Monday, November 08, 2004

Juan Cole has been turning his blog over to authors with different viewpoints, the latest being William R. Polk, formerly of the State Department Policy Planning Council. Polk's American Options in Iraq gives us three scenarios - Stay the Course by Muddling Through, Vietnamization and what I would call Strategic Withdrawal and Internationalization.

While I disagree with Dr. Polk's premise of the Iraq War being unjustified ( I'd say unsuccessful) and some of his analogies ( the U.S. is not Imperial Russia, Iraqis are not Chechens - or Irish Catholics) I agree with him that the first two options are not working. The first is failing for lack of a strategy to win within Iraq and troops to carry it out. The second will fail if we continue to build around a leader who has neither a substantial and loyal military force or democratic legitimacy. Allawi seems competent and ruthless but he can't win as a puppet who relies on American guns - he needs his own loyalists and popular support.

Therefore I thought I might address Option Three as outlined by Dr. Polk:

"The third option is to choose to get out rather than being forced. Time is a wasting asset; the longer the choice is put off, the harder it will be to make. The steps required to implement this policy need not be dramatic, but the process needs to be affirmed and made unambiguous. The initial steps could be merely verbal. America would have first to declare unequivocally that it will give up its lock on the Iraqi economy, will cease to spend Iraqi revenues as it chooses and will allow Iraqi oil production to be governed by market forces rather than by an American monopoly. If President Bush could be as courageous as General Charles de Gaulle was in Algeria when he admitted that the Algerian insurgency had “won” and called for a “peace of the braves,” fighting would quickly die down in Iraq as it did in Algeria and in all other guerrilla wars. Then, and only then, could elections be meaningful. In this period, Iraq would need a police force but not an army. A UN multinational peacekeeping force would be easier, cheaper and safer than creating an Iraqi army which in the past destroyed moves toward civil society and probably would do so again, probably indeed paving the way for the “ghost” of Saddam Husain. A variety of "service" functions would then have to be organized. Given a chance, Iraq could do them mostly by itself. It would soon again become a rich country and has a talented, well-educated population. Step by step, health care, clean water, sewage, roads, bridges, pipelines, electric grids, housing, etc. could be mainly provided by the Iraqis themselves, as they were in the past. When I visited Baghdad in February 2003 on the eve of the invasion, the Iraqis with whom I talked were proud that they had rebuilt the Tigris bridge that had been destroyed in the 1991 war. They can surely do so again.

In its own best interest, the Iraq government would empower the Iraq National Iraq Oil Company (NIOC) to award concessions by bid to a variety of international companies, each of which and NIOC would sell oil on the world market. Contracts for reconstruction paid for by Iraqi money would be awarded under bidding, as they traditionally were, but to prevent excessive corruption perhaps initially supervised by the World Bank. Where other countries supplied aid, they could be given preferential treatment in the award of contracts as is common practice elsewhere. The World Bank would follow its regular procedures on its loans. Abrogating current American policies that work against the recovery of Iraqi industry and commerce would spur development since any reasonably intelligent and self-interested government would emphasize getting Iraqi enterprises back into operation and employing Iraqi workers. That process could be speeded up through international loans, commercial agreements and protective measures so that unemployment, now at socially catastrophic levels, would be diminished. Neighborhood participation in running social affairs and providing security are old traditions in Iraqi society and allowing or favoring their reinvigoration would promote the excellent side effect of grass roots political representation. As fighting dies down, reasonable security is achieved and popular institutions revive, the one million Iraqis now living abroad will be encouraged to return home. In the aggregate they are intelligent, highly trained, and well motivated and can make major contributions in all phases of Iraqi life.

In such a program, inevitably, there will be set-backs and shortfalls, but they can be partly filled by international organizations. The steps will not be easy; Iraqis will disagree over timing, personnel and rewards while giving the process a chance will require American political courage. But, and this is the crucial matter, any other course of action would be far worse for both America and Iraq. The safety and health of American society as well as Iraqi society requires that this policy be implemented intelligently, determinedly and soon."

Dr. Polk has posted some good, hardheaded observations, some unproven assumptions and a dose of breezy confidence in international organizations that flies in the face of known facts.

His observations about the Iraqis are accurate. The qualities that make them good candidates for Option III also made them good candidates for democratization and liberalization under the Neocon scenario of liberation. The latter worked out poorly so far due to a politically inept CPA that stalled democratization and generally incompetent planning, security, organizational lines of authority and expenditure of resources. Option III requires competence and efficiency in all these same areas but it is " doable " if we start anew.

The assumptions about international organizations and the fighting dying down are at best unproven. The UN which took bribes from Saddam, enacted sanctions and had their Baghdad HQ blown up would seem unlikely to have much legitimacy in the eyes of the average Iraqi, much less in the eyes of the insurgents. The problem lies with the heterogeneous nature of the insurgency. Iraq is not Vietnam - we are not fighting the NLF but a decentralized enemy. The non-Baathist Sunni nationalist and Sadrist Islamist fighters may down their arms quietly in the advent of International control or they might not. Being innately corrupt, the Baathists will probably go whichever way holds out promise for personal security, status and enrichment - if they believe they will lose their priviliged status they will keep fighting. The radical Sunni Islamist hard-core are not going to stop at all, period. Rearranging the faces and chairs by undemocratic fiat will not matter. Americans and the UN are crusader infidels, most Sunni Arabs are apostates and the Shiites are the enemy from their perspective.

For Option III to work, Iraqi political, ethnic and religious groups need to move from not just a position of active opposition but to active support against the remaining hardcore resistance. That means a prearranged power-sharing consensus that is then legitimized by a democratic mandate that will sustain the brutal counterinsurgency tactics required to stamp out lunatic bitter-enders. This is an unpleasant task that cannot be ignored or wished away. If this is not done then characters like Zaqawri will inherit the mantle of " authentic " Iraqi resistance to a puppet government and soak up grass-roots support from the groups that have exited the field. Neutrality from these groups is not enough and neither the World Bank nor lightly armed UN Blue helmets formed into police battalions can do the job.

The question is primarily a political one of lining up support within Iraq, something the Bush administration has failed to do thus far. Internationalization simply delays that task further and while NGO's and International organizations can help, they should be viewed as a support or supplement to forging an intra-Iraqi governing coalition that can handle an insurgency reduced in size and ferocity.
There are other options. If the re-election campaign has, indeed, hobbled operations in Iraq as some have suggested then we may see a somewhat stiffer spine and greater willingness to inflict casualties there. Let's make no mistake: the majority of Iraqis would favor such a course; it's only domestic political considerations that stays our hand.

More troops are only useful for holding territory. Are we really interested in doing that?

BTW can anyone give me an example of a war of self-determination that was led by a foreigner, financed by foreigners, and increasingly staffed by foreigners?
Continuing a bit from the previous comment, what's going on in Fallujah as I type is a war of national self-determination only if the nation being discussed is the Arab maghreb stretching from Morocco to the border of Iran. That might explain the Moroccans that have been apprehended there, at that.
Hi Dave,

I have no problem with the Fallujah operation per se given that the original cause for the first American attack was the concentration of Saddam's SRG and SSO elite fighters. Military necessity was met both legally and morally and if the Euros were horrified so be it. Laws of War change only if we allow irrelevant concerns rather than traditional ctice dictate our actions.

My original objection was inciting the Sadrists in tandem to no purpose and then calling off the troops at Fallujah before they finished the job and letting the insurgents have the city by agreement - thus managing to look brutal, irresolute, ineffective and foolish all at once. These sort of errors occur when you are steering by the seat of your pants and responding tactically instead of strategically.

Hopefully, Fallujah II will be a definitive change from it's predecessor and is part of a larger sequence of events.
While it may be convenient to wage the GWOT on the backs of Iraqis, it certainly isn't cheap - http://costofwar.com/). This was alluded to by OBL just before the US election.

What makes Iraq an attractive battlefield for the other side is Sadaam's legacy of Weapons of Minor Destruction - untold numbers of caches of arms. A stinger's street price is/was a mere US $3000 (a few months ago).

Dr. Bennett's strategic analysis is rather simplistic and amusing, seen in the light of this article:
where we are informed that
"..The Plan makes it clear that—even if we didn't go in for the oil—we certainly won't leave without it.”

In this light, rumors that the "Core Powers" would support the Iraqi insurgency for a variety of reasons (from keeping the world price of oil artificially high to cutting a deal on future oil development) seem almost plausible.

Meanwhile, the affronted Euros are storing their nuts for the long term; building the infrastructure and developing the critical masses of skills and ideas necessary for alternative energy sources and a resulting sustainable economy (that would treat non-reproducible resources such as oil for what they are).

Some background as to how we got here (warning: a bit long):
Can the USA seize the day? To be rid of the domineering influence of the oil lobby on its economy, to show the world's other insatiable consumers of this non-renewable resource that they will be left far behind? The peace dividend attained by waging the Cold War (on the home front by an all-out expansion of the oil-based economy in the 1950's*) is the basis for developing a non-oil based economy. For instance, by insulating commercial and multi-residential buildings, the US could reduce its present oil imports to nil.

By taking bold initiatives such as these, the US would regain its economic independence. There would also be less need for so-called strategic materials (rare metals, catalytic agents, etc.) deemed vital for an oil-based society and often available only overseas. Existing stocks of these non-renewable resources could be saved for a 'rainy day' or allotted to R & D at lesser cost.

Chinese oil production peaked in 2000 and Russian oil production in 2002 exceeded that of Saudi Arabia. Aren't these benchmarks merely indicators of how far consuming countries have fallen behind? Canada's reserves (in the Alberta Tar Sands) are said to exceed those of the Saudis'. But the true economic purpose of bringing oil to market is to manufacture oil-derived products that we cannot otherwise produce (e.g. space age and consumer plastics such as insulating materials, medical bandages, etc.).

In the USA, a highly guarded patent has been applied for many years to recycle virtually all materials found in scrap vehicles. This is an example of an existing process that could be shared with many countries. The Americans have recently referred disparagingly to "Old Europe". Instead, they could regain the higher ground by rebuilding their economic infrastructure (a process the Europeans have already begun).

By ensuring a more sustainable lifestyle, a more stable social order could emerge. For example, a less mobile lifestyle would permit a greater sense of permanence in both our surroundings and our immediate neighbours.

*The idea was that a mobile, mechanized society would be dispersed over a large number of urban centres and thus be more able to withstand a nuclear attack. This was a strategy pursued by the Eisenhauer Republicans in the 1950's.
Hi George,

No, it isn't cheap.

There are still considerable scientific problems with certain technologies that hold great promise - alternate fuels being one- that are not just a factor of government investment in science, though that will certainly help. Part of the problem is that we need to make the intellectual leap in some areas - Cold Fusion being one example- before we can address the problem of refining a new technology to make it efficient enough in terms of production and delivery cost to be economically competitive with oil.

I asked a physicist friend to poll his colleagues on the areas of current research that will change the world. They came up with fusion, nanotech, alternate fuels, Human Genome, brain research, quantum computing and practical applications from Superstring Theory.

Their timeline however was the next fifty years.
Hi Mark,

When the Japanese invaded Indonesia during WWII and cut off America's rubber supply, within six months a government-mandated research effort resulted in synthetic rubber. This was of enormous significance to the war effort.

During the 'hippie' days (remember those?), oil companies were accused of buying out patents regarding alternative energy and devices for saving energy.

Is it possible the oil companies are sitting on a storehouse of ideas and are not aware of their value?

For other ideas, I refer you to:

The influence of the oil lobby on the US economy is to be terminated and replaced by a diversified and comprehensive energy policy. The only question is how much economic and other pain will be inflicted and on which generation. The longer we wait, the higher the costs.

Regarding Iraq, the precedent that comes to mind is the American invasion of the Phillipines - a bloody imperial conquest that eventually was made to work.

An obvious option that doesn't seem to have been considered seriously is the prospect of dividing the territory into Kurdish, Sunni and Shia states. There is nothing sacrosanct about the present borders, which were created by the Western powers. Divide and rule (and a light governmental and military touch) has been effective in the past.
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