Thursday, January 11, 2007
Let the Criticism Commence
Mr. President, this war is over
Nikolas Gvosdev and Ray Takeyh
Thursday, January 11, 2007
In a final attempt to salvage his presidency and secure his legacy, President George W. Bush has announced yet another "strategy for victory" which calls for introducing 21,000 additional troops into the killing fields of Iraq. The point that the president and much of the Washington establishment refuses to concede is that the Iraq war is already over.
Saddam Hussein is dead and any remnants of his WMD program are utterly dismantled. But the United States has proven incapable of achieving any of its other lofty objectives.
For nearly four years, America has tried to reconstitute a kinder, gentler Iraq, ignoring the fact that Iraq has always been an artificial entity — an incongruous collection of sectarian groups cobbled together by the British empire and then sustained by Sunni terror.
The American invasion has irrevocably unraveled that arrangement, as the empowered Shiites, embittered Sunnis and secessionist Kurds have little desire to concede power to their sectarian foes.
Yes, a loosely partitioned Iraq with a degree of wealth sharing among its provinces may come into existence. But such an arrangement will likely follow only after a protracted and bloody civil war, and it is this civil war that American forces — augmented or not — can no longer prevent.
Nor can one find justification for the president's claim that the battle of Iraq will "determine the direction of the global war on terror."
The sad reality is that Iraq is already the epicenter for anti-Western terrorism. Iraq is the only place in the world where prospective jihadists can engage in live-fire exercises with the U.S. military and hone their skills in battle. It is not accidental that techniques pioneered in Iraq, like "improvised explosive devices" (IEDs), have been exported to other battlefields, like Afghanistan.
There seems to be a fundamental misconception that there is a finite number of potential terrorists in the world and that the use of Iraq as "bait" will lure them for destruction at the hands of U.S. forces.
The emotive picture of Arab suffering at the hands of Occidental powers has already generated countless volunteers and recruits for Al Qaeda. The American occupation has provoked a narrative of struggle and sacrifice that will radicalize Arab youth for decades to come.
President George W. Bush should take a page from Ronald Reagan's playbook. Initially, Reagan authorized the deployment of U.S. forces to Lebanon in 1983 under many of the same justifications bandied about today for why the United States must remain in Iraq — to combat terrorists, to check Syrian and Iranian influence, to prevent an escalation of sectarian conflict that could lead to a general war in the Middle East.
Pundits warned of dire consequences to American credibility if troops were withdrawn, particularly after the bombing of the Marine barracks. To his credit, however, the 40th president realized that a limited American force could not achieve any of these objectives and pulled the troops out.
With U.S. ground forces no longer held hostage to the shifting fortunes of the fighting in Lebanon, Washington was free to pursue more effective strategies to combat terrorism and to stem the impacts of Lebanon's internal tragedies on the rest of the region.
Americans have no interest in either paying the costs of becoming Iraq's new imperial warden or in waging the brutal campaign necessary to pacify the country.
Instead of giving speeches on new strategies for victory, and sending off another contingent of hapless Americans into the fires of Iraq, the president would have been wiser to declare the American mission is over, and presented a plan for the gradual withdrawal of U.S. forces.
The future of Iraq is in the hands of the Iraqis. And whether through violence, negotiations or accommodation, they will be the ones that will have to determine the prospects of their country. So far, they are making choices the United States abhors — just as the Lebanese did in 1975 and the Bosnians in 1992 — and Washington has no real leverage to alter these decisions.
For the second time in its postwar history, the United States has been defeated in a war — not in military terms, but in its inability to shape political outcomes. The challenge before American leaders now is not to devise plans for prolonging the war, but to find ways for America to regain its power and to realize its interests in light of this setback.
(Nikolas Gvosdev is editor of the National Interest. Ray Takeyh is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of "Hidden Iran: Paradox and Power in the Islamic Republic.")
"For nearly four years, America has tried to reconstitute a kinder, gentler Iraq, ignoring the fact that Iraq has always been an artificial entity — an incongruous collection of sectarian groups cobbled together by the British empire and then sustained by Sunni terror."
I would put this differently. From the 1920s to the 1960s, Iraq was one of the more progressive states in the Arab world. During these decades, Shias and Sunnis lived and worked alongside each other, and in the 1960s the country was the most secular and educated in the Arab world with a high degree of social participation by women. Sunnis ruled but not through mass terror. The tragedy now is that in removing Saddam we seem to have broken what held the country together before him - or perhaps we only ratified what Saddam himself destroyed.
"Yes, a loosely partitioned Iraq with a degree of wealth sharing among its provinces may come into existence. But such an arrangement will likely follow only after a protracted and bloody civil war, and it is this civil war that American forces — augmented or not — can no longer prevent."
I agree that we cannot prevent a substantial breakup of the country. But I don't think we are without some influence to affect the process. Sunni and Shia families in Iraq are already starting to swap homes in their respective majority areas and we could facilitate the exchange by offering to assist in the relocation of civilians who voluntarily want to move. A very large number of people could be saved in this way who would be unwilling casualties in a more intense civil war. If enough people relocate, the descent into all-out conflict might even be braked, and a minimal degree of unity at the national level might be easier to preserve so that Iraq remains formally a state.
"The sad reality is that Iraq is already the epicenter for anti-Western terrorism. Iraq is the only place in the world where prospective jihadists can engage in live-fire exercises with the U.S. military and hone their skills in battle. It is not accidental that techniques pioneered in Iraq, like "improvised explosive devices" (IEDs), have been exported to other battlefields, like Afghanistan."
My understanding of what Bush said is that if the two sides cannot compose their differences this year, we will be gone in 2008. Iraq will no longer be the epicenter once US forces have withdrawn. If the Sunnis and Shias continue to fight for control of the entire country, jihadists on each side will fight jihadists on the other. I don't think we will still be a target unless we take one side against the other.
"There seems to be a fundamental misconception that there is a finite number of potential terrorists in the world and that the use of Iraq as "bait" will lure them for destruction at the hands of U.S. forces."
This is exactly right. The question is whether Afghanistan will take Iraq's place as the theater that attracts jihadists once we are out of Iraq.
"Americans have no interest in either paying the costs of becoming Iraq's new imperial warden or in waging the brutal campaign necessary to pacify the country."
And even more true with Iran. The question is whether Americans have any desire to play these roles in Afghanistan.
"Instead of giving speeches on new strategies for victory, and sending off another contingent of hapless Americans into the fires of Iraq, the president would have been wiser to declare the American mission is over, and presented a plan for the gradual withdrawal of U.S. forces."
President Nixon received a lot of criticism for escalating the Vietnam War by striking Cambodia in 1970, but years later the more important reality of irreversible US withdrawal was easier to see. I wonder if the addition of a few more troops to Baghdad coupled with the ultimatum to the Iraqi government shouldn't be seen in the same way.
"The future of Iraq is in the hands of the Iraqis. And whether through violence, negotiations or accommodation, they will be the ones that will have to determine the prospects of their country. So far, they are making choices the United States abhors — just as the Lebanese did in 1975 and the Bosnians in 1992 — and Washington has no real leverage to alter these decisions."
I thought what we did to settle Bosnia could have been done a lot sooner, and that we have an opportunity in Iraq now to forestall a Bosnian-style bloodbath by seeking a Bosnian-style settlement.
"For the second time in its postwar history, the United States has been defeated in a war — not in military terms, but in its inability to shape political outcomes. The challenge before American leaders now is not to devise plans for prolonging the war, but to find ways for America to regain its power and to realize its interests in light of this setback."
Given how things have gone, the last sentence should require a new examination of the strengths and weaknesses in the way we formulate foreign policy.
Don't you think that the use of Iraq as "bait" to lure Sunni jihadists to their destruction at the hands of U.S. forces played a major role in not only eliminating Iraq's prospects for a democratic society but reversed whatever progress Iraqis had made?
In other words, when faced with the extreme violence of living in the middle of the "central front in the war on terror" they regressed to the traditional proven security structure (tribe and religion) rather than the modern, new structure promised by the U.S. and the elected government who, as the jihadists repeated proved, were incapable of establishing security.
You raise a very good question. My own view is that the essential progress had reversed earlier, under Saddam Hussein. The real failure on the part of US leaders was their catastrophic refusal to confront what a post-Saddam Iraq would require, in terms of providing basic security to the country, so that Iraqis would not have had to regress to tribe and sect. But a bigger footprint by us might have created other problems, so you may be correct that the decision to invade in the first place was the real blunder.
Are you people mad? Do you fancy yourselves as some sort of god-like experimenters - calmly discussing the developments in a petri-dish?
A foreigner (and a Muslim) reading your musings is going to conclude that you, your society, and your government has absolutely no regard for (largely Muslim) Iraqi lives?
I don' t think Bush plans to surge and then get out in 2008. All indications are that this administration plans to make Iraq a continuing problem for the next administration to deal with.
Chilling point Anonymous1:52 PM. One of the points I have been attempting to shine a lot light upon, is that in factbasedreality, - Iraqi's do not have any say in what happens in their country now.
Maliki is a Bush government puppet. The Bush government interests are singularly and exclusively bent of marauding Iraq's oil reserves, and profiteering from the war, occupation, and socalled reconstruction.
Tragically, civilian Iraqi's are victims of the Bush governments fascist, imperialist, piracy and wanton profiteering, Iranian backed Shi'ia' jihadist lurch for economic, political, and religious dominance - and Sunni's backed by wahabi's, salafists jihadists desperately attempting to retain and economic, political and religious power.
Iraqi's are squeezed from every side by enormous crushing bloody tectonic forces that are making the daily lives of Iraq's formerly secular population unbearable.
Iraq is a ghoulish crime scene that this socalled escalation only exacerbates, prolongs, and perpetuates.
America must reject and renounce the Bush government's leadership and wayward misadventure in Iraq, and begin the difficult and challenging work of managing the inevitable, and predictably ungly outcomes.
The substance of my first post above was to urge a way for the United States to save Iraqi lives. I hope you agree that this is the immediate need right now.
Your points are taken. But what about Iraqi responsibilities as well for the sectarian violence and ethnic cleansing. It always amazes me that the theme of "outsiders" and infidels killing Muslims provokes such a reaction yet Muslims slaughtering Muslims is apparently no big deal.
Tony Foresta, I don't know to what extent Maliki is a puppet. He certainly hasn't "delivered" what Washington has wanted on a variety of things--power sharing, opening relations with Israel, repudiating Hezbollah, breaking relations with Iran, and so on. He certainly depends on the US for support and wouldn't be in his job otherwise, but I think he also uses Washington as much as Washington is trying to use him, just as Chalabi was doing in the past.
Bush has given an ultimatum to the Iraqi government that will be very hard for him to back down from if real change doesn't become evident in three to six months. I don't think the Republicans in Congress will let the war drag on into next year because they will lose catastrophically if it does. They will demand and get withdrawals starting in the fall of 2007. These might be stretched into the next administration but the direction in which we are going will be very clear long before then.
Maliki is a puppet whose main duty is insuring the Bush government warmongers and profiteers maraund and control the lions share of Iraqi's oil reserves and revenues, and he is succeeding.
Like Chalabi, his desire for selfpreservation and personal power may at times, present the perception or illusion of this or that conflict with the fascists in the Bush government, - his primary mission is insuring the oleaginous cronies cabala, klans, and oligarchs in, or beholden to the fascist warmongers and profiteers in the Bush government pirate, commandeer and control Iraq's oil reserves, distribution, and revenues, and like Chalabi, Maliki serves his masters well.
The tragic point, remains however that Iraqi's have absolutely zero say, or input into any of these issues, or their own future.
This sad fact may change once one single power emerges and the ruling force in Iraq, - but now Iraqi's are victims of various warring tribes, cabals, and oligarchs vying for control of Iraq's oil.
Facing fourth down and long in Iraq this week, George W. Bush dropped back and punted the ball.
Heads up Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John McCain --Iraq is now your problem.
With no timetable for U.S. withdrawal and a troop "surge" military hawks believe is too small to secure Baghdad, the challenge of fixing Iraq or bringing Americans home will rest finally not with Bush, but with his successor. "The next president will either have a major disaster to deal with or a major cleanup to do," said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.
My initial posting was an emotional one out of frustration with the current events - I apologize for its tone.
US is not engaged in an intra-ethnic war such as WWI or WWII whereby (nominally) Christian powers fought each other. During that time - Arabs and Muslims were not emotionally engaged - by and large. Certain Muslim sectors supported the Axis Powers since they resented the British influence most Muslims stayed on the side and let the historical process roll by and determine their future - they did not have the instruments of power to do that.
The world has changed. There is anger and resentment against the prosperous North - US in particular. In 1991, Mexican papers referred to the war against Iraq as the "War of Whites against the Browns" and this was where there was a clear justification for US actions supported by many many states.
US, as a (nominally) Christian power waging a war in the Near East has to contend with the history of the Crusades, the Colonial Empires in the Near East , the Jewish-Muslim War in Palestine, the Islamic “Awakening”, and the craving for more representative governments there. All of these color the emotional impact of the current war on the Arab (in particular) and Muslim (in general); it reeks of colonialism, of militant Christianity, and of callousness to the lives of alien peoples.
The point is well taken though: when Saddam Hussein was killing the Kurds there was nary a beep out of the Sunni Muslim scholars or Arab intellectuals. And of course, the same said people never were amiss at pointing out the evils of Israeli occupation.
I believe we are in agreement: the Law has to apply to all or it applies to none. So international standards of human rights and conventions, UNSC resolutions, international disarmament instruments, etc. must be applied to all - no double standards and no appearance of double standards. These integrity of these conventions, (international) laws, and resolutions help to protect US as well as weaker powers.
In making observations about Iraq one has to treat it as though conversing about Kansas City - with that level seriousness and concern for the people of Iraq. This is not a game.
Which brings me to the cause of my emotional outburst - for you guys who are born and raised in the United States; it seems to me that Vietnam, Chile, Nicaragua, Iran, Iraq etc. are just so many (geopolitical) toys and ultimately only rather small footnotes to your history. Your country's existence, her prosperity, and her position in the world is not and has not been dependent on successful outcomes in these places. Your country has a certain margin of error (more than many other states) and she chooses to dissipate that margin in these places which causes a lot of local damage without clear national gains. That I find objectionable.
Amitai Etzioni fairly characterizes the giant 'new' approach of the administration in the National Interest (worth the short read), 'Bush’s Dollars for Peace in Iraq' - instead of soldiers or 'a billion-dollar slush fund [that] may allow Prime Minister Nouri Maliki to buy off some political opposition. But such a political give and take will not prompt the insurrection fighters to lay down their arms.' Since as Gvosdev notes, 'Americans have no interest in either paying the costs of becoming Iraq's new imperial warden or in waging the brutal campaign necessary to pacify the country.' Bush needed to aim for a political solution, not simply more troops & a slush fund.
Just my $0.02
Surge will start out strong, maybe even some successes in the short term.
Insurgents and militias will hide their weapons or go underground.
Cosmetic unity measures taken.
Back to square one by summer 2007.
I did not mean just the analysts - but the governments as well.
There are many many states and people who do not share US vision's of the world for legitimate reasons.
I am cognizant of the facts that you have enumerated in your postings. I think these denizens will be rudely awakened - they should look at the Palstinian resistance to Israeli machinations - if the Palestinians can resist, so can others.
I think people in D.C. have an exaggerated sense of what US can do.