The Insurgency’s Psychological Component
Monday, September 3, 2007; Page A03
At the core of this fall’s debate over Iraq lies one simple question: Can an increased number of U.S. troops subdue the Iraqi insurgency?
The question turns out to have complex answers, and not just because the political stakes are so high. Washington is already buzzing with arguments over Gen. David H. Petraeus‘s upcoming report about the effect of the U.S. “surge,” but beyond the politics, social scientists have come up with some empirical answers.
Their analyses show that the outcome of the troop increase hinges on whether the insurgency is primarily a mathematical phenomenon or a psychological phenomenon.
If the insurgency follows the rules of conventional mathematics, increasing the number of U.S. troops should produce a greater counterinsurgency effort and a more peaceful Iraq. That is what one analysis found. Alex Braithwaite of Colorado State University tracked insurgent attacks across Iraq’s provinces over a six-month period from January to June 2005. On average, there were 16 attempted attacks in each province each week. Braithwaite found an inverse relationship between insurgent attacks and the presence of U.S. troops.
I suppose empirical answers are interesting if you are doing research from the comfort of a University, taking a leisurely coffee-break and a contemplative walk in the nearby woods before getting back to it.
This war has been misunderstood and mismanaged, largely because no one bothered to look under the covers of a thousand years of tribalism. A bunch of self-interested Iraqi exiles, the most significant of whom (Ahmed Chalabi) was a known crook (wanted in several countries for embezzlement and other crimes), flim-flammed a gullible Dick Cheney into believing Americans would be greeted in Baghdad as liberators.
He bought the bit. Then he sold it to Bush, to us and Tony Blair. Then Colin Powell presented it to the United Nations as a current danger with horrific consequences.
The rest is history–not yet entirely written. It might be interesting to probe the depths of the Bush and/or Cheney psychology, but hardly that of an insurgency.
What can be achieved by ‘surge’ in Iraq will not be decided by Ahmed Chalabi or some social scientist.