Tuesday, July 19, 2005

On Blogging

Let's face it, I'm a terrible blogger. I'm a terrible blogger because the second I start blogging, it becomes a chore I want desperately to avoid. It's not like I don't, in theory, want to regale the world with my thoughts on whatever, and have the world read it and love and and be changed forever by it, or that I don't have a lot to say, or that I think I say it poorly. I'm just lazy, I guess.

Like I said, it's a chore, and I have enough chores in my life right now. It's harder and harder to write at work, since I'm criticizing the government on a government computer, and by the time I get home from work or class, writing is not high on my list.

My thanks to everyone who read and commented, my apologies to everyone who wants more. But, seriously, there are a bajillion other blogs out there. No one will miss this one.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Can We Officially Bury Flypaper Now?

Heather of Here's What's Left points to a radio address by President Bush on 9 July:
We are now waging a global war on terror - from the mountains of Afghanistan to the border regions of Pakistan, to the Horn of Africa, to the islands of the Philippines, to the plains of Iraq. We will stay on the offense, fighting the terrorists abroad so we do not have to face them at home.
Emphasis mine. The London bombings, in case you have forgotten, were just two days earlier. I suppose it's possible that Bush doesn't consider London, capital of our closest ally and the second-largest force in the "Coalition of the Willing", as part of "home", and instead counts it as part of the "abroad" where we're fighting the terrorists so we don't have to fight them at "home". You know, so long as it's fer'ners who are dying and not 'Murkins, it's all good. Or he was just bullshitting.

Either way, let's bury the "Flypaper Strategy", shall we?

Because after this, I think it's pretty clear that Flypaper has not worked. The New York Times is reporting that the bombs were technically advanced and appear to be the work of experts. Newsweek (via Eric Umansky) has written about the Class of '05:
In Iraq, on the other hand, hostility toward America is practically the only thing that all insurgents agree on—foreign infiltrators and native recruits alike. And jihadists in Iraq are getting direct, on-the-job training in a real-life insurgency, with hands-on experience in bombing, sniping and all the skills of urban warfare, unlike the essentially artificial training that was given at Al Qaeda's rural Afghan camps.

One of the paper's main points is that America's Iraqi troubles will not end with the insurgency. In effect, Iraq is producing a new corps of master terrorists with an incandescent hatred for the United States—the "class of '05 problem," as it's called in the shorthand of CIA analysts. This war is proving to be longer and nastier than almost anyone expected. One day, its results may be felt closer to home.
It's very possible that someone involved in the attacks spent time honing skills in Iraq. Even if no one involved had been to Iraq, we still have yet another example (after Bali, Madrid, and Beslan, to name a few) of terrorists who have not been attracted to Iraq to be killed by American forces. Instead, they're still happily murdering people around the world.

Flypaper only makes sense if we attract lots of terrorists and would be terrorists to Iraq - and kill enough of them so that they can no longer organize attacks. We fight - and kill them - in foreign lands so they cannot return to America (And the rest of the Western world - right? They still count too, right?) to launch new attacks. Of course, this was dumb from day number one.

When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979, would-be jihadis flocked to the country en masse. The Soviets spent a decade and lost 15,000 troops fighting the Afghan mujahadeen and their Arab allies. They killed tens of thousands of them. And yet, after all that, there were still enough jihadis to organize al Qaeda and its associated organizations, and to launch all of their murderous attacks of the last decade and a half. If the Soviets killed tens of thousands over a decade at a cost of 15,000 dead, how many will we have to kill, and at what cost, before we make a dent in the operational capability of terrorists?

It's a meaningless question. No matter how many we kill, more can just take their place. It's like asking: how many murderers do we have to kill before there's no more murder, ever again? We can kill a lot of terrorists, and we can attract a lot of would-be terrorists and kill them before they can do any harm. We can affect the operational capability of some groups and we can destroy others outright. But we can never get them all, because not all of them will go to Iraq, not all of them will be killed, and not all of them even exist yet.

Flypaper never made strategic sense for another reason. Among the many justifications for war (WMD! Freedom! He tried to kill my father!) presented by the Bush administration, flypaper has been getting a lot of play - but so has the neocon justification: turning Iraq into the first Arab democracy, from which democracy will spread to other Arab countries, ending the regimes that made it possible for radical political Islam to grow. Ignoring the fact that many Islamic radicals come from democracies and not dictatorships (how many of the September 11 hijackers lived in Germany?), this is utterly and totally incompatible with flypaper.

We invade an impoverished, brutalized country with barely controlled sectarian divisions. The economy and infrastructure are devastated. Years of war and sanctions have crushed the population. We want, within a matter of months, to turn it into a thriving democracy on the road to economic prosperity. What do we do? Why, we invite terrorists from all over the world to engage the U.S. armed forces in a battle to the death! Genius! The Cunning Realist raises some moral issues, too:
What gives us the right to use a sovereign nation as a catch basin for carnage so we can go on blissfully consuming and merrily flipping real estate here? Instead of flypaper, this should be called the "Night of the Living Dead Nation" strategy---using the undead, zombie-like carcass of a failed state for our own benefit. Beyond the sheer selfish immorality of it, has anyone thought about the potential for blowback? How would you feel if we were invaded by the Chinese on a false pretense, and they stated openly that their strategy was to attract and fight the scum of the earth in the streets of New York, Washington, Los Angeles and Chicago so they did not have to fight in Beijing?
Even if they thought they could kill lots of terrorists very quickly, they were still trying to attract terrorists, who were going to practice terrorism, into a country we were trying to rebuild as quickly as possible. The whole point of the war, according to this theory, was to end terrorism in the long-term by destroying the conditions which created it, and that starts with Iraq. It is, according to them, utterly vital to our national security and our survival. So we take something that's utterly vital to our survival and, just to make sure that we don't get too cocky, toss in some tens of thousands of terrorists. Does this make any sense? Any construction contractors out there? How easy is it to complete a project which is being sabotaged by terrorists while the Marines shoot back?

Either one of these two justifications for the war was utter and total bullshit, or our leaders are even stupider than I had originally thought.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Media Bias

From Instapundit, via Andrew Sullivan, we get this gem of media criticism:
I bet if the media voluntarily stopped showing any pictures of all terror attacks, that the terror would stop. Thus ending the GWOT without a shot. This policy would be NO DIFFERENT than how they cover folks who run on to baseball fields: they do NOT show them on TV; they ignore them. Would the media ever put peace above their ratings/profits? Never.
The idiocy of this is astonishing. Setting aside the fact that, even sans coverage, people are going to hear about mass murder (only this time as rumor), this is still really stupid.

The reasoning goes something like this, I suppose: if people don't know about the threat of terrorism, then they cannot be scared into giving into the goals of terrorists, and so terrorism would lose its effectiveness as a tool. In theory, the terrorists would give up their ineffective tool.

The implication is: if people know the whole truth, they might make a decision that Glenn Reynolds doesn't like. To prevent this, people must be prevented from knowing the truth.

And people accuse liberals of being paternalists. So much for having an electorate of informed adults making decisions for themselves.

Right-wing criticism of so called "liberal media bias" (you know: the dread MSM which is objectively pro-terrorist and those perfidious defeatist reporters who hate Bush so much they'd rather tongue-kiss bin Laden than report positive news from Iraq, that old chestnut) has absolutely nothing to do with creating an "unbiased" media and has everything to do with pressuring the media to only report what and how conservatives want them to report.

Case in point: Kevin Sites.

Kevin Sites is a freelance journalist who works covers warzones all over the world. In November of last year he was working for NBC, embedded with the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment in Fallujah. There, he filmed a Marine shooting an unarmed, wounded insurgent who had surrendered the day before. Two days later, NBC reported the story, and from there it spread around the world.

And immediately Kevin Sites became the enemy of all that is good and right in the world.

Go ahead, google Kevin Sites and treason. You'll get over 75,000 hits.

This is important: treason, as defined by the Constitution, consists "only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort." Sites did not levy war, nor did he adhere to our enemies or give them comfort and aid. Instead, he filmed an American soldier shooting an unarmed, wounded prisoner. And for this, in the eyes of right-wing nutjobs, he is a traitor.

Imagine, for a moment, that the goal of this media criticism really were to create "unbiased" media. What would this look like? Imagine that instead of reporters like Sites, choosing what to film and networks like NBC, choosing what to broadcast (because this is, of course, where the bias occurs, since choosing what to cover is also choosing how to portray something), we had full, blanket coverage of every square inch of Iraq at every moment of every day. Anyone in the world could log onto Iraq.com and click on any part of the map, and instantly have live video coverage of that spot, along with complete archives of everything that happened in that spot before. What would happen?

People would still have seen that Marine shoot that prisoner.

Conservatives say "we want unbiased media". They then say "we don't want the public to know about bad things like that shooting". You can't have both. If you want unbiased, you're going to cover everything, including the bad stuff. Sites didn't make it up - he simply reported it. If you don't want the bad stuff shown, you want bias - bias in favor of your agenda. You don't want a free press, or at least a free press that chooses what you don't like. You want a propaganda mill.

The idea is that, by showing lots of bad stuff in Iraq, the media will turn American public opinion away from supporting the war in Iraq towards withdrawal. Some people can't stand this - the idea that a fully-informed electorate might make a choice that runs counter to the Bush administration's agenda in Iraq. This idea if so outrageous to some people that it is more important to control access to information than it is to allow adults to make decisions of themselves in a democracy - or to address the problems in Iraq that are causing the shift in public opinion in the first place.

Resilience

Human beings have the capacity for enormous depravity. From The New York Times:
Nationwide, the Drug Enforcement Administration says that over the last five years 15,000 children were found at laboratories where methamphetamine was made. But that number vastly understates the problem, federal officials say, because it does not include children whose parents use methamphetamine but do not make it and because it relies on state reporting, which can be spotty.

...But the biggest problem, doctors who work with children say, is not with those born under the effects of the drug but with the children who grow up surrounded by methamphetamine and its attendant problems. Because users are so highly sexualized, the children are often exposed to pornography or sexual abuse, or watch their mothers prostitute themselves, the welfare workers say.

The drug binges tend to last for days or weeks, and the crash is tremendous, leaving children unwashed and unfed for days as parents fall into a deep sleep.

"The oldest kid becomes the parent, and the oldest kid may be 4 or 5 years old," said Dr. Mike Stratton, a pediatrician in Muskogee, Okla., who is involved with a state program for children exposed to drugs that is run in conjunction with the Justice Department. "The parents are basically worthless, when they're not stoned they're sleeping it off, when they're not sleeping they don't eat, and it's not in their regimen to feed the kids."
But, in the face of this, as in the face of all such things, some people demonstrate our capacity for resilience, selflessness, and all those things that make it seem like we might not destroy ourselves in the end:
Ms. Glick recalls a group of siblings found eating plaster at a home filled with methamphetamine. The oldest, age 6, was given a hamburger when they arrived at the Laura Dester Shelter; he broke it apart and handed out bits to his siblings before taking a bite himself.
Breaks my heart.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

HVC: Hippie Vs. Communist

Whoever wins...We lose.

The other day, as I was walking to and from the supermarket, I was treated to a protest (such are the benefits of living in Washington, DC). Like most, this was run by hippies (but not all are - the weirdest was a bunch of Turks marching around, chanting "No More Lies!" and waving signs that indicated support for the US for not recognizing the Armenian Genocide). Unlike most hippie-run protests, however, this one was not about how our wars for oil are making it so that we can't eat fish from the sea (yes, seriously, I once heard a hippie chick chant/rap this at one protest to which I was privy).

No, this one was to protest against the Communist Party of China!

That's right, hippies were protesting communists. Lately I've seen ads on TV for some book, something like "Nine Commentaries on the Chinese Communist Party" that's supposedly destroying the CCP. And even though my arms were full of bags of groceries I had carried six blocks in July heat and humidity (DC is built on a swamp), a very nice Chinese lady was very insistent that I take a brochure that had something to do with the book. So, the whole thing was probably organized by some Chinese dissident group, probably the Falun Gong, who I sometimes see performing their exercises across the street from the Chinese embassy in protest of the CCP's harsh repression of their club/cult/religion/whatever.

But even if it was organized by the Falun Gong, it was still interesting and fun to listen to hippies up on a temporary stage lecturing inarticulately through a megaphone about the evils of communism.

So, for everyone out there who thinks there's a monolithic Left and that if Hillary Clinton is elected she'll install a Stalinist dictatorship, here is a clear example of Leftists rejecting communism. I'm about as big a fan of hippies as is Eric Cartman, but it's nice to see them doing something, you know, good, like criticizing an actual genocidal dictatorship for a change.

Terror in London

I turned on the cable news this morning, something I only do while getting ready each day (I generally despise TV news), and saw something terrible. That CNN story seems a little out of date; the last I heard, there had been six explosions and twenty people killed.

It was with some trepidation that I got on the Metro this morning to commute to work. I'm not particularly well versed with emergency procedures on the subway. I suppose I really, really should learn.

UPDATE: The Guardian and BBC have more. Guardian is reporting on their homepage that as many as 45 people are dead. An al Qaeda group is apparently claiming responsibility. This does tend to fit their patter of multiple simultaneous attacks.

Pandagon is pointing to the Muslim Council of Britain, who are condemning the attacks. Meanwhile, LGF commenters are calling for the destruction of Mecca. Because nothing solves terrorism and religious war like genocide and more religious war!

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Enuii

I'm suffering from a horrible case of enuii, or some existential funk, or maybe I'm just bored and lazy, but not blogging today. I'll see if I can't turn something out tomorrow.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Who, Exactly, Did bin Laden Want As President?

The Poor Man points to this interesting article in The Jerusalem Post:
Two French journalists who were held hostage in Iraq told a British documentary program that their captors believed George W. Bush's re-election as US president would help radicalize Iraqis.

...The cell leader trained with terror leader Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and told them the insurgents supported a Bush presidency because they believed it meant that "there will be confrontation, occupation and radicalization of the Iraqi people," Malbrunot said.
Right before the 2004 election, bin Laden released a tape that caused quite a stir. "Look!" cried Republicans. "He wants America to elect John Kerry!" "No!" cried the Democrats. "He hates both equally! He'll still try to kill us regardless of who we elect! And if he has a choice, he wants America to elect George Bush!"

Most of the confusion came from the translation of the Arabic word wilaya, which is used to denote both "state" as in "nation-state", but also "state" as in "Kentucky". CNN translated a particular passage thusly:
Your security is not in the hands of Kerry or Bush or al Qaeda. Your security is in your own hands. Any nation that does not attack us will not be attacked.
The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) translated it a little differently:
Your security is not in the hands of Kerry or Bush or Al-Qa'ida. Your security is in your own hands, and any [U.S.] state that does not toy with our security automatically guarantees its own security.
The first translation implies that bin Laden doesn't care who wins. The latter implies that voters in America had better think twice about who they're electing - and, as everyone knows, haha! George Bush was the only one with the cojones to attack bin Laden, so of course bin Laden was saying "if Ohio votes for Bush, we'll attack Ohio". So the Republican response went something like "if you don't love terrorists and want to open-mouth kiss bin Laden, of course you should vote for Bush, because bin Laden hates Bush and warned you not to vote for him, so let's stick it to bin Laden!"

My knowledge of Arabic is extremely limited (like, to the word wilaya), so as far as I know, both translations are equally valid. MEMRI's, though, looks a little staged: it was an editorial choice to insert the [U.S.] bit - and MEMRI's own ideological biases aren't exactly a state secret. Personally, I would have liked both CNN and MEMRI to make clear the impossibility of rendering the phrase directly into English, but they both made their choices, and MEMRI chose to imply that bin Laden wanted America to elect John Kerry.

But, the terrorists keep telling us, over and over, that they love that George Bush is president! The terrorist holding the two French journalists is not the only member of al Qaeda to state, directly, that they wanted George Bush to win. Last year, Yahoo News was reporting this:
An unrelated videotape of a man describing himself as al Qaeda's European military spokesman also claimed responsibility for the Madrid bombing... The statement said it supported U.S. President George W. Bush in his reelection campaign, and would prefer him to win in November rather than the Democratic candidate John Kerry, as it was not possible to find a leader "more foolish than you (Bush), who deals with matters by force rather than with wisdom."

In comments addressed to Bush, the group said:

"Kerry will kill our nation while it sleeps because he and the Democrats have the cunning to embellish blasphemy and present it to the Arab and Muslim nation as civilisation."

"Because of this we desire you (Bush) to be elected."
They seem to like Bush because, after September 11, Bush chose to attack a country that had nothing to do with September 11. While bin Laden was saying that the United States hated Islam and wanted to conquer Muslim countries to steal their resources and destroy their religion, the US invaded an oil-rich country that was not a direct threat (or even much of an indirect threat, especially at a time when there are plenty of actual terrorist/WMD threats).

As I pointed out the other day, Anthony Cordesman agrees about al Qaeda's goals:
The goal of Bin Laden and those like him is not to persuade the US or the West, it is rather to so alienate them from the Islamic and Arab world that the forces of secularism in the region will be sharply undermined, and Western secular influence can be controlled or eliminated...Such actions also breed anger and alienation in the US and the West and provoke excessive political and media reactions, more stringent security measures, violent responses, and all of the other actions that help instigate a "clash of civilizations." The US and the West are often provoked into playing into the hands of such attackers.
And I've talked about Ayman al Zawahiri and his goals:
Zawahiri views the current phase of the jihad as a revolutionary war, and the ideological component of the struggle is thus very important...He calls on his followers, at this stage of the struggle, to “launch a battle for orienting the [Muslim] nation” by striking at the United States and Israel. Thus, al Qaeda’s immediate goal is not to destroy Israel or even drive the United States out of the Middle East; rather, it is to "orient the nation."
Al Qaeda has very patiently and clearly explained, time and time again, what it wants: to attack America, not to destroy it immediately, but to provoke a response which can be used as a propaganda tool - here comes big bad America to get us! Told you so! Here's where to sign up!

And, in order to avoid writing yet another post on what Bush has done wrong (some function of x where x is "what Bush has done wrong" and is asymptotically approaching infinity), I'll make a recommendation: I don't want to stop fighting al Qaeda and its franchises. I want to fight it in such a way that al Qaeda cannot point at us and say "See? We told you so" - and have people listen. Since we can't un-invade Iraq, this means altering our fighting style there so as to stop killing quite so many innocent people, and alienating the survivors. Beyond Iraq, this means a lot of intelligence work, a lot of Predator drones firing missiles at cars in Yemen, a lot of work to secure the homeland, a lot of work by the Treasury to cut off terrorist funding, and a whole lot of propaganda (as in actually promoting democracy and reforms without shooting people first, and more Voice of America-style work), and most importantly, a whole lot of not invading any more countries that we don't really need to invade.

Seriously. Hitler told the world what he wanted to do, and man, is the world sure kicking itself for not reading that book. Al Qaeda is telling us exactly what it wants to do and how it plans on doing it.

Why are so few people listening?

Thursday, June 30, 2005

The Withdrawal Option

I'm not entirely wedded to withdrawal-as-policy, but it sounds better and better all the time.

William Saletan, writing in Slate, presents the best case for withdrawal I have yet to read:
In blood and money, it's fast becoming the most expensive welfare program in the history of the world. Like other welfare programs, it was a good idea when it started. Like other welfare programs, it has begun to overtax the treasury and the public. Like other welfare programs, it warps the behavior of its beneficiaries. But in one respect, it's unique. It's the one welfare program conservatives can't criticize or even recognize, because they're the ones running it.

...Setting a deadline for withdrawal of those troops "would send the wrong message to the Iraqis, who need to know that America will not leave before the job is done," Bush said tonight. But 45 seconds later, responding to calls for a troop increase, he cautioned, "Sending more Americans would undermine our strategy of encouraging Iraqis to take the lead in this fight." Which is it, Mr. President? Does our military presence encourage Iraqi self-sufficiency or weaken it?

I understand why Bush doesn't want to talk about withdrawal. He knows terrorists feed on fear and weakness. He knows the surest way to lose this war is to think we've lost it. He sees it not as a story that's been written but as a story we're still writing. That's why he appealed tonight to our virtues: courage, steadfastness, perseverance, resolve. He doesn't believe in objective impossibility. He believes in free will. And he's right.

But ultimately, this isn't our story. It's the Iraqis' story. They have to write it, and they have to start by drafting a constitution in six weeks. If they think Uncle Sam will prop them up till the job is done, the job will never get done. That's what conservatives used to understand about big government, before they started running it.
One of the many problems with Iraq remains that we have not established clear goals for ourselves, something that Bush used to think important back when he was criticizing Clinton for not having an exit plan from Kosovo. We have to ask ourselves: what are we willing to accept as victory? Every terrorist dead? Even if that were feasible, in the sense that continued fighting did not aid recruitment by the insurgency, we might be at that for decades. A stable government? We have to remember that less than a hundred years after declaring independence, America was fighting the bloodiest war in its history - against itself. And, last time I checked, Iraq had a democratically elected government - it's just waiting on a constitution. Oh yeah, and an army.

But Saletan, and some others, are specifically talking about our presence in Iraq as an impediment to achieving our goals.

In other words, get your act together, Iraq, or you're screwed in a way you can't possibly imagine.

Again, I'm not talking about immediate withdrawal. That would be bad. But Kevin Drum has some thoughts:
The constitution is supposed be put up for a vote on October 15. Let's announce that the second round of troop withdrawals will commence on November 15.

Elections for a government under the new constitution are supposed to be held on December 15. Let's announce that the third round of withdrawals will begin on January 15, 2006. After that, withdrawals will continue in an orderly way until the coalition presence is completely gone.

If the Iraqis ask for an extension, as the transitional law allows them to do, we should agree to push all these dates forward by an additional month. This sends a clear message: make the deals you need to make. Form a government. Get your troops trained. Because by the end of 2006, after nearly four years of war and occupation, coalition troops will be gone.

This doesn't mean the end of American help. Postwar aid has proven crucial to promoting stability and democracy in the aftermath of past conflicts, so we have every reason to be generous in providing reconstruction assistance of all kinds to the Iraqis. But it's time to let them know in a credible way that we aren't going to be there forever. Maybe that's just the motivation they need.
I approve. We have already started the process (hopefully) of splitting the Sunni nationalist element of the insurgency, which we can co-opt into the political process, from the jihadist element, which we're going to have to continue fighting.

This isn't running away. This is tough love.

More Thoughts on the Insurgency

From Anthony Cordesman (page 39):
A few outlying estimates have been as low as 3,500 full-time actives making up the “core” forces. Most US military estimates range between 8,000 and 18,000, perhaps reaching over 20,000 when the ranks swell for major operations. Iraqi intelligence officials, on the other hand, have sometimes issued figures for the total number of Iraqi sympathizers and insurgents as high as 200,000, with a core of anywhere between 15,000 and 40,000 fighters and another 160,000 supporters. Newsweek quotes US sources as putting the total of insurgents at 12,000-20,000 in late June 2005. Another US expert is quoted as saying it had some 1,000 foreign jihadists,500 Iraqi jihadists, 15,000-30,000 in former regime elements, and some 400,000 auxiliaries and support personnel.
This is important. Depending on the estimates, the jihadists make up only twenty percent (at the absolute most) or four percent (at the absolute least) or eight percent (probably the most accurate). The rest are non-jihadists. They're ex-Baathists and they're Sunni nationalist. Cordesman has some theories on why the Sunnis continue to join the insurgency (page 43):
According to the CIA reports, the Sunni loss of power, prestige, and economic influence is a key factor, as is unemployment and a loss of personal status -- direct and disguised unemployment among young Sunni men has been 40-60% in many areas ever since the fall of Saddam Hussein. Many insurgents are motivated by tribal or family grievances, nationalism and religious duty. Others are motivated by the U.S. occupation – particularly those who have lost a loved one fighting U.S. forces – and the political and economic turmoil that accompanied the occupation.
It didn't have to be this way (page 42):
It is important to note that while most of Iraq’s ruling elite during Saddam Hussein’s decades of dictatorship were Sunni, the top elite came from a small portion of Sunnis, many with family backgrounds in what were originally rural military families. The top elite had strong ties now only to Saddam’s extended family, but to Tikritis in general, and the al-Bu Nasir tribe and its Bejat clan and Majid family. The vast majority of Sunnis got little special benefit from Saddam’s rule, and many Sunnis suffered from his oppression in the same way as other Iraqis.

Most Sunni Arabs, like most Shi’ite Arabs, favored a strong, unified Iraqi state during 2003-2004, when public opinion polls covering broad areas were still possible. Like Iraq’s Arab Shi’ites, polls show that Iraqi Sunnis are generally religious and see Islam as a key aspect of their lives, but do not favor a theocratic state.
In other words, a lot of Sunnis weren't so well off under Saddam and probably could have supported the US efforts to build a unitary, democratic Iraqi state - they supported a unified state and opposed a theocracy. Instead, they perceive themselves to have been marginalized politically, economically, and socially - and as such, many of them are joining or at least supporting the insurgency. And this is why it's so important to bring as many Sunnis into the political and economic process as possible, to give them a stake in the new Iraq. From page 47:
In theory, the various Sunni insurgent groups are more capable of paralyzing progress, and fighting a long war of attrition, than of actually defeating an Iraqi government which is dominated by a cohesive Shi’ite majority, and which maintains good relations with the Kurds. Regardless of who is doing the counting, the total for active and passive native Iraqi Sunni insurgents still leaves them a small minority of Iraq's population. Unless the Iraqi government divides or collapses, they cannot bring back Arab Sunni minority rule or the Ba’ath; they cannot regain the level of power, wealth, and influence they once had. They cannot reestablish the form of largely secular rule that existed under Saddam, or reestablish Iraq as a country that most Arabs see as "Sunni."

...At the same time, the various Sunni insurgent elements are becoming better trained and organized, and may be able to establish themselves as the dominant political and military force within the Sunni community—particularly if Iraq’s Arab Shi’ites and Kurds mishandle the situation. They can try to present themselves as the only legitimate alternative to the occupation, even if they fail to provide a popular agenda. This means they can survive and endure as long as the government is too weak to occupy the insurgency dominated areas, and as long as the large majority of Sunnis in given areas does not see a clear incentive to joint the government and Iraq's political process.
Emphasis his.

Sunnis are joining the insurgency because they feel they have legitimate grievances and that those grievances will only get worse under the new government. We can continue to fight the insurgency as we have been, but that raises its own problems. Our current method of fighting the insurgency is contributing to the grievances that feed the insurgency. As Knight Ridder pointed out last year, we're killing more Iraqis than the insurgency, maybe up to twice as many. If Force A says "we're fighting to liberate you from Force B" and Force B says "we're fighting to protect you from Force A", and Force B kills twice as many of your friends, family, and neighbors as Force A, this will be enough to convince some people to support Force A - and evidently it has been enough to encourage a lot of people to join the insurgency.

So, in a very vague way, I propose the following strategy for defeating the insurgency: 1) continue to combat the insurgency with force, but seek out much subtler ways of doing so that don't kill so many bystanders, and 2) engage in intense efforts to incorporate the Sunni community into the government and economy. I say "vague" because 1) I can't remember the particular news stories I read which describe our efforts to root out insurgents in town as basically a "level everything in sight and then roll out"-style operation and 2) the second deals so much with the first - we're not going to see real progress in terms of jobs or infrastructure in Sunni areas until we establish some security, and some of that requires that we stop fighting in such a way that we give people more incentive to fight against us than with us. But politically, we can start to do something now.

It's good that we're negotiating with the insurgents in an attempt to drive a wedge between them and the jihadists. (But maybe we're not negotiating - there seems to be some confusion on this points.)

This might seem distasteful to some people, the notion that we should 1) be more careful when fighting the enemy and 2) offer incentives to people who might support or consider supporting our enemies or negotiate with insurgents. But we have to ask: which is more important, making sure that potentially bad people don't get something they don't deserve and punishing them for being bad, or ending the violence? Both for the sake of Iraqis, and our own national security, I tend to place more emphasis on ending violence and establish a viable Iraqi democracy than in making sure the naughty people who don't like us and who sympathized with the insurgency get theirs. There are plenty of examples of societies which decided that, as horrible as the past may have been, the future was more important. As a result, we have South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission or Germany's Vergangenheitsbewältigung to deal with the crimes of the DDR.

So this is why I like Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani's new plan:
Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani outlined a proposal that would scrap the system used in the January election...Under the proposal, voters in national elections would select leaders from each of the 19 provinces instead of choosing from a single country-wide list, as they did in January. The new system would essentially set aside a number of seats for Sunnis roughly proportionate to their numbers in the population, ensuring that no matter how low the Sunni turnout, they would be guaranteed seats.
This isn't a perfect solution, but it's something. Under the current system voters choose from a national list. Sunnis ended up with only 17 of the 275 seats in the National Assembly, just six percent.

No, the Sunnis aren't a monolithic bloc, and yes, one of the reasons they have so few seats is because of a fairly wide-spread boycott of the elections by Sunnis. But the Sunnis were boycotting largely because they felt the system was unfair to them, and now that they have so few seats, they have even less vestment in the system. If, by doing this, we can encourage them to join the political process, we can save a lot of lives and start ending the insurgency. To me, the lives saved are worth reaching out to our enemies, who we most probably cannot defeat militarily. Plus, federalism, yay!