Philip Brewer's Writing Progress


Sunday, 07 November 2004

Busy weekend. Jackie was at the Spinners and Weavers Guild Annual Show and Sale on Friday evening and all day Saturday. I ran an errand, sending an obsolete computer to Steven (picked it up cheap at the office), ran, did some Esperanto stuff, read, and tried to relax.

This morning, we lifted weights, then went with Barbara to brunch at SilverCreek.

I finished reading America's Secret War by George Friedman. It's a good analysis of the war on terror (focusing mainly on the activities outside the US, although with an occasional reference to domestic matters).

The first third (Afghanistan) had only a couple of things that were new to me. One was that we had come to an understanding with Iran about Afghanistan, which was that we would not impose a central government on the state, but allow the regions to remain fairly autonomous. That suited the Iranians, who had considerable influence in the Shiite regions near their borders. If true, that does explain the otherwise bad decision to leave the whole country in the hands of the warlords who lost the country to the Taliban before.

On Iraq, though, it presents a case for the administration's behavior which, while it does not make it helpful to American interests or moral, does at least make it somewhat comprehensible. Friedman's suggestion is this: In May of 2002, the Bush administration realized that the Al Qaeda problem was really a Saudi problem. For reasons that aren't clear to me (and that Friedman doesn't really elucidate), the Bush administration didn't want to go public with that analysis. But, realizing that Saudi Arabia (and other Arab monarchies, but especially the Saudis) were the only players in a position to do something about Al Qaeda, the US settled on Iraq as a way to bring pressure to bare. This effort, Friedman says, has worked. Because of this huge US force on their border, Saudi Arabia has put its security apparatus to work hunting down Al Qaeda and putting a stop to the flow of money. Syria became somewhat more cooperative (until the US got bogged down in Iraq). Even Iran became somewhat engaged with the US, if only because the US is obviously a major power in the region now.

Where Friedman's analysis falls short, I think, is in fully understanding the non-state actors in Iraq. He talks about how the US has (sometimes well and sometimes poorly) played the Sunnis (Baathist factions and not) off against the Shiites (many strongly influenced by Iran), both against the Arab Islamists, the Kurds trying to stay out of it, etc. What he doesn't deal with is the extent to which all these groups have fragmented, making it almost impossible to deal with them as a block.

William Gibson linked to William S. Lind, the guy who wrote the book on 4th generation warfare. Lind provides a cogent analysis of the numerous factions fighting in the Iraqi civil war. None of them are as powerful as the US. (All of them put together are not as powerful as the US.) But each of them has more legitimacy than the US and each of them has a much longer time horizon than the US--they'll be there when the US leaves, whether that's in six months or four years or ten years. That makes it impossible for the US to win in Iraq, but maybe not for the US to disrupt Al Qaeda to the point where they can't conduct major operations against us.

None of which makes our policy a moral one. It probably isn't even an effective one, long term. But the book makes the case that it has been somewhat effective in the short term.

Yesterday's run was good. My first run since getting over my cold.


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