Saturday, December 01, 2007

To Divide And Conquer The Unruly Province Of Iraq

By Cernig

Over at the Danger Room, Noah has a thought provoking piece on U.S. psyops in Iraq - where local counter-insurgency tactics in Fallujah have involved:
helping convince the Sunni residents of Fallujah to turn against local extremists by appealing to citizens' sense of civic pride, pumping up their love of the national soccer team, citing the Koran, and provoking jihadists to overreact. [Psychological operations specialist Sgt. Joe] Colabuno also appealed to the Sunnis hatred and fear of Shi'ites, and of Shi'ite Iran.
Noah sees the obvious problem:
The successes of the American counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq have, so far, been hyperlocal: local watchmen, patrolling their mini-neighborhoods; local tribal and political leaders, making deals with American commanders. And in that context, playing on fears on Shi'ite boogeymen in Sunni regions makes a ton of sense.

The question, though, is what are the national consequences of this local strategy. How can the U.S. encourage country-wide reconciliation -- while riding a wave of sectarian hate?
This really is the heart of objections to the current meme that the Surge has succeeded and the U.S. is winning in Iraq. There's a definite upper limit to how far you can go with this kind of tactic. At a point above purely regional efforts, this kind of COIN tactic actually works against defusing tension - the civil war is still cold, but exploiting such tensions makes it far more likely to go hot at some future point.

For Michael Goldfarb at the Weekly Standard, this is a feature not a bug.
"Sectarian hate" predated the American invasion of Iraq, and we'd be foolish not to exploit it, when possible, to further our own ends. This is how empires effectively managed unruly provinces for centuries. Noah's not all wrong, it's certainly a dangerous game. But it seems that the strategy, for now, is showing obvious signs of success. Down the road it may cause problems, but back in January, everyone expected down the road to be all out civil war--so this seems like a good problem to have.
"Empire"..."unruly province"..."good problem to have". That really is neocon thinking stripped bare. It's the old imperial "divide and conquer" and they're damn proud of it.

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