The Wrong War & Exit Strategy:Civil War & News From Kirkuk
June 15, 2005 8:17 AM   Subscribe

A distinction between “old” and “new” wars is vital. “Old wars” are wars between states where the aim is the military capture of territory and the decisive encounter is battle between armed forces. “New wars”, in contrast, take place in the context of failing states. They are wars fought by networks of state and non-state actors, where battles are rare and violence is directed mainly against civilians, and which are characterised by a new type of political economy that combines extremist politics and criminality... I argue in this article that the United States viewed its invasion of Iraq as an updated version of “old war” that made use of new technology. The US failure to understand the reality on the ground in Iraq and the tendency to impose its own view of what war should be like is immensely dangerous and carries the risk of being self-perpetuating. It does not have to be this way.
Iraq: the wrong war - Mary Kaldor writes of what was happening in pre-invasion Iraq, what happened thereafter and what the alternatives were. Well, there is always Exit strategy: Civil war. And on that, note this: Kurdish Officials Sanction Abductions in Kirkuk--a city from which, I am afraid, we will hear more and more as time goes by.
posted by y2karl (20 comments total)
Via, among others, openDemocracy via Political Theory Daily Review which was originally via--to me, at least--the always essential Abu Aardvark
posted by y2karl at 8:21 AM on June 15, 2005

Pepe Escobar is always worth reading
posted by warbaby at 8:49 AM on June 15, 2005

Hey! I was just in the process of drafting a post to this. . . .

Good post y2karl.

For me, the most important point was the need to give political legitimacy to those in control in Iraq. Frankly, the US still exercise effective control, despite the constant BushCo rhetoric to the contrary. We have to give it up.
posted by caddis at 9:15 AM on June 15, 2005

There is a war? Is this something you have to own a TV to get?
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 9:21 AM on June 15, 2005

Pepe Escobar is always worth reading

Certainly his The US's gift to al-Qaeda is worth mentioning in this context:

When bin Laden and al-Zawahiri called for a worldwide jihad they failed. Movements of national liberation in Islam - like in Palestine and Chechnya - were the biggest losers. All over Islam there was heated discussion over al-Qaeda's strategy - if there was any. Should everyone revert to purveying dawah (propaganda, political proselytism) instead of jihad?

But now Islamic scholars from Morocco to Malaysia are finally legitimizing al-Qaeda as a Muqadamul Jaish - a revolutionary vanguard. This Western concept was unheard of in Islam - well, at least until the symbolically-charged spring of 2003, when Baghdad was "liberated" by President George W Bush's Christian armies...

Al-Qaeda's dream of mobilizing the ummah by way of jihad may have taken a backseat role, but who needs it when you have reports of Korans flushed down the toilet? The Newsweek controversy reveals to the fullest extent how al-Qaeda may be reaching its goal of politicizing the masses through other means. No wonder the White House, Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice all reacted furiously - blaming the (media) messenger to obscure the evident message (Islamophobia).

posted by y2karl at 9:23 AM on June 15, 2005

Here's another article along the same vein:

"Today, the United States is spending $500 million apiece for stealth bombers," the group wrote in a 1989 article that appeared in a professional military journal. "A terrorist stealth bomber is a car with a bomb in the trunk - a car that looks like every other car."
posted by Fozzie at 10:21 AM on June 15, 2005

This "new war" seems awfully old, though.
posted by Skeptic at 11:21 AM on June 15, 2005

Old within Iraq perhaps, but the extra-territorial effects are somewhat new. The "enemy" defines itself not so much by geography as by culture, religion and the cause. Imagine the radical environmentalists the world over taking up arms against the industrial nations to stop their environmental destruction. Targets would be the economies and articles of environmental destruction, along with enough civilian targets to maintain a level of fear. In the present war the fight, at least to the extent it reaches outside of Iraq, seems to be primarily against US and western hegemony.
posted by caddis at 11:35 AM on June 15, 2005

This "new war" seems awfully old, though.

Mary Kaldor:

The new war in Iraq is defined by the way it is fought by loose networks of state and non-state actors, more like a social movement than the typical vertically organised guerrilla insurgency of earlier wars.

No one knows the true size of the insurgency. Until October 2003, American officials insisted that there were no more than 5,000 insurgents consisting primarily of remnants of the former regime. In October 2004, the New York Times reported that senior officials believe that the “hard core resistance” comprises between 8,000 and 12,000 fighters, with numbers jumping to 20,000 if “active sympathisers or covert accomplices” are included.

Most reliable reports suggest that the bulk of the insurgency is Iraqi nationalist and Sunni Islamist and arose more or less spontaneously, starting in the summer of 2003. The most important recruits are former military personnel – many of them former senior army officers based in Fallujah, Mosul, and parts of Baghdad.

Many of the nationalist and Sunni Islamist cells – with names like the Iraqi National Islamic Resistance, “The 1920”s Revolution Brigades”, the National Front for the Liberation of Iraq, and the Popular Resistance for the Liberation of Iraq – oppose Saddam Hussein as well as the occupation.

Former Ba’athists seem to constitute a quite separate group, their activities mainly consisting of financing resistance operations – although there are a few fighting factions, such as the Snake’s Head Movement, and Al-Adawh (the Return). There are also some Shi’a resistance groups, such as the Mehdi army (led by the populist leader Muqtada al-Sadr) which played a critical role in the summer of 2004 before many Shi’a turned their attention to contesting the January 2005 elections.

There are also some extreme Islamist groups that seem to specialise in kidnapping, hostage-taking and assassination. They include groups with such names as the Islamic Anger Brigades, or the Black Banners group, and the Mujahadeen of the Victorious Sect. Some of these groups are linked to al-Qaida, such as the group led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and the Kurdistan-based Ansar al-Islam. In addition there are various organised crime groups, which operate under the cover of the insurgency and include many criminals who were released from prison by Saddam Hussein just before the invasion.

What all these groups have in common is their opposition to the American occupation. Like the movements that have emerged in other “new wars”, they can be understood in terms of the conditions thrown up by globalisation. Some are fighting to defend former power positions; others are reacting against the insecurity of the contemporary situation, both physical and material.

Although both Islam and Iraqi nationalism are important ideological currents, it would be wrong to attribute a sectarian identity to the insurgency, even though a majority of the insurgents are Sunni. Rather, as the violence intensifies, the insurgency seems to give to substance to the notion of a struggle against the west, which mirrors the American idea of a “war on terror”. Those who couch this struggle in Islamic terms, as a global jihad, appear to gain in credibility the longer the struggle continues.

This range of groups directs the vast majority of attacks against forces of the United States and its allies in Iraq. The insurgents also attack Iraqi security forces, especially the police; members of the Iraqi government, administration and others considered to be collaborators; critical infrastructure, especially pipelines and power stations; international agencies and NGOs; foreign contractors; and ordinary civilians. The cells involved are highly decentralised; they often do not know their leaders or their sources of finance. They have developed sophisticated ways of bypassing coalition intelligence through human contacts, the use of messengers, or coded internet messages.

The de-centralized, multi-group aspect is the innovation. We knew who we were fighting in Vietnam--the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese army. They were under a central command. The same is not true for Iraq.
posted by y2karl at 11:38 AM on June 15, 2005

New war, same old propaganda tactics.
posted by surplus at 12:08 PM on June 15, 2005

caddis: For most of the XX century, guerrilla groups defining themselves by ideology happily linked across borders. Or have you never heard of this guy, for instance?

De-centralized, multi-(feuding-)group guerrillas are nothing new either: the Portuguese in Angola had to fight no less than three different guerrilla groups (who immediately set upon each other after the Portuguese left).
posted by Skeptic at 12:26 PM on June 15, 2005

y2karl; another home run. Good post.

Nobody asks this: Did Bush give into any of Bin Laden's demands? When you go over it carefully and honestly... indirectly he sure has.

He has pulled most US forces out of Saudi Arabia for one.

And Bush started a domestic Culture War on western liberalism that severally impugns the export of US liberal ideals abroad for another.

I'm sure there are others.
posted by tkchrist at 12:26 PM on June 15, 2005

New war, same old propaganda tactics.

From that Weekly Standard link:

So suspicion trumps knowledge, in the name of political art, and falsehood morphs into history.

Does anybody else appreciate the incredible irony of that stupid fucking statement by "cognitive dissident" Claudia Winkler?

I guess I'd have to spell that out for Ms. Winkler.

Suspicion sure trumped knowledge when Bush invaded a goddamned country and it turned out there were no WMD, didn't it? And the Weekly Standard STILL carries articles routinly that say we found WMD and never prints the retractions when those are proven bullshit.
posted by tkchrist at 12:41 PM on June 15, 2005

New/old? I thought we were into the fifth generation?

During world war II, resistance groups in many countries were multiple and even internally conflictual.
posted by TimothyMason at 1:12 PM on June 15, 2005

Kennedy saw this coming in '62. He officially christened the SEALs and started heading the military towards a low-intensity conflict fighting capacity which would pretty much have shut down the big ticket items that we still seem to have today. (Completely unrelated to taking billions of dollars in armament contracts away from extremely powerful people with high level government contacts, he was killed by a lone nut.) DEVGRU and any hand full of Deltas do more real work than any number of stealth bombers.
Pretty much the whole special operations command does so much more than their bulky brothers with so much less, except perhaps in training costs, that it makes almost no sense to have all that equipment.
And yet were fighting the same kind of bullshit war with a WWII "Let's have our big big ships and planes fight while we break some stuff and build other stuff which will get broken" mentality in the upper eschelons but mostly from the politicians who seem to have contacts that have billions of dollars invested in this paradigm. Meanwhile a Mossad style op with the funny platoon alone could have clipped Saddam and saved time and thousands of lives and billions of dollars in lost or destroyed resources.
War is Peace indeed.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:51 PM on June 15, 2005

There is a war? Is this something you have to own a TV to get?

no, steve, there's plenty of iraqis who got their war without having to get a tv
posted by pyramid termite at 2:43 PM on June 15, 2005

Hey, whaddya know. Raytheon announced today they've got a defense against shoulder fired missiles.

You know what would really help Raytheon prove there's a need for this?
posted by surplus at 2:47 PM on June 15, 2005

Meanwhile a Mossad style op with the funny platoon alone could have clipped Saddam and saved time and thousands of lives and billions of dollars in lost or destroyed resources.

I agree in general that assassinating the motherfucker would have been the less disagreeable of the "force" options - I do think the "Delta Force" thing is of limited use and vastly overstated by many of it's proponents.

There are people - congressmen included - who really believe we have this cadre of Kung-Fu chopp'n Chuck Norris bad asses that can repel ninja-style inside secret enemy installations, steal the secret chip, kill the General with the scar and eye patch, and take the invisible motorcycle back across the border.

(I blame that stupid show "Alias" for perpetuating this. That and keeping alive the idea that a platinum wig and lingerie is a good disguise and that there is no situation that jump-spin kick won't get you out of...)

Now keep in mind my old man is combat veteran and former Green Beret and Ranger. He agrees with me.

The idea of taking out states (bombing the shit out of them with big clumsy weapons) that sponsor bad guys has it's merits as well. Though very limited.
posted by tkchrist at 3:52 PM on June 15, 2005

tkchrist - sure, right tool for the right job. Panama wouldn't have been the fiasco it was if it weren't for the chop-socky happy politicians.
You need a few stealth bombers, etc, for the big hits. Do we need 500? (Hyperbole) No.
The point being - holding ground is a job for the infantry, but you don't need to hold ground anymore. Mobility is (and always has been) key, but now more than ever. The nukes render holding ground obsolete (have since we got 'em, no one seems to have noticed). We're going to see that sooner or later. Probably once money starts getting tight and the U.S. stops economically dominating the world and we start facing actual threats (as opposed to 'terrorist' attacks - guerrilla war).
With real estate ending as the big form of national capital you've got people and energy as the last few. That means MP-types for defense and organization and specialists for offense.
So under the new rules, you'd monkey with the politics to make way for a coup, assassinate Saddam, install your guy, bolster the standing army (mostly uniformed goofs who do the repetative work - let THEM hold the ground) with your MP types and use the specialists - espionage and special forces to hunt down the dissidents. All relatively cheap. (and no Chuck Norris spinning back hook kicks).
I suggested using women because they'd never see it coming. Their mindset isn't prepared for violence from women. It obviously works (Mossad has pulled it off well) and the burka veil is a great disguise.

Instead we have our army (holding ground) in there trying to justify the money we're spending busting up the infrastructure we could have otherwise co-opted. It's a businessman's war.
(and I could have done all that without an invisible motorcycle)
If your old man is a Green Beret, than he knows the value of violence applied with precision over inefficient and nearly random bludgeoning of the countryside.

It's all in the application. SEALs don't take and hold airfields. You don't win a war through overwhelming violence unless you plan to slaughter everyone. You don't hold ground by locking yourself to it. This was amply demonstrated when the Mongols attacked the Middle East. The Mongols were the greatest offensive fighters of the time and faced the Muslims, the greatest defensive fighters of all time. The Muslims were chained in some cases to their positions. The Mongols had mobility and willingness to kill them to the last man - it was a rough fight, but guess who won. But the Mongols said 'who wants a stinking desert?' And left. This was before the oil of course.

So our only option is conversion (unless we're turning to genocide).
Delta and other special ops units are limited only because they now win wars. In the old days it was archers, after them, horses, after them it was sea power then air power, nukes leveled the playing field again - either you have them or you lose. So now it's the ability to 'soak in' because that is the new most efficient method of making war.
We're only getting away with fighting this kind of war because we have the nukes and loads and loads of cash. At some point we will have to learn how occupy resources without holding ground.
To do that you need well-trained, careful, thinking troops.
Hell man, boot camp is still a new innovation. Used to be soldiers were professionals, then the higher ups used pesants to raise hell before the cavalry swooped in, then you needed to train the men enough to charge machine guns. We're going back to the professionals.
Considering the amount of merc. companies in Iraq, we're 3/4 of the way there already.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:20 PM on June 16, 2005

I'd add - the point being - we're clearly not interested in winning this war.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:24 PM on June 16, 2005

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