The Columbia Critic

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Wednesday, January 11, 2006

A Response to Wang: iraqi democracy. good idea || bad idea?

So here is the deal with Iraq. The attitude with which we should be approaching Iraq is less one of spreading Democracy, and more one of establishing and spreading connectivity.

The truth of the matter is that 9/11 didn't cause a paradigm shift in the world, rather it was caused by a paradigm shift, and acted as a vertical system perturbation that resulted in a shift in perception. In essence, it changed the rule-sets - or rather it made the changes that had occured since the end of the cold war apparent, nigh transparent.

First, in the Cold War the old rule was that the U.S. was an effective sanctuary due to our nuclear stand-off with the Soviets. We weren't going to hit them, and they sure as hell were not going to hit us. The problem since the end of that stand-off has been the advent of asymmetric warfare, and the realization that the current enemy has no easily targetable assets, and that if we took the fight to them they would have no problem finding a way to bring it back to us. There are no strategic deterrents, only tactical and (very occasionally) economic ones.
Second, we have the movement away from the absolute-war scenario that was prevalent through out the Cold war, and indeed in the World Wars before it. That is, this idea that any war would be an all out war, resulting in total annhilation of either one side or both. There was no focus in the war-making branches of our government on the aftermath of a war, in any form of statecraft. The updraft of globalization creates a scenario where wars cannot occur in isolation like this, due both to the ebbs and flows of the ultra sensitive global economy, and the prospect of a "smart" war, i.e. a war in which much of the infrastructure and indeed population is left in tact.

Another shift was the actual definition of a threat and appropriate response to threat changed. Rather than looking for the Big Red Bad Guy, as the Pentagon has spent much of the post-soviet interlude doing (read: China), there has been a greater need to look at small-state and intra-state actors. This leads to a different idea of a "Big Picture." Rather than on individual nation-states, focus has shifted to strategic ENVIRONMENTS, constantly measuring and analyzing the properties of individual regions, whether large and made up of multiple states, or small on the scale of cities and towns.

Finally, as a result in these changes, our strategic aims were forced to change. Throughout the cold war the basic idea was self preservation through maintenance of the status quo, in the hopes that eventually the Soviet Union would fall by external economic stressors - which it did. When we enter the era of asymmetric warfare, we assume this same idea can be applied to most other world conflicts - keep the flame from spreading here and eventually it will burn itself out. The problem is that these conflicts are not nearly large enough to burn themselves out (think embers of a forest fire that remain hot for weeks until another, even large fire erupts.) The problem with this is that we cannot afford to simply ignore the so called "Third World" regions of the world and wait for them to weaken and collapse. Why? Because they are in a continuous state of collapse, and it is this state of collapse that creates the violence that, occationally, (and as time progresses, increasingly) hits home.

Well "THATS EASY" you say. All that needs to be done is to bring these nations out of poverty. And actually, you would be right. The question is, how does one accomplish this.
There are two main hinderances to economic growth: violence, and disconnectivity. The former is relatively easy to define and observe - either there is overt warfare, or the less overt despotism, persecution, or genocide. The latter is a much broader area, and can exist in various states - but ultimately lies with a lack of access to information, money, and the global economy.
The basic idea is that the more nations thatt are able to overcome these two hinderances, the less that these hinderances will affect surrounding nation-states.

So, then, why are we in Iraq? The President will have you believe that it is to spread democracy...or is it to "bring the fight to the bad guys"...or is it to find those weapons of mass destruction? And to be honest, he probably believes these things himself. The first two are certainly reasonable end-states...and the last one, well, that was simply dumb (not a LIE...just utter stupidity...really REALLY dumb).

But the REAL reason we are in Iraq, the true strategic vision that pushes us forward is what Dr. Barnett of the Naval War College likes to term the "Shrinking of the Gap." The first step is to remove the violence (in this case despotism) that exists in the system. Our shock and awe did this beautifully well (although another form of violence later pervaded the system, which represents a failure in administering the peace, on which I will speak below). So we remove the despot, and establish connectivity. Once you establish connectivity, you let global economic forces, and the new rule sets that come along with the global economy, have their effect. For a society to participate in the global marketplace, they are forced to abide by the rule sets of this new system. This of course will not happen immediately, but will occur over a period of time as the society becomes more and more integrated into the system. China is a perfect example of this (see my previous blog). Democratic government is a resulting end state of this integration. So that is our goal - not to spread DEMOCRACY per-se, though this is an eventual end state. It is to spread connectivity. An integrated economy does not go to war. Why fight it out on the battlefield when you can fight it out in the stock market...or on AIM?

Now you might say that while this goal is noble, we sure are not doing a good job of it. I will tell you why. We are working with a military that was developed and paid for to fight the soviets. There was no need to change our military after the soviet's fall, or such was the idea, because it existed to protect against the big red menace...whatever that was...and we were going to find it...(read again: China). Problem is China has been less of a threat and more a source of MONEY (go check out how many US Bonds China owns....we depend on their money more than practically any other single country save Japan).

So, our Military is designed for near-peer warfare - absolute end-state warfare. But the problem is we need a military that is responsive to asymmetric warfare, and that is able to handle not only the WAR operations, but the post-war operations (termed in the military MOOTW moot-wah, military operations other than war). This requires a somewhat bifurcated defense system that is actually not TOO different than the setup we had before WWII. A large scale, large casualty producing, shock and awe force, and an administrating, peace keeping, policing, economy-protecting force. Pre WWII this was War Department, and the Navy respectively. The platforms of choice have changed over the years, with a movement away from the Land vs Sea concept, but the general idea remains the same. The WAR ops force for instance would include a large heavily armored army, a bomber-centric air force, a naval carrier force, and strategic missile systems on subs and the ground, while the peace keeping force would include large numbers of troops, quick reaction forces - think marines and army rangers, civil affairs units, and an organic diplomatic corps.

Unfortunately we go to war not necessarily with the force that we need, but the force that we already bought. It is true that the Pentagon is constantly engaged in building tommorrows force - indeed this is its ultimate purpose, the job of fighting wars goes to the combatant commanders at each of the combatant commands such as CENTCOM and EUCOM, which is why congress has to fork out extra money for the Iraq war, the pentagon budget goes entirely towards developing the force for future wars, not fighting current ones. Counterintuitive I know, but that is the way of things. At any rate - we already bought the force, and it worked BEAUTIFULLY in fighting the WAR - we defeated the Iraqi military in a matter of DAYS, but in keeping the peace it is not up to the task. And the only way we have been able to find out that this force wont work for this purpose, however, has been to try and to fail. Heindsight is 20/20, though I will concede that Rumsfeld was wrong not to listen to Gen Shinseki. Rummy was right that we had enough troops to win the War. But Shinseki was also right in that we didnt have enough for the second half. To win the peaece.

As is often said, making organizational and doctrinal changes to the DoD is normally akin to using a paddle to turn an air craft carrier. EXCEPT in a time of war. Try then and its like someone attached a rocket to the side of the ship.

So in summary, our grand strategy in Iraq is to introduce connectivity and bring Iraq into the global marketplace. Democracy will result, though not immediately. Our failures have been a result of having the right force for one part of the job but the wrong force for the other. These failures though have been the impetus for grand change and transformation in the way DoD does business. Bush and Rummy have messed up on a number of occasions. But they got one thing right, and that is the need for a new way to think about warfare and security operations abroad.


  • At 1:08 AM, Blogger Brian said…

    a fascinating argument and a great read. i agree with much of it, but think you have virtually skimmed the most important section: democracy. Your assumptions here are far too shallow in light of the quality of the rest of the piece, and you completely neglect to mention that there are different versions of democracy, some more stable and desirable to the US than others. Just because people can vote doesn't mean that there will be "democracy" in the sense you seem to use the word. Instead, we need to discuss issues such as liberalism, and the role of Islam in Middle Eastern democracy. Voting is merely the most limited framework--the content is what really matters, and why many people question whether the Bush administration knows how to (or has the ability to) achieve such goals. For more on this, I have to point to Fareed Zakaria, who has written a book on illiberal democracy.

  • At 2:35 AM, Blogger Wang said…

    that wasn't my point at all. Since it was a response to my piece I thought I would find a response, I'm left here wondering if I was the audience or if you were trying to tie up every qualm America has had about the Iraq war.

    You talk about shrinking the gap, by
    1. removing the despot
    2. establishing connectivity

    But we are operating on the premise of "spreading democracy".

    The problems I see is that removing the despot doesn't work well, correct me if I'm wrong, it's never worked. The US installing US friendly governing powers just doesn't turn out right.

    So we allow people to have free elections, how do we know they are going to elect another despot? They are grasping at a completely foreign concept of democratically elected representative government.

    The only way to stop fighting, you are right, is to establish connectivity.

    Connectivity cannot be created until you have a foundation of financial and provable success. Iraq would need to be financially tied to the US, or other friendly nations, of which it is not of their collective best interests to enter into a conflict with the US. Right now, Iraq has no stable economy, they will fight and fight and fight with no regard to any sort of dependency.

    So... maybe try to answer my question again, are democratic elections in Iraq good for America? Not to be mean, but the initial coldwar framework was entirely uneccessary.

  • At 3:10 PM, Blogger Sean said…

    That was my point - is that democracy in Iraq is neither good nor bad for America. It is connectivity in Iraq that is good for America - if that can ever be achieved. Results could be harmful if they do indeed end up electing another despot. Results could be good if they end up electing someone completely in tune with U.S. interests. But my main point was that the premise of "spreading democracy" is whats wrong. We shouldn't be focused on this, because in the end it doesn't matter. What matters is, as you indicate, economic self sufficiency. And we seem to be so focused on the "democracy" issue, which I see as an important endstate ultimately but not the area of concern right now. They had elections. Great. Whoop-de-doo. Now how the hell are we going to jump start an ECONOMY. This is something that, while it has been focused on and toyed with among military thinkers, has not seemed to surface among the politicians and the Bush-inators. But then again, they are kind of slow on the uptake.
    But basically I think you and I are on a similar wavelength. The democracy premise is all wrong. It is simply a mechanism, a means to an end. If we want any sort of real success we need to get them into the market.


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