Dividing and Conquering in Iraq

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A fundamental rule in non-profit organizations is this: the larger
the board of trustees, the more power the President possesses.

This is a fundamental law of bureaucracy. A governing board that
is filled with individualists is incapable of initiating anything
significant as a group. The board can veto proposals, and will,
especially if the proposals come from within the board. The instinctive
response of over half the board members is this: “I’m smarter than
this guy. Why should I take his proposal seriously?”

If the President of the organization is a strong-willed person,
he can run the outfit indefinitely without fear of a coup. He knows
that most of the board members owe their presence on the board to
him. He usually recommends new members. If this continues, he will
continue to run the place. Board members think: “He’s in charge
here on a day-to-day basis. He knows the problems. He is on top
of the facts. His opinion is worth considering.” Board members do
not think this about each other.


Any nation that hopes to extend its influence abroad by force of
arms is wise to follow the same procedure that the President of
a non-profit organization adopts. The occupying nation surrounds
its agents with local political representatives of all groups. These
agents defer in small things, first to one group, then another.

In a world of democracy, an empire prefers parliamentary government
abroad and two-party rule at home. Why? In two-party rule, the party
in power can impose party discipline. Access to money extracted
from taxpayers is gained by all-or-nothing contests. The party out
of power imposes discipline in the name of defeating the entrenched
party. The leaders of both parties can point to the power of the
other party to justify party discipline.

When a conquering democracy goes abroad, it must present a united
front. The conquered must fear this united front. Otherwise, the
conquered may implement a divide-and-conquer political strategy
against the conqueror.

To defuse any divide-and-conquer political strategies on the part
of the conquered, the conquering nation does whatever it can to
encourage public expression by all groups that do not promote armed
opposition. It also seeks to bring armed groups into the local governing
board, on condition that they disarm.

With this in mind, consider the following news report from Iraq,
dated November 25.

Iraq was meanwhile pressing ahead with preparations for the elections.
It would be the country’s first free and multi-party ballots since

Electoral commission chief Abdel Hussein Al-Hindawi said over
200 Iraqi political parties have been approved for participation
in the polls.

With the deadline for presenting full electoral lists only a week
away, parties and organizations were in the final stages of discussions
to form alliances ahead of the official launch of the campaign
on December 15.

In January, Iraqis are set to elect 275 deputies to a national
assembly, as well as 51 members of the Baghdad provincial council
and 41 members for each of 17 other regional councils.

There is no doubt in my mind that 275 deputies representing up to
200 political parties will be sufficient to create a board of trustees
mentality, i.e., resistance to organized opposition from within
the parliament. There will be lots of disorganized opposition. In
fact, the political structure imposed by the conqueror is guaranteed
to produce disorganized opposition in permanence. There is nothing
like good, old-fashioned cacophony from the invaded to allow the
invader to move forward in the name of emergencies or irresistible


The great irony of divide and conquer is that it does not succeed
against guerilla movements. In fact, the opposite is true. Because
guerilla movements do not cooperate permanently with each other,
but only on an ad hoc basis, the divide-and-conquer strategy becomes
a blueprint for disaster: endless negotiations that never root out
the resistance movement.

In politics, divide and conquer works well because there is no single
opposition voice to rally the masses. In fourth-generation warfare,
divide and conquer works for the guerrillas for the same organizational
reason: there is no single opposition voice to rally the troops
to accept a surrender.

Guerrillas accept disunity because they are waging the war of the
flea. There is an immediate agenda, shared by all resistance groups:
the permanent removal of the invader. This agenda provides sufficient
unity to prevent competitive group betrayals to the enemy. Add the
concept of “infidel,” and the unity factor increases. But the organizational
divisions remain. The invader finds that he is dealing with a field
full of snakes, not elephants.

The free market provides discount weaponry. If you want a model
from history, consider the repeating rifle in the hands of Apaches,
circa 1879. Now multiply the number of Apache warriors by a factor
of 1,000 or so. Fort Apache is today called the Baghdad green zone.
For those of you who remember Fort Apache, every time you
see a general on television saying that the Coalition has crushed
the resistance, imagine that you’re seeing Henry Fonda.

The strategy of inviting these people into the government if only
they will disarm is not working. It is not going to work. The motivation
of these armed warriors is a combination of national resistance,
Islamic fanaticism, and revenge — as potent a combination as
we are likely to see. That same combination operated in Vietnam
a generation ago, with this difference: Communism rather than Islam.
But there was a big difference: the Viet Cong had a chain of command.
Iraqi resistance doesn’t. We could negotiate with Hanoi, which ran
the Viet Cong. There is no one to negotiate with in Iraq.


The divide-and-conquer strategy works when the conquered do not
have access to cheap weapons in a free market. It works when the
conqueror can move the terms of engagement from the battlefield
to politics. It does not work when a decentralized supply chain
for low-tech weaponry keeps the guerrillas in the field. It does
not work when hit-and-run tactics replace a strategy of direct confrontation.

unified supply chain of the Coalition is its soft underbelly. Socialist
distribution always operates according to bureaucratic schedules.
From Kuwait to Mosul, the supply lines get thinner. Defense gets
more difficult. Targets get more tempting.

Every time I hear “Iraq,” I think “Little Big Horn.”

11, 2004

North [send him mail] is the
author of Mises
on Money
. Visit http://www.freebooks.com.

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