The Mideastwire Blog

Excerpts from the Arab and Iranian Media & Analysis of US Policy in the Region

MEF Neo-cons using Edward Said against….Neo-cons

This is apparently the party line for daniel pipes et al (MEF) on why the surge should not be oversold… Look how they use Said against proponents of the surge in Iraq and how the critique is that Said and his supporters don’t give enough agency to the natives!



In sum, it is worth repeating that the surge did have an impact on security in Iraq. However, the increase in the number of troops was in itself of little significance. Moreover, the actions of U.S. forces as part of the surge and COIN tactics only abetted trends that were already apparent by the end of 2006. The primary factors that must be taken into consideration when explaining the decrease in violence during the surge are the ethnic cleansing of Sunnis (for the most part) from mixed neighborhoods in Baghdad, which led Sunni insurgents to realize that hopes of reclaiming the pre-2003 status-quo were lost; some Sunni disillusionment in Anbar with al-Qa’ida and like-minded terrorist groups as far back as mid-2005; and Nouri al-Maliki’s consolidation of his political power and the security forces in his turn against the Shi’i militias.

The implications of these conclusions for U.S. policy today and potential future conflicts are clear. Obama’s strategy in Afghanistan has been based on the premise that the surge and COIN tactics in Iraq were the main reasons behind the reduction in violence and instability. This view imputes too much influence to the U.S. military and seems to deny the importance of local Iraqi actors.

Part of the problem has to do with the spread of “anti-Orientalist” and postcolonial discourse in U.S. military instruction on the Middle East and Muslim world at large. Writing in the Oxford History of the British Empire, C.A. Bayly pointed out that one of the consequences of the success enjoyed by Edward Said’s famous book Orientalism (1978) has been the emergence of historical works that deny “Asians, Africans, or Polynesians ‘agency’ in their own histories more thoroughly than had the nineteenth-century Imperial writers.”[50] Unsurprisingly, the belittling of local decisionmaking and actors has extended to the Middle East, although more recently, one has seen revisionist works that point to the importance of the Ottoman Empire’s willing decision to throw in its lot with Imperial Germany during World War I as a crucial event behind the making of the modern Middle East;[51] and so it is with the orthodoxies of U.S. military strategy today: If only the focus be more on nation-building and winning “hearts and minds,” so the reasoning goes, it will be possible to stabilize Afghanistan.

Nevertheless, as Matthew Hoh points out, “If the history of Afghanistan is one great stage play, the United States is no more than a supporting actor,”[52] as a civil war is going on that has lasted more than 35 years (besides the Islamist insurgency spearheaded by the Afghan Taliban). That is not to say that one should simply view Afghanistan as a hopeless quagmire. On the contrary, shifts in U.S. strategy in Afghanistan are desperately needed, but the idea that the United States is the decisive game-changer must be abandoned. Yes, pressure can be placed on Karzai to decentralize power from Kabul, and one can aim for broader regional engagement–especially when it comes to the cold war between Pakistan and India that is partly playing out in Afghanistan and destabilizing the region as a whole–but it must be understood that much depends on the will of local actors.

Nonetheless, one need not be pessimistic. Daniel Pipes notes the renewed interest in works like those of Efraim Karsh that counter postcolonial orthodoxies,[53] and “impressed by the post-9/11 and post-Iraq cohort to enter the field of Middle East studies,”[54] he predicts that “by about 2015 the field will begin evolving in a more mainstream direction.”[55] If Pipes’ optimism is well-founded (as this author believes it is), then one can reasonably expect this trend to change U.S. military instruction for the better, and lead to the abandonment of the view that a troop surge and counterinsurgency are essential to achieve stability in a conflict zone. Instead, there should be an emphasis on appreciating internal political dynamics for such areas of instability.


Written by nickbiddlenoe

February 19, 2012 at 4:18 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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