The Iraq War is about Feedback more than Revenge or Justice

OD, a new tdaxp commentator on loan from Castle Argghhh!, has been contributing to the discussion on the thousand-year implication of the Iraq War. Among many good points, though, he makes a simple but understandable mistake:

You suggest that imposing a grim fate on Iraq’s Sunnis is just revenge, because Sunnis attacked New York on 911.

Certainly the Iraq War was good and just, but saying the Iraq War was revenge for 9/11 against the Sunni Arabs is like saying that leukemia is revenge for dizziness against cancer cells.

Rather, the Iraq War is directed feedback against the Sunni Arab world — both the tribal states that do nothing and the National-Secularist states that destroy Arab civilization.

A certain amount of “noise” — murders, ethnic cleansings, genocides, and the like — are to be expected from any part of the non-integrating Gap. Generally we care nothing for this, as such tragedies are symptoms of life outside the Core. Thus AIDS ravages Africa, women are honored-killed in Muslim lands,

9/11 — because it was directed against citizens, of the Core, in the Core, on a massive scale — was not just noise. It was an unacceptable breach of the quarantine the civilized world puts on the barbarians. The immediate task was to prevent the same stateless network that conducted the attacks, al Qaeda, of doing so again. Thus the Afghan War. But far more important was perturbing the Sunni Arab system to change We do this by overloading the Sunni Arabs — sending as much feedback to them as possible.

The Iraq War accomplished this goal in several ways. Among others:

  • The world-historic shift of Baghdad from a center to Sunni to Shiite civilization
  • The great feelings of humiliation — that is, collective weakness — such engenders among Sunni Arabs
  • The great feelings of betrayal — that is, the inability of Sunni Arab governments to forestall such humiliation — such engenders among Sunni Arabs
  • The great feelings of worthlessness — that is, the inability of Sunni Arab governments to reverse the betrayal — such engenders among Sunni Arabs

The Iraq War had many other benefits besides, and those should not be minimized, but feedback is the essential part of the conflict. The humiliation, betrayal, and worthlessness throughout that part of the world is the appropriate response for 9/11 — not just about of justice (though of course it is) and not just out of revenge (though of course it is) — but through the hope of change those tidings bring.

13 thoughts on “The Iraq War is about Feedback more than Revenge or Justice”

  1. I won't argue about the effects of the War on the Core v. Gap theory – you know more about that than I do and seem to be right. But its one thing to invade a country in order to topple its dictator or bring local terrorists to justice and quite another to use war as a form of social engineering – like giving “feedback” to cultural groups. This might be a great side effect, and one that deserves sober analysis, but isn't usually accepted as a justifiable reason to kill people. I think this is why OD is reacting this way.

    You have a more realistic grasp on the issues than he does, but Bush sells a war better.

  2. I don't necessarily disagree with you, but I think these feedback effects would have been much more pronounced had the administration done a much better job with the post-war phase of the conflict. As it stands, not only do we have to guard against blowback in the form of new terrorist cells, and experienced fighters flowing back to their home countries (and toward the US) but also with the fact that the war in Iraq, has to an extent made democracy less appealing throughout the Muslim world. I mean, not because people do not want representation, they do, but rather because they now fear (aided by their own government's propaganda) that any move toward a pluralistic, representative system will lead them down the road laid out by Iraq, meaning never ending violence, bloody insurgencies and the general suffering that follows from them.

    Even the US has ceased pushing its democracy agenda, despite the rhetoric to the contrary. Just witness our silence with regard to Egypt's new “reform” law, which would do nothing more than consolidate Mubarak's grip on power.

    Additionally, just like a battle plan never survives the first bullet, the problem with feedback is that once set in motion, it is very difficult to control where it ultimately leads. After all, we could end up with a Muslim world full of democracies, most of which would not only be Islamists, but also extremely anti-American.

  3. Dan,

    Besides being a sweet lemons argument, the argument promotes a uni-directional functionality that is false:

    “But far more important was perturbing the Sunni Arab system to change We do this by overloading the Sunni Arabs — sending as much feedback to them as possible.”

    — Dan tdaxp.

    Noise and static [1] have something in common. Neither is a narrow, insular, and exclusive channel flowing in only one direction. Nor can increasing either be an effective method of creating such a channel. While I agree that increasing noise can overload a person's cognitive 'haven', the implication that one source can send a tight band of feedback, by increasing the level of noise, and expect a predictable, singular result, is not only intellectually bankrupt, but a dangerous strategic method.

    Your post is basically saying, perturbation is an absolute good in itself; by causing it, we can be assured of the results we want; therefore, a strategy of perturbation created by increasing levels of noise is always a sound strategy.

    Thus, nykrindc's observation is imminently important:

    “Additionally, just like a battle plan never survives the first bullet, the problem with feedback is that once set in motion, it is very difficult to control where it ultimately leads.”

    –although I would rephrase it, if I had more time for this comment!

    [1] http://www.fifthgeneration.phaticcommunion.com/archives/2007/01/interlude_static_visualized_co.php

  4. So, Dan, how does Kurdistan fit into the equation? A happy coincidence allowing us to reward allies? Another form of humiliation (loss of control of a subservient people and possibly the oil or Kirkuk)?

    I know you see the Persians as natural allies of ours (certainly in the long run, but definately not in the last 30 years). Doesn't Iraq allow a feedback toward them? Even if Iran benefits from our Iraq action, haven't we now focused the Sunni Arabs upon their Persian neighbors?

  5. Adam,
    “But its one thing to invade a country in order to topple its dictator or bring local terrorists to justice and quite another to use war as a form of social engineering…”

    What we are trying to do is provide security for the citizens which is the basic function of government. If government does nothing else, it must do that. That's not social engineering, that's just normal government, which seems radical because the Iraqis have not had that. Social engineering is about using the coercive powers of the state to attempt to change human nature. That's not what we are doing. Non-tyrannical, self-government is not contrary to human nature.

    nykrindc,
    “…had the administration done a much better job with the post-war phase of the conflict.”

    The Bush administration deserves a lot of blame for its faults but this is not one of them. Even if the Bush admin. had had the perfect plan, the fact is that the military would not have been capable of carrying it out. Why? Because there was no current doctrine and training for post-war ops. As soon as Baghdad fell, our troops should have seemlessly transitioned from conventional warfare to providing security and basic services and other post-war ops. They didn't do this because they were not trained to do this. They did what they were trained to do fantastically. Imagine what they could have done if they had the appropriate training for post-war ops? The Bush admin. is not the reason they weren't appropriately trained. That responsibility rests squarely on the shoulders of the boomer generals who had their formative experiences in Vietnam and decided that they were going to autistically focus only on conventional warfare and nothing else in order to avoid “another Vietnam.” Their effort gave us 3 weeks of success and 4 years of hard slogging.

    “the problem with feedback is that once set in motion, it is very difficult to control where it ultimately leads.”

    Well, that's just life. That's why you've got to be on your toes. It's why you've to be able to improvise on a general strategy. It's why you have to give general instructions to your troops and let them adapt to the circumstances they face. Yes, “it is very difficult to control where it ultimately leads,” which is why the technocratic, micromanagement approach doesn't work. Officers, NCOs and PFCs need to be trained for this reality.

    Sending this kind of feedback into the Arab world was necessary. They have been living in a fantasy world without real consequences for a long time. They need to understand that the continuing pathology of their culture is going to have consequences if they don't adapt to the modern world.

  6. phil –

    I don't have a problem when war is used to topple a dictator we're fighting against and spread freedom to the people of the country directly. (although there's a way to do it and a way not to) That's what Bush's justification has been. The justification given in this particular post and in the one it references is that the war is Step 1 of an intricate plan to change a religion.

    OD is saying that the Iraq War doesn't fit Just War theory. Bush believes that the Iraq War does fit Just War theory. [personally, I'm conflicted, but I don't think it was strategically wise] Dan ignores the Just War paradigm and justifies the war through utilitarian reasoning – the war is good because it will humiliate a religion, which according to certain theories will provide “feedback,” eventually changing Sunni Islam for the better. I think that this sort of justification for war is inappropriate and dangerous.

  7. “They have been living in a fantasy world without real consequences for a long time.”

    Phil, I think most people create fantasies of the world, but everyone lives in the real world.

    (I would have said, all people create fantasies of the world, but I'm leery of making absolutist generalizations about the details of cognition! — only for that reason did I not say it.)

    “Sending this kind of feedback into the Arab world was necessary. “

    Rather than saying the Iraq war was a method for producing feelings of weakness and helplessness in the Sunni population, we could as easily say that it was a method to produce feelings of worth and strength in the Sunni population: i.e., that they were worth spending billions of dollars and thousands of American lives attacking.

    We could even say that it was a method for teaching the Sunni population that their states were really 'apo-states' or that their leaders had never really been bona fide Muslims, and their nation-states were not authentically Islamic or adhering to the strict teachings of the Qu'ran: that's why their governments were weak.

    Regardless of whether any of these alternative feedback messages were intended by our own leaders or have actualized, the fantasy of being able to control cognition through simplistic EBO-istic cause & effect chains is a delusion. [1] Reason affects cognition and does not adhere to such strict space-time pathing. So saying that the war was “about” this kind of feedback is as valid as saying the war was “about” the kind of feedback Dan has proposed.

    [1] http://www.fifthgeneration.phaticcommunion.com/archives/2006/10/ebo_is_everything_in_war_almos.php

  8. An excellent thread!

    Adam,

    I agree that Bush sells the war better, and Tony Blair does an even better job.

    War is a terrible thing, and mere justice is not a sufficient condition (though it is a necessary one). The decision to go to war must be much colder than that, but cold reason does not heat the blood.

    Nykrindc,

    “not only do we have to guard against blowback in the form of new terrorist cells”

    This is something that would happen with any substantive response, and is thus neither a plus or a negative. New terrorists cells against the current regimes, however, is part of what we are after. It's turning the feedback where it belongs: to the regimes which are the cause of this mess.

    “and experienced fighters flowing back to their home countries”

    See above.

    “the war in Iraq, has to an extent made democracy less appealing throughout the Muslim world.”

    Yes, and no. It's a destabilizing influence, but it's hard to say that the forces of stability were pro-democratic before the Iraq War.

    However, democracy as a tool of a people ridding themselves of a bad elite has been shown to work. The Sunni Arabs of Syria, for example, see democracy as one path of ridding themselves of the Shia Alawites of their Baath Party, and the Sunni Arabs of Palestine see it as a way of minimizing the influence of the secularists Fatah / PLO. That's why the Muslim Brothers agitates for democracy even in Iraq: because their gains from it region-wide may be great.

    “never ending violence, bloody insurgencies and the general suffering that follows from them. “

    This is a case where Bush has dropped the ball: this violence would have been shorter, if more intense, if not for attempts to appease his way out of Iraq.

    “Even the US has ceased pushing its democracy agenda, despite the rhetoric to the contrary. Just witness our silence with regard to Egypt's new “reform” law, which would do nothing more than consolidate Mubarak's grip on power.”

    This ties with the above. Bush has not been a competent second-half player. This is bad. Fortunately, he has unleashed forces greater than his. His post-war mistakes do not negate — do not come close to doing away with — his achievements with the war itself. They merely lead to needless suffering, death, and misery.

    “After all, we could end up with a Muslim world full of democracies, most of which would not only be Islamists, but also extremely anti-American.”

    “While I agree that increasing noise can overload a person's cognitive 'haven', the implication that one source can send a tight band of feedback, by increasing the level of noise, and expect a predictable, singular result, is not only intellectually bankrupt, but a dangerous strategic method.”

    Agreed. Fortunately, I never made such an implication, nor would I have endorsed one.

    “Your post is basically saying, perturbation is an absolute good in itself; by causing it, we can be assured of the results we want; therefore, a strategy of perturbation created by increasing levels of noise is always a sound strategy.”

    Not at all. This is odd either/or thinking coming from you, Curtis.

    Take Barnett's definition of a rule-set reset [1]

    “When a crisis triggers your realization that your world is woefully lacking certain types of rules, you start making up those new rules with a vengeance (e.g., the Patriot Act and the doctrine of preemption following 9/11). Such a rule-set reset can be a very good thing. But it can also be a very dangerous time, because in your rush to fill in all the rule-set gaps, your cure may end up being worse than your disease.”

    Perturbations / resets are not always good, and not without danger. However, the reason it was necessary is not that the Sunni Arab middle east was modernizing too slowly — it was that the Sunni Arab middle east was modernizing in the wrong way. [2] We need to change their course.

    PS,

    “They way I would define it, Sharia would not be compatible with a democracy definition.

    Democracy != Elections”

    I disagree completely. Frankly, this is an unfortunate, ethnocentric, and intellectually limiting hijacking of a definition. If you wish to say Secular, Liberal, Capitalist, Meritocratic, Competitive Democracy, say that instead.

    ElamBend,

    “So, Dan, how does Kurdistan fit into the equation? A happy coincidence allowing us to reward allies? Another form of humiliation (loss of control of a subservient people and possibly the oil or Kirkuk)?”

    Yes.

    🙂

    “Even if Iran benefits from our Iraq action, haven't we now focused the Sunni Arabs upon their Persian neighbors?”

    Far from it, though the Bush administraiton has worked to exactly that end.

    Before the 2003 War, the Sunni / Shia frontline was the same as the Iran / Iraq border. Now the front-line runs through Iraq and soon (hopefully) Saudi Arabia [3]. We have transitioned Iran from a front-line to a second-line state in this struggle. Persia has not been in that position for a thousand years.

    Phil,

    Your comment is brilliant. It elevates this discussion to the next level. Thank you.

    [1] http://www.thomaspmbarnett.com/glossary.htm#Rule-Set_Reset
    [2] http://themetropolistimes.blogspirit.com/archive/2007/03/06/modern-islam-is-radical-islam.html
    [3] http://www.tdaxp.com/archive/2006/08/21/a-new-middle-east-part-ii-iran.html

  9. The only thing that worries me is the oil supply. Although the ME is primarily a supplier of oil to Europe, then China; oil's basic fungibility means a loss of supply in one place equates to a rise of price in another. This is the often unspoken fear of war in the ME. This is why Europe speaks of 'stability.' This is why things were allowed to get so out of whack, without any feedback.

    Obviously the world has absorbed the cost of decreased production in Iraq okay, but the nihilistic nature of some of the players in the region could result in attacks on large refinery or tanker fueling facilities. I suspect the KSA may be running the pumps overtime right now to weaken the cash reserves of the Persians. They did it for us against the Soviets in the eighties; this time they have more skin in the game.

  10. Dan,

    I agree with this rendition. I consider it just a better way of saying what I said in PNM: Bush tries to do unto Middle East what Osama tried to do to us–lay down a System Perturbation that causes massive reaction.

    Putting it in terms of overloading feedback is also very good, I think. Equates nicely to speeding the killing.

    Back to our asynch dialogue of late: to me, attacking Iran overloads the Core on feedback, thus putting it at risk. I can't grow the Core if I split it, thus my fear.

  11. Tom Barnett,

    Thank you. Your kind words mean a lot.

    ElamBend,

    Very good analysis. I think I agree with all of it.

    If an Iran War helped move the world off oil — and thus harmed the economies of resource-dependent states — that would be a good thing. There would short-term economic pain though, and that is a real concern.

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