Monday, January 08, 2007

What I Think About Iraq

It is the biggest news story of the day (and has been for some time), yet I have barely given it a mention in this space. Why, you ask? We get blitzed by so much information about the situation (or so we think) on a daily basis that the absolutely dire situation on the ground has become so much white noise to us and seemingly to our leadership.

There is some gruesome truth to the words of Josef Stalin: "One death is a tragedy. A million deaths is a statistic."

So, with the risk of oversimplyfying an extraordinarly complex situation, here are two possible scenarios:
  • We go with what seems to be President Bush's new plan...the vaunted "surge." We will know for sure on Wednesday, but if press leaks are to be believed (they seem to be one of the few clear channels of communication anymore), Mr. Bush wants to make a final surge with 20,000 new troops to quell the violence in Baghdad, rid the city of Sunni insurgents, Shi'ite militias, Ba'athist loyalists and then get on with the program of rebuilding civil society so that political stability can flourish and our troops can finally come home.
  • We go with the plan proposed by the Iraq Study Group and (as it seems) the one supported by the new Democratic majority in Congress. This would not give the president a "blank check" to spend more money and would instead couple phased troop reductions with a diplomatic offensive in the region to attempt to enlist the support of other states in the region in quelling violence and re-establishing some semblance of order, especially in and around Baghdad.

Will either of these new strategies work? Of course not.

Let's take the President Bush plan first, shall we? The notion of a "final push," one last effort by a bewildered fighting force to give it a final go and maybe defeat the enemy is as misguided for overall policy as it is suicidal for the troops involved. 20,000 new troops? From where? Even if we can field this many people, it will be little more than a drop in the roiling bucket that is Baghdad. A final push? When, in modern warfare, has this ever worked? All it will succeed in doing is sending more troops, condemned by this damnable strategy, to the morgue.

Why would the president suggest such a plan? Surely he has heard the heel and cry from all corners, official and otherwise, that this war has no popular support left to fuel it. People from top military brass to Congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle to Henry Kissinger have said that a military victory is impossible. Why then the continued drive to such an elusive victory?

I can say it no better than it was said by MSNBC's Keith Olbermann in a commentary on his show "Countdown" last week. Watch the video here. In fact, peruse the list of all of his special comments here. They are all outstanding.

The president is never wrong. He never apologizes. He is consumed by his own superinflated ego and backed by a vice president who is likely the mastermind behind this total and unmitigated failure. A grim echo of Henry VIII and Cardinal Wolsey, indeed.

What then of the Iraq Study Group plan, and the one that Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid seem to support? Equally unworkable. Diplomatic offensive in the region? To whom will we be dispatching these armies of diplomats? Iran? Saudi Arabia?

The best that could be hoped for diplomatically is to become more engaged in the Israel-Palestine peace process, something that has not occured in the State Department under Condoleeza Rice. What will this do? Maybe nothing, but it sure seems (and when did you ever expect to hear this) that there is a greater chance of success dealing with the Palestinians and their elected leadership (which we wish had not been elected) than, well, whatever else is on offer.

Can Iran be dealt with diplomatically? After all, it has been the case for some time that the dominant political and economic mover in the region is no longer the predominantly Sunni areas led by Saudi Arabia, but the Shi'ite orbit headed by Iran. Years of feeble sanctions and diplomatic buck-passing put us in the situation we are in with Iran and allowed them, with considerable help in the fact that the Soviet Union collapsed when it did, to get the knowledge and materials to go nuclear.

So, no, to answer the question, Iran COULD have been dealt with diplomatically but it is too late for that. Any diplomatic overtures to Iran, seen in the light of their incessant baiting of Israel, will call into jeopardy our relationship with the Israelis, as these overtures will be seen as ignoring Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denial and aggressive nuclear strategy. If anything gets started with Iran it will be by Israel, who has dealt with Iran's funding of Hizbollah for years now. We must prevail on Israel that, despite having a possibly plausible reason for going after Iran, the result could be regional nuclear conflict.

This only scratches the surface and probably does more to confuse you, dear reader, than to clarify things.

What will happen in Iraq in 2007 and beyond? I suspect that we will all be reacquainted with the term and concept of "ethnic cleansing" as the sectarian violence will spread as the Sunni minority in the center of the country is systematically killed or chased off by the Shi'ite majority.

The idea of revenge cannot be forgotten: the majority of the Iraqi poulation are Shi'ites and they lived under the frightful thumb of Saddam Hussein for the better part of 40 years. They are in control and will do everything they can to destroy the Sunnis in their midst.

As this process continues, and the Shi'ite ethnic cleansing spreads west from Baghdad, the country will be split into two halves, one in control of the Shi'ite government in Baghdad and the other by the Kurds in the north. What Sunnis are not killed to forced to flee (creating a refugee crisis elsewhere, possibly in Jordan, Syria or Turkey) will have no part in the real "new" government of Iraq.

This new government, as it will emerge, will at best be a loose confederation of a partitioned Iraq of Kurds in the north and Shi'ites (fully backed by Iran) in the south. At worst, these two partitions will engage in a new cross border war with each other over the terms of the partition and anything resembling the "devolved government" of the new Iraqi constitution. The Shi'ite south will then become nothing more than a client state of Iran, a satellite of the growing power in the region.

This, in turn, could also cause the aformentioned attack by a jittery Israel, seeing an Iran on the march as a credible threat (which it would be). Then comes that regional war that everyone does not want to admit is possible but that, um, really is.

What of the U.S. role in all of this? We can merely serve as a catalyst, an accellerant to the mounting conflict if we continue as we have. Our presence there serves as a short term deterrent and stabilizing factor, but this is the proverbial Band-Aid on the gaping head wound. In the long run, we are not making it better, just helping it to bleed for longer.

So, you are no doubt saying, Will is in favor of cut-and-run now? Not really. What I am saying is that what we are doing now is not working and I doubt that sentencing more innocent U.S. forces to death will make it any better.

What I am saying is that the situation is not ours to direct anymore. This will be decided by Iraqis and Iraqis alone, not anything we decide to do or say. Peace will not come until the machinery of a post-war Iraq can be concieved and then erected, something that will not come soon or at a cheap price in human life.

It is the Iraqis situation to deal with now, not ours. While we cannot wash our hands of responsibility for it, neither can we pretend that we are completely in control anymore. We made our bed in Iraq, but we are no longer welcome to lie in it.

Who is to blame for all of this? Easiest question I have answered yet in this piece. George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and George Tenet with complicit support from Colin Powell.

Feeling powerless, cornered and friendless is never easy, is it?

We would all do well to consider what this feeling means for us, our country and our world.

If we don't, then it's all over. For all of us. Forever.


Greg_Shealy said...

With all due respect. Keith Olbermann is a douchebag. One of the biggest ones to ever exist. He is just a smug Bill O'Reilly. I promise you that the day I listen to a former Sports Center analysist is the day I have assumed room temprature. He is not even a party hack. At least party hacks have to be somewhat reasonable. My favorite Keith Olberman moment was when he said we were losing the war on terror BECAUSE THERE WAS NO MONUMENT ON GROUND ZERO (and by extension it was Bush's fault). There wasn't a Pearl Harbor monument until the 1970s but it didn't mean imperialist Japan had won. It also wasn't Bush's fault, rather the fault of the 9/11 survivor group and local NYC politics. Sorry for the rant, he is just on my Mount Rushmore of bad cable news people along with: Nancy Grace, Bill O'Reilly, and Larry King.

Otherwise, very good post as usual.

I would slightly disagree with waht I perceive to be the tone of your post (and perhaps I am wrong) but Iran is very dangerous. They are desperate, and even if 'negotiation' were possible, I am not sure we should do it. Iran right now has a larger problems facing it than the USA. The ideals of the Islamic revolution is being rejected by the younger generation, their oil production is 300,000 bpd lower than the OPEC quota and most geologists feel they are in for a sharp decline through 2015.

Problems best on all sides. Right now "anti-imperialism", "anti-Zionism" and "anti-Americanism" is the fig leaf of respectability that allows their regime to continue its existence. Otherwise, they would simply be the latest in an unbroken line of tyrants and despots stretching to antiquity. They have squandered their oil wealth, are largely isolated by the developed world, and are unable to cope with the technology of the modern world (Internet, Cell Phones, Sattelitte TV, etc.)

So what are they to do? Very simply develop the bomb, stir the pot of anti-Zionism, and hope that the nationalistic fervor they arouse in their population keeps them around. There is no way -- with or without Palestine, with or without diplomatic overtures, with or without promise of civilian help -- that they would be willing to buckle under the pressure of Western and European pressure. To do so would undermind the ideological underpinnings girdling their state.


PS -- Get your butt to Germany. :)

Will Shannon said...

Thanks as always for the comments, Greg. I will drop you an email tomorrow.

I certainly did not mean to underplay how dangerous Iran is. Maybe I should have been more clear by saying that they are so dangerous because it is unclear how to deal with them. We cannot talk, we cannot (sensibly) attack.

All we can do is watch the president rile people up and hope the nonsense on stilts that is the Islamic Republic of Iran collapses while counselling Israel to keep a cool head in their dealings in the region.

Iran, I agree, also has never had anything resembling good government. Whether the depredations of the Phalavi family or the current regime, theirs has never been a government that cared much for its people or their rights.

I also understand that going nuclear is just part of the routine in a way. It is one of the ways that a state defines (or tries to define) itself as a "strong state." I think, in fact, that this is often the move of a "weak state," propped up by radical bastardization of religion and nationalist rhetoric.

It cannot be ignored, however, that there is nothing more dangerous than someone heavily armed with nothing to lose. In this sense, Iran does and can not stand as a pillar of stability in the region.

Thanks again and we need to talk soon.