Saturday, January 22, 2005

The Chance to be Stupid

As we have moved forward with democracy in Iraq, the Shias and Kurds will assume the dominant roles over the Baathist-tainted Sunnis who used to rule Iraq. I have consistently expected that at some point, the Sunnis who are not damned by the Saddam-era crimes would join the new government to avoid retribution. I further thought that this movement would most likely happen while we are dominant so that our presence would moderate the Shia and Kurdish desire for revenge.

The Sunni-tolerated or supported Baathist insurgency is simply stupid in light of what I assumed was self-evident. Sure, the die-hards won't sign on to the new Iraq, but surely the majority would see the folly of angering the former victims of Saddam. And surely they'd see the benefits of switching sides while our presence could guarantee their safety. But no, the Sunnis risk having the screws tightened by resisting without hope of victory against the 80% of the Iraqis who will no longer be victimized and who will hold the government and wield its power against rebels. Strategypage summarizes the situation quite well:

While Iraqis get indignant over the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse issue, many privately thought that the Sunni Arab prisoners got off easy, that in Saddam's day, they would have been killed or mutilated, not just humiliated. It is feared that once the Iraqi security forces are able to deal with the Sunni Arab terrorists, it will be done in a particularly brutal fashion. Such brutality is common in the region, and considered a proper approach because such brutality is part payback, and part intimidation to discourage continued resistance. This spotlights another cultural difference. Iraqis hold Westerners to a higher standard of behavior than they do themselves. Part of this is gamesmanship. Iraqis note the higher moral standards of the Americans, and use it against us. But when they have to take care of business, they explain away more brutal methods as, "that's our culture." Well it is, and as more of these differences hit the news, expect the reports of torture and murder by Iraqi security forces to increase. Iraq now has about 120,000 people in the security forces (police and army), and wants to double that. When this appens in the next year, along with an increase in personnel quality and experience, the Sunni Arab terrorists will be on the defensive. Al Jazeera, and the rest of the Sunni Arab dominated Arab media, will be outraged. But the outrage will be mainly because Shia Arabs and Kurds are keeping Sunni Arabs out of power, not at how they are doing it. But Western media will be appalled at the brutality of the next stage of the Iraqi civil war. Brace yourself.
I shouldn't need this reminder but sometimes it is truly stunning to see the stupidity that can be the basis of enemy decisions. It is a mistake to assume rationality is the default position. Given that I always assume that killing the enemy ruthlessy is always the correct response to any resistance, it is embarassing to have assumed that even a belated rationality would lead the Sunnis to get on board the new Iraq. They have not. Or perhaps the elections will show that the Sunnis have decided that it is better to join than die. But as Strategypage notes (and I've held this to be true for quite a while as well), the new Iraqi government will fight the Baathists with a ruthlessness that we are unable to inflict on distant enemies. In their own backyard, the Iraqi government will have no such reluctance. They will eradicate the Baathists. The Baathists, having chosen to take this chance to be stupid when they could have prospered, will be eradicated. Couldn't happen to a nicer group of people, in my opinion.

Brace yourselves. The Baathists and their jihadi friends have guaranteed that this will be an ugly fight. Sadly, the Iraqi government won't get the benefit of the doubt that the beheaders and car bombers presently get in our press.