Under Fire

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Fred Hiatt, the WaPo editorial page editor, is keeping his eye on efforts by ordinary Iraqis to build the civil institutions on which their emerging society will depend. Thugs are not only killing and wounding Iraqis and Americans, he writes, "They are blocking precisely the kinds of interaction a society needs to begin recovering from decades of dictatorship."

Hiatt describes the experience of A. Heather Coyne, the chief representative in Iraq of the U.S. Institute of Peace, who "spends her days working with that country's emerging civil society." Back in the U.S. Coyne "finds Americans astonished to hear that there is an emerging civil society—that Iraqis remain involved with rebuilding their country despite all the explosions and killings."

Coyne confirms that this is an increasingly difficult task. Iraqis, for example, no longer dare meet directly with her in her Green Zone offices. Still, Coyne cites "the fortitude and persistence in the face of attacks of the Iraqis she works with." Iraqi teachers keep lecturing, even though they may require a phalanx of bodyguards. Others "drive 11 or 12 hours through multiple dangerous checkpoints to get books and practical advice and lessons from other Iraqis" about dealing with sectarian conflicts. "One local leader called the day after being shot three times—to ask whether the institute had accepted the people he had recommended to take part in a seminar. Another, whose house was torched, got in touch to make sure Coyne had his new telephone number."

A great many courageous Iraqis, concludes Hiatt, "are committed to making democracy and tolerance work" in their country. Coyne, writes Hiatt, "recently interviewed applicants for Fulbright grants, smart Iraqis willing to risk an association with a U.S. program because they dream of starting an Internet site, or a government watchdog organization, or a public health project. And when they are asked why they take the risk, they invariably answer, 'Because it wasn't possible before.'"

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  1. Does anybody else think the Iraqis would likely be better off if we just left before we can force them into irreversable and anti-liberty statism? Look how well Somalia is doing under anarchy.

  2. Somailia doesn’t have anything anyone else wants.

  3. This is true. Why did we go there then?

  4. Is anyone on the Bush staff able to dream up a new statagery seeing as how the current one isn’t working?
    Yesterday, a friend e-mailed me about the setting up of a USMC Combined Action Program in Iraq, because they knew I was part of that program in VN.
    My thought is that that was a good program, but it failed in VN because it was not part of a good overall strategy. The same is true in Iraq.

  5. As GW, I’m sure, knows; the first step is admitting you have a problem.

  6. “Is anyone on the Bush staff able to dream up a new statagery seeing as how the current one isn’t working?”

    Wouldn’t that “new strategy” involve the government actually accomplishing its stated goals. Something that rarely, if ever, happens. That is, of course, presuming that the stated goals would actually work. Which in turns relys on predicting the reactions of 20 odd million Iraqis, thousands of government officials/employees, and the world.

    Something that has never before been accomplished.

    That comment isn’t unique to the Iraqi’s. Their reactions are no more/less predictable than any other group that size. And the world is still the world, only bigger. Which makes it even more impossible to predict.

  7. Actually Jeffie, according to the theories of psychohistory, the more lump together, the easier it is to predict their collective actions.

  8. Good point, Xmas. And nobody predicted or has yet has admitted what distinct lumps are the
    1. Shiites
    2. Sunnis
    3. Kurds

  9. Never heard of psychohistory. Nevertheless, from its name, I gather it’s history. An analysis of what happened, not a prediction. Monday morning quarterbacking is fine for football. Might even yield an accurate analysis of the game. Almost useless for predicting the outcome of the next game. I say almost because the point spread of a game is usefull for the bookie and somewhat more accurate than a blind guess.
    So history may be able to establish some guidelines, but predictions? On a small scale perhaps, but Iraq? Which predictions have so far been correct? Other than the obvious one of the US being able to overwhelm the Iraqis, and even that relies more on hardware than people.

  10. Xmas – isn’t “psychohistory” from the Isaac Asimov/Foundation books?

  11. jeffie,

    Predicting the actions of a group is much easier than predicting the actions of an individual. For example, if Iran set off a nuke in New York City, we can say with virtually one hundred percent certainty that the people of the United States would demand war with Iran. Whether or not any given *individual* American would support war is far less certain.

    One other thing:

    Which in turns relys on predicting the reactions of 20 odd million Iraqis, thousands of government officials/employees, and the world. Something that has never before been accomplished

    It is true that nobody has ever successfully predicted the exact behavior of every single person in a group of 20 million. But you’re completely wrong in believing that it is necessary to do so. It is sufficient to make broadly accurate predictions about group behavior — something that every human being successfully manages to do countless times in our own lifetimes.

    Monday morning quarterbacking is fine for football. Might even yield an accurate analysis of the game. Almost useless for predicting the outcome of the next game.

    Which conveniently ignores the fact that informed predictions of which team will win a professional football game are usually right. You most certainly can make useful predictions of the outcome of football games by looking at the past performance of the teams involved.

    Just think about what you’re saying here. Take the Dallas Cowboys versus an average high school football team. You’re saying you can’t look at the stats of the players and coaches involved and make an accurate prediction of who’d win that game? Don’t be ridiculous.

  12. Just think about what you’re saying here. Take the Dallas Cowboys versus an average high school football team.

    Perhaps I wasn’t clear. I’m talking about predictions that have value. Obviously the Dallas Cowboys will beat the average highschool team. Which is why the prediction has no value. No one would bet on it, they wouldn’t even bother to play.

    predictions of which team will win a professional football game are usually right.

    Not when you include the point spread. If they were usually right the bookies would be out of business.

    I’m not trying to invalidate such practices as polling and other uses of statistics. But how many times has the future run contrary to prediction? Aren’t those the instances of importance? Who on 9/10/01 would have predicted 9/11? And that we would be in Iraq today?

    True, human beings make broad assumptions every day that turn out to be accurate. Daily predictions. Going out to next week, next month and further they get progressively worse. Actually, I’m happy if I accurately predict anything more than my next morning’s cup of coffee. Sometimes I even get that one wrong.

    How many people predicted the welfare programs of the 70’s would turn into crime ridden projects?
    How many people predicted the fall of the Berlin wall? Did President Kennedy accuratly predict the outcome of the Bay-of-Pigs? What about Viet Nam?

    The accuracy of prediction in Iraq was pretty good for a few days or weeks. But then again it was also pretty obvious. What happened later is a different story.

    I just don’t see any accuracy in the predictions of government programs. Long range ones, large ones. Not the day after tomorrow no brainers. Certainly happy to see one if you’ve got one.

  13. “Which predictions have so far been correct?”

    Here is a set of 5 predictions that I’d be happy to bet with anyone, on the non-profit website called “Longbets” (http://www.longbets.org). In 1998 (5 years after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein) the lands that now comprise the country of Iraq:

    1) Will have a higher “Index of Civil and Political Freedom” (as measured by Freedom House) than in 1992 (the last full year under Saddam Hussein).

    2) Will have a higher “Index of Economic Freedom” (as measured by the Fraser Institute and Heritage Foundation) than in 1992.

    3) Will produce more oil than in 1992.

    4) Will have a higher per capita GDP than in 1992.

    5) Will have a lower infant mortality than in 1992.

  14. Perhaps I wasn’t clear. I’m talking about predictions that have value

    No, you aren’t. All predictions have value.

    What you are saying is “It is virtually impossible to predict the outcome of situations whose outcome is virtually impossible to predict”, to which the only possible response is “duh”.

    Aren’t those the instances of importance? Who on 9/10/01 would have predicted 9/11? And that we would be in Iraq today?

    Many people predicted that there would be large-scale Islamic terrorist attacks on the United States in the coming years, as there was a clear pattern of escalating attacks throughout the 80s and 90s. It is equally unsurprising that we invaded Iraq, since we’d been at war with it since 1991.

  15. What you are saying is “It is virtually impossible to predict the outcome of situations whose outcome is virtually impossible to predict”

    Exactly. Only there is a response other than “duh”. That response is to stop trying to do it.

    Ruthless wrote
    Is anyone on the Bush staff able to dream up a new statagery seeing as how the current one isn’t working?

    The outcome of any strategy in Iraq is impossible to predict. So why do it? Why not just get out and mind our own business?

  16. Not when you include the point spread. If they were usually right the bookies would be out of business.

    Ah, the point spread.

    The betting line for sports is not meant as an accurate predictor of who will win the game, or by how much. It is a tool to coax money that would be bet reluctantly by knowledgeable punters out of their pockets. One isn’t betting on whether the 49ers will win or not, but whether they can or cannot escape the predicted 2-TD drubbing. The point is to equalize action on both sides of the play, so the house takes its percentage of the handle, and doesn’t have to risk winding up on the losing sides of too many bets. Sometimes there are differences in the line given by bookies in the home team’s town, neutral Vegas, and the visitor’s city, because local and national markets have different opinions about the strength of the opponents. The line changes as game time approaches, too, as the bookmaker tries to get the action to even out. If he can do that, his spread has been a success, even if it has poor predictive power.

    I predict that, adjusted for inflation, per capita combined federal state and local spending will increase.

    Kevin

  17. “One local leader called the day after being shot three times — to ask whether the institute had accepted the people he had recommended to take part in a seminar. Another, whose house was torched, got in touch to make sure Coyne had his new telephone number.”

    A great many courageous Iraqis, concludes Hiatt, “are committed to making democracy and tolerance work” in their country. Coyne, writes Hiatt, “recently interviewed applicants for Fulbright grants, smart Iraqis willing to risk an association with a U.S. program because they dream of starting an Internet site, or a government watchdog organization, or a public health project. And when they are asked why they take the risk, they invariably answer, ‘Because it wasn’t possible before.'”

    How about that all these people are keeping in touch because, as the internal evidence indicates, no matter what, they (or their clients) want/need to get paid (scholarships, aid, etc.) and Coyne has the coin? And then they say whatver the payout person wants to hear who will then relay it to a similarly credulous journalist.

    What would be real signs is if these risks are being taken to do things themselves for themselves rather than engage in foreign dollar programs.

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