“Hope is not a Strategy”

The title comes from remarks by Senator Hillary Clinton to General Abizaid, U.S. Commander, Central Command, Iraq, and David M. Satterfield, State Department Coordinator for Iraq, at Senate Armed Forces Committee hearings, approximately November 15, 2006, reported by taylormarsh.com, with her companion podcast.

Quote from later in the essay below:

In accepting responsibility, we would set a new goal for non-Iraqi involvement in Iraq: the stabilization of Iraq.

My  essay itself:

A personal note: I have recently begun employment as a research coordinator. One of my tasks is, bluntly, to assess the state of the research project, with the goal, of course, of successfully completing the task–in other words, achieving victory in that which the project set out to do.

The Iraq Study Group (ISG) has recently released its findings, in a free online pdf, or in a paperback book; they are a sober assessment of our endeavor to rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction and Saddam Hussein. It is clear from the ISG Report that “hope is not a strategy” for Iraq, and victory is an impossible illusion.
<>I thought about that last phrase “victory is an impossible illusion.” My name means “victory;” there are many names in many languages with the same meaning. Naming something or someone “victory” expresses, to me, a goal achieved, a contribution made. The victory in Iraq, for those who want one, is the capture, war crimes trials, and execution of Saddam Hussein.

<>The contribution made, however, is far less satisfying. By U.S. actions we have destabilized Iraq. There is 50% inflation, according to the ISG Report, and unemployment between 20% and 50%. Electricity, municipal water, trash collection, and gas and oil distribution generally barely function. Violence of the sort that says “Someone has to pay because my life is so miserable” afflicts the country.

<>How can our goal be victory? How can we talk about “winning?” Tell me what victory contributes to Iraq, and what we have won for the United States?

Many people will stop reading right here. Yet there is another way, if we all will think about it. The model for thinking in this way is the Marshall Plan for the reconstruction of Europe. If we did not think in Armed-Services-Committee terms, or those of Vice President Cheney, we would be able to reorient ourselves to accepting responsibility for our invasion of Iraq, and our lack of planning for the aftermath of that invasion.

In accepting responsibility, we would set a new goal for non-Iraqi involvement in Iraq: the stabilization of Iraq. The ISG Report identified five areas of severe deficiency in Iraq. These are:

National Reconciliation


Governance, which includes

1. Providing services on a sectarian basis

2. Lack of security

3. Rampant corruption

4. Inadequate capacity

(lack of a technocratic class, who have fled)

5. Weak judiciary

Economics, including inflation and unemployment

International Support

This is a long introduction to a short suggestion. It is time, I would suggest, to shift completely from “War in Iraq,” especially, but not only, from questions of whether or not we are winning the war, or whether victory can be achieved.

Let’s bring the troops home.

In conjunction with both governmental and quasi-governmental organizations in Iraq, we should, in an expensive effort to salve our national conscience, launch an international civilian effort to reconstruct Iraq, along the lines of the Marshall plan. Some parts of it are in place already; as reported by the Washington Post, there has been an small effort under the sponsorship of the U.S. military forces to reopen factories in violence-prone areas, for example.

This international effort would have as its goal the stabilization of Iraq. For that we can set numerical goals: reduction of unemployment to xx%; increase of industrial capacity of xx%, measured by xx more working factories, xx % oil-field productivity, and other measurable factors; development of a quality-of-life index that includes development of hospitals, restoration of museums, training for service industries, and schools and universities opened and reopened. Of course we need academics committed to honest reports on the data to so these analyses, and we need to make the raw data publicly available, rather than classifying it as “secret,” as the White House has been doing with other materials.

It may be paradoxical to say this when we have been trying to change Iraq through warfare for nearly four years, but the best way I have seen to effect meaningful and measurable change is to set goals in terms of measurable (social, not military) objectives.

If this is done by a powerful organization without too much internal conflict in its operation, change happens. Change happens even if the measurement of a desirable goal exists, and the goal is stated as desirable, and is quantified, but there is no real methodology as yet developed for achieving the goal.

I do not think you and I sitting down together can work out this last miracle of goals without means to achieve them; it takes, oddly enough, a fairly stable bureaucracy.

So a scary part of the ISG report is the lack of technocrats, people who know how to do things, and the beancounters who know and honestly report what has been done. One thing that appears to work well in Iraq is the Baghdad morgue, where the people working there are able to report how many dead civilians arrive at the morgue each day.

How many children go to school each day? How many hospitals are able to operate at 80% staff? How much of Kirkuk has drinkable water? How many men in Bosra have daily jobs that maintain their pre-war skills?

It would also be helpful to collect the academic sociological studies from before the war, review them, and critique them for methodological bias and potential usability.

This is not power-point, executive summary, stuff. I am talking a real, dry, reports measuring the stuff of daily life. It is not peacemaking, per se; it is social reconstruction. Historically, we have to look at the Reconstruction in the United States to see what militated against success, and at discussions of the Marshall plan in Europe after World War II. All of this against the backdrop of Middle-Eastern culture, a culture which will resist our pious Western social engineering.


A Recommendation; nay, an endorsement!

It is absolutely contrary to the nature of the political blog, which this is, more or less, to endorse someone else’s commentary. Yet Thomas L. Friedman’s Op-Ed piece in the New York Times deserves commendation, agreement, discussion, absorbtion, and, if necessary, neo-cons should use it as a substitution for thought. As in, take one rule each day, and internalize it, digest it, and write it down twenty-five times.

To read the entire piece requires a Times Select subscription, which is basically free to the occasional or sporadic user. The following is an edited version, directly quoted from the NYTimes site.

Mideast Rules to Live By



Published: December 20, 2006

For a long time, I let my hopes for a decent outcome in Iraq triumph over what I had learned reporting from Lebanon during its civil war. Those hopes vanished last summer. So, I’d like to offer President Bush my updated rules of Middle East reporting, which also apply to diplomacy, in hopes they’ll help him figure out what to do next in Iraq.

Rule 1: What people tell you in private in the Middle East is irrelevant. All that matters is what they will defend in public in their own language. Anything said to you in English, in private, doesn’t count. In Washington, officials lie in public and tell the truth off the record. In the Mideast, officials say what they really believe in public and tell you what you want to hear in private.

[The above rule is major, major, major.]

[Rule 2 applies if you are among the 150,000 civilians and military who will serve in Iraq. Too specific for this blog.]

Rule 3: If you can’t explain something to Middle Easterners with a conspiracy theory, then don’t try to explain it at all — they won’t believe it.

[Take a Middle Easterner out of Jordan, say, marry him to a Mormon, have him live in Utah for ten years, and it still applies. Works for both ultra-religious and completely secular Jews in Israel, as well.]

Rule 4: In the Middle East, never take a concession, except out of the mouth of the person doing the conceding. If I had a dollar for every time someone agreed to recognize Israel on behalf of Yasir Arafat, I could paper my walls.

[The above rule explains a lot of failed diplomacy, and a lot of apparent craziness. So maybe it’s 100% true for Arafat, and only 85% true for Netanyahu, 90% for Sharon, and maybe 95% true for Saddam Hussein. But always figure it applies 100%.]

Rule 5: Never lead your story . . . . with a cease-fire; it will always be over before [the next day].

Rule 6: In the Middle East, the extremists go all the way, and the moderates tend to just go away.

[Worse, they tend not to vote! Neo-cons need to know this. Historically, there’s the Israeli election of May 1996, where the absence of Israel’s Arab-Israeli citizens from the polls gave the election to Netanyahu instead of Peres. Or the absence of Sunni voters in the first Iraqi elections.]

Rule 7: The most oft-used expression by moderate Arab pols is: “We were just about to stand up to the bad guys when you stupid Americans did that stupid thing. Had you stupid Americans not done that stupid thing, we would have stood up, but now it’s too late. It’s all your fault for being so stupid.”

[Neo-cons: Well, why not support Mubarak in Egypt. He’s stabilized his country; we can call it a democracy. We don’t need a few radical malcontents destabilizing Egypt and killing American tourists. We can count on Mubarak. Me: sometimes people do stand up. As in Iran’s elections in the fall of this year. As in Egypt against Mubarak.]

Rule 8: Civil wars in the Arab world are rarely about ideas . . . . They are about which tribe gets to rule. So, yes, Iraq is having a civil war as we once did. . . . . It’s the South vs. the South.

[This rule above is super simplified; I agree that ideas as we understand them are not any more present in the Middle East than in the West. But underscore, or put in italics, the word “tribe,” in “They are about which tribe gets to rule.” This is a pervasive form of government in the Middle East; see my post of 8-7-6 on “Quasi-Governmental Organizations.” There is a moderate similarity to the patronage system of Chicago governance under the first Mayor Daley.]

Rule 9: In Middle East tribal politics there is rarely a happy medium. When one side is weak, it will tell you, “I’m weak, how can I compromise?” And when it’s strong, it will tell you, “I’m strong, why should I compromise?”

Rule 10: Mideast civil wars end in one of three ways: a) like the U.S. civil war, with one side vanquishing the other; b) like the Cyprus civil war, with a hard partition and a wall dividing the parties; or c) like the Lebanon civil war, with a soft partition under an iron fist (Syria) that keeps everyone in line. . . .

Rule 11: The most underestimated emotion in Arab politics is humiliation. The Israeli-Arab conflict, for instance, is not just about borders. Israel’s mere existence is a daily humiliation to Muslims, who can’t understand how, if they have the superior religion, Israel can be so powerful. Al Jazeera’s editor, Ahmed Sheikh, said it best when he recently told the Swiss weekly Die Weltwoche: “It gnaws at the people in the Middle East that such a small country as Israel, with only about seven million inhabitants, can defeat the Arab nation with its 350 million. That hurts our collective ego. The Palestinian problem is in the genes of every Arab. The West’s problem is that it does not understand this.”

[Yes, but Israelis understand it very well. Every conversation I’ve ever heard between an Israeli and an Arab (or, often, an Israeli Arab) ends in crying over the Arab losses of villages and towns, and comparison crying over the Jewish losses in the Holocaust. They are saying the same thing, on one level, and talking past one another on another level. The Arabs/Israeli Arabs don’t feel responsible for the Nazi Holocaust; Israelis don’t feel responsible for the loss of Arab villages and towns. And discussion goes nowhere after that.]

Rule 12: Thus, the Israelis will always win, and the Palestinians will always make sure they never enjoy it. Everything else is just commentary.

Rule 13: Our first priority is democracy, but the Arabs’ first priority is “justice.” The oft-warring Arab tribes are all wounded souls, who really have been hurt by colonial powers, by Jewish settlements on Palestinian land, by Arab kings and dictators, and, most of all, by each other in endless tribal wars. For Iraq’s long-abused Shiite majority, democracy is first and foremost a vehicle to get justice. Ditto the Kurds. For the minority Sunnis, democracy in Iraq is a vehicle of injustice. For us, democracy is all about protecting minority rights. For them, democracy is first about consolidating majority rights and getting justice.

Rule 14: The Lebanese historian Kamal Salibi had it right: “Great powers should never get involved in the politics of small tribes.”

Rule 15: Whether it is Arab-Israeli peace or democracy in Iraq, you can’t want it more than they do.

NYTimes OpEd article by Thomas L. Friedman, December 20, 2006 http://select.nytimes.com/2006/12/20/opinion/20friedman.html?em&ex=1166763600&en=f30acf6847341740&ei=5087