“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Guest Post - Two to Tango by Harrison

In the stormiest tempest lies the rarest of hopes.

Recently, I caught Blood Diamond at the cinemas, and found myself impressed with the film and its lessons which we could draw from. The location in context was Sierra Leone in Africa, host to diamond smugglers, warlords, militias and rebels who pillage and plunder at the expense of the defenseless locals, who wish of nothing but to live in peace. Yet the supposed guarantor of such security wields no such sovereignty or power - the government is unable to harness the necessary forces required to purge Sierra Leone of these scourges of the earth.

Militias hop from village to village, slaughtering all they see, employing extreme violence and coercion to prevent or punish those who vote and support the government. Those who are physically strong and able to work are recruited as slaves at the diamond mines. Smugglers sell the diamonds to neighbouring countries, who then through payment finance and fuel the ongoing cycle; these countries sell the diamonds to key figures in countries like Britain - then, by keeping supply low (storing these diamonds in safe vaults) while demand increases as husbands fork out exorbitant amounts of cash to buy those pretty diamond rings in display windows along the shopping avenues - the civil war has thus presented a win-win situation for each participant to keep it going as long as it can: profiteering at its bloodiest.

A scene in the film struck me as prescient: an old man was lamenting that if oil was ever discovered in Africa, it would be absolutely catastrophic for its population.

Which brings me to the seemingly depressing parallel of Iraq - or so defeatists would want you to believe. Contrary to the level of sectarian conflict and internecine infighting between sects that is the time-honoured legacy of tribalism in the Arab world, neither side has successfully mobilised an organised fighting force, or is in possession of the reins of one or few arms of government.

Oil resources have not been siphoned off in pipelines to Iran and Saudi Arabia to be channeled back manifold to fund the proxy Foreign Legions of Iran - namely, Hezbollah and the Mahdi Army - and aQ insurgents in Iraq. Indoctrination of children into child-soldiers ala Sierra Leone or even Palestine for that matter has not happened - or at least not reported - yet.

The government of Maliki had been quiescent for too long, but now has the political freedom to act against the Sadrists without fear of parliamentary collapse - Iraqi politicians are grudgingly accepting of Bush's latest effort to secure Iraqi neighbourhoods, and obviously sense a shift of power in their favour should a vacuum present itself in the form of the Sadrists' departure. He also has the best military force in the world supporting the Iraqi Army - logistical, auxiliary, intel, technology, counter-insurgency training - which should in no circumstances be discounted to accomplish what should be accomplished for the sake of our long-term interests.

al-Sadr is currently avoiding confrontation with US and Iraqi troops, knowing very well that his immunity is uncertain now that firstly, his influence on the Shiite militias is tenuous at best (thus, they might not heed al-Sadr's advice and instead head on out to engage the Iraqi Army - and in the process get slaughtered, also giving us an idea where he is and a viable casus belli to raid the hidey-holes) and thus his Mahdi Army might well be whittled down with time; secondly, by waiting the "surge" out, the Iraqi Army is free to secure all other neighbourhoods, encircling Sadr City and Diwaniya in the process. With checkpoints, zone patrols and documentation of arms and personnel transferring in and out of these internal borders, the Sadrists will find that being boxed in is not going to be very fun at all.

al-Hakim's loyalties lie with Iran - that has been obvious - but now he is compelled to think of Iraq first, Iran second. If Maliki dares to move against the largest parliamentary majority, who is to guarantee he will not act upon the anti-Persian sentiment and purge the Badrists, who are even less of a political and military power in Iraq? With the aircraft carriers being deployed near Iranian straits, Bush's speech possibly hinting at an air/naval assault on oil and gas pipelines in Iran, no longer will Iran be able to play this game of brinkmanship without considering the almost cataclysmic aftermath of an economic collapse. Close the Straits of Hormuz, you say?

Sunni insurgents have expressed their interest in cutting a deal with us - no reconciliation, no violence; in addition to that, they will agree to work with the Anbar tribes to flush out aQ insurgents. Already this week, four more Ramadi tribes have switched. Our strategy is increasingly being vindicated, the rapport established, now reinforced by Bush's initiative to get tough with Shiite militias. The various personal accounts of Sunnis fighting the Shiites instead of Americans all signify a certain glimmer of hope that perhaps something workable can be engendered from the continuation of tribal engagement.

The Kurds have decided to chip in, and substantially so - Shiites will soon realise that the alternative to Kurdish cooperation is secession, which means the forging of Kurdistan, and with it the deprivation of Kirkuk and its oil revenues. al-Sadr's attempts to instigate fellow co-religionists to rebuff the Kurdish forces will be in vain: for one, the Kurds could teach the Shiites and Sunnis a thing or two about protecting their provinces. Iran and Turkey will be more cautious in addressing the Kurds, for an autonomous Kurdistan represents the major threat to their societies and governments.

Oil companies are gradually beginning to establish contracts in Iraq; life for Iraqi citizens - yes, no longer subjects under a dictator - has become increasingly better, though it is a tough, bitter struggle day-by-day against the multiple currents of sectarianism, tribalism and corruption that are threatening to render Iraq asunder.

The sobering reality of the situation cannot be further emphasised - but the destructiveness and self-defeating corollaries that will be engendered from our withdrawal from Iraq obviously needs much, much underscoring.

We are at the brink of a new epoch for Iraq - countervailing forces of anti-interventionist, anti-Persian, anti-insurgent sentiments are empowering the beseiged Iraqis with a sliver of hope for a nation of their own. They have known no cause for nationalism before this: history? Of oppression. Culture? Of fear and paranoia. Religion? Definitely not.

To grasp this rare opportunity, an even rarer confluence of events must take place: Bush has taken the crucial step towards empowering the Iraqi government and standing up to Iran - now he must consider how to win back public opinion on the domestic front and ward of the circling vultures of Congress; similarly, the onus is on Maliki to act decisively against militias and insurgents, proving not primarily to Bush but to the Iraqis that the government is to be trusted to protect their lives, liberties and properties.

It takes two hands to clap. Will we hear it before apocalypse descends on Iraq?

The Elephant Bar is grateful to Harrison for allowing us to feature his work and you can read his other work at his place, The Possum Bistro which is at

We encourage others to be our guests.


  1. Interesting concept, that Mr Maliki "Really" wants to disassociate with both Mr al-Sadr, Mr al-Hakim and Mr Sistani by extension.
    That the "... Iraqi politicians are grudgingly accepting of Bush's latest effort "

    Where is real evidence of this "acceptence", the ACTIONS that indicate this sea change?

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. The clear & hold phase might work, with some quiet in Iraq as long as we stay. But who is going to take over from us? The Sunnis generally avoid the whole political system, including not having their own police & army. Will they really give up their insurgency and hopes of ruling Iraq? Will the local Sunnis be the same ones protecting their neighborhoods now, the ones who spend their spare time "cleansing" Shiites out of mixed neighborhoods?

    Likewise on the Shiite side do we hand Sadr City back to ... al-Sadr's group to police?

    We are doing the militarily correct thing, but I don't see the Iraqis being able and ready to take advantage of it.

  4. Harrison,

    Thank you for a thoughtful and thought provoking piece of work. I would also like to thank both Deuce and Whit for publishing it here.

    At the moment, I do not believe my frame of mind would yield an opinion worthy of your endeavor. After my blood pressure settles, I hope to communicate further and considerately.

    Again, well done.

  5. LA Times/Bloomberg poll today reports that 60% of Americans disapprove of the surge and want the US out of Iraq. It seems time has run out for Bush, the military and Iraq.

    The damage to American credibility is immeasurable. Bin Laden's assessment of America was spot on. Who would ally themselves with a fickle American electorate? How will America recruit soldiers to a defeated and demoralized military?
    Will Islamists move in for the kill or wait until the rotting superpower dies of internal bleeding?

    Makes one contemplate taking a spool of rope to Washington and New York to decorate trees with politicians and journalists. God help us.

  6. “The more Iraq unravels, the closer Iraq's Kurds will edge toward outright secession. And the closer they get, the more likely it is that their Kurdish brethren across the border--who make up 7% of Iran's population--will try to join them. As non-Persians (and Sunnis to boot), Iran's Kurds get nothing but abuse from their Shi'ite masters in Tehran.”


    Maybe, given today’s reports indicating growing unease in both Turkey and Iran with the potential for a Kurdish breakout.

  7. > LA Times/Bloomberg poll today reports that 60% of Americans disapprove of the surge and want the US out of Iraq.

    The only reason I am frustrated, not worried about that, is because the people haven't been given the facts. For some reason known only to him, the commander-in-chief has allowed the Democrats to call him a liar for three years and tell their own lies about the war without the President even answering.

    instead we have vice-president Cheney go on TV Sunday and say that the American People disagree with him, then they must not be able to "stomach" the war. No Mr. VP, they just want you to answer the questions they've been asking for three years.

    What ever happened to the President Bush who picked up the bull horn after 9/11 and said "And the people who knocked down this building are going to hear us?" If we had that man back for one speech, the war would be back on track. The Democrat's pack of lies about the war would collapse like the flimsy house of cards it is.

  8. Wu,

    The American people quit listening to Bush in 2003. No attacks in 2 years? Let's move on, who's gonna be the new American Idol? Bush could be as eloquent as Churchill but no-one would listen. We need sexy, glamorous Rock Stars to amuse us. Not boring, inarticulate white guys in suits. It ain't's the American people that is the problem.

  9. > The American people quit listening to Bush in 2003.

    It wouldn't have mattered because Bush hasn't changed his speeches since 2003.

    Bush always said "9/11 was caused by global terrorism, and Iraq is part of that too."

    After getting beat in two elections, the Democrats finally adjusted their message to say, "Iraq has nothing to do with the global war on terror. Fighting in Iraq is hurting the GWOT by taking troops away from Afghanistan and other places."

    Those are serious charges, and yet the president never responded. Now nearly half the people think that no harm would come to the United States by leaving Iraq. Considering that, there is no wonder they want to get out of Iraq. It is not weakness, but just not wanting to fight an unnecessary war, one which distracts from the real war on terror. (I don't agree with them, but I understand their point. Misunderstanding the facts does not mean someone is weak or has no guts.)

  10. Also, many people wonder "Haven't we already won in Iraq? They have a democracy. If the war is over, why not get out?"

    Saddam Hussein is dead along with most of his henchman. The potential for weapons of mass destruction is gone. What are we fighting for now? To make the Iraqis love each other? Even the Democrats want to keep Special Operations in Iraq to knock down Al Qaeda and its bases. What else do we need to do in Iraq?

    Maybe there is a good answer, but Bush never explained it to people. He talks about an Iraq which can stand on its own feet, but it already seems to be there. In fact its prime minister said they just want us to supply them with weapons, then let them run their own country.

  11. He is not speaking much, either.
    We were on a great progressive effort, the most progressive imaginable. Mr Blair convinced me that there was nothing "conservative" about the Iraq Effort, at least not in Mr Blair's view.

  12. "The damage to American credibility is immeasurable. Bin Laden's assessment of America was spot on. Who would ally themselves with a fickle American electorate? How will America recruit soldiers to a defeated and demoralized military?
    Will Islamists move in for the kill or wait until the rotting superpower dies of internal bleeding?"

    I admit I'm guilty of the very same lamentation. But just as Rat is skeptical of the tales of an Iraqi sea change, isn't it appopriate to be just as critical of tales of the impotent superpower, of Americans obsessed with what broadcast television transmits en masse? Does one want Americans whipping themselves with bicycle chains before to prove they are unambiguously focused?

    I don't think anyone who "feels" bad about our current GWOT policies could describe what an unambiguously better exercise of American power would be at the moment. So many cheap descriptions such as withdrawal or some revenge fantasy receive far more attention than their plausible efficacy deserves.

    I've bitched plenty and have been fearful and uncertain about where things are going. But bitching aplenty can't be taken seriously as a description or explanation of anything but the individual so espousing.

  13. Here's what gets me:

    So, you name the enemy, "Islam" or "Islamism"

    Victory against Islam/Islamism is what? Christianity? Athiesm? Neauvo Islam?

    Will it look like the "victory" over communism?

    I know I don't know.

  14. More and more I hear that Iran is the one whose in increasing disarray. Young Iranians know young Indians, especially as they goto school in the West. The Indians know they can go home and have a chance at a good job. The Iranians do not have even a chance. Iranians do not look upon Iraq for instruction, but instead India.

    Its just that there isn't much modern history that points to what signals a society growing sick and tired and jaded of Islamism? Michael Totten has promised a feature on Algeria, and how its "burned out" from Islam. What makes Charles Martels out of dhimmis or guised apostates? I don't know what to look for, but time is not on Irans side. Its regional pursuits may not be indefinitely sustainable, what with its domestic situation, and the forces that have been roused against it, from Israel to KSA.

    If there is some balance to be struck in the region, when we decide to declare Islam the enemy, what do we do then? I just don't see where that supposed clarity of vision gets us.

  15. Row over angry, penis-removing doctor

    Doctors' unions in Romania have criticised a decision to make a surgeon pay £100,000 in damages after he lost his temper and hacked off a patient's penis during surgery.

    Surgeon Naum Ciomu, who had been suffering from stress at the time, had been operating on patient Nelu Radonescu, 36, to correct a testicular malformation when he suddenly lost his temper.

    Grabbing a scalpel, he sliced off the penis in front of shocked nursing staff, and then placed it on the operating table where he chopped it into small pieces before storming out of the operating theatre at Bucharest hospital.
    -ht Ace Comments

  16. Thank you, whit and deuce, for linking to my blog and allowing my post to grace the pages of the EB. I am sincerely grateful and hope that this will spark off meaningful discourse.

  17. We all are impressed with your post and your thoughtful comments, Harrison.
    Thank you!
    ...sometimes thoughtful discourse is hard to come by, however, hope you understand!

    The Bistro is impressive, also, as noted before.
    Maybe sometime you can do a post on the awareness state of others your age.
    Could only hope others were as well-informed as you.

  18. You are most welcome harrison. We certainly appreciate all that goes into putting a post together and having the stones to put it out there for discussion and criticism. I hope it is one of many.

  19. Agreed, Trish.
    Hewitt and many others think it's a problem of communicating/getting out the message.
    Reality is the Message.

  20. According to USA Today,
    the U.S. military is reporting a dramatic and unexpected increase in the number of police recruits in Anbar province, the center of Sunni insurgent activity in Iraq.
    In the past two weeks, more than 1,000 applicants have sought police jobs in Ramadi, the provincial capital. Eight hundred signed up last month in Ramadi, said Army Maj. Thomas Shoffner, operations officer for the 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division.

    Those figures compare with only "a few dozen" recruits in September, the U.S. military said.

  21. doug, yes, I definitely understand what you are saying. It is easier said than done, but I believe that all of us here try our hardest to achieve it.

    That's an intriguing suggestion you and whit have put forth, and I'll see what I can do regarding the awareness levels of my peers.

    deuce, discourse is always good, and I cannot think of a better place to conduct it than in the company of the EB crew.

  22. "A Party I'd grown quite fond of."
    1994, such great goals and high hopes.
    W has reversed MOST of them w/his Compassionate Big Government Agenda.

  23. The MBA that fantasized that accountablity would work in Govt as it does in Business.
    Reagan knew Govt is the problem, minimizing it and it's damage the goal.

  24. I believe that the reasons for going into Iraq were clearly known to all, and were stated by Congress in the Authorization of Force resolution agreed to by both Democrats and Republicans.

    As long as Saddam Hussein's regime existed, it was a threat to the US. And because Hussein refused to obey a decade of UN resolutions, no one knew if he had weapons of mass destruction or not. Everyone knew for certain he had them in the past, knew how to make them, and had used them in the past. Indeed, it was really somewhat meaningless to argue whether he actually possessed WMD, since he could build more at any time.

    Saddam harbored various terrorists, including Al Qaeda. The administration talked about some light links between Hussein and Al Qaeda, but they never claimed he was Al Qaeda. President Bush quite rightly decided that defending ourselves against terrorism involved more than Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda is a Sunni organization, separate from the Iranian / Shiite family of terrorist groups like Hizbollah. Even a secular Muslim ruler like Hussein could help terrorists attack the US.

    Now that Saddam is dead and buried and we know his WMD capability is destroyed, it is easy to sit back and say "Iraq wasn't a threat. We shouldn't have done it." The pictures Colin Powell showed the UN and everyone were real. No one disputes that. What we didn't know then was whether they were transporting and destroying WMD or something else. No one from the Democratic Party or anywhere else said "Those aren't WMD. There's no need to invade." And in fact even if we knew all the WMD were destroyed (if they really were), Saddam still could have built more.

    People have speculated about additional motives, and there may have been some, but that doesn't change the original and core motives for liberating Iraq.

    There is also the argument of whether we should have done it this way, or whether as the Left would have it, this was an evil "preventative" war. It is actually more complicated since the UN IS authorized to fight preventative wars, it said Saddam was a threat, but had refused to act for over a decade because the Russians and French were bought and paid for by Saddam. As President Bush said in a speech before the UN, either you protect us or we'll do it ourselves.

    Afganistan was clearly a "good" war, a war fought in self-defense against a government which had bombed us and was going to try again. Yet we could have encountered the same problems there as Iraq. We would have had to fight on because there was no other choice. In fact, right now there are problems in Afghanistan, and if we weren't in Iraq, the Left would be calling for us to get out of Afghnistan in a "phased redeployment". They'd be counting the bodies.

  25. Whatever anyone thinks about Iraq in the past, Saddam's Iraq, we have different reasons for being there now. We were attacked on 9/11 by people trained in Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan. Do we allow Al Qaeda to build those same kind of training camps in Iraq? I don't see how anyone could say it wouldn't be a threat. If not, then why did we liberate Afghanistan?

    I don't think Iraq is as big a mess as some make it out to be. Most of the problem is poor communication by President Bush. The rest is just an attitude that needs to be changed in the US, that we will only fight clean, perfect wars, otherwise we walk away, otherwise we say we failed. Almost all the problems in Iraq are their problems, not ours. The US can't afford to cut & run out of a country everytime the locals start shooting each other.

    The problem is not just the Left in the US, but some pro-military people as well. It is the idea that a war is a football game, and we need to "win" quick.

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