April 09, 2008
Once upon a time, there was a really troubling place known as Iraq that was fraught with inter-ethnic violence, tensions with a an occupying power, and some really bad kids called al-Queda who tempted the good folks with wicked extremism. But luckily some “concerned local citizens” got together and formed a rag-tag crew called the “Sons of Iraq” and finally restored moderation and reconciliation to the streets.
Such seems to be the outline of one of the administration’s new narratives about the Iraq war, first told by some in the sympathetic media and then reiterated by General Petraeus when he presented before Congress a photo of the “Son’s of Iraq: Concerned Local Citizens”: a group of guys who earn a salary from the U.S. government to patrol the streets in orange traffic vests and carry machine guns. (If you want to see it for yourself, just go to page
6 5 of this link.)
The Sons, and groups like them, cost Washington around 16 million, and it seems that one high-minded senator was concerned that “they”re earning twice the salary of average Iraqis.” This should be the least of our worries.
First, there’s simply the name. While “Son’s of Iraq” sounds completely hokey, the “concerned local citizens” sounds like a neighborhood watch or an environmental group sponsoring a 5K run. While the “Sons” clean up the streets, will the “Daughters of Iraq” being selling “freedom cookies”? Perhaps the whole thing is better in Arabic?” Ibna”a al-Iraq
Projects like “Sons” emerged after it began to dawn on Washington just how hopless Maliki and the Baghdad state actually was, and many began to think that a whole new ethnic policy was in order: sure, we”d de-Baathed the Sunnis and kicked them out of power, but perhaps we could make amends? From this point on, a great deal of “the surge is working” mantra was predicated on our doling out great sums to Sunnis in the East, especially Anbar province, and offering them more local control apart from Baghdad.
This is not to say that bribing is bad counterinsurgent warfare”to the contrary, it’s one of the best kinds. But sooner than you can say “unintended consequences” the whole thing is likely to blow up in your face. It was Brzezinski who had the bright idea of arming some “we”ll never hear from them again” group called al-Qaeda…
But there’s more, and here’s where I think that my exasperation with names like “concerned local citizens” is more than just a matter of taste. Our funding of groups like the Sons is based on the notion that we can win Middle Eastern wars by leading Arabs and Muslims towards “moderation” and “democracy” and away from the dreaded “extremism.” But as Anatol Lieven argues in the latest National Interest, most Muslims usually don”t resist Islamicist appeals because they”ve joined up in some “democratic modernity” boy scouts troop. They resist al-Qaeda because they”re traditionalist, because their attachments to tribe and patronage mean much more to them than a global terror syndicate. Perhaps the Sons are doing some good work out there; however, the notions that they represent a “grassroots insurgency” against al-Qaeda, will remain loyal and well behaved once the money runs out, or support a “democratic Iraq aligned with the United States in the war on terror” (or however else victory is defined) is beyond naÃ¯ve.