Shostack + Friends Blog Archive


The Malaysia Option

Sunday’s Washington Post has a story, “U.S. Lowers Sights On What Can Be Achieved in Iraq:”

The Bush administration is significantly lowering expectations of what can be achieved in Iraq, recognizing that the United States will have to settle for far less progress than originally envisioned during the transition due to end in four months, according to U.S. officials in Washington and Baghdad.

Washington now does not expect to fully defeat the insurgency before departing, but instead to diminish it, officials and analysts said. There is also growing talk of turning over security responsibilities to the Iraqi forces even if they are not fully up to original U.S. expectations, in part because they have local legitimacy that U.S. troops often do not.

The story is getting a lot of play, and I’d like to add a bit.

When the British were fighting the communist insurgency in Malaysia, on top of their hearts and minds campaign, one of their most potent weapons was a promise to withdraw, but only after the insurgency had ended.

It seems to me that this is the perfect move for the United States in Iraq. Some (fixed) time period after the last civilians are killed, the United States will fully withdraw all our troops. This puts the native portions of the insurgency in a bind: If their goal is to expel the United States, all they need to do is wait.

It gives the Iraqis time to build a civil government, free of attacks. If there are people whose goal is simply to kill Americans, it isolates them.

If only I had any confidence in the ability of the Bush administration to administer a foreign policy.

5 comments on "The Malaysia Option"

  • Asteroid says:

    If only I had any confidence in the ability of the Bush administration to formulate a foreign policy.

  • Axel says:

    If only I had any confidence in the ability of the Bush administration to formulate an interior policy, for that matter.

  • From reading the linked articles, it looks like the insurgency was backed by a specific minority, with specific immediate grievances (enfranchisement) and long term goals (communism). Success was thus possible by isolating the minority, placating them with short term goals and providing incentives for the larger population to help stop the insurgency, including the withdrawl option, and “financial rewards for detecting guerillas by any civilians”.
    The reports on the Iraqi insurgency are far from painting a clear picture about the identity and motivation of the fighters. Is there actually a clear consensus on who they are and what they want? Attempts to introduce local incentives have led to mass imprisonment of potentially innocent people.
    Finally, the “action for peace” trade changes the balance of power in the strike/retalition model by introducing perverse incentives. If the insurgency is not monolithic but federated, then any small subset can prevent peace. This can work in, say, the North Ireland case where the leadership does want to move towards a mainstream, but in instances where the leadership’s power is predicated on constant conflict, being unable to control the violent fringes can allow the leadership to gain international credibility (and $) via lip service while playing to the base by tacitly condoning attacks. (e.g. arafat)
    Finally, there is no evidence that the US has given up its goal of permanent bases in Iraq.

  • Iang says:

    there is no “consensus” in the US but nor is there reality.
    Everything I read from different points of view points to one thing: “US out.” Now, it’s pretty clear that the guerillas may be full scum for the most part, but they have a clear cause to rally around. It’s proven compelling enough to bring insurgents into the country – something that happens rarely (Spanish Civil War?).
    So the question for the US is, what were the objectives (again) and how are they going to be achieved (again)? As these questions aren’t seriously addressed it is unlikely that this will end in anything other than a complete mess.

  • Justin Mason says:

    re Allan’s ‘instances where the leadership’s power is predicated on constant conflict’:
    Terrorist leadership is ALWAYS predicated on constant conflict, in that it’s generally funded through criminal means, and is by definition a criminal enterprise. Part of the terrorist disarmament problem is working out a way to offer a viable replacement of the criminal parts of the power structure.
    For example, I’ve heard that the Northern Bank robbery in Northern Ireland was carried about by the IRA to secure “retirement” funds for their “volunteers”, so that they had something to offer them in exchange for disarmament and, in general, putting themselves out of business.

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