The Surge And Signalling

TAP hosts a roundtable on the importance of the surge.

There’s a fairly wide range of opinions there, mostly based on the [preset position] + “but who can say?” view of historical analysis.

I’ll add one notion, just for consideration. In my own experience as a poker player, and in my limited reading on the thinking of negotiators and military tacticians – none of which I’ll claim to be expert in – there’s a common tactic, the “bump”.

When I want to signal to other players that “I’m not going anywhere” it’s useful to do two things – buy more chips, and push some chips forward on the table. Similar signaling works in negotiation, and I’m confident that it works in military tactics as well.

Lots of Iraqis had to decide this year which side they were going to come down on. It seems obvious to me that the relative commitment of the US is one key factor that drove their thinking. If you’re confident that the US is short-timing, then siding with pro-US Iraqi factions probably seems like a path to a painful and bloody death. We sent a successful signal – both by being willing to remake our strategy and by raising troop levels, and that signal allowed people to make decisions feeling like they’re doing so with some promise of protection by our armed forces.

Somehow that seems obvious to me – am I missing something?

58 thoughts on “The Surge And Signalling”

  1. Well, here is how Anthony Cordesman described what happened:

    bq. _The increase in forces (5 Brigades ~ 20,000 U.S. troops plus 30,000 additional Iraqi troops in Baghdad) did enable the MNF-I to make some gains against AQI and sectarian violence. So did US military planning that developed and implemented a counterinsurgency doctrine, and a strategy based on that doctrine, that emphasized the primacy of population security and the political line of operations. These measures did help to enable the Sunni tribal “awakening” and its spread. *This would not have been possible without the tribes’ new hope of success that resulted from the arrival of additional forces.* More importantly, it would not have been possible without the change in employment of US forces to deploy and remain in neighborhoods and rural areas versus the previous strategy of operating only from large bases._

    “The Tenuous Case for Strategic Patience PDF”:http://www.csis.org/media/csis/pubs/080607_iraq-strategicpatience.pdf

  2. > am I missing something?
    No.

    John Nagl and Michael O’Hanlon strike me as the most judicious and perceptive of the commenters.

    After following events via “The Long War Journal’s”:http://www.longwarjournal.org/ reports as well as via the media, it’s a little disheartening to read most of these experts crediting “Muqtada al-Sadr’s decision to stand down.” Perhaps they are uninformed (unlikely). More likely is some combination of think-tank spin, and the use of very abbreviated shorthand–they and their well-versed readers know the context of Sadr’s “stand down” and “freeze”, even if many TAP visitors don’t.

    It would be interesting to hear Bill Roggio’s or Michael Yon’s take on this point.

    What the TAP roundtable misses is that Sadr didn’t choose peace or reconciliation. As 2007 and early 2008 progressed, his range of options diminished. This was achieved through actions directed by Gen. Petraeus, and then by Maliki and the Iraqi security forces as well. The Byzantine shifts in the alignments among Iranian factions and their Iraqi Shi’ia proxies presumably contributed, too.

    Neither McCain nor Obama would get a passing grade for their grasp of recent events in Iraq. Perhaps their advisors will come up to speed. Depressing, that.

  3. Not at all, in my amateur opinion. The commentaries that I’ve read that make the most sense to me all make variations on that general theme as well.

    If you’re missing anything, it would be additional possible implications on that theme, such as:

    1) All players in the game saw that same signal and had to determine a reaction. This applies not only to Sunni insurgents and potential insurgents, but also to the government of Iran.

    2) Part of the signal is not just the signal, but even the ability to signal. If my hypothetical rich uncle pulls out a thousand dollars at the game table, that’s one thing. If I do it, the new information is not only that I’m willing to play another thousand, but that I had it in my pocket in the first place.

    The analogy in this is situation is that the Iranians had good reason to believe that we were flat unable to produce the necessary troops for a surge in the first place. First, we’d been bombarded for months about a shredded, hollowed out military; second, Congressional Democrats were in a full-throated roar about how this just wasn’t going to happen. Bush conjured it onto the table, anyway. (Hell, I didn’t think it was going to happen.)

    3) Discounting uneducated teen-aged thugs who are generally too young and stupid to be afraid, I think we scare the crap out them as much as they’re trying to scare the crap out of us. When reading such lurid threats and histrionics as the various thugs in the region are capable of putting out, it’s easy to lose sight of that. Learning that they’ve so fundamentally misjudged the depth of our pockets had to have really rattled the hell out of the whole region.

    There’s more to it than the card game analogy, obviously. That particular card game is zero-sum. This doesn’t actually have to be.

    (Aside– Really? The name of that card game is blacklisted? Seriously?)

  4. ‘Am I missing something?’

    You’re missing the nuance. Obama said we don’t know what would’ve happened had we followed his de-escalation plan. I laughed out loud when I heard the community organizing lawyer say that. I wanted to say; well Senator Obama we also don’t know what would’ve happened if we left Saddam in charge with corrupted “partners” in the Oil For Food Program. After all, Saddam probably corrupted that program so he could afford to make lollipops and gumballs for all the Shiite and Kurdish children of Iraq, right?

  5. It is also possible to interpret the response to the surge in the opposite way: that many Iraqis saw this as the last major effort by the US to engage the conflict on military terms.

    This signal is that “we’re getting out after this, you better try to make it work”.

    If they thought we’d be around forever, what would be their motivation for working toward security independence?

  6. “If they thought we’d be around forever, what would be their motivation for working toward security independence?”

    National pride.

    There was probably no small amount of that on all sides of the conflict, but the trick was to manuever the sitaution so that the best shot at an Iraq you could be proud of was free, democratic, prosperous, educated, etc. We had to signal that the sort of pride held by certain Somalias or Vietnamese wasn’t really an option while patiently explaining if the best you could take pride in was that you convinced the Americans your country wasn’t worth fighting for, then that path just led to your country being a hell hole.

    The secret to winning the WoT in the medium term will be convincing moslems that there is alot of honor in algebra and none in suicide bombs. There will still be conflict after that (humanity being what it is), but it will occur within the Westphalian framework of a war between nations.

  7. OFF TOPIC. BUT…
    AL,

    Is there A way I might contact you directly. I would like to ask you a few questions about the economics of the site.

    TOC

  8. I think the signal is important, but the success was mostly dependent on the Awakening — because only Iraqis can ever win in Iraq.
    The Surge without the Awakening would have failed to quickly reduce the violence, until it stimulated its own Awakening.
    The Awakening, even without the Surge, would have succeeded, albeit far more slowly.

    The Awakening also shows that the 2004-2007 violence in Iraq was mostly the fault of violence-toleration by Iraqi leaders. The anti-Bush media blame Bush, when they should be blaming the Iraqi tribal leaders who, before the awakening, were NOT fighting AQ.

    Funny how none of the TAP folk who also don’t want to credit the surge are strongly avoiding crediting Rumsfeld, as also on this site.
    The “light footprint” was probably the way to get Iraqis to fight for themselves with the fewest Americans killed. Had the US had 300 000 troops, I suspect less violence sooner, but no Awakening and more acceptance of anti-American targeting for longer.

    But I don’t expect honest evaluation until after the elections — both in Iraq and in the US.

  9. you’re missing the Iraqis.
    The Americans essentially rebuilt the Iraqi police and military from the ground up, and they go along with them to make sure they stay honest.
    The main reason Americans need a low profile but strong presence there is to keep them honest…

    At the same time Sadr’s militia turned into a bunch of thugs from power going to their heads, so locals turned against them.

    Americans who think “Viet Nam” or “bad vs good” guys are the only way to see these things are wrong. It’s carrot and stick and keep the pressure on, while you win hearts and minds.

    You need to look on how Magsaysay eliminated the Huks. Sure, we still have NPA and MILF and all sorts of terrorists, but people can live and work without too much worry.
    The real problem is corruption, both here and in Iraq.
    If you know a way to get rid of that, let me know…

  10. “The anti-Bush media blame Bush, when they should be blaming the Iraqi tribal leaders who, before the awakening, were NOT fighting AQ.”

    I don’t really blame anyone but the terrorists. Sometimes there isn’t an easy solution. Sometimes, things are just hard. There was never a magic bullet in Iraq. When the looting broke out following the fall of Baghdad, I knew we were in for a long slog because it meant that the people of Iraq – after allowing a tyrant to take power and then suffering under him for 30 years – had completely lost thier moral center. I didn’t realize how long, nor how bloody, but I knew that we came close to winning and losing the war on the same day. And, I knew that there was going to be no easy answers. But I never really doubted we’d win.

    These things are like births and surgeries. Even when they go well, they always involve alot of blood and mess. Iraq didn’t go as well as one could have hoped, but it did go as well as one could have expected given the ambitious goals set at the onset. Years from now, Iraq will be studied as much for all that was done right as for all that was done wrong. But as I’ve always said, with the position we had on the board, it was almost impossible to lose the game except by resigning. Given the high professionalism, intelligence, and flexibility of the US military, the only fragile point was morale at home.

  11. Celebrim thinks we’re playing chess.

    But as I’ve always said, with the position we had on the board, it was almost impossible to lose the game except by resigning.

    Wrong game. We’re playing blacqjack and our team is headed by a drunken, reckless gambler who operates under the theory that our stake isn’t really “lost” until we cash out what chips we have left. Until then, why, we might hit a winning streak.

    The amazing thing is, we did hit an unexpected winning streak, and we still don’t, apparently, have enough to cash out. Maybe because we’d be leaving behind unresolved issues about revenues, Kirkuk, honest Rule of Law, not to mention the unattained Permanent Bases of the neocon maniacs.

  12. Why shouldn’t we have permanent bases in Iraq Andrew? That’s a good way to put pressure on Iran to stop it’s nuke program (by sponsoring ugly terror attacks against THEM for a switch-a-roo, payback for the last 30 years). I think it would be the foremost advantage of the US to have those bases to make Iran stop it’s nukes.

    What won was both more boots on the ground that CREATED a reality, and a change in tactics and men at the top (like Petraeus). Petraeus realized that AQI were as much a threat to the tribal power structure as an ally, and used force to clear and hold areas away from them, without the prior restrictions. AQI were crushed, and crushed hard wherever the US moved against them.

    THAT was the reality.

    A series of crushing defeats, loss of territory, and some very innovative tactical and strategic thinking by guys on the ground.

    For example, use of UAVs to keep surveillance on targets or areas constantly, day and night, denying the enemy mobility. Any time the enemy engaged, close air support with precision guided weapons, sometimes even concrete filled kinetic bombs taking out merely a corner of a building. Leaving intact the cities and towns, but deadly nevertheless to the AQI terrorists/insurgents. Who expected the Russians in Chechnya and got the US Marines and US Army supported by Air Force and Navy and Army flyers in helicopters and fixed wing aircraft. Combined Arms at it’s finest.

    I would not be shocked to see years later estimations of 20,000 or more AQI war dead. The killing was that significant from estimates I’ve seen over at BlackFive and other places.

    But probably, the extended use, often of the small, squad-launched UAVs to perform scout-recon duties and call in the big boys for close air support was the deciding factor along with the skill and bravery of the men on the ground. The enemy had nothing like the UAVs and certainly nothing like the quantities. It was like the P-51 Mustang flying combat support alongside B-17’s into Germany in 1943-44. THAT decisive a weapon.

  13. I’ll add:

    Bush bet on the troops and Petraeus.

    Obama and the Media and Dems bet on AQI and Osama and Zarqawi and Iran.

    Who made the stupid bet? Who’s the idiot?

    Bottom line: Obama and Co. put their chips on the enemy, hoping and believing he would win because he was 20 feet tall and invincible.

    Heck Greenwald continues today calling for a “Viet Cong” style Democratic Congress — ignoring that the VC were destroyed after Tet and never anything significant after that (as opposed of course, to the NVA).

    Liberals ascribe “unbeatable” to guerillas which is as silly as thinking that an NFL team won’t ever lose.

  14. Why shouldn’t we have permanent bases in Iraq Andrew? That’s a good way to put pressure on Iran to stop it’s nuke program

    Well, I suppose because the Iraqis probably don’t want them. (If they do, that’s another matter.) And, I might add, for the Shiite majority in Iraq, if we plan to use bases on Iraqi soil to threaten Iran, they will like them even less. Whether they are useful for our political purposes isn’t really relevant, assuming that Iraq is some sort of sovereign entity.

    Is the idea that Iraq is to be treated as a conquered territory, like Germany and Japan? And even there, our bases served largely to protect those countries against an external enemy, in the place of their own armed forces, which were not permitted to reconstitute themselves. I rather doubt if Iraq feels menaced by Iran. Or to put it another way, as I have before, Germany is an appropriate example, except it’s East Germany, and we’re looking for a status of forces agreement similar to the Warsaw Pact.

    Who made the stupid bet? Who’s the idiot?

    Bush, in 2003. It’s just taken three years for the results to come in.

    What A.L. is missing (and most of the TAP commenters do not) is that affiliation with US forces doesn’t mean the same thing for each party in Iraq, because their various intentions for the future of the country are not identical and probably not compatible. That is, when a Sunni tribe uses American help to rout AQI, that’s good, but it isn’t any sort of a bridge to reconciliation with a Shiite-dominated central government. George Bush didn’t only say the surge would reduce violence—I’m not sure that benefit was ever in dispute—he also said it would lead to political rapprochement that has so far mostly failed to materialize. Comparing the surge results to the ex ante victory criteria, and finding it has fallen short—just less short than we are used to from Bush initiatives—is why the country as a whole isn’t celebrating Mission Almost Accomplished in Iraq. (Seventy Iraqis died from political violence on Monday.)

    BTW, Greenwald does not appear to have said “Viet Cong” Congress, rather, one of his opponents describes it that way. Quite a difference.

  15. Insightful commentary, AJL–much to reflect on.

    But you also made me chuckle:

    bq. George Bush didn’t only say the surge would reduce violence—I’m not sure that benefit was ever in dispute.

    I can think of one Chicago pol who did go on the record to contest that point. Some things are only obvious with benefit of hindsight.

  16. Good grief, Andrew – the presence of US forces in Iraq doesn’t mean the same thing to a set of factions in the US; what do you realistically expect Iraqi politics to be like?

    The news is that they have politics now, not sectarian warfare. What frustrates me about almost all the Iraq war opponents is that they are so welded to their anti-Bush narrative that they can’t step away and try and look at the thing itself.

    I don’t much like Bush. His domestic policies were a farrago of bribes to buy political acquiescence and payoffs to political supporters. I supported him only because I thought he was right about the war – or rather more right than Kerry, who was and remains a fool.

    But I’d feel a lot better about the opponents of the war if it wasn’t (to many of them) simply a club they could use to bash their partisan enemies over the head with. Real lives are at stake, and I continue to believe that the stake are large.

    A.L.

  17. AL: …I’d feel a lot better about the opponents of the war if it wasn’t (to many of them) simply a club they could use to bash their partisan enemies over the head with.

    A better example of projection would be hard to find. Your posts and comments (ostensibly) about Iraq typically say much more about your contempt for leftists than they do about that distant land.

  18. “The amazing thing is, we did hit an unexpected winning streak…”

    Says you.

    Ok, let’s say we are playing Bl@ckjack. The chess analogy is more appropriate because in Chess, unlike Bl@ckjack, you really lose peices rather than just trade them around, but ok, I can play your whole ‘force the analogy well beyond the point of utility and think that thereby you are making an argument’ game.

    Even if we weren’t headed up by the MIT card c0unting team, the fact is that we came to the table with alot more chips than the enemy did. Even if it were true that we were headed by ‘drunken, reckless gambler’ (I’ve been doing too much reading about the Truman and Johnson administrations lately to be that scathing about what has been a comparitively well managed campaign) and even it were true that we shouldn’t have sat down at the table, we are still going to walk away with the enemies chips. The enemy has not been lucky enough, nor skillful enough, nor has our play been defective enough to squander the massive advantage we enjoy. The Bush team has been far more flexible and imaginative than the Johnson team, and has been far more willing to let commanders in the field run the war. Under those conditions, we could hardly lose. It’s alot easier to say that now than it was in 2006, but I was saying it in 2006 as well. ‘Unexpected’ my hind-end.

    Early on someone asked me to define victory, and I said it was making Iraq at least as functional of a state and as friendly to US interests as Columbia. Yes, that’s a low standard, but its a much better position to be in than we were. I’m now confident that barring a major policy reversal by the next administration, we will largely achieve our stated goals in Iraq. I’m equally confident that the opposition to the war will continue to define it as defeat on various spurious grounds, just as you are doing now, but frankly I don’t really care. History is going to grind your stupidity down, just as I said it would. Have fun with the cognitive dissonance.

    “Your posts and comments (ostensibly) about Iraq typically say much more about your contempt for leftists than they do about that distant land.”

    Sometime I’m going to have to argue publically with AL just so you’ll understand how Liberal he actually is, particularly on domestic issues. It’s ridiculous that you think he’s some sort of conservative. (Heck, Bush isn’t even particularly conservative and AL is wide to the left of Bush.) Your problem is you’ve become a single issue voter. AL is a Hawk, and he despises how some people on the left represent the ideology (in much the same way I despise people on the right that live up to the ignorant racist sterotype the left has), but he’s no conservative.

  19. _But I’d feel a lot better about the opponents of the war if it wasn’t (to many of them) simply a club they could use to bash their partisan enemies over the head with._

    AL, isn’t that like saying that you’d feel better about opponents of government spending if they didn’t use government spending as a club to bash their partisan enemies over the head with…. I mean, for my part at least, the decision to invade Iraq _is_ the defining partisan issue; it is what creates the divide.

    Or to come at it from a different angle, If I opposed the war as a mistake in the first place, and see the very need for the surge (i.e., an infusion of combat troops 5 years later to keep violence to “acceptable levels”) as further evidence that the invasion was a mistake, why _shouldn’t_ I point this out.

  20. Mark: Because your readers sense that your dominant approach to the interpretation of every fact is how it can be used to revile Bush, not what it really tells us about what’s going right or wrong about the Iraq conflict, and what next step would most likely lead to desirable results.

  21. “I mean, for my part at least, the decision to invade Iraq is the defining partisan issue; it is what creates the divide.”

    Thanks for being frank about it at least.

    You have every right to point out your opposition to the war. You won’t hear any complaints from me so long as your analysis is rational, factual, and reasoned. I probably won’t listen to it if you don’t have some sort of plan on where we go from here, but I see no reason to complain about opposition to the war itself.

    I really only take interest when people start throwing out counterfactual statements like “we did hit an unexpected winning streak” and “Bush didn’t only say the surge would reduce violence—I’m not sure that benefit was ever in dispute” – and worse, at the same !@#$!@#$! time!

    I don’t mind honest criticism of the war or the war effort, particularly if it is directed toward obtaining victory. Heck, I don’t even mind partisanship, since the GOP has really reflected my interests since like 1996 and I have a proven ability to launch into rants about Bush myself. What really bothers me is that too many anti-war commentators like AJL advance internally contridictory, unreflective, emotion driven opinions where it is clear that they’ll say and believe anything so long as it is negative, and where it is far from clear that they actually believe that victory would be a desirable result.

    For some of the most vocal opponents of the Iraq war, I don’t think that the Iraq War is actually the defining issue, nor that it creates the divide. I think the defining issue is the 2000 elections. I think that they’d be perfectly willing to support the war if Gore was running it (just as many Republican pundits would then castigate it), and I think that the Iraq War is merely a useful thing to latch on to to spew thier a priori frustration and rage over the outcome of the 2000 elections.

    If they actually had latched on to those things I consider Bush’s real mismanagement, they might find in me a somewhat willing ally. But as long as they are going to be ridiculous and make the Iraq War the defining issue, I’m going to be on the other side saying, ‘Win! Win! Win!’ as long as it takes.

  22. Mark:

    Because you’re arguing with the world of five years ago, not the world of today. Five years ago, the debate was whether or not to invade. That decision, no matter how much you opposed it, was made.

    What do you gain except a really bitter form of satisfaction from re-living the past?

  23. celebrim,

    You’ve stated your opinions about the opinions of others quite well. However, you provide no rational basis for holding those opinions—not that you need to—and I am not persuaded of the accuracy of your belief’s about the true motivations behind the opposition to the war. If “internally contridictory, unreflective, emotion driven opinions ” are what really bother you, you can grab handfuls of them out of the bag of opinions that were used to justify the Iraq invasion.

    _If they actually had latched on to those things I consider Bush’s real mismanagement, they might find in me a somewhat willing ally. But as long as they are going to be ridiculous and make the Iraq War the defining issue, I’m going to be on the other side saying, ‘Win! Win! Win!’ as long as it takes_ You might reconsider who it is you bother to read and listen to, and just who “they” are. It seems to me you are avoiding the stronger arguments and selecting the weaker ones to attack. You also have a tendency to attack not the arguments themselves but the imagined lifestyle and hidden motivations of the people–vaguely defined & usually represented by the most extreme of the category–who are making the arguments.

  24. Marcus,

    Since the war is on-going, whether one (a candidate for president, say) views it as a mistake or not has a great deal of bearing on how one determines what the best course of action will be. Obama seeks to find the best way to disengage, given the circumstances. The desire to disengage is premised partly on the view of the engagement as a mistake to begin with. McCain, on the other hand, seems more concerned about the perception of our side as “winning” than in disengagement, a view largely driven by having supported the war in the first place.

    The other equally important reason why the question of whether it was a mistake or not remains vital — especially when choosing a president or looking toward the future — is that how one views the recent past can be a helpful indication of how one would view similar situations in the future.

    So I do think that much is to be gained…not in reliving the past but in thinking about the past.

  25. It’s ridiculous that you think [AL is] some sort of conservative.

    I never said he was. As a regular reader I know AL’s politics pretty well. He is a Neo-Jacobin, hostile to both Burkean conservatism and every kind of liberalism except the militarist liberalism of Christopher Hitchens and others of that ilk. That isn’t liberalism at all in my book but I don’t get to tell people what labels they are to use.

    Your problem is you’ve become a single issue voter.

    What issue would that be? The Nice Treaty, perhaps? I don’t have a vote in US elections.

  26. I’ve quoted the following from W so often I should put it on Speed Dial.

    So America will hold the Iraqi government to the benchmarks it has announced. To establish its authority, the Iraqi government plans to take responsibility for security in all of Iraq’s provinces by November [2007]. To give every Iraqi citizen a stake in the country’s economy, Iraq will pass legislation to share oil revenues among all Iraqis. To show that it is committed to delivering a better life, the Iraqi government will spend $10 billion of its own money on reconstruction and infrastructure projects that will create new jobs. To empower local leaders, Iraqis plan to hold provincial elections later this year [2007]. And to allow more Iraqis to re-enter their nation’s political life, the government will reform de-Baathification laws, and establish a fair process for considering amendments to Iraq’s constitution.

    Michael O’Hanlon in the TAP confererence claimed that “about half of key legislative goals have been partially or fully satisfied, even if much remains to be done[.]” His math is very disingenuous (partially fulfilled, a negative pregnant, seems to include the legislature passing measures that the awkward multiple presidency vetoes or is sure to veto) and far from encouraging even at face value.

    The Surge has managed to reduce violence to the levels of 2004, that were considered unacceptable at the time. If that were its final goal, it would certainly be a success. Beyond that, however, it’s another story. By reinforcing local groups separately, the COIN policy actually takes Iraq further from a unitary state and closer to ethnically-cleansed devolution. (That might be the best remaining feasible result, but it isn’t our declared policy.)

    According to Google, the war in Colombia kills on the order of 3500 persons a year from a population over half-again again as large as that of Iraq. The Iraq Body Count, which I believe is at the very lowest end of the range, has over 5000 deaths this year through May. In other words, the surge needs to reduce violence a further 75 percent to bring about something like Colombia. As far as political power in the central government, I don’t think there’s any comparison between Iraq and Colombia (even if we discount Kurdistan’s semi-independence as a blessing).

    and where it is far from clear that they actually believe that victory would be a desirable result.

    And I have to say again, whose victory? Ahmad Chalabi suckered an entire movement of self-described realists with a fantasy of Iraq choosing the United States and Israel over Iran and Palestine. Colombia is to Venezuela as Iraq is to Iran—NOT! Focusing on the unattainable pot-o’-gold is the language of scamsters.

  27. bq. whether one (a candidate for president, say) views it as a mistake or not has a great deal of bearing on how one determines what the best course of action will be. Obama seeks to find the best way to disengage, given the circumstances. The desire to disengage is premised partly on the view of the engagement as a mistake to begin with. McCain, on the other hand, seems more concerned about the perception of our side as “winning” than in disengagement, a view largely driven by having supported the war in the first place.

    If I may stretch the p0k3r analogy beyond its breaking point for a second:

    If you bet big on an inside straight the first round of betting, and another round later you’re heads-up against the low chip holder who wants to play the hand through, the best course of action is *not* to second-guess your original wager and fold. That’s an automatic loss. You only enrich your opponent at your own expense. Instead, the better course of action is to place your bets in such a manner that your _opponent_ finds it necessary to fold. And that includes acting to create the “perception of winning”.

    In case you forgot, p0k3r is about playing the man across from you, not your own cards. AJL should have left the analogy at chess if you don’t like to admit the importance of perceptions to influence the outcomes.

    Marcus Vitruvius was correctly pointing out that, right now, it doesn’t matter whether Obama thinks the original invasion was a mistake. The goal is to create a winning scenario, to capture the most chips, to avoid conceding anything to your opponent and strengthening his position on the table. The argument is that Obama’s _current_ plan creates an inherently losing scenario, whereas McCain’s has decent odds of “winning” in as much a sense as can be realized in such a war.

    Now if you want to argue about either candidate’s potential wisdom in determining when to engage in a war in the future, then you can go back and talk about Obama’s “foresight” that leaving Sadaam in place would be a better situation today, and McCain’s support for what turned out to be a 5+ year engagement. In my mind Obama still loses that argument. But at least it would make more rational sense, than claiming hindsight excuses his apparent refusal to try winning the game with the current hand.

  28. Unbeliever,

    Since I didn’t make, haven’t used and don’t accept the cardgame analogy, your comments don’t have much relevance to the quote from my comment with which you prefaced them.

    Obama’s plan presumes a different goal than McCain’s. So your argument that Obama’s plan is an ineffectual way of reaching McCain’s goal, while perhaps correct, misses the point. (The cardgame analogy assumes everyone shares the same goal, which is why it’s kind of silly and misleading.)

    Obama’s goal, as I see it, is extrication of US forces from the mess in Iraq. The belief is that a prolonged, slow disengagement of 16 months (starting next January) will give the Iraqis enough time (and force them) to fill the power structures that the US currently provides.

    The question of whether the war was originally a mistake or not gets to the issue of the proper use of US military force as an instrument of foreign policy. I don’t see how that cannot be among the principle issues of the election.

  29. mark – I’d be interested in hearing why you think the cardgame analogy doesn’t apply (it’s a corollary to my question to AJL about why he sees war as always a zero-sum game – Andrew, I’d still love to hear more on that from you, and this seems like a good thread for it).

    A.L.

  30. A.L., I wasn’t sure about the etiquette of thread transplant.

    War as a negative-sum game.

    I’ve read that by the end of the US Civil War, eighty percent of the wealth of the South had vanished, through the Emancipation Proclamation and through physical destruction. The South was left an economic ruin for a century—the same century in which emancipation of the former slaves and their descendants was incomplete. Against this, we have to weigh the partial liberation of African Americans and the industrialization of the North. That’s a hard comparison to make because of its apples-to-oranges nature, but let’s look at another war that’s generally seen as a “good” war.

    After World War Two, Europe lay in ruins. Besides the enormous death toll, entire countries faced housing crises and starvation. The cultural capital of the cradle of Western Civ was damaged (how many cathedrals got turned into dust?), and the point that lets us make a comparison is at the end, the citizens of Poland, the Baltic States, Hungary, Albania, Czechoslovakia, Romania, and Bulgaria ended up living under governments that were worse than they had before the war. Indeed, for some of them (obviously, not the Slavs and the Jews), they were under a government more cruel than what the Germans established.

    None of this means these wars should not have been fought, because in winning them, something much worse than the status quo ante bellum (is that correct Latin??) was prevented. But that isn’t germane to the question of whether war is a positive or negative sum game. Nor, in answering a question like that, is it fair to discount the sufferings of the “losers” or “bad” side because they “deserved” it—which means the ethnic cleansing of something like 100 million Germans after WWII goes into the account. (I don’t know how one would even analyze the mass rape of German women, but it’s hardly an advertisement for war’s benefits.) And while the USA became a great power, it merely replaced Great Britain in this role.

    And think how much worse the situation was with less noble wars. World War One? “The candles are going out all over Europe.”

    I suppose if I thought long enough, there would be an exception to the rule. But if war brings net benefits, shouldn’t we be encouraging more of them instead of fewer?

  31. AJL: I think one thing missing from your calculas is the future. I’ll use the Civil War as an example.

    One of the concerns that animated people like Abraham Lincoln was whether slavery as a system would expand beyond Southern planation economies into such things as Northern manufacturing. For a long time this view has been poohed with the backwards looking certainty that slavery was unprofitable and headed for dustbin. More recently, some have concluded that slavery was indeed an economicly efficient system.

    On another track, there are a few points in history, particularly surrounding the Presidency of Andrew Jackson, where economic improvements in the South were blocked by slave powers that saw economic diversification to be a long-term threat to slavery. In other words, the bad effects resulting from the subsequent destruction of the slave economy were systematically being made worse and probably would continue to worsen.

    In sum, the costs of the civil war must include consideration of some risk that the United States would make a slave-based economy work for the future. It also must consider whether future developments would make the slave-dependency worse for the South (and the North).

    Back to Iraq: I think critics focus on unreasonable idealism of war supporters, but there is also the issue of whether continuing the status quo in Iraq was making all of the problems worse for Iraqis and everyone else. It’s not merely idealism, but a pessimistic view of the future that informs the accounting.

  32. PD Shaw, on the Civil War I think we are in agreement. (Only the 21st Century is a problem.) My comments about war as a negative-sum game don’t preclude the possibility that the counterfactual alternatives would also have been a downward departure from the point of divergence. I’d say that’s a lock for WW2, and although I’m just a casual reader on the subject, I think recent scholarship is rehabilitating the Northern Whig fear of a slaveocracy extending (and strengthening itself) in Mexico and Central America. To me, it’s a completely open question whether the most powerful interests in the Slave states would have, eventually, seen internal improvements as more beneficial as time wore on. However, I couldn’t disagree more with those teenage-libertarians who blithely assume that evil is always economically inefficient and will be erased by the Invisible Hand.

  33. Well, AJL we are in agreement 150 years ago. I don’t want to sidetrack the AL/AJL discussion, but personally what I find most difficult with the war opponent side of the equation is the failure to consider the costs of the status quo. And its frustrating since we obviously don’t know what those costs would have been.

  34. FWIW, I find that p0k3r analogies are generally an excellent method for understanding intelligence and military theory. If, that is, you understand p0k3r. But you do. :)

  35. bq. by the end of the US Civil War, eighty percent of the wealth of the South had vanished, through the Emancipation Proclamation and through physical destruction.

    Regarding human chattel, that’s quite some notion you’ve got there.

    Let’s assume the value of a slave to his slaveowner is $1000. If that slave is killed, then, yes, that slaveowner has lost $1000 of wealth… narrow as that view is.

    Now let’s consider emancipation. Whatever value the slave (or his labor) was assigned, it hasn’t been destroyed, but transferred.

    bq. by the end of the US Civil War, (X minus 80) percent of the wealth of white Southerners had vanished through physical destruction, while another X percent was transferred to the newly-freed black Southerners.

    Less eloquent, but perhaps not the best expression of the actual circumstances to begin with.

    Back to p0k3r and bla_k_ack analogies.

  36. AMac, if we leave the morality of slavery out of it, then I’m not sure I see your point. If newly freed slaves could sell themselves back into slavery, then there would have been a transfer of wealth from the slave owners to the freedmen. But genuine emancipation demonetized human beings, and the freedmen had no wealth whatsoever, or at most the forty acres and a mule. (Even that was, of course, a mere transfer from an earlier white owner.) The investments the Southerners had made in their slaves became worthless, as worthless as property that was actually destroyed.

    Compare what actually happened to the plan Lincoln had at one point to raise an enormous sum of money through bonds (something like $1 billion in 1862 money) to compensate the South for gradual emancipation. It’s hard to reconcile this with the idea that emancipation was an economically neutral transfer of wealth.

  37. Your account has killing people and freeing people as indistinguishable. What that tells me is that it isn’t going to make a very useful analogy. This construct (along with tropes like “the components of your human body are worth $431,209″ and “this year, the average housewife in the US deserved compensation of $135,711″) instead points out the limitations of forcing square pegs into round holes.

    Closer to the topic, I agree that “War is often a negative-sum game” and “That does not mean that a given war should not have been fought.” Those statements can stand on their own.

  38. The ante bellum South was a feudal economy, and its wealth was in land and souls. Slavery always impoverishes free men who do not own land or slaves, because it prevents a free market in labor. It also stifled capitalism and manufacturing – the factories and railroads that Sherman destroyed were a tiny portion of the South’s wealth. Plantations stifled small farms. Many southerners never had a job in their lives until they joined the Confederate Army.

    Southerners pointed this out for decades, until secession mania made it politically incorrect (and mortally dangerous) to criticize slavery.

    The potential wealth that was unleashed when that system was destroyed was far greater than what was lost, and far more widely distributed.

    AMac:

    More recently, some have concluded that slavery was indeed an economicly efficient system.

    I’d like to know who thought it was efficient. To grow even on its own terms, it required an increasing supply of land and slaves – pro-slavery radicals did not only demand the preservation of existing slavery, they demanded that slavery be expanded into the west, and they dreamed of a slave empire that would swallow Mexico and South America.

  39. Andrew I’m pretty shocked that you consider the loss of wealth by the Southern slaveholders through the liberation of their slaves purely as an economic loss which must be counted as a part of the costs of the war. To be blunt, that’s an evil accounting. Freeing the slaves and stopping slavery would have been worth doing had it cost ten times more in blood and treasure, just as fighting Hitler and Communism would have been worthwhile even had we lost.

    There’s a moral dimension to this that goes beyond GDP, and while people may have widely different ideas of personal morality, I would deeply hope that there are certain things on which we would all agree.

    A.L.

  40. AMac: PD Shaw #39:

    bq. More recently, some have concluded that slavery was indeed an economicly efficient system.

    These invocations of economic analogies are distracting because the domain of economics as a science is restricted.

    “Gordie:”:http://www.uselessmoviequotes.com/umq_s028.htm Mickey’s a mouse, Donald’s a duck, Pluto’s a dog. What’s Goofy?
    Teddy: Goofy’s a dog. He’s definitely a dog.
    Chris: He can’t be a dog. He wears a hat and drives a car.
    Vern: God, that’s weird. What the Hell is Goofy?

    “Not even wrong.”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Not_even_wrong

  41. Andrew I’m pretty shocked that you consider the loss of wealth by the Southern slaveholders through the liberation of their slaves purely as an economic loss which must be counted as a part of the costs of the war.

    I disagree with the word purely. If, however, we want to analyze the costs of the war, or, better, the results of the war, we have to understand that the moral improvement of emancipation was accompanied by an act that impoverished the Southern wealth-holding class in one stroke. (We have to add to that the losses in men, livestock, homes, industry, etc., but that isn’t controversial.) Before the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln had been considering an outright wealth transfer, through compensation, of about 25 percent of annual GDP.

    Suppose we were colonizing some remote island where wealth was measured in cattle (which was, of course, pretty much the attitude if the slave owners), and as militant vegetarians we come in and require that all of the animals be allowed wander away. The wealth of the community has just disappeared, and, no, it doesn’t represent a transfer of wealth to the cattle.

    As I said, my interest in this isn’t that extensive, but from this thread I can see why study of the economic efficiency (or lack thereof) of slavery was first left to Marxist historians: the others were too caught up in the ethics of the situation. An analysis of the costs of WWII has to include the damage done to Germany and the post-war losses of the Volksdeutsch, notwithstanding these people’s depravity.

    Glen’s argument founders on the simple historical fact that no such potential wealth materialized in the South after the Civil War. It’s possible, of course, to attribute this solely or primarily to the ongoing bigotry of the Southern whites, but I doubt if that’s accurate. Indeed, I’d guess that (a) lack of capital for investment and (b) climate and topography were both much more important. The feudal nature of the antebellum economy passed, but the agrarian nature remained. I remember someone commenting during the 1973 energy crisis that the mass industrialization of the South depended in large part on the invention of the Air Conditioner.

  42. bq. but from this thread I can see why study of the economic efficiency (or lack thereof) of slavery was first left to Marxist historians…

    AJL, your comments can veer between the insightful and the obtuse. How much you flatter or curse yourself by noting your (relative) closeness to those Marxist historians isn’t the point. Rather, it is that analogies are of limited use in understanding a complex situation. The dynamics of topics under discussion here–“The Surge and Signalling,” originally–aren’t elucidated by casual (#38) references to the economics of Emancipation, or for that matter by the more careful follow-on explanations.

    Not even wrong. Islands, cattle, and vegetarians, the same–unless this metaphor is to be a springboard for a discussion of Peter Singer’s concepts of animal rights…

  43. AL,

    _mark – I’d be interested in hearing why you think the cardgame analogy doesn’t apply_

    There are many reasons but the first two that spring to mind are that the analogy begs two questions.

    The first, as I hinted at earlier, is that a game-analogy presumes all players agree on the rules and on the goal. As a way of evaluating the plans (or “visions”) for Iraq of McCain & Obama, the analogy doesn’t work because they have different goals. Obama is trying to figure out the best way to leave, while McCain is trying to figure out the best way to win (as he sees “winning.”)

    The other major problem is that in the cardgame chips are the only measure of value and, more importantly, their value is agreed upon by all players. In a situation such a war there are a multiplicity of competing values and not everyone agrees on the relative worth of each. How, for example, do you weigh the $$$ costs of the war against the value of pro-American Iraqi administration (that might be less so in future)? An Iraqi woman who lost her only son may feel that is too heavy a price to pay for the right to vote in parlimentary elections, while a young man who lost his mother might feel the opposite. In other words, the cardgame analogy does not take into account the overwhelming importance of subjective values in determining what the best “play” is. Chips might mean money to some, lives to others, freedom to still others.

    I believe that the US can “win” in Iraq. I question the value of that victory. If it was too costly, is that still a win?

    I think the world would be a better place without Mugabe and his murderous administration. But I wouldn’t vote to spend a trillion dollars over 5 years and spend 4,000 US lives + 100,000 Zimbabwean lives to achieve the goal.

  44. I’m not sure I understand the outrage at AJL’s comments; he’s clearly said he’s not talking about the morality of slavery or that the costs were too high.

    The South had a slave-based economy. That meant that small free farmers that seasonaly rented out their labor or sold excess produce and homemade goods to the plantation were going to be losers when the basis of that economy dissapeared. “Daniel Howe’s”:http://www.amazon.com/What-Hath-God-Wrought-Transformation/dp/0195078942 recent book on American history from 1815-1848 points out several depressing points where the slave power conspired to prevent the Southern economy from diversifying in a way that would have made an easier transition away from slavery. That the end of slavery would have wide destructive effects on the Southern economy was a design feature, not a bug.

  45. AJL:

    Glen’s argument founders on the simple historical fact that no such potential wealth materialized in the South after the Civil War.

    Yes, it did. It was not the wealth of the North, but the end of slavery made normal economic life possible. Poverty is the enduring legacy of slavery, but post war poverty doesn’t hold a candle to what existed before. Likewise, no poor black sharecropper, even if he had no mule, would have cared to go back to being a field slave.

    I’m not sure what we’re arguing about, re: Iraq. History has proven over and over again that war is not the worst of evils. Some white historians lament the Civil War, and I remember that crazy old liberal “Henry Fairlie”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Fairlie calling it mass insanity. But I haven’t heard many blacks regret it, with good reason. Likewise, I don’t think most Europeans would have preferred a peaceful settlement with Hitler.

  46. At least this thread gives us an unusual line-up of agreement…

    It was not the wealth of the North, but the end of slavery made normal economic life possible [in the South].

    Normal is a loaded and inaccurate word here. The economic life of the South after the Civil War was dismal. You are using “normal economic life” as a synonym for a free (more free, not completely free, really) market in labor, but accumulation of wealth was slow and quality of life was poor, even for the whites. An agrarian society that was profitable, through slave labor, for a white over-class and that supported a white artisanal class and (to some extent) non-slaveholding whites in agriculture morphed into an agrarian society that was one small step above subsistence agriculture (sharecropping?!), while the rest of the country became a wealthy industrial powerhouse. A lot of that nostalgia for the antebellum South comes from a justified comparison of standards of (white) living.

    Likewise, I don’t think most Europeans would have preferred a peaceful settlement with Hitler.

    Really? There’s this notion that under dictatorships, everybody must be miserable and just can’t wait for liberation. Unfortunately, I suppose, this notion is rubbish. Most people under even such hideous dictatorships as Hitler and Stalin lead ordinary, unremarkable, and somewhat fulfulling lives. For some persons, those who belonged to the wrong politically active class, or who were Jews, or in some other way fell afoul of the regime, the situation was completely different. (What I am saying goes double for the attenuated butchery of Saddam, 2003 Edition.) As far as I know, almost all of Western Europe, Scandinavia, and the Baltic States would have managed under Hitler. Petain started out much more popular than DeGaulle in France itself. Does this mean they would have preferred a peaceful settlement with Hitler? That’s hard to say, because it wasn’t one of the options. They were offered war, either with Hitler or against him. Once Hitler began wars of conquest, it was inevitable that there would be huge losses, no matter what the outcome. That was, indeed, my original point.

    History has proven over and over again that war is not the worst of evils.

    I think the word ‘always’ is missing there. The general idea is true: the Civil War was a lesser evil than the establishment of a Southern Slave Empire. The costs, however, may still have left the nation as a whole worse off at the end.

  47. Mark,

    Alas, I was too busy to check in on this thread (or any other) today. I see that you don’t like the cardgame analogy, and used that as a basis to reject the Unbeliever’s line of thought. Well, I think he (or she) captured my basic notion very well, but I’ll put my spin on it, and I’ll avoid the cardgame analogy.

    What it boils down to is this: Decisions to be made now need to be based on the situation at hand now– given a set of circumstances, now, what action leads to the best outcome? Well, the circumstances, now, are that we’ve already invaded. When I say circumstances, I mean actual physical facts, not moral opinions. When I say outcome, I mean the actual material outcome for all the various players in the game we’re considering (which would be us and, I hope, the Iraqis, followed by other allies.)

    Whether or not the war was a mistake really doesn’t have any bearing on the material consequences of our actions taken today. Either withdrawing is going to make things better, or withdrawing is going to make things worse. If withdrawing is going to make things worse, then regardless of whether the initial invasion was a mistake, withdrawing would seem like a bad idea. To think otherwise requires a mentality I cannot understand at all– my best guess to date at understanding it makes me think you’re treating the war and international politics as a sort of a storybook or morality play, where it’s not the results of an action that matter, but their morality as judged according to some fixed authorial standard. “If only we admit our mistake and undo what we did wrong,” e.g., un-invade, pack our bags, and go home, “then everything will be made right.”

    Unfortunately, the world has shown me no indication that it runs on those lines. Anyone wanting to argue to the counter would need to put forth a truly compelling argument about how a weak central government in 2005 would have benefitted from an absence of military support, and how a fledgling and unready central government in 2009 would contend, unassisted, with neighbors like Iran and Syria, or even with a neighbor like Turkey combined with the Kurdish situation.

    Something more than the morality play version of international politics, please.

  48. Marcus,

    _where it’s not the results of an action that matter, but their morality as judged according to some fixed authorial standard._

    What you call “the results of an action” must themselves be determined to be worthwhile or not worthwhile as measured against the costs. If, for example, we decided to reduce crime by sentencing everyone who committed a misdemeanor to 30 in prison, based on the idea that they would be the ones most likely to commit felonies (probably accurate), most of us would probably oppose the plan based not on “the results of [the] action” but rather on the plan’s “morality as judged according to some fixed authorial standard.”

    If we do not agree on what is “better,” then it becomes harder to say whether withdrawing is going to make things better or worse.

    You write as if we all agree on the goals. We don’t.

    From my point of view, if you don’t understand that the invasion of Iraq was a mistake and why it was a mistake, you are likely to choose a course of action going forward that is based upon the same faulty premises.

    Obama’s plan might very well result in a situation that you would feel is worse than the likely result of McCain’s plan. But, you see, I don’t share your views. We are not arguing over whether plan A or plan B is more likely to get to point X. We’re arguing whether point X is a better goal than point Y.

  49. But Mark, none of that is an argument contingent on whether or not an initial action was a mistake or not. It’s an argument contingent on goals– you, also, state that outright– which is quite a different subject.

    Phrasing it in terms of a five year old mistake (although I don’t even agree with that) is a rhetorical sop to help convince people who are more concerned with the state of their souls than the fate of real Iraqi lives.

  50. Marcus, I’m not sure I ever claimed what you are arguing against (although, to be quite honest about it, I’m not entirely sure what it is that you are arguing against.) I do believe the debate over whether the war was a mistake or not _remains_ relevant, in general, and in particular as a part of the current election. The two views of the war are each products of larger world-views, views about foreign policy and the proper use of US military forces. If you condone or condemn the war on either moral or practical grounds, this sheds a great deal of light about what you might (or might not) do in the future under similar circumstances. In mulling over who to vote for as the next president, part of whose job is to act as Commander-in-Chief, and another part of whose job is develop and execute foreign policy, knowing a candidates views on the Iraq war, and the arguments that support those views, is instrumental in making an informed choice.

    That, however, is not to say that it is the only relevant issue related to the Iraq war. What to do about the future, given the present circumstances, is another factor to weigh in the decision. Of course, how one views the war in the first place is a critical element in judging how to proceed from here, but certainly not the only one.

    If I understand you correctly, you seem to be saying that all judgement about the war must be suspended in order to think about the future. I don’t see that as either necessary or helpful.

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