The Blog

Salami Tactics

12:25 PM, Nov 30, 2007 • By MICHAEL GOLDFARB
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Noah Shachtman has some good follow-up at the Danger Room to his latest piece on Iraq for Wired. I noted the piece earlier this week, particularly the efforts of one Sergeant Joe Colabuno and his psy-ops campaign in Fallujah. Here's some of what Shachtman writes today, picking up on a problem he first noted when he got back from Iraq--or at least what he believes is a problem:

"For 7 or 8 months," Colabuno tells me, "all we hear about is 'Iran is doing all [of the attacks], Iran is behind everything.' There was frustration from them [Fallujah's locals] because we wouldn't 'admit it.' Like maybe the U.S. was conspiring with Iran."

"We'd stress in our SITREPS [situation reports] that in order to get these people on our side, we've got to play into their fears abut Iran," he adds.

Then, in January, "the White House suddenly got involved," talking tough about how Tehran was stoking instability in Iraq. "That overnight changed the attitudes of the people towards us. They took it as almost an apology," he adds.

In local newspaper articles, in radio and loudspeaker broadcasts -- and in talks on the street -- Colabuno started playing up "operations against Shi'a militia." He played up how the U.S. troop "surge" was silencing Shi'a leader Moktada "al-Sadr's yipping and yapping."

Shachtman worries, "How can the U.S. encourage country-wide reconciliation -- while riding a wave of sectarian hate?" Fair enough, but as I noted the first time Shachtman brought this up, in the words of Billy Joel, 'we didn't start the fire.' "Sectarian hate" predated the American invasion of Iraq, and we'd be foolish not to exploit it, when possible, to further our own ends. This is how empires effectively managed unruly provinces for centuries. Noah's not all wrong, it's certainly a dangerous game. But it seems that the strategy, for now, is showing obvious signs of success. Down the road it may cause problems, but back in January, everyone expected down the road to be all out civil war--so this seems like a good problem to have.