December 14, 2005

Quote of the Day

[If the U.S. left Iraq now] "obviously, we know that there would be a civil war, and a civil war could escalate in several ways. One, in which the Kurds would move to take things into their own hands rather than follow what they have agreed to in the constitution. Out of that, regional conflicts could erupt. There's also the possibility that the sectarian war would intensify, and you could have the start of a major long-term Sunni-Shia war that could engulf the entire Middle East. You could also get an Al Qaeda rump state emerging in western Iraq, establishing a caliphate of some kind, a little Talibstan, exporting terrorism--and these scenarios are not mutually exclusive."

--Zalmay Khalilzad, United States Ambassador to Iraq, as quoted in a John Lee Anderson piece in the Dec 19th New Yorker.

Read this closely a second time. He is saying that a) "obviously" there would be a civil war if we pulled out now, b) without naming specific countries, he is strongly intimating that the chances of Turkish intervention are potentially quite high pending developments in Kurdistan, c) he is, it appears from the phrasing, saying that there is already a sectarian war, in effect, and one that could intensify (and mightily) if we drew-down precipitously, d) that Zarqawi and Co could carve out something of an embittered Sunni para-state in the wilds of Anbar whose inhabitants would be forced to bow to fanatical religious reactionaries bent on exporting Islamic revolution and e) that all this could happen simultaneously even. This is quite possibly the one man in the American government who understands best the full panopoly of issues and threats we face in Iraq at the present hour. Sure, it's in his interests to make the stakes seem high, as he needs all the help he can get. Sure, as Zbig Brezinski has pointed out, the 'caliphate' talk gets a bit hyperbolic. Sure, it would take a lot to get the Turks rushing across an Iraqi border against American wishes. Sure a Sunni-Shia schism, under pressure in Iraq, will not inexorably lead to a Middle East region in flames. But, make no mistake, there is also realism and sobriety in this analysis. It's not just rank hyperbole, by any stretch. We are left, of course, concluding Khalilzad clearly wants coalition troops to stay, so that he certainly doesn't view a precipitous draw-down as the right strategy. No, this isn't some big surprise, but it couldn't be clearer. (He's not just saying that Murtha is wrong, but also that the empty triumphalist bromides you will hear from many tomorrow in imbecilic quarters of the right must be ignored, lest they impact policy-making and lead to overly confident, and so faulty, decision-making on matters like force levels, as we are still in the very early stages of an immensely complex endeavour).

Lately, incidentally, I've been seeing more realism in Bush's speeches. He explictly said in his Philly speech that all won't be swell after Thursday, and he strikes me of late as a man who is getting data points from more sources than before (read: not just Dick and Don), and grappling (if still tenuously) with the enormity of what he has bitten off. Bush needs to continue to hear from responsible conservatives, and members of the opposition party who wish to see us succeed in Iraq, the hard truths. That a truly capable Iraqi Army is years away from fruition (read Fallow's must read piece in the Atlantic for more, he too concludes the only way we can succeed is if we stay for the long haul), and that helping midwife a viable and unitary Iraqi polity with a democratic orientation and central government of requisite credibility is likewise years away. Do I believe we can, perhaps, draw-down to 100,000 by year end '06? Perhaps, just. But this should not be some pre-ordained Rumsfeldian goal, and we should plan for contingencies that have us forced to maintain the rough status quo through '06 and '07 (and perhaps beyond).

Iraq is not ready for prime time, so painfully obvious to us all, and contra the Kevin Drums, I can assure you the aggravating factor is less the continued presence of American troops, but what would happen if said U.S. troops suddenly took flight. It would be a disaster, one far worse that anything we've seen to date. Not only that, the appearance of a hasty draw-down scuttles are policy goals too. Why, if smart money in the Shi'a south believes we will scale back to 70,000 by '07, and try to exit fully by '08--why would they take seriously the notion that an Iraqi national army is really going to be adequately developed, equipped, and trained? That there will really be a strong central state to pledge allegiance to and fight for? It's only the Americans who hold the glue that can keep the (relatively moderate segments) of Shi'a, Sunni and Kurds together so as to map out the myriad compromises necessary, to sit firm through the needed maturation of political governance structures, and so on. This glue so to speak, will take time to congeal. And it can only do so under the umbrella of a robust American security presence.

After all, if I were a young Shi'a man sitting in Basra who thought the U.S. was leaving next year, I would just play pretend, and slap on a national army uniform if need be for appearances sake, but in actuality remain loyal to Badr (or Mahdi) militia, to take an example. Put differently, local actors are more likely to pursue maximalist agendas if they think the Americans, who are currently acting as umpire and arbitrator and facilitator, are instead set to leave. And maximalist agendas evoke Khalilzadian scenarios, none of which are good for the American national interest. These are the difficult choices we face at this hour, and I'm afraid that none of the options are easy ones to contemplate. But the least bad, in my considered judgment, is to continue to stand strong, diplomatically, militarily, economically, and otherwise--so as to keep on helping an Iraqi democracy take root. One that is not governed by Makiya's "furies" (say crude Shi'a revanchism or Kurdish hyper-nationalism) but by national institutions that have been tempered and developed with the passage of time.

This is not to say we must remain there in some protracted 30-years war. But anyone who thinks 2006 will somehow be the seminal year in this conflict lacks historical perspective and/or simply doesn't realize the magnitude of the task at hand. Which is one of the reasons I was so saddened by the display of political cowardice, myopia and cheapness we saw in Washington with the resolution declaring said year to be The Big One (translation: yes, yes, get the job done--but, hey, even if it's not--start showing us you are moving on so are constituents are less pissed at us). Look, I have spent time in Washington. I know how the Hill works. I well understand the pressure our armed services are facing, the budgetary constraints, the short attention span of this country (Katrina, anyone?). But we owe the Iraqi people a real attempt to face a future not wracked by internecine conflict and Lebanese style civil war. Don't we?

Posted by Gregory at December 14, 2005 03:57 AM | TrackBack (1)

Tell you want Greg.... get Bush to appoint Zal his "middle east czar" with complete authority to determine US policy in the region, and I'll agree that "Murtha is wrong."

Zal does seem to truly understand the stakes, and the issues --- which is far more than I can say about anyone else in the administration. And he appears to be the only person who has the sense to say "we gotta acknowledge that Iran has a legitimate stake in the outcome in Iraq, and talk to them about it, if we don't want things to continue to deteriorate."

But Zal is trying to put Humpty Dumpty back together again in at least some kind of recognizable form, and the rest of the administration is thinking of omelets.


here's a question for you. If the price of stability and democracy in Iraq is to allow Iran to pursue its nuclear ambitions, which do you choose?

Posted by: lukasiak at December 14, 2005 04:35 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

If both the Clinton and Bush 43's POLICY was regime change; Clinton's presumably was to support opposition groups leading to civil war. The Bush intervention-with-a-small-footprint strategy seems to me to have a better chance of succeeding. All Clinton cared about was getting rid of Saddam. The evil, firebreathing neocons to their credit realized that being a midwife to a consensual government in Iraq would be the shot heard around the (Arab) world.

Posted by: Chuck Betz at December 14, 2005 05:29 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Look, I have spent time in Washington. I know how the Hill works. I well understand the pressure our armed services are facing, the budgetary constraints, the short attention span of this country (Katrina, anyone?). But we owe the Iraqi people a real attempt to face a future not wracked by internecine conflict and Lebanese style civil war. Don't we?

Perhaps we do, but I'm afraid the bus left the station two years ago. We're coming up to three years in a counter-insurgency campaign with a most of our high-tech all-volunteer army. We're pushing the armed forces to their physical and emotional limits. For what you and the ambassador are looking for, do you want to be the one to tell the troops they're going to be in Iraq (and likely under fire) for another three tours?

Posted by: Doug H. at December 14, 2005 08:57 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"After all, if I were a young Shi'a man sitting in Basra who thought the U.S. was leaving next year, I would just play pretend, and slap on a national army uniform if need be for appearances sake, but in actuality remain loyal to Badr (or Mahdi) militia, to take an example."

Hey, if everyone who's currently blowing people up in Iraq right now thought the US was leaving next year and decided to "play pretend," how would that not be an improvement over the current situation? I'm tired of hearing people justify the "let's make them think we'll stay there forever" strategy on the grounds that the bad guys will just wait us out and then really get down to killing once we leave. If that in fact would be the result, Iraqis might actually get to enjoy some peace and be able to resolve their inter-group conflicts politically during the lull, with the possibility that once the US left, they wouldn't need to resort to violence.

Posted by: farmgirl at December 14, 2005 02:34 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Keep pouring that gasoline over the fire...eventually the fire will give up!

Water is for defeatists and not starting fires is for wimps!

Real men can tire out a fire with gasoline!

Posted by: NeoDude at December 14, 2005 03:54 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg, a qualitative roadmap would have been a neat idea a few years ago. It still would be a neat idea. But it won't stem the tide.

The reason is that the American people remember the roadmap George Bush put out in 2002-3. It said, "invade with tank columns, cheering in the streets, hand off to Ahmad Chalabi, over and done in a year and maybe $20 billion".

The American people miss the details, but they get the big picture. If your honest portrayal had been portrayed this way in selling the war, the war would not have been bought.

Furthermore, I understand the US troops as umpire paradigm. And to the Bush admin's credit, the recent busts on Shiite torture chambers are a step in that direction. Honestly, I expected this Administration to try to push that under the rug. But I don't expect them to be able to follow through on this course.

See, you try to be an umpire, but every side wants to make you their tool. The anti-US backlash from the Shiites will come if we try to close too many torture chambers. Iran will MAKE it happen. See Syria/Hizbullah.

When Iranian backed shiite factions with grassroots popularity starting bombing US troops, in addition to the Sunnis our coherent rationale will collapse.

The umpire paradigm is great. I love it when the US can do that successfully. But you can't be an umpire and an occupying army simultaneously amidst ethnic strife. One group always ends up being the favorites and one group ends up being the chew toys.

Our current ambassdor to Iraq is a smart guy. I commend him. But he's swimming against the tide. The regional actors and the internal - and popular - forces who correspond to them - will never allow America the luxury of making every play nice together. There is too much to gain from discrediting us. The deck is stacked.

Mark my words: any attempt to truly level the playing field and move the US away from a primary role of Sunni suppression will result in armed attacks from popular Iran-supported shiite elements. The attempt will fail.

Having said that, the more visible the US is and the more US people are shooting Iraqis (under any circumstances) the more manipulatable and discreditable we are. Withdrawing troops would make us more, not less likely, to be able to act as whatever mitigating influence we can hope for.

Posted by: glasnost at December 14, 2005 04:49 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Iraq has an election tomorrow. We shall soon be learning considerably more about the direction of the Iraqi govt, the actual strength on the ground of the UIA Shia parties, etc, etc. Whats the point of blogging on US strategy now? Wouldnt it make more sense to see what the election results are?

Posted by: liberalhawk at December 14, 2005 05:12 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Wouldnt it make more sense to see what the election results are?

sure, but what fun would that be? :)

realistically, however, unless there has been some massive shift in Iraqi public opinion that nobody knows about, we can expect that the new government won't look or act any differently than the current one. And that, IMHO, is about the best that can be expected tomorrow. A bad outcome would be for the Sunni's to come out in sufficient number to change the current balance of power --- making the SCIRI/Dawa alliance hostage to the demands of the Sunnis or the Kurds in forming a new government.

But, as for the election results themselves.... how reliable do you think they will be? Whose in charge of the counting this time?

Posted by: lukasiak at December 14, 2005 11:33 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


In addition to our miltary's move against the prison (remember General Pace corrected Rumfeld on responsibilities !PUBLICLY! YAY!) the British have removed some Sadrists from the Basra police and are moving in a chief constable with experience in N. Ireland for reform.

If we are going to succeed we will have to try and be a fair broker even if it puts us in the middle. Facing the facts, not denying the death squads, the corruption, the crime, the brain drain, the Iranian influence, the huge slowdon in economic growth (4% down from over 40% barely a year ago) we will find hooks with which to grapple this situation, perhaps not successfully, but with at least some possibility.

The fact is that we need to let experienced people start running this war. We ignored the established military plans from the beggining, we let twenty something rightwingers with resumes like driving ice cream truck run the place under Bremer, we let Limpbowel command the first attack on Falluja against the advice of the Marines, but now, slowly, but hopefully surely some of our national competence seems to be getting into the game.

Of course people like Wretchard are going to be upset because it messes up their fantasy life, but we do face the possibility of a civil war. We face the possibility of massacres, the possibility of the more martial Sunni overruning Baghdad if we leave, the south reacting with Iranian help, much of the rest of the mideast drawn in. Conflicts sparking elsewhere.

Posted by: angela at December 15, 2005 04:03 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Turkey will not invade Kurdistan for practical political reasons . Their entry into the EU would be voided by the European nations, which are still reeling from the rioting of Muslims in France and the subsequent copy-cat car burnings in other countries such as Gemany and Belgium. An invasion of Kurdistan will galvinize all the reactionary forces throughout Europe preaching for restrictive immigration laws. And the Turkish government desires entry into the EU more than it salivates over the coveted oil fiields in Kirkuk and Mosul. They are seeking the respect of the EU, and an invasion would portray them as crass opportunists.They are also shrewd pracitioners of holding their diplomatic cards from the other players at the table. When the United States sought Turkey as a debarking point for the American invasion of Afghanistan, despite the promise of billions of dollars in aid, the Turkish government saw the offer for what it is: a bribe. American ships loaded with war materiel and troops circled offshore in the Mediterranean Sea for days while the Turkish parliament debated the offer. And they voted to turn it down, simply because it was not in their interest. It was also quite an embarrassing display of the failed diplomacy of the Bush administration, which has all too often occurred during Colin Powell's tenure, who may go down in history as the Rodney Dangerfield of American diplomacy. And let's not forget that Turkey have been fighting their own internal war against Kurdish insurgents for years. Invading Kurdistan would only inflame more acts of terrorism from these radicals within its borders.And Turkey has already sustained a severe blow to its image as a stable country for investment when terrorists bombed a British bank in Instanbul. With all due respect to Ambassador Zalmat Khalizid,, he seems to have gone native, as the British used to say, rather than analysizing the situation. Turkey will act in a responsible manner, whatever happens in Iraq after the elections, because it is in their interests to be seen that way by the EU. And Khalizid completely forgets about all the Turkish immigrants in Europe, primarily in Germany, who send back money to their relatives in their former homeland. So I would write off the Turkish invasion scenario as the feverish manifestation of too much education but too little reflection. Turkey will remain on the fence holding its cards, watching the other players bit up the ante, weighing their options. They will continue to remain to be players yet wait patiently in whatever they finally decide to do.

Posted by: George Hoffman at December 15, 2005 09:09 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Of course the Kurds want independence, and are patiently awaiting the opportunity to make their move. But would U.S. withdrawal be that opportunity? It seems to me that it would make them more vulnerable to Turkish intervention.

The Kurdish strategy seems to be taking baby steps while doing what they can to reassure the Turks. I don't see why U.S. withdrawal would change that strategy.

Intensification of the Sunni/Shi'ite conflict is already more than a possibility; it's an ongoing reality.

Sunni Arab nationalists won't tolerate 'an Al Qaeda rump state emerging in western Iraq', and I see no reason to think they won't be strong enough to prevent it.

Bush has claimed that all of Iraq could fall to Zarqawi and bin Laden. This isn't 'hyperbole'. It's brazen lying and fearmongering aimed at the ignorant.

Posted by: David Tomlin at December 15, 2005 07:19 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

ever notice that you are part of the problem greg?

you give some nice coherent analysis as to what the strategy is, preceded and followed by "string up rummy" comments.

as for the comments, just a bunch of leftists trying to show that the US has lost or will inevitably lose.

hopefully you use your intellect and analysis much more constructively at work than on your site

Posted by: hey at December 18, 2005 08:17 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It's crucial and obvious for all but a bunch of American leftists that catastrophy must be avoided in Iraq. A problem has been the obvious disconnect between US policies and the realities on the ground, which actually now finally makes signs of waining with Khalilzad seemingly getting messages through to the White House, and the White House obviously beeing shaken by bad opinion poll figures and the prospect of problems in the upcomming 2006 election.

OK, it will probably turn out that the U.S. government discovers that sufficient troups can't be deployed in Iraq, so the search for other means to acheive the goals must start. Or maybe the goals must be scaled down first.

A common bet is that there will be a return to diplomacy accompanied by the involvement of less expensive troops than American volunteers and American contractors. Another kind of mercenaries, yeah, that's true.

That will be no free lunch, but the stakes are high and the price tag must be compared to the cost of longtime deployment of American troops in Iraq. Improved relations with Iran, Syria and Turkey seem unavoidable.

The Europeans are rather irrelevant in this picture. Only the Russians and possibly the French have manpower to offer. And the very same governments maybe have useful diplomatic help to offer. But the key must be rapprochement with Syria and Iran.

We don't know if the nuclear threat from Iran is as serious as the WMD threat from Iraq was, but maybe that threat could be better handled if the U.S. or some trusted partner delivered important stuff and ensured continued presence at the sites?

Posted by: Laurila at December 20, 2005 08:16 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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