Transcendental Bloviation

Politics, Space, Japan

Saturday, August 14, 2004

The Way of the Gun

I love reading Michael Totten. What a model of rationality. What a vice-grip he has on the facts. And what a great batting average with his predictions. He never gives up, never surrenders! The most recent bee in his bonnet? "Kill Moqtada al-Sadr!"

Thrilling, eh? How quick, how satisfying, how perfect. Why, that would solve this whole Najaf crisis in one clean stroke, would it not?

Now try this one on for size, Mr. Totten:

"Martyr Moqtada al-Sadr!"


A conservative Sunni clerics group in Iraq has weighed in on the Najaf issue: the assault on Najaf should end. Uh-oh. When did we last see something like Iraqi muslim unity? During the battle of Fallujah, wasn't it?

In the last 24 hours, there has been a large march on the erstwhile Occupation headquarters, with Sadrist militia members at bottlenecks of the parade routes, reportedly making sure that none of the demonstrators were armed. Not enough fun for ya? Try this on for size: some police joined the demonstrations. I seem to vaguely remember reports like this filtering in around the time of the Iranian revolution.

But what is Michael Totten's strategic imperative at this point? The same one used to lose Iran to the Mullahs. Kill, kill, kill. Kill, kill, kill. And to provide proof positive of popular support in Iraq for this strategic line, he uses that highly rigorous Iraqi polling methodology called "Ask Omar!"

How silly can you get.

There is no evidence that al Sadr is cowering, licking his wounds, preparing for unconditional surrender. With six cities in Iraq responding to the assault on Najaf by ratcheting up the level of armed confrontation with occupation forces, the evidence points in quite the opposite direction. No, in Najaf, it really looks like we're back to the same stalemate Fallujah presented earlier this year: military victory for the Occupation within easy reach, but no way to win militarily without losing politically.

Al Sadr wouldn't have gone to visit battlegrounds where he had every reason to worry about getting wounded without facing the fact that he also had every reason to worry about getting killed in those exact same places. Why would he drop in on his troops like that, risking his own skin? Because he believes that getting killed can only work for his movement at this point. And he's probably right. So to advocate taking out Moqtada al Sadr is practically to be on his side at this point.

To advocate "taking the gun out of Iraqi politics", as Michael Totten does, is to ignore the fact that there was one gun per household in Saddam's time. That ratio is probably only higher now, with ordinary peaceful Iraqis further arming themselves just to feel safer from criminals, who got a new lease on life with the Occupation and its crummy public security.

With that kind of armed force distributed in the civilian population, a unified Iraq people could have thrown out the U.S. occupation in any two-week period in the last year. They didn't. A unified Iraqi people could also have thrown out Saddam during any such period. They didn't. The residents of Najaf could have thrown out Sadrist militias during any such period. They haven't.

The gun is irrevocably a part of Iraqi politics. At any given time, 99% of Iraqi guns are voting - with their silence - for whoever happens to be providing the maximum of street security. In Iraq, that used to be Saddam. Now it's whoever happens to have the right combination of men under arms and devotion to that job in any particular region. No doubt that graft, extortion, and all manner of intimidation cement such social controls. But the gun has spoken, and will continue to speak, in a country where it's the quiet guns that speak volumes.


Post a Comment

<< Home