November 23, 2006

The Iraq Conundrum on this Thanksgiving

Mark Danner, in a must-read NYRB piece, quotes George Kennan, speaking before his death in September of 2002: "Today, if we went into Iraq, like the president would like us to do, you know where you begin. You never know where you are going to end." Well, we went in, and now almost four years on, still none of us know where we are going to end. On this day we give ritualistic thanks here in the United States, there is little to give thanks for in Iraq. Rather it is a season of constant mourning, with the Iraqi people facing a cruel onslaught of cascading, unabated violence. Today a series of car bombings (including a mortar attack) led to at least 145 dead (the toll is rising hourly--UPDATE: currently 202 dead, 257 wounded), and hundreds more wounded in Sadr City. In retaliation, Shias attacked the important Abu Hanifa mosque in the Adhamiya neighborhood of Baghdad, frequented by Sunnis, with mortar shells. These events clearly constitute the most devastating blow to any hopes of avoiding full-scale civil war in Iraq since the bombing of the Askariyya Mosque in Samarra. In short, events are outpacing policymakers and think-tank gab-fests and study groups and all the rest of it, with Iraq in a critical state, tottering on the precipice of a full-blown civil war.

I have recently sketched out a rough strategy that I believe is the last best hope to avoid greater carnage in Iraq, and it includes (most controversially) injecting tens of thousands more troops into Baghdad to attempt to stabilize the critical center of the country (more on where we'd find these troops and what they'd do here). But I must wrestle with the reality that neither I, nor anyone else advocating such a course, really know whether it would work (I mean over the long-term, rather than merely providing some relatively marginal short-term stability). And so I must ask myself (and indeed anyone else seriously advocating such a course, particularly as such a move would doubtless lead to greater U.S. fatalities, and perhaps only delay massive intra-Iraqi carnage): does such a final 'surge' style troop deployment really have a chance of turning around the monstrously horrid security situation in Baghdad caused in large part by the disgraced and discredited and (thankfully) dead Rumsfeld Doctrine, or would it merely serve as some fig-leaf for some 'peace with honor' style withdrawal? (translation: we gave it one last shot(!), but the Iraqis couldn’t meet their ‘benchmarks’ or ‘deadlines’ or whatever verbiage du jour we demand of the beleaguered people we ‘liberated’--as if throwing a people into the clutches of an unremitting orgy of anarchic sectarian violence constitutes anything remotely resembling a liberation).

I cannot know, although I sincerely believe we can realistically improve the situation in Iraq per my recommendations of a week or so back, otherwise I wouldn’t have written them. This said it would not be uncharitable to say that my opinion might be worth something akin to a warm bucket of spit, since I was an early supporter of this war effort, in hindsight the biggest blunder in American foreign policy since at least the Vietnam War. Still, I have to write what I believe, and what I honestly believe still today is that there is a chance, even at this late hour, to rectify some of the colossal errors we've made to date. But yes, none of us should pretend that there isn't a risk that the proverbial gates of hell have already opened, and that there is very little we can do about it now. That's the gig is up, if you will, so that we need to pull up and go. If that's the view, it's rather hard to disagree with David Rieff who writes in last week's TNR symposium on Iraq:

Mocking Senator John Kerry is practically an obligatory sport in Washington these days. But Kerry's eloquent words to that Senate committee more than 30 years ago are as relevant today as they were then. Who would want to be the last soldier to die for a mistake? Would you want anyone you loved to be such a person? Would you volunteer yourself for that terrible fate?

At the Democratic convention in Chicago in 1968, while his policemen were beating up the demonstrators along the Loop and in Lincoln Park, Mayor Richard Daley apparently told Lyndon Johnson that it was time to pull the troops out of Vietnam, once and for all. "How am I to do this?" Johnson asked pleadingly. To which Daley is said to have replied: "You put the fucking troops on the fucking planes and you get them out of there!"

Apart from protecting the Kurds, whose possible acquisition of statehood may be the only good news of this whole dreadful adventure--America's Sicilian Expedition, I fear--there is no longer anything we can do. And the Kurds can probably look after themselves anyway. It is time to put the fucking troops on the fucking planes. Now! Before any more of our children die for their country's hubris.

Why do I still resist this course of action? Because I know that a precipitous American withdrawal will remove any question at all about Iraq's future. If we go, the increasingly brutal civil will get far worse. This we know, and we know it for sure. Beyond this, but relatedly, I am not totally persuaded a massive Iraqi civil war is inevitable. For instance, it is worth pointing out Iraq tribal affiliations have trumped sectarian allegiances in the past, indeed tribal links can not infrequently cross sectarian lines, with Shi'a and Sunnis part of the same tribe. I am therefore perhaps not as dubious as others that, with a continued U.S. presence, it might not be (if just) possible to walk Iraq back from the brink of even grosser carnage with casualties perhaps rising into the millions. Reza Aslan, writing in the same TNR symposium as David, says (contra those advocating partition, a group including distinguished foreign policy analysts like Les Gelb who tend to believe a civil war is a foregone conclusion and propose partition as the only plausible way to avoid it):

On the surface, partition seems like an attractive option. After all, the argument goes, Iraq is already bitterly divided along sectarian lines. Partitioning the country would only formalize what is taking place on the ground.

But, despite portrayals to the contrary, Iraq is not so cleanly divided along sectarian lines. The homogenization of Iraq's neighborhoods results more from a lack of security than from a hardening of ethnic or sectarian identities. In a country where the police and armed forces have failed to provide any semblance of protection, allying oneself with a sect, if not a sectarian militia, has become quite literally a matter of life and death. Nevertheless, most Iraqis continue to identify themselves first and foremost as members of individual clans, many of which cross ethnic and sectarian lines through intermarriage and ancient alliances.

In any case, partitioning Iraq would in no way solve the country's most intractable problem: how to divide oil revenue evenly. Considering that the vast majority of Iraq's oil fields reside almost exclusively in the Shia south and the Kurdish north, it is not difficult to imagine how partition could lead to the permanent exclusion of the Sunnis from what is practically Iraq's sole source of revenue. This would likely result in an even greater sense of alienation among the Sunnis and, consequently, increased sectarian violence. Partition could even lead to a regional war, as Iraq's neighbors, such as Turkey and Iran, are forced to deal with the chaotic aftermath of a fractured Iraq.

The bottom line is this: if the gates of hell have opened, and there is nothing we can do about it, we must look more at an 'over the horizon' troop presence (not in Kurdistan, at least in large numbers, for reasons I'll detail separately) in an attempt to contain each of al Qaeda and growing Iranian aspirations in Iraq. But if we believe we have a fighting chance to stave off a total Iraqi meltdown (yes, even in the face of 1400 year old Shia-Sunni rivalries, and long extant Kurdish-Arab hatreds, and the nefarious intent of Iraq's neighbors) if we believe we can make a final go at changing the course of our involvement in Iraq--aided by policymakers engaging with reality rather than fantasy and thus improving our strategy (Gates rather than Rumsfeld, for instance, though we still have an increasingly haggard, discredited Cheney with us who apparently believes things in Iraq are going "remarkably well")--then I still (reluctantly) believe we cannot yet put our troops on those planes home. Still, I'd be lying if I didn't say I wrestle with that question frequently, given my fear that our massive earlier errors may have already condemned the Iraq War to irremediable failure. As Mark Danner writes:

Nearly four years into the Iraq war, as we enter the Time of Proposed Solutions, the consequences of those early decisions define the bloody landscape. By dismissing and humiliating the soldiers and officers of the Iraqi army our leaders, in effect, did much to recruit the insurgency. By bringing far too few troops to secure Saddam's enormous arms depots they armed it. By bringing too few to keep order they presided over the looting and overwhelming violence and social disintegration that provided the insurgency such fertile soil. By blithely purging tens of thousands of the country's Baathist elite, whatever their deeds, and by establishing a muscle-bound and inept American occupation without an "Iraqi face," they created an increasing resentment among Iraqis that fostered the insurgency and encouraged people to shelter it. And by providing too few troops to secure Iraq's borders they helped supply its forces with an unending number of Sunni Islamic extremists from neighboring states. It was the foreign Islamists' strategy above all to promote their jihadist cause by provoking a sectarian civil war in Iraq; by failing to prevent their attacks and to protect the Shia who became their targets, the US leaders have allowed them to succeed.

In this Time of Proposed Solutions, let us all at least proceed with humility (the grotesque spectacle of arrogant ass-covering we are witnessing among the usual suspects in Washington is appalling, if woefully predictable, and I'll doubtless feel compelled to turn to this parade of vanities full-bore shortly). None of us have some magic answer, but however we got here, we face an immense and complicated mess today. As Colin Powell said, you break it, you own it. And so here we are, hoping against hope a Proposed Solution will move us in more positive direction, while avoiding a too hasty withdrawal that will leave Iraq to the merciless demons we helped unleash by going into Iraq without even the semblance of a serious plan. After all, convincingly midwifing a transition from a brutally repressive neo-Stalinist society towards a viable democracy constituted an immense challenge by any measure, but instead it was characterized by a total dearth of serious historical perspective and regional expertise, in favor of airy powerpoint charts, empty bureaucratic squabbles and grandstanding, and reckless faith-based adventure marked by hubris and swagger and grotesque negligence. The question is, what can be salvaged at this late hour, given this record of bitter dissapointment? And that is a question with no easy answer, I fear.

UPDATE: How bad is the security situation in Baghdad? So bad that Sunni IDPs are fleeing to Fallujah daily. I suppose this speaks relatively well of the security situation in Fallujah, so let that be the little silver lining for today, but note that if I had to choose between massive instability in Fallujah versus Baghdad, I'd choose the former in a heartbeat.

As far as Baghdad residents coming here -- my estimate right now is about 150 a day. And we track that very closely, because we have in Fallujah, for lack of a better term, a gated community. There are six entry points into the city of Fallujah, and you cannot drive into the city of Fallujah unless you go through one of these entry points. Well, you can't even get through an entry point unless you have an ID resident badge. And we have what we call a Fallujah Development Center where we make ID cards for what we call our IDPs, or for those that want to seek their refuge in the city of Fallujah.

What we don't have in Fallujah is we don't have refugee camps or IDP camps. We don't have tents or any of that. The Fallujahans are very giving, and the Fallujahans accept these people. We've opened up apartments. And again, one of the things, as I mentioned -- the city's booming. There's a lot of new housing going up, apartment buildings are opening, but even some of the damaged structures that still remain, we are able to rehab them to a position where they can accept some of these families. But by and large, they are being welcomed, and they are being housed, fed by families in Fallujah. And again, the tribal connectivity here, as you can imagine among the Sunni, they have no problem bringing in these people.

It must be very grim indeed in some of the Sunni neighborhoods of Baghdad these past months--grim enough to have to pack up and head to the "gated community" of Fallujah.

Posted by Gregory at November 23, 2006 10:18 PM
Comments

"This we know, and we know it for sure."

Coming from someone who backed the war, that statement strikes me as the pinnacle of conceit. Just what evidence entitles you to a claim of knowing anything, sir? But just in case, let's administer a test of sincerity: are you ready to take the Lawrence O'Donnell Challenge and join the surge force in Baghdad?

Posted by: 11B40 at November 23, 2006 11:37 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg,

Forgive me for being blunt, but you still don't seem to get it.

We've not only lost Iraq, but we've made it into a hell it never was before Saddam was in power. The straw that broke the camel's back came this February when Sunni insurgents blew up the Shi'ite mosque most revered by Shi'ites. Today they attempted to strike back at the Sunnis's most revered mosque. This is a religious civil war, the most deadly kind. Do you realize what really needs to be done in order to stop this violence? You need to flood the country with impartial, unbiased troops, you need a monopoly on the use of violence from a force without, a force impartial to the concerns of either sect. When I mean that we need to flood the country, I am talking about at MINIMUM half a million troops. That's right. 500,000. Minimum. Most likely nearly 1 million would be needed to ensure that no hiding place exists. A foreign troop needs to be on every corner, for all to see. Iraq must give up its existence as an independent country, because it simply is a dismal failure. If we truly care about stopping the violence, this is the level of commitment that is required. Anything less will lead to failure.

Is America ready for that kind of commitment? Certainly not under Bush. Josh Marshall on Talking Points Memo highlights the indecision by Bush over the past six years. Notice the language:

November 2006: "President Bush said Monday that he has made no decisions about altering the number of U.S. troops in Iraq, and he refused to discuss the pros and cons that would accompany such a decision."

August 2005: President Bush said Thursday no decision has been made on increasing or decreasing U.S. troop levels in Iraq, saying that as "Iraqis stand up, we will stand down" and that only conditions on the ground will dictate when it is time for a reduction in U.S. forces.

April 2004: "Gen. John P. Abizaid, the senior commander in the Middle East, has asked for contingency plans for increasing the number of troops in Iraq. No decision has been made to supplement the 134,000 troops now there, and White House officials said it was unclear whether such a move would help the situation."

November 2003: "The President is going to do what is most effective in Iraq, and he gets recommendations from his commanders on troop levels and what is needed. No decisions have been made about future troops levels," said National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice.

No decision. No decision. No decision. No decision.

At the most vital moments, when things could be turned around, Bush failed. Rumsfeld failed. America failed. It's a tough thing for Americans to grasp. We've failed. America doesn't fail. It sure is hard to see it when it is so blatantly clear. How horrendous this scenario is!

Let me tell you, Greg, this is what needs to be done.

1. Remove the Bush administration from power, completely. Impeach them. Get them out. They've blundered far too often with the most sensitive and important aspects of America, our military might. They must be reprimanded and removed from office. We must not tolerate yet another day, another week, another month of their incompetency!

2. Go to the American people and lay it out how it is. No fancy marketing ploy where we highlight the positives while playing down the negatives. Tell them how it is. We failed. We have a chance to change it, but it will come at a very heavy cost. Do we try and fix the problem or do we turn our backs on our failure?

3. Ask Americans to make a sacrifice today. Donate to a fund to support the massive increase in troops. Ask Americans to sacrifice their time to serve in a danger zone, so we have enough troops to actually accomplish the mission. Do not put this on a credit card. All expenses will now be paid by the current generation. No longer will we pay our current wars with credit cards that our kids will pay. This is reprehensible.

4. If Americans wish to turn their back, then we leave Iraq and let the Middle East nations handle this on their own. Americans should be told that doing this will irreparably damage our standing and trust not only in the region but in the rest of the world. This isn't as bad as it sounds. Germany is trusted today, even though Hitler ran Germany into the ground. We can gain that trust back. But Americans should know that this has ruined our credibility for a generation or two.

Maybe I'm too tired of seeing so much violence, but from what I'm seeing, I see no end to the violence even with an increase of 50,000 troops. No, this is far worse than even most critics are saying it is.

Posted by: Dan at November 24, 2006 12:24 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Gregory:

I have followed your columns for some time now and have a healthy respect for your analyses and commentary. Today is Thanksgiving and we saw what is perhaps the most violent day in Baghdad.

Given that, I wonder whether all the earnest debate on this blog and others ( eg Washingtonnote) about what to do in Iraq and how to get out with one's self respect intact is such a waste of time. Put another way I see the US paddling against an overwhelming current.

The US is in no position to retrieve anything in Iraq. The only option is to get out with what little self respect remains. Let the Iraqis work out their destiny. They have been at in Mesopotamia for several thousand years. Forced to take charge of their own destiny they will have to make their own compromises or succumb to the pressures for dismemberment.

Iraq will never be a staging post for projecting US power in the Middle East. Iraq will never be a place where a foreign power can exercise any influence. The people of Iraq will have to arrive at their own accommodations and their own compromises. The Sunnis may seek the help of their kin as would the Shias, and the Kurds may destabilise the region if they seek a wider sphere of influence probing into Turkey and Iran.

But all that will be their problem. I think the Iraqis will want to sell their oil and work out their own destiny.

Sophisticated debates in Washington and New York among folks who have never had a problem dealing with a lack of security, a lack of electricity, a shortage of food, and the myriad other problems that plague Iraqis day to day are least qualified to tell Iraqis what to do.

Find a way to get out of Iraq asap. There will be no dignity in such an exercise; and no amount of macho talk will help.

Posted by: Bala Pillay at November 24, 2006 12:45 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Dan said it. Removal of the Cheney regime is THE essential precondition to any slight progress we might make in repairing the damage of this total debacle. I think it's already clear that Iraq is a far worse strategic disaster than Vietnam, and I say this as somebody who thinks the harm we inflicted on ourselves in Vietnam (not to mention the Vietnamese) is pretty routinely understated. I think Iraq is the greatest disaster in the history of American foreign policy, period.

Posted by: sglover at November 24, 2006 01:07 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I forgot to say: Dan is also correct about the need for straight talk -- and I don't mean the horseshit that Saint McCain serves up daily. Nonsense about how many tens of thousands of troops we should send to Iraq is a little like Hitler promising Paulus a regiment to shore up his Stalingrad perimeter. A vastly larger commitment is necessary -- and it will never materialize.

Posted by: sglover at November 24, 2006 01:12 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Loved Dan's rant. It shows how solving this foreign policy crisis becomes a domestic crisis as well.
1- Impeach. Who first? Bush? So we have a President Cheney?
Or Cheney first, so we have a Vice President Harriet Myers or some such to succeed to the Presidency when Bush is impeached?
Or we can impeach Bush and Cheney simultaneously, and watch for right wing riots as the neocons and theocons claim Madam Speaker is mounting a coup to become president.
2- Go to the American people and tell 'em we failed. Who's gonna do that? Virtually all of Washington's elected officials bought into the "road to Jerusalem is through Bagdad" meme because they didn't have the political courage or will to state the obvious and accept responsibility for the fact that the road to Jerusalem is through Washington. But, as the years have shown, that road is open to failure. If they didn't have the stones to be truthful about that, it's doubtful any will have the stones to take possession of failure in Iraq.
3- Ask Americans to sacrifice, and fight a pay as you go war.
Who's gonna do that? I can't think of one politician. But whoever it is, I suggest they wait until after the Christmas shopping season if they expect the idea to gain traction.
4- Tell the American people that if we leave Iraq, our credibility will be ruined for a generation or two. Personally, I'd love to see Mc Cain handle this one. He's a straight talker.
"Bush and Cheney et al have destroyed our credibility and we're on the brink of thirty years of American irrelevance. But I have a plan to prevent that: 50,000 more troops at least one year before the first Iowa caucus."

It's not just foreign affairs that this crew has polluted. The simplistic sloganeering and manichean approach to discussion of issues has fouled the domestic landscape as well.

Dan's points feel good until I ask myself: Who?
What a barren political landscape we have. Happy Thanksgiving.

Posted by: pessimist at November 24, 2006 02:01 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I think I understand where Mr. Djerejian is coming from, but:

1) We may already be past the point where secular tension can be defused (or even contained) until violence has exhausted itself, regardless of what we do. It is not clear, but I fear today may have pushed things over the edge.

2) I don't see any sign that the US (people, government, or armed forces) are interested in committing more resources to Iraq. To the extent that they are willing to maintain the current committment, it looks to me more like inertia and an unwillingness to make any affirmative decision about what is to be done in Iraq than determination to do anything in particular. Apparently the US government is willing to spend blood and treasure, not in furtherance of any real strategic, political, or humanitarian goal, but simply to put off the day that it has to admit that the situation is untenable and our investment is already lost. Sadly, I think there is a substantial minority of the US population that has the same attitude.

Given these premises, I don't see any point to increasing the troops in Iraq, and in fact I would prefer to see them removed as rapidly as possible. I would also like to see us recommit some of the resources currently going to Iraq to Afghanistan, where I think the situation may yet be retrievable. I may be wrong about that too.

Posted by: matt wilbert at November 24, 2006 02:41 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Looking for solutions. This has been pretty much a futile exercise given that whatever we think of will not be done with Bush/Cheney in power. But still, it doesn't hurt to imagine it.

Dan has outlined the BFMI solution. Half a million to a million troops, enough to force the iraqis into submission, to stay until iraqis no longer need to be forced. But we aren't strong enough to do brute force.

We've said for some time that there is no military solution here. The only thing our military can do is buy time for a political solution. We were saying that the iraqi government would have to establish a political solution and we would provide security while they got set up. But it turned out we couldn't provide security. So next, we were going to train an iraqi army which could provide security for the iraqi government which could then solve the problem politically. But now the political solution looks farther away than ever and the iraqi army looks pretty shaky too.

We keep discussing military solutions because that's all we know how to do. But there's no cheese at the end of that tunnel.

We need the iraqis to reach a consensus solution, something they can agree to live with, something they can agree to and stop fighting. But the democratic iraq government can't do that. It's impossible. Because they have to satisfy us before they can negotiate with each other. Imagine that the US congress was trying to reach a compromise about various delicate issues, and every proposal had to be accepted by the chinese government before we could consider it. What's the chance we could get a compromise that would be acceptable to americans?

We've seen this repeatedly, in every context. Prominent iraqi politicians told us not to invade fallujah and not to invade najaf. Did we listen? No. We proved that the iraqi government could not stop us from attacking wherever we wanted. And if they can't restrain us, what good are they?

The iraqi army serves under our control. So the iraqi government doesn't really control it. We demanded 6 iraqi battalions to use to attack baghdad, and 4 of them deserted. Why wouldn't they? It wasn't their government telling them to do it, their government gave them to us to do with as we wanted.

Who is the prime minister of the iraqi assembly? How did they wind up with him? The guy who would have gotten the job wasn't acceptable to us, so we required them to put in this guy who doesn't really have a following. Surprise! He isn't in position to be much of a leader.

How can we hope for a political solution when we prevent a political solution?

To have any hope for a solution, we would have to let the iraqi govenrment free to do whatever they want. Specifically, if they choose to allow a Ba'ath party to run in the next election, let them. If they choose to allow Ba'ath politicians that we have rejected run for office, let them. If they choose to overturn practices that our CPA forced on their executive branch, let them do that even if it results in massive corruption. [sigh] If they want to allow militias to maintain order, let them. We are categorically opposed to armed militias, but they aren't. So our solution is to send the unmotivated iraqi army to disarm or destroy select highly-motivated militias, and of course it hasn't been working. Let the iraqi politicians solve it politically if they can. Let the iraqi assembly approve an iraqi general, let him choose a staff, and let him decide the military strategy to deal with iraqi insurrection. Put US forces under his command, or pull them out. We have proven we're clueless. If we aren't willing to serve under iraqi command then we have no business there.

Well, any chance that we'll let the iraqi government do what it wants? No. Any chance that US soldiers will serve under iraqi command? Hell no. And there we are.

Posted by: J Thomas at November 24, 2006 02:57 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

By both the UN and Brookings Institution's (very conservative) figures there have been an average of 3,000 civilian fatalities a month for the last six months -- meaning in per capita terms Iraq (at a tenth the U.S population) has undergone throughout that entire six-month period the equivalent of a 9/11 EVERY THREE DAYS.

Exactly how long at that rate were this to happen in the U.S. would it have taken for you to conclude that "the gates of hell have opened", I wonder.

Posted by: BruceR at November 24, 2006 04:38 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

it annoys the crap out of me when people criticize you for your earlier support of the war, and when you say stuff like

This said it would not be uncharitable to say that my opinion might be worth something akin to a warm bucket of spit, since I was an early supporter of this war effort, in hindsight the biggest blunder in American foreign policy since at least the Vietnam War.

I think you are missing the point. You may have supported the war, but you were among the very first supporters who realized that it was turning out wrong...and the first to recognize the disaster that it was becoming before our very eyes.

Unfortunately, your suggestion (increase troops temporarily, pacify Baghdad, and then start getting out) smacks of the "Christmas Bombing" of North Vietnam right before we signed the peace agreement --- it accomplishes nothing of any real value, but it might make us feel better about ourselves. The "government" of Iraq no longer functions as such, and pacifying Baghdad temporarily will merely lengthen the time it takes it to fall...

There is a solution... but its as obvious as it is politically (in the US) impossible. Iraq shouldn't be "partitioned" per se, but divided into three "protectorates" -- the east under the "protection" of Iran, the west under the "protection" of Syria, and the Kurdish areas under the "protection" of Turkey.

I have the feeling that Syria and Iran are already working on the terms of such a deal -- with the Kirkuk oil regions placed under Syrian control to help them pay for their efforts. Turkey's primary role would be to ensure that the Kurds respected the borders of their protectorate, and the rights of ethnic minorities within their region -- while Syria and Iran would be taking much more "agressive" steps to restore stability to regions under their "protection".

This, of course, necessitates a complete withdraw of American forces from the region, and a tacit acknowledgement that we will not interfere with Iran's efforts to develop nukes. (Neither Syria nor Iran has any incentive to help restore order in Iraq as long as US forces are there....we must withdraw ASAP, with the understanding that Syria, Iraq, and Turkey would form a co-operative to restore order in their respective areas.

(The US also needs to commit a few hundred billion toward Iraq reconstruction efforts -- payable when a project is completed, not when its proposed. We'll be spending that anyway if we continue to have troops stationed in the region...why not put the money to better use?)

Like I said -- this would work, but there is simply no way in hell that the current regime -- nor the massive number of congresscritters who are beholden to AIPAC and other such groups -- would ever let it happen.

Posted by: paul lukasiak at November 24, 2006 05:19 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Talking about moral responsibility isn't enough. Numbers are what matters. Leadership that knows what the hell it's doing is what matters.

Your own suggested strategy called for at least 50,000 more troops. No one in Washington is talking about sending that many; the number most frequently mentioned is 20-30,000.

But if we can't salvage Iraq with less than 500,000 troops, then even your estimate (a total of 250,000) is half of what's needed, and the numbers we're hearing out of Washington are even less than that.

Further, no one in Washington is talking in any serious way about getting new leadership, because in order to do that, the entire Bush Administration would have to be turfed out of office. That's just not going to happen.

There will be no rabbits pulled out of hats, no magic ponies, no Baker Commission riding in on white horses to save the day.

We don't have the numbers. We're not going to get the numbers. And we're not going to get capable leadership.

When you set forth, in concrete and specific terms, exactly what is necessary to salvage Iraq... and when you know the powers that be are not going to fulfill those concrete and specific requirements... then you have a responsibility to face facts and reach the logical conclusion.

The logical conclusion is that we have to leave Iraq.

How much clearer does it have to be?

Posted by: CaseyL at November 24, 2006 05:23 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


CaseyL:

Your own suggested strategy called for at least 50,000 more troops. No one in Washington is talking about sending that many; the number most frequently mentioned is 20-30,000.

Kagan's article might be summarized as admitting that the military doesn't think they can come up with more than 30,000, but Kagan thinks they can do 50,000 if the new Defense Secretary does some investigating and kicks some butt.

Posted by: David Tomlin at November 24, 2006 05:59 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Of course there's a limit to the usefulness of homey analogies, but an incident that begins with a home invasion by cash-seeking gangstas rarely ends with the invaders and the invadees sharing a warm Thanksgiving dinner together. The causes of our failure in Iraq were present at the beginning, and you, Greg, enumerate some of them: the deliberate historical amnesia is probably the most egregious. Was it absolutely necessary for us to repeat, save the use of gas, the worst of the British behavior in the newborn Iraq of the 1920s? But what stuns me most is the ignorance of this administration about the nature of the US: we are an isolationist country, and, though we can be stirred by fear to pretend to care about a nation far away, when we're done, we are done, you can stick a fork in the policy. The seeds of our ignominious exit were sown with our ignominious entrance.

Posted by: Harry Shearer at November 24, 2006 06:06 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It is so depressing to witness such endless slaughter over different readings of an ancient book about sky fairies, between people so similar they have to ask for ID before deciding who is or isn't an infidel/heretic. It would almost be funny if it wasn't so ridiculous and sad.

Posted by: TG at November 24, 2006 06:28 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I assume you've seen the reports that multisectarian tribes, which you describe here as a bulwark - or trump - against sectarian polarization, are themselves beginning to split along sectarian lines. This is a novel development in the country's history. In the cities, the violence is a solvent of tribal & other traditional affiliations, which are supplanted by attachment to modern mass party & militia organizations.

Posted by: KH at November 24, 2006 07:42 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


If tribalism does trump sectarianism, Iraq will come to resemble Somalia more than Yugoslavia.

It is so depressing to witness such endless slaughter over different readings of an ancient book about sky fairies . . .

Oh, please. They're fighting over oil revenues and government jobs. Religion is just a handy Us/Them marker.

Of course, blowing up people's sacred sites does tend to piss them off. It's a good tactic for extremists who want to provoke the other side to atrocities, reducing the appetite for a deal on their own side.

Posted by: David Tomlin at November 24, 2006 08:07 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Pessimist,

Dan's points feel good until I ask myself: Who? What a barren political landscape we have. Happy Thanksgiving.

I agree. I've never believed we had any "good" options left in Iraq. All remaining options are disastrous and will come at a very heavy cost. The only real viable, and practical, option left is to leave Iraq. Cut our losses now.

We'll recover the loss of credibility and moral standing in the world at some point. But America has to realize how badly we've failed here in Iraq. We're not doing any intervention in the future, at least for a while. We're not going to be able to use military force to change any future governments at will. This is good, in my personal opinion. We never should have gone down that ideological path anyways.

My thoughts earlier on what needs to happen for "victory" are politically impossible in America today. But that is what needs to happen for "victory." I'm basically saying that all other options considered will not work, except for the withdrawal of American forces.

Posted by: Dan at November 24, 2006 12:02 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

One didn't have to forsee disaster to oppose the war. I opposed it on the simplest and most fundamental basis. Iraq was not a threat to us, and had not attacked us. Then on a less fundamental basis the obvious lies about their threat provided an exclaimation point. As an aside it's forever presented now that everyone thought Iraq had WMD's. No, that's a lie too. Lot's of people believed they didn't.

I had no special knowlege of Iraq yet I knew to my bones that Iraq would become hell on earth. I admit I don't know why I felt this beyond the obvious ones. They had a partly tribal culture which had been under probably the worlds most stringent totalitarian rule for more than a generation. Throw in the various ugly forms of Muslim fundamentalism into the mix as well. It doesn't take a George Kennan to sum that equation and come up with trouble. I'm no George Kennan. I'm just some blue collar schmuck. Exactly what has made our elites so monumentally stupid I'm at a loss to explain.

Posted by: rapier at November 24, 2006 01:02 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Don't think hand-wringing is of much use. Iraq is in a sorry state. We're responsible, sure. But it's not to excuse ourselves to state that this is probably where Iraq was heading no matter what. Does anyone believe that Saddam's sons would have ruled Iraq in peace and justice? No, of course not, so for those of us who supported the war heart felt mea culpas don't serve much purpose - and so many of these 'plans' to save Iraq sound more and more like pleas for absolution.

Personally I side with Hamlet [fall of sparrow speech] and accept that eventually events acquire a certain inevitability that only folly would deny. Iraq has reached that point of inevitability. I read in LATimes today about military brass floating Abram's end of day Vietnam strategy as winning solution to Iraq problem based on this wonderful assumption: it would have worked if only American people and congress hadn't of pulled rug out from under ARVN. Sure: it would have worked just as long as we assume it would have worked. And even if it had worked, what would have been achieved? Another Korea? They talk of winning, but winning what? That's where the math gets fuzzy.

Die is cast in Iraq: time to choose sides: back the Shia [unlikely they'd have us even if we wanted them, not with Sadr calling shots]; form alliance with Sunni [they'll have no choice soon] and Kurds; or just get the fuck out and see what happens?

Posted by: saintsimon at November 24, 2006 01:23 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

We are on the verge of a much larger regional war than just the internal civil war in Iraq. Soon Sunnis and Shiites in the neighboring nations will be sending their own troops into Iraq. The situation is so dire for the American troops that the bombing of the marine barracks in Beirut by a Hezbollah fanatic in October, 1983 will pale in comparison. We have very little time to re-deploy our American troops out of Iraq. This bullshit fantasy trip about a bipartisan last ditch effort to salvage a modicum of stabilty and honor reminds me of the neo con wet dreams that were spun in the media during the hysterical propaganda campaign for the war. Get the fucking troops on the fucking planes, or they may have to fight their way out.

Posted by: george hoffman at November 24, 2006 01:47 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I've lately been reminded of the reaction in Establishment Washington to the impeachment fiasco in the late 90s: people kept talking about whether some wise men couldn't find a back room somewhere and make a deal. Not only did it not happen -- as we all know -- it couldn't happen: there was no one to deal.

I've been drifting to the idea that we really need to make a deal with Sadr. Why? Because if we can find a way to do so, we can get out. And because he's on our side against AQ.

So, what does he want? A timetable? Air support to strike at AQ?

Posted by: CharleyCarp at November 24, 2006 02:37 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


I haven't heard of this Reza Aslan before. He seems clueless. At least, he wrote this article without bothering to find out what he was talking about.

'Partition' is a handy label for plans like Biden-Gelb, and the similar plan offered by Peter Galbraith. But strictly speaking it's inaccurate, as under both those plans the regions would remain formally part of Iraq, with a national government responsible for foreign policy and some other matters. Biden is quick to make this point when discussing his own plan.

Aslan's allusion to 'Senator Joe Biden's plan to partition Iraq into independent Sunni, Shia, and Kurdish "statelets"' is just wrong, and the rest of the article seems to be mostly just knocking over this strawman.

Posted by: David Tomlin at November 24, 2006 02:47 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

YANKEE GO HOME!!!

Posted by: Mike Edmund at November 24, 2006 02:48 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


In my opinion the impeachment of Bush and Cheney would good for the long-term health of our political system, even if they aren't convicted.

Of course they should be impeached and tried together. The bill of particulars is much the same. Separate proceedings would be massively redundant.

. . . and watch for right wing riots as the neocons and theocons claim Madam Speaker is mounting a coup . . .

Good point. Maybe she should recuse herself from presiding. I don't know much about how the House operates, so I don't have anything useful to add about whether or how that might be done.

Posted by: David Tomlin at November 24, 2006 03:09 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg,

If you are really still advocating sending more troops to Iraq, I think it is time you try putting on a pair of boots yourself and doing a combat tour in Iraq. Would certainly enhance your credibility, especially 10 years from now when you are running for public office or sitting at your confirmation hearings.

Best regards,

Rajen

Posted by: Rajen Parekh at November 24, 2006 03:45 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

P.S. And don't worry Greg, if you decide to go, I'm sure all of your loyal readers on BD will pitch in to make sure you have the best body armour money can buy.

Posted by: Rajen Parekh at November 24, 2006 03:51 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

and send Rumsfeld over on one of those planes that are going to bring the kids back home -- let him try to bully, bluster and stonewall his way through the malestrom he helped to create

Posted by: David at November 24, 2006 04:22 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Rajen,

So glad you made that point. I spent years in Vietnam, even covering the Fall of Saigon after the entire CBS staff fled in the panic. As for Iraq, despite reservations about the "aftermath," I gave George Bush the benefit of a doubt and supported the invasion. Last year I offered to go to Iraq and embed with our troops as an independent blogger, reporting the reality as I and those around me experienced it. (I klnow how to do these things.) I was turned down by the CENTCOM or Pentagon bureaucracy, with the excuse that I had to be "vouched" for by a regular news agency. (I have all this documented via the office of my Congresswoman.)

It's not a bad argument you make, Rajen. But I'm sorry; it doesn't work with me.

Posted by: gringoman at November 24, 2006 04:50 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It's practically impossible to present ourselves as any sort of broker. So much of the debate over the conditions for our brokering any sort of 'accord' have been predicated on the assumption that 1) we have a say in what's going on ground-level, when it's spiraled to the point where it no longer has anything to do with us; 2) we still retain the nerve to think we get to control events when we have created the calamity we have; and 3) whatever there is of an Iraqi government and army has to be our puppet.

I find this talk of partition and/or the creation of 'protectorates' under the guise of a central government just all that more a telling one. J Thomas' comment on how we are preventing a political solution while casting around for one sums things up neatly: for as long as what there is of an Iraqi government is hamstrung by us in the one or two things it manages to decide because we don't like it, we have no place to complain if it seems like a puppet, because that's exactly the only role it can play to Bushney's satisfaction; they berate it for not doing enough when that is exactly what they have wanted it to do all along - nothing. That is why it is imperative all the more, especially after today's events, for us to get out now. We are simply not going to prevent the violence from escalating; please let's just stop lying to ourselves with all the handwringing about 'the future prospects of a civil war' - if it actually hadn't already begun (which I don't believe), today would certainly have been the beginning.

The only prospect of a political solution is the one they're going to craft; the danger is on the Iraqis not to let themselves now get manipulated by Iran and Syria. Good grief, it's gotten to the point anymore where we are almost the most irrelevant thing going there. Only we believe our own bullshit that we matter.

Posted by: sekaijin at November 24, 2006 05:30 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Why do I still resist this course of action? Because I know that a precipitous American withdrawal will remove any question at all about Iraq's future.

Is this not what Johnson was saying to Daley?

policymakers engaging with reality rather than fantasy and thus improving our strategy

If I could see any of those around, especially in a decision-making capacity, I'd be more willing to buy this. But Bush continues to recite the stay the course mantra, albeit using different words. He equates leaving with losing--again, just as Johnson did. Gates is a feeble reed to cling to--and all of this study group and internal policy review combined with his need to get up to speed is going to mean another Friedman unit before anything serious could happen in response to his appointment.

That also means that the idea of adding more troops is at least two Friedman units away. They have to be recruited and trained, if they could be recruited at all. Then we would have to wait the requisite six months to see if more troops plus better jaw-jaw did any good. And by then the president only has to hang on for six more months.

And then the next president comes in, and it's another Friedman unit for him or her to get up to speed enough to begin withdrawals. Unless it's McCain, who may well want to stay the course some more.

After all, convincingly midwifing a transition from a brutally repressive neo-Stalinist society towards a viable democracy constituted an immense challenge by any measure

Danner has made this very point in other venues. It is hard to know whether they really believed their fantasies--flowers and candy followed by Chalabi, or merely mouthed them because this was the only scenario that could be supported given the commitment of resources that the American people were willing to make. If the president had said that there would an extended 10 to 15 year occupation, while nation-building activities took place in the vacuum left by the elimination of Iraqi Stalinist security regime, and also delayed the invasion by enough time to build sufficient troop strength, then the war would not have happened. The inspectors would have proven that Iraq was no threat, and the public would have balked at the cost.

So if they were going to have their little war, they had to profess or believe this fantastical scenario.

Posted by: Jay Ackroyd at November 24, 2006 05:30 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Paul--

This, of course, necessitates a complete withdraw of American forces from the region, and a tacit acknowledgement that we will not interfere with Iran's efforts to develop nukes.

I don't understand the need for linkage here. While I agree that this may ultimately be the endgame, there is nobody in this administration who is going to engage in diplomacy with Syria and Iran. But I don't see why nukes need to be discussed at all in this context. Those are talks for a later year.

Posted by: Jay Ackroyd at November 24, 2006 05:37 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Sorry Paul. I should have finished your post before making mine.

Posted by: Jay Ackroyd at November 24, 2006 05:42 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I obviously agree with the people who think nothing can be done to resolve this situation under this administration. The logical implication of this opinion, as several folks have pointed out, is impeachment.

That's simply not going to happen, and it would make things worse in the short term, paralyzing the President and locking the US into "stay the course."

The only possible scenario for getting the administration out in a meaningful timeframe is for things to get so much worse that Reid has 67 votes. Then Reid and McConnell go up to the White House, saying Reid has the votes, but do not think impeachment would be right for the country. Cheney resigns, and some Bush I fixer with no presidential ambitions, like Scowcroft, replaces him. Bush resigns, and the resulting caretaker government gets started on the withdrawal process.

Likely? No. But impeachment really is off the table. It wouldn't work, and it would take too long.

Sometimes, you know, things are just FUBAR. I don't use that acronym lightly.

Posted by: Jay Ackroyd at November 24, 2006 05:53 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

A note here about the partition idea: its genesis, among people like Peter Galbraith, was as a solution to the Kurds' problem, not the problem of Iraq.

Because the large numbers of Kurds in three neighboring countries make an independent Kurdistan in the three northern provinces of Iraq problematic from the standpoint of regional politics, American policy has been to discourage it. Looking at Iraq in isolation, though, one can see its appeal to the Kurds, and in some sense to us. I never blamed Galbraith for promoting it.

It's the extension of the partition idea to the whole of Iraq I found impractical; Kurds have longstanding reasons for not wanting to be part of a country that oppressed them for many years under Saddam, and are ethnically distinct from Arabs as well. For all the talk about historic differences between Sunni and Shiite Arabs, on the other hand, the root of the conflict between them now is the deliberate policy of the mostly Sunni Arab insurgency over the last three or so years. The insurgency never sought to fight just the Americans, but rather targeted anyone who worked for, sought to work for, or might seek to work for a post-Saddam government, which inevitably meant mostly Shiites. Equally inevitable was the penetration of the insurgency by Salafist types who saw value in killing Shiites for its own sake. The Shiite reaction, long delayed by the restraint urged by Sistani and other senior clerics and probably also by Sadr's focus on the Americans in 2004, is a reaction to the insurgency's program more than it is an expression of religious differences that existed before 2003.

Is this a distinction without a difference at this point? It may be. Things have advanced to the point at which the great degree of intermingling between Sunni and Shiite Arabs, which was always the reason I thought partition impractical, may decline precipitously even outside of Baghdad. If that happens, it happens -- but I still don't see any American interest in saying it should happen, and thereby antagonizing not only those Iraqis now working and often fighting for the maintenance of a united Iraq but also many Iraqis who still embrace the idea of a united Iraq.

Posted by: Zathras at November 24, 2006 06:55 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

You're asking for 10,000 or 20,000 more troops to reinforce a lost cause. You must take into account the situation on the ground. Your numbers don't work.

Baghdad appears to have slipped into the chaotic state of clear, brutal civil war.

Posted by: Chris at November 24, 2006 08:55 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

kagan/kristol:

Foreign policy realism is ascendant these days, we are told. This would be encouraging if true, because our foreign policy must indeed be realistic. But what passes for "realism" today has very little to do with reality. Indeed, if you look at some of the "realist" proposals on the table, "realism" has come to be a kind of code word for surrendering American interests and American allies, as well as American principles, in the Middle East.

Thus, the "realists" advise us to seek Syria's help in Iraq even as the Syrian government engages in a concerted campaign of assassinating every Lebanese political leader who opposes the return of Syrian hegemony in Lebanon. Presumably, the "realist" position is that we should give Lebanon back to Syria, or at least turn a blind eye to its murderous efforts to regain control there, as an incentive to Syria to help us in Iraq, where Syria is also engaged in supporting terrorists. "Realism" is letting dictators get away with terror and murder--and, in particular, letting them get away with the murder of our friends.

The "realists" advise seeking Iranian help in Iraq as well. They are coy about suggesting what the United States could give Tehran as an inducement for such assistance, but the implications of their position are clear. After all, the Bush administration has already offered to talk to Iran, provided the Iranians agree to suspend enrichment of uranium. That has also been the position of the Europeans. The Iranians have refused.

So the "realists" are adapting to the reality of Iranian intransigence. They are in effect suggesting that the administration drop its long-standing position and begin negotiating with Iran despite the Iranian regime's refusal to agree to the common U.S.-European demand. What the realists have in mind, then, is that the United States should turn a blind eye to Iran's nuclear weapons program, in exchange for Iran's help in easing our retreat from Iraq. Who cares if this would destroy U.S. credibility, weaken those in Europe who are trying to be strong, undermine the effort to prevent Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons, and lead to a cascade of additional nuclear states in the region? It would at least make possible further "realistic" accommodations to these new and deadly realities.

The "realists" also advise putting pressure on Israel to deal in a more forthcoming way with the Hamas-dominated Palestinian government. Israel should be induced to make concessions despite the ongoing violence and the refusal of Hamas to ratify even Yasser Arafat's acceptance of Israel's right to exist. Thus, in order to conciliate Arab dictators and radicals, Washington should retreat from long-standing principle and hand a dramatic victory to the forces of violence and extremism in Palestine.

So let's add up the "realist" proposals: We must retreat from Iraq, and thus abandon all those Iraqis--Shiite, Sunni, Kurd, and others--who have depended on the United States for safety and the promise of a better future. We must abandon our allies in Lebanon and the very idea of an independent Lebanon in order to win Syria's support for our retreat from Iraq. We must abandon our opposition to Iran's nuclear program in order to convince Iran to help us abandon Iraq. And we must pressure our ally, Israel, to accommodate a violent Hamas in order to gain radical Arab support for our retreat from Iraq.

This is what passes for realism these days. But of course this is not realism. It is capitulation. Were the United States to adopt this approach every time we faced a difficult set of problems, were we to attempt to satisfy our adversaries' every whim in order to win their acquiescence, we would rapidly cease to play any significant role in the world. We would be neither feared nor respected--nor, of course, would we be any better liked. Our retreat would win us no friends and lose us no adversaries.

What our adversaries in the Middle East want from us is very simple: They want us out. Unless we are prepared to withdraw, not just from Iraq but from the entire region, and from elsewhere as well, we had better start figuring out how to pursue effectively--realistically--our interests and goals. This is true American realism. All the rest is a fancy way of justifying surrender.

Posted by: neill at November 24, 2006 11:27 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

As opposed to a truly realist approach: victory through triumph of our will. After all, it was Hitler's strategy in the USSR, first shown at Stalingrad, and it worked so well there.

Posted by: Antiquated Tory at November 25, 2006 12:52 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Which war can you refer me to where 'will to fight' or lack thereof is a neglible factor?

what are the similarities between the Battle of Stalingrad and the Iraq War?

and of course your drive-by snipe doesn't address their central point that people who advocate surrender (in whatever their term of choice is) irresponsibly avoid discussion of the likely very negative consequences in the wider WOT.

realist, indeed.

Posted by: neill at November 25, 2006 01:49 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Neill, why don't you take the initiative here.

Tell us some likely negative consequences of our pulling out from iraq that in your opinion are not likely if we delay the pullout.

And then why not provide a little justification for your opinion, some sort of evidence that those consequences are less likely if we continue to spend $12 billion and 60 or so US lives a month to delay the pullout.

Posted by: J Thomas at November 25, 2006 02:13 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I've brought these points up recently on other threads -- the only one to do so here -- but I'll do it again for the last time

Handing islamists worldwide, whose main weapon is terrorist propaganda, the mother-of-all- propaganda victories by retreating from Iraq is a disastrous idea which will:

* unleash full-blown civil war in Iraq, possibly ultimately leading to a hostile regime in the center of the Mid-East. This will be a bloodbath of historic proportions, far exceeding today's violence, which while increasing is quite restrained compared to an environment with no US forces.

* a billion muslims worldwide will see in stark relief that the Islamists are indeed the 'strong horse', forcing the greatest power in history to flee. Voluntarily, we literally will write the conclusion to an Islamic 'David and Goliath' legend. the global political consequences of this seismic shift are unfathomable. This will put insupportable pressure on our moderate allies in the region, some of whom will likely fall, and the ones who survive will do so only with application of unprecedented repression and shifts decidedly away from the US. Enormous pressure will be faced by moderate countries with significant muslim populations around the world, including European allies. Some of these will likely fall as well. All of this will isolate the US.

* Iran, Syria, al quaeda, hamas, hezbollah etc will seize the moment with big shows of aggression. The pace of bad news will likely be dizzying

* oil prices will likely skyrocket to over $100 a barrel, possibly well over. Economies the world over will suffer, millions losing jobs and livelihoods. The econjomic beneficiaries to this -- of course -- are our enemies, explicit and less explicit, as most of the oil-producing countries in the world are. Which will only increase the volume of bd, bad news.

* The American public will feel very insecure. 2008 will see republican president, and both houses of congress will revert to the republicans

I could go on but I'll stop. Feel free to contribute your own predictions.

Posted by: neill at November 25, 2006 03:45 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The "Islamist strong horse" sounds a helluva lot like "the Communist monolith" to me. Factionalism and internal feuding is a much more common than unified action in in Arab history. Maybe you've noticed how Iraqi Sunni and Shia are a lot more interested in killing each other than Americans?

Iraq is in precisely the state that war sceptics predicted. There are no good options, zero. War advocates should have thought the consequences through, but I guess their "tough" minds and "fearless" vision were too dazzled by a painless, cost-free adventure.

Posted by: sglover at November 25, 2006 04:58 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Is there a prescription or prediction in there somewhere, mr. glover?

Posted by: neill at November 25, 2006 05:31 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

as to the 'strong horse', that's osama's term, not mine.

he seemed pretty convicted about it.

was he wrong?

(don't feel compelled to answer. I know no one will.)

Posted by: neill at November 25, 2006 05:37 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

What gets me, at this time of great instability, is the fact that the current administration isn't busy doing anything. Where is the special envoy? Where is, at least, the appearance of being on top of things? (I'm speaking here of the civilian leadership at DoD and White House, not the armed forces actually in the theatre.)

Not to put forward Clinton as somebody teriffic, but at least he'd dispatch Dennis Ross, get the UN involved, and probably have some back-channels working overtime. Not that that would be a solution, but what you want to do is slow the momentum, bore people a bit with process, and use that time to try for some sort of negotiations that have real rewards in the early phases for all parties. And bribe the hell out of the region. As Thomas Ricks said in a different context, make it look like the smart thing to do is to cooperate with the U.S. in taking the country in some direction.

Posted by: Quiddity at November 25, 2006 06:22 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Neil,

All of those dire predictions may come to pass, but what is your alternative? The US remaining in Iraq indefinitely, until the last Iraqi is dead?

How many American lives are you willing to sacrifice and how many dollars? We are losing roughly 900 a year. By the end of the decade we will have lost another 3000+. The occupation for the rest of this decade is expected to be over 100 billion a year, with a total cost exceeding $1 trillion.

These costs may change, but it is at least as likely that they will increase rather than decrease. The Iraqis have been learning in a very demanding school for several yeasrs. The survivors are getting pretty good. They know their war better than we do. We have 3-4 years of experience in 1 year chunks. They have the full course.

Someone said that continuing to perform a series of identical actions while continuing to expect the outcome to change is the definition of insanity. Is that what you are proposing? Why do you think things will change?

Donald


P.S. as for the Islamist "strong horse", yes if we deliberately screw things up badly enough, they can win. Just as Custer could screw things up by the numbers and give the Indians a victory, we can mess things up and give the islamists a victory. Remember who won the war. Hint, it wasn't the indians.

P.P.S. One way to help avoid your predictions is to redirect US forces to winning in Afghanistan. The situation isn't hopeless there, and a 50,000 strong (increase of 20-30,000) force could be maintained there as long as it takes. Success there would help provide an alternative and more attractive model than the return to the 8th century favored by the Islamists.

Posted by: Donald Clarke at November 25, 2006 08:23 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

as to the 'strong horse', that's osama's term, not mine.

he seemed pretty convicted about it.

was he wrong?

Yes.

Bin Laden's vision of uniting Muslims in a restored Caliphate is even more fantastic than Bush's for a democratic Iraq.

Language has historically been a stronger basis for political unity than religion. But pan-Arabism has gotten nowhere in almost a century. I don't expect pan-Islamism to do much better, if it even does as well.


Posted by: David Tomlin at November 25, 2006 10:58 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


neill

don't feel compelled to answer. I know no one will.

Neill repeats his fatuous plaint. Again I can only assume that Neill defines 'answering' as agreeing with him.

I'll try to summarize the response to Neill's position.

The discussion is about whether the U.S. can improve matters in Iraq with its military presence. If the U.S. cannot improve the situation with its military forces, then eventually it will have to withdraw those forces, leaving Iraq in similar or worse condition than it is now. Indefinite colonization of Iraq is not an option.

Indefinite colonization is not an option for at least two reasons. One is that, as the Shi'ites consolidate their strength and the U.S. increasingly uses its forces to protect the Sunni from the Shi'ites, Shi'ite opposition to the occupation will grow. Eventually U.S. forces will be unable to protect their supply lines and will have to withdraw.

Another reason indefinite occupation is not an option, is that political support in the U.S. cannot be sustained indefinitely. Such support as remains depends on holding out some hope, if not for 'success', at least for some improvement.

It useless to argue that Americans should be willing to occupy Iraq indefinitely. They aren't, and won't become so. To paraphrase our illustrious former defense secretary, you go to war with the people you have.

I'll continue this in another comment.

Posted by: David Tomlin at November 25, 2006 11:52 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


Continuing my response to Neill's

don't feel compelled to answer. I know no one will.

The discussion is about whether the U.S. can improve matters in Iraq with its military presence. If it cannot, then the 'consequences' of withdrawal itself are irrelevant, because, as previously argued, indefinite occupation is not an option.

Nevertheless, I and others have discussed some of Neill's assertions in this regard. We have pointed out that similar predictions regarding Vietnam turned out to be greatly exaggerated. Some other answers:

J Thomas: 'If our enemies elsewhere make a move there isn't much we can do. We're pinned down. If we get out of that tarpit and our enemies elsewhere do something, we can respond.'

Vida Loca: 'I can't prove you're wrong, and you may in fact be right about the consequences of defeat. Hanging on to Iraq by our fingernails does nothing to improve Hamid Karzai's chances however -- in fact it insures that we can give less support to a situation that is not yet lost.'

J Thomas: 'Of course when we pull out it will look like a defeat and islamists will feel emboldened. But there won't be nearly as many of them, because one of the big things that they use to get recruits will be gone. . . . Right down the line, what we're doing just digs us in deeper into the bad consequences you predict from changing course.'

Posted by: David Tomlin at November 25, 2006 01:14 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Neill, once again you have presented your laundry-list of complaints about what you imagine will happen when we pull out of iraq.

But you have given not one tiny shred of reason to think any of those things will happen slower if we delay pullingi out of iraq.

Please give us some sort of explanation why you think that waiting a year or two to pull out of iraq will prevent or delay those results.

For that matter you might explain why you think that waiting 10 or 20 years to pull out of iraq might prevent or delay those results.

You appear to have given no thought whatsoever to the consequences of overstaying our welcome in iraq.

Posted by: J Thomas at November 25, 2006 01:17 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Based on the response to my predictions, it seems there is a general consensus that such are likely consequences of an American withdrawal from Iraq.

DT: "The discussion is about whether the U.S. can improve matters in Iraq with its military presence. If the U.S. cannot improve the situation with its military forces, then eventually it will have to withdraw those forces, leaving Iraq in similar or worse condition than it is now. Indefinite colonization of Iraq is not an option."

I believe that the US can improve matters in Iraq with an increased military presence in Baghdad and a change strategy there: clear and HOLD neighborhoods, not clear and move on as the recent/current strategy was/is. It's a myth that we CAN'T increase troop strength there.

We know how to do it: We mastered Tal Afar, we can master Baghdad.

Security and Time is what Iraq needs in order to mature and succeed as a political entity. We CAN deliver it. But WILL we?

Looking at the consequences of withdrawal, we damn well better.

(At the same time, we must expand the size of our combat-ready military, which even the NYTimes now endorses. In retrospect, not doing this in the aftermath of 9-11 has been Bush's biggest failing.)

Posted by: neill at November 25, 2006 04:07 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


Based on the response to my predictions, it seems there is a general consensus that such are likely consequences of an American withdrawal from Iraq.

LOL.

First Neill claims we haven't answered him, then he says we've agreed with him. What a clown.

Posted by: David Tomlin at November 25, 2006 05:58 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


neill:

We mastered Tal Afar, we can master Baghdad.

No, we can't.

http://www.newyorker.com/printables/fact/060410fa_fact2

THE LESSON OF TAL AFAR

by GEORGE PACKER

April, 2006

'McMaster’s point man in the effort to stabilize the city was Lieutenant Colonel Chris Hickey, a squadron commander. . . . while American and Iraqi soldiers moved block by block into the city, encountering heavy resistance that often took the form of three-hour firefights, Hickey began to study the local power structure. For several months, he spent forty or fifty hours a week with sheikhs from Tal Afar’s dozens of tribes . . . Hickey, during his conversations with sheikhs, was educating himself in the social intricacies of Tal Afar’s neighborhoods, so that his men would know how a raid on a particular house would be perceived by the rest of the street.'

'“There are two ways to do counterinsurgency,” Major McLaughlin said. “You can come in, cordon off a city, and level it, à la Falluja. Or you can come in, get to know the city, the culture, establish relationships with the people, and then you can go in and eliminate individuals instead of whole city blocks.”'

By all accounts the military still has few people capable of such a sophisticated approach - surely too few to pacify Baghdad.

We can treat Baghdad like Tal Afar in some ways, like leveling much of it, and driving out much of its population. That would be a disaster for Iraq, not a step toward stability.

Posted by: David Tomlin at November 25, 2006 06:08 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

We know how to do it: We mastered Tal Afar, we can master Baghdad.


This Tal Afar?

In the far northern town of Tall Afar, a car bomb blast ripped through a crowded car dealership, killing at least 22 people and injuring 26.

LA Times


Clown, indeed.

Posted by: TJ at November 25, 2006 06:10 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"We can treat Baghdad like Tal Afar in some ways, like leveling much of it, and driving out much of its population. That would be a disaster for Iraq, not a step toward stability."

Actually, DT, you're referring to how Fallujah was dealt with, not Tal Afar. And I certainly haven't proposed this.

Posted by: neill at November 25, 2006 06:20 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

george packer:

UNREALISTIC

We are all realists now. Iraq has turned conservatives and liberals alike into cold-eyed believers in a foreign policy that narrowly calculates national interest without much concern for what goes on inside other countries. The Republicans had their neoconservative spree and emerged this month from its smoking wreckage, in Iraq and at the polls, with nothing to steady them except the hope that two aging condottieri from the first Bush Presidency, James A. Baker III and Robert Gates, can lead the way out. These are the same men who, fifteen years ago, abandoned Afghanistan to civil war and Al Qaeda, allowed Saddam to massacre his own people, and concluded that genocide in the Balkans was none of America’s business. They are not the guardians of all wisdom. At some point, events will remind Americans that currently discredited concepts such as humanitarian intervention and nation-building have a lot to do with national security—that they originated as necessary evils to prevent greater evils. But, for now, Kissingerism is king.

And the Democrats? Since winning the midterms, they have been talking about the endgame in Iraq with a strangely serene sang-froid. Last week in the Times, John M. Deutch, who was the director of Central Intelligence under President Clinton, praised the nomination of Gates to replace Donald Rumsfeld, and added, “The consequences of withdrawal need not be catastrophic to American interests in the region.” Also last week, on National Public Radio, Representative John Murtha, the Pennsylvania Democrat who was an early supporter of withdrawal, casually offered that, if Iraq were to fall apart in the wake of an American departure, “I don’t think it’ll be any worse” than the partition of the Indian subcontinent. A million people are estimated to have died in 1947 during the movement of Muslims and Hindus across the newly drawn India-Pakistan border. Sixty years and several wars later, the two countries confront each other in a nuclear standoff, trade charges of subversion, and periodically exchange fire in the Kashmiri Himalayas.

What America will gain in return for leaving Iraq, according to Murtha and other Democrats, will be the holy grail of realism: stability. “They have more confidence in their people than they do in ours,” Murtha said of the Iraqis. “And I’m convinced there’ll be more stability, less chaos.” Former Senator George S. McGovern recently laid out a plan, in an essay he co-wrote in Harper’s, that amounts to a series of non sequiturs: American withdrawal, followed by the evaporation of the insurgency, followed by an influx of foreign police, followed by American-funded reconstruction. A letter signed by leading House and Senate Democrats and sent to the President on October 20th called for “beginning the phased redeployment and transitioning the U.S. mission in Iraq by the end of the year.” It also called for the Administration to pressure Iraqis to reach “a broad-based and sustainable political settlement.” The letter represented a united Democratic position on Iraq, with signatories ranging from Nancy Pelosi to Joseph Biden, but the common front came at the expense of common sense: if American troops start leaving no matter what Iraqis do, with what additional leverage will the U.S. compel them to do what they haven’t yet done?

It is true that the presence of American troops is a source of great tension and violence in Iraq, and that overwhelming numbers of Iraqis want them to leave. But it is also true that wherever American troop levels have been reduced—in Falluja and Mosul in 2004, in Tal Afar in 2005, in Baghdad in 2006—security has deteriorated. In the absence of adequate and impartial Iraqi forces, Sunni insurgents or Shiite militias have filled the power vacuum with a reign of terror. An American withdrawal could produce the same result on a vast scale. That is why so many Iraqis, after expressing their ardent desire to see the last foreign troops leave their country, quickly add, “But not until they clean up the mess they made.” And it is why a public-service announcement scrolling across the bottom of the screen during a recent broadcast on an Iraqi network said, “The Ministry of Defense requests that civilians not comply with the orders of the Army or police on nightly patrols unless they are accompanied by coalition forces working in that area.”

The argument that Iraq would be better off on its own is a self-serving illusion that seems to offer Americans a win-win solution to a lose-lose problem. Like so much about this war, it has more to do with politics here than reality there. Such wishful thinking (reminiscent of the sweets-and-flowers variety that preceded the war) would have pernicious consequences, as the United States fails to anticipate one disaster after another in the wake of its departure: ethnic cleansing on a large scale, refugees pouring across Iraq’s borders, incursions by neighboring armies, and the slaughter of Iraqis who had joined the American project.

With the Democrats about to take over Congress, the Iraq Study Group preparing to release its report, a team of military officers drafting new strategies at the Pentagon, and Rumsfeld heading into an ignominious retirement, the war has reached a moment of reckoning in Washington. Though it may well be too late, politically a new Iraq policy is finally possible. It should use every ounce of America’s vanishing leverage to get the Iraqi factions, including insurgent and militia leaders and their foreign backers, to sit together in a room, with all the vexing issues of political power and economic resources before them. The U.S. government should announce that decisions about troop levels, including withdrawal, would depend on, not precede, the success or failure of the effort. An official involved with the Democratic congressional leadership said last week that political compromise and a gradual lessening of violence could allow the U.S. to reduce its numbers over the next eighteen months to thirty thousand troops, with other countries, including Muslim ones, convinced that it’s in their interest to fill the gap with peacekeepers. If America is already heading for the exit, no one will want to have anything to do with Iraq except to pick at its carcass.

Ultimately, it’s up to the President. The man who still holds that office may not want a new policy. And even if he does, it may not work. We may have to accept that the disintegration of Iraq is irreversible and America’s last remaining interest will be to leave. If so, we shouldn’t deepen the insult by pretending that we’re doing the Iraqis a favor. Even realism has an obligation to be realistic.


Posted by: neill at November 25, 2006 06:35 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Neill, you have never addressed any of our points. Why should we keep responding to you when you utterly ignore us?

Respond to us before you make any more of your ridiculous claims.

Posted by: J Thomas at November 25, 2006 07:11 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


J Thomas:

Neill, you have never addressed any of our points.

I don't know offhand about anyone else, but Neill has responded to me a few times.

Posted by: David Tomlin at November 25, 2006 07:39 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

He has put your name in some posts, as he has mine. Has he actually given any reasons to support or oppose your suggestions?

Posted by: J Thomas at November 25, 2006 08:26 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


>>David Tomlin : We can treat Baghdad like Tal Afar in some ways, like leveling much of it, and driving out much of its population.

>Neill: Actually, DT, you're referring to how Fallujah was dealt with, not Tal Afar.

No, I meant Tal Afar.

After some googling, I must concede I got an exaggerated notion of the destruction of buildings there from an unreliable source. I stand by the statement regarding the population.

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/15663415/

Washington Post

Officials estimate that fewer than half of Tall Afar's residents remained here or returned after the last big U.S.-Iraqi military operation in September 2005. Many of the city's buildings are vacant or were destroyed in the fighting last year.

Though sectarian violence has been stemmed by cooperation among Sunni and Shiite Muslim sheiks here, insurgents attack Shiite civilians in the southern part of Tall Afar and Iraqi forces in the north.

During the past nine months, U.S. soldiers have logged an average of about one attack against them per day in Tall Afar, but nearly 45 percent have involved relatively harmless small-arms fire.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A31377-2004Sep18?language=printer

Washington Post

Far more numerous than the dead and wounded, however, were the people who fled the fighting in this hilly agricultural city of 250,000 people about 60 miles from the Syrian border. U.S. officers estimated that 150,000 residents were displaced, leaving Tall Afar a virtual ghost town . . .

http://www.iraqfoundation.org/news/2005/sept/12_pmintalafar.htm

Associated Press

Most of Tal Afar's residents - 90 percent of them Turkmen - fled before the fighting, and tens of thousands are living in tent cities to the north and east.

Posted by: David Tomlin at November 25, 2006 09:30 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


George Packer, quoted by Neill:

Such wishful thinking (reminiscent of the sweets-and-flowers variety that preceded the war) would have pernicious consequences, as the United States fails to anticipate one disaster after another in the wake of its departure . . . incursions by neighboring armies . . .

An official involved with the Democratic congressional leadership said last week that political compromise and a gradual lessening of violence could allow the U.S. to reduce its numbers over the next eighteen months to thirty thousand troops, with other countries, including Muslim ones, convinced that it’s in their interest to fill the gap with peacekeepers.

I'm wondering what the difference is between 'incursions by neighboring armies' and Muslim countries deciding to 'fill the gap with peacekeepers'.

We may have to accept that the disintegration of Iraq is irreversible and America’s last remaining interest will be to leave. If so, we shouldn’t deepen the insult by pretending that we’re doing the Iraqis a favor.

Packer and his allies got us into this war with lies and rosy scenarios, and when it didn't work out they fell back on blaming the Iraqis. Democrats and Republican realists may find it politically expedient to get us out the same way. But Packer thinks only his side is entitled to such tactics.

Posted by: David Tomlin at November 25, 2006 10:39 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

dt, anything more recent on depopulation in tal afar than 09-05 when the town was re-taken? it stands to reason that people would escape the scene of an ongoing battle.

j, i've stated very clearly what objections I have to your arguments again and again. and, if you can't distinguish the difference between the withdrawal consequences I've outlined and what's happening with our troops in-country, well, I can't be of any further help to you I'm afraid.

Because you are convinced there is nothing to be gained by staying, you then seem to dismiss the truly awful consequences of withdrawal under these circumstances as not appreciably worse than what's going on now.

I, on the other hand, think there is still much to be gained by staying and making changes to IMPROVE the security situation, hence, the political situation. this is partly informed by an awareness of the staggering change for the worse a withdrawal/retreat/surrender would create in the wider WOT.

I have nothing else to say on the matter.

Posted by: neill at November 25, 2006 10:43 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Neill, you have repeated your position. But you have given nothing whatsoever to support it. You have said you disagree with me but you have given nothing whatsoever to indicate that I may be wrong.

But from your latest post I see that you have misunderstood one of my claims. I don't say that after we leave it won't be any worse than it is now. What I say is that after we leave it won't be any worse than it will if we stay that long or longer.

Our position iin iraq is deteriorating daily, and in a year, if we don't leave, it will be considerably worse than it is now. My comparison is not between how it is now versus how I think it will be in 2 years after we leave. My comparison is betwen how I think it will be in a few years if we leave, versus how I think it will be in a few years if we somehow manage to hang in there.

But we can't. Whether we manage a surge or not, our presence in iraq is going to dwindle at best.

Posted by: J Thomas at November 26, 2006 01:54 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"What I say is that after we leave it won't be any worse than it will if we stay that long or longer"....

"My comparison is not between how it is now versus how I think it will be in 2 years after we leave. My comparison is betwen how I think it will be in a few years if we leave, versus how I think it will be in a few years if we somehow manage to hang in there."

oh.

Posted by: neill at November 26, 2006 02:50 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

George Packer: "if American troops start leaving no matter what Iraqis do, with what additional leverage will the U.S. compel them to do what they haven’t yet done?"

Some Iraqi's want us to leave, and some want us to stay. So to pressure the Iraqi's should we threaten to leave or threaten to stay? Packer doesn't say.

Packer again: "[The United States] should use every ounce of America’s vanishing leverage to get the Iraqi factions, including insurgent and militia leaders and their foreign backers, to sit together in a room, with all the vexing issues of political power and economic resources before them."

And one way to apply leverage is to announce a timeline for withdrawing American troops. If we do that, the message to Iraqi's will be that their only choices are to work out their differences through negotiation or face a full scale civil war. The hope is that most Iraqi's understand that a full scale civil war would be horrific, and will work very hard to avoid it. Now, in my opinion, the odds of that happening are fairly small, but that's because my impression is that the civil war in Iraq has reached the point where too many people are committed to fighting for a negotiated settlement to take place no matter what we do.

Posted by: Kenneth Almquist at November 26, 2006 04:17 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

actually, kenneth, what mr. packer proposes is witholding our announced intentions until Iraqi reps resolve their difference -- or not.

i.e., our future plans will be based on their diplomatic/cooperative accomplishments.

pull rather than push.

seems wise to me.

Posted by: neill at November 26, 2006 06:35 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


J Thomas

Some Iraqi's want us to leave, and some want us to stay. So to pressure the Iraqi's should we threaten to leave or threaten to stay? Packer doesn't say.

I think he does:

The U.S. government should announce that decisions about troop levels, including withdrawal, would depend on, not precede, the success or failure of the effort. An official involved with the Democratic congressional leadership said last week that political compromise and a gradual lessening of violence could allow the U.S. to reduce its numbers over the next eighteen months to thirty thousand troops, with other countries, including Muslim ones, convinced that it’s in their interest to fill the gap with peacekeepers. If America is already heading for the exit, no one will want to have anything to do with Iraq except to pick at its carcass.

As I read this, so long as there is hope of success, U.S. troops should be drawn down only to the extent that the Iraqis achieve a 'lessening of violence', so the withdrawal is in effect a reward. Packer leaves open the possibility of withdrawing troops after admitting failure, but in that case 'leverage' is no longer relevant.

Posted by: David Tomlin at November 26, 2006 09:16 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


dt, anything more recent on depopulation in tal afar than 09-05 when the town was re-taken?

One of the Washington Post stories that I cited, which stated that 'Officials estimate that fewer than half of Tall Afar's residents remained here or returned', is dated Nov. 11, 2006.

Repeating the link:

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/15663415/

See also:

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/12016224/site/newsweek/

Newsweek International

April 3, 2006

'As many as 100,000 people, mostly Sunni, fled during last year's fighting and most have not returned.'

That they are 'mostly Sunni' suggests ethnic cleansing rather than people merely fleeing a combat zone. That would also explain their reluctance to return.

Posted by: David Tomlin at November 26, 2006 04:59 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

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Gregory Djerejian comments intermittently on global politics, finance & diplomacy at this site. The views expressed herein are solely his own and do not represent those of any organization.


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