The L.A. Times descends into civil war!

A mostly political Weblog.
March 25 2007 3:44 AM

The LAT Descends Into Civil War!

Why the best thing it could do is disappear.

(Continued from Page 4)

P.S.: Regarding the surge, Omar of ITM's latest report from Baghdad seems almost implausibly hopeful:

You look around in Baghdad now and see hundreds of men working in the streets to pick up garbage; to plant flowers and paint the blast walls in joyful colors. Many of Baghdad's squares are becoming green and clean. The picture isn't perfect, but it's a clear attempt to beat violence and ease pain through giving the spring a chance to shine.

Nights in Baghdad now are far from quiet, but the sounds cause less anxiety for me than they did before. I recognize the rumble of armor and thump of guns and they assure me that the gangs and militias do not dominate the night as they once did.

More surprisingly, Simon Jenkins, a persistent war critic writing on HuffPo, also says of the surge:

The "surge" programme initiated last month by General Petraeus in Baghdad is the first intelligent thing the Americans have done in four years. By swamping neighbourhoods, monitoring entry, patrolling streets and giving personal protection to residents and tradesmen troops are able to restore some order to portions of the city. Petraeus is replacing vigilantes, militias and corrupt police with his own soldiers. He cannot reverse the ethnic cleansing that is fast partitioning Baghdad into Sunni and Shia quarters, but he can stabilise what has occurred. He can fortify the ghettos.

Jenkins thinks the "surge" comes "too late." But then he sketches a scenario as implausibly rosy as Omar's:

Economies recover, the more quickly the sooner they are left in peace. The hoodlums and gangsters now rich on American aid will harness the oil exports and eventually find a vested interest in protecting infrastructure and utilities. Religious segregation will enable the ghettos to feel more secure. Business will emerge from the bottom up and doctors, teachers and merchants start to move back from Amman and Damascus, once they hear that their old homes are safe and the Mahdists and Badrists are confined to barracks. Economic activity will return to the streets, as it has done to Beirut.

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Jenkins claims all these good things will happen when U.S. troops leave--like many on the anti-surge left he has an almost Rumsfeldian faith in the ability of order to spontaneously generate in a power vacuum.  But it's hard to reconcile his declaration that U.S. troops "brutalise all they touch" and can't possibly "ensure that 'things get better'" with his earlier recognition that the "surge" is ... making things better. Why can't the surge bring temporary stability that allows "parlays between local commanders, sheikhs and religious leaders, neighbourhood alliances, deals and treaties"? Don't we want to strengthen the hand of relatively tolerant leaders and weaken the bargaining position of the killers? How is Petraeus hurting the situation?

One can imagine reasons: By naively moving Sunni families back into vulnerable mixed neighborhoods we may be setting the stage for more bloody sectarian cleansing in the future. More implausibly, maybe any deals can only be struck in conditions of radical insecurity, when the deal is the only thing that will stop ongoing slaughter (though you'd think if that were the case they would have been struck by now, no?).

Jenkins doesn't make these arguments--he just falls back on the HuffPo dogma thatU.S. troops are the problem (a "humilation and a provocation"). He seems lost somewhere between the Old Brownback and the New Brownback. ...

Update: Answering a query from Huffington, Jenkins says the problem with Petraeus' surge is "he will leave. And then what?" Wait. I thought the problem, according to Jenkins, was that U.S. troops weren't leaving. Now I'm all confused. ... Leave. Don't leave. What's the HuffPo party line again? ...

More: With Bob Wright's help, I try to figure out an argument that might support Jenkins here. (Short version: Groups won't cut deals when they are uncertain of their military position--i.e. it's weakness. They'll never be certain until the U.S. withdraws and fighting starts. Better version: In anarchic conditions, groups won't cut deals until their more rejectionist and violent member are willing to cut deals. By tacitly threatening more negotiation-prone leaders, these violent holdouts exercise effective veto power. And they won't agree to cut deals until they are certain of their position's weakness, which they won't be until the U.S. withdraws.) ... I don't think I agree with this argument--when fighting starts, isn't the result likely to be a lot more fighting, not a Sunni-Shiite deal? But it seems plausible. ... 1:47 P.M. link

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