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On Iraq

So after writing a blog entry on how I try to avoid trouble as a result of my blog, I'm going to write a blog entry on one of the more divisive issues of our time.

I do not claim consistency as one of my strongest traits.

Worse, I tend to come at it from a perspective that seems unlikely to make anyone on the left or right particularly happy. My views could be summarized as:

1. Against Invasion
2. For continued occupation (if done well)
3. Fear it's being handled badly

This doesn't seem like a particularly consistent view either, but here's how it comes about.

The RAND Study
There's a study by the RAND Corporation (a think tank originally formed by the US government to study military issues) that apparently considers the success and failure of occupations in terms of building up a stable (possibly even democratic) society by the end.

Success is greatly determined by the ratio of troops to the population and how long they stay. Apparently a more correct number of troops by their ratio would be something like 500,000 instead of the 135,000 we currently have in there. In terms of years we should be staying at least 5 years or so, possibly as many as 10.

Casualties supposedly go down greatly with an appropriate number of troops.

The RAND study is at the core of my views on the situation and I haven't seen anything that causes its conclusions to be greatly questioned. Thus, I'll assume it's accurate for the rest of this post.

Why I was Against Invasion
I was against the invasion for a few reasons. The strongest for me was simply that the administration wasn't talking about the occupation that would have to follow. I remember some administration officials claiming we would be met with celebrations, but no one seemed to be saying, "We're going into Iraq now and we're going to be there for quite some time." That made me nervous though I can see why they wouldn't mention it. Considering the probable results of invasion might have made people less likely to invade.

The lack of international participation in terms of troop deployment also bothered me. When the previous George Bush went against Saddam Hussein, he started working for international support months previous to the actual action. The current administration didn't.

Finally, as you might guess, the fact that we were sending in 120,000 troops rather than 300,000 plus bothered me. I'll grant you that we couldn't have gotten that many troops because the maximum we have available throughout the world for this sort of action is around 450,000--and we aren't going to pull people out of all our bases everywhere. In theory, international troops could have solved that problem.

The point for me that I decided I was more against than for the war was Colin Powell's speech to the UN. After that speech, it seemed unlikely to me that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

Continued Occupation
Despite the current difficulties there, I'm inclined to believe that getting out soon is a bad idea. If we leave now, we leave an Iraqi army/police force that doesn't yet have the training or numbers to keep order.

If the RAND study accurately reflects reality, we need to be there for a while and we need to recognize the reality that there will be a constant, climbing body count while we are there. That's the nature of occupation.

On the bright side, if we stay there long enough (and handle things well), things will eventually get better.

My Fears
Of course, things might not get better. The core problem with having less troops than one ought to isn't just a climbing body count. The point of putting 300,000+ troops out there isn't just causing less people to die (though that's important).

The core problem with having less troops than one ought to is the things that don't get done. A large amount of money that was allocated for rebuilding Iraq simply hasn't been used. They're waiting for things to calm down before trying to rebuild certain areas. Other money for rebuilding Iraq has been used for security instead.

In the meantime, basic infrastructure (water, electricity) remains worse than it was under Saddam Hussein. Beyond the question of insurgents, there are people who make a habit of kidnapping wealthy people or their children and holding them for ransom. And then there's employment... Despite the bombing of new recruits for the police or army, people still get in long lines to sign up--in part because it's a job that's actually available.

It strikes me as an environment that feeds insurgency.

Thus my fear is that because we haven't committed enough resources to this that at some point the situation will go out of control and we won't pull out. Some people believe that point is already past. I'm not one of them, but, I think it's worth asking when we pull out. Under what conditions is failure more likely than success?

The Flypaper Strategy
The flypaper strategy refers to the idea that Iraq will suck terrorists and potential terrorists into Iraq where they will likely be destroyed, saving us from having them attack the United States.

The first time I heard this idea, I thought it might have some merit, but later I decided it was probably a very bad idea. I'm hoping it's just a justification as opposed to something intentional.

Here's why:
When you place people into a situation, people learn skills. They generate new ideas about how to adapt to their environment. When you attract terrorists and enthusiastic new recruits to someplace like Iraq, they learn skills related to guerilla warfare and how to fight the US military.

I'm confident that our armed forces will kill a lot of them, but I'm quite sure they won't kill them all. Someday, some percentage of them will come home. They will come home with the knowlege of how to fight us and possibly with the will.

That's kind of how Osama Bin Laden got his start after all. He went to Afganistan to fight the Soviets and eventually became a leader in Al Queda. Ironically, of course, we supported him against the Soviets--something that raises another point... People who learn warfare in Iraq may not attack the United States. They may attack governments in other countries. I do not see that as likely to spread democracy.

Similarly, the flypaper strategy (if it really exists as a policy) may work against the goal of having a stable Iraq. Having foriegn and local insurgents fighting the US may create a culture of opposition to government that might survive our occupation by many years.

I spent a lot of time taking courses in sociology. One interesting thing I learned was that the universities which were active in political movements 30 some years ago often continued to be active later. Despite the constant four year turnover of students, a culture of political opposition had formed. I can't help but think that could happen in a situation in which people stayed in the same community.

A possible example: When we occupied the Phillipines, our soldiers fought against Muslim insurgents. Currently (more than 100 years later), the Phillipine government still has problems with Muslim terrorists. I can't help but wonder whether that's connected.

By writing all this, I don't claim to know whether ultimately our invasion of Iraq will do more harm than good. I ultimately believe that the real test is looking at Iraq in 10 or 20 years. Do we have a democracy there? Does it last? Or do we have another dictator? And if we do, do we go back in to straighten things out or are there better ways to solve the problem?

At core though, I'm bothered both by the "pull people out immediately" crowd and by the "put the troops in but not nearly enough of them and stay no matter what" government policy. I think it's possible that things will work out despite the way things currently appear, but, I can't help but think that it will require more cleverness in foriegn relations than I've so far seen from this administration.