Directions on Iraq: a Blogging Colloquium (updated)

Rather than create new posts as more submissions are added, I’m going to update this post to preserve links.

It is my pleasure and honor to introduce a blogging colloquium at The Glittering Eye, “Directions on Iraq”. This colloquium is an extended cross-blog conversation on Iraq. Its participants have been selected based on knowledge, experience, and credentials.

Over the next few days the participants will be posting the presentations of this colloquium at their own blogs and I’ll be linking to them here. I’ll also be linking to a number of adjunct posts—recent posts on Iraq in which I see particular merit.

I urge you to read these excellent posts and address questions you have on them in their comments’ sections, in the comments here, or at this address:

iraqdirections at theglitteringeye dot com


A contribution from John Burgess of Crossroads Arabia was added on Friday afternoon.

In his contribution to the colloquium John Burgess provides an introduction to some of the many interest groups in the Middle East. In the first part he introduces the major sectarian and ethnic groups in Iraq and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The opening contributions in the colloquium are from James Hamilton, Michael Cook and Shivaji Sondhi, and Rasheed Abou Al-Samh.

In his contribution James Hamilton makes the case that creating an economic system in Iraq that generates jobs and incomes, particularly for the Sunni Arabs of Iraq, is as important as military action or political reconciliation in the country.

In his contribution Rasheed Abou Al-Samh hones in on the concerns of Saudis at the plight of Sunni Arabs and the prospect of a Sunni-Shi’a conflict in the Middle East.

Shivaj Sondhi and Michael Cook propose that the United States focus on reassuring the Sunnis into accepting a regional solution to their aspirations in Iraq – specifically, that it underwrite a deal in which the Sunnis secure their provinces in return for their share of national oil revenues.


John Burgess, a former U. S. foreign service officer who has had two tours of duty in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the first in 1981-1983 and the second 2001-2003. He reads and speaks Arabic and has spent the bulk of his career in the Middle East with assignments in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, and Bahrain in addition to his assignment in the KSA. His blog, Crossroads Arabia, is one of the blogosphere’s finest resources for information and commentary on the KSA.

Michael Cook, the Cleveland Dodge professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University. In 2002 he was awarded the Andrew Mellon Foundation’s Distinguished Achievement Award.

James Hamilton, a professor of economics at the University of California, San Diego. His special area of study is oil economics. His blog, Econbrowser, is a premier econblog.

Rasheed Abou Al-Samh, a Saudi-American journalist based in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. He is a senior editor at Arab News and a correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor, the Washington Times, Al-Ahram Weekly, and Forbes Arabia. His blog is Rasheed’s World.

Shivaji Sondhi, a professor of physics at Princeton University. Michael Cook and Shivaji Sondhi, along with Robert Socolow and Steven Pacala, are Co-Directors of the Project on Oil, Energy and the Middle East at Princeton University.

Adjunct posts

This post at Winds of Change applies the technology of complex systems organization to the Iraq Study Group Report.

Here’s a post from on Iraq and evolutionary game theory.

Democracy Arsenal has a summary of the approaches that are on the table with respect to Iraq and proposes a course that unites the strategic and humanitarian ways of looking at the problems there.

FP looks at the options on Iraq.

New submissions

I’m still accepting submissions and will, depending on content, be happy to consider them either as primary contributions or adjunct posts.


Day 2
Day 3

22 comments… add one
  • dey Link

    It looks like Wind of Change is trying to explain the leak of the new ‘real time’ ‘blog’ intelligence platform at the years sales convention in PA is actually the leak at the US Institute for Peace, ISG, and that USIP is really mostly CIA operations officers because of the use of the new platform?

  • I think…the gamespace for Iraq is cluttered with non-viable solutions, represented by the linked posts so far. I propose a searchspace reduction, by eliminating all top-down solutions which are not working so far.
    Bottom-up strategies, like the Six Point Plan, are the only ones with a chance of working, IMHO.

  • James Hamilton’s post represents salavaging some bottom-up ideas from the ISG report.
    But I cannot think of a top-down strategy that has been successful.
    Dave, could we prune the top-down strategies? Why or why-not?

  • hey! it is really coolio that u have both leftsiders and rightsiders contributing.
    Now that gives me hope.
    Dave, u rock. 😉

  • I don’t think that either left or right have a monopoly on knowledge and expertise. I actually wanted a lot more from the American political left but nobody answered my emails.

    I think that I would state the bottom-up vs. top-down strategies issue a little differently. I think I would say that change in societies derives from and is mediated through institutions. You can’t build on institutions that don’t exist. Not every thing can be built on every sort of institution.

    Since I opposed the invasion of Iraq to begin with I’ve never fully embraced the notion of victory there and don’t feel particularly obligated to expound on what that might be or how to get there. Now I can honestly say I have no idea what genuine victory in Iraq would look like. My only remaining concern with respect to Iraq resides in how America’s persistent interests in the region can be preserved.

    As far as the greater war on terror is concerned I think that, as M. Takhallus points out in a comment to a post below, the time factor is very important. I would define victory in the war on terror as eliminating or constraining the forces that led to the attack on 9/11 before the Middle East is turned into a slag heap.

    Can that be done with organic forces of the sort that you’re recommending and that, presumably, Hamilton and Cook and Sondhi are talking about? Frankly, I have grave doubts that they’ll produce the desired outcomes in the timeframe available (that’s a conversation I’ve had with John Burgess from time to time). But, as Den Beste said to me in one of our exchanges on the invasion of Iraq, it may be worth a try.

  • Iraq is going to make Viet Nam look like a piece of cake. When we leave because we WILL leave. Americans are going to experience a collective regret that will paralyze this nation.

    In any case hopefully our leaders will have learnt something. You can’t take over a country unless you already have the ramifications decided upon before you take over. The first determination is what are you going to do with the hundreds of Iraqi citizens who will die because they have worked for us. You will have to give them shelter in the United States.

    Then who is going to pay back the dept that this war has incurred upon us? Inflation will take care of a lot of it but during this time the nation will experience an economic hard ship that we have not seen since the depression years of the 1930’s.

  • we are already doing some of them. Abizaid is. He even said, a holding action while we build schools and sewage treatment plants. Anbar province where the tribes are taking on al-Qaeda.
    use existing structures more. Use Islam. Use the tribes.

  • Shams, what I think you miss is that the US does not do tribal politics. There could be several reasons for this. In terms of strategy, it means decentralizing your position among numerous, perhaps conflicting interests. But there’s a larger reason, I think. That is, besides the fact that most US politicians are cultural idiots, they expect ties with entities that serve US interests and those interests only.

    Americans do not easily understand the idea of social and cultural interests that stress communal values over individual ones. You want to see how well the US deals with tribal politics? Look at the history of the native Americans. I do not think that the US has moved beyond the ideology that informed those 19th century policies.

    Does it have to be that way? I don’t think so. But let’s say that a pack of enlightened politicians came along who understands the tribal dynamics you describe. My guess is that any such undertaking will have to be done in circumstances where an occupying army is not involved and where the threat of force by that army comes into play.

  • well…they are doing it in Anbar…i’ll look for the link. why does the US have to understand anything? I just want them to reuse existing structures.
    And using Islam..there is true guerrilla thought, hey?
    Use the mosques and madrassas and shariah law. Our antagonistic approach to Islam gurantees failure, if you understand anything about EGT.

  • you sound amazingly qualified to provide analysis.. my only question is who provides you with facts from the ground?

    who smells the daily stench of rotting bodies.. overflowing sewage.. who hears the hunshots and screams.. who’s skin dimples from fear as they see terror approach..

    do you guys know these people.. or speak to them.. or have any connection with the daily realities of the subject matter?

  • It’s good stuff, Dave. All thought-provoking. The stuff about reconstruction and jobs being the best weapon is a no-brainer though. I was shouting about that and other possible partial solutions such as a shift to British style rather than Israeli style COIN tactics almost 2 years ago.

    As for no lefties answering your emails…you never asked me.

    I’d love to see someone address the Satrapy of Iraq problem – namely that all training and equipping has focussed on internal security and Iraq will not have a military that could defend against an external threat – not even the piddling UAE airforce – on its own for years yet. There don’t seem to be any plans even.

    That leads to a de facto American protectorate, undermining any concept of defensible Iraqi sovereignty and assuring a heavy and commanding U.S. military presence for the forseeable future. Basically, it means the occupation is being run on a Lebanon/Syria model with the U.S. as Syria. Which makes a nonsense of any planning to change the game until the its put right.

  • It certainly wasn’t an intentional slight, Cernig. What I was going for was the highest obtainable level of background and/or experience. Folks I attempted to contact included, for example, Juan Cole, whose participation I would have loved to have had.

    An idea that I’ve been toying with is the notion of identifying the impediments to investment in the portions of Iraq that are reasonably secure and pursuing their ameliorization as an approach to bolstering the economy.

    As to your “Satrapy of Iraq” point, it’s something that I’ve read complaints from Iraqis about for a couple of years—basically the lack of aircraft and tanks. I’m not knowledgeable enough to know what should be included in a 21st century Iraqi army built from the ground up (as this one is). It might not be what the average Iraqi (or even some government officials) think of as what they really need.

  • Ach, Dave – I know it wasn’t intentional. I wasn’t upset. I’m not a name expert, just a somewhat-informed amateur. I’m a cognitive philosopher by schooling and a commercial insurance underwriter by experience, including several years as a correspondent at Lloyd’s of London.

    Both the links I gave in my last comment address the points in your last two paras, at least in part, so I won’t witter on about them again here.

    And again, an excellent project and congrats for pulling it off.

    Regards, C

  • One way to resolve this politically is to raise the stakes for each of the Iraqi sects by telling the lawmakers that the Green Zone will not be protected after February 28th and that they must use their Army to provide security of the Green Zone. When they must provide security for all lawmakers and government officials, compromise will take place. It does provide a way for Iraqi’s to stand up so we can stand down and besides the Green Zone is only 1 square mile in size. They must first build a Village before they can build a Country!

  • Dave, Cernig

    I intend to partially address the lack of tanks/aircraft etc. in the article I’m working on (which hopefully will be done soon – I’m currently traveling due to an unexpected death in the family.) Part of the answer is that the Iraqi Army is being trained for internal security because of the failure of the police. Right now, the Army is one of the few Iraqi institutions with any measure of success.

    Secondly, when building an armed forces from the ground up, it takes a LOT of time. They don’t have the leadership and training to manage large military organizations, which require an experienced NCO and officer corps. “Building” a good NCO takes 4-6 years in the US military. Training a pilot takes at least two years for the most basic level of proficiency and most US pilots are not considered tactically proficient for a couple years after that. You can’t just give them a bunch of equipment and expect them to be able to do anything with them until they have the basics down and have built up the leadership, organization and experience necessary to support and operate complex weapons systems. Even today many Arab countries in the middle-east are in a similar situation and they rely on contractors to keep their tanks, ships and aircraft operational (Some countries are so reliant that a large portion of their armed forces, particularly the Navy and Air Force, could not operate at all without western contractors). Iraq is simply not ready.

    Third, I suspect money is an issue. Should the Iraqi government spend, or borrow, a lot of money to buy the equipment necessary for a relatively modern force when they face existential internal threats? Probably not, in my view, especially since the US will guarantee Iraq’s security from conventional external threats.

    So I think Iraqi dependence on the US at this point in time is only natural and to be expected, especially considering the internal security situation.

  • If you’re willing to go for intelligence of analysis and not just prominent credentials or total number of blog posts, you can find several female bloggers / diarykeepers on who talk & analyze well enough to be in any high-profile discussion like this.

    Just lettin’ ya know…since, you know, all the experts you ran into first are male. It’s only 5 or 6, so statistically the chances of that happening randomly are relatively good…

    …but if you feel that it’s a little non-random (for example, if it’s harder to find the good female analysts because they’re not in high-profile-resume positions), I hope my lead helps you balance the search (if you’re interested in doing so)!

  • That’s what I’m using my “Adjunct posts” section for, Katie. I’ve linked to a number of matoko’s posts at eteraz (shams) there already.

    What spurred me to organize this effort was some criticism I’d received recently and the realization of my own inadequacies. That’s why I went for what you’re referring to as “high-profile-resume” contributors. My hope was that would enhance the credibility of the offerings.

    My primary concern is quality of the posts. Were all of the linked posts to have been written by women so be it.

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