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August 13, 2014

Iraq And The "Replacing The Head" Fallacy

Eight years after the United States and Iran agreed to enthrone Nouri al-Maliki as prime minister of Iraq they agreed to replace him with the relatively unknown Haider al-Abadi.

The United States claims it wants a more "inclusive" government while Iran goes along just making sure someone friendly to its own plans is at the top. Al-Abadi seems to fit both their ideas. But the hope that changing a head will change the path Iraq is on is vain. It is only very seldom the man at the top who is a country's problem.

It is a U.S. foreign policy fallacy that changing the man at the top, always likened to Hitler, will solve everything. The fallacy is somewhat self enforcing. Some "senior administration official" leaks to the media that X is probably not such a good man. The media then go around and collect anecdotes, rumors and quotes which support the unspecific claims about X. The next day the "senior administration official" reads the New York Times or watches CNN and fells affirmed in his position because, you know, X is really a very bad man and the sole problem and all you need to confirm that is right there in the media.

But usually it is not the person who manages a nation who is forming that nation. The nation and its situation are just as much forming the person leading it. Ghaddafi wasn't the way he was because he created Libya to his likeness but because successfully leading a united Libya required him to be the way he was. Russia is not re-surging because of Putin but because Putin formed his policies to the way Russia is. It is that, not his personality, that gives him sky high poll ratings. Maliki led Iraq in a way that gave him the support of the majority of its people. He did not give in to the blackmail by Sunni tribes which had become accustomed to the bribes the U.S. military had showered them with. It is that "lack of inclusiveness" that made him successful:

Mr. Maliki’s bloc won the most seats in April’s national election, and Mr. Maliki personally won more votes than any other politician.

If al-Abadi changes Maliki's major policies he will have no support from the majority of his country and will either end up as a brutal dictator or dead.

The rules of the political cycle in unruly countries apply:

  1. A strongman is replaced by a weak man who resorts to force to rule over a fractured society
  2. See #1

Replacing Maliki, a still complicate and uncertain process, will not change Iraq, its problems, like the U.S. support for a Kurdish oil state, or the policy decisions its leaders will have to make to stay liked and alive.

Posted by b on August 13, 2014 at 13:49 UTC | Permalink

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Bevin, you wrote

[...] That this army/movement was founded and financed, armed and trained by the CIA and its agents and allies in the Gulf States and the governments of those states, is more than likely. [...]
and then come to the conclusion
[...] But what I do know is that they are a lot more credible than Sorrentine's theory which appears to be that ISIS is under the direct day to day control of the Pentagon and is probably under the command of a General Officer on the payroll. And that it marches, countermarches, retreats and advances like a cowboy at a square dance, following the caller's command. [...]
If I understand you correctly, you believe IS was created and built up by the US/CIA but then doubt the CIA has influence on the IS leadership's decisions?

Posted by: Juan Moment | Aug 14 2014 3:58 utc | 101

In the mess that the US has put Iraq in, it needed to show it still have some influence in an Arab country, so they did some something significant: another coup to remove Al Maliki that had rejected the presence of US in Iraq and who has tried to stop the hysterical Sunnis to create chaos.
Let's see how good that Abadi will be after the 2 weeks of honeymoon...

Posted by: virgile | Aug 14 2014 4:22 utc | 102

I really can't make much sense of the Yazidi thing. So far, ISIS and the, say, Barzani-Kurds seemed to get along quite nicely, probably united in a future cooperation against Assad. My best guess would be that Yazidi-Kurds and Muslim-Barzani-Kurds haven't exactly got the same interests and who knows, maybe the displacement of a big Clan comes in handy for the other clan. Or maybe the ISIS guys were having a spree and have been called of by the "west". But truly, I guess most would have to admit that in this case, it's not easy to tell who gains anything from it.

What I've been wondering about is the notion that ISIS consists of baathist ex-saddam folks. If that were so, one might actually expect that there'd be some ties to the syrian baath party. Is there any indication that there are actual (former) baath in their ranks?

Posted by: peter radiator | Aug 14 2014 6:23 utc | 103

@102 peter radiator

What I've been wondering about is the notion that ISIS consists of baathist ex-saddam folks. If that were so, one might actually expect that there'd be some ties to the syrian baath party. Is there any indication that there are actual (former) baath in their ranks?

1. I wouldn’t say IS “consists” of ex-baathists, it is more like there is an opportunist alliance between some factions.
2. Syria Baath and Iraq Baath were not on friendly terms, as far as I can recall - too many Sadam Hussain opponents sought shelter in Syria, (ex-) prime minister Maliki amongst them, was one reason. Apparently those top Iraqi Baathists who escaped after the US invasion went to Turkey and Jordan.

Posted by: Philippe | Aug 14 2014 7:48 utc | 104

this is more like it
Sunni Imam of Aqsa Mosque to ISIS: Stop Deceiving Muslims (English Subtitles)

Posted by: brian | Aug 14 2014 9:02 utc | 105


All this tells us is that Establishment Muslim Leaders are freaked about losing their power and position in the new Caliphate. Some people will listen to their pleas while many others will not.

The power of this new movement and its new reality is not just that it threatens the control of the foreign hegemon but it also promises to sweep away the structures and placeholders of the status quo throughout the ME.

Posted by: Wayoutwest | Aug 14 2014 13:25 utc | 106


If ISIS is perceived to be that much of a force and danger to the ME and globe for that matter, why doesn't the "foreign hegemon, muslim leaders and ME Status quo structure take ISIS totally out of the picture? Is ISIS that powerful? Lets get real here.

Posted by: really | Aug 14 2014 13:51 utc | 107



...Is ISIS that powerful to take on the "foreign hegemon, Muslim leaders and ME status quo? Isis could be that powerful if and only if they are controlled by the afore-mentioned foreign hegemon, Muslim leaders and ME status quo.

Notice how the minimal bombing by the foreign hegemon stopped the mighty ISIS advance on Mt. Sinjar.

Posted by: really | Aug 14 2014 14:03 utc | 108

JSor @18, and other posts: Keep swinging baby, you're seeing, in my opinion, the big picture. An attempt, by hugh corporate globalists, by distraction, to capture the lions share of world resources. The empire, and it's minions have a plan. Disrupt, and conquer. It's a story as old as humanity itself.

Posted by: ben | Aug 14 2014 14:12 utc | 109

By the way be on the lookout for ISIS " terror ops" around various locations outside of the middle east. What better tool to fortify the ISIS msm "isis is a global threat narrative".

Posted by: really | Aug 14 2014 14:21 utc | 110

Wow, Isis and Robin William's death seem to have totally erased Brennan's lies and the CIA spying on congressional computers and, of course, the delayed still-being-redacted torture report.
Juan Cole says this new Iraqi Prime minister appears poised to ask for "international troops" and that Libya's parliament is also asking to international troops -- both essentially to fight off Islamic Fundamentalist Militias. Cole, rather shockingly, seems to feel the problem is an anemic UN force that is unwilling or not permitted and/or unable to engage in aggressive combat, leaving the burden of all this "peacekeeping" and responding to pleas for military assistance to, well, "andful of active players, and countries in need of military help shouldn’t have to depend on great Powers with imperial ambitions." In some other universe. The United States is like that paranoid hypervigilant neighbor who "can't rest" until they know whats going on everywhere with everyone, and since they can't really achieve that goal, well ... they just keep going like the Energizer Bunny with a terrible attitude of ownership of all these people and places it's spying on. Doomed.

@Posted by: really | Aug 14, 2014 9:51:53 AM | 106 -- "" If ISIS is perceived to be that much of a force and danger to the ME and globe for that matter, why doesn't the "foreign hegemon, muslim leaders and ME Status quo structure take ISIS totally out of the picture?""

Isn't this basically asking for some new improved WOT, or maybe GWOTII? Reviving that tedious question of why all those "moderate muslims" have thus far shown no willingness to "rein in" the extremists, or in other words, start their own "war on terror" or more accurately a "war on certain wrong-thinking, status-quo challenging fundamentalists." Well, the American GWOT has not only been a disaster in many ways, it has also been ineffective... prolly because battling an idea or ideology is fruitless without addressing the real-world conditions that support the ideology and make it attractive and credible. One of the traps of fundamentalism is that fundamental basis that allows adherents to pull out the holy book and quote chapter and verse to support them.

Libya, as described by Cole, is interesting because the new parliament is anti-fundamentalist and the fundamentalist militias dominate in only a couple or three population centers ... and are very destructive and seemingly impossible to neutralize. Urban gangs, organized crime come to mind. Bottom line: There are no easy, much less quick, fixes, but I think answers or models are to be found in that sort of crime-fighting. I think there will be blood. Uneasy coexistence is insecure and fraught, but may be the reality as opposed to trying to fight "thought crimes" with flesh and blood, guns and repression.

In other news, the Kurds are insisting that things on the mountain are dire, dire, dire ... send more help/aid....

Posted by: Susan Sunflower | Aug 14 2014 14:39 utc | 111


The global war on terrorism never stopped. The war of brainwashing through fear the global masses has never stopped. The war of deflecting attention away from tptb that are responsible for all the global death and destruction for monetary gain and political power has never stopped. Tptb are in a constant state of war against the masses, for if the masses realized the root cause of their perpetual suffering, tptb would no longer exist.

Now in other news:

TPTB priming the supposed MIGHTY ISIS narrative...

Posted by: really | Aug 14 2014 15:09 utc | 112

With all due respect to the problems of the inner city and the militarization of the police, I feel like the problems Ferguson may be being used as a smokescreen and a chance for the Obama Administration to appear to "lead" ... and, it's an important (if repetitive and long-standing, even evergreen story), but it is succeeding in eclipsing, well, almost everything at a time when this aid convoy in the Ukraine is dramatically exposing the Kiev Government's double-talk and lack of humanity ... at a time when the Guardian says deaths have doubled in the last week (gasp) though the numbers are buried in the text, which means it's only truly shocking to people who already knew there were over 1000 dead weeks ago.
Oddly enough, the Kurds' humanitarian crisis appears to be eclipsing any further news about what ISIS is doing ... or not doing. Syria seems to have dropped out of sight entirely. There's no reason ISIS would be "waiting to see who the new prime minister will be" ... and every reason for them to feed on the insecurity they've created and glaringly obvious weakness of the government. Even the extension of the ceasefire in Gaza (flawed as it may be) seems to be out of the glare of "breaking news" if still on the front page.

Posted by: Susan Sunflower | Aug 14 2014 15:26 utc | 113

There's no better evidence of the "Replacing The Head" Fallacy than in the United States. The PTB don't change, they merely get a new partner.

Posted by: Don Bacon | Aug 14 2014 15:43 utc | 114

Why, it must be Flashback Thursday or something!!

Where to begin?

Let's see, first we have "Tora Bora II: Mt. Shinjazzle!" where - oopsie - everyone just kind of disappeared into the night!!!No really, there were TOTALLY like tens of thousands of refugees and bloodthirsty ISIS dudes running around everywhere just a second ago or maybe we're just making all of this crap up.

Hmmmm, speaking of making crap up maybe we should see what the storyteller of record the NYT has to report on this mysterious situation:

Admiral Kirby said “the team has assessed that there are far fewer Yazidis on Mount Sinjar than previously feared, in part because of the success of the humanitarian airdrops.”

The latest twist came just hours after Benjamin J. Rhodes, deputy national security adviser, told reporters on Martha’s Vineyard, where President Obama is vacationing, that the president was likely to receive recommendations about how to mount a rescue operation in the next several days. He said those recommendations could have included the use of American ground troops.

But Mr. Rhodes made those comments as the secret team of Marines and Special Operations forces were already on Mount Sinjar, in the middle of a 24-hour trip to talk to the displaced people and pesh merga fighters.

Benjamin Rhodes...Ben Rhodes...where have I heard THAT name before?

Oh, I remember THAT Ben Rhodes:

Somehow, beyond noting that “In many ways, Mr. Rhodes is an improbable choice for a job at the heart of the national security apparatus,” the Times is not sufficiently curious about any of this to probe further. Instead, it provides a clutch of clichés. We learn that the Rhodes family is fiercely divided between Yankees fans and Mets fans. We learn the father is a conservative-leaning Episcopalian from Texas, the mother a liberal Jew from New York.

Though the Times never underlines this, the careful reader comes to realize that Rhodes’s guiding philosophy is as hard to discern as are the precise reasons that he has the president’s ear. In 1997, he briefly worked on the re-election campaign of New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a Republican. Shortly after 9/11, the aspiring novelist suddenly decided to do his part for society, moving in 2002 from Queens to Washington, and quickly found himself “helping draft the 9/11 Commission report as well as the Iraq Study Group report.”

The Times, of course, does not think it is worth pointing out how strange this is. It is almost as if all 24-year-olds with no apparent credentials of any kind go directly to explaining the most massively controversial and complex set of circumstances to the American people.

We are never even told what kind of education Rhodes got, or where, or whether he has ever been anything beyond an aspiring novelist. There’s no indication of what he did on Giuliani’s campaign (he would only have been about 19 or 20 at the time) or whether his preference for the mayor who presided over the 9/11 response had anything to do with his going to Washington, or miraculously being hired by Democrat Lee Hamilton to explain 9/11 to the public.

So, the very guy - that inexperienced young aspiring novelist with no credentials - who somehow was tagged to help write the OFFICIAL narrative for 9/11 AS WELL as much of the narrative that went into the 2003 Iraq War is the SAME PERSON who is again telling us stories about mysterious terrorist groups involved in nebulous situations in the Middle East?

Why, that's just great.

So, to recap for Flashback Thursday:

Last week, a representative from WINEP - another Zionist/Israeli front group - published a piece in the NYT saying that US helping the Kurds might lead to a "Pearl Harbor moment" for ISIS - nudge wink. Hey, I always use that phrase, don't you?

We have Establishment storytellers with 9/11/Iraq credentials again crafting narratives involving mysterious "terror groups in the ME.

We have cloudy military situations involving said "terror groups" and no one seems to really know what the eff is going on.

Yeah, I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say this already stanky story is getting stankier and stankier by the second.

Posted by: JSorrentine | Aug 14 2014 15:46 utc | 115

i used to follow Riverbend's blog from Baghdad during those heady years after uncle sam invaded in 2003. it was the most comprehensively informative, intelligent, and humanistic chronicle of that particular episode of US imperial savagery on the enter net.


well, nothing perseveres like imperialism, does it? and the 'salvation on sinjar mountain' charade is a curious case of misanthropy, no? with its 'call to the mountain' biblical undertones and all. well, redrawing the map is messy business after all. some folks are just gonna have to be displaced. yep, destroy a country, dole out a few c-rations, grease the skids for some more loathsome meddling.


let's give Riverbend the last word, shall we? from May 7, 2004!

"I sometimes get emails asking me to propose solutions or make suggestions. Fine. Today's lesson: don't rape, don't torture, don't kill and get out while you can- while it still looks like you have a choice... Chaos? Civil war? Bloodshed? We’ll take our chances- just take your Puppets, your tanks, your smart weapons, your dumb politicians, your lies, your empty promises, your rapists, your sadistic torturers and go."

Posted by: john | Aug 14 2014 15:49 utc | 116

@really -- that slide show was impressive ... I also realized (seeing that ISIS had stenciled the seized vehicles, tanks etc. -- that all those banners are essential to identify ISIS, not only to the "rest of the world" but also to their own selves, to avoid creating friendly fire situations.

The NYT said that the Al-Qa’ida handbook was like an Islamic adaptation of Che's Guerrilla Warfare (oddly no mention of Mao's Guerrilla Warfare that informed Che) ... but looking at a government website PDF copy, I didn't really find much comparison except for some "new man" sort of scout like exhortation to be upright, true and brave, generous, team player, etc. - however, they seem to have gotten the message about serving the civilian population promptly and generously. It struck me yesterday that that is a secondary result of black-marketeering in areas where most business might be shuttered due to conflict -- allowing some people to makes some money, allowing some people to do work for pay, establishing networks of cooperative locals ... etc. Very guerrilla warfare, and one of the signature disasters by the Americans is using only foreign personnel and having all their supplies imported by American firms -- our Army's laundry as I recall was done in Kuwait ...

Posted by: Susan Sunflower | Aug 14 2014 15:49 utc | 117

Oh Really@ 107

I see you are lapping up the BS propaganda about what IS is doing. The Islamic State forces have conquered cities, towns and military instillations but I doubt they are attacking mountains full of tax evaders now.

This whole humanitarian crisis BS was a con to start the bombing campaign which already has a bogus victory to celebrate, stopping a nonexistant assault on an exaggerated mass of refugees.

Posted by: Wayoutwest | Aug 14 2014 15:56 utc | 118


Juan "Anal-Knife Raping" Cole really shows why he deserves said punishment today in the article that SS posted (naturally):

Here's JC today telling us about how he feels about the Libya and the Libyan people:

In Libya, the country ironically was capable of pulling off parliamentary elections even though it seems incapable of achieving national order amid militia faction-fighting. The newly elected parliament is dominated by nationalists who reject political Islam and the Muslim Brotherhood. But on the ground in Benghazi and Misrata (and thence Tripoli), fundamentalist militias dominate entire neighborhoods. Fighting between the nationalist Zintan militia and the fundamentalist Misrata one in the capital of Tripoli last month destroyed Tripoli airport and many nice two-year-old passenger jets.

Parliament had to meet in the eastern city of Tobruk, near Egypt, because the capital of Tripoli was too insecure. On meeting, they passed a resolution asking for the United Nations to intervene in their deteriorating security situation. They also gave the militias an ultimatum to disband or join the army and submit to a chain of command, by next December. How exactly the weak parliamentarians huddling in a frontier city, exiled from their own capital, will make the militiamen join the army is entirely unclear.

What the UN will do about this request is anyone’s guess. UN “blue helmets” are typically deployed as peace-keepers after a conflict dies down, not as war-fighters.

Again, Libyans like Iraqis are proud people. Their twentieth century history was forged in anti-colonial struggles, in Libya against Mussolini’s Italy and in Iraq against the British. Yet here their elected governments are, deteriorating into failed states and pleading to have the foreign troops back.

See that, kids? NOW little Juannie - after calling for US intervention/regime change/war crimes in Libya and Iraq - NOW he's just those people's biggest fan!! Why, how very Tom Friedman of you, JC!

All will be forgiven if you are an American Establishment propagandist war criminal!

Worry about how you may have consciously aided and abetted the US war criminal machine and led to the extrajudicial assassination of the leader of a sovereign nation much less the slaughter of thousands of innocent people that continues to this day?

Not Juannie and the boys because - cue the Clinton impersonation - he "feels their pain".

Posted by: JSorrentine | Aug 14 2014 15:59 utc | 119

What's unmentioned wrt Iraq is the apparent recognition by the government that "our guy" Khalifa Hifter is not going to be their "mighty mouse" ... I don't know anything about who got elected in Libya's election, but the fundamentalist have apparently not overwhelmed the political processes. We know there are uncontrolled and uncontrollable militia, some of which are fundamentalist, some of which are ISIS/Al-Qa’ida/Ansar al Sharia wannabes and/or the real thing.

Like the Kurds, this "new post-Gaddafi Libya" has always demanded, always "needed" outside assistance ... this appears to be the face of some neo-post-post-colonialism or something ... but that calling out for help from imperial powers is not new ... and, as the French were eager to help Libya, itching to depose Assad, and most recently help the Kurds -- the ties that go back to colonialism remain strong and are not entirely one-sided. How many generations will it take? I don't know.

Posted by: Susan Sunflower | Aug 14 2014 16:29 utc | 120

@116 I think the NYT's example is just hacky writing. Guerrilla warfare isn't new, but the msm hires journalism majors who are uneducated morons. Advanced rolodex sorting is an acquired skill. It's just a storytelling device.

The author is probably only aware of Che Guevara because of those tees.

Posted by: NotTimothyGeithner | Aug 14 2014 16:32 utc | 121

That an aspiring novelist should have had a hand in writing the 9/11 Commission Report seems very appropriate.

Posted by: lysias | Aug 14 2014 16:56 utc | 122

Ben Rhodes, by the way, got his B.A. in English and political acience at Rice University and an MFA in creative writing at NYU before he started working for Lee Hamilton and the 9/11 Commission.

Posted by: lysias | Aug 14 2014 16:59 utc | 123

This bizarre, declared "necessity" to intervene ... it's a sickness.

Posted by: Susan Sunflower | Aug 13, 2014 11:58:44 PM | 100

Not sickness. There is a method to the madness. A cohesive, Arab ME would be far more cabable of extracting and peddling its own resources.

Posted by: Fast Freddy | Aug 14 2014 22:24 utc | 124

The sickness is that we are killing ourselves ...

Posted by: Susan Sunflower | Aug 14 2014 22:39 utc | 125

Reuters says ISIS is massing north of Baghdad, but probably will not attack Baghdad directly (far too many Shi'ia militiamen) - but to step up usual terror attacks -- car bombs, etc. Also suspected to be expanding battle lines/boarder with the Kurds

reuters: Iraq's Maliki finally steps aside, paving way for new government

But a foothold just near the capital could make it easier for the IS to carry out suicide bombings, deepen sectarian tensions and destabilise Iraq.

On Thursday, Islamic State militants massed near the town of Qara Tappa, 120 km (75 miles) north of Baghdad, security sources and a local official said, in an apparent bid to broaden their front with Kurdish peshmerga fighters.

The movement around Qara Tappa suggests they are becoming more confident and seeking to grab more territory closer to the capital after stalling in that region


Islamic State has also been using tunnels built by Saddam Hussein in the 1990s to secretly move fighters, weapons and supplies from strongholds in western Iraq to towns just south of Baghdad.

(doesn't look very close to Baghdad to me at all, it appears to be about 5 miles south of Mosul -- whatever -- ... but there are a couple spellings map.

Posted by: Susan Sunflower | Aug 15 2014 5:51 utc | 126

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