View Full Version : Iraq v. Vietnam: It's the People, Stupid

03-11-2006, 01:23 PM
Democracy Arsenal - Iraq v. Vietnam: It's the People, Stupid (http://www.democracyarsenal.org/2006/03/as_all_of_us_wh.html).

As all of us who want to make things better in Iraq fumble for a better paradigm (much less a strategy) for how to resolve the potential civil war, there's a tough-minded and interesting article (http://www.foreignaffairs.org/20060301faessay85201/stephen-biddle/seeing-baghdad-thinking-saigon.html) about Iraq in the new Foreign Affairs by Stephen Biddle, a Senior Fellow at CFR.

Biddle argues that our policy approach in Iraq contains a fundamental mistake: mired in a Vietnam-based mindset, we have viewed Iraq as something like a Maoist "people's revolution," rather than what it actually is: a "communal civil war."

What's the difference?

A people's revolution functions unilaterally. It's not a hydra, but a serpent -- and so its head can be cut off. A communal civil war, on the other hand, derives its energy from internal tension. It's an introvert rather than an extrovert...

Biddle argues that we need to focus less on democratization, which only allows the dangerous divisions in the communal war to flourish, and more on investing all parties in a process where each will table their differences in exchange for stakes in the system. he explains, "the only way out of this problem is for Washington to postpone Iraqization and make it contingent on the parties' willingness to bargain.

"Iraqization" is Biddle's translation of the President's oft-mentioned goal of having the Iraqis "stand up" -- which is when we'll stand down. Biddle says this simply won't work because it aims to use internal, vertical force to resolve what is more fundamentally a horizontal problem -- groups fighting each other, not an entire society fighting an external enemy.

This is extremely smart way of re-thinking the problem we face in Iraq. I'm not sure it gets us too far past the basic understanding that Iraq is tipping into civil war (where they're fighting each other), and if we don't resolve that problem, we won't even get to the larger problem (them fighting us). Check -- civil wars: bad; building institutions and rule of law: good.

But it's very helpful nonetheless to understand Iraq against the backdrop of our failures in Vietnam, which certainly controls the thinking of many of our policymakers (for the worse).