CRUNCH TIME FOR AMERICAN POLICY IN IRAQ?
"It’s no coincidence that the surge in attacks against coalition forces and the subsequent increase in U.S. casualties coincide with our increased presence in the streets of Baghdad and the run-up to the American mid-term elections….The enemy knows that killing innocent people and American will garner headlines and create a sense of frustration….We find the insurgent elements the extremists, are in fact punching back hard….They’re trying to get back into those areas [which were cleared of them in recent operations in Baghdad]. We’re constantly going back in and doing clearing operations again.”
Major General William B. Caldwell, IV. 20 Oct. 2006
See: NY Times .
The USA is now, it seems in the grasp of the tiger, and there is no simple way of rectifying the situation now on the ground in Iraq. I recently wrote in this journal, that American strategy and in the Near and Middle East was in a state of paralysis. The source of this paralysis was & is the failure of American policy in Iraq. That the policy has not been going well, and that all possible options for American policy, are less than ideal, has been readily apparent to most intelligent observers for awhile now. However in the last three to four weeks, the deteriorating situation on the ground in Iraq, has now reached such dimensions that for the first time, even the highest levels of the American government, previously, immune to any type of realistic thinking on the subject, has now embraced the growing pessimism. The best example of which, is President Bush’s comments to the George Stephanopoulos, that the current situation bears a certain resemblance to that of Viet Nam at the time of the Tet Offensive in early 1968 (see David Sanger’s article in today’s paper in www.nytimes.com). The oddly enough, despite the large differences in casualty figures in the two cases (roughly 72 killed in the past 20 days, and 1500-2000 killed during the first three weeks of the Tet Offensive), the psychological mood in the two cases among the both the pays legal, and pays Reel, is much the same: the steady draining away of both public support and elite support for the policy in the absence of any concrete signs that the declared policy is either succeeding or has any chance of succeeding in the near future. Just as American military commander in Viet Nam, William Westmoreland’s call for an additional 200,000+ troops, forced a wide ranging debate within the inner counsels of the Johnson Administration, which ultimately lead to President Johnson to declare an effective ‘halt’, to offensive operations to ‘win the war’; so to, it would appear that the combination of the upcoming Congressional elections, and, the now partially leaked recommendations of the Baker Commission, have started perhaps the same process within the Bush Administration (for the perhaps the two best studies on the inner dynamics of the decision to ‘de-escalate’ the conflict in Indochina, in the Spring of 1968, see: Townsend Hoopes, The Limits of Intervention & Paul Joseph, Cracks in the Empire).
Perhaps the best analysis of the current situation in Iraq is provided, as usual, by Anthony Cordesman, latest analysis. As Cordesman notes:
“Iraq is already in a state of serious civil war, and current efforts at political compromise and improving security at best are buying time. There is a critical risk that Iraq will drift into a major civil conflict over the coming months, see its present government fail, and/or divide or separate in some form. The US cannot simply ‘stay the course,’ and rely on its existing actions and strategy. It needs a new options to reverse the drift towards a major civil war and political failure. There are no truly good options that can guarantee success and there are many bad ones….There are no ‘silver bullets’ that can quickly rescue the situation, and many efforts to change the existing US strategy in Iraq could be extremely destabilizing. Bright, radical ideas are easy to formulate….The idea that Iraq would somehow become a democracy and example that would transform the region was a pathetic neoconservative fantasy from the start, and an initial probability approaching zero will not change in the future”.
The time for drift, for hoping, Mr. Micawber like, that ‘something will turn up’, is over. The time is now ripe to make hard and difficult decisions to try to salvage the situation in Iraq, not the ideal of any type of Democracy, nor even perhaps (a more difficult decision) that in the future, Iraq will be a bastion for American power in the region. Or as former invasion support, and ex-CIA /NSC expert, Kenneth Pollack has noted recently: “If it is not broken completely, it’s breaking and breaking fast” (see: www.cfr.org). Indeed, it could very well be, that within two to three years time, or less, all American
forces will be forced to quit Iraq, never to return. The only issue, is whether this is done in an orderly way, or not. And, in addition, whether Iraq, will slide into an all out civil war, or manage, in some fashion or other, to remain relatively peaceful (relative being the key word here) and stable. In any case, something which even I did not think possible, now would seem to be all but inescapable: that in the near future, with the withdrawal of American forces, that it will be other powers, particularly Persia, which will exercise the greatest influence, if not on the country as a whole, than at the very least the Shiite led, central government in Baghdad (on this possibility see: "Iran, its neighbours and the regional crises," in www.Chathamhouse.org.uk). These are hard truths to admit, but one must state the fact that the American project in Iraq, has been, we can now see clearly, an unmitigated failure. From start to finish. The issue is now, that in withdrawing from the country, that the retreat, does not become a rout. As the neo-conservative writer, Marc Gerecht ruefully but correctly points out:
“In Vietnam, the South Vietnamese government deployed a tolerably competent military force that held for a ‘decent interval’ after our departure. This is unlikely in Iraq. When we start withdrawing, the entire Iraqi governing structure, along with the Iraqi army, will probably fracture along ethnic and religious lines”
See: “Running from Iraq” in www.weeklystandard.com
On that question, time alone will tell whether a catastrophic collapse of the entire Iraqi governing structure (such as it is) will indeed, immediately fall apart, either before or perhaps even prior to a complete American pull-out. With perhaps the best comparison being the situation in the Indian Sub-continent, with the end of the Raj in 1948. In light of the close to one million people killed, one can only hope that this will not be the case. Of course, the above scenario assumes, that there will be something approaching a coup de tete, within the inner councils, and indeed the mindsets, of the current American administration. Something which, based upon past form, does not appear to be the case. Id est, mere facts have never been found to be a sufficient cause for a change in policy, in the Bush regime. Of course, the current situation, is one that is almost without parallel in terms of the nature of the crisis that it represents in American foreign policy.
As it is, American prestige and American power, will, when the call for retreat is sounded, suffer an utter collapse, both inside and outside of the region. With consequences for world politics, which even this observer is not willing at this time to predict. Except that both the larger regional powers (such as Persia, and India), and world powers, such as Russia and China, will see it as a time to stretch their muscles and, take full opportunity to thumb their noses at ‘Uncle Sam’. For good or for ill…