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Iraq: after Zarqawi « Previous | |Next »
June 21, 2006

The killing of Zarqawi was recently celebrated as a big event by Washington. It is the US's one big counter-insurgency success in Iraq:


But the killing of Zarqawi has had little or no discernible effect whatsoever on the prosecution of the guerilla war in Iraq, has it? Does this failure undercut the US geo-political strategy in Iraq? On the geo-political interpretation the war in Iraq was a deliberately calculated exercise of US power with a specific end in mind ---namely, control of Iraq and establishing US hegemony in the Persian Gulf region.

Robert Dreyfuss outlines this stragegy:

The Bush administration's strategy in Iraq today, as in the invasion of 2003, is: use military force to destroy the political infrastructure of the Iraqi state; shatter the old Iraqi armed forces; eliminate Iraq as a determined foe of US hegemony in the oil-rich Persian Gulf; build on the wreckage of the old Iraq a new state beholden to the US; create a new political class willing to be subservient to US interests in the region; and use that new Iraq as a base for further expansion.

I agree that the endgame is a permanent US military presence in the country, including permanent bases and basing rights, and a predominant position for US business and oil interests. The geo-political interpretation of the Iraq war makes sense.

The question is: will the Al Qaeda militants---ie., Zarqawi-style jihadis--- be able to ensure that the civil war between Sunni and Shiites makes Iraq so unstable that the Americans will have to leave? Or conversely, will the US be able to wage a brutal war of attrition against the resistance by the Sunni insurgents in Iraq for years to come?

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:31 PM | | Comments (18)


There are about 15,000 insurgents, who are largely headless in respect to the media. Other than Sadr, I cannot name one insurgent leader.

The insurgents may be fighting one another---not just Sunni versus Shi'ite but Shi'ite contra Shi'ite. Dreyfuss says:

Throughout Iraq's mostly Shi'ite southern regions, Shi'ite parties and armies are battling among themselves for the control of important cities, including Basra, and of Iraq's Southern Oil Company, which produces the vast bulk of Iraqi oil and has provided a valuable stream of corrupt cash for Shi'ite party leaders.

Those dispatches in the WaPo mentioned that neighbourhoods were developing their own security, which is consistent with inter-insurgent violence.

The insurgants are politically impossible to deliver domestic victories as they are blind to the media's eye. Bush cannot trump an insurgent leaders head on TV as none have poked their head up in the way that Bin Laden and Zarqawi have.

The lesson from Israel and the US is, if you do poke your head up, it will get blown off, whether by missile or helicopter.

So far the insurgents have been out-innovating political and martial responses.

Gary,I would ask which Al Sarqawi did they kill there are thousands of them?Contrary to the thoughts of others the Americans will leave Iraq much the same way they left Viet Nam,in flames and in ruins.The helicopter gun ships will arrive in the green zone and air lift out their troops to the waiting carrier task force.The troops will go back home nursing their wounds,care of of another foray into American political and military madness.The media will trumpet the success of the war,and once again American democracy will reign supreme.But wait there's more!Oh yes much more,you see Iran/Korea is next on the agenda,only this time there wont be troops on the ground to do the dirty work and come under the attention of a media,in most cases complient.Of course it will be done from the air,cause you see its easy to press a little button in an aircraft and not see the death and destruction caused 30000 ft below.No more body bags for us,the public dont like em.I find it very strange that with all that has happened in Iraq since this war began and all the bullshit that has been passed off as (for want of a better word)honest reporting,there is a sentient being on this planet that believes anything that is coming out of Iraq.Who was it who said the first casualty of war is the truth?No matter.Phill.

the Americans may not leave Iraq.That is what Dreyfus is arguing He says that given all the bad news:

Not surprisingly, many politicians and generals and most progressives have adopted a worst-case outlook. With bad news mounting, they argue that the US project in Iraq is lost. In truth, I've made the same argument at various points over the past three years.

He adds that he is having second thoughts on this matter.
I no longer am convinced that the US adventure in Iraq is lost. There is no guarantee that the Bush administration cannot succeed in its goals there. The only certain thing is that success - what the president calls "victory in Iraq" - will come at the expense of thousands more American deaths, tens of thousands more Iraqi deaths and hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars.

Dreyfus recknons the US is in for the long haul:
Indeed, this war would have to be sustained not only by this administration, but by the next one and probably the one after that as well...At least theoretically, a force of more than 100,000 US soldiers could wage a brutal war of attrition against the resistance in Iraq for years to come.

Tis soemthing to think about. Iraq may not be like Vietnam.

Dreyfuss raises an interesting argument He says that there are only two ways to thwart Bush's war.

The first is for the Iraqi resistance to defeat the US occupation. The second is for domestic public opinion in the US to coalesce around a demand for unilateral withdrawal. So far, neither the Iraqi resistance nor the anti-war movement has the upper hand; and, sadly, so far, they are loath to make common cause with each other.

He then raises a good question:
So who believes that the Iraqi resistance can fight on indefinitely against the combined might of the US armed forces and US-supported Shi'ite and Kurdish armies, as well as militias, especially with ongoing US divide-and-conquer efforts that involve blandishments offered to the less militant wings of the insurgency? Still, it's not impossible that the resistance can hold on long enough to effect at least a stalemate.

That kind of Hobessian chaos, coupled with a divide-and-conquer tactic by the Americans vis-a vis Zarqawi-style jihadisand Sunni insurgents, leaves the US with its permanent self-contained bases in Iraq.

I guess it boils down to why we reckon the US went into Iraq in the first place. I've accepted the geopolitical argument--its mostly about establishing US hegemony in the Persian Gulf region.

Gary, It has only taken 15,000 insurgents to paralyze a country of 25 million. It doesnt take many to cause disruption.

Maybe the US wanted to paralyze a country -to create a Hobbessian situation of a war against all by pulverizing the institutions of the Iraqi state and society--- so that it could establish its large military presence (bases) to project its military power and hegemony in the Persian Gulf region?

All it needs is a client state in Iraq. It has one however weak. The Americans are not leaving. They are only going to draw down their troops to say 100,000. Its long haul stuff, not an expedition.

Gary,at the end of the day who is Dreyfuss I could care less of his opinion,as much as he could care for mine.The American people are tired of this war already and the price tag is bankrupting them.As an aside,I see the troops apparently have found a cache of W.M.D. just as the left predicted,as the mid term elections near.I stand by my comments the Americans in my opinion will pull out of Iraq.When the internal conflict is settled,they the so called insurgents will turn their attention fulltime to ridding themselves of the Americans.Intellectuals can pontificate over the Iraq war as long as they like,but as with Viet Nam the cooks,cleaners,mechanics and other assorted riff raff,knew the out come of the Viet Nam war,I mean Im a nobody It stuck out like dogs balls to me what was going to happen and Iraq will be the same.We are seeing the last vestiges of a dieing American Empire not the beginning.

I think they were expecting a Middle Eastern West Germany, rather than risk a Vietnam or Korea. Iraq is like none of those now. I dont think this current state was intentional. There are many reasons for it being that way IMO, but none of them planned.

rest assured there is no appeal to authority to settle debates here. The criteria is arguments--opinions backed by reasons that engage with the arguments of others. Everyone is on a level playing field.

I consider that Dreyfuss has an argument worth evaluating. It is worth considering because he shifts from the 'Iraq is a mistake' position to a more geopolitical position, and he gives good reasons for why he has made the shift.

That doesn't mean he is right and everyone else is wrong. How could we possibly know at this stage? It just means he has put enough on the table to chew over in the sense that--well, maybe he has a point.

The Americans had bases in Europe a long time after WW2---they only started pulling out with the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s. Why then is Iraq more like Vietnam and not more like West Germany?

yeah you are right. What was intentional and planned was the geopolitical strategy to establish US hegemony in the Persian Gulf region.

They--the neocons---thought that it could be done easily and they quickly found out otherwise. If the neo-cons had read more imperial British history they would have realized otherwise about the Arab insurgency to occupying imperial powers.

However the Bush Administration is sticking to the strategy---and I don't see that the Democrats (under Hillary Clinton?) doing much different, given their roots in the Carter Doctrine. (More here).
Presumably, they reckon they will be able to retain their toehold in Iraq with their heavily armed bases around the country.

Gary, In my opinion the U.S. occupied West Germany after W.W.2 because there was no one in a position to stop them.The U.S.S.R with 20 million dead and their lands devastated with no atom bomb was in no position to challenge them.The Germans welcomed,not that they had any choice, the Americans and British as if there had been no war .They knew exactly what was in store for therm had the Russians occupied the rest of Germany.

However there was a percieved threat of the bogey man communism through out Europe.In both France and Italy the communists occupied leading positions in the first post-war governments.A good example was Greece with a population of just over 7 millions 2 millions were communists.They (the west)had communism on the brain.Britain poured in nearly 800.000.000 dollars into Greece in the post war years to try and stop communist influence.This is not including the British flirtation with communism themselves.Britain had out spent per head of population the Americans re-arming after the war because of the threat perceived or otherwise of communism.They were dead set shitting themselves the Red Army would roll down Picadilly Circus in their T34 Tanks.

Now Viet Nam and Iraq,the Iraq war like the Viet Nam war was started and prosecuted on a tissue of lies.From the Gulf of Tonkin incident to W.M.D. most people now see it for what it is a conflict that is being fought for an ulteria motive.Which I will concede the jury is still out on.But what I am sure of,is if you don't have the populace on side you will not meet your objective no matter what it is.Phill.

Did you notice how quickly the US identified a replacement (but I can't think of the name...). Much easier to sell a war when you have a single identifiable 'bad guy'.

Presumably, they reckon they will be able to retain their toehold in Iraq with their heavily armed bases around the country.

The current and future Iraqi Governments will probably want them there despite populist stance's decrying US interference. They bring in money, influence and ensure US interests in Iraq's defence.

Peter Turchin in his cliodynamics discusses how 'asibiya' and ethnic identity develops in agrarian societies. Basically multi-ethnic faultlines that are lawless in nature are the coalescion point for strong collective action that ends in empire.

The Carter Doctrine, and its extended influence in the middle east has helped create a supra-national islamic identity.

the phil with a blog,

The new al-Qaeda leader in Iraq is Abu Hamza al-Muhajir.This article, The changing face of resistance by Syed Saleem Shahzad in Asia Times Online says that:

"As soon as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was eliminated, a command council took over control. Most of the members are former veterans of the Afghan jihad...Previously, the command structure of the resistance was scattered. Various Islamic groups fought the Americans from the northern city of Kirkuk to Basra in the south. Each one had a separate command and organization ... Zarqawi gained prominence because of his high-profile activities among the various groups, but he did not represent a central command of the resistance.

So the nature of the resistance to the US occupation is changing.In the article Syed Saleem Shahzad says that:
instead of haphazard groups mounting attacks, the resistance will attempt to dictate the rules of the game. Effective intelligence operations will be put in place in an effort to make attacks more coordinated, effective and coherent.

doesn't your first paragraph re West Germany----the U.S. occupied West Germany after W.W.2 because there was no one in a position to stop them---also apply to Iraq?

Re your second paragraph--- there was a percieved threat of the bogey man communism throughout Europe---refers to the cold war. We have a new bogey man--international terrorism--and a long war on terrorism.

Both the Vietnam and Iraq wars were legitimated by a tissue of lies---and were based on (different) geopolitical considerations.

I think that part of the geopolitical consideration to use Iraq to establish US hegemony in the Persian Gulf has to do with energy security.

re your comments:

From the Gulf of Tonkin incident to W.M.D. most people now see it for what it is a conflict that is being fought for an ulteria motive.Which I will concede the jury is still out on.But what I am sure of,is if you don't have the populace on side you will not meet your objective no matter what it is.

The neocons who continue to stand firm in their commitment to finish the job in Iraq and to fight to victory the global war on terrorism see the big danger rising anti-war movement and the criticism of the war by the realists and traditional conservatives.The principal present danger facing the US is the domestic backlash against the war in Iraq---ie., the increased criticism at home of the Bush administration's war on terrorism.This rising criticism includes the argument that US policy in the Middle East, including the escalating tensions with Iran, has been driven by the US-based Israel lobby.

The neo-cons think in terms of the US's external Islamist terrorist enemies working a strategy to deceive, demoralize, and divide America.Their counter strategy is to leverage fear in an attempt to increase military budgets, to mobilize the country for war, and to beat back isolationist, anti-interventionist and realist forces in US politics.

I presume the tissue of lies that you refer to---eg.,the weapons of mass destruction and Saddam Hussein-Osama bin Laden ties that proved baseless in Iraq---can be seen as exaggerated threat assessments from the neo-conservatives and the Bush administration to leverage fear.