Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Withdrawn From Reality

I thought I'd give it a chance. Based on the title, I knew its entire premise was flawed but I don't mind reading an opposing viewpoint as long as it's based on reasonable logic and sticks to known facts. I should have known better.
I've attached below a piece written by Monica Duffy Toft and published in the 2 June Christian Science Monitor. Ms Toft is "a professor of public policy at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government." After reading her piece, I can also say very comfortably, that she is not only a discredit to that fine school's reputation, but also a discredit to women, professors and just about anyone else she can be associated with. In fact, by simply drawing attention to her Christian Science Monitor piece, I am reducing my own credibility a few notches and I don't have a lot of extra notches to play with.
But like a train wreck, her piece and the thinking it represents cannot be ignored. Instead, it should be studied like a pathologist examines a corpse, to determine what the root cause of its death and subsequent putrefaction might be. Mind you, this author is currently a professor of public policy at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. That is a pretty stellar credential. She could easily be considered an "expert" in her field. Which makes the disaster we are about to examine even more appalling. My notes on this corpse will be in red italics. Without further ado, I pull back the sheet and reveal....

Why Islam lies at the heart of Iraq's civil war
Because it does, US withdrawal may be the surest path to peace

We veer off course at the title. Iraq is not engaged in a civil war. Bad assumption leading to a bad proposed solution.

Cambridge, Mass. - It matters what we call things. It took too long for the Bush administration to admit that its intended liberation of Iraq had become an occupation, that US forces faced a home-grown insurgency there, and that a transition to Iraqi democracy might not result in a nation that supports US interests.

Where to begin. Yes it does matter what we call things. Including..."Civil War". But to determine that an intended liberation cannot happen without a period of occupation is to ignore the FACT that our "occupation" is specifically allowing Iraq to build the government, military and infrastructure that previously did not exist, to allow it to be "liberated".

Finally, not until 2007 did the Pentagon acknowledge that Iraqi sectarian violence had crossed a threshold to become a civil war.

Actually, it is 2008 and the Pentagon has still not acknowledged that Iraqi sectarian violence has crossed a "threshold" and become a civil war. The Pentagon has not done so, because even if such a threshold could be defined, it is not the Pentagon's role or concern to apply such titles to areas in which it operates.

But policymakers still haven't come to terms with the implications of that fact. If they did, they'd see that a wisely executed withdrawal of US-led forces could well be the surest path to peace. That's because withdrawal is likely to transform the fighting in Iraq into a defensive struggle for power in a nation-state, as opposed to an offensive battle rooted in religion.

So the professor has concluded Iraq has devolved into civil war, and the surest means of bringing peace in a conflict involving sectarian violence is to withdraw the most effective law enforcement capability that can actually keep the two sides apart. Brilliant. And after defining the conflict there as "sectarian violence" in a piece titled "Why Islam lie's at the Heart of the Iraq's Civil War", she presents the notion that if we'd simply withdraw, this sectarian, religion driven violence will evolve into a desire to build a nation-state. Again...brilliant.

The evidence overwhelmingly suggests that the war in Iraq is a religious civil war and that – even putting aside Al Qaeda in Iraq – Islam is at the heart of it for three reasons.

Poor assumptions leading to three irrelevant reasons....

First, Iraq's Sunnis and Shiites themselves see the war in these terms. They identify first and foremost as Shiites and Sunnis. Second, they use religious identity both to target opponents and define threats. Finally, they have appealed beyond the borders of Iraq for aid – fighters, arms, cash – in religious terms.

First, Iraq's Sunnis and Shiites are currently fighting side by side in Iraq's new army, repelling criminal forces and terrorist groups in the few enclaves they still remain. Second, starting from Iraq's elected government on down to neighborhood militia's, the number one goal for Iraqi's has become to drive all religious fundamentalists into a grave, or worse yet, back where they came from. Third, the only religious group to appeal beyond the borders of Iraq is a Shiite sect which is currently having its hat handed to it by a Shiite Prime Minister. So much for "sectarian civil war".

Islam is not based in a specific territory; it is a transnational faith that unites its community, or umma, in the minds of men.

Says the professor who has written a piece called "Why Islam lies at the heart of Iraq's civil war." And presumably unites its community?

Further, Islam does not have one leader who can dictate what is right or who is wrong. The absence of an ultimate authority figure means that Shiites – who, unlike Sunnis, believe that religious scholars are needed to help interpret the will of God – often latch on to charismatic imams.

The first paragraph that isn't complete garbage.

This helps explain why the cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has recently committed himself to further religious study in Iran. It also helps to explain why Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will fail to gain acceptance as a leader among the vast majority of Iraq's Shiite population.

Completely wrong on both counts. al-Sadr is in Iran because his army and his credibility are in the process of being liquidated in Iraq. Meanwhile, not only is Prime Minister Maliki accepted as a leader among the vast majority of Iraq's Shiite population...he is also accepted as a leader among the vast majority of Iraq's Sunni, Kurdish and Christian populations.

Not only does Mr. Maliki not have support in the street – his government's failure to deliver even basic security and life's needs is apparent to most Iraqis – but he has no religious credentials of his own to fall back on.

Completely wrong again. But at least Professor Toft is remarkably consistent. Even such liberal institutions as the New York Times and the Washington Post now admit that Maliki enjoys widespread support and confidence among the Iraqi people.

By contrast, Mr. Sadr's ability to deliver security and services through his Mahdi Army, and his authority as cleric and the son of the martyred Grand Ayatollah Mohammed al-Sadr, has assured him a devoted following.

I can only imagine Toft wrote this piece more than 2 years ago. Perhaps it took her that long to find a publication desperate enough to publish it. Regardless, "Mr." Sadr's latest attempts to provoke widespread demonstrations resulted in something resembling a camel fart. That is due in part to the fact that a large percentage of his Mahdi Army has become recently deceased. Courtesy of the US and Iraqi armies.

Sectarian conflict in Iraq was previously limited to fighting between Sunnis and Shiites. But today, the conflict has grown to include Shiites against fellow Shiites. Despite signs that security has improved, the religious civil wars in Iraq may have only just begun.

Hmmm. That whole sectarian thing isn't working too well for her. Now its just everyone fighting everyone. But hey, at least it is still religious.

My research on civil wars from 1940 to 2000 highlights three important facts about such wars, all of which apply to Iraq. First, nearly half of all ongoing civil wars (46 percent) involve religion in some form. Second, Islam has been involved in more than 80 percent of all religious civil wars. Third, religious civil wars are less likely to end in negotiated settlement. Instead, combatants tend to duke it out until one side achieves victory.

"Duke it out"? No wonder it took her two years to shop this piece of garbage. And she did research on a whole 60 years worth of civil wars! That must be the caliber of research they expect at Harvard these days. Goodness, the whole civil war thing is a relatively new phenomenon, certainly not dating much before World War II. 60 years worth of data in the history of human civilization is more than enough to build all kinds of solid conclusions. Right?

In Iraq, a negotiated settlement is going to be very difficult for two reasons. First, the Shiites will want to remain in almost complete control due to two entirely legitimate concerns: (1) fears of Sunni repression as experienced in the past, and (2) a sense of majority-rule justice. Second, the Shiites themselves are divided on how Iraq should be ruled, so it's difficult to know whom to bargain with on the Shiite side, and therefore who can credibly commit to abide by the terms of any settlement.

OK. That is a reasonable assessment. Except that the Iraqi Parliament is currently making great strides in negotiating national agreements and unity. But again, the good Professor must be working from a very old set of data.

What then can the United States and its allies do to bring about a negotiated settlement? Ironically, the best way to support a negotiated settlement would be to leave Iraq.

Orrr, we could help them conduct nationwide, democratic elections in which over 75% of the country participates despite the threats of real violence by terrorist organizations.

The withdrawal of US forces would allow Iraq's predominantly Arab Shiites and Sunnis to find common interest in opposing their two more classical historical adversaries: Kurds and Persians. The longer the US and Britain stay, the more they facilitate a shift away from the identity that long unified Iraq to the religious identity that is tearing it apart and facilitating its manipulation by Iran.

This is getting more ridiculous with every line. Toft's theory is that we can end a supposed civil war in Iraq by allowing the Sunni's and the Shiites to unite in a fight against the Kurds and "the Persians"?!?!? Obviously, Toft doesn't know Iraqi Kurds make up a significant percentage of the population of Iraq and would certainly consider it a civil war if the Shiites and Sunnis in Iraq decided to fight against them. And equally obviously, Toft is unaware that both the US and Iraqi army are very heavily engaged against "the Persians", and that leaving a fledgling army to fight the Persian hoard is probably not a recipe for long term Iraqi tranquility. John F. Kennedy is vomiting in his grave as I type this and demanding that brother Teddy insist Harvard remove the Kennedy name from their campus.

There are three obvious downsides to this approach.

Ha! No kidding. But why limit yourself to three? I could probably come up with a hundred.

First, the end of violence in Iraq following a US withdrawal would lead to the emergence of a nonsecular, nondemocratic government in Iraq. It would be more friendly toward Iran (though not Iran's puppet, as currently feared), but less friendly toward Israel, although a democratic Iraq would be no improvement in this regard.

Why would sectarian civil war with Islam at its heart end with a US withdrawal? And why would the democratically elected government of Iraq magically transform into a nonsecular, nondemocratic government? Why would I presume for even one second that this blithering idiot could answer any of the myriad of questions that rise from this stinking corpse of a piece of writing?

Second, since US withdrawal has been conditioned on a de-escalation of violence in Iraq, the Bush and Brown governments would be left the unenviable task of explaining to their countries that "withdrawal is the best way to create the conditions for, withdrawal."

More proof that this piece is OLD. The Brown government no longer has a noticeable presence to withdraw from Iraq. In fact, the Brown government already followed her advice. And left behind a city so ridden with terror and crime from her highly regard Mahdi Army that when the Iraqi Army swept in to do the job the Brown government wouldn't do, thousands of Iraqi citizens clamored to join an army composed of Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds. All of whom are supposedly engaged in a civil war against each other.

Third, withdrawal before violence has fully ceased will look like failure to most Americans and Britons.

Because it would be.

The idea of victory versus failure is really a false dichotomy, however. The real choice for US and British policymakers is between the more costly failure that will obtain from current policy and the less costly failure that might obtain from a well- thought-out and well-executed withdrawal.

Typical liberal academic. There can be no victory. All is failure. The only real decision is which failure you'd prefer to call your very own.

Well Professor Monica Duffy Toft, I am failing you for one of the most poorly thought out, one of the least rational, one of the most poorly informed pieces of writing I think I've ever read in a syndicated publication. This isn't even good enough to be embarrassing. It is simply a disgrace. Fortunately, there is some indication that Harvard may agree with me. I note on their website http://www.hks.harvard.edu/about/faculty-staff-directory/monica-toft%22 that your course ISP-409 Civil Wars: Theory and Policy is no longer being offered. Perhaps they too, were not impressed with your research on the subject. Or maybe they also read the ridiculous piece of trash you just had published in the Christian Science Monitor. I will accept either answer.