blogenlust
8.14.2004

FUBAR?


Fred Kaplan has a piece in Slate that paints a pretty rough picture of the US's situation in Iraq. Pour yourself a drink and read it.
This is a terribly grim thing to say, but there might be no solution to the problem of Iraq. There might be nothing we can do to build a path to a stable, secure, let alone democratic regime. And there's no way we can just pull out without plunging the country, the region, and possibly beyond into still deeper disaster. [...] Meanwhile, the U.S. military—the only force in Iraq remotely capable of keeping the country from falling apart—finds itself in a maddening situation where tactical victories yield strategic setbacks. The Marines could readily defeat the insurgents in Najaf, but only at the great risk of inflaming Shiites—and sparking still larger insurgencies—elsewhere. In the Sadr City section of Baghdad, as U.S. commanders acknowledge, practically every resident is an insurgent. There are not enough U.S. and British troops now to create the conditions for order. Nor are there likely to be any time soon. John Kerry says that, if elected president, he'd persuade our allies—the ones Bush blew off—to come help (or bail) us out. Kerry would certainly be an abler diplomat than Bush; he would repair tattered alliances, and the benefits would likely be substantial in many aspects of international politics. But it's unclear how even Kerry would lure reluctant leaders to send significant numbers of combat troops into what they see as the quagmire of Iraq. Meanwhile, the Bush administration seems to be muddling through with neither a military strategy for beating the insurgents nor a political strategy for securing Iraq's stability. Bush seems to have gone into this war without any notion that he was popping the lid off a Jack-in-a-box—that toppling Saddam and destroying the Baath Party (however laudable) would also uncork decades of pent-up ethnic and tribal tensions. If his advisers were better briefed, they took no steps to quell the likely postwar conflicts. They didn't send more troops to keep order (either in defiance or in ignorance of historic precedent). More to the point here, they didn't seek out the various ethnic leaders or offer them incentives to join a new political order. They didn't, for that matter, formulate a new political order. (Perhaps they thought Ahmad Chalabi had that department under control.) [...] Historical analyses suggest that at least 300,000—possibly as many as 500,000—troops are needed to impose order in Iraq. Fewer than half that many U.S. and British troops are currently stationed there, and neither country has many armed forces to spare. Gen. David Petraeus, commander of the 101st Airborne, is training a new Iraqi army (much of which amounts to re-recruiting the less tainted members of the old Iraqi army), but that project will take a few years to bear fruit, and it's questionable, in any case, whether Iraqis would shoot their own. (Cole notes that, during last spring's aborted offensive in Fallujah, the local police chief told the U.S. Marines that his men would not attack the native insurgents. More recently, nearly all 4,000 Iraqi security forces in Najaf defected to Muqtada Sadr's army.) Even if our re-energized allies agreed to send more troops, they would be but a beginning, a holding action, and who knows how long they'd have to stay? What kind of country Iraq becomes, what kind of politics it practices, what kind of alliances it forms—all are mysteries. You don't hear Paul Wolfowitz waxing lyrical these days, as he did a year ago, over the universal truths of Alexis de Tocqueville. Even he must realize that the best we can hope for, at this point, is an Iraq that doesn't blow up and take the region with it. The dismaying, frightening thing is how imponderably difficult it will be simply to avoid catastrophe.
One thing I will never forgive this Administration for is their absolute screw-up of post-war Iraq. I do not understand why we didn't pour more troops into the country in the immediate aftermath of the war. That in itself is grounds for dismissal this November. This insurgency was predictable from the beginning. When you have a tyrant that has ruthlessly ruled over three distinct religious and ethnic groups for 25 years, and then suddenly the tyrant is taken out with no immediate replacement, you better expect some major expressions of will to power. There is no excuse why the White House and the Pentagon failed to take the necessary steps to prevent it, or respond to it.