On Negotiations

A few days back I had a post, Iraq’s Legacy, which dealt with the issue of whether or not the continuing Iraq war was in fact serving to increase the level of international terrorism, and whether at the end of the day we might not be left with a bigger headache than the one we started out with. During the ensuing debate in comments we had a kind of guided tour round a lot of the associated issues, including the one of when you might, and might not, negotiate with terrorists. Well today we have this news, which also helps us put the heroic efforts of Spain’s current government to bring Eta to the negotiating table and away from guns into some sort of perspective. (Zapatero struggles on regardless, despite intense criiticism from the opposition Partido Popular, and despite the ongoing efforts of Eta itself to make life as difficult as it can for him).

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About Edward Hugh

Edward 'the bonobo is a Catalan economist of British extraction. After being born, brought-up and educated in the United Kingdom, Edward subsequently settled in Barcelona where he has now lived for over 15 years. As a consequence Edward considers himself to be "Catalan by adoption". He has also to some extent been "adopted by Catalonia", since throughout the current economic crisis he has been a constant voice on TV, radio and in the press arguing in favor of the need for some kind of internal devaluation if Spain wants to stay inside the Euro. By inclination he is a macro economist, but his obsession with trying to understand the economic impact of demographic changes has often taken him far from home, off and away from the more tranquil and placid pastures of the dismal science, into the bracken and thicket of demography, anthropology, biology, sociology and systems theory. All of which has lead him to ask himself whether Thomas Wolfe was not in fact right when he asserted that the fact of the matter is "you can never go home again".

18 thoughts on “On Negotiations

  1. This was inevitable and of course Pentagon has the deniability of claiming that it’s the Iraqi government doing the actual negotiating and they’ll just “facilitate.” The people most out on a limb now are the ones who spun about “moral clarity” over the last 4 years.

    [minor logistical issue: I’m having longer download times on afoe recently — it is the blogads?]

  2. Negotiating with terrorists and insurgents is not the same thing. Furthermore the US has some room here. As long as Iraq doesn’t go to al Qaida or the mullahs the US probably can live with the result. And, of course there’s some credible stick left, too.

  3. “Negotiating with terrorists and insurgents is not the same thing.”

    Well quite Oliver. But this hasn’t exactly been the way the story has been told recently. You wouldn’t like to give me a clear as crystal distinction between the two would you?

    The 1920 Revolution and the Majhadeen Shoura Council, would they be insurgents, or would they be terrorists? (I’m not saying that I have an answer, or even that a clear one exists in such cases).

    “The people most out on a limb now are the ones who spun about “moral clarity” over the last 4 years.”

    Absolutely agree. Never say never, or anything as remotely stupid as that. (btw thanks for the tip about the page).

    The big issue would be what was on the table. What is being offered? It’s clear the US side want an end to the insurgency, but what do the insurgents want in return, and what is being offered?

    Bush was out this week saying that a date for withdrawal would give encouragement to the insurgency. Talks and offers do the same. (Which doesn’t mean I’m against them, but you have to recognise the risks). The best situation is to do this when the insurgency is effectively beaten (like with the IRA or with ETA). To do it when the insurgency is on the upswing is frought with problems (unless you want to end up like the French in Algeria). That they are taking place at all must be an indication of pressure. The recent election results in Iran won’t have helped any either.

  4. Oliver, the prime minister of Iraq is no handshake Jafaari so fearing that Iraq will be ruled by the Mullahs is a little too late.

  5. You wouldn’t like to give me a clear as crystal distinction between the two would you?

    One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. It is true to a large extent. As a working rule, I’d call anybody who limits his operations to the immediate theater of conflict an insurgent. Blowing up civilians and hiding among the civilian population may be a war crime, but it is a military operation.

    Bush was out this week saying that a date for withdrawal would give encouragement to the insurgency. Talks and offers do the same.

    You negotiate because you are in trouble. Not the other way round. Refusing to negotiate when you have to negotiate is stupid stubborness.

  6. “As a working rule, I’d call anybody who limits his operations to the immediate theater of conflict an insurgent. Blowing up civilians and hiding among the civilian population may be a war crime, but it is a military operation.”

    So, the ‘insurgent’ who plows his explosive laden car into a bazaar full of Iraqi civilians is not a terrorist, simply because this was done is Bagdhad?

    “Absolutely agree. Never say never, or anything as remotely stupid as that. (btw thanks for the tip about the page).”

    Im curious, who exactly said ‘never’?

    “Oliver, the prime minister of Iraq is no handshake Jafaari so fearing that Iraq will be ruled by the Mullahs is a little too late.

    He also abolished an alcohol ban put in place by Sadaam. Jaafari’s no mullah.

    I suspect this has as much to do with the talks as anything.

  7. “the prime minister of Iraq is no handshake Jafaari so fearing that Iraq will be ruled by the Mullahs is a little too late.”

    Yes, well this raises the question of what the negotiations could be about. I still think the big worry of the US now is that they have inadvertently let Iran in through the back door.

    The elections have been a big tactical mistake (you should never have run them if you couldn’t guarantee Sunni participation and you couldn’t guarantee Sunni participation if you were going to ‘do’ Fallujah). So the Sunni’s are locked out, and the Shia and the Kurds will be in no hurry to let them back in. This is why the elections were a mistake since they have given legitimacy to an ethnically biased government.

    It is also I think the reason why the US *have* to negotiate directly with Sunni insurgents. They cannot trust the Iraq government to do it. The Kurds want Kirkuk, and it is much more unlikely that they can hold it if the Sunnis are let back in.

    The Shia want to control Iraq, and ditto.

    Obviously the US want to move things forward, and to reduce the alarming rate of casualties – amongst their own forces and among Iraqi civilians – so they try to go to the heart of the problem. But it’s hard to see what they can really offer the Sunnis at this stage which will be meaningful.

    “who exactly said ‘never’?”

    As everyone well knows, plenty of people, but this one today will do:

    “There’s no one negotiating with Zarqawi or the people that are out chopping peoples’ heads off”

    Zarqawi may be one thing, “the people that are out chopping peoples’ heads off” may well be another.

    Never say never.

    BTW I will handle more points from you Rupert when you have the courtesy to answer the questions I put to you at the end of the Iraq Legacy post.

  8. “I suspect this has as much to do with the talks as anything.”

    Never say never :).

    I think the link from Rupert is interesting. It draws attention to the fact that the so called ‘insurgency’ will really be a rag bag (self-correction, no one really knows enough about the insurgency to say anything authoritatively, except perhaps that it is growing, but using the info we have, and some common sense reasoning you can hazard some conjectures). If we use Zarquawi as a euphemism for foreign fighters, then we could strip them out and still find that there will be two main tendencies among the indigenous Sunni Iraqis: the islamists (who were always opposed to the ‘secular’ Saddam), and the Baathists, (who essentially want a restoration of something like Saddam). These two groups obviously will have a lot of difficulties ‘getting along fine’, so the accounts of fighting between them is pretty plausible. In particular the Baathists may not want too many more Zarqawi people in Iraq, so they may try to stop them near the frontier. There are also, of course, criminal networks to think about. Much of the kidnapping may well be being done on a stright commercial basis, and lord knows what may be being run through the Iraq/Syria border these days.

    Which brings us back to the negotiations. Could we assume that they may be with the ex-Baathists, and if so, what might they want. Would Saddam be part of any deal? I doubt he would ever be in the running to become a leader of Iraq again, but some of them might well want him back in his village, as a kind of war trophy, and as a symbol of how you really should deal with those Kurds and Shia. If the US really is worried, as I think they should be, about an alliance between a Shia Iran and a Shia Iraq, making separate deals with China and India over energy, and turning their backs on the US itself, then just about anything can happen.

    Watch this space.

  9. “This is why the elections were a mistake since they have given legitimacy to an ethnically biased government.”
    Are the Shia ethnically different from the Sunni?

  10. “If the US really is worried, as I think they should be, about an alliance between a Shia Iran and a Shia Iraq, making separate deals with China and India over energy, and turning their backs on the US itself, then just about anything can happen.”
    It is hard to believe that this possible outcome (that of course is not necessarily going to happen) was not considered by the US administration before.
    I mean intelligence was bad on all kind of things but the simple fact of the Shia being the majority religion in Iraq?
    Some suggest that even the anti-Shia violence in Pakistan led by Bin Laden was endorsed by the USA.

  11. It is hard to believe that this possible outcome (that of course is not necessarily going to happen) was not considered by the US administration before.

    Given this administration’s extensive track record in not considering things, why is this hard to believe?

    ps. Have a look over at AFEM for the next transatlantic scandal…

  12. “Are the Shia ethnically different from the Sunni?”

    I knew someone was going to pick up on that sentance as I wrote it. The answer is beyond my competence. They are both certainly Arabs, and there are family ties among the elites, but that may not be too significant. I think I would like to hear this explained by an Iraqi shia. My impression is that the shia don’t have the same tribal structure the sunni do, but it is only that, an impression. Since the sunni tribal structure seems so important to the insurgency, it’s strange that there isn’t more general material on this.

    What is clear is that the shia are largely poor, and have been generally oppressed:

    “The fact that many Iraqi Shia fought on the Iraqi side during the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988) was also lost on the regime. Most of the infantry was Shia. No upper-level officer was Shia. They fought hard for Iraq. Many died. The government brutalized them later on. Some families that were being exiled to Iran had their military-aged sons taken from them by the Iraqi government during the war with Iran (1980-1988). Most were never seen again.”

    The whole article is worth the read:

    http://hnn.us/articles/1455.html

    If I wanted to use a ‘backs to the wall’ defence, I would say that the importance given to the Kurds in the election outcome justifies the phrase you picked up on.

  13. The extract below from my last link is perhaps the most interesting part. Who are the ‘tribes of the south’, why did they become sedantry? These would be the interesting question.

    And why are the northern tribes so good at warfare, would be another.

    “There is an interesting tie in here between the tribes of the south and the Shia sense that the Ottoman (Sunni) Caliphs were not the true representatives of the Muslims. The tribes in the south did not like the increasing influence of the Ottomans in the Wilayets of Basra and Baghdad, the Ottoman governates that covered most of the South of Iraq during the late 18th and 19th centuries. The tribes were converting from Sunni Islam, in part, more out of protest against the Ottoman rule it seems than as a theological “epiphany.” Also, as the tribes in the south began to settle into towns rather than as bedouin they were subject to the proselytizing of the Shia ulema. There were also many Persians, later Iranians, and Indians who migrated to the south of Iraq.”

  14. _So, the ‘insurgent’ who plows his explosive laden car into a bazaar full of Iraqi civilians is not a terrorist, simply because this was done is Bagdhad?_

    Insurgents are for the most part just terrorists. Sometimes they can really cease power and they don’t need to use terrorisme but for instance the marquis were clearly terrorists

    _He also abolished an alcohol ban put in place by Sadaam. Jaafari’s no mullah._

    Saddam’s ban on alcohol was akin to the Dutch ban on hash. No ban in reality

    _The elections have been a big tactical mistake_

    It was or election or Southern Iraq in flames. And if Southern Iraq would be in flames than Blair would be the only British soldier in Iraq. And without reinforcements the US army would have been demolised. (and defacto an end to the Nato-US partnership)
    It also doesn’t matter if the Sunni’s would have voted because the religious Shiites would still form a majority.

    _The Shia want to control Iraq, and ditto._

    The religious Shiites will control a Iraq that is democratic because they have a majority. Nothing except mass murder can change that for the next 20 years.

    _It is hard to believe that this possible outcome (that of course is not necessarily going to happen) was not considered by the US administration before._

    Why do you think the US is doing everything possible to start a civil war. If it doesn’t end in civil war it will end in Iran II. This war was run by NeoCon, what else do you expect from people who would be communists 40 years ago. They don’t believe in reality.

    According to Iranian sources they will export 1 billion US to Iraq next year (or 1/8 of total non oil export) They have made a deal with Iraq to import Iraqi oil by a pipeline which they are now laying. Iran has last week made a deal with Syria to export oil so i guess they believe they have Iraq’s OK. To say this is going bad is an understatement were it not for the fact that this was always the most likely result of this invasion.

    For this to go bad Turkey has to switch sides (probably already done) and for it to go really bad Saudi Arabia has to ally itself with Iran (not exactly unlikely with Bush)

  15. Edward,

    As a participant in the previous discussion that you referred to, I suggest that you do not get into a dither about someone negotiating. Rumsfeld also said that he felt that it will take about twelve years for Iraq to stabilize. He also said that various parties were “negotiating” all the time. If there is any serious talk going on, it is because the Marines are kicking some serious ass, and the Sunnis are desparate to save what they can.

    I recommend that the Marines continue the ass kicking. Better to kill the jerks now than have to go back and do it again. Most Americans believe we should have finished the job when we kicked them out of Kuwait.

    Since most of the European community has sat this one out, we have an expression for your current dialog, “butt out”.

  16. ‘Since most of the European community has sat this one out, we have an expression for your current dialog, “butt out”.’

    O, I wish we could. Unfortunately, you do not own the world and its discourse.

  17. So, the ‘insurgent’ who plows his explosive laden car into a bazaar full of Iraqi civilians is not a terrorist, simply because this was done is Bagdhad?

    He isn’t a terrorist against the US.
    Defeating the insurgency and killing all those people would be prefearable. Unfortunately it is not a realistic option.
    Basing policy on desirable but not achievable goals won’t help in war. If you can’t win, you have to negotiate. The alternaive is to cut and run.

  18. You negotiate because you are in trouble. Not the other way round. Refusing to negotiate when you have to negotiate is stupid stubborness.

    Sometimes. Sometimes one negotiates because it is lower cost.

    Now as to the easy comments about “Mullahs” and the like, I have to say precious few of you seem to have the first clue as to the real meaning of the words being bandied about. Let’s simply say that even among the religiously conservative there are different attitudes towards how to approach morality. Jaafari of course has no real need to keep a ban that never was anything more than a scrap of paper, above all when the Shia militia/urban gangs have begun to “enforce” an effective ban in many areas. Jaafari strikes me as a sharp operator who sees no need to go for short term gestures in certain areas.

    In regards to Shia versus Sunni among the Arabs:
    Primo, it is incorrect to believe that they are substantively different in terms of trbal structure. Some tribes are actually mixed – transference from Sunni to Shia identity has occured in historical time. Second in urban areas especially there has been significant intermarriage (normal given mixed tribal affiliations and the like).

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