Time And Tide…

Below, I made a comment to hypocrisyrules in which I said:

Really? No they are looking for a ‘decisive battle’ or some ‘magic strategy’ that will make Iraq 90% better in six months. Ain’t gonna happen. It’s an insurgency, and I’ve been saying for a long, time that it’s going to take six to ten years to know how we’re doing.

I said at the outset that it would, and that if we lacked the bottom to stick it out and slowly win we’d better not go.

The alternative, sadly, is Duncan Black’s version of deterrence. And I don’t really want to play that game; genocide makes me kind of queasy. He appears to have a stronger stomach.

Here’s Bill Roggio on the issue of time:

After spending two months out of the last 12 in the land between the two rivers, one thing I’ve learned is nothing is simple about Iraq, and there are no easy solutions to the vast array of problems. But despite the constant media portrayal of Iraq as a hopelessly violent nation, Iraq is not a nation without hope.

The average life of an insurgency is about nine years. In Iraq, the insurgents and al-Qaeda hope to wear down the will of the American government and people, and precipitate a premature withdrawal. When I talk to American troops about Iraq, their greatest concern isn’t for their safety, but they are worried the American public has given up on the war before they can complete their mission. They watch the news – CNN, MSNBC and FOX News are beamed into the mess halls, some even possess satellite dishes with access to BBC World, Al Jazeera and hundreds of programs at their fingertips. Internet is readily available in many areas. I surfed the web in the center of Fallujah on wireless Internet.

American troops watch the news and follow the debate in real time. They will tell you the war they see on television isn’t the war they are fighting. To the troops, the war as portrayed on television is oversimplified and digested into sound bites. The soldiers are portrayed as victims and the violence is grossly exaggerated.

Not much I can add to that.

18 thoughts on “Time And Tide…”

  1. “In Iraq, the insurgents and al-Qaeda hope to wear down the will of the American government and people, and precipitate a premature withdrawal.”

    If the presence of the US forces were having a significant negative impact on the insurgents and the ever-growing civil war in Iraq, this might be a valid argument, even if it is rather self-centered and self-serving.

    However, because there is also ample evidence suggesting that our presence in Iraq is making the situation worse, not better, than the opposite interpretation is also valid: the insurgents want us to STAY to have a target to shoot at that serves to provoke responses that too frequently involve Iraqi civilians as “collateral damage.”

    In which case, leaving does more to improve the situation than staying.

    The American public doesn’t want to wait 6 or 10 years just to find out “how we’re doing”. What person in their right minds would accept such a calculus? Especially given the vast cost. You must be crazy to suggest that we keep throwing dollars and lives into this for 10 years on the HOPE that it MIGHT work out. These numbers are presumably based on Roggios unsubstantiated claim that “insurgencies last, on average, 9 years”. Really? Guess what these numbers have in common: 22, 10, 3, 1. They average to 9.

    Sticking things out makes sense when you can see improvement in your actions but they’re taking longer perhaps than you expect. Well, regardless of your dismissive tone about the “news from Iraq” (which your thesis requires), it looks like things are getting substantially worse…simply counting the number of civilian deaths last year is enough to tell you that objectively, without the “filter”.

    You can’t simply argue to stick it out under these circumstances…you also have to claim that 1) things are not “as bad” as “everyone thinks” (lots of semantic games being played for this, attacks on the media, and straw-men dismissals of your oppoents like what you falsely suggest is Atrios’ view, the presumed alternative to your approach. My god, am I really trying to reason with someone who argues, or worse, thinks like this???); and 2) Our American spirit and ingenuity can overcome all odds, if we give it the Ol’ College Try; and 3) Even if things are getting worse, it might only be temporary, but we’ll never now if we don’t just give it a try, will we?

    Geez there’s a lot more to criticize in your views but I’m getting tired of typing.

  2. Depends on the alternatives, of course, Andy.

    As noted, there’s always the Duncan Black position to fall back to; the risks there are unacceptably high to me. But maybe not so much to you…


  3. So, what is the likelihood that the American public will put up with an additional 6 years of active military involvement (given the 9 year insurgency clock, 3 years already passed)?

    Even though technically the US armed forces in Korea are not in a nation at peace, the DMZ has not been a hot zone in many, many years.

    So 9 years will be some sort of record, no?

    If US soldiers are still there in Nov 2008, and dying, then will this not be the #1 campaign issue? How could any Republican run on a platform of 4 more years of occupation? How could any Democrat run on a platform that didn’t include a rapid withdrawl?

    Sadly for our troops, the reality of American elections will keep them from completing their mission, I fear. #1 losers will be the Iraqis of course.

    But, as I’ve opined earlier our need to keep Gulf oil smoothly shipping out is great. Recommend you watch this latest Senate committee meeting about the geopolitics of oil and what it means to the US.
    http://energy.senate.gov/public/_files/energy011007.ram (you’ll want to skip to about the 16:00 mark to start.) Yes, Senators can be boring, but that committee meeting is pretty stark in it’s data.

    I’m and not, in any means, whining about “blood for oil”, but rather we really need to put into perspective how important it is for the US to help Iraq become a working nation, and to keep the Gulf region reasonably peaceful and working.

  4. like what you falsely suggest is Atrios’ view, the presumed alternative to your approach.

    Funny, I don’t see A.L. suggesting that Atrios holds any sort of view. He merely links to Atrios, and Atrios himself makes the suggestion.

    I suppose Andy’s point is that Atrios is crazier than a sackful of bobcats, and therefore should not be taken as an expert on anything, not even the state of his own mind – perhaps especially the state of his own mind. It might in fact be irresponsible to credit anything Atrios says, other than “I hate Bush” or “I need to use the restroom.” In fact, Atrios’ normal form of expression is a single four-letter word with a hotlink, which suggests that he does not even reason or communicate the way the rest of us do. If so, his statement about millions of Iranians dying like bitches in a nuclear massacre does not necessary suggest that Atrios has any sort of “view” on the subject.

    Your point is well taken.

  5. Armed Liberal’s arguments are well-known to anyone who has ever walked across a gaming floor in Vegas: we just need to get well. A few more dollars. Extend that credit a little further. Maybe throw the kid’s college fund in there while we’re at it it. Can’t quit now, our luck is just about to change.

    Is there any reason to think our luck is just about to change? No. There is no reason to think this civil war can be made to go away. There is no reason to think Sunnni and Shia will form a unified nation with the Kurds and all together work to expel terrorists. There’s every reason to think that the Shia are primarily interested in payback, and every reason to think the Sunni will resist, and every reason to think the Kurds have already given up on the idea of Iraq.

    Nine years to knock down an insurgency? Wonderful: like it’s all math. How long has Israel been trying to knock down the Palestinians? How long has Russia been working over the Chechens? How long were the Russians in Afghanistan? How long has the Columbian government been fighting narco-terrorists?

    And more to the point: how long to end a religious war that’s in it’s second millenium?

    Mr. Bush was not willing to commit the resources to win this war. He’s still not. And now the American people have concluded he’s unreliable and have written him off to wait out the last two years of his misbegotten reign.

    We went in light, we went in stupid, we created a power vacuum that was filled by the insurgency and then devolved into a religious civil war. We lost this war three and a half years ago.

    A.L. you’re a sweaty-fisted gambler, just like Mr. Bush. You’ll keep throwing the dice until someone drags you away from the table.

  6. AL;

    Even after reading my post, you still offer up the strawman that the alternative to your view is….Atrios’ flippant comment about “nuking ‘em all” (which I can only think was posted in semi-jest and is not serious policy, which of course raises the question as to why you TWICE advanced this as such).

    Did you ever see the Albert Brooks movie “Lost in America”? It’s about a couple who cash in their life savings, buy an RV, and are planning to travel across America to live a “simple life”, living off their “nest egg” of $200K. Before they embark on this mission, however, they decide to renew their wedding vows in Vegas. Well, Albert Brooks wakes up in the middle of the night to find that his wife has surreptitously gone down to the ca-si-no. There he discovers her standing at the rou-lette table mindlessly chanting “22, 2, 2….22, 2, 2….”. She’s in a trance-like state and cannot answer him clearly, but it becomes evident that she gambled away their entire nest egg by betting on the SAME NUMBER all night….on the mistaken presumption that it just hast to hit at least once.

    It doesn’t.

    Like m.takhallus said, its time for you to step away from the table; you’re gambling with peoples lives. Worse yet, you helped elect a like-minded president who holds some seriously dangerous cards in his hand.

    70% OF AMERICANS OPPOSE THIS WAR AND THE ESCALATION. There’s a lot of common sense wisdom in this that you seem to be lacking.

  7. 70% of Americans do not oppose the war. They oppose increasing troop levels. When you shout, try to get your facts straight.

  8. tahhallus has obviously never started a business or even launched an initative from within a large company.

    Both of those also require sweaty-palmed efforts to stay in the game long enough to succeed.

    The difference of course – both in Iraq and in business – is that there are no ‘house odds’ stacked against us. The Vegas gamblers you cite are foolish because most of them ignore obvious facts like that.

    I’m glad you brought up the metaphor, though. My dad was a very successful gambler – there were years he matched his executive salary gambling. His basic model was to look for places where the odds are misperceived, and bet heavily. Because people consistently fail to look at the real facts and really calculate the odds…they just ‘knew’ what they should be – which is one reason I emphasize trying to get to facts through the ‘everyone knows’ fog all the time.

    And yes, my dad had losing weeks; even losing months. But I’m not aware that he ever had a losing year.


  9. So, Andy – we should have folded on the Cold War because it cost too many lives, too much money and lasted too long?

    We differ on one small point; you’re convinced that if we just stopped – pulled back, made nice to Iran and Syria, and promised not to make any waves in the Middle East everything would be just fine. I’m not.

    So here’s a small task for you – lay out your game and explain why it might work.

    Because the option isn’t “Bush’s plan” and “everything’s OK”; it’s “Bush’s plan” and a bunch of other alternatives – which I and a bunch of people who know more than me suggest are likely to be much worse.


  10. And Andy, no Atrios’ post isn’t a jast (even if he meant it as such); it’s the fallback defense policy of a lot of people I talk to who want to pull back from the Middle east – “well, they’ll stop makingtrouble if we stop bothering them, and if they don’t – nuke’ em.”

    The difference, of course, is that they will feel like they have clean hands in doing so (‘…he started it!…’) – see my old post on armedliberal.com on ‘Les Mains Sales’ (you might read it yourself…).


  11. > OK, 61% oppose the war in a recent survey.

    What fraction of that group are opposed to the current “soft” approach, folks who want the US to either go big (and no, the surge doesn’t qualify) or go home.

  12. The first survey cited by Andy X showed 62% of those polled now believe it was a mistake to invade Iraq, which is not quite the same as opposing the war. There a number of people who disagreed with the decision to go to war or think it was a mistake in hindsight, but find it important that America prevail in Iraq. For instance, last month’s CBS poll asked this question:

    bq. *Do you think the United States has a responsibility to make sure that Iraq has a stable government in place before it removes its troops from Iraq, or don’t you think it has this responsibility?*

    57% Has a Responsibility
    38% Does Not
    5% Unsure

  13. “The Vegas gamblers you cite are foolish because most of them ignore obvious facts like [house odds].”

    The other thing people run into at Vegas is the table limit.

    Instead of betting on 22, let’s say you’re betting on red. And instead of “trying to get well,” that is, doubling up your bets, let’s say you structure your bets so that you’ll be ahead when you win. In other words, you’re “tripling up.”

    Now, we know from the Monte Carlo fallacy that red doesn’t actually ever have to come up — the table could, in theory, run all night only producing black. In fact, however, a table is highly likely to produce a red result eventually. When it does, you win — even if you’ve lost all the previous rounds, you’ve structured your betting so that if you win even once, you come out ahead.

    The house prevents this by imposing a table limit. You can’t continue to “triple up” forever, not because the odds are so stacked against you — but precisely because the house knows it will almost always eventually work.

    As an analogy to the current situation, Biden et al are trying to impose a table limit, to ensure the failure of the war. “You can’t conduct cross-border raids/go into Iran/send more troops/etc” is a table limit.

    Wars normally escalate. It’s to be expected: it’s the normal nature of warfare. This is recognized in Clausewitz, and everywhere else it’s been considered.

    If we find that we can’t win with Iran backing two different insurgencies, we raise the stakes for Iran, and see if we can bid them out of the game. Still want to play when your government buildings and military facilities are subject to airstrikes and Navy SEAL raids?

    What we need to avoid is a table limit. To say, “we’ll play this far, and no farther,” is to tell the enemy what his maximum risk is. He’s gambling, too.

    More, he’s gambling with less capital. The usual mathematical rule governing gambling is that someone with less capital who gambles with someone who has greater capital will eventually lose everything. It is, in other words, perfectly rational to keep playing — and raise the stakes.

  14. Great analogy. The other players are prepared to lose their entire capital taking you or each other out – let’s wait for them to fold.

    Still want to play when your government buildings and military facilities are subject to airstrikes and Navy SEAL raids?

    Iranians are like New Romantics. They flounce off the moment their hair is mussed.

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