Monday, May 3, 2010

Anybody interested in a really, really stupid definition of "victory"?

Because I can show you one, courtesy of Lee Smith, author of The Strong Horse. He and Andrew Exum have been having a little back-and-forth about the fundamental, conceptual underpinnings of Smith's new book -- which, you won't be surprised to learn, I think are catastrophically flawed -- via Abu Muqawama and Michael Totten's blog. Smith's latest riposte came today, in a post entitled "The Trouble With Proxy Wars." Read the whole thing if you want (or don't), but I want to highlight the specific section in which Smith seems to reveal exactly what he thinks about the limits of military force (or rather, the almost completely unlimited nature of what can be achieved by effective use of force, I guess):

Whether or not the American counterinsurgency waged in Iraq’s Sunni regions was successful, Bush did not win Iraq, and Washington has no intention to win Iraq. It’s not me who says so, but rather a broad cross-section of America’s political, military and intelligence classes. Back in July 2008, Andrew himself wrote the following:

The past year and half have demonstrated that despite impressive gains in Iraq and a truly heroic effort by our soldiers and diplomats, a large portion of that country’s security environment is determined by the Iranians, who have leverage with nearly all of Iraq’s political parties and factions. If Iran desires to turn the heat up there or elsewhere in the region, it can.

Even Gen. David Petraeus, the man credited with a successful counterinsurgency campaign in Iraq, acknowledged in his senate testimony in March that "the Iranian regime has embarked on a broad campaign led by the IRGC-Qods Force to influence Iraqi politics and support, through various means, parties loyal to Iran. The Qods Force also maintains its lethal support to Shia Iraqi militia groups, providing them with weapons, funding, and training."

If the Iranians are capable of heating up Iraq, if they are able to embark on a broad campaign including both political and military aspects, then the US did not win in Iraq. The test of victory is simply whether or not you are capable of imposing terms on your adversaries; if you can’t, if rather they shape your strategic decisions -- e.g., if they determine your security environment by funding, arming and training militias -- then you have not won.

Or think of it like this: after VE Day what capacity did the Nazis have to heat things up for US troops in France and Italy and consequently determine US strategy? American society may have changed during the last half century so that we no longer know how to describe victory, but the objective standards for defining victory have not changed, nor have they changed at any time during the course of human history. The Iranians are able to shape our regional strategy because we did not win.

It bears repeating that it is not me who says we did not win, but rather our decision-makers. Of course, they do not explicitly say that we did not win, only that the Iranians can hurt us in Iraq and Afghanistan, which is the same thing.

This is really, really flawed. I could go into all the reasons why, or I could just take Smith's view to its logical historical extension and see how sane the whole thing seems to you. I'll do the latter. And so:

After VE Day, what capacity did the Soviets have to heat things up for US troops in Germany, or to deny them access to central and eastern Europe? What capacity did the Soviets have to deny the US complete dominion over Europe, or unipolarity, or limitless determination of the postwar geopolitical landscape? (Hint: if you said "nearly total," or at least "really, really high," then you're right!)

Postwar Germany is a really bad comparison for Iran for one simple reason: as much as it may disappoint Lee Smith, we haven't been fighting a war against Iran, and we haven't invaded Iranian territory! If "winning" means the exclusive, limitless ability to shape the postwar battlespace in any way we like, then we're very rarely going to "win" anything at all without engaging in total, regional war. It seems that Smith would probably agree with this analysis, and support that policy option. His stated support for aggressive action against Tehran and Damascus certainly doesn't suggest otherwise.

And so we're back where we started, really: Lee Smith is just another guy who thinks of the military instrument as a means to crush in their entirety the enemy's will and means to resist, not so much shaping outcomes as dictating them in toto. Must've been sick the day they taught Clausewitz.


  1. Smith's larger point doesn't exactly seem wrong, especially when Exum blathers on about how the so-called "Surge" worked in the least convincing manner possible.

    Muddled strategy.


  2. Smith's larger point doesn't exactly seem wrong, especially when Exum blathers on about how the so-called "Surge" worked in the least convincing manner possible.

    But see, I don't think that is his larger point. I'd suggest that the "strategy" behind Smith's Powell-Doctrine-on-steroids is worse than muddled -- it's impracticable. It seems like Bacevich on its face, doesn't it? COIN is bad and useless because it can't achieve the endstates we desire. Only Bacevich would say that this is a reason not to use force at all, whereas Smith falls into the ludicrously unsupported conclusion that if limited war can't achieve our aims, then we should fight total wars. Which is a more moral -- and more sane --conclusion?

  3. Well, he's all over the place, but he seems to be speaking somewhat differently about COIN, which Exum perhaps perceives to be an end in itself and which is focused primarly on the politics of DC (Porch would nod knowingly), and proxy wars, to which COIN might be place but which can have quite different outcomes.

    The point being that the selling of COIN benefits certain political elites here (Bush can depart as a "victor" because of the "Surge," just as the Democrats can term it a "victory," too, so that we might leave), but the proxy war's victors might be our proxy (the Da'wa-led government in Baghdad) or, more likely, Tehran.

    He seems to place this conundrum within the regional security deficit, should Iran get the bomb but it's a bit confusing.

    Regardless, Exum crying out for the intervention of Clausewitz is, uhhhhhh, absurd, and no one needs Bernie Finel to arrive to tell us that.

    It gets worse when Exum begins to name drop Smith and Goldberg and the increasingly dated Kalyvas, each like a nail in the coffin of post-Maoist irrelevancy.


  4. I tried to read that response this morning, but my eyes started to glaze over. And I used to read Kant on purpose.

  5. I soooo did not get out of his response to Abu M what you got out of it and would have approached a response differently - provided I had time!

    "The Iranians are able to shape our regional strategy..."

    You seem to think that is not so from your response, but is there some merit to the argument? I don't know, but it's an interesting point, isn't it, and worth more than a flippant response?

    I'd rather a discussion of that (as a longtime commenter around here I am allowed to do that annoying thing of making requests. It's true. It's blog etiquette of a sort.)

    And how have we not been fighting a sort of proxy war with Iran? Or at least, how have the Iranians not been fighting a proxy war with us?

    Don't understand your response, to be honest. Could be me, though. I'm thick as a plank at times....

  6. The more I think about it, the more merit there is to the argument.

    If our goal is a democracy, well, we all know that's a rocky thing. And if that is our goal, then it's shaky, we may not have won or achieved said goal, and the Iranians will have a fair amount of influence in the region that is detrimental to us, maybe.

    Anyway, that's what I think he's saying.

    Takers for correcting me? I'm so often in need of it.

  7. And finally: be nice to me while running holes through my arguments.

    Life and work are kicking my a*s, big-time.

    - Madhu

  8. I didn't see the back and forth at Exum's blog. But I did see that he either can't - or can't be bothered - to answer the simple question that I posed. Until then, screw him.

  9. Left a comment here:

    Schmedlap; for some reasons I can't post comments at Abu Muqawama's blog.

    Gulliver; I don't understand Lee's argument at all.

    In what way is Iraq not a success? In what way are the ISF not a success? Isn't Iraq increasingly able to pressure Iran and Syria? Maliki and the Najaf Marjeya didn't congratulate Ahmeninijad on his win; and have implicitly delegitimized the Iranian regime through their actions. This suggests PM Maliki's and the Najaf Marjaya's confidence in the ISF to stand up to Iran as necessary.

    SNLII, why do you think Dawa might be an Iranian proxy when PM Maliki by his public actions de facto slapped Ahmeninijad and Khamenei in the face?

    The Syrian and Iranians militaries are a joke. And their economies . . . oh la la. On what planet in what alternet universe are they "strong horses"?

    Some very smart Iraqis have told me that the Iranian regime is weak and focused almost exclusively on trying to stay in power and defeat the Iranian resistance. Iraqis see Iran as weak. The world certainly does. [Iran's oil industry is a disaster . . . a case study in incompetence, low productivity of exploration and CAPEX budgets . . . Iranian oil production projections going forward are for falling oil production]

    Iran's heavy dependence on natural gas at a time when natural gas prices are near an all time inflation adjusted low is another reason for global perceptions of Iranian weakness:

    Yet another reason is disastrous Iranian ex-energy GDP growth since the 1970s.

    Can someone please explain to me what Lee Smith's argument is?

  10. Madhu -- I think you're missing the point. I'm not suggesting that Iran doesn't play a role in post-war Iraq, and I'll acknowledge that it's likely that the war has empowered Iran in the regional balance.

    But it's silly to suggest that the only way to define victory is absolute dominion over the battlespace and all its surrounds. The utility of force is limited. Effects are unpredictable. Smith's answer to this dilemma is to either A) not fight, or B) completely destroy the enemy, along with everyone else who might oppose our will, and impose postwar conditions in an unlimited and unconsidered fashion. I don't think this is the answer.

    Maybe it's naive, but I think a far more pragmatic approach to the question (or the utility of force) is to examine the ways in which a calibration of effort and violence can achieve the limited ends that we desire. That's what happened, to a certain extent, in Iraq.

    Of course, we're talking here about operational considerations, not strategic. It would've been better if we'd considered prior to the Iraq war what are the things we can hope to achieve through force?, from a political/geogstrategic perspective. That didn't happen, or if it did, the question was answered poorly.

  11. I haven't read Lee's book, but it sounds like it's akin to Thomas Henriksen's work on proxy wars (with a nod to Liddell Hart).

    The notion is that the US has tried in the past to achieve an indirect approach to achieving strategic goals. This carries some benefits (not the investment in total war) with great risks (an inability to fully control the fate of the enterprise).

    Of course, this also is the problem in Iraq with the (now fading) Da'wa-led government and Afghanistan with the kleptocrat-led "government."

    You have certain key problems: As in Vietnam with the Montagnards, finding political and military solutions that bring Sunni militias,SOI and ISF together largely has failed.

    The Vietnamese were suspicious about granting Montagnards too much power or were unable to reconcile a very different culture into their own. The Shiite confessional parties have worked with the Kurds to pass legislation (anti-Baathist, et al) that limits the ability of Sunni political elites to reclaim positions in the central government.

    The tension comes with the maximalist aspirations of US COIN horseshit manufacturers. Or, as Henriksen puts it: "(T)he American way of COIN shades into rudimentary nation-building to establish government-run social welfare services to mollify intra-national
    ethnic antagonisms, and to channel political grievances toward the ballot box."

    This is borrowed from the French colonial project and our own failed efforts in Vietnam (yeah, don't want to forget those lessons).

    In Iraq, it never really worked until the Shiite death squads took care of matters in Baghdad and environs without much help from us. An intra-Shiite civil war we had almost no hand in also worked wonders. But, again, our efforts took a back seat, even if Petraeus and his succubi disagree.

    In Afghanistan, we face a retributive civil war along sectarian lines that's much more difficult to umpire than Iraq. While we might be the Big Horse there (or, to borrow from West, the dominant "tribe"), we also face the paradox of the indirect approach -- our maximalist goals depend largely on the help of proxies who might or might not comply with our wishes, especially when the most important agent (the local goverment) is a shake-down narcotics racket.

    So, what's the solution? I'm not sure Ink Spots has ever looked hard at indirect US operations in the Philippines or AFRICOM's efforts in the Sahel, but they might offer a different way of doing business without all the rudimentary nation building.


  12. In what way is Iraq not a success?

    I guess it depends on how you want to define "success", anand. Iraq was a catastrophic failure between 2004 and 2007. If averting catastrophe = success, then I guess Iraq is a success.

    However, from my perspective the war in Iraq completely derailed the US war on terror, cost us some alliances of long standing, cost us dearly in terms of international influence and presitige, cost us dearly in terms of credibility, weakened us substantially in terms of our ability to deter Iran/Syria/Hezbolah, tied up the bulk of our military when we needed it most, cost us an almost unimaginable amount of money, caused the American public to turn against the WoT, and ultimately caused "regime change" in the US and indirectly caused the worst global recession in almost a century.

    The Syrian and Iranians militaries are a joke. And their economies . . . oh la la. On what planet in what alternet universe are they "strong horses"?

    On the planet where people who openly defy those who are much stronger than them and get away with it are respected.

  13. SNLII -- This is a great post, and I completely agree with basically everything you've written. I should also say that I think you've identified the far more interesting theme in all of this than what Smith's book actually focuses on, which is some pseudo-sociological, culturalist tripe about carrying a big stick and whatnot.

    programmer craig -- On the planet where people who openly defy those who are much stronger than them and get away with it are respected.

    It's not very often that I say this, but I agree with you. I think this is an accurate representation of the way that Syria and Iran are perceived in certain circles, and to the extent that Smith is highlighting that phenomenon, he's correct. I also think you've pointed to a glaring weakness in Anand's worldview, which is the idea that there's an objective truth about good and bad that's perceived by West and East, US and China, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Pashtun, white man, and everyone in between. There's not, and differing interpretations about these things inform differing evaluations of interests, which is why there's no marauding, "first-world," Barnettian-Core, Global Force for Good in Afghanistan (with the exception, of course, of the U.S. Navy).

  14. The real purpose of my post, Gulliver, was to invoke my favorite expression for the Petraeus brain trust and his sycophants -- the succubi -- into public discussion and call many of those maximalists, such as Exum, "horseshit manufacturers."

    This isn't because I dislike (or disagree with) the Petraeus' succubi or Exum (who really is quite a fine mind on Lebanon), but you can't get the lil' blog that could into the Orwellian Army vanity blog-watching project until someone starts calling out generals and their back pocket think thanks.


  15. @ SNLII:

    Liddell Harts (paraphrasing), "the hydrogen bomb only makes proxy and guerilla wars more likely," stuff?

    @ Gulliver: You may be responding to his book, but I don't see what you see in his rebuttal. I see a plea for looking at the situation clearly - we don't yet know what the outcome will be in Iraq in terms of our position versus the Iranian position in Iraq. I am inherently distrustful of those that say they know, with authority at this time, what the outcome will be.

    The future is a whole lotta proxy, from where I am sitting, because what else are the options once everyone is all larded up with nuclear weapons?

    What do you think of this at Peace Later!

    "What’s really bad news is that the insurgents are in their way adapting more creatively to 21st-century conditions than we are. The Taliban and other insurgent groups fight on motorcycles in rugged terrain, while we are stuck in much less mobile Humvees. They use mobile phones (which work pretty well in most places in Afghanistan) for command and control, while we have yet to make use of the battle-space potential of the iPhones we’ve invented. Even if the insurgents had modern radio communications systems, it would make sense for them to use mobiles, because communicating with their support base in the local population is crucial. They know just how to intimidate the local citizenry—probably an optimistic word—while we don’t seem to know how to motivate them. And while Afghanistan hasn’t given the world much in the way of technological innovation in, say, the last 500 years, Afghans are getting a lot better with IEDs than they used to be." - Ann Marlowe

  16. You may be responding to his book, but I don't see what you see in his rebuttal. I see a plea for looking at the situation clearly - we don't yet know what the outcome will be in Iraq in terms of our position versus the Iranian position in Iraq. I am inherently distrustful of those that say they know, with authority at this time, what the outcome will be.

    I'm not really sure what we're debating at this point. Lee Smith says there's no such thing as victory unless we're capable of unilaterally dictating outcomes. I think that's a stupid definition. How things actually do turn out in the future in Iraq is basically irrelevant to this question, because they're not going to turn out in any way close to what Smith requires to say we've "won."

    On the Marlowe thing, I'm not sure what you're asking me for. I don't think there's anything particularly insightful about what she's written, nor original, nor is she really making any sort of argument. She doesn't say anything incorrect, really, so that's something.

  17. On Marlowe you basically told me what I wanted to know, so that's okay. I just thought that if fit in with some of what SNLII was saying in terms of our using maximalist goals....we are fighting past each other! Eh, never mind.

    As to the other stuff, I still don't understand, but I'll leave it at that.

    I guess what I meant is that his diagnosis of the situation seems perfectly reasonable and I don't see where he says, "Lee Smith says there's no such thing as victory unless we're capable of unilaterally dictating outcomes," so I guess that's where my confusion stems from?

    Ignore it, I'll figure it out for myself.


    - Madhu

  18. On the other hand, this at Real Clear Politics (it's okay to read that stuff, Gulliver) confuses me still more:

    "We need not make war against all of the nations that sponsors terrorism. But until we recognize that we cannot end state sponsorship of terrorism by fighting proxy wars, we cannot "win" anywhere at all."

    So I now officially give up on this thread.

  19. "We need not make war against all of the nations that sponsors terrorism. But until we recognize that we cannot end state sponsorship of terrorism by fighting proxy wars, we cannot "win" anywhere at all."

    Does anyone believe we can "end state sponsorship of terrorism"? Does anyone think that's what either of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have been about? Lee Smith seems to be the only person who thought that war in Iraq might convince Iran to stop supporting Hizballah.

  20. Ann is something of a friend (or whatever), even if I disagree with her on many things. One thing you should know about her is that she speaks Pashto, spends more time outside the wire in Afghanistan than most other people I know and has long been a critic of some of our maximalist goals, a view she brings from her understanding of the Pathans amongst whom she toils.

    The larger point that you mention, Madhu, is one I tend to bring up iteratively: The real cause of the proxy wars in South Asia is the security deficit caused by two nuclear powers.

    Since the detonation of Smiling Buddha, both India and Pakistan knew that upon achieving sufficient nuclear forces that they would need to engage in war at a level that would 1) Fail to lead to an atomic exchange; and, 2) Necessarily need to be indirect to avoid direct indictment.

    So you have a proliferation not only of nuclear weapons but on the far spectrum of capabilities/ threats the embrace of proxy militias in Afghanistan and Kashmir and elsewhere in the region. Pakistan has been most adept at using terrorist cells as strategic chits, which Islamabad plays against India, just as India indirectly supports regional enemies of Pakistan.

    One can't "solve" the problem of Afghanistan until one "solves" the lack of regional security caused by the Manichean struggle between India and Pakistan since partition.

    India and Pakistan seem to believe that they can manage this sub-nuclear competition (for their own internal political reasons) without our help, so what need do they see to fully cooperate with our goals in the region?

    Pakistan uses the various Afghan Taliban forces for their own reasons, just as surely as Iran and India and Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, et al, will use various sectarian militias for theirs.

    I guess if one wanted to really "solve" Afghanistan, one would put maximum pressure on our allies in India and Pakistan to make them bridge their security chasm. But doing so likely would drive them away from us and toward other regional alliances.


  21. Does anyone believe we can "end state sponsorship of terrorism"?

    Maybe not, but it's pretty damn hard to end state sponsorship of terrorism when instead of attacking the state sponsors of terrorism, you attack states that don't sponsor terrorism.

    Does anyone think that's what either of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have been about?

    Nope! The Taliban and AQ were both Pakistani proxies. I can udnerstand the need to deal with AQ in Afghanistan on an immediate basis after 9/11, but if our long term goals did not include any method of ending Pakistani support for AQ and Taliban, then our efforts there were doomed to fail in the long term, right from the start.

    As for Iraq... I'm still trying to figure out what relationship Saddam had to the War on Terror, and what we hoped to accomplish by invading? Maybe you can help me out with that?

    Lee Smith seems to be the only person who thought that war in Iraq might convince Iran to stop supporting Hizballah.

    Well, if that's what Lee Smith is saying I agree it's pretty silly.

    But you know what? If we'd invaded Iran and toppled the IRI, I'm pretty confident that would have convinced the IRI to stop supporting Hezbollah! Probably would have gone some ways towards convincing the IRI not to build nuclear weapons, too. But we had more important things to do, such as toppling that rat bastard Saddam Hussein. And aren't we happy campers, now?

  22. You know, Gulliver, "victory" actually is a very interesting word.

    The original root denoted a "victor," but this denoted "conquerer" only through its spread through Latin (victorem).

    At its PIE roots (weik), it meant someone who fought so as to achieve victory. In Old Norse it described someone who was "able" or competent in battle, in Old English and Irish the process of fighting itself, in Welsh the notion of bravery and in Celt those who fought specifically with hammers.

    This is like so many roots for our war-ish words: They fail to procure for us that sense of total, crushing victory but rather convey endemic bloodletting. Conquer has the same problem (it actually connotes searching out to find an enemy). Athena Nike was the goddess of strife (neikos conveys the sense of quarreling and fighting), with victory sometimes an end result.

    "Eviction," I might add, contains some of the stuff of final victory. Ethnic cleansing has its utility.

    The Indians with their warrior castes, Madhu, actually developed on their own and earlier some of this sense of total, unopposed victory ("Ji," the base for "Jain," and "jayah").


  23. A proper riposte to Ink Spots' mumbo jumbo on Iran can be found in the "cost of containment" essay here:

    This is another reason why the batsh** crazy militarist who is GSG always will be better thank the Ink Spotties: This chick always uses scantily clad women, perhaps even friends of her blog, to illustrate important national security points.

    Do we ever see on this blog Lil and Alma licking an icecream cone together to connote hyper puissance? NO!

    We might someday see Gulliver pontificating about Gunslinger's small "package," but that's hardly the same thing and only seems to excite Schmedlap.

    We have Exum going on and on about his kilt and his Lego men, Ricks blathering about armor and the constipated old grumps at SWJ footnoting all the humor out of some essay about recycling goat poo in Afghanistan to make scarves to help the children, or whatever.

    The best COIN blog on this planet is Great Satan's Girlfriend.


  24. Oh nice.

    GSGF is indeed a great blog, because whoever it is that writes it sees through a lot of the standard FP mumbo-jumbo.

    And naturally, the aesthetics are pleasing to a great many of you. Although, enough with the ironed hair and lined-in-Goth-black eye makeup, young people. It's getting old.

    (I know that's not what the rest of you are looking at, but hey, I see make-up.)

    Clever ladies, on many fronts. Brava.

    - Madhu

  25. "...enough with the ironed hair and lined-in-Goth-black eye makeup, young people."

    Now why did I write the above? I immediately feel guilty, of course.

    Because I'm no longer a "young people" myself, and feel that I must behave somewhat properly, let me say this: the make-up and hair looks fine.

    I'm just bored with black eyeliner and straightening hair for myself, so if the GSGF bloggers ever happen read this, I am not making fun of the look.

    - Madhu

  26. Madhu, if we want advice on women's clothing and make up, we'll ask Schmedlap.

    Chortle, chortle. Yes, yes. I'm joking.

    Perhaps what we're dancing around with Smith, Exum and whatnot is that they really are all maximalists.

    From the French tradition, Exum believes in the Galula-esque model (it actually goes back far before him, but Americans love the man) of inducing behavior (or coercing compliance) through the population, in a sense total war applied across the social topography in a means similar in its way to the strategic bombing campaigns designed to "break the will" of various peoples in WWII.

    Smith also believes in total war, albeit one that follows the traditional path of seizing a capital, imposing martial law upon a defeated people and rebuilding a nation after the successful use of overwhelming force.

    They're actually more alike than different, but we can't say that or the terrorists win.


  27. Lee Smith asked me to clarify. So I did below:

    Lee Smith, there are many parts of your argument that I don't understand. But to even get to your argument; we need to understand your assumptions.

    First of all; why won't Iraq be the strong horse of the greater middle east region? Iraq's new security forces are better quality, better motivated and more loyal to the chain of command than what Saddam fielded against Iran in the 1980s. Remember how dependent the old Iraqi Army was on tens of thousands of Indian/Soviet/French combat advisors?

    Iraqis are more self confident now; and see a clear pathway to 12.5 million barrels/day in oil production. Saddam was never able to increase oil production above 2.5 million barrels/day due to his amazing incompetence and stupidity. Inflation adjusted oil prices are likely to remain high over the medium term; thanks to the economic miracle in Asia, Brazil, Chile, Peru, Colombia; and hopefully soon increasing pockets of Africa.

    Iraq's economy is growing rapidly; including non energy GDP. Iraq also has substantial NG and water resources.

    If Iran tries to cause trouble in Iraq; including by attacking US forces; Iraqis would love to take the excuse to give the IRGC Kuds and Khamenei a bloody noise; and they can increasingly do it too. PM Maliki and every Iraqi Marja (Grand Ayatollah) refused to congratulate Ahmeninijad on his election victory. Iraqis believe that the IRGC Kuds and Khamenei are the weak horse within Iran and within the region. And they are right.

    Iraq isn't anti Iran; but it is anti IRGC Kuds/Khamenei/Ahmeninijad. Iraq has laid its cards publicly for all to interpret.

    Where do you get the sense that Khamenei/IRGC are strong? They did a horrible job training/advising/equipping their Iraqi proxies. When PM Maliki ordered the ISF to eliminate them on 3.26.2008; IRGC Kuds' Iraqi assets fell apart like flies.

    What makes you think the IRGC Kuds could handle higher intensity conflicts?

    Do you realize how poorly global militaries perceive the quality of Khamenei's security forces? If you don't believe me; ask a leader in the ISF, Turkish military, Pakistani military, Indian military, Russian military, South Korean military, or NATO military.

    Iran's private sector is widely percieved as a disaster. This is one reason India, China, and Russia are distancing themselves from Iran . . . Iran is a weak horse. Khamenei has terribly managed Iran's great research universities and graduate programs. Compare Iranian perceptions of their graduate programs to Pakistan/Indian/Russian perceptions of their own graduate programs. There is no comparison.

    Iran's oil production is stable to dropping. Iran's RoI (return on investment) in oil and NG exploration and CAPEX is among the lowest in the world. Any country that mismanages its oil and NG industry as badly and incompetently as Khamenei has managed Iran's is perceived as a "weak horse." Iran's dependents on NG (Natural Gas) hurts bad; because NG prices are near all time lows.

    Iran disastrously messed up its Iraq file; a country that had positive feelings towards Iran for its help in liberating Iraq from Saddam in 2003. Even Hakim and Muqtada al Sadr are openly and viciously anti Iran now; both accusing Khamenei of backing AQ against Iraqis in 2008.

    Iran has a bottomless pit in Hezbollah that sucks up scarce Iranian money; which in turn is shrinking because of Iran's economic mismanagement. Iran's funding of Hezbollah is unpopular among Iranians; even among Ahmeninijad supporters.

  28. Your difficult to understand statements that Iraq is weak and Iran strong confuse me. Perhaps this is because of the difference in perceptions between Lebanon and Iraq.

    Iraqis perceive Khamenei to be weak. But Lebanese less so. Lebanese perceptions will change over the medium term as GoI revenue exceed Iranian government revenues; and as GoI foreign aid exceeds Iranian foreign aid.

    Perhaps you do not realize how close to overthrowing Khamenei the Iranian people are? Only two of the 11 Quom Marjas still might support Khamenei; the other 9 see him as illegitimate. The only non Iranian Marja that still supports Khamenei is from Lebonon. [Only 1 left.] Khamenei is percieved as week and illegitimate by Iranians and the global Shia. He is likely going down.

    Why do you think China reduced its oil imports from Iran by half? Why did PM Singh not attend Iran's latest national day? Why is Russia trying to distance themselves? Because Khamenei is weak and they are trying to reach out to the Iranians who replace him.

    Why bomb Iran now; when Khamenei might fall any way?

    On Syria; the Iraqis will not forget Syria's crimes against Iraq 2003-2008. Iraqis have long memories; and will handle Assad on their own time table in their own way. Turkey will likely side with the Iraqis when the time comes. By then, the new Iranian government will also likely side with the Iraqis.

    Assad will likely fold and pretend to be an Iraqi poodle when that happens . . . which is what you want . . . right?

    If Syria is to be bombed; isn't it better for Iraqi F-16s to do so 5 years from now; versus for Israelis or Americans to take immediate action?

    The world would rally behind a free, democratic, successful Iraq; not behind a weak immoral dictator.

    What is the hurry to attack Syria and Iran right away?

    India/Iran/Russia could have attacked the Taliban/AQ before 9/11 and very nearly did. Instead they waited for the Taliban/AQ to attack the West. Then India/Iran/Russia sat back and enjoyed the ride as NATO bled to destroy Iran's/India's/Russia's mortal enemies . . . while they partied and free rode.

    Lee Smith; letting others fight your enemies for you is sweet. It's the smart way to do things. Why can't we Americans be smart? Other great powers will respect us for it; and be forced to start paying for part of the global commons.

  29. "the idea that there's an objective truth about good and bad that's perceived by West and East, US and China, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Pashtun, white man, and everyone in between. There's not, and differing interpretations about these things inform differing evaluations of interests, which is why there's no marauding, "first-world," Barnettian-Core, Global Force for Good in Afghanistan (with the exception, of course, of the U.S. Navy)."

    Gulliver, we are more similar than you imagine us to be.

    How many people around the world actually support Takfiri terrorism?

    The world does share common economic interests. What economists call the global commons; or goods and services with large "externalities." In other words; many/most of the benefits from many goods and services accrue to the world as a whole, versus the country that provides them.

    The convergence of global values and global long term interests is not 100%; but is increasing over time.

    There are differences in style, sentimentality, ways of understanding the world; even when long term interests are almost identical.

    For example, Americans are unusually Manichean (right and wrong) and emotional, while foreigners are increasingly business oriented or "show me the money." Many foreigners find conversations that don't resolve around how they can make money [business] boring. Try bringing up a conversation on helping Darfur, Palestine, Haiti or Congo, in China, Japan, South Korea, Thailand or India. And observe the bored glances you get. And how quickly they bring up a story from the WSJ or Financial Times.

    The exception to this is the Arab world which is emotional and Manichean on steroids. This is why the rest of the world sees Arabs as so odd and out of touch.

    A good way to observe this phenomenon is to observe Malaysians and Indonesians talking about Arabs.

    Gulliver, perhaps you might explain how long term interests diverge between countries?

    Is it that you don't think economic issues are that important? In economics; 1 + 1 = 3. We benefit from economic growth, technological innovation and globalization in other parts of the world.

    SNLII "finding political and military solutions that bring Sunni militias,SOI and ISF together largely has failed." Sorry, bro . . . I lost you. The IA is 31% sunni Arab. Salahadin and Al Anbar are doing better economically, and security wise than most of Iraq. The IA is popular in both provinces.

    SNLII, wasn't the mission in Iraq to strengthen Iraqi institutions and let them do their thing? Didn't this work?

  30. Anand -- Without taking this off on a whole separate subject, let me just answer your last by saying that "countries" are not unitary actors, and that the way that government, civil society, the public at large, etc. interact with one another is different in each country. To imagine that all sectors of society concieve their interests in similar ways, or that any sector of society speaks for the entire country, or that those Platonic "long-term interests are almost identical" across societies and across the globe is, for me, the height of folly. You have a sort of Zakaria-esque belief in the End of History and the ultimate convergence of human society around a universally-accepted idea of "good" that is massively influential in your analysis of nearly everything.

    My basic problem with this is that it completely fails to explain the world the way that it is.

  31. Gulliver; let's leave the idea of values and "good" aside.

    Let's discuss purely long term [or net present value] economic interests.

    In what ways do American, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, South Korea, or EU economic interests diverge from each other?

    The convergence in economic interests isn't complete; but it is pretty close to complete. We generally economically benefit from technological innovation, growth, and globalization in other countries. And visa versa.

    Countries often base policy on actual long term interests; incorrect perceptions of interests; and emotion (which is often justified ex post by trying to argue that the policy you want for other reasons is justified by interests.)

    All countries base policies on some combination of all three. America for most of its history was more discriminating, less emotional; and more disciplined in advancing its long term interests.

    In recent years; it seems that most of the world is now less emotional and more disciplined in advancing their own long term interests than America is. Although; Pres Obama attitudinally is closer to America's long term tradition.

    Did you notice how carefully the world is working together to deal with the 2008 financial crisis and its fallout.

    Notice how unapologetically and self confidently the emerging powers (developing countries) argue for global policies that reduce the price of commodities such as hydrocarbons and metals?

    Does anyone beside Gulliver have an argument for why Asian, North American and European economic interests diverge?

  32. @ SNLII: After Gunslinger instroduced me to Ann Marlowe here, I've been reading a bit of her work on the Peace Later! blog and earlier versions of websites?

    Anyway, I am enjoying the experience very much. (I think Schmedlap is being very serious these days, and I am enjoying his substantive comments here, too.)

    @ Anand and Gulliver: I am sorry to say - or maybe not so sorry - that I did not really read your subsequent comments :) Enough going on already....

  33. Oh, I forgot, about the warrior caste stuff.

    I can't remember where I said that I grew up with all this warrior caste stuff, but I was joking. I never did: I knew what caste I came from, as a regional curiosity really, that it was a warrior caste, and then never ever heard a peep about it from my parents.

    I learned about the mythology online from other sites that keep track of some of the South Asian gangs in Canada and the like that use that imagery. I must remember to point out that I'm not always serious more often....

    *The gang recruitment stuff is so odd.

  34. Here's a link, can't find the other stuff quickly: Good ole' Sepia Mutiny. It's about South Asian assimilation and the comments got closed: always a sign of fireworks!

    *Uh, this might be a kind of apropos topic right now...

    - Madhu

  35. Anand,

    In what ways do American, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, South Korea, or EU economic interests diverge from each other?

    A better question might be "in what ways do they converge?".

    China, for example. I think your argument might be that as the Chinese economy improves, the Chinese will have more money to spend on American goods? Only problem is, the Chinese export about 100x to the US what they import from the US. Do those imports help me, the American consumer? I would argue that they don't. Cheap textiles? I've been around a while and as far as i can tell the price I pay for clothing is not lower with the "Made in China" tag than it was with the "Made in Dominican Republic" tag, or even with the now almost unheard of "Made in US" tag.

    Whether that example is valid or not, I think you are trying to bypass the competitive nature of free trade. When your competitors are doing well, that's NOT necessarily good for you! In fact, it might be VERY BAD for you :)

    It's the nature of the beast. I'm very free-trade oriented (I just wish the US was doing a little better these days!) but it seems a bit silly to try to pretend what's good for one is good for all, in the global marketplace.

  36. Madhu, you seem far too nice to be commenting on these COIN blogs! Not that I'm complaining :)