03 December 2005
The New York Times finally wakes up to the truth about Iraq's guerrilla groups
The NewYork Times has finally woken up to what a lot of people have been saying for quite some time. The Iraqi guerrillas are not a centrally directed top-heavy group. Instead they are a collection of locally recruited bands, that may have some local co-ordination, but which are basically autonomous. I wrote about this last year and the essay was then reposted to this very blog in October of this year.
To make matters even sillier for the NYT, these ideas are neither new nor mine. They have been discussed by the likes of William S. Lind for over a decade. Basically, the state is losing its monopoly over death and destruction and as this happens lots of groups that north London chatterwankers thought had long been confined to the history books are suddenly emerging into the light of day. Families, clans, tribes and religions all used to wage war before the rise of the modern state. As that state crumbles all these groups can be expected to start up where they left off all those centuries ago. That is what the post-modern world will look like, and that is something else that I wrote about in October.
As far as Iraq is concerned, the NYT has now realised that a plethora of independent groups means that there is no leadership that the Americans can negotiate with. They can cut a deal with one, but the rest will carry on fighting.
What strikes me as incredible is the breathless way in which this is presented as being somehow new:
Iraqi and American officials in Iraq say the single most important fact about the insurgency is that it consists not of a few groups but of dozens, possibly as many as 100. And it is not, as often depicted, a coherent organization whose members dutifully carry out orders from above but a far-flung collection of smaller groups that often act on their own or come together for a single attack, the officials say. Each is believed to have its own leader and is free to act on its own.
The only explanation that I can come up with for this is that the folk who write for the likes of the NYT are basically middle class types who don't understand the horizontal ways that most people on this planet live. They are used to taking orders from those above them and giving them out to their underlings. Goods and services tend to be purchased from established providers who give a receipt to their customers. The lives of types like this are linear and they cannot imagine that anybody else could live differently.
However, that is not the way that the bulk of the population on this planet actually do live. Take Britain as a case in point: when people like me want to get a car fixed we know a bloke on a street corner who dodges up the rust-box that we own. We don't buy cigarrettes in a shop because they are too expensive. Instead we speak to someone who knows someone who works as a baccy man, probably based out of some pub. In that same pub we can meet the bloke who sells pirate copies of the latest Hollywood flick for a fiver. Work is short term at best and casual at worst. If that is the way that the majority of the people in the UK live, then the Third World is like that to a factor of plus 10. Only the western, or westernised, middle-classes are used to doing things the linear way: the rest of us are far more horizontal.
All that is happening in Iraq is that as the state fell apart under foreign pressure people began to look to their traditional defence mechanisms to protect them from the aggressors and to enable them to fight back. It is nice that the western media has finally caught on, but amusing that they still don't seem to quite get it.