Tag Archives: al-Qaeda in Iraq

Is Obama Making the Same Mistakes as Bush in Iraq?

President Obama announces that all U.S. troops will be withdrawn from Iraq by the end of 2011.

Foreign policy scholars tell us that leaders and publics frequently use historical cases to inform current judgments. This is called analogical reasoning, and it involves drawing lessons from past cases about what is going to happen, or how we should respond, in a current situation.  Unfortunately, research has shown that policymakers are frequently sloppy, imprecise, or self-serving in the lessons they draw from historical cases.

Richard Neustadt and Ernest May, in their book Thinking in Time, and Yuen Foong Khong in his book Analogies at War, point out that leaders often misuse history and even draw different lessons from the same historical case.  (American conservatives generally drew the lesson from Vietnam that political leaders shouldn’t micromanage wars and should always fight to win, whereas many liberals/progressives learned that military force is not an effective instrument for dealing with fundamentally political conflicts).  An oft-cited problem is that leaders seize on superficial similarities in cases and ignore the differences, leading them to make poor judgments.  For example, the lesson of Munich that one should never appease tyrants was often cited by U.S. leaders during the Cold War without considering how the present tyrant might differ from Adolf Hitler in his intentions or capabilities.  The same might be said for the argument that “Iraq is another Vietnam” due to surface-level similarities, such as the presence of an insurgency.

It is therefore interesting that  political scientist and Bush-era National Security Council staffer Peter Feaver, in a recent blog post, critiques Obama’s decision to withdraw all troops from Iraq by the end of 2011 using analogical reasoning that compares the withdrawal to a superficially very dissimilar case: Bush’s decision to invade Iraq in the first place.  Feaver cites three ways in which Obama’s withdrawal policy risks repeating the mistakes of the invasion:

1) Just as the Bush administration launched the invasion without making sure that they had enough troops to deal with the next stage of the operation (the occupation and reconstruction), Obama is withdrawing without thinking about the numbers of troops required to protect State Department employees and others tasked with continuing the reconstruction of Iraq beyond 2011.

2) Just as Bush allegedly “took his eye of the ball” by invading Iraq instead of focusing on defeating Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, Obama is letting his desire to end the war distract his attention from the need to keep the pressure on Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), which may be reinvigorated by a full U.S. withdrawal from the country.

3) Just as Bush may have given a great gift to Iran by dramatically weakening its regional enemy (Iraq), Obama is compounding the error and strengthening the theocratic regime’s ability to achieve regional hegemony by pulling out all U.S. troops.

What do you think?  Does Feaver’s analogical reasoning represent a careful or sloppy use of history?  Is Obama undoing Bush’s mistakes by withdrawing quickly from Iraq, or is he following in Bush’s footsteps and only compounding the errors of his predecessor?

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Political Violence: Jihad or McWorld?

A series of apparently unrelated bombings hit a number of countries over the weekend: 

  • In India, two separate explosions in Ahmedabad killed 45 people and injured more than 300.  A group calling itself the Indian Mujahideen claimed responsibility.  Ten unexploded bombs were found by police in Surat, a city in the same Indian state, today. 
  • An explosion in Istanbul, the capital of Turkey, killed 17 and injured some 150 people.  Although no one has claimed responsibility, speculation is that Kurdish nationalist—possibly linked to the Kurdish Peoples Party, or PKK—are responsible.  On Tuesday, the Turkish government launched an airstrike against suspected PKK strongholds in Iraq, killing 40 according to the Turkish government. 
  • Female suicide bombers in Iraq were responsible for at least two attacks over the weekend.  The first involved three separate explosions targeting Shia pilgrims in Baghdad, killing 24 and injuring 79.  The second centered in the Kurdish political capital of Kirkuk, killed 12 and injured dozens.  No claim of responsibility has been made, but observers are pointing to the history of al-Qaeda in Iraq’s use of female bombers in the past. 
  • Finally, tensions between rival Hamas and Fatah parties in Gaza sparked a new round of violence over the weekend.  In one incident, a car bomb exploded in the Gaza Strip, killing several bystanders.  Hamas claims that the attack was orchestrated by Fatah in an attempt to kill some of its supporters; Fatah contends the explosions was likely part of an internal power struggle within Hamas.

Are all these attacks related?  Not in the sense that they were coordinated by a single group.  The groups involved—the Indian Mujahideen, the PKK, al-Qaeda in Iraq, Hamas, and Fatah all have their own objectives and are not likely to want to work together.  But in the broader sense, I think there are some common threads.  In his class work Jihad vs. McWorld, Benjamin Barber argues that there are two driving trends in the world today.  He writes,

Just beyond the horizon of current events lie two possible political futures—both bleak, neither democratic. The first is a retribalization of large swaths of humankind by war and bloodshed: a threatened Lebanonization of nationalstates in which culture is pitted against culture, people against people, tribe against tribe—a Jihad in the name of a hundred narrowly conceived faiths against every kind of interdependence, every kind of artificial social cooperation and civic mutuality. The second is being borne in on us by the onrush of economic and ecological forces that demand integration and uniformity and that mesmerize the world with fast music, fast computers, and fast food—with MTV, Macintosh, and McDonald’s, pressing nations into one commercially homogenous global network: one McWorld tied together by technology, ecology, communications, and commerce. The planet is falling precipitantly apart AND coming reluctantly together at the very same moment.

Perhaps Barber is right.  Perhaps we are seeing the world fall apart and come together at the same time.  It’s a bleak notion, but one for which Barber, I think, finds a comforting solution: strong democracy.