Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Time to leave Iraq

And then, seconds after I made the last post I read this:

Most noteworthily:

An assault weapon the marines were using had been armed with warheads containing "about 35% thermobaric novel explosive (NE) and 65% standard high explosive". They deployed it "to cause the roof to collapse and crush the insurgents fortified inside interior rooms". It was used repeatedly: "The expenditure of explosives clearing houses was enormous."

The marines can scarcely deny that they know what these weapons do. An article published in the Gazette in 2000 details the effects of their use by the Russians in Grozny. Thermobaric, or "fuel-air" weapons, it says, form a cloud of volatile gases or finely powdered explosives. "This cloud is then ignited and the subsequent fireball sears the surrounding area while consuming the oxygen in this area. The lack of oxygen creates an enormous overpressure ... Personnel under the cloud are literally crushed to death. Outside the cloud area, the blast wave travels at some 3,000 metres per second ... As a result, a fuel-air explosive can have the effect of a tactical nuclear weapon without residual radiation ... Those personnel caught directly under the aerosol cloud will die from the flame or overpressure. For those on the periphery of the strike, the injuries can be severe. Burns, broken bones, contusions from flying debris and blindness may result. Further, the crushing injuries from the overpressure can create air embolism within blood vessels, concussions, multiple internal haemorrhages in the liver and spleen, collapsed lungs, rupture of the eardrums and displacement of the eyes from their sockets." It is hard to see how you could use these weapons in Falluja without killing civilians.
This looks to me like a convincing explanation of the damage done to Falluja, a city in which between 30,000 and 50,000 civilians might have been taking refuge. It could also explain the civilian casualties shown in the film. So the question has now widened: is there any crime the coalition forces have not committed in Iraq?

It's hard to see any benefits for anyone from doing more of this.


Genius said...

Is immediate withdrawl the answer? Maybe it is but I am concerned about two costs

1) The "resistance" is following a strategy of "denying objectives things such as denying economic development denying the formation of a stable government etc. I am concerned that is is a bad precidence to set to make this an ideal strategy.

I am particularly concerned in the future terrorists might use the spoiling strategies to eliminate governments in countries outside their own. There will always be fights - the only reason they dont result in murders and so forth all the time is that we make sure murder doesnt pay of in civilized society.

2)Concerned immediate withdrawl will result in a colapse of everything (as the resistance overshoot as per the above strategy) And basically turn iraq into even worse of a hell hole than it is now (hard to imagine but possible).

Having said that I would follow a policy of minimizing men on the ground. I think the U&S's aproach to iraq was pretty poor because they should have known that the resistance would take the form of trying to deny their objectives (as opposed to anything better).

Chris said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Terence said...

Sorry Chris but you are banned. A) because you lied to me and B) because you have, in the past, posted openly homophobic comments on this website.

Terence said...


As you will note, having read my post, I sort of agree with the concerns you express in point 2.

In point 1 you wrote:

"I am particularly concerned in the future terrorists might use the spoiling strategies to eliminate governments in countries outside their own. There will always be fights - the only reason they dont result in murders and so forth all the time is that we make sure murder doesnt pay of in civilized society."

As Che Guevara learned it is very very hard for insurgents to operate in a country where they don't have a reasonable level of popular support. Typically, such support comes with either a: foreign occupation (see Iraq) or b: truely repulsive local government (Castro won in Cuba, in part, because the Batista government was so odious there wasn't a single section of scoeity they hadn't alientated).

Accordingly - I think your concern is somewhat mis-placed here. Also, remember the point that Krugman makes - and I think it is a plausible one - America may well have "lost" in Iraq already, in which case the real choice is not pull out now and the insurgents win vs stick around and they loose; it is pull out now and loose but keep your army functioning or pull out in a couple of years and loose and have wrecked your army.

Genius said...

RE Krugman - Depends on what the USA's goals are - I would suggest redefining the goals in terms of thing which with sufficuent effort you cannot be denied. that way you can start to actually look like a police force - somthing that people dont even think to fight because they know it is futile.

As to Che Guevara
I am not really convinced by the idea that resistance is some sort of a proxy for an election. Furthermore would the iraqi's really vote to bomb their own government/police? If so then they have obviously be convinced to behave insanely. Besides even if that was true I think it is becoming less true - eventually it won't be true at all.

the sort of countries that have alot of resistance it doesnt seem to have much to do with repression
nth ireland, philipeanes, srilanka israel spain thailand etc sure the governments may not be great but there is no particularly clear relationship EXCEPT in terms of reaction to that resistance. In fact every one of those countries seems to be right next to a more repressive country that doesnt have a resistance problem.

Some group just seems to have started up baised on some historical idea and whipped up a litle support in a little segment of the population.

Terence said...


just quickly.

re-Krugman - but the point is that, whatever their goals are, they may very well not be able to accomplish them, short of raising taxes signficiantly and re-introducing the draft. Neither of which Bush will do.

re-Guevara: I'm sorry - I don't understand your point about resistance being proxy for an election.

you wrote: nth ireland, philipeanes, srilanka israel spain thailand

For the proportions of the population who support the resistance, there is the perception that they are resisting some sort of foreign occupation:
this is the case in Northern Ireland, Sri Lanka and Spain. In Israel - I assume you refer to Jewish extremists, in which case they are not a significant resistance movement. (If you are referring to the Palestinians - HELLO!!!) You possibly have a point re the Phillipeans although the rebels there are barely significant, see themselves as resisiting a "foreign power" (the Catholic government) and live in a country where government is pretty damn bad. As for Thailand - what resistance mvt?

Genius said...

Trying to see what is the cause of resistance/terrorism itself.
Because very few of the areas with terrorism are recently invaded and numerous areas of recent invasion are not sites of terrorism. The countries involved dont seem to be particularly repressive and the most repressive countries dont seem to have much terrorism.
This leaves me very reluctant to see terrorism as some sort of natural righting mechanism.
Anyway thinking some more...

It seems to me like somthing that can be whipped up in any society regardless of the circumstances.
However in general the below seem to be indicators

1) It is often related to where there is a large group they identify withoutside the country and where that group promotes the image that they are being wronged. (communist groups, palestine, srilanka,nth ireland thailand chechnya bali etc) very few dont seem to fit that prototype.
2) quite often there is a fairly rapid rise in the population of the group from which the protagonists spring.
3) The country is often on the boarder of the islamic world (there are few reasons behind this rather than it being intrinsiclly islamic)
4) communists are sometimes involved (I think the soviet union started this ball rolling)
5) the government is generaly reasonably democratic (this may well be causal rather than jsut coincidental relationship - there are many examples of where more democracy has been accompanied by more terrorism and some where less has acompanied the disapperance of terrorism)

Genius said...

> but the point is that, whatever their goals are, they may very well not be able to accomplish them

Surely you can always declare a goal unambitious enough as to be achievable.

As to the other point - I think it may be better to look at it like the last post ie "what are the reasons" as opposed to the former one.

> I don't understand your point about resistance being proxy for an election.

My proposition is that you dont require majority local support for "terrorism" per se and if you dont you can gather support after the fact.b This goes to the point that we cant say only bad guys are victims of terrorism - or that we can hide from terrorism in some regard.

> "there is the perception that they are resisting some sort of foreign occupation"

The problem is I think this can be created anywhere ie peopel who are engaging in terrorism tend to feel they are being "occupied" but that term means very little more than "I hate the government and will resist them" and posibly "I hate the foreigners more than I hate my neighbours" rather similar to tax is theft or property is theft it is a way of looking at the world rather than a actual evet that makes lets say NZ immune to it.

My list of countries (jsut the countries I could think of off hte top of my head) was to do with the fact that they were not really represive countries.
Ie china nth kroea iran burma and so forth would be more repressive. Not that they did not have a reasonable amount of local support - having said that I dont know if they do have that much - I mean that I dont know a tamil who supports the tigers, and most muslims probably oppose the terrorists in their respective countries even if they support political opposition. And the fact they opose the govt is a function of the lack of control the govt has over those regions.

By the way - whats wrong with the phillipean govt (compared to comparable countries as opposed to NZ of course...).

Excuse the drifting nature of my post..............

Terence said...


remember, in my original reply I said repulsive not repressive - true insurgents may not do so good in a very repressive state for the obvious reasons. but in a bungling, tin pot ditatorship they'll do just fine

Genius said...

hmm maybe still I guess inthat case repulsive is a matter of oppinion. Which puts us back where we started. Ie fairly confused about what it takes to avoid or solve that sort of a problem. except that we know repression works.

Terence said...

Hi Genuis,

Just to clarify an earlier point - I think that insurgencies will only be successful if there is a clear uniting factor. That is the presence of an outside force or a totally unloveable government. They could, concievably, exist otherwise, but without popular support, which comes from the above factors they will achieve little.

As for "repression works". Sort of; but it depends on how you define "works" and even then not always.

I mean:

The two most repressive states in the world are, arguably, North Korea and Burma/Myanmar. No insurgencies in North Korea but Burma has had one for a long time. So being a totalitarian state hasn't made them immune.

But, the real point here is - of course - that, if you turn into a monster simply to defeat the terrorists you haven't in any way won. Or in other words, I'm sure George Bush or Tony Blair could significantly reduce the risk of terrorism in their countries if they turned them into Orwellian style police states. But the cost - obviously - would be far to high; particularly, when one considers that the risk of dying in a terrorist attack - while being real - is, for the average civilian - very small. While the risk of states abusing absolute powers is - as history has shown time and time again - very real.

Short of a toal police-state style crack down there are plenty of intermediate measures which can be(and are being) taken. However, I would be careful about these as well (this isn't a wholesale no, just a call for restraint). There are two reasons for my call for care. 1) Civil liberties are much easier to loose than regain.
2) Winning the "war on terror" involves, as much as military and police actions, a "battle" for the hearts and minds of those people potentially sympathetic to Al Qaeda and if, for example, their family members start dissappearing, or they can't get through an airport in less than 4 hours you start to loose this battle.

This isn't to say that nothing should be done. Just that care is required.