Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Senior Fellows, the Cookings at Brookings

I’m all for think-tanks. God knows we have little enough thinking going on today and if we have to fill tanks with something, better fellows than fish. Particularly Senior Fellows.


OhanlonatbrookingsMichael O’Hanlon is just such a Senior Fellow in Foreign Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution (all capitalized) and he’s penned a prescription for How To Stop a Civil War.


Mike’s never actually been in a war, much less a civil one, but he’s got serious think-tank-type credentials; expertise in Arms treaties, Asian security issues, homeland security, Iraq policy, military technology, missile defense, North Korea policy, peacekeeping operations, U.S. defense strategy and budget.


I’m impressed. We all know how well arms treaties have served dealers and both homeland security and Iraq policy are brilliant examples of stunning achievement. Defense strategy and budget are veritable bookends of enlightened thinking, the one having almost single-handedly busted the other.


Michael opens his thesis with this dumbfounding statement

Administration officials have been right in recent weeks to argue that there is no large-scale civil war underway in Iraq. As long as the Iraqi political leadership remains generally united in trying to calm the situation, and as long as sectarian violence remains more sporadic than strategic (with no systematic ethnic cleansing, for example), true civil war remains a threat rather than a reality.

He is correct in that there has not yet been an Iraqi Gettysburg, but of ethnic cleansing we have seen aplenty. Zayed, the blogging Iraqi dentist writes

Please don’t ask me whether I believe Iraq is on the verge of civil war yet or not. I have never experienced a civil war before, only regular ones. All I see is that both sides are engaged in tit-for-tat lynching and summary executions. I see governmental forces openly taking sides or stepping aside. I see an occupation force that is clueless about what is going on in the country. I see politicians that distrust each other and continue to flame the situation for their own personal interests. I see Islamic clerics delivering fiery sermons against each other, then smile and hug each other at the end of the day in staged PR stunts. I see the country breaking into pieces. The frontlines between different districts of Baghdad are already clearly demarked and ready for the battle. I was stopped in my own neighborhood yesterday by a watch team and questioned where I live and what I was doing in that area. I see other people curiously staring in each other’s faces on the street. I see hundreds of people disappearing in the middle of the night and their corpses surfacing next day with electric drill holes in them. I see people blown up to smithereens because a brainwashed virgin seeker targeted a crowded market or café. I see all that and more.

CarbombbaghdadSounds like ethnic cleansing to me, Michael. Each day that brings a report of 40 beheaded bodies found or a busload of butchered corpses is evidence of sunni-shiite strike and counter-strike, revenge and revenge-against-revenge.


There is a disconnect that comes from too much time spent at Princeton, a mistaken examination by Petri-dish born out of a career spent onlooking. Mike has looked on from Defense and Foreign Policy Analyst, National Security Division, Congressional Budget Office; Research Assistant, Institute for Defense Analyses and Peace Corps Volunteer, Congo. The capitalization is part of the problem. Brookings spread them liberally throughout O’Hanlon’s bio and it says something about the institutionalizing of politics, something bizarre and discomfiting, this taking oneself too seriously in all-caps.


Opinion is anybody’s fair game until someone acts on that opinion and then it better be pretty well founded. Iraqis are dying at the moment because of too much (or too little) screwed up hectoring lecturing.


O’Hanlon continues in his prescription for How To Stop a Civil War;

Much of the American debate has been asking how to handle an all-out conflict in which Iraq has already fractured and violence is rampant. But the more important question is how to quell violence in the early stages, before such a scenario develops fully.

Where you been, Mike, under a rock? Early stages, before such a scenario develops fully? The last time I heard something that wrongheaded, it was Dick Cheney claiming the insurgence was in its ‘last throes.’


Mike again, using the future tense in a description of what is happening this moment,

If civil war begins in Iraq, it will probably consist of increasingly active vigilante justice -- as well as random, pointless acts of violent rage -- by Iraq's powerful militias. They will attack defenseless mosques, homes of important figures from other ethnic and religious groups, and defenseless citizens. They will begin to perpetrate ethnic cleansing with cold, premeditated purpose.

These are the typical dynamics of civil conflicts, as analyzed by scholars such as John Mueller, Barry Posen, Steve Stedman and Chaim Kaufmann.

As analyzed by scholars, well that certainly puts my mind at rest and no doubt reassures Zayed.
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Read more of my musings on the war in Iraq at my personal web site.