December 16, 2007
Competent Adults in Charge? The Iraq Surge's Non-Failure
Not often do I get to be more right than Jim Henley, but here I claim it though I can't document my earlier growing sense that The Surge would turn out better than we cynics first expected. (The last time he was wrong, which goes back years, so was I, as when he predicted that Ariel Sharon would not go through with the Gaza withdrawal.) But now he is surprised that violence has not rebounded in Iraq since The Surge in a way he has predicted. I am far less surprised however and, although I started as a Surge Cynic as shown here, I have come to feel after more information that there has been a good chance of some sustained suppression of the violence. More on why, below.
The Surge is kinda working, in the sense of sustained diminished violence, not because of the Surge itself or the Surge alone, but mainly because there is a) an operative sensible anti-guerrilla military strategy in the background, b) a competent civilian manager in Iraq, and lastly c) extra troops engaged in the key areas (the "Surge proper").
The sensible strategy, (a) above, is simply this: Find the local leaders of the guerrilla central zone and bribe them. This method has worked since the time when the Negative 300th Egyptian Dynasty in 300 million years BC first put empire into the social matrix of the human species. Sunnis are dominated by local family networks, so bribe the sheiks and employ their kids. Bye bye al Qaeda and bye bye short-term resistance, and get a gain of intelligence.
The competent civilian leader is Ryan Crocker. I saw him up close in his Syria days and he knew how to deal with the locals. This isn't some Orientalist mystique, he is simply a hard working culturally perceptive individual who bothers to know the factual ins and outs of the local language, area, and society. He can distinguish the real from the facade, and move things along. (His appointment after The Surge was announced made me think that maybe the adults were taking over.)
To this somewhat more competent arrangement, add the fact that US troops are more engaged in larger numbers in Baghdad etc.
And the Surge appeareth to worketh. But it's actually the above factors of competence that are sustaining it.
Now why is competence an issue here so important, aside from its common sense value? Here's why: the main reason Iraq went wrong was not because the invasion was intrinsically wrong (although it was) or based on deception or error (although it was). Or "about the oil" (although slightly but mostly not). Or about Israel (although slightly but mostly not).
It went wrong because it was clearly being driven or directed by people who were worse than incompetent, particularly in matters related to the region.
I know I personally would have opposed the Iraq invasion if it had been pushed primarily by centrist interventionists, or humanitarian liberationists, or punitive rednecks, or pro-Israel fanatics, or oil companies, etc. But the main reason it sucked, (and why I know I went literally out in the streets to stop it), was political: it was specifically the neocon's ideological war, and far far more dangerous because of that fact. They, and the Red State Republican establishment (I was a Texas Republican so I know), and the contractors who would provide the ground support were and are generally either wilfully or naturally ignorant and/or bigoted regarding a volatile new situation they would inherit.
Worse than incompetent were the neocons. Most got or get their Mideast knowledge from Bernard Lewis, or even -- good Lord -- Leon Uris. And their Red State and other street-level support are LGF types. We're talking majorly acutely, if not uniquely high, nasty shit-for-brains on MENA. Weird idealistic democratic transformational claptrap combined with demented bigotry and ignorance, and people stupid enough to be taken in by Ahmed Chalabi.
Look, mostly evil miltary foreign occupations can work (Britain held Ireland down for centuries); liberating occupations -- real or pretextual -- can certainly be quiet for a time. So there was no reason Iraq was INEVITABLY a mess which would burgeon to fiasco after a US overthrow of the moslty hated Saddamites. There were alot of reasons Iraq was likely to come apart, but not it was not inevitable.
The actual people running it -- Bush the narrow-horizoned overconfident naif, Cheney the hard-realist with a neocon entourage throughout the government and chatterati; Rice, the Mideast ingenue realist, Powell, the team-playing ditherer, Garner the neocon, Bremer the bureaucrat -- all were flawed deeply for administering Iraqis and Iraq.
Now after some bitter experience comes the belated dawning realization in the Administration that the people don't want to be the show liberal democrats in a hurry, and that they simply want stability and the appearance of dignity and security first, and also answer to tradtional social hierarchies. So after this multiyear and mulitdeath and dismembership delay in recognizing the semi-obvious, we have introduced basic anti-guerilla warfare 101 in a proper manner, along with a solid proconsul of local knowledge and credibility to deal with the assorted Iraq muckety mucks.
And with a larger number of troops engaged at the same time, the Surge surges.
It can still all go to hell, of course. as it hasn't entirely left that Hot Place, but there was no reason to be totally cynical about the Surge. OK, there was reason to be cynical about the Surge proper but not about the broader steps taken. The adults are in charge now and it will be quieter.
How that will play out is another story yet to be determined. Not optimistic, here, but who knows?
Posted by Matthew Hogan at December 16, 2007 12:58 AM
Filed Under: Foreign Policy & MENA , Iraq War , MENA Region General , Op-Ed , Political Development , Religious Minorities , Society & Culture , Terrorism , US Foreign Policy
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Most got or get their Mideast knowledge from Bernard Lewis, or even -- good Lord -- Leon Uris.
I remain very cynical. Maybe it's the (partisan Democrat) Iraq expert I met who said violence was down because most ethnic cleansing has already taken place. Maybe it's reading from people who follow such matters that America's tactics (backing Sunni militias fighting against AQ) work against its strategy (political reconciliation) and long-term interests (said militias may well on the US and its allies later). Maybe it's the fact that violence levels are still among the highest in the world.
By all accounts, Crocker and Petraeus are extremely intelligent and talented administrators, and it's great we've now got them instead of their predecessors. And they will have access to tremendous resources, both capital and human. But I still don't see how they can do anything more than postpone or slow down whatever untold horrors lie in the future.
Yeah ... what DW said.
Short-term the violence is down, but at the cost of ethno-religious disintegration and the empowerment of local warlords. And, btw, this is not only true for Baghdad & the "Sunni Triangle" - where the Surge concentrated - but also southern & northern Iraq.
The accounts of life in, say, Basra/Kirkuk/Diwaniya/you-name-it speak of oppression of minorities, rule of the gun, and imposition of traditionalist morals on the populace. In Basra, number of women killed for "moral transgressions" this year alone is a few DOZEN.
1.5+ mio internal & over 2 mio external refugees will have to be settled, and because of the ethno-religious ... errr ... "re-organization" of towns and neighborhoods, many will not be going back to their old homes.
Thus, if the Surge aimed to curb the violence, then it is succeeding. But if we also take into account the political aims (a.k.a. "Crocker's job" & also remember Bush's "benchmarks for the Iraqi government"), then it's pretty clear that those have not been reached and won't be reached in the near (or even long-term) future.
Iraq as a nation-state has devolved into Iraq as a conglomeration of political entities, some more connected to each other than others. 2008 may very well see the establishment of one or two federal regions in southern Iraq that will be, for all intends and purposes, "Shi'ite". And then you can expect the governments of those regions to start their own oil policy.
Let's just hope that the news about a giant oil field that was supposedly discovered in Anbar turns out to be true. Then the Sunni Arabs would have their own oil source, and everyone - Sunni Arabs, Shi'ite Arabs, Kurds - can go their merry way.
Posted by: MSK at December 16, 2007 04:48 AM
US COIN strategy was for a long time frustrated by the ideologically driven notion that there was no popular insurgency, only a few "dead-enders", who had to be smacked down with extreme prejudice. Petraus/Crocker have basically begun a devolution of power into the hands of local leaders with local support, which is why Petraus now wuvs Moqtada. But like the Sahwah people, the Sadrists are nationalists, and dead set against both American and Iranian prolonged dominance, and have a history of violent resistance against such forces. I don't really see how either could live the the current status for very long. Oh look, funeral shrouds. White is the new black this season.
Posted by: Klaus at December 16, 2007 04:59 AM
one of the best accounts on the ideological aspect of the Iraq War is Rajiv Chandrasekaran's "Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone" about the first post-invasion year. Makes you want to laugh ... but then you realize that it's not a movie script ... and you want to shoot yourself.
Posted by: MSK at December 16, 2007 05:39 AM
I rather agree overall. I have I think said again and again that Iraq was never going to be the Magic Little America dreamed by some of the ideological loons, nor even Attaturk Land II (Lewis' ill-considered senile dream), but from the get go it could have gone far better with a modicum of basic competence. My own early involvement in equity investment on this (see 2003 archives, I put most back up btw), gave me a sad early sense.
Taking MSK's and Dubai Walla's cautionary notes re the state of ethnic cleansing as baseline - Iraq has become a big, oil producing Leb Land post 1980 style - it strikes me that competent management may give the US an ability to withdraw in an orderly way, leaving behind an Iraq that will be like late 1980s Lebanon, out of sheer fatigue working towards an unstable compromise that may end of dividing the country in soft-internal fiefdoms with violence along the borders, and some internal (i.e. to the groups, Shia, etc) fighting. Low level violence with severity on the borders.
As compared to a general collapse with the Americans leaving by helos from their Qasr, as I think was (and is if the bollix this up) a serious risk, this is not that bad.
That is going to be the best
A note on this from Hogan:
Now why is competence an issue here so important, aside from its common sense value? Here's why: the main reason Iraq went wrong was ... because it was clearly being driven or directed by people who were worse than incompetent, particularly in matters related to the region.
Delusional you mean.
Sadly beyond Iraq, we have repercussions, Algeria and elsewhere militants coming back are inserting new knowledge into terror networks, and the American image in the region is at probably its lowest point in modern history.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at December 16, 2007 09:03 AM
(Thought I'd fixed to add DW's on-point Patai reference.)
And must agree that the long-term looks grim for the reasons cited by all.
Posted by: matthew hogan at December 16, 2007 09:35 AM
I don't think the US will be in much of a position to withdraw because they're setting up a situation where all the local organizations are looking to the US army as their coordinating mechanism and cash machine. You can talk about some sort of impartial national government stepping in to take that role, but the fact is that that isn't going to happen, and absent that, there will be some kind of flare-up following a US withdrawal, although it might be a short-lived one.
The situation looks like Lebanon in the '80s now, with the US in the Syria role; but the early-90s Lebanon quiet-down relied on Syria's continued looming presence as the military-force-of-last-resort.
Posted by: Tom Scudder at December 16, 2007 11:53 AM
90% of attacks in Iraq are directed against coalition forces. And as British forces have pulled out of Basra, the level of violence has declined dramatically. Now I recognize that city's demographics and political situation are nothing like Baghdad's, and that even now, it still has any number of problems with militias. But if we agree that the United States is fundamentally incapable of 'fixing' Iraq politically, an eventual withdrawal (whether substantial or complete) is inevitable.
What I would like to know is why more people aren't discussing the likelihood of a less successful version of Basra prevailing in Iraq as a whole. It's obviously a long way from perfect, but it would still be a major improvement over the status quo, in terms of reduced violence as well as American expenditure. Sure, there is a significant risk of a complete bloodbath, but if a withdrawal is inevitable and political progress impossible, we face that risk anyway, and add to it the costs of the current violence/troop presence.
Iraq is not my specialty, so anyone who knows better (hello, MSK) should feel free to correct me if I have something wrong. Is there an intellectually respectable case for staying in Iraq, or are American troops still there only because the current administration is not willing to admit it messed up big time?
"Is there an intellectually respectable case for staying in Iraq . . . . ?"
". . . or are American troops still there only because the current administration is not willing to admit it messed up big time?"
Not "only" but that's one reason. Still, as we can see, none of the leading opposition seems to be in a hurry to leave either. The "establishment" has decided that American credibility requires us not to leave. So: If it heats up, well, we have to fix what we broke' if it simmers as now, well, we shouldn't abandon the course as it's succeeding.
Posted by: matthew hogan at December 16, 2007 02:40 PM
90% of attacks in Iraq are directed against coalition forces.
I rather thought those market bombings lacked US forces in the area.
What "metric" is this?
As for an intellectually respectable case for staying in Iraq: yes, there is one if one can make the case that the US can play a "Syria" role (rather than be an escalator).
I am not an optimist for this argument, but pulling out to leave a power vacuum is not an obvious choice either. It is a hard call to say which is worse, a truly hard call.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at December 16, 2007 04:07 PM
Yes, the 90% does seem high as most of the stuff lately has still seemed inter-sect. Aside from that the absolute number is lower. Not that any of it is good.
Not sure the Syria role is respectable. Still, a sort of attitude of "we broke it we have to stick around to see it fixed" carries some weight. Not with me, of course, but it's a fair argument. We need only remember that place called Palestine in 1948 when they slinkered off leaving behind a mess. Fortunately, that problem has since died down.:-)
In short, for me, let's get out the sooner the better, but there is likely to be another free-for-all thereafter, and it might seem appealing to stick around to reduce the chances of that. Not to me, of course, but there's a case there.
Posted by: matthew hogan at December 16, 2007 04:36 PM
The 90% strikes me as utter shite.
Or if it is a real stat, mixes the trivial (sniping) with the grand.
That aside, the Syria role is neither respectable nor particularly advisable.
But in a world of shit, your choices are not about respectable, they are about reducing your downside.
The case to be made is, if you begin to show a degree of competence, it may be worthwhile (net positive) to have some stabiliser presence with some kind of sunset on the presence. Else you do indeed become Syria - but lacking either the historical, cultural or linguistic skills of Syria, never mind local political savvy. And if that is an insulting comparison, recall it is being positive and optimistic.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at December 16, 2007 05:23 PM
The 90% stat, must be registered attacks. Now, I sincerely doubt the petty crime and revenge attacks that account for most of Iraqi deaths are registered with anywhere near the meticulousness that attacks on US forces are. I mean, why would any Sunni Arab want to report anything to the authorities?
Basra is NOT successful. If you read the accounts on southern Iraq, they're pretty depressing. Basra itself is mired in a micro-war between different Shi'ite factions (one of them being the government) - read www.niqash.org (navigate to "Southern regions").
The level of violence AGAINST BRITISH FORCES had "declined dramatically" in Basra, not the level of violence in general. No wonder, with no Brits to shoot at anymore ... ;)
Southern Iraq is now organized along local/regional strongmen/groups with higher institutions (governorate/national govts) having little control and basically buying allegiance of local powers. Central Iraq (i.e. just south of Baghdad) is better, but that's only because the big groups (SIIC/Badr Corps, Sadr/Mahdi Army, Da'wa) have more interest in the area - Najaf & Karbala are there.
So yes, there is a vibe of "late 80s Lebanon" to the place.
As for US troops ... they're definitely key to the various "awakenings" & thus the flipping of Sunni Arabs. In that capacity (& in Baghdad) the Surge works. But the political goals are not met & will not be met. Period.
Just ask Lebanese about things like "national reconciliation" or "national infrastructure projects". As I said, we can only hope that there IS a lot of oil in Anbar, since at this point that's the only way that all areas of Iraq will get reasonable funding for reconstruction & hence enough $$$ for everyone to be (semi)happy and not grumble and, hence, not keep fighting.
The US will definitely not be playing in Iraq the equivalent of Syria in Lebanon 1976-2005. The main reason is that it's incapable (a.k.a. "incompetent") to do so - it does not have the political acumen nor the kind of manpower.
The best thing for the next administration would be to say "Bush & his people did a horrible, horrible thing," declare to withdraw & pull out the troops over a 3-6 month period. US policy in the MidEast is so bad, the only way to avoid a total breakdown of is a 180 degree turn.
Posted by: MSK at December 17, 2007 06:12 AM
We wont know if it was a success until after all of the troops are gone. Calling it a success, at this point, is premature.
Let take a look at it one year from now and then we can begin to talk about whether it was a success or not.
How much of it has to do with the fact that most ethnically diverse areas had already been ethnically cleansed by the time the operation started? What happens when the couple of million of Iraqis that have fled Iraq want to come back home to houses and jobs that are occupied by someone else from a different ethnic group?
Seems to me that what has happened is that the ethnic transfers have mainly been completed, the US is now funding and arming Sunni groups in various areas. This is done in the guise of fighting AQ in Iraq, but AQ in Iraq were never the main threat anyway.
I think the surge and the arming of portions of the Sunni community will only make the coming conflict worse and more violent. In the next couple of years, with the failure of the government in Baghdad to do anything, we will see large set piece battles between Sunni and Shi'a forces, and between Shi'a forces themselves as people look to stake out their territory.
Posted by: Abu Sinan at December 17, 2007 08:43 AM
Quite reasonable obs mate, but in the end leaving aside the use of the word "success" which may give a boost to the lunatics, success here is not against the idea or positive situ, but the deep down side.
Rather like a bankruptcy, success in the wind up of an already bankrupt firm by the administrator is not measured against its healthy past, but realising best value against ZERO.
Oddly, the American Administration has managed to make an Iraq that is like late 80s Leb Land actually upside from say Iraq like late 70s Leb Land.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at December 17, 2007 01:46 PM
Ya Abu Sinan,
For what reason would Sunni Arabs fight "large set piece" battles against Shi'ite Arabs, and where?
Ethnic cleansing is pretty much done. The refugees don't have arms and none of their co-religionists will try to resettle them in their old neighborhoods by force.
I really don't see where those battles would happen.
Posted by: MSK at December 18, 2007 05:04 AM
Eventually, when the government in Baghdad is forced to run things by themselves with the abscence of American troops it will end up being a free for all.
The last remaining Sunnis will probably be forced out of Baghdad. Set battles would probably happen in places like Diyala Governorate which has a Sunni majority, but with a substantial Shi'a population. It is currently the most violent place in Iraq.
As you have stated, most of the ethnic cleansing has been done, with some areas just needing some small population movements to make this complete, ie Baghdad.
I think the coming issues might be in Northern Iraq/Kurdistan, where small scale ethnic cleansing of ethnic Arabs and Turks has been happening for years. With a breakdown of government in Baghdad it is entirely likely that ethnic strife in mixed areas like Kirkuk will only increase.
If you have noticed the Mahdi Army has been pretty silent. They havent been attaking Americans and most of the Sunnis have already been removed from Baghdad. I think, alone with other militias, are gearing up for the real fight which will happen in the future.
Why take large casualties fighting Americans when they are going to leave on their own in a year or two anyway? Better to arm and train for the fighting that will come after that.
I think the Sunnis working with the US at the moment realise what is in store after the Americans leave. That is why they are taking cash and small and medium weapons from the Americans.
Far from success, I think what we are seeing now is the "eye of the storm" in Iraq.
I agree with Lounsbury that Iraq certain looks a lot like Lebanon in the 1970s. Just as polarised, just as well armed, and just as much on the edge.
I guess the only difference is that it will be Sunnis and Shia fighting it out without Christians (other than Americans) involved.
Posted by: Abu Sinan at December 18, 2007 09:16 AM
Good points. Maybe it's just my wishful thinking, but I don't really see big fights over territory. Why should the Mahdi Army bother conquering the 30-40% of Baghdad that is Sunni Arab, or Diyala? There's nothing there that's worth fighting for - no oil fields.
Since you guys are pointing at the Lebanese Civil War, after the ethnic cleansings, there were few "big battles". Mostly you had turf wars, infighting, such as the "War of the Camps" (AMAL vs. Palestinians & a Hizbullah somewhat involved) and the Aoun-vs-Geagea intra-Christian war. But there were few serious battles between the "official" foes. The most important one was the Mountain War after the Izzies left, where Druze reconquered previously lost terrain.
But don't forget one thing: Lebanon is very small. Iraq is big - loosing territory doesn't matter as much - there's plenty to go around. In Iraq, the fight is for natural resources, mainly oil. Which is why if oil is found in Anbar, the Sunni Arabs have much less incentive to fight Shi'ites & Kurds for a serious say in the central government.
Kirkuk is, indeed, very volatile. But just last week or so the local factions came to a preliminary agreement and Arabs & Turkmen returned to the local assembly. Again, IF the Kurds are smart enough to give Arabs & Kurds an equitable share of the oil revenue in Kirkuk, the latter can be (relatively easily) bought off to not mind being part of the Kurdistan Region.
And btw, your argument "With a breakdown of government in Baghdad it is entirely likely that ethnic strife in mixed areas like Kirkuk will only increase" rests on the wrong premise that there IS a central gov't in Baghdad that has any kind of influence on the country. There is NOT.
The Kirkuk situation is entirely locally managed, in the sense that the Kurdish, Arab, Turkmen factions may have outside backing but that has nothing whatsoever to do with the Iraqi government as such.
Simply put - whatever Maliki and Co do or don't do doesn't really matter outside the Green Zone. There, it's the parties & factions who rule, not government institutions.
Just look at how the Kurdistan Region is doing whatever it wants, despite the fact that the 2 parties that run the KRG are part of the central government and also field the President of Iraq.
Posted by: MSK at December 18, 2007 09:44 AM
I realise there is nothing there worth fighting for. The problem is, that simple fact hasnt stopped them for killing tens of thousands of people over the last four years.
Sure, Iraq is big, but I dont think the fighting will be over vast stretches of land, rather it will be for key, small areas of lands, cities, oil fields, things like that. I dont think the fighting is going to be over who controls this piece of desolate land or that.
I agree with you that the government in Baghdad is useless, but I think it is the hope of a future relevent lawmaking body that keeps things from getting worse. As long as something is function, in whatever manner in Baghdad, there is an idea that can be sold.
I agree with you about the Kurdistan region. I have sympathy with their plight, but not some of the methods they employ. I am really disappointed in the recent moves there concerning press freedom.
Anyway, with my thoughts about Iraq for the future, I HOPE to be wrong. Far too many people have died already.
Posted by: Abu Sinan at December 18, 2007 11:44 AM
Seems that a great deal of the Sunni nationalist factions believe the Shi'a have gained control only because of US and Iranian backing, and so believe that, as foreign agents, they are to be chucked out of Iraq eventually, and things restored to their normal order. Might simply be blowing hot air, but not a mental state that offers any prospects for peace.
Here a good report that elucidates the issue under discussion:
United States Insitute for Peace (yes, there is such a thing ;)) "Political Progress in Iraq During the Surge" (http://www.usip.org/pubs/specialreports/sr196.html)
(Hat tip: Abu Aardvark)
Posted by: MSK at December 19, 2007 07:06 AM
Eh, it's the equivalent of 1967, when Westmoreland was talking about a light at the end of the tunnel. (I will admit that Petraeus is far more competent. Unfortunately, he appears to have started to believe his press a bit more than is healthy, which is never a good thing.)
Next year, we get the Iraq equivalent of Tet, whatever that winds up being. Should be interesting to see how history rhymes this time.
At this point, not only do I have gold, I have options on gold stocks going out to March, the 40th anniversary of Tet. I'll lose a little if I'm wrong, options being a cheap way of betting your outlook, but I doubt I'm in much danger of that.
Posted by: pantom at December 21, 2007 11:22 PM
Why should any Iraqi bother with a Tet-like offensive, if all they have to do is sit & wait?
Right now, everyone's getting what they want. Except the al-Qaida types. But they can no longer launch anything other than bombings. And from the way it looks, only in some areas of Iraq anymore. There is no "national resistance" in Iraq like there was in Vietnam.
Posted by: MSK at December 22, 2007 08:08 AM
That's taking me too literally.
The main problem in Iraq, as most of the previous posts were pointing out, is ethnic/tribal/religious violence, and trying to stop that has been a very large part of Petraeus's mission.
My point is just that sooner or later something will blow: among the very many possibilities, just to pick one at random, might be a big PKK terror attack in Turkey that brings in a full-scale invasion of the north, which could conceivably lead to a shooting war between the US and Turkey.
Just one of many, many ways this thing could fall apart.
As Tolstoy said, “All happy families resemble one another, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” A sage observation, because in an unhappy family the different ways it could be unhappy are infinite. Ditto with unhappy countries.
Posted by: pantom at December 22, 2007 09:03 AM
Yes, there are seemingly unlimited possibilities for how Iraq (or parts of it) could blow up. But, following your logic, there are also unlimited possibilities for how it won't.
Why do you think that something will blow?
As for "falling apart" - Iraqi has already completed that process. Today, there is no "Iraq" in terms of a nation-state.
Posted by: MSK at December 23, 2007 04:13 AM
I'm looking at it from a US-centric POV, which means something that blows the idea that we just might get out of this with a peaceful Iraq.
As for your assertion that there's lots of ways this might work, you didn't pay attention to the logic of my Tolstoy quote. Only way this works is if everyone decides to start living peacefully with everyone else in that country. The ways it doesn't work, OTOH, are infinite.
Posted by: pantom at December 23, 2007 10:07 AM
I did/do understand the logic of that Tolstoy quote. I just don't agree with your idea that it is as applicable as you think it is.
There are quite a few different ways in which Iraq could end up - for the short or medium term at least - resembling some sort of "peaceful" state, neither of which resembling one another.
I think you confuse "peaceful" with "happy".
Or else most countries in the region are not peaceful ...
Posted by: MSK at December 23, 2007 11:46 PM