet regime we leave behind.
Posted by: Jimmy Jazz

This situation is a hell of a lot more complex than you imagine. A 500 lb. bomb or 50 cal. canon doesn't care who it kills. And we have plenty of those, and could level the entire city of Falujah if we chose.
But the second we do -- we have lost the war. At that point we will truly be occupiers. Then it only is a question of how long we want to stay and take casualties, but we will never put a democracy in place under those conditions.
Indeed, the fact that in six cites, at once, rag-tag insurgents were able to expel all coalition forces in Iraq indicates that we are fighting a lot more than a few 'lunatics.' We have already lost quite few hearts and minds. Many people are probably ready to say 'Fuck America' and pick up an AK right now. If we prove ourselves jack-booted thugs and push them over the edge, we lose. The best army in the world can not hold out against ~30 million Iraqis in a state that size, unless we truly are willing to kill them all.
Right now we need to THINK. Not lash out like spoiled little five years olds.
Posted by: Timothy Klein

posted by amberglow at 7:53 PM on April 20, 2004

amberglow> but aren't we too late on that score already?

I suppose that the current US regime believes that continued military action is reducing the war-making capacity of the resistance group in Iraq to something that can eventually be effectively supressed by a US-regime-friendly Iraqi domestic police force.

Even an unpopular military occupation may be extremely effective in shaping the future of Iraq by reducing the war-making/regime-supporting capacity of various US-unfriendly opposition forces. If a large number of these organised resistance groups are slaughtered, their leadership is captured or killed and their weapons caches are seized or destroyed that would go an awfully long way to helping a domestic security force under the control of a politically friendly regime take control. As Ptrin mentioned above it is the capacity to establish a stable opposition that is generally viewed as a threat to any new government, not violent internal dissent (which can be dismissed as crime and suppressed as such).

'Democracy' is an entirely different proposition and almost certainly won't be the pure populism that a lot of people seem to have in mind. I would expect major limitations built in to the new constitution that dictate the form of government that may take shape.
posted by snarfodox at 8:27 PM on April 20, 2004

I don't know, snarf--I think the defections of Iraqi police and soldiers is a telling sign. And in another of y2k's links there was something about how they're selling all the arms we give them to just the people our army doesn't want armed.
posted by amberglow at 8:29 PM on April 20, 2004

y2k: my personal Iraq News Network : >
posted by amberglow at 8:30 PM on April 20, 2004

'Democracy' is an entirely different proposition and almost certainly won't be the pure populism that a lot of people seem to have in mind. I would expect major limitations built in to the new constitution that dictate the form of government that may take shape.

If anyone thinks of this as "liberation" rather than "conquest", I'd like to understand why.
posted by boredomjockey at 10:04 PM on April 20, 2004

boredomjockey> If anyone thinks of this as "liberation" rather than "conquest", I'd like to understand why.

Psychological operations, information warfare, propaganda.

Winston Churchill> History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.

Both sides are heavily engaged in the information theatre and it really depends on which combatant's word you want to use. Your other option is to reject both of those terms and simply accept that we don't necessarily have to encapsulate the complexity of the situation in a one word headline.
posted by snarfodox at 11:36 PM on April 20, 2004

(Good answer.)
posted by boredomjockey at 6:16 PM on April 21, 2004

Reporters On The Job

In essence, I feel we've become boiled frogs. Toss the frog into boiling water, and he jumps right out again, or at least tries. But put him in lukewarm water and slowly turns up the heat and he barely notices until he's cooked. Rather than overestimate the problems (a common journalistic temptation), I've begun to wonder if we're not understating them, notwithstanding the letters from readers who accuse our paper, and many others, of being Chicken Littles.

To be sure, in a wartime environment like Iraq's there is rarely a constant arc of progress, or descent into chaos. Violence ebbs and flows, incidents flare and then almost inexplicably, vanish. This froggy is leaving on a reporting trip outside Baghdad today - the first trip out of the city in more than a week. It feels safer again.

Or it did, until a few hours ago, when news arrived of three coordinated car-bombings in the southern city of Basra. More worrying, British troops were stoned by local citizens as they moved to secure the scene. Over the past few months, it's become common for average Iraqis to turn on foreigners whenever an attack has occurred - blaming the foreign presence for the lack of security, seemingly more than they do the people carrying out the attacks. Everyone hopes those attacks will be the last, but no one believes it; while coalition spokesmen insist from the podium in Baghdad's Green Zone, an area that most coalition officials rarely leave (and never without heavily armed escorts), that things are better than they seem.

I drove by Al-Beiruti, my favorite Tigris River cafe, a few days ago in the early evening. The stars were twinkling, the air cool and clean. A perfect night for friendly gossip and the clatter of dominoes after a cold, damp and anxious winter. It was empty.

posted by y2karl at 7:25 PM on April 21, 2004

« Older What's on TV? Nothing at all.   |   What Makes A Writer A Writer? Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments