Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Overattribution of causation

Joe Klein has a pretty smart piece this afternoon about the wisdom or folly of relying on further US training of Iraqi police and military units as a viable means of creating a pro-US, anti-Iran reasonable competent Iraqi central government. He alludes to the basic fact that motivation of the men doing the fighting matters and what the US wants the Iraqi to do and to protect, almost no Iraqi soldier or faction believes in the same goal.

However he subtracts from a pretty good piece with one critical word in one critical sentence as he over-attributes the effectiveness of American action and influence and neglects the internal and long standing motivations and abilities of a significant subgroup of the Iraqi population, Sunni Arab tribal networks in Anbar province:

I'm closer to the Ackerman-Clinton position--with a caveat: We've had success in al-Anbar lately creating an all-Sunni regional force to go after the Al Qaeda foreign fighters. (emphasis mine)

Pat Lang noted earlier this month that these tribes have long been seeking an accommodation with the United States where they are left alone to run their own affairs as they see fit which means significant smuggling, which means significant crimping of Kurdish economic power, which means running out the foreigners (with foreigners very widely defined as anyone that is not from here wherever here may be). In return they would let the US and the Iraqi central government be as long as the local presence of the US military was very, very light.

This force is a US creation in so much as US money is paying most of the salaries and most of the operating costs of the Anbar Salvation Front. However the men and tribes who are fighting Al-Queada in Iraq/ISI are not fighting for the US vision of Iraq. They are fighting for themselves, their clans and their tribal networks.

This force did not stand up and effectively fight in 2003 or 2004 or 2005 despite plenty of calls for Sunni Arab men to join the Iraqi national army or police forces. Instead the Sunni Arabs who joined back then were either targeted by other Sunni Arabs as collaborators or deserted as soon as they were asked to attack fellow Sunni Arabs. This force was assembled from the tribal levies to protect tribal interests. Its formation was provoked by an ISI assassination campaign of local tribal leadership. If the United States military was not in Anbar province, this same force would have been created after that provocation.

The strongest word that Joe Klein should use in this sentence is not 'create', but 'tolerate' or 'ally'. These words more readily capture the reality of a multi-faceted and fractured loyalty structure which produces multiple strands of causality in which American causality is a distant second to pre-existing loyalties and motivations.

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