Aug 20

(Though many don’t want to believe it, the world is getting safer. There will be an end to war, someday, if the world works towards it. To read the rest of our posts on “The World is Getting Safer”, click here.)

After two vigorous opening arguments to our debate, “Does America Make the World Safer?”, we have our rebuttals.

Eric C Rebuttal

The main argument Michael C put forth is that a wide variety of traditionally liberal (in foreign policy terms) policies have made the world safer, including establishing international norms and treaties, a rise in the number of democracies around the world, and free trade. And yes, America has traditionally supported those developments, if not outright invented them in the modern era. Or as he wrote “[America] has been the single largest supporter for international relations liberalism.”

Actually, that’s not the case.

Those changes would probably have happened independent of America. Even China, leading its fellow BRIC nations, is creating its own version of the International Monetary Fund. Instead, America pushes back against these trends, supporting dictatorships and opposing treaties. Outside of encouraging free trade--for all the wrong reasons, I might add--America does not make the world safer.

Most importantly, Americans believe they are above international norms. We flouted the Geneva conventions after 9/11. Our politicians bash the UN. We support dictators, when convenient. We barely approve treaties. This doesn’t mean we can’t get better, but it doesn’t mean we are making the world safer.

And he didn’t address the other huge issues I brought up: America is the most violent developed country in the world. Our murder rate is an embarrassment, and this is directly connected to our domestic issues like gun rights, a punitive not rehabilitative justice system, and economic inequality.

Internationally and domestically, right now, America is not making the world a safer place because we reject the policies that make it safer.

Michael C Rebuttal

Eric C and I looked at the data for the last 15 years--the massive decline in war--and drew the conclusion that the world is indeed getting safer.

But how can you look at those 15 years and not see the U.S. as widely involved in all the factors causing that decline? The collapse of the Soviet Union and the consequent victory of the Western (mostly United States) vision of modern civilization helped drive that decline. Yes, the world would be less violent if the U.S. hadn’t started a war in Iraq, but that doesn’t make the world less safe because the U.S. is in it.

Further, this motion isn’t, “Could America be even better?” because of course it could. The motion isn’t, “Has America caused violence around the world?” If Eric C just had to point out a single bad American action, then yes he would win in a landslide. But Eric C has created an impossible standard. For America to win, under his terms, it would have to be perfect.

But the debate is about the balance. On the whole, adding up all the good and subtracting all the bad, does America make the world a safer place? I would say it absolutely does. It spends money to help developing nations, its economy drives the world closer together, and even its military has fought dictators. So yes, America is making the world safer.

If you would like to respond to the prompt, send us an email at info at On Violence dot com.

Aug 10

(Today's guest post is by Joel Poindexter. If you would like to guest write for us, please check out our guest post guidelines.)

“The surge worked.” A popular phrase at the conclusion of the final troop surge, it has again made its way into the discussion of U.S. operations in Iraq. As the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has risen to power, politicians have taken to reviving this talking point. Depending on one’s definition of success, it’s debatable as to whether the surge did in fact work.

Officially “The New Way Forward,” by its own standards it did not achieve the stated goals. A series of benchmarks were established, which the Shi’a-backed Iraqi government was expected to achieve. As of the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom, in December, 2011, few of the benchmarks had been satisfactorily met, in spite of the rhetoric of success. Nevertheless, there is at least one sense in which we can say the surge worked.

Most who are familiar with the surge no doubt associate it with the increase in U.S. troops in 2007. Five additional brigades were deployed, and most units had their rotations extended. This was meant to provide sufficient security in the capitol, to facilitate those benchmarks. What few likely understand is that a major component involved the establishment of a para-military force almost entirely made up of Sunni forces.

American commanders spent millions of dollars financing groups that went by Sons of Iraq (SOI) or Concerned Local Citizens (CLC). Many were formerly employed by Sunni militias, including al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI – an AQI affiliate), and some were known to have been members of AQI.

In late 2007 I was deployed to a small FOB south of Baghdad, and our battalion spent a lot of time (and money) hiring and managing SOI. The relationship was contentious, as neither group trusted the other. In our fifteen months there were several incidents involving “green on blue” gunfights, and reciprocal threats of IED attacks and airstrikes were exchanged.

SOI routinely complained of not being paid, despite monthly cash payments to village sheikhs in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Some intelligence suggested SOI leadership (AQI) was diverting payments to build reserves. These would be necessary when the U.S. military withdrew its forces, or if the Iraqi government failed to incorporate the SOI into the Iraqi security forces, according to the benchmarks.

No doubt the SOI programs helped insulate Sunni militias, and sustained them through the end of the U.S. occupation. But as significant as this aid was to ISIS, the element of the surge that really came to help the organization was the continued support of the Iraqi government.

By escalating the war in Baghdad, the U.S. military helped the Iraqi army (IA) and police (IP) all but complete the sectarian cleansing of the largest city. Various Shi’ite militia groups were represented in the IA and IP, both of which served the interests of the Badr Corps , the Jaish al-Mahdi (JAM), and other groups allied or affiliated with the United Iraqi Alliance. The UIA controlled the country’s government, mainly for the benefit of the Shi’ite population.

While the U.S. fought both Shi’a and Sunni groups throughout the occupation, this period – and the surge effort in particular – focused mainly on routing Sunni forces intent on destabilizing the Iraqi government. This was supposed to provide the breathing room necessary to make some legislative reforms and begin reconciling the rival sectarian groups under one cooperative government.

But so long as U.S. commanders were supporting the Iraqi government, the Shi’a had no incentive to reconcile with the Sunni. Dr. Michael Izady’s work on the Gulf 2000 Project, through Columbia University, demonstrates this visually. In 2003 Shi’ites had a majority in Baghdad, but most of the city’s neighborhoods were mixed. By early 2007 few were home to both groups, and most the territory was controlled by Shi’a. At mid-2008 there were clear lines separating neighborhoods. When we flew over Baghdad that summer, it was easy to see how thousands of concrete barriers had effectively reduced the “city of peace” to sectarian ghettos.

So divided was the country following U.S. withdrawal, that despite the ruthlessness of ISIS, many Sunnis see the Caliph as the lesser evil between it and the Shi’a death squads of the national government. Had the U.S. not fought on behalf of the Shi’a in Baghdad, the government would have been forced to reconcile, eliminating much of the support for ISIS.

(Note: This argument assumes the invasion and occupation as given, and of course both were significant in leading to the Islamic State. The support of rebel groups in Syria (Jabhat al-Nusra, the Northern Storm Brigade, and others) also cannot be discounted.)

Joel Poindexter was an infantryman and intelligence analyst in the US Army from 2003-2009. He served in Baghdad in 2005, and Iskandariyah in 2007-2008. Follow him on Twitter.