Cry havoc: binding up the dogs of war
He's done it again; here's a must-read post from Wretchard of Belmont Club.
It was sparked by an article by Robert Kaplan appearing in the Atlantic (subscribers only), entitled "The Coming Normalcy." This, in turn, was a sequel to an earlier article by Kaplan that appeared twelve years ago in the same venue, entitled "The Coming Anarchy."
The theme of the earlier article was:
...the institutional collapse of Third World countries owing to ethnic and sectarian rivalries, demographic and environmental stresses, and the growing interrelationship between war and crime.
In his new piece Kaplan is revisiting these issues in light of what has happened in Iraq so far. Since I don't have access to the new article, I went back and skimmed the old one, which I recall reading a couple of years ago. A great deal of it is about Africa and about the role of future environmental pressures causing further societal meltdowns. This may all come to pass, but it's not the subject at hand.
These predictive bits were interesting in light of later developments:
[W]ar-making entities will no longer be restricted to a specific territory. Loose and shadowy organisms such as Islamic terrorist organizations suggest why borders will mean increasingly little and sedimentary layers of tribalistic identity and control will mean more. "From the vantage point of the present, there appears every prospect that religious . . . fanaticisms will play a larger role in the motivation of armed conflict" in the West than at any time "for the last 300 years," Van Creveld writes....
[T]echnology will be used toward primitive ends. In Liberia the guerrilla leader Prince Johnson didn't just cut off the ears of President Samuel Doe before Doe was tortured to death in 1990--Johnson made a video of it, which has circulated throughout West Africa...
Sound familiar? It certainly did to me.
The thrust of Kaplan's new article and Wretchard's post is the question of how to tackle the problem of anarchy in societies and in nations. Although twelve years ago Kaplan saw the situation as very dark, he now sees at least a tiny glimmer of light.
Most people, of course, see the war in Iraq as evidence of increasing anarchy, whereas Kaplan sees it as a release of anarchic forces that have existed for a long time but were previously contained only by the strong and vicious arm of another pernicious force, a tyrannical dictator (in this case, Saddam). Now, finally, we are actually trying to counter those forces of anarchy; not an easy task, to say the least.
"Rebuilding" Iraq differs from, and may be more difficult than, rebuilding Germany and Japan after WWII. It seems to me that it may have been easier to counter the forces of the latter--political opinions that had been tried and proven wanting, and a population exhausted from fighting and virtually out of ammunition but which had a previous tradition of being law-abiding and cohesive--than it ever would be to counter the forces of societal anarchy in a country such as Iraq, which has been spiraling down for quite some time now, and was never cohesive as a country to begin with.
I remember reading, prior to the Iraq War, that Saddam had released the criminals from his jails. It increased my sense of grave foreboding; Saddam seemed to be saying, "Cry 'havoc!' and let loose the dogs of war."
Havoc. Definition: "widespread destruction; devastation; disorder or chaos." Unfortunately Saddam had plenty of time during the long buildup prior to the war to plot his course and intentionally amplify havoc (which was increased post-war by the actions of neighbors such as Iran and Syria). But chaos and anarchy were simmering under the surface anyway, and their extent was probably underestimated.
It puts me in mind of the end of the Soviet Union. Back in those days, when I didn't spend so much time thinking about politics, events there caught my attention nevertheless. When the Soviet Union fell in such a surprising and sudden way, a fair amount of anarchy ensued rather than the more hopeful visions of the future that many had shared. Crime, for instance, had never been a problem in Soviet Russia; now it was a huge and even sometimes controlling factor.
When I thought about it, I went back to my college days as a student of anthropology (yes, I had a minor in anthropology as well as that major in psychology. Just a touchy-feely type, after all). The idea was that, once a society becomes chaotic, it's a Humpty-Dumpty situation: very difficult to go back and put that smashed egg together again.
But in Iraq, and in Russia before it, the egg was apparently quite broken to begin with. Totalitarian regimes are often both a response to a situation that is somewhat chaotic already (that is how many dictators come to rule) and, as time goes on, a means of increasing the underlying chaos while appearing to contain it. But, as we've learned over and over again, that appearance is illusory and temporary.
What are some of the ways dictatorships increase the tendency towards the breakdown of societal cohesiveness, and increase underlying chaos? By stifling initiative and murdering those who show it, or who show bravery and the willingness to speak out; by dismantling local governmental and cultural institutions and replacing them with top-down bureaucracies; and also by fostering suspicion, fear, bottled rage, and the desire for revenge.
So Iraq was already broken, as is much of the third world today. And into the breach has marched a criminal element, as it did in Russia back in the early 90s.
We should not underestimate the prevalence and influence of crime and criminals in the so-called "insurgency." As Wretchard writes:
Kaplan describes how much of what passes for an insurgency is actually crime which had escaped the modus vivendi it had enjoyed under Saddam but had now been dislocated from its old containing vessel. Reining in this chaos meant constructing a new order to replace Saddam's.
Here, for example, is how it works in Iraq:
"You're dealing with a gang mentality,” explained Captain Phillip Mann of Antioch, California, a thirty-two-year-old intelligence officer and graduate of Fresno State University. "There is a pool of young men in Mosul without jobs who sell drugs, and do kidnappings. With a high inflation rate and little economy, being an insurgent pays. You've got to make the insurgency a very unattractive profession to these people, who are not motivated by religious ideology.”
And here's the solution, or at least part of the solution:
"We've adopted a gang-tackle approach,” Mann went on. "If we get shot at, like in Palestine [a retirement community for former regime generals in southeast Mosul, which supported the insurgents], we surround the area and go house to house, every time. We keep doing this till people get tired and start helping us. Our message: ‘We don't give in—we're not going away, so work with us.'
According to Wretchard, it's not just Bush's fault that our present tools are not always effective in dealing with these problems:
One of Kaplan's recurring assertions in The Coming Normalcy is that the American shortcomings for dealing with situations like Iraq -- which he views as prototypical of an anarchic Third World society -- go far beyond any defects in planning for the invasion of Iraq peculiar to the Bush administration. In Kaplan's view the long-established bureaucratic instruments are simply structured wrongly: they are too monolithic and uncoordinated to effectively transform any typical anarchy into democratic order. He thinks the armed forces, whose lives are at stake, have adapted most by pushing responsibility downward to the brigade rather than the divisional level. "Flattening" the decision-making and intelligence cycle process has helped the Army and Marines get on top of the military aspects of the insurgency, but it hasn't helped reconstruction much. Everywhere he went, soldiers and Marines asked, 'where is USAID, where is the State Department?' And the answer unfortunately, was that neither USAID nor the State Department had the money or the bureaucratic configuration to fight a joint battle with the military against the chaos of post-Saddam Iraq.
I can't improve on the way Wretchard has phrased it, so I'll quote him (emphasis mine}:
Saddamite Iraq, like most terrorist-supporting states threatening the world today, are like the landscape of 1812 in that they were cauldrons of anarchy given a semblance of shape by fragile, yet brutal shroud-like states... after September 11 the problem grew too big to ignore, yet the question of how to destroy anarchy, already by definition in a shambles, remained...
It would be a serious mistake to think that the problem of confronting national security threats within the context of anarchy is limited to Iraq . Iraq is simply where the West must come to grips with The Coming Anarchy because it cannot step around it. And it is not the only place. An earlier post noted how the eviction of the Taliban from Afghanistan has simply shifted the fighting to Pakistan, the country in which the Taliban was first born. The real metric in any war against rogue "states" will not be the reduction of strongpoints, like Tora-bora given such prominence by the media, but the reduction of anarchy which constitutes their energy core.
The answer--the long, hard slog of an answer, although it only takes a sentence of Wretchard's to state--is, "learning how to use force to allow indigenous order to emerge."
This, to me, was always the goal of the Iraq War, and the war on terror as a whole. It's why I have never seen it as a police action, as do those who believe we just need to go after Al Qaeda and Osama and all will be well again.
Perhaps, in the end, that's the greatest difference between those who are hawkish on this war and those who oppose it: the former believe the unleashed chaos was not avoidable, and needed to be dealt with sooner rather than later, because dealing with it was inevitable and waiting would only allow those forces to build. The latter didn't see the problem as systemic or deep, and thought the best approach was piecemeal, sporadic, and should be more or less in line with previous policy but a bit intensified. Those on the left who were against the war thought that any chaos involved was the fault of our government and its actions, and that we had created and were responsible for it. Those on the right who were against the war felt that taking the lid off would be a cure worse than the disease.
In the end, one's position on the matter probably depends on how one diagnoses the disease. Was it a small set of carbuncles that could be easily lanced (police action), or a chronic illness that just needed some intervention here and there but nothing drastic (isolationist and/or realpolitik)? Or was it a lethal illness that had probably already metastasized, and needed a strong dose of powerful and dangerous medicine to have any hope of cure (neocon, interventionist)?
On September 11, it became to me for the first time--although in retrospect it should have been clear far earlier--that havoc was abroad, and the dogs of war had been loosed. I believed then, and still believe now, that binding them up was going to be a long, hard, difficult, and worldwide effort, one with many hazards along the way, one that would not be perfectly executed--and one that would have to confront the underlying problem of chaos and failed states if it ever was going to be successful.