IS THE WAR IN IRAQ LOST ?
Andrew Sullivan, in one of his trademark blogospheric mood swings, cites Stratfor's analysis as a sign to unceremoniously bug out of Iraq
. Here's his Stratfor excerpt followed by Sullivan's comment:
"The issue facing the Bush administration is simple. It can continue to fight the war as it has, hoping that a miracle will bring successes in 2005 that didn't happen in 2004. Alternatively, it can accept the reality that the guerrilla force is now self-sustaining and sufficiently large not to flicker out and face the fact that a U.S. conventional force of less than 150,000 is not likely to suppress the guerrillas. More to the point, it can recognize these facts: 1. The United States cannot re-engineer Iraq because the guerrillas will infiltrate every institution it creates. 2. That the United States by itself lacks the intelligence capabilities to fight an effective counterinsurgency. 3. That exposing U.S. forces to security responsibilities in this environment generates casualties without bringing the United States closer to the goal. 4. That the strain on the U.S. force is undermining its ability to react to opportunities and threats in the rest of the region. And that, therefore, this phase of the Iraq campaign must be halted as soon as possible.
They recommend withdrawing U.S. forces to the periphery of Iraq and letting the inevitable civil war take place in the center. "
Not having the article Sullivan has at my elbow I'm at a disadvantage, not knowing what Stratfor means by " periphery". If they mean using the U.S. military to cordon off the Sunni heartland from the rest of Iraq while letting the Kurds and Shiites maintain order in their regions (i.e. kill off the Sunni insurgents where Kurds and Shiites are a numerical majority) it's not an unworkable or unlikely fallback strategy. I myself wrote something similar when I blogged about a controlled civil war
. The Kurds and Shiites are a " strong horse" with armed followers willing to fight and die while the Interim Government is weak and without a reliable military arm. Those are facts on the ground.
Dave Schuyler, with a skeptical ( though still Glittering) eye asks some tough questions about Stratfor's/Sullivan's assumptions:
"Aren't there other alternatives? Isn't it possible (even likely), for example, that the Iraqi government put in place after the January 30 election will authorize the use of/use substantially more force than the U. S. has seen fit to use to date in providing security i.e. rooting out the insurgents?
"Do the combined nations of the world have sufficient intelligence capabilities to fight an effective counterinsurgency in Iraq? "
"How is such a civil war in the strategic interests of the United States"
"Are they really proposing that we exit Iraq with a strategic defeat?"
A civil war is not really in our strategic interests but having the insurgents win control over Iraq is even less in our interests. The United States faces a number of possible strategic choices in this situation, in my view, which I offer in no particular order.
" Muddling Through ":
Not a long term solution or a good one but the Bush administration will probably hold to the status quo at least until the election is held or it is cancelled. Conceivably we could stand pat for another year, watching the situation in Iraq - and our army - slowly deteriorate. My point is that the roof is not suddenly falling in, it collapsed a while ago.
" Ramp Up":
Theoretically, the United States could scrape the bottom of the barrell to throw in a few more hastily assembled divisions and enact conscription and eventually flood Iraq with soldiers about a year to 16 months from now. Exceptionally unlikely and it still wouldn't change the need for better military and political strategies.
" The El Salvador Solution":
Face the hard facts that an insurgency of this size - probably 20,000-40,000 fighters and 200,000 supporters - requires that *somebody* uses the same tactics they use against them and shred their networks.
It doesn't have to be us but it has to be done if the insurgents are wedded to rules-free warfare. Algeria crushed ( or beat back) an even more vicious Islamist insurgency with a tiny fraction of our resources. If you don't the insurgents are not going to stop merely because we leave. Or because they win. Groups with those tactics often escalate to democidal-genocidal slaughter of helpless civilians in victory. Imagine an Iraqi junta that included Zarqawri and Baathist die-hards and you get the idea. It might make Saddam look humane in comparison.
True Counterinsurgency operations
are not quite the same thing as indiscriminate Latin American style " Death Squads"
but they still involve acceptance of a lot of collateral damage as you redefine the insurgency's civilian suppport network as targets. The difference is that our professionals are a lot more scrupulous about trying to find real bad guys than say the Colombian paramilitaries or even the Russian spetsnaz. If we leave abruptly like Sullivan counsels, the Kurds, Shiites and central government will be fighting for their lives and they are not going to play nice. Instead they will cleanse the Sunnis out of the south and Kurdistan and effect a partition of Iraq with great bloodshed.
If we stay in we have a hope of containing the violence geographically and in terms of magnitude. We also have the possibility of a Shiite-Kurd government in place that is democratically elected that might, against odds, take hold and command some real popular support.
Those are pretty much our realistic options. Leaving Iraq gets you # 3 without direct American participation and probably an extended " Lebanon" scenario until all sides " burn out " on war and make peace.
Global Guerillas offers an important caveat on the El Salvador option