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12 September 2006


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COL: what are the implications of a partition of Iraq? Can this occur without a long, bloody war? Do we have a dog in that hunt?

W. Patrick Lang


A partition that results in the creation of a Jihadi base area in Anbar Province would be a bad thing.

Instead of the former base area in Afghanistan, we would have created a different one in the virtual center of the ME.

In re "the dog," I will think about that. pl


Col Lang: Interesting comment regarding the prioritization of the group interest over the individual in Muslim societies. You started me thinking about similar scenarios in other societies. How does a society which values group interests in say, Japan, still manage a democratic society? (And thanks for giving one of your old students a venue for some intelligent thinking again.)

John in LA

In retrospect, it all seems like a compounding cascade of mistakes.

The Israelis, fixated on their mid-20th century wars with the Arab states, thought that the mechanized, industrial military dictatorship (Saddam)was the greatest threat.

They didn't understand the deeper truth that their destruction of Palestine would meld with Jihadism in a 21st century insurgent war.

The Israeli agents in the United States (AIPAC and the NeoCons) leveraged a war against Iraq at the highest levels of the Republican Party, which in turn subverted the leadership of our intelligence agencies and the DOD.

DOD efficiently eliminated the Saddam dictatorship, and into the void swept the Jihadis - both Sunni and Shia.

By these series of errors, the Bush administration moved the Jihad front from Waziristan to ON TOP OF THE ME OIL FIELDS.

It's difficult to calculate the scale and depth of this error. It may someday rank up there with our tumble into WWI, the German invasion of Czechoslovakia etc.

It seems lose-lose: if Iraq remains whole, it will become the theater of an interminable proxy war between the Irani clerics and the Gulf dictatorships. When this happened in the 1980s, one million died.

If Iraq fragments, Anbar may well destabilize Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and the occupied territories. Iraqi Shiastan will be the lever by which the Iranis destabilize the Gulf and drive the Americans crazy. And independent Kurdistan will drive a Turkish invasion of Mesopotamia.

If there is a third possibility I'd like to hear of it


Col Lang: I think Dave has a good question, though I would ask about the U.S. and the rise of 'Christian' groups that are practicing the 'true faith' and their commitment to particular political parties/politicians.


Dear Col. Lang,
Thanks for posting this. Well done & I look forward to going to U of VA's website for the talk. And kudos to Mr. Kessler.



Really enjoyed your talk and the Q&A. The MP3 is so clear! With these wonderful internet tools I hope you would consider some day to do a wider "net-based" multi-media conversation. Listening to you and the questions really added texture and depth to the interactions here. Thanks.


John in LA

When we get leaders with common sense and less hubris the third way will be found. As PL discusses there's the approach of "hudna".


Col. Lang,

If I understood correctly, you mentioned in your presentation that you had just finished writing a book on Anbar Province for DoD. Is it to be for internal use only, or will it become publicly available?

W. Patrick Lang


Lin Todd and I wrote it for the J-2. what they will do with it, I know not. pl

Babak Makkinejad

Dave, Fred, and Col. Lang:

The absence of the "prioritization of the group interest over the individual" is not peculiar to Muslim polities. Every society has elements of both. In US and Italy, the Northern areas have a preonderance of civic culture but the Southern areas one of individualistic culture.

Why that is so is some thing that may be investigated using the methods of Peter Turchin in "Historical Dynamics".

Interestingly, the existence of this "group interest" was noted explicitly by Ibn Khaldun 600 years ago - he called it "assabiya" - the emotional attachment to a "tribe" (polity) with an inherent sense of group cohesion.

Many Arab polities lack assabiyah - Hezbullah does not.

Babak Makkinejad

Col. Lang:

Over the last 100 years, 3 empires that have constraining Iranian power receded from the Greater Middle East - Imperial Britain (British India), the Ottoman Empire, and Imperial Russia (and later USSR).

This accidental expansion of the Iranian power (yes, I know, Iran did not do much to deserve it - God works in mysterious ways!) did not depend on the US failure in Iraq. This has been a secular change.

The collapse of the State structure in Afghanistan and in Iraq; only has served to magnify an already existing trend.

(Even the lesser states that were contending over the centuries with Iran for power are gone or are - like the post Soviet states of Central Asia & Cacusus - so weakened that they need help being proped up.

In a way, the Shia Iran is the last man standing after the power struggle of the last 500 years since the inception of the Safavid state.

Thus, it behoves the US strategists and planners to take into account of this trend - it cannot be checked by rounding up the usual Sunni suspects - in my opinion.


It seems to me that the balkanization of Iraq would magnify the importance, and possibly cement the future of, the US permanent bases in Iraq--Col, how do these bases figure in to the endgame, and do they have (or need to have) any further significance than all the other US bases scattered around the ME?

Clifford Kiracofe

What would a realistic assessment of the Islamic Army in Iraq's activities be in this context? Positive, negative, or???
Noting issues raised by:


The Czar that Bush wants to appoint is an end run around Gates.


Every day that Bush is not impeached is another liter of blood drained from the Republican Party.

If the Republicans were wise, they would repudiate him and impeach him.

But "Republicans" today are toady's to Rove.



So, colonel, have you been invited to become the new War Czar yet? And if not, why not? I turned it down last night.

Cold War Zoomie

Col Lang,

Thanks for posting your talks on-line. Do you publish your speaking calendar anywhere on the 'Net?

W. Patrick Lang


I don't have a "speaking schedule." Far too unorganized for that.

As to a transcript of the Miller Center talk, so far as I know there is not one. pl

Duncan Kinder

My basic response to Col. Lang's speech is that the prospects of Americans going to Iraq and making them act like people from Iowa is roughly the same as the prospects of Arabs coming to the United States and making us act like people from Bagdhad.

My point being that it did not require specialized knowlege of the peculiar foibles of MidEasterners to realize that the Iraq War was ill founded ab initio. It only required general, common sense realization about human nature that nobody - but nobody - likes outsiders coming in and telling them what to do.

Nancy Kimberlin

In response to Duncan, I just heard yesterday on NPR that the US had 30,000 gun related deaths last year. I live near Los Angeles, where there are hundreds of gangs and thousands of gang members. In a mid size city near me, there are 10 gangs and 2400 gang members. Looking at it in that light, one could say in some ways we are acting like the people from Bagdad.

Jim Schmidt

“The idea that you can send some well-meaning people around the world to convince Muslims to be more like people from Iowa, it’s a little absurd”

Col. W. Patrick Lang
The Daily Progress, 9/12/06
Lecture at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center of Public Affairs

“My basic response to Col. Lang's speech is that the prospects of Americans going to Iraq and making them act like people from Iowa is roughly the same as the prospects of Arabs coming to the United States and making us act like people from Baghdad”

Douglas Kinder

As an Iowan, I resemble these remarks. We are, in fact, quite easy to get along with. However, if traveling the state I’d advise avoiding any argument over politics or religion with the conservative old Dutch out around Orange City--who hold a grudge and a point of view beyond human reasoning--or picking a fight with the various pockets of Irish Catholics or German Lutherans or Scandinavians protestants, the old world bohemians around Cedar Rapids, the Danes of Cedar Falls, the Croats and Serbs in Waterloo, the Italians and Welsh around Des Moines or our latest tribe, the floaters (respectfully) down in Fairfield. Did I mention the Mesquakie around Tama, old world Amish in Kalona and Independence or the People’s Republic of Iowa City? Tribes all. However, point is taken that we all live in a mature political culture, under rule of law, and have sufficient trust in both our institutions and each other that conflicts can be worked out far short of human sacrifice. Iowans are a diverse lot with a common bond and we are, though boring to the utopian warriors running Washington, pleased to provide a touchstone for civilization.

So, is it possible that people of Iraq can overcome their group identification, their tribal affiliation, to form a state of common interest with institutions viewed as fair and responsive to the needs of the governed? So far, the news is not good. And, based on the opinions of Col Lang and others such as Juan Cole, the odds are quite low.

I attended one of Professor Cole’s lectures recently at the University of Iowa. I kept notes. Two points stood out:

1. The proposal to partition and segregate Iraq into three states governed by a weak federal government suffers from the integration and mixing of population that occurred during Saddam’s rule. This is not a simple issue of separating wheat from chaff but wheat from wheat. The suffering and years of disruption caused from the potential forced displacement of million is sobering. The three state solution has the distinction of being the best of a bad set of ideas. Do we have the right to suggest let alone orchestra such a multi-generational disaster?

2. The greater and underreported tragedy of this war is, as Professor Cole stated, “…that Iraq is now a country without a history”. He was referring to the post invasion destruction of millions of common records concerning property, relationships, birth records, death records, and mundane records of all kinds that, in aggregate, form the basis of governance. Imagine all the records we depend on and preserved by our courthouses, public offices, banks -- deeds, titles, money --, who you are and where you are from, all gone No way to prove anything, no way to make a claim. No history. Imagine.

Since everything is gone that a government can provide, why should we be surprised that the people turn instead to traditional networks provided by family, tribe and religion.

So, who are we kidding that some surge, some carnival parliament, some green zone, some partition, some few hours of electricity a day, is somehow going to lead to the flowering of Jeffersonian democracy and lead a grateful population to sing Hosanna’s on High to us as we board the last available transport out of the region.

We will leave some day, but probably not soon. The best punch line out of Washington and the current defenders of the war is that chaos will surely follow our departure. More chaos? Greater chaos? Does chaos have a plural form? According to Washington, it must, though chaos now and chaos soon is a distinction without much difference.

At some somber, reflective moment, we are going to move beyond the utopian fantasy of victory, of moving a Midwest melting pot to the Middle East, and begin to respect the idea that the people of Iraq may just need to undo the damage done them without further meddling by us.

Dreams die hard, utopian dreams die hardest. But better the death of an unrealistic dream, then the ongoing daily slaughter.


Colonel Lang, do you believe the details of this statement are correct? They are chilling to say the least.


Iran's nuclear sites are dispersed. Some are in underground bunkers. Most are in heavily populated areas. Intelligence on the extent and location of Iran's nuclear program is imperfect. Quite likely, a surgical strike would not destroy Iran's entire nuclear program. Many civilians would be killed.

Patrick henry

Wonderful Writing..Reading..and Great Comments..Well worth Reading..Great Web site to come to..and should be a Mass Media Must Read..Syndicated..

Thanks to Colonial Lang and all of you..

Jim Schmidt..Great Comments..

Babak..I appreciate your Input and Perspective..

Best Classroom on the internet...

James Pratt

Last Monday was a sad and brutal day in Blacksburg, as it has been most days these last four years in Baghdad, Basra and Baquba.

John Howley

Thanks for a very instructive lecture. I am puzzled over one point, however.

On this weblog, you, Col. Lang, often denounce "economic determinism," typically in response to some comment about the Iraq war having been motivated by the thirst for oil.

As well, you challenge us to take seriously the potency of culture and religion.

Hence, I was surprised to hear, in the Miller Center lecture, a discussion of the origin of religious differences that would warm the heart of any "historical materialist."

You state rather baldly that religious differences are expressions of political and economic differences. This in the context of your brief summary of the origins and evolution of the Sunni-Shia split.

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