Dohiyi Mir
    In Which NTodd Says His Peace

Thursday, March 18, 2004
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Moral Conflict


A bomb exploded today outside a hotel in the southern Iraqi city of Basra, and guerrillas and American forces exchanged fire west of Baghdad, continuing the violence that has marked the first anniversary this week of the Iraqi war.

More violence in the clusterfuck known as Iraqi Freedom, which wingers like to conflate with the "war" on terror. Alas, they're now probably right to do so since our illegal invasion has only fostered conditions for even more terrorism. This guy is on the right track:

I do not fault George Bush for doing too much in the War on Terror; I believe he's done too little. When the focus of the War on Terror was appropriately in Afghanistan and on breaking al Qaeda, President Bush shifted his focus to Iraq and Saddam Hussein. He's pushed away our allies at a time when we need them most. He hasn't pursued a strategy to win the hearts and minds of people around the world and win the war of ideas against the radical ideology of Osama bin Laden.

Kerry hits an important point: this "war" at its heart is about ideas. We can't win if we give bin Laden perfect material for his recruitment videos while we fail to provide a positive alternative. Further, BushCo keeps referring to how many al Qaeda leaders we've captured or killed since 9/11, but that sounds chillingly similar to body counts during Viet Nam, and is about as productive. In that vein, G.I. Wilson, a retired a Marine Corps Reserve Colonel, has this to say:

This enemy cannot be overcome by simply killing them. Their deaths mean martyrdom. Where they fall, dozens or hundreds spring up to take their places. They cannot be overcome solely through firepower attrition, because all death caused by the West accrue to this enemy's benefit, proving their thesis that annihilation is still King in all struggles for power. Waging conflict with massive firepower and high technology are the hallmark of the great Satan to them.

As in all conflict the aftermath is not pretty and we need to recognize with Iraq that "the baby is ugly". Wehave violated General Zinni's twenty principles* of humanitarian operations. However, we still have a window of opportunity to make a dramatic difference if we work hard at creating Iraqi jobs, get Iraqi security forces firmly in place, establish venues for free press, provide extensive internet and media access to the Iraqi people, enhance the infrastructure, and control the borders of Iraq.

Yet a year into the conflict, Iraq's infrastructure is a shambles (e.g., electricity production is still below pre-war levels), and Iraqis throw stones and yell at us to leave whenever another bomb goes off. Small wonder Spain wants to withdraw their troops if we still are in charge of the mess.

The late Colonel John R. Boyd, the brilliant strategist who introduced the concept of the OODA loop1, put a lot of thought into the type of "highly irregular warfare" that we're encountering in Iraq, Spain and elsewhere. First we need to look at the essence of moral conflict, as practiced by our opponents, which is based on three elements:
We've certainly got all that in spades. Boyd observed that we need positive counterweights to the negative side of moral conflict:

[W]e find that the counterweights to menace and uncertainty are not at all obvious unless we start with mistrust and work in the reverse order. Proceeding in this way we note that...[t]he presence of mistrust implies that there is a rupture or loosening of the human bonds or connections that permit individuals to work as an organic whole in harmony with one another. This suggests that harmony itself represents an appropriate counterweight to mistrust.

Harmony for Boyd was defined as interaction of apparently disconnected events or entities in a connected way. To me this all fits in with the Spanish elections and our fight against al Qaeda.

First of all, the conflict is not just about the United States and al Qaeda, but involves other entities including our allies. It also includes civilians, not just members of the military, for we are both victims of terror attacks and part of the defense against them. Civilians in a democracy are key to success, so any government that wants to defeat al Qaeda must engage the people constructively.

The conflict is also not as simple as "they hit us, we hit back". It involves diplomacy, economics, culture, and myriad other factors. We must be aware of these diverse element and understand that not everybody is going to perceive the problem or the solution in the same way. To assume that Arabs want their country to be an American-style capitalist democracy is unwise. Similarly, to dismiss Spaniards as cowards or appeasers does nothing to bring about harmony.

As I've said before, it's clear that the greatest impact 11-M had on the electorate was not the attack per se, but the government's reaction (i.e., misleading the public). I suspect the PSOE still might've won, judging by the polls, but it was the atmosphere of mistrust that sealed the PP's fate.

Mistrust is exactly what hinders us the most in this struggle. It's mistrust between people and their government, and mistrust between governments. That's probably the biggest negative consequence of the missing WMD in Iraq: the US made terrible weapons out to be the basis for the war, and whether it be through willfull deceit, disastrous incompetence, or a combination of both, BushCo sowed the seeds of mistrust themselves. With more Americans doubting the case for Iraq2, and allies such as Spain and Poland feeling deceived, we lose the necessary counterweight of harmony and are in grave danger of losing this moral conflict.

So what can the Bush administration right now do to be truly "tough on terror"? There's one lesson they should really take from Spain: come clean. The American people are sensing the deceptions used to get us into Iraq, and the adminstration is getting publicly caught in their lies and exaggerations2. In the end, the truth will out and we will punish those who misled us, just as the Spaniards did. It would be much better for BushCo to be up front about their mistakes, truly cooperate with the 9/11 and Iraq Intel commissions, and support a full accounting of what happened.

Beyond any political considerations, being truthful is an absolute requirement for us to defeat al Qaeda and their ilk. If the US government cannot be honest with its own people, then it is clearly not capable of being honest with its allies, nor with the people whose hearts and minds we need to win over if we wish to succeed in this moral conflict.


1 - Boyd spelled it out in Patterns of Conflict, available in complete form as a PDF. The file is a couple meg and is essentially a scan of Boyd's typewritten monograph. For ease of excerption, I'm linking to another site which has distilled the concepts in HTML in a discussion on business strategy.

2 - See MoveOn's Caught on Video for but one example.

3 - PDF of a March 17th poll by Annenburg.

[Update: fixed a couple of things, including my misordered footnotes.] 

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A non-violent, counter-dominant, left-liberal, possibly charismatic, quasi anarcho-libertarian Quaker's take on politics, volleyball, and other esoterica.

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