Sunday, August 17, 2008

A peek at the fall-winter fashions

We've all heard of the standard "AlQaeda in Iraq" brand, and of course the crossover "Sunni Arab guerrillas" label, which so memorably fused the badness of AQ with the broad sweep of the "Sunni-Arab" resistance. But times and fashions change, and now there's this new thing Juan calls "Qutbist vigilantes". What is it? The truth is no one really knows. All we know for sure is that it was time for a change and a new look.

"AlQaeda" was obviously getting to have a shopworn feel to it.

And as for "Sunni Arab guerrillas", something interesting happened. Many of them became "Awakenings", thus changing from bad to good. Which is important because that makes Maliki's refusal to hire them a bad thing. Not only a bad thing, but his signature bad thing, and the feature that could well be the hook for a new "Maliki-bad, we can't withdraw the troops just yet" theme. So the broad bad sweep of the "Sunni Arab guerrillas" label became a problem.

If you don't want to get stuck in yesterday, you can't harp on "AlQaeda", and you can't harp on "Sunni Arab guerrillas" either--you need a fresh look. But why "Qutbist vigilantes"? The best I can make out is that the very obscurity of "Qutbist vigilantes" is what makes it attractive. Since nobody knows what it means, you can't say: "Oh they're just harping on that old Qutbist vigilante threat". And you don't risk triggering the old "we have to fight the Qutbist vigilantes over there so we don't have to fight them over here" joke.

In other words, a new look, a fresh start, a new departure.


We've all heard of "government,""opposition", and "resistance". So what's with the new PTA/PTB label that's all the rage? Same thing--it's the fresh look that's important for the new age. In the old days there were groups that resisted the American military occupation, and on the other side, there were the collaborators. But not any more, say the stylists. Nowadays all anybody wants is a slice of the cake, it's human nature. Of course it's paradoxical, but now that the whole country opposes the American occupation, with Maliki in the lead, they're all resistance and none of them is--so there's no more "resistance versus collaboration". It's all PTA versus PTB.

So the fall-fashions story is this: "Sunni Arab guerrillas" has been pulled, the bad guys having been re-branded as something so arcane nobody really knows what it is. Meanwhile, the armed resistance, instead of being lumped in with AQ in the "Sunni Arab guerrillas" label, is now merged with the new-look PTA, hunting for their piece of the cake like all the other PTA groups.

Of course, so much could go wrong! So much, in fact, that obviously it would be imprudent for the US troops to leave. But here's the important point. If the troops actually did leave, you probably think the Maliki administration wouldn't last a day, and the rest of the collaborators would be heading for the exits too. No no no. That's the old story. The new story is (*stifling a yawn*) American "diplomats and commanders", with nothing but stability on their minds, merely making sure the PTA get their fair share. "Strategic conditionality" if you must have a name for it. Or you could think of it as a softer, gentler version of the older "we have to stay to prevent a civil war" look.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Parent Teacher Associations are so manifestly a bad thing that this snarkiness ill becomes you Badger.

10:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

PS: Sorry, I just couldn't resist :-)

10:14 AM  
Blogger badger said...

come to think of it, PTA it does have a very wholesome, easy sound to it--not like "Qutbist" or "Mahdi" or those kinds of words...

10:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am fairly certain that the idea of a PTB vs PTA struggle originates from Americans in the Green Zone. Particularly the part where it's a simple struggle for power, which PTB is likely to win.

The analysts who've been spouting this story, Sam Parker, Colin Krahl, and Dr iRack on Abu Muqawama, are all people whose main sources are American and Green Zone. Not, of course, Iraqis.

That Iraqi politics has become bi-polar, it seems to me true. Pro and Anti-Centralisation factions. But the anti-unity party now seems to me quite small, the Kurds and the kernel of ISCI. Not the grand dominant PTB that has been presented.

but now that the whole country opposes the American occupation, with Maliki in the lead

There you have it, that's the reason for this "branding". It's intended to divert attention, suggest the Iraqis are as fractious and stupid as ever. Indeed provoke division.

11:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, the new narrative is necessary to conjour up the look of evolution over the old narrative to secure the forever shifting mission metrics - which are of course designed as such as cover for the real mission, which is to remain in Iraq in perpetuity. The logic of all these narratives have more to do with the laws of advertising and fashion than anything happening on the ground. At least outside the green zone (like alex says).

anna missed

2:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, it is obvious that once the SOFA was axed, a bit of house keeping was in order. Out with the old and in with the "new". However, Visser has adopted the new nomenclature as well.

6:50 PM  
Blogger Eric Martin said...

The analysts who've been spouting this story, Sam Parker, Colin Krahl, and Dr iRack on Abu Muqawama, are all people whose main sources are American and Green Zone. Not, of course, Iraqis.

Reidar Visser has also used this characterization. To quote Visser, who I respect immensely:

Firstly, to a considerable extent, this is a raw battle of power and shares of the pie, as Sam Parker of the United States Institute of Peace pointed out when he coined the dichotomy “the Powers That Aren’t” (PTA, the Sadrists, Fadila, Iraqiyya, most Sunni groups) and “the Powers That Be” (PTB, the Kurds, ISCI, Daawa and the IIP) to describe the struggle between the two sides, first in an anonymous guest post on the Abu Aardvark blog, and later in an NYT interview.

In my estimation, it is undeniable that opposition to foreign occupation/interference is an enormous part of the dynamic.

But, yes, it is human nature - and has been throughout history and across cultural, ethnic and political boundaries - to compete for political and economic power.

In a sense, that lays at the root of opposition to foreign occupation: the desire for political self-determination.

I don't think the PTA vs. PTB designation implies that every faction wants to be an ally of the occupation, and will make nice in order to become a PTB. That is a slightly jaundiced reading.

11:32 AM  

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